See Part 2 here: Part 2
Seeing Bobbi slide back towards the window seat, Riley’s eyes brightened. “See? She wants me to come sit with her.”
“No, she wants you to sit back in your own seat.”
“Don’t … be … silly, Daddy,” Riley huffed, pushing and squeezing against his leggy roadblock. “Of course she wants to talk to me.” She tiptoed, peeking over her dad’s raised leg. “She likes me.”
“What?” he said, with mock surprise, “Why would she like you? She doesn’t know you.”
“She knows I’m cute,” Riley asserted, ducking under his leg and darting over to Bobbi’s vacant seat. “All moms like cute girls.”
By now, Bobbi was ready to admit defeat. “How did you know I’m a mom?” she asked.
Riley shrugged, and fingered Bobbi’s jacket. “Aren’t you hot?” she asked, already bored with the prior conversation.
“Nope. I never get hot.”
“Oh.” The small girl plopped herself next to Bobbi, taking up the vacant seat by the window. “Daddy says I’m always cold. That’s why I’m gonna be a lifeguard when I grow up, so I can live by the beach.”
From across the aisle, midway, as he was by now practically leaning into Bobbi’s lap, Dallas teased, “How are you going to be a lifeguard if you’re scared to let me get you swimming lessons?”
Riley huffed. “I don’t need to learn to swim. I’m just going to sit up high, with a bathing suit and a whistle, and look pretty.”
“That might actually work,” Bobbi offered.
“Yep,” Riley agreed.
“What are you going to do if someone starts to drown?” her father asked.
The girl sighed dramatically. “Get one of the stupid boys to save them.”
Dallas’s voice rose in mock anger. “Boys? What boys?”
“The boys I’ll let watch me be a lifeguard if they give me $10.” She feigned boredom. “They’ll probably want to hang around my chair all day.”
“Wow, you’re good,” Dallas answered, slumping back into his seat. From the corner of her eye, Bobbi could see the corners of his mouth pull into a smile. She grinned first at Riley, then at her dad. “Men can never figure out the simplest things, can they?”
“Nope,” Riley agreed, her snaggletoothed smile matching her new friend’s. “What’s your name?” The blonde bent toward the girl and whispered. Frowning, Riley tilted her head. “Are you Chinese?”
Bobbi laughed, throwing her head back. “No sweets. I’m from Scotland originally. Ever heard of it?”
Riley shook her head no.
“Well, it’s far from here and very green and lovely, but not as far as China.”
“Then how’d you get a Chinese name?” Riley asked.
“It only sounds Chinese. But it’s a secret name, so you can’t tell anyone.”
Riley grinned in co-spy accord and leaned into the woman’s shoulder. Bobbi reflexively wrapped an arm around her. “I’m good at secrets,” the child asserted. She reached up and placed one small hand on the woman’s cheek.
Bobbi started at the touch. It had been a long time since she’d allowed any such contact. The child was safe, however, and her warm touch reassuring. Riley was right, she was a mother, though it had been ages since her kid was this one’s size. Still, mothering instincts are nearly impossible to suppress, and having a cute, friendly girl grinning into your eyes was one of the better ways to pass a half hour. The two chatted away like old mates for the remainder of the trip, and Bobbi found it a soothing way to forget the longing in her body for the girl’s dad. They would talk, giggle, and the child would go on her way, taking the probable firefighter-calendar-model of a father out of Bobbi’s life forever. It was a workable plan. All she needed to do was keep her distance until he left.
As they neared the Maryland border, Dallas startled her by ringing the bell. “This is our stop,” he said, looking uncomfortably over his shoulder at the group in the back. They, Dallas, Riley, and Bobbi were the only remaining passengers on the bus. “Are you sure you’re gonna be okay from here on?” he asked. “Riley and I can ride with you to your stop.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” she answered, helping the pouting girl reach her father. “I get off not too far from here.”
“Oh, so you’re close then?” Though the bus pulled to a stop, he did not move toward the door. “He glanced once more toward the back of the bus. “You’re sure?”
“Positive.” His draw was powerful, and her liking the little girl only made her more determined to keep him at a distance.
He stood a bit longer, until the driver asked if he were leaving, and then started forward to the exit. Before Bobbi could react, however, he turned, took her hand, and said, “Very nice meeting you.” The woman jerked back as though she’d been shocked, drawing raucous jeers from the vulture section.
“She don’t like him no more than you, Tony,” said one of the group.
“Shut the fuck up,” was the reply, followed by more laughter.
Meanwhile, Bobbi sat, her bent arms drawn to her shoulders, and fists and jaw clenched shut. Dallas reached once more, likely in apology, but she shrank further away, and he turned, lifting his daughter and exiting the bus. The solitary woman was grateful that she could not see the look on his face.