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I knew that, as soon as I handed her my phone, something was going to happen.
I was taking the bus home that day, the B1 which started its run at Shore Road. It had been an early release day from school, but that didn’t lessen my workload at all. I wondered whether the teachers were all conspiring against me, assigning me so my projects at once, but I knew not to complain. It could be worse. It could always be worse.
After inserting my school-issued Metro Card into the reader and having it pop back out with an audible beep, I took my usual seat in the back of the bus, right next to the backdoor, by myself. After taking the bus what seemed like hundreds of times, I had learned that it would take about thirty minutes to get to my stop. Just enough time to get started on that paper for English, I thought. Without further ado, I loosened my tie, and opened my pink, annotated copy of Romeo and Juliet, and began to look for similarities to West Side Story.
The bus ride, on the whole, was fairly uneventful. As I expected, I got strange looks from people seeing me with a pink book, but surely, they decided that there were much weirder things to see on the bus. Halfway down Bay Ridge Parkway, I put away my things and got ready to leave. It was my stop after this one, and I’d missed my stop plenty of times before, enough to burn into my brain that as soon as I passed that one pizzeria, I had better get ready. I stood up as the bus hit a stoplight.
Curious human being that I was, I turned around to see where the compliment had come from. It was a girl, around my age, staring furiously at a phone in her hand. She was dressed like a businesswoman, making her look much more mature than her current attitude would suggest. Her long brown hair was tied back in a simple ponytail, and her pale white hands were choking the life out of an already presumably dead cell phone.
Looking around, her eyes fell upon mine, and inwardly, I cursed my curiosity which kept me from looking away fast enough.
“Hey, can I borrow your phone?” she asked me, indicating with a curt nod of her head the phone I kept on my belt. The bus had reached my stop, and people were beginning to exit the bus. I was just about to politely refuse her, when she suddenly took on a countenance not unlike a saddened puppy. What’s this, all of a sudden? I looked deeply into those eyes filled with alligator tears, and saw the theatrical pout of her lips. God, I’m such a sucker. I reached down, unclipped my phone, and handed it to her.
Instantly, her face brightened, as if she had never been sad in the first place. Which she probably hadn’t. The bus lurched forward, and I pressed my lips together into a thin line. Bugger. There goes my bloody stop.
“Yeah, my phone just ran out of batteries, dad. Listen, I have to go out and buy some gifts for her birthday, I’ll be back home by nine. No, I just borrowed a guy’s cell phone. Yes, I’m on the bus now. Yes, I will give it back, what kind of person do you think I am? Oh, I’m sure he will. He seems like the good-hearted type to me. What’s that scoff for? I can judge a good person from a bad person! Yeah, yeah, shut up. Alright. Bye.” Now facing me, she said, “Hey, would you mind following me around for a while? I won’t have a phone otherwise, and I need it badly.” A million scathing refusals crossed my mind. I held my tongue, and explained to her that I was busy and had schoolwork to do. “Oh, don’t worry. You’re Asian, I’m sure you can let whatever you’re doing just slide by.” I would have reacted indignantly, had she not been 100% right. I was more or less acing all my classes. The work I had to do had just been assigned today and would not be due for another two weeks. The stereotype is always based on something. The bus had stopped again, this time about five blocks from my own stop. I said okay, or rather, I said half the first syllable, immediately after which she took me by the hand and practically yanked me out the door.
“Yes! You are the most awesome Asian I’ve ever met! Now come on, we have things to do!” I was being dragged along at a record-setting pace towards one of the many shops of Fifth Avenue. I managed to relinquish myself of her grip.
“Wait a second, I’m being dragged along against my will here!”
“Oh, but you agreed to help me on the bus. And besides, if you left right now, you’d leave me helpless and without the ability to communicate. What do you think my father would do if he didn’t hear from me? He does have your cell phone number on Caller I.D. now.” She had a point, conniving little blankity-blank.
“I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”
“You always have a choice. It’s just in your best interest to choose me,” she said with an impish smile. “I don’t believe I introduced myself, actually. I see you on the bus all the time.” Funny, I’ve never seen her. “My name is Lauren,” she said, and held out her hand.
“My name is Ramon,” I replied, and shook her hand. Her grip was surprisingly strong, for a girl with such deceptively weak-looking arms. She didn’t release her grip, either, and decided to drag me along again at the speed of sound. I had no idea what was going to happen, but it was already four in the afternoon, and the sun was beginning to lower.
For the next few hours, Lauren made me give my opinion on everything, and by everything I mean clothing, jewelry, and other such objects of beauty. Why women go absolutely crazy over such things, as a guy, I may never understand. What I did understand was that a lot of these things were expensive, and that Lauren was surprisingly gifted from a monetary standpoint. Still, it wasn’t a completely unrewarding experