She boarded the bus, holding a backpack and dragging a suitcase. After swinging the heavy-looking luggage into the compartment over her head, she heaved a sigh and slid into the black leather seat directly across the aisle from me, choosing to sit next to the window. Her backpack found its place on the seat next to her. The bus door closed, and I checked my watch. Ten hours and counting.
I found myself watching her out of the side of my eye. Every now and then, I would turn my head to watch her profile more closely, and when she shifted, even slightly, I would snap my head forward again or feign innocence, pretending I was examining the paneling on the bus.
As the bus sped along, she stared resolutely out the window to her left. There wasn't much to see. A few farms, the occasional cow. I got the sense her mind was busy. She barely moved, only the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest and shoulder and a sporadic twitch of her right hand told me she was conscious.
Suddenly, she stretched her legs out, exposing well-worn pale pink sneakers. These caught my attention. The laces were loose but double knotted, and I could see a centimeter of black sock. The right one had three small, dark spots above the toes that looked like dried mud, and the previously white soles were speckled with tan. She stretched her body fully, crossed her feet in front of her at the ankles and sighed, then turned her head toward the seat in front of her, evidently bored with the scenery. A thin finger reached out and traced the stitching. After a few minutes, she turned her head again and looked out the window.
The bus stewardess came around with menus to order snacks or drinks, but I wasn’t interested. Neither was she. My view of her was blocked for a bit by the large cart, but after the stewardess walked past, I glanced at her.
She rummaged around her backpack for a bit, finally pulling out a small oat bar. I watched as she tore open the packaging and took a generous bite. I was transfixed as her mouth moved slowly, deliberately, and ever so often a pink tongue would flick out to lick her lips. It was surprisingly sensual and soft, and at that moment I realized how creepy it felt.
I tore my eyes away from her lips to meet her eyes, which met mine for the first time. It was her initial surprise and mild amusement, then bashfulness as she turned away that made my ears heat up. I turned away too, a bit embarrassed to be caught staring at her mouth.
I don’t what about her caught my attention. She was simply dressed in a gray sweatshirt and blue jeans, and something told me she wore some variation of that outfit every day. Her unassuming manner interested me, with those glasses and slightly bent posture and her slim, brown hands. I wanted to know who she was, what she did, and most importantly, where she was going.
I got hungry and pulled out the bowl of fruit I had packed carefully this morning. Casting a side glance at her, I noticed she had pulled out a book and was now completely immersed in the story written on those pages.
I had two pieces of pineapple left in my bowl when she pressed a hand to her stomach and took a deep breath. Motion sickness. I watched intently as she wrenched her gaze away from the book and to the landscape outside her window. She took a couple more deep breaths, then drank a sip of water. My attention was drawn to her throat as she tipped her head back, and it bobbed up and down with the tiny swallows.
I was so entranced by the small movements that I didn't notice my fork was nowhere close to my bowl. The sharp plastic tines dug into the top of my hand. I could only wince and let out a muffled groan.
Those wicked brown eyes had seen me, and when I dented my hand with the fork, she snorted, almost choking on the water. She had to set the bottle down, her lips twitching. She shook her head, then turned away, back towards the window. I watched as she set her lips back into a neutral position.
Two hours passed before I looked at her again. I chanced a glance in her direction, and immediately turned back.
She had her feet on the aisle seat, and a pillow had manifested behind her back. She also had a thin gray blanket over her legs, and the book was back, sitting open in her lap.
She was staring right at me.
Getting a full view of her face was almost too much, but I forced myself to look. It took my breath away.
Her eyes, a rich, full brown, were framed by long, dark eyelashes. Her nose was a bit shiny, with a round tip. Her lips were brown and pink, and she had apparently recently put on chapstick, so they were smooth and soft-looking.
She was not pretty. Her eyes were too close together, her cheeks too round to compliment her sharp jawline, her black curly hair in a style that didn't compliment her face. But she was intriguing to look at. A curiosity. I wanted to spend forever measuring the planes of her cheeks, committing her face to memory. It was a powerful urge. A familiar one.
Her head tipped inquisitively, and her eyes skimmed over me. I watched her size me up, assess my appearance, and determine if I was a threat. Then she met my eyes again. And greeted me with a small smile.
