Sascha paced around the empty bus terminal, looking up at the clock on the wall every few minutes and muttering to himself. Choosing a bus that would leave at three in the morning was a mistake; arriving at midnight was even more of a mistake. But it was either that and sit awkwardly in a hipster restaurant for three hours, sipping on an overpriced soda, trying to ignore the pointed looks of the waitstaff and the feeling he should give up and go back.
God, he needed a smoke. He’d been trying to quit, but he still kept a few cigs on him just in case… which really only made quitting harder, but whatever. At least it’d kill time.
He fished a cigarette out of his mostly empty pack and patted his pockets for a lighter, only to realize that he had, in fact, taken the step of tossing out all of his lighters when he swore he was going to quit this time, for real. Now he was doing swearing of a completely different kind.
“Hey man, need a light?” A man with a guitar case slung on his back smiled at Sascha from across the entrance, where he sat on the edge of one of the big concrete planters that held bedraggled-looking trees.
All the swearing flew out of Sascha with a gusty sigh. “Yeah. Yes. Please.”
The man slid to his feet and ambled over. He was a little guy, maybe about shoulder-high to Sascha, wearing an oversized green bomber jacket and worn jeans turned up a good few inches at the cuffs. He was a little round of face and belly, with a mop of loose brown curls that gave him a cherubic look. Sascha suspected that he was way too young to be at a grimy bus station at one in the morning, offering a light to a strange man.
The man pulled a book of matches out of the pocket of his worn jeans and struck a match. He held it up for Sascha and the flame illuminated his dancing brown eyes and the sun streaks in his curls.
Sascha lit his cigarette and took a drag. He held it in for a moment then blew out the smoke in a grateful sigh. “Thanks.”
Lines crinkled around the man’s eyes as he smiled. “No problem,” he rumbled, and Sascha revised his estimate of the man’s age upward a good few years.
“Want one?” Sascha gestured the mostly empty pack at him.
“Nah, thanks though.” He seemed more enamored of the match, which he hadn’t put out yet. He did some complicated trick with his fingers that made it look like the flame danced across them. “So, where you going, this time of night?”
Sascha’s warm feeling toward the man went cold. He puffed at his cigarette and frowned over the man’s shoulder. “Away.”
“You too, huh– ow.” He dropped the match and shook his hand. “Sometimes you just have to be elsewhere for a while,” he said, his voice still as unconcerned as if he hadn’t just burnt himself with the match he was stamping out under his boot.
“Or forever,” Sascha muttered. He huddled and took a drag.
“Or forever,” the man agreed. “Too bad the best rides for that don’t leave until ass o’clock.” His puckish face scrunched up with all the disgruntlement Sascha felt, and Sascha couldn’t help but laugh. The man’s grinned in return. “So hey — I’m Fawn. Like the critter.” He stuck his hand out for Sascha to shake.
“Sascha,” he said, wondering at the name. He shook Fawn’s hand, which was strong and and callused.
An impish look crossed Fawn’s face. His grip lingered a moment. “I got an idea to pass the time.” His eyes twinkled as he gave Sascha’s hand a final squeeze. “You sing at all?
Sascha puffed his cigarette to hide his fluster. Fawn, or Faun? “Uh, no, not… well. Maybe. Sometimes.”
“Yeah? Well, I’ve got the urge to play, so feel free to join in if you want.” He wandered back to the planter, unslinging the guitar case as he went. He removed his guitar and perched on the broad edge of the planter. He tested the strings and fiddled with the tuning knobs a bit before starting to play.
The melody started off lively, but with an unmistakably melancholy tinge. Fawn settled into it as he began to sing, his worn baritone steady. He sang of walking down a dark road, a path of loss and being lost, and hoping for a light and a friendly meeting at the end.
Sascha sat on the edge of the planter opposite Fawn, smoking silently as he listened to the unfamiliar song. The words made his chest so tight that he almost got up and left, but as the song went on it had a fragile hope to it. That kept him sitting and listening as the song came to an end and, after a few beats of silence, Fawn launched into another.
The second, third, and fourth songs continued along the same vein — themes of traveling, regret, redemption, and hope. This strange little man seemed to have an endless repertoire of melancholy folk music Sascha had never heard before.
He felt a little put out by these on-the-nose song choices, but the way Fawn sang them kept him listening. This was a man who hadn’t just memorized these songs, he knew them like a person who had sung them to himself through plenty of his own dark times.
Sascha chewed on that while Fawn took a break. He was lost in his thoughts when familiar notes startled him out of his reviere — a quick, yet solemn melody. As Fawn started singing, Sascha realized he knew this song. He’d never listened to much folk music, but this he’d listened to this song about perseverance on repeat for weeks until he’d made up his mind to leave.
It also happened to be a duet. He couldn’t resist joining in where the second voice started, but a few notes in, his shaky tenor threatened to quaver to a stop. Fawn’ kept playing, however, a hint of a smile on his lips as he gave Sascha a tiny nod.
Sascha wasn’t even half the singer that Fawn was and he felt like he was butchering this poor song, but Fawn’s voice staying steady beside his kept him going, much like this song had. He closed his eyes and sank into it.
Fawn continued on to another song Sascha recognized, and he amazed himself by keeping up, his voice growing more steady with each verse. Another song, and another, and he sang as if he’d never felt uncertain about it, even as people started trickling past them into the station.
When Fawn stopped for another break, Sascha was downright hoarse. Fawn offered his water bottle to Sascha and he didn’t even hesitate, practically springing across the gap between them to take it and drink deep.
“Where’d you learn to play like that?” Sascha asked when he finally came up for air.
Fawn chuckled as he took his bottle back. “Here and there, in a lot of places like this.” He put his hands to the strings again, but after a moment, tilted his head as if he were listening for something. “When did you say your ride was leaving, again?”
Sascha hadn’t, but he checked his watch anyway. One past three. “Oh shit!” He scrambled to pull his backpack on. “Sorry, I’ve got to go–”
Fawn chuckled and batted Sascha’s apology away. “No worries, man. Thanks for keeping me company.”
“Thank you.” Sascha fidgeted, feeling like he should say something more. Thank you wasn’t enough for how he felt now. It was still the middle of the night, but he felt like dawn was just around the corner and he was already well on his journey.
“Bus 1303 to Greymerrow leaving at three o’ five a.m. from platform five,” a voice announced over a tinny speaker.
“Thank you so much,” he said, feeling incredibly lame, but the way Fawn’s eyes brightened made him feel like maybe he shouldn’t. “Uh, take care of yourself.”
Sascha rushed into the station, but before he went through the doors to the bus platforms, he looked back through the dirty windows at where Fawn sat. The other man gave him a wave that was almost a salute and mouthed the words, You’ll do just fine.