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Hello Friend, and welcome to my new series, The Journey.

As is my usual wont, this is a slow-burn; a long-building, lesbian love story. It also might be a little darker than Hard Landing or Wheels In Motion. If that’s not your jam, feel free to go elsewhere looking for your jam. I promise I won’t be offended if you give this a miss in search of your elusive jam.

You don’t have to be familiar with my other works to read this, but if you’ve read Wheels In Motion, you’ll have some backstory going in.

FYI, Covid-19 does not exist in this universe. I feel like we all could use a little escapism from that.

THE JOURNEY, PART ONE

I never thought that I would find a way out

I never thought I’d hear my heart beat so loud

I can’t believe there’s something left in my chest anymore

~~ Arlington, VA, October ~~

“I’m sorry I hurt you.” God, I was sorry.

“Forget it, Viv. You thought we wouldn’t work out? Well, you’ve made sure of that tonight. Don’t ever call me again!” Addison turned on her heel and stalked away from me as I stood on the concourse of the Capitol One Center.

I watched her leave, pain and regret filling my soul. It never would have worked in the long run, but I hadn’t wanted it to end. She was so much smarter and… better than me. Why was I so self-destructive? Why the fuck did I ditch her to go out with—

“What the hell was that?!” I heard behind me.

—Astrid. Shit. I’m going to have a two-fer tonight.

I turned around to find Astrid glaring at me, her arms crossed.

“I—”

“Were you cheating on her with me?!”

“Listen, it’s complicated. I—”

“I’m not someone’s side piece, Viv! Fuck you!” Her hand whipped towards my cheek.

*SMACK*

My eyes opened, unseeing in the darkness. The dream usually ended the same, but not always. In the real world, Astrid hadn’t slapped me. Instead, she’d told me to fuck myself and then stalked off in the opposite direction from Addison, leaving me standing awkwardly and alone on the concourse. I’d never seen Astrid again.

I rubbed my cheek. My unconscious apparently thought I deserved a slap. I couldn’t find it in me to disagree, although getting woken up by an imaginary hand across my face every month or two was tiresome.

I looked around the unfamiliar room. The girl I’d gone home with from the bar last night (Jenny? Jen? Man, I drank too much) liked her bedroom darker than I preferred. With her blackout curtains I could barely tell if my eyes were open or not. She stirred next to me, her naked butt pressing against my hip.

I waited for her to fall deeper back into sleep, trying not to think about my hangover. Once I was sure she wouldn’t wake, I carefully slid out from under the covers. My clothes were in a pile next to her bedroom door. I was always careful to pile them in one place so as to be more easily found in the dark. I couldn’t find my underwear, but I was fine getting home commando. I quickly dressed in her living room and carried my Doc Martins as I silently slipped out of her apartment, making sure the doorknob was locked behind me. I paused on the stairs long enough to stuff my feet into my boots.

As I was walking away from her building I finally looked at the time. Not that I needed to, I knew what my phone would say.

Five AM. Jesus, I wish I could just sleep.

I took my time strolling through the Cherry Hill neighborhood of Arlington, towards the Rosslyn metro stop. The first bus of the day wouldn’t come until six. Fortunately, there was a 7-Eleven along the way. A large coffee and a donut helped me shake off the cobwebs I’d gifted myself through tequila the night before.

It was after seven by the time I dragged myself into my apartment.

“Another one of those nights, huh?” My roommate Manny was in the tiny kitchen of our tiny two-bedroom apartment, packing his lunch.

“Well, she was a hot little thing and I’m pretty irresistible.” I forced a grin.

“Yeah? What was her name?”

My grin slipped. “Jan, dickweed.”

“What’s her last name?”

“Fuck you, you’re not my dad.”

“You get her number? Leave her yours?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

I snorted. “She wouldn’t want to see me again.”

He shrugged. “Whatever Viv, it’s your life. I made you a sandwich too, it’s in the fridge.”

“Thanks man, you didn’t have to—”

“Just as easy to make two as one.” Manny shrugged into his Metro jacket and picked up his old-fashioned metal lunch box. “I’m nine to five on the Yellow Line. Be back for Thursday Night Football if you want to watch the game.”

“I’m noon to eight on the Blue. Should be home around the start of the second quarter.

“Tight. I’ll get us a six-pack. Later.”

The apartment was quiet after he was gone, most of the other building residents having already left for work.

