Clean.

Not an easy thing in a place so filthy.

The sink was covered in grime and rust-colored stains. Some of which she had just added herself.

She inspected her hands once again. The rims of her fingernails white, her skin slightly reddened from the hot water. She bared her teeth at the small, clean spot of the mirror. Her teeth were not as white as she would like, but neither were they tar-brown. Which was nothing short of a small miracle, really.

She took a step back to capture more of her image in the tiny circle of mirror. She took the brush from her pack and smoothed back her still-wet hair, twisting it into a bun at the back of her head. She rather would have it down, hide her too-large ears, but she didn’t have the hair-taming tools. In a few days. When she was home. For now, clean, brushed hair would suffice.

She once again rummaged through her dusty pack and produced a plastic bag filled with clean clothes. Not “road clean,” with frayed edges, material rough with wear, and permanent little grease spots. But actual clean, with soft cloth, colors bright, the flowery scent of detergent wafted from the plastic bag as she removed them.

She looked down at her naked body. Every inch of it freshly scrubbed. She stood on newspaper to shield herself from the grim and who knkow what els on the bathroom floor. Her feet, always bundled in thick socks and boots, were the only part of her that hadn’t been covered in a cast of gray.

She had shaved everything below her neckline and she was ultra-aware of the soft cloth brushing against her smooth, freshly exposed skin. It was hard for her to imagine that in less than an hour from now she wouldn’t notice it anymore.

She placed her feet gingerly into new shoes, low slingback sandals that showed off her freshly painted purple toes. She squatted down to fasten them, remembering to keep her knees together. All the little ladylike details she had abandoned would be second nature again in a day or two.

She took another step back, off of the newspaper now. Black lines around her eyes, rouge on her cheeks and lips, a blouse, jeans, and a thin sweater.

The image in the clean patch of mirror looked like someone she had known a long time ago, but was a stranger now. She couldn’t imagine that woman giving her a second glance. Yet that woman stared back at her from the mirror. She used the plastic bag that had held her clothes to pick up the filthy pack and toss it into the trash bin. Then she used the bag again to turn the door knob, tossing the bag aside as she stepped out of the rest stop bathroom.

There was nothing outside but a few parked cars, vending machines, and the lingering smell of truck exhaust ever-present at roadside stops. The mother and father who had cast a wary eye and made sure their kids weren’t too near her as she walked into the bathroom barely gave her a second glance as their little girl zoomed across her path.

Perception was a funny thing. It often gave the wrong impression. She was far more dangerous in her current state.

A shiny, black economy car- fuel efficient- pulled up across two parking spaces, and the passenger window slid down.

“Hey, pretty lady! Need a ride?” the driver called out. He was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, had neatly combed medium-length dark hair, and black sunglasses above an engaging smile.

“Perfect timing,” she said, smiling back as she opened the door. She hated waiting. More so in heels. She breathed in deeply as she settled in her seat, enjoying the new car scent. It was artificial in the car that was a few years old, but it was still nice. She looked at the battered station wagon, covered in colorful stickers and mud, that she had arrived in. She wondered how long it would take for the car to be reported as abandoned.

“I missed you,” Collin said, smiling though his eyes didn’t leave the road.

She laughed. “With no one but Jenna and Frank to talk to, I bet you did.”

She closed her eyes, enjoying the sun streaming through the windows and slowly warming the car.