When a pink ribbon of daylight appeared on the horizon, Amelia realized that she didn’t have her glasses. She ran her hand over the empty seat next to her on the Greyhound bus as it barreled southwest along the length of Lake Erie. She checked the outside pockets of her pink puffer coat. She found a paper copy of her bus ticket to Mobile, Alabama but not her glasses.
Amelia had taken the front seat on purpose to watch the bus driver navigate through the inky darkness, the bus having departed at 4 o’clock in the morning. She was new to bus travel and had experienced only airports and planes when she went to visit her mother down South. Cockpits—with their levers and gauges—were always locked up like a bank safe before take-off. The bus smelled like chemical air fresheners, and intermittently travelers behind her moaned in their sleep or reacted to films or games on their phones. But mostly it was quiet, and the seat was spacious. The bus driver, Ed, drove at a steady clip, and when he passed a semi, he said What’s up big guy? And when a driver weaved in and out of traffic, he scolded Go ahead, if you’re in such a G-D hurry, Buster. Hilarious. And when a little old lady with her cabin light on in the car drifted lanes, Ed slapped his hand on the wheel and said, Dude! Eyes on the road. Eyes on the road! Amelia giggled into the collar of her pink coat. She couldn’t wait to imitate Ed for her mother. They’d call each other Buster and Dude all week, Amelia predicted. The joke would help them feel like they knew each other, as if they were part of each other’s daily lives. But a 28-hour odyssey by bus was still largely in front of her. She’d need to do something to keep herself entertained, and for that she really wanted her glasses.
Amelia’s friends had planned a spring break trip to Florida and had expected that she’d join them. Four 17-year-old girls alone in a motel room? Without supervision? Amelia imagined her father’s every objection, the words he’d say, the sentences that would end with no and not a chance. Spring break in places like Daytona Beach attracted a criminal element—thieves and rapists and serial killers. And while that sounded thrilling to Amelia, she understood who paid the bills. She didn’t even bother to ask her parents, and she lied to her friends, saying she had plans to visit her mother down South. Bummer, they remarked, taking a group selfie of their pale skin, the before picture that would be posted on their Instagram feeds with a second picture, taken in identical formation at the beach after they’d browned themselves like muffins. The lie about visiting her mother was of poor quality, Amelia realized, because it required a cover-up or a follow-through. She could do better than that, not that the girls noticed. And not that she cared what they thought about her. She didn’t. Not really. Amelia was the tallest, with the longest hair, the highest grades, and the best rapport with teachers. She wasn’t sure she even liked her friends. She recognized them as fixtures.
Still, for the practice, Amelia went straight to work to rectify her lie, to spin it into reality. She used her little half-brother to work her will. He lived so far away, over a thousand miles. He was already two and growing up so fast and how unfair that Amelia saw him only twice a year. How could they bond? She surprised her parents with her case on their weekly Sunday afternoon call, a charade for Amelia’s benefit, a weekly torture of pretending that they were still a family. Both parents were silent after Amelia finished her appeal. She added, “I miss you, Mom.” It wasn’t a complete lie. Amelia thought her parents would cave, that they’d split the cost of a flight because the one thing they had always agreed on was Amelia—that she should see both parents whenever possible or necessary and, Amelia interpreted, whenever she wanted. But she was wrong. They said no. The flights were too expensive on short notice, the layover in Atlanta too long. Not this time. Sorry, kiddo. No. Amelia didn’t fuss about the decision. She let a few days pass and then approached only her father, the parent with whom she lived because he taught science at Humboldt Academy, a private high school that Amelia attended for free.