A year ago, when beylikdüzü escort my old roommates had told me to move out because they were ‘tired of my bullshit’, I’d almost had to move back in with my grandmother, which would have been a nightmare for my social life. I’d packed everything I owned, which wasn’t much, and was ready to bite the bullet and go home to Abuela. Fortunately for me, luck intervened.

Manny had been dead-heading with me to Franconia-Springfield on his way home after a shift that week. Our conversation had made its way to my troubles and he’d said he was looking for a roommate. He had a two-bedroom apartment that he’d been sharing with his teenage daughter, but she’d moved to North Carolina to live with her mother to finish high school. My brother had questioned what I was doing, moving in with a middle-aged black man, but living with someone with the same job had its advantages. We could bitch about work together, and he liked to watch sports. Plus, I’d had no other options.

After all the drama with my old roommates, I guess I finally learned not to shit where I slept. I never brought girls back to Manny’s apartment. I’d only go home with them, whenever I managed to land one. Keep the drama away from home. Besides, they couldn’t show up on my doorstep to yell at me if they didn’t know where I lived.

A quick shower later, I was changed into my own Metro uniform. I frowned at the stain on the shirt pocket, but with my jacket on no one would see it. I made sure to take the sandwich Manny had made me. He was messy, which made sharing a bathroom with him kinda gross, but the dude could cook. It’d save me ten bucks for lunch, something my wallet appreciated.

I boarded the first car on the Blue Line at Franconia-Springfield and knocked on the driver’s door. Edwin opened it to let me into the control compartment and I slouched down in the jump seat.

“Where to m’lady?”

“Dead-heading to Largo.”

“Shee-it, you’s on the Blue today and they making you saddle up all the way out there when you live right cheer’?”

“Bureaucracy, what can I say?”

Edwin laughed. “Bureaucrats? In DC? Naw, that can’t be it.”

That got a snort from me. “How’s your kid doing?”

“Good! He’s got more’n a dozen words now.”

“That’s great, man! That’s gotta make you happy.”

Edwin’s kid, Matthew was five, and severely special-needs. When I’d first met Edwin, Matt had been three and completely non-verbal.

“Sho’ does. He’s even showing some interest in the toilet, which would be the biggest blessing. Tired of buying them damn diapers.”

I couldn’t imagine what he and his wife had to deal with day-to-day. Yet another reason I had no interest in children.

My phone buzzed in my jacket and I pulled it out and looked at the screen.

“Fuck.”

“Bad news?” Edwin inquired as we started decelerating into Van Dorn station.

“It’s Simmons,” I told him as I answered it. The dispatcher was notoriously crabby. “Yello?” I answered.

“Esparza, you on your way in?”

“Yeah, just at Van Dorn. Should be at Largo in about forty-five minutes.”

“Stop at Metro Center instead. I need you to replace a Red Line driver on train sixty-four for the rest of his shift.”

Fuck. “Hey boss, I don’t mind moving around where you need me, but I really don’t like the Red Line. Any way I can—”

“I don’t give a crap, Esparza, that’s where you’re needed today. Call in when you get there and I’ll let you know where to hook up with sixty-four.”

“Okay, I’ll—” My phone beeped as he hung up. I blew out a frustrated breath.

“What’s your deal with the Red Line, anyway?” Edwin asked.

“I just don’t like it, alright?”

“Sorry, sorry. Just asking.” Edwin’s defensive tone told me I’d snapped at him, even if I hadn’t realized it.

“Sorry man, I just… I was on the Red Line when I was in a crash near McPherson Square three years ago.”

“Oh shit, I remember that! Didn’t know you was one of the drivers. Was you the one who got hit or—”

“I sure wasn’t driving the other one. That guy got fired when he got out of the hospital.”

“I thought the track sensors were faulty. Otherwise he couldn’t have pulled in and hit you.”

“They were, but dude still had eyes, man. He flat-out drove his train right into the back of mine while I was waiting outside the station. It’s not like I was invisible.”

“That sucks. Guess I get why you don’t want to be on the Red.”

I blew out another breath. “That’s not the only reason. It’s just… that’s where all the rich folk live. That’s like… white DC. I mean, all of the lines are like that when they go through downtown and Northwest, but I like the Blue Line. Anacostia and shit. That’s working-class DC. My people, I guess.”

“I can get behind that, I suppose.”

