Excerpt: Any Way the Wind Blows
“C’mon, Josey, don’t be like that.”
I brought my hand up to shield the sun from my eyes, and narrowed them as I took in the scene. The woman was tall, Hispanic, with her long black hair pulled back into a braid; she fit the description of my ride. Some generically yuppie-looking bro had her backed up against a pickup, gesturing as he leaned into her space. She wasn’t making eye contact and had angled herself away from him, but when she tried to move out to the side, he smoothly stepped in and blocked the path. She glanced around, and when her eyes locked with mine, she gave me the unmistakable ‘save me from this creep’ look. It always amazed me that while every girl knew it, guys never seemed to catch on.
But that was fine. If this dude wanted to play oblivious, well, so could I.
As made my way over, he said something about them both knowing she was going to say yes eventually—which, gross, dude. I parked in front of them. “Hey, sorry to interrupt,” I lied, and shot him a clueless smile before turning to the woman. “You’re my ride, right?” I offered my hand out to shake hers, my arm a barrier between the two of them. “I’m Callie Asaad. Should I put my stuff in the back?”
“Oh, um, yeah.” It took a second for her to catch on, but the moment she did, she added a quick, “Here, let me help you with that.”
Together, we pushed him back. I carried my hiking backpack in front of me through the tight space with an “Oh, wow, it’s tight in here. Sorry!” He glared and attempted to twist to get by behind me. I dropped my bag and made a face, squatting so there was no way to cross unless he physically stepped over me. I didn’t think he’d try it, but if he did, he was fair game for a dick-punch, as far as I was concerned.
He tried to wait me out, but after a few minutes of pretending to dig for my phone all the way at the bottom of my big-ass bag, he gave up. “Think about what I said, Josey,” he said. He waited, like he expected her to say something, but after an awkward silence, finally just left. He’d parked across the street at the grocery store, apparently. Considering the bus depot lot was near empty, it only gave me an even more uneasy feeling.
Jo watched him go as I stuffed my things back into my bag, and she furrowed her brow. “Don’t you need your phone?”
I grinned and pulled it out of my back pocket, giving it a little wiggle. “Sorry. You seemed like you did not want him to be there.”
She was silent as she shifted her weight back and forth. I was worried maybe I’d read the situation wrong, but how could I? It was so clear. I was about to ask all the same, but she sighed and gave a brisk nod. “Thanks.”
“No problem.” She got in the truck and, after I tossed my bag in the back, I jumped in the passenger seat. “Oh, by the way.” She paused in backing out to look at me, one eyebrow raised. “Do you go by Jo or Josie?”
It was subtle, but the corners of her mouth twitched towards a frown. “Jo, please.”
The energy in the car was even more awkward than before, like maybe she expected me to say something about it and hoped I wouldn’t. I just smiled back. “Cool. Thanks for the ride, Jo.”
Nothing else was said for a while after that. There wasn’t even music to fill the silence, and I desperately hoped maybe she’d turn some on. Hell, even talk radio would be better at this point. Jo looked straight ahead as she gripped the wheel like she was punishing it, and I stared out the window for lack of anything else to do. I’d resigned myself to spending the entire trip acting as if empty fields were the most interesting thing I’d ever seen when she finally gave me a quick look out of the corner of her eye. I wasn’t sure what to make of it, and when I glanced back, she acted like she hadn’t. The third time it happened, I twisted in my seat to look right back at her. “What?”
“Oh, I, uh.” She seemed startled, and I could see her throat work as she stared back out at the road. “I like your shirt.”
“Oh. Thanks!” It was one of my favorites, a red and white flannel that I’d dip dyed in bleach. I’d thrown it on over a tee and rolled the sleeves up to my elbows. “I made it.”
“Really?” At the next stop sign, she idled long enough to give it an appreciative look. “It’s really good. I’m no good at those things.” Her tone was a familiar one, as if a couple of stitches and a bowl of bleach was a divine art, bestowed to few and one they could never master.
“It really is super easy. I only do things that take an hour or two, tops.”
“You do stuff like that a lot?” The hair wrap that I used to keep my curls off my face was handmade, and I’d cut the neck out of my shirt and patched up my pants. She peered over again, curious, and I watched her as she catalogued the obvious hand stitching on each one.
“Yeah. I get most of my stuff from the thrift store, except my work pants, which are both amazing and stupid expensive. Getting everything else second hand helps me afford them, and then I just customize everything from tutorials online.”
She was looking at my pants now. I’m pretty sure no one had paid so much attention to my clothes in, well… Probably ever. “Why do you need those pants?” Her eyes widened, like she realized she sounded a little rude, and backpedaled in a rush. “I mean, if you’re trying to save money, there are probably cheaper ones.”
“Oh, well, I pretty much do this—” I waved vaguely around the truck, trying to indicate the farm work in general “—year-round, and these ones last a long time. They stay cool, dry fast…They’re great pants, especially when you can only pack two pairs.”
“You do this all year?” She sounded disbelieving, and I understood. There were a few other long-term workers I’d met, but most people did it for a few months at most. “How do you afford it?”
“I work like hell over winter doing extra stuff and odd jobs, save up, and then I just travel around working through FarmShare.” FarmShare was the ‘agricultural tourism’ program that people like me used, where you could sign up and pick farms to work at in exchange for food and lodging. Cheap travel and extra hands for sustainable farms all rolled into one mutually beneficial package. “My only expenses are my phone, clothes, transportation, and whatever I eat when I’m not at a farm. That can get expensive, but I pick farms close together so I never pay more than twenty bucks for a ticket, and I eat a lot of homemade trail mix. I’m always feeling pretty strapped by October, but it’s better than having to do… I don’t know. Whatever it is most people do.”
“Wow.” Jo was quiet for a moment, then said, “I’m not sure I could do that.”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m effectively homeless, so that right there freaks people out.” She snorted at that, and I grinned back at her. “I couldn’t do it if I had kids, I don’t really have any health problems, and I know my parents would let me stay with them if shit hit the fan, you know? It’s a really insecure way to live; I’m never sure where I’m going to be a month from now, and that takes some privilege to pull off. But, I don’t know. I graduated college and just sort of looked at my life, and the idea of buying a farm, settling down… it scared the hell out of me.” A lot of things scared the hell out of me—there was a reason I’d never stayed in a single place for longer than a month for the last four years. “I had to get away.”
Jo was so quiet, I was pretty sure I’d offended her or something. Before I could try to apologize, she said quietly “I know what you mean.”
When we stopped at the light, she frowned, giving me a curious look. “Isn’t it hard, with relationships? Don’t you want a boyfriend?” She visibly caught herself before adding, “Or a girlfriend?”
I felt myself bristle instinctively, but something in her tone and the way she didn’t automatically assume heterosexuality kept me from retorting with a snotty none of your damn business. She seemed honestly curious and a little confused, instead of the typical judgements that made me uncomfortable telling new people that I was asexual.
Whatever it was, it made me give a more even response, even if, at least in my head, I was very much on the defensive. “No. I don’t date,” I said simply, waiting to see what her response would be.