I swung my backpack over my shoulder with a sigh. Classes had seemed extra long today. My head hurt, my feet hurt, my brain hurt. All I could think about was getting home and taking a nap before dinner. Just the thought of having to ride the MAX for half an hour to reach home made me groan inwardly.
I blew a strand of hair from my view as I stepped outside the college. Other students were milling around, each heading in their own directions. A couple of them waved to me and I smiled and nodded back. I hoped no one would want to stop and talk. I didn’t feel much like chatting.
I glanced at my watch and saw I only had two minutes to get to the train stop. My steps quickened and I soon left the busy campus behind me.
I turned to see who had called to me.
It was Ryan.
Another inward groan. Of all people I didn’t want to see or talk to, I definitely didn’t want it to be him.
I kept walking.
‘Hey wait up!’
I heard his jogging footsteps approach and turned to greet him with a bit of a forced smile. I knew I looked like a wreck as much as I felt like one. And here was my fellow student - who also happened to be a fellow employee - standing and looking as perfect as a celebrity. I also happened to have a huge crush on him. And yes, I was in great denial of this.
‘What’s up?’ I asked him.
‘Geez, that’s all the greeting I get?’ he raised both eyebrows.
I shrug. ‘I’m in a hurry.’ I start walking again, hoping he’d either take the hint that I didn’t want (or have time to) talk or...
But nope. He was following me.
‘You working tonight?’ he asked.
‘No. Boss called me and said I didn’t have to come in if I didn’t want to. I have a stack of homework to do, so I said I’d take the morning shift instead of tonight.’
Fifty more steps to the train stop. I could see the MAX in the near distance.
‘What homework do you have? From which class?’ he asked, shifting his backpack and accidentally making his coat collar flip up.
‘Mostly novel writing, and communications,’ I answered. ‘Hey, don’t you have a car? Why are you riding the train today?’
It came out a little more rude that I had intended, but I wasn’t really in the mood for caring. Ryan didn’t seem to notice. He took it in stride.
‘No, actually, my car is at the shop. I got in an accident two days ago.’
‘Wait what?’ I suddenly felt ashamed for being engrossed in my own problems and feelings. ‘I didn’t hear about it!’
‘Maybe cuz I didn’t tell many people,’ he winked, then shrugged. ‘Didn’t want people making a big deal about it - cuz it wasn’t. I’m fine. My car is the only thing that got hurt.’
We boarded the stopped train and wriggled our way through the mass of people. We found a spot by one of doors and I looped an arm around a pole, even though I didn’t need it for balance. I was so used to traveling on this thing.
Ryan stood between me and the wall. I swallowed hard. Why was I so nervous whenever I was around him? This was so stupid.
I looked away and tried to think of something to talk about.
‘I’m sorry about the accident. I’m glad you’re okay.’
‘Yeah, me too,’ he sighed. ‘It could’ve been a lot worse.’
‘Thanks for being so concerned.’
‘Of course,’ I looked at him. ‘Why wouldn’t I be?’
‘I don’t know,’ he shrugged. ‘You seemed to have kinda been avoiding me lately.’
I bit the inside of my cheek.
Avoiding you cuz I’m trying to keep my feelings under control.
‘Uh, sorry,’ was all I could think to say.
‘It’s all good. I just wanted to make sure that it wasn’t because of anything I did.’
‘No,’ I replied quickly. ‘No, you’re fine. It’s fine. I’m sorry. I guess I’ve just been really overwhelmed with school and work and stuff.’
‘Well you should forget about all that for a little while. Have some fun for a change!’ He bumped me with his shoulder.
I smiled a little. ‘Don’t tell me what to do.’
‘Fine, grouch.’ He leaned his head closer.
I turned away.
Think of something else to talk about.
‘Do you ever wonder what each of these people’s stories is?’ I said, gesturing to the other passengers. ‘Like, where they work, where they go to school, what they’re studying, who they’re rushing home to meet?’
He stared at me and didn’t answer for a second, then looked away and said, ‘No. I don’t think I ever have.’
‘I do. Every time I get on the bus. Take that lady for example.’ I nodded to a woman sitting across from us, a large paper bag of groceries in her arms, her head leaned back against the seat.
‘There are tons of ladies here.’
I gave a little sigh of frustration and raised my hand to point to her. Then I saw the glint of humor in Ryan’s eye and knew he had just pretended to not know who she was because he knew I didn’t want to point.
‘Really?’ I asked, my exasperation resounding in my voice.
He gave a little chuckle, then tried to straighten his face. ‘Sorry. You were saying?’
I gave a little huff and looked away from him.
‘You were saying?’ he repeated. ‘Oh c’mon, don’t be a grouch.’ He poked my arm playfully. And no matter how hard I tried to keep from smiling, it didn’t work. It never did.
‘Just that...’ I began, and turned to look at the lady again. ‘I can picture her being a single mother...with two children...working a job in the city, and having to rush home afterwards to make dinner for them. She’s tired, and worn out. But happy to be headed home to be with her family.’
Ryan blinked. ‘You just came up with that?’
He opened his eyes wide. ‘No wonder you’re taking novel writing.’
I gave a little laugh.
‘That’s something I’ve always liked about you. You make me think of things I never would’ve thought about if you hadn’t brought it up.’
I felt a little flush on my cheeks and looked down at my shoes. He was complimenting me.
‘Tell me another one. How about them?’ Ryan pointed to a young couple sitting in front of me. They were married, and clearly in love. They were holding hands, their fingers entwined, yet I could see both their wedding bands. She was resting her head on his shoulder and his cheek was pressed against her hair. I saw her lips moving, yet couldn’t hear what she was saying. Whatever it was, though, it was making him smile.
‘They’re married. Headed home after a long day at their respective jobs. They missed each other and are happy to be together again. She’s a secretary and he’s some sort of businessman, judging by his suit. He loves listening to her tell him about her day.’ I smiled at the way the wife rested her hand on her stomach. ‘And she’s pregnant.’
My eyes lingered on the beautiful couple for a few more seconds, then remembered Ryan was with me, yet he hadn’t said a word after I had finished talking.
I looked at him. His right shoulder was leaning against the wall, and his head was cocked to the side a little.
‘What?’ I asked him, my voice coming out low and soft. He looked like he was studying me.
‘You have to stop doing that.’
‘Saying things that make me wanna kiss you.’
My heart fluttered weirdly and I seemed to forget how to breathe for a second.
‘Just being so thoughtful and caring. I mean, what college girl takes time out of her day to think about strangers and make up beautiful stories about them?’
‘I don’t know,’ I mumbled.
‘Well I do.’
‘Don’t kiss me,’ I said, holding up a hand firmly.
He seemed unmoved. ‘Why not?’
‘Be-because. I mean, I don’t know. Just don’t.’
Ryan pushed himself off the wall slowly and leaned towards me. There were about six inches between us. His hand somehow found its way to the back of my neck and pulled me closer.
‘Don’t tell me what to do,’ he whispered against my lips.