We rumbled down the rails in silence.

Those weren’t the real reasons I didn’t like the avcılar escort Red Line, but I wasn’t interested in telling Edwin about my shit. I never told anyone about my shit.

My first few hours at the controls on the Red Line were uneventful, but the closer it got to rush hour the more nervous I became. The first time I pulled into Farragut North after five o’clock on the way to Shady Grove I stuttered as my amplified voice rang through the train and over the speakers mounted to the outside of each car.

“Th-this is Farragut North Station. Please stand aside and allow passengers to depart the train before boarding. Farragut North.”

I cursed at my nerves.

As the train pulled into the Farragut North I saw her standing on the platform, Addison’s blond hair pale as the day she’d walked away from me if maybe a little longer. I hadn’t ever expected to see her again. For some reason, it’d never crossed my mind I would, even though I knew where this was where she got on to ride home after work. I knew she liked to board at door one of car three, which put her out right next to the escalator at Tenleytown. Except she didn’t get on car three. I stuck my head out the driver’s window as soon as we came to a stop and spied her boarding at the middle door of car two.

Shit. Do your job, Viv. “Please stand clear of the doors, this train is departing. Next stop, DuPont Circle Station.”

I tried to make my voice as flat as possible, in hopes she wouldn’t realize it was me driving.

I did my best to pay attention to the tracks as we rumbled through the tunnel, knowing she was two cars behind me. Did she recognize my voice? Would she even care that I was driving? Was she back there calling me every dirty name she could think of in her head? Telling the other passengers that their driver was a cheating bitch?

“Now arriving, DuPont Circle Station, this is DuPont Circle. Please allow passengers to depart the train before boarding.”

Did I want to catch another glimpse of her when she got off at Tenleytown? Would she look towards me?

As I looked down the platform at DuPont to clear the doors, I saw her come bouncing off the train, clearly grooving to some unheard beat. She brushed a lock of hair behind her ear, an achingly familiar gesture, and I saw she was wearing earbuds.

She probably didn’t even hear my voice. She’s getting off here? Look at her. She looks so… happy. I wonder what—

A loud banging on the control room door behind me made me jump as my memories vanished in a resentful puff of smoke.

“Let’s go! We’ve been sitting here forever!” I heard a man’s muffled voice through the door.

Fuck. I’d gotten lost in thought. I made my departure announcement and pulled out of the station.

It had been over a year since we’d broken up, that first time I’d seen Addison while driving the Red Line.

A couple months later I’d spied Addie’s straight friend, the doctor chick in the wheelchair, waiting on the platform as I pulled into Metro Center. She’d boarded the second car. Then I saw Addison board the same car at Farragut. Then they’d gotten off together at DuPont. And they were clearly a couple. Addison was holding her hand, tugging her along in her wheelchair, like she was pulling a child’s toy on a string, as they laughed together. As I’d pushed the button to close the doors, I saw Addison lean down and kiss her.

I guess the doctor chick wasn’t a straight girl after all.

That was more than two years ago, and the last time I’d ever laid eyes on her. After that I’d done my best to never drive the Red Line.

I spent my entire shift holding my breath, watching the platforms whenever I pulled into any of their stations for the rest of the night.

~~ Lorton, Virginia ~~

“Cariño!” Abeula cupped my face and kissed both my cheeks when I came into her kitchen. My grandmother was a tiny woman, whose straight hair was equal portions of dark pepper black and salty white. As usual, El Zol 107.9 was playing in the background on her ancient kitchen clock radio.

“Morning Abuela. Can I put my groceries in your fridge while I’m here? I had to stop at the store on the way over,” I said, hefting a couple of heavy plastic grocery bags. It was a weekly ritual, pretending I’d stopped at the grocery store on the way then conveniently forgetting to take them with me. This week my load was extra heavy as I’d managed to score a whole pork shoulder on sale. Abuela would make good use of that.

“S’up Viv?” my little brother Diego said, giving me a wink from the kitchen table where he was busy wrapping tamales.

“Hey Dee, what’s shaking?”

“The usual. You off today?

I started putting the groceries away in the refrigerator, noting that Diego had already put a load in there as well. “No, I picked up a half shift today,” I said, gesturing at the Metro shirt I was wearing.

“Note vas a quedar?”

“Don’t esenyurt escort worry, Abeula, you know I wouldn’t miss Sunday lunch with you. I go in at one.”

