Even though it was a brisk fall day, Billie Joe staggered out of the hotel room with sunglasses on and blanket wrapped over his shoulders like a Soviet refugee staggering from a gulag. He straightened up as much as he could and looked around. Sadie was settling up their tab with his money, per his suggestion. The trees that lined whatever highway they were on were bursting apart with color. Billie Joe wasn't fooled, in a month, the leaves would be down and the whole thing would reveal itself to be cold grey apocalypse it really was. Him and his Nubian queen needed to get on the road before the fucking Klan showed up. He looked down the row of rooms left and right and caught a tiny housekeeper next to her cart staring at him, mouth agape. He brought a hand out from under his makeshift poncho, waved and said “Hidey.” She wasn't having any of it and hauled ass back into the room she was changing.
Sadie crunched over the parking lot briskly, the heels of the cowboy boots he'd loaned her digging into the gravel. He'd given them to her because they were much warmer than anything she'd brought along and even though her foot was at least three sizes smaller than his, they seemed to fit perfectly. Good cowboy boots were like that, he thought. He also thought she looked mighty fine in them.
“Okay let's go,” she said “You think people around here never saw a black woman before.”
“Uh, you don't exactly carry yourself like most women, black or not.” he said
“I guess I'll take that as a compliment.” she said, opening up her side of the Toronado. “You ready?”
“Yes ma'am.” and climbed aboard. The Toronado roared immediately to life as if it had been waiting impatiently to eat up the road again. She had already loaded his duffle in the trunk. He thought the smell of the car was comforting, and slid down the seat into it, creating a cocoon with the blanket between him and reality. Behind the wheel, she had her chin up like she always, maybe a little more than usual, half a sneer in place, slid it into drive and they poured back onto the highway like a fast moving oil slick, leaving crush and run somewhat airborne behind them.
He dozed some, head against the window, watching the slowly flattening earth roll away beside him like a song. He figured they'd be wading through the corn belt before too long.
“Pretty sure I'll be able to drive soon.” he said.
“Okay. I'm good for now.” she said
“How much was the hotel room?” he asked, mostly just to make conversation
“You don't want to know.”
“Huh? Why not?”
She turned to him “You were asleep for two days.”
“Wow.” he said, nodding. “Yeah, you're right, I don't want to know.”
“Who's Selene?” she asked.
A spear of grief shot through his chest. “Fiance.” he said. “Why do you ask?”
“You moaned her name a few times in your sleep.” she said “I think you had a fever, I got pretty freaked out, couldn't wake you up.”
“Damn,” said Billie Joe
“Yeah, I wiped you down with a cold washcloth wrapped around some ice. That's what my momma always did for us.”
Billie Joe considered this. “Wow. Thank you.” he said
“I guess it didn't work out with you and Selene?”
The image of her in the high window, breasts barely covered by her thin white shirt crossed his mind.
“No. It didn't.” he said. More crippling grief and remorse. He could tell this one would hurt for a good long while. They were quiet again for a bit.