It was 10 blocks from his girlfriend’s house to the bus stop, and he didn’t want her to have to walk all that way, at night, after he’d gotten on the bus to his own neighborhood, so he and she walked downstairs, quietly, and he put on his coat, and said goodnight.
But of course he didn’t want to go, and so he lingered, and they kissed and whispered at the door, hoping that her mom didn’t hear, or, if she did, that she didn’t care enough to wake up and interrupt or embarrass them. And so the minutes passed; his easy, plenty-of-time walk quickly became a more difficult, walking-fast-I-should-be-OK walk, and she had enough presence of mind to push him out the door before it turned into a must-run-the-entire-way run, or, even worse, a have-to-walk-all-the-way-home walk.
Her house was one side of a duplex, set oddly angled on a patch of grass at the end of the road; beyond it was only a railroad track, and then a yachting club, and finally the river. But he was going the other direction, past houses both small and large, affordable and overpriced, under low hanging tree branches and past giant hedgerows.
There was a black and gray cat he nearly always saw when he walked to and from the bus stop to her house, and tonight was no exception. The cat gave him an almost bored look, and got up off his haunches to slowly walk towards him, but he whispered, “I’m in a hurry tonight, cat, some other time,” and he kept up his fast pace.
He wasn’t in the best of shape, the boy, and he started to feel a cramp in his calves, but he kept going. Once per block, he’d pull out his phone and pull up the bus app to see how much time he had. He didn’t have much but he should make it.
Four blocks from her, he nearly tripped on a piece of sidewalk that had been uprooted by a growing tree, hidden in the dark under that same tree’s canopy. His eyes hadn’t had time to adapt. He tumbled. When he got up, his palm had a dark sticky smear on it, black in the dim night, and it stung. He wiped it on his jeans and kept going.
In the very next block, his phone chirped, and it was loud. Carefully pulling it out with his injured hand, he read
luv U – A
He chuckled because she didn’t have to sign it. But she did, and he adored that. He tapped out
Love you, too. Not there yet. – B
and felt a smugness at his software-assisted punctuation and capitalization.
7 blocks and he had to cross a busier street, but it was late, and there were no cars, and he ran. He began to scan ahead the remaining blocks to watch for the bus driving by, or hear the distinctive roar and squeak of the coach. Sometimes the bus would be early, and the driver would go into the convenience store next to the stop. The shop let the drivers use their bathroom, and he’d seen a driver once who had picked up some beer, in a plain brown paper bag, and tucked it behind her seat.
He hoped the bus was early tonight.
He ran flat out the last two blocks, his sneakers slapping against the concrete, his arms jangly and awkwardly pumping, his coat flying behind him. But when he got to the stop and looked down the street, he couldn’t see the bus. He looked the other direction, in case he’d missed it and it had gone past, but it wasn’t there, either.
A car drove past on the other side of the street, its tires hissing on the damp asphalt.
The light around him went suddenly dark; the convenience store had gone dark, startling him.
This stop had no seat or bench. He sat on the curb.
His phone chirped again.
On bus? – A
He tapped back,
No. I’m at the stop. No bus. Hope I di
and he was startled again by the sudden halogen glow and roar of the giant coach rumbling past. He stood up, waving his phone’s screen in the air, his only light, and yelled. Out of breath, hand still stinging, he ran after the bus, making as much noise as a quiet chubby boy can make when running, a hoarse cry for help.
Red brake lights. The rattle of the bus stopping. The hydraulic hiss of the door opening.
He stepped up, unable to speak, out of oxygen, fumbling for his fare.
“Didn’t see you in the dark. With your dark clothes. Almost didn’t stop,” she said, the driver who’d bought the beer before, an older blonde woman with a stoic smile but kind eyes.
She waved off his attempt to pay. “Call us even.”
He took a seat right by the door, and rode home.