A/N: Written in response to a story prompt on Tumblr.

...

There was something beautiful about the way the motorcycle sped past.

Ann-Marie watched the vehicle as it sped into the distance ahead of her. Its shining chrome gleamed in the sun, turning it into a veritable shooting star. A thin cloud of dust swirled in its wake, but that didn't dull the machine's sparkle. Its owner, a middle-aged man, sat astride it as proud as a sea-captain, his leather-covered arms spread wide to let his hands rest on the handlebars and his long hair billowing behind him.

And then he and his mechanical steed were gone, leaving Ann-Marie gazing after them.

She should have kept walking. After all, she was supposed to be hitch-hiking, and she wasn't going to get anywhere standing in one place and gawping after some Hell's Angel. But something about the sight she had just seen stilled her.

A shooting star.

Ann-Marie nearly started walking again, swinging one foot out in front of her. But then she hesitated and put it back down onto the dust. The truth was, she wanted to capture the feeling that had come over her. She wanted to name it, to understand it, to be able to explain it to herself, because somewhere in there was a truth.

She was seventeen. Too young to be hitch-hiking with any measure of safety. Bad things happened to teenage girls running away from home, she knew that. What she had hoped, two days ago when she had hastily packed a day-bag with everything she thought she would need, was that she was old enough and big enough to keep herself safe. She didn't really believe she was; a group of tan-skinned drunk guys in dirty vests had cat-called her from outside a rickety bar as the first night had fallen, jeering at her and imploring her to come back when she had tucked her hands into her pockets and set her eyes on a speck in the distance, and walked resolutely on. Ann-Marie knew she was lucky they hadn't followed.

The reason she was out here was to escape the words of her mom. Words she had heard before and no doubt would again, words that scared her because she was afraid they might be true.

"You're living the best years of your life, girl!" Angry words. Bitter and resentful. "It only gets worse as you get older. You should appreciate what you've got while you still have it!"

But what did Ann-Marie have to celebrate, when everything seemed so... overwhelming? High-school social politics that bordered on rabid, the fear of flunking her exams, the intimidating world of paid employment. Her mom told her that she had her youth and her health, that the world was her oyster, but she wasn't seeing any pearls.

What if it really was true? What if these really were the best years of her life? Did it really only get worse from here?

She couldn't stand the fear. And so she had hurried to her room, filled her backpack with spare clothes and her purse, and run out of the door, desperate to escape the oppression.

She wasn't safe out here. She understood that. And sometimes on the journey ahead, even keeping her eyes purposefully on a spot in the distance and refusing to engage wouldn't be enough. So far she had been lucky. She wasn't free. Far from it. She was in danger, hungry and thirsty, and inexperienced in... well, just about everything. Her worries about how to find enough work to feed and house herself, her uncertainty over how to balance the thriftiness of this motel against that one, and picking the one where she might not get raped and murdered, churned in her head as she walked onwards under a beating sun that made her ever more thirsty with each passing hour.

And then the man on the motorcycle had sped past. Why did he matter so much? Why was her heart lifting right now?

She watched after him, now nothing but a far-away point, way out of reach. And then she had it!

Despite her overheated body, despite the skin on her shoulders turning sensitive from over-exposure to the sun, despite her half-dilerious thirst and gnawing hunger, she let her bag fall to the ground and looked up to laugh at the sky. That was it!

So the best years of your life were when you were a teen, huh?

Maybe Ann-Marie really did have some special edge because her joints weren't arthritic and her belly hadn't begun to sag or spread. Maybe she really would one day think back to her younger self and envy some special feature of youth she had once had. But an older Ann-Marie would have life experience, and although her present self couldn't begin to imagine how her future self would cope with life, or make the choices she would one day have to make, she knew that she could choose to enjoy the security of older age, just as her mom had chosen to resent it.

The middle-aged guy in the leathers and mirrored sunglasses and wiry beard, breezing along with nothing but himself and his trusty motorcycle to rely on, had found his freedom somehow. So would she.

The End.