Five hours left.
She'd closed the book, but stayed in that position. Her head rested on the window. Headphones now blasted music into her head, and she was eating a small leafy salad.
I bought a cold pasta salad from the stewardess for an absurd amount of money, and deeply regretted not bringing my own dinner as soon as I took the first bite.
She watched me choke down the bland meal with mild interest and amusement, a facial expression she'd mastered. I had an urge to slap her, just to see what she'd look like angry. An equally strong urge to kiss her swam into my thoughts, dispersing any coherent thought I had before.
The stewardess came around with a waste cart. She was blocked from my view. No.
My heart pulsed. My breathing got shallower and more rapid. All I saw was red as the broad woman prevented me from seeing her. Move. My fists clenched and the blood pulsed in my head.
I needed to see her.
It felt like an eternity, but she finally moved on. The girl slid into view. I took a deep breath.
She looked content. Full and happy and comfortable. Her face relaxed, except for one small crease between her eyebrows. She began mouthing along words to the song playing in her headphones, but once she saw me looking, she stopped. No, please. Keep going.
The setting sun's rays cast a golden glow through the cabin. She had laid back and closed her eyes. A subtle tapping of her finger to the rhythm of the song from her headphones was the only indication she hadn't fallen asleep yet.
A ray of light reflected through the cabin, and the glow fell on her face at the same time she took a deep breath, stretched, and shifted into a more comfortable position. The light illuminated the slopes of her cheekbones and neck, and her makeup free skin shimmered.
I stared unashamedly, wondering how I was worthy to be in her presence. As the glow of the light faded away, she yawned. A big gaping yawn, that she lazily covered with her hand. Then she pulled the blanket up to her chin and laid back.
I sat there watching her sleep for half an hour. Every now and then she shifted and her eyelids fluttered open, so I didn't dare get closer, though I wanted to gently stroke her face. The cabin darkened as the last crevice of light disappeared under the horizon.
I must have fallen asleep, because I opened my eyes and she was gone.
No. No, no, no.
Her backpack and blanket were still on her chair, and her headphones lay neatly on top of everything. The only thing missing was her.
I stood, feigning a stretch, and I searched the compartment for her. My heart beat faster and faster as all I saw were unknown faces. Streaks of red flashed across my eyes, and countless scenarios flickered in my thoughts. Dead. Gone. Taken.
After a minute, she emerged from a door I had not seen. The bathroom. Of course.
Relief flooded my system. I wanted to scold her for causing me worry like that, watching her face crumple with tears. I wanted to hear her sweet apologies. I wanted to punish her, make her pay for what she did, and then...and then love her so hard she would never forget who she belonged to.
The desire rushed through me, a shooting pain that made my legs wobble and my head spin. I slumped back down in the seat.
She walked up a moment later and slid into her seat. I turned my head and looked at her, even though the simple act made it hard to breathe. She gave me the tiniest smile, but I could see the strain behind her eyes and a barely concealed emotion that I couldn't identify.
It was fear.
My face contorted into a smile.
One hour left.
Her usual amusement was replaced with mild distrust and barely concealed discomfort as I continued staring and smiling at her. Her eyes shifted back and forth, darting from my face to the window to her lap. Her fingers ticked nervously, and she checked her phone more than once. Anyone else seeing her would think she was simply nervous and excited to be arriving at her destination after such a long trip. Of course, I knew better.
I began gathering my things together, not wanting to wait until the last minute to clean up. Every few minutes I would stop to glance at her and offer a smile, and she would offer a polite one and glance away quickly. Why? Are you afraid of me?
Her head twitched. Was that a nod?
She slowly began gathering her things up as well, folding the blanket and placing it with the pillow back into her backpack. She moved slowly, almost as if she was thinking every step through as she did it. Finally, she finished and sat back down, facing resolutely toward the window and the darkness outside. Don't worry. We'll be there soon.
The stewardess came by for the last time, collecting any last trash. Once again, she blocked my view of her. The anger came faster, stronger. A low growl escaped my throat. My nails dug into my palms, hard enough to leave tiny red crescents in the soft skin. Move.
I heard a tiny gasp from the other side of the aisle as the stewardess moved forward and she came into my sight again. For a second, our eyes met. Hers widened, and her hands found each other and squeezed. She was frightened.
