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I awakened from a fitful sleep when the southbound Greyhound rocked heavily and the diesel engine flared as the driver took the Gold Hill exit off Interstate 5. Darkness had settled over the Rogue Valley while I dozed and scores of glowing windows greeted us as the coach slowed. Then the air brakes hissed and the coach rolled heavily as the driver edged off the highway and then came to a stop at the Shell gas station that served as the Gold Hill bus station. This is unusual, I said to myself, as a young slender woman boarded and then made her way down the aisle.
“May I sit with you?” she asked in little more than a whisper, her hand resting on the aisle side armrest.
“Of course. By all means,” I said, quickly straightening up in my seat and then switching on the overhead light. I was pleased that she had chosen to sit by me. “It’s snowing?” I asked, noting her tracks on the aisle floor. In reality, however, I was trying to justify why I could not pull my eyes from her face.
“Yes, its started minutes before the bus arrived. My name’s Cynthia,” she said as she took her place beside me.
“I’m very pleased to meet you. My given name is Sonny, but everybody calls me Legs.”
“Legs? I’m certainly interested in hearing the story behind that name,” she said, a gentle smile spreading across her face, exposing straight teeth.
“Well, it’s a name given me early in my air force career.”
“You’re in the air force? So am I. I’d like to hear more of your story.”
I wished I’d not mentioned Legs. But…. “We were issued short pants at the start of air force basic training. I swore I’d never wear them, but it didn’t work out that way. In order to reach our electronic school we had to pass a reviewing stand, all 640 of us marching twelve abreast. The powers that be dictated a uniform-of-the-day. And every Wednesday, believe it or not, was short-pants-day.
The first Wednesday people made remarks about my legs and before the first day was out the others addressed me as such. I finally asked a friend about it, what was wrong with my legs. “They’re, twisted or something,” the guy said. “Gee, thanks, buddy. Thanks a lot,” I said.
Tech school lasted nine months. By the time I’d finished the name Legs had stuck. It’s followed me everywhere. It was like the word was stenciled on my forehead,” I explained.
She remained silent for a long moment, smiled but made no comment.
I asked how far she was going while my eyes admired her rich auburn hair
“I’m returning to Beale Air Force Base. It’s near Marysville. I’ve been visiting my folks in Portland,” I replied. “Where in California are you headed, exactly?”
“I’m going to Beale also. I’m a clerk typist. What’s your job?” she asked, half turning in her seat. I tried not to stare, but her breasts were straining hard against her blouse and they captured my eyes like a magnet attracts iron filings. My groin tingled and for a moment I thought I’d lost my voice.
“I’m a maintainer in the A&E Squadron,” I replied after a pause that lasted far too long. I forced my eyes back to her face, but not before her breasts had burned an image into my retinas. My ears burned like they were recovering from frostbite. I could only imagine how red they were.
“Maintainer? What’s that?”
“i work on the flight line. I fix airplanes – avionics, com/nav shop. We call ourselves maintainers. It’s our job to maintain the communications and navigation systems, keep them working at factory specifications so the flight crews can locate their assigned targets and then find their way back home,” I explained.
“Okay. I think I understand.”
By this time her skirt had moved several inches above her knees. My brain began multitasking, at least trying to and I was thankful she didn’t ask me any more questions because I was having trouble focusing.
We both sat in silence for several minutes. The sound of the bus engine changed. Glancing outside I noticed the we were starting into the Siskiyou Mountains. Through the windshield I saw the snowfall had increased significantly. I turned to bring her attention to that, but in our brief silence she’d dozed off, and her head had rolled to the side facing me and she’d dozed off. Maybe I spent too long admiring her, because she seemed to sense something. Her lids fluttered. Then she came fully awake and smiling at me.
“I must have dozed off. I’m not very good company,” she admitted.
“No worries. You’ve just proven the truth in one of Greyhound’s jingles,” I said.
“And what is that one?”
“Take a bus and leave the driving to us,” or something to that effect.”
She smiled but made no remark, closed her eyes instead.
“You don’t care for bus travel, do you?” I asked.
“If I owned a car I would have driven and traveled on my own schedule. So to answer your question in one word – No.”
An extended silence followed except for occasional bursts of small talk. Soon, she dropped off again and as we rounded a turn she said over against me, her head on his shoulder.
Gray dawn was spreading over Marysville as we waited for the baggage handler.
“What’s your grade, Legs?” Cynthia asked.
“Staff Sergeant. Yours?”
“I’m just an E2. I’m surprised being an E5 you don’t own a car.”
“Oh but I do.”
“If I owned a car I certainly wouldn’t have ridden this bus,” she explained.
“You slept a good many of the miles we traveled. If you ask me, I think you’d have stopped at a motel during the night or found yourself stuck in a snow bank. There’s one thing for sure.”
”If you’d driven I would have never met you.”
She opened her mouth as though she had a response ready. But my statement brought her up short. A smile spread across her face and then she reached out and touched his hand. “You are absolutely correct, Legs. But now with that part of our trip solved how are we going to get to Beale, walk?”
“I’ll call somebody to come fetch us. But first things first. Let’s put our bags in a locker in the bus station. Then let’s hike to Richard’s Diner and solve our problem over a plate of ham and eggs, my treat.”
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely. Come along, lady,” I said taking her hand. “So when do you have to sign in from leave?” I asked after we’d claimed a booth.
“Tomorrow at midnight,” she replied. You have any suggestions besides the barracks day room or the beer garden?”
“Well, I’m suggesting a few hours sleep. What say I pick you up about noon today and we’ll drive to San Francisco – check out Fisherman’s Wharf, listen to some Dixieland Jazz at Club Hangover, ride a cable car, for openers? What do you think?”
“That sounds wonderful.”
“Then it’s a done deal,” I said as I moved my arms so the waitress could deliver our breakfasts.