America was big, and the people in it were even bigger. All around was shouting, and noise, and the radio blaring some talk-show host ranting about what was wrong with the country. And underneath all of it were the emotions.
They hurt, sometimes. Even the good ones. Happiness could be too much, pulsing off the stoner in the corner. Anger could be bitter, like what the trucker coming from the restroom felt. Sadness could be so deep even touching it for a moment made her want to cry, like she felt from boy working the counter, with his smudged eye-liner. And all of it at once was a chorus of sound and color, burning and bleeding out from everyone here.
It could have been anywhere. A gas station, fast food, convenience store combination, somewhere in America. It wasn't really a place, so much as a place between places. This was somewhere people stopped, before they moved on to other things, pulling off the interstate to pee, and grab some coffee. It was hardly real, but the emotions the people felt here still were. And Alex felt all of them. They weren't enough.
Gabe was dead.
Her heart thudded, and something shifted.
And then she took a breath, and grabbed the chips off the shelf.
The boy was sad. It pulsed out from him, and found her. When two microphones got close together they could form a feedback loop. She wanted to stop the signal, but it was there, already forming. Gabe was dead, she was sad, and this was not going well.
"Can I help you?"
The woman was young, slight, and around her age, with long brown hair, and a camera slung around her shoulder. For a moment, Alex tried to focus on her, standing behind her. Concern radiated out from her, and it was comforting. Focus on the concern, not the sadness.
Gabe was dead.
"Yeah," she said, standing back up, over her, "I'm fine, just needed a moment to breathe."
"I know what that's like," the woman said, colors shifting around her, "I used to black out sometimes, back when I was in high school."
At the mention of high school her aura shifted. There was something deep and sad there, beyond even what the boy behind the counter was feeling. It ached with sadness, and Alex doubled over with the force of it.
It was too much. She wanted to scream, or cry, or drive for miles until the radio ws nothing but static. She felt like a storm was washing over her, drowning her, and carrying her out to sea. She felt like she was dead. She was dying. She was just like Gabe, and so, so many others, dead from accidents and crimes and just what time does to people. Why was she still here? Why was this woman here, sending out sadness like a tidal wave? Why couldn't everything just be quiet for once?
"You both okay, Supermax?"
At the words the woman's colors immediately shifted. It went from a deep, and churning sadness, to pure happiness. Alex basked in it, like the glow of the sun, and took a deep breath. Then she stood, and saw the speaker.
She was a tall woman, almost Alex's height, with long blonde hair, although it was streaked with faded dye of many colors. She had a beanie pulled over her head, and was wearing a tank top, showing off some cleavage through it. But more than any of that Alex still felt the brown-haired woman. She was looking at the new speaker, and she felt happy.
"I think so?" The first woman said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah, yeah, better now," Alex said, her smile real, as she felt the same golden happiness pouring off the taller woman, "thanks. I should pay for my chips."
"Hey," the tall woman said, patting her on the shoulder once, "take care of yourself."
Alex turned away, to give the pair some semblance of privacy as they kissed.
America was big, and the people in it have big emotions. They were sad, and angry, and always yelling over the radio. They were overwhelming, sometimes, and made Alex want to somehow find a way of sealing herself away from them all. But they could be good, and happy, too. The two women behind her were good. Gabe was dead, but, basking in the warmth of their love, she could think about him, and allow herself to smile.