I savored her facial expressions like candy. I wanted to see each one again and again, and I wanted to be the cause of each of them. I wanted to study them, study her. See everything that she hates about herself, and love them. I wanted to love her.
The strength of my feelings nearly knocked the wind out of me, and I had to take a few deep breaths.
She's mine. Mine.
The intercom beeped telling us we were a bit ahead of schedule. We would arrive at our stop in 10 minutes. Good.
I moved to the aisle seat. She looked uncomfortable at having me closer, her hands wrenching together and her bottom lip in the process of being destroyed by her teeth.
I watched this for a while, and decided that I liked this look. Her lip was pillow soft from the chewing, her face was probably flushed and warm to the touch, and those hands….I bit my own lip and turned before I got carried away. Soon. My heart beat faster with anticipation.
She was almost shaking with nervousness, but tried to keep a resolute face and a steady hand as she typed out a message to someone. The phone quivered, and her chest rose and fell with deep breaths. That's it, in and out. In and out. In and out.
The bus slowed and came to a final stop.
The driver announced that we had reached our destination, and we could now open the luggage compartments above our heads. He thanked the passengers for choosing their service, and wished everyone a nice evening.
She sprang up as soon as the announcements were over and had the compartment open in a flash. The shifting of the bus had unfortunately pushed her luggage to the very back of the deep shelf, and she had trouble reaching the handle. Before a particularly handsome man sitting a few seats in front of her could offer to help, I jumped out of my seat.
"Allow me, miss." I tapped my finger on her shoulder to get her attention, and she nearly jumped out of her skin. I tried not to smile. You're beautiful when you're afraid.
She said nothing, just nodded and moved out of my way. I swung the luggage down and handed it to her, our fingers brushing together as she took the handle. Oh. The small contact was almost too much, and I was in danger of fainting right there and then. Then she spoke.
"Thank you." Her voice was quiet, meant only for me. As it should. A thousand fantasies blew through my head, now almost complete with the sound of her voice.
Her face is shiny with tears. She begs me to stop, chokes out apologies. I take her face in my hands. She whispers 'thank you' over and over, until it's nothing but words. I pull her close. My name drips from her tongue.
I am off the bus, standing in a brightly lit bus station. She is sitting on a bench within eyeshot, talking on the phone.
Ten hours on a cramped bus will tire you out, no matter how luxurious it is. I feel a bit nauseous and my head buzzes with stress and nerves. I glance in her direction, hoping to catch her gaze, but she notices me watching and turns her face away. How dare she. I pull my face into a comfortable smile and walk up to her as she finishes her call.
“Good evening.” I try to make my voice as pleasant as possible. It’s not easy, not when she’s sitting and I’m standing in front of her at an absurdly convenient angle. I quickly push such thoughts out of my head and sit next to her on the bench. She flinches away a little. It’s okay. It's me.
“Hi.” Her voice is quiet. She tries to ignore me, to feign disinterest. Look at me. Look at me! Her head snaps up, like I had spoken aloud. Had I?
No, her attention was merely drawn by a figure approaching from the left. It is not the person she is looking for, because she turns back to her phone a moment later.
The bus station has cleared. Only we remain. The fluorescent lights make the white-gray pavement stand out even more.
She has taken to pacing. She checks her phone every so often. She doesn't know whoever she is waiting for will never come. I made sure of it.
She walks back to the bench and talks to me directly. "Still waiting for someone?"
I am so surprised at being addressed that my mouth fumbles for a minute before answering.
A single twitch of her eyebrow is the only indication she is surprised. Impressive, even for her.
"Well, um, I appreciate you waiting with me." She gives me an innocent smile.
"That's not why I'm here." My mouth twitches into a smile. "You're coming with me."
She barely has time for a word in surprise or pretest before I grab her hand. There is a flash, and a familiar feeling of adrenaline. In an instant, we are here.
The double suns glow in the horizon.
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I loved this. So dark and tense. It gave me anxiety, a superb psychological thriller. I'm not too sure of the ending, or what happened? Regardless a taut story that was riveting and very disturbing. Well done. Post more. You've got this.
Thank you for the feedback, and for taking the time to read and comment!