Bethany stepped outside and the door clicked behind her. Through hovering fog, she could barely see the outline of downtown Trentsport. She walked to the gate and started down the narrow road. She'd been offered a ride, but today she needed to walk. She needed to do this by herself. It had been so long.
Oblivious to rain that soaked her hair and penetrated the thin jacket, she moved at a pace better suited to blue sky and sunshine. When she reached the intersection, the urge to look back became strong. It was harder than she had anticipated to say goodbye. She wanted to go, had dreamed of leaving, but fifteen years held so many memories.
. . .
Good ones, bad ones. No matter, they would always be a part of her. Unaware, her walking slowed, then halted. Memories pelted harder than the rain. A four-wheeler honked a warning at an emerging car. She jerked back to the present. Bethany squared her shoulders and turned onto the main road without looking back.
It was over three hours before the bus would depart. Not much sense sitting in a terminal for that long. On the left was a tiny plaza set back from the road. A small department store, restaurant, laundromat and dry cleaner were separated by several windows with “For Lease” signs attached. Not much need for a dry cleaner, she thought wryly, glancing down at the oversized handbag that doubled as her suitcase. Suddenly feeling the chill of her rain-soaked hair and clothes, she headed towards the department store.
Bethany shopped carefully. The money in her wallet was almost as scarce as the clothes in her handbag. She strolled through the clothing racks, enjoying the search, trying on clothes that she knew she'd never buy. The final selections were a heavy sweatshirt, jeans and a water-resistant windbreaker. The shoe aisle held some store brand sneakers, much sturdier than her thin, wet canvas ones. Nothing else was needed, but she wasn't ready to leave. Heedless of her damp state, she walked up and down the aisles. Looking, touching. Finally she paid for her purchases and headed to the restroom to change. Retrieving dry socks from the handbag, she stepped into the new sneakers and felt some of the chill drop away. Wet clothes and shoes were thrown into the emptied shopping bag. Ducking underneath a hand dryer, she removed the last traces of dampness from her short brown hair. The mirror reflected a 33 year old woman of average height and build, dressed in casual attire. It was unlikely that she would attract any attention. Bethany left the store and headed to the laundromat.
She put coins in the dryer, momentarily puzzled by the cost. She sat by the window and waited. The sky was still gray, but the fog was lifting and the rain had stopped. A young woman struggled to hold the hands of two toddlers, while pushing an umbrella stroller towards the grocery store. Two elderly gentlemen met in the parking lot, shook hands and headed to the restaurant. Good idea. When her belongings were dry once more, Bethany packed them in the handbag and headed over.
Through the large pane glass, she saw aging maroon booths and a menu painted in block letters on one wall. Half way between the breakfast and lunch crowds, it was almost empty. The elderly gentlemen were deep in conversation while enjoying a late breakfast. A couple of moms clutched their tea cups and chatted while their preschoolers sipped orange juice and colored the paper place-mats. “Sit anywhere, honey”, the lanky waitress called as Bethany entered. “I'm Angie and I'll be with you in just a second.” She choose a booth at a distance from the other customers, but with a clear view of the outside. The smell of bacon and eggs wafted temptingly through the kitchen door. An assortment of muffins, donuts and bagels called from carousels on the stool-lined counter. But when Angie returned, she just asked for coffee.
The coffee was not a disappointment. Freshly brewed and piping hot, it warmed her fingers as well as her insides. Angie assured her that refills were free. Bethany pulled a half-read paperback from the handbag. Before she could begin to read, she saw a black car turn into the lot and head towards the restaurant. As the uniformed men got out of the car, her limbs froze in an unreasonable panic. Then she grabbed her bag, threw down some money, and looked for an escape route. Seeing an exit at the back, she moved quickly towards it. Angie emerged from the kitchen and took one look at her face. She grabbed her arm and pulled her towards the ladies room. “They come every day and get coffee. Takeout. Just duck in here for a few minutes." Soon she heard Angie's voice at the door, telling her that they had left.
When she returned to her seat, her coffee was gone. As she pulled on her jacket, Angie came back with a platter of food and a fresh cup of coffee. “The breakfast is on me. I've been there honey. You know they can't hurt you, but I understand what it's like”, she told her softly. Bethany hadn't eaten since yesterday's lunch. Her hunger overcame her reluctance to remain. Gradually she relaxed and enjoyed eggs, steak, home-fried potatoes and buttered biscuits. When the lunch crowd began to arrive, she thanked Angie and headed for the bus station.
Only a handful of people were seated in the terminal waiting area. Bethany purchased a one-way ticket and joined them. In a few minutes, the bus arrived and luggage was loaded. She held onto her bag and chose a window seat, fervently hoping that no one would sit next to her. She breathed a sigh of relief as the bus pulled out of the lot. Relief turned to agitation as it's route took them back down the road she had walked. This time she couldn't avoid a last look. The dismal concrete buildings blended with the sky, but there was no mistaking the tall fence whose top and bottom were encased in rolled barbed wire. No way to miss the sentries in the guard towers. No avoiding the sign. Trentsport Correctional Facility for Women.