“Well, sit down and get to work then,” Diego said, resuming rolling tamales.

“How many are we on the hook for today?”

“Quinientos,” Abuela said, as she stirred a big pot of cornmeal filler on the stove before turning to tend to her carnitas.

“Wow! Did you get a new buyer?” I sat down and reached for a cornhusk from the pile in the middle of the table.

“Si, the new market deli counter is buying doscientos cincuenta every week!”

It’d been a while since I’d seen my grandmother so excited. “¡Eso es genial, Abuela!”

“Good news, right?” Diego chimed in, “That’s an extra hundred and fifty bucks a week in the bank, right grandma?”

“Si. Maybe mi nietas can stop ‘accidentally’ leaving food at my house every time they visit.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said, hiding a grin.

“Of course, you don’t, querida,” she said, stepping over from the stove to pat my cheek.

“I talked to mom last night,” Diego said. He didn’t look at me.

My good humor deflated. “What’d she say?”

“She went back to the embassy to apply again.”

“Waste of time.”

“I know that, Viv. She knows that. She just does it to give herself some hope.”

“When you get deported, you can’t come back. Not for ten years.”

Diego glanced towards the stove, where Abuela was pretending not to hear us. “It’s been nine years. She’s just trying to be optimistic. She wants to get back to us.”

“It wouldn’t matter anyway. Once they allow her to reapply to immigrate she has to start at the back of the line, which is years long.”

Our mother had been deported when I was in high school. Diego and I hadn’t even known she was undocumented until ICE had arrested her. Abuela was our father’s mother, and she had legal residence, so we lived with her through the rest of high school. Our father had passed away when I was twelve. A car accident, mom always said, but I had a hunch it might have been gang related. I never pushed to find out more. Diego and I had been born here in Virginia, so Mom insisted we stay and finish high school, assuring us she’d be back when she could.

No one I knew had ever come back legally after getting deported.

Diego and I spent the next two hours rolling tamales for Abuela, while she kept supplying the fresh masa and ground carnitas or chicken. My fingers were cramping by the end. The fresh tamales we got to eat for lunch and the beaming smile on Abuela’s face as we packed up the order for her to deliver in the afternoon was all the payment I needed for the work.

After lunch, I made my way to the Metro, and started my day of endlessly driving the train back and forth across DC.

I was at Largo Town Center, walking along the platform from the front of the train to the back of the train, which was about to become the front of the train as I turned around to head back to Franconia-Springfield for my final run of the day, when my phone rang. The screen told me it was Manny.

“S’up Man?”

“Hey, I saw you left your bag. Are you not coming tonight?”

“Shit. No, I’m coming for sure, I forgot to grab it this morning. Can you bring it for me? I’d hate to have to wear rentals.”

“Sure thing. You need a lift from the station?”

“I was gonna take the bus, but if you don’t mind, I should be there in about forty-five.”

“Cool. See you there.”

Manny and I were on a bowling team in a league of guys (almost exclusively guys) from WMATA. Manny and I were Metro drivers, Oscar was a bus driver and Raúl, an engineer who worked in the maintenance depot. I’d joined Manny’ team when I’d moved in with him, as my old team had played pretty far away. I hadn’t forgotten it was league night, it was one of my favorite nights of the week. I’d just forgotten to take my bowling bag. Seems like I was getting pretty absent-minded these days.

I wonder if it’s because I never sleep past four or five in the morning anymore?

A little more than an hour later, Manny and I, along with our two other teammates, were throwing warm-up balls down the lane at Bowl America Burke.

“Whose turn to buy the first pitcher?” Manny asked.

“Viv didn’t buy one at all last week,” said Raúl.

“Not my fault,” I said smugly, “I got the high score every game. You’re the one who made the rule that high score skates on buying the pitcher for the next game. You play the game, you takes your chances.”

“I’m tapped this week. Can you guys spot me?” asked Oscar, our fourth.

“I got you man, I’ll buy one to start us off after last week anyway. Be right back.” I headed to the bar and ordered a pitcher of Bud Light and four glasses and waited for the bartender to pour our beer.

“Nice shoes!” I heard from behind me.

I turned to find two… girls, really. They looked like they couldn’t have been more than twenty-two or -three. Bubbly cheerleader types. One of them even had an honest-to-God bow in her hair on top of her head.

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