Alarm rings. Press snooze. Groan. Turn over.
Alarm rings. Turn it off. Groan. Get up. Sit on edge of bed and stare into the abyss for a minute.
Get showered, dressed, fed, caffeinated.
Rush to bus stop. Wait for bus in the inevitable drizzle. Curse the fact that this spring has been unseasonably cold and rainy. Even though spring is always cold and rainy.
Board bus. Find a spot away from other people. Stare out the window.
This is how every day had started so far this year.
At least at the beginning of the year she had classes to go to in the afternoons. Now Steph only had months of other people’s groceries to ring through.
This morning was no different. Until someone sat directly across from her, right in her window-staring line of vision. Someone was a girl about her size and age, but much cooler. Half her head was shaved, and the hair that remained fell to her shoulders and was dyed bright red. She looked back at Steph and smiled. Steph smiled quickly back but looked away. She made small talk all day; she really didn’t want to interact with another person. But when she looked back at the girl, Steph swore she winked at her. Now she started to squirm in her seat. Her stop was coming up, so she decided to just get up and stand near the door. When it was time to ring the bell for her stop, the bus driver yelled back. “Sorry if anyone needs the next stop, the intersection up ahead is closed, so I’ll have to do a bit of a detour here.”
Steph looked back at the girl but she had disappeared. Suddenly overwhelmed, she walked to the front of the bus so she could ask the driver to stop the bus. She should just go home. She could call in sick for one day. But the bus driver who had been there before was gone, and the red haired girl was now driving the bus. Steph realized she was the only one left aboard. The girl smiled a reassuring smile as she cranked the wheel hard and took a fast turn. Steph was not reassured as she hung on for dear life. She ran to the door and tried to pry it open with her fingers. When that didn’t work she started banging on the door and panicking. Just when she thought she was going to lose it, the bus stopped and the front doors opened. They were on a small dirt road, and there was a wooded area in the distance. Steph stepped outside. In the middle of the field in between the road and the wood stood the oldest oak tree Steph had ever seen. It towered above them, and the thick trunk was covered in knots bigger than both her hands together. Steph frowned and shook her head as she realized that in the oak tree’s general area it seemed to not be drizzly. And the tree was in full leaf, while all the other trees still had their spring buds.
Steph looked at the girl, dumbfounded. She was still sitting in the driver’s seat, leaning on her arms on the steering wheel, watching Steph with a grin on her face.
“I know”. The girl said. “It is super weird. But it helped me, and when I saw you this morning I knew you needed help too. So it is yours now. Just promise you’ll show someone else when you don’t need it anymore.” She smiled again, then closed the bus doors and drove off.
Steph walked towards the tree, and as she did she felt the air getting warmer. She looked up at a clear blue sky. When she reached the tree she found an alcove at the base of the huge truck with a sleeping mat, blanket and pillow rolled up inside. There was some food and a thermos of tea, which Steph started to drink while leaning against the trunk of the oak. It felt solid, supporting her, but it was somehow soft at the same time.
She spent the whole day at the foot of the tree. She ate, and alternated sitting in the sun and shade. She read some books that she found in the sleeping nook. After the sun set, she curled up under the tree and looked at the stars that she could see through the branches.
She woke up to sunshine and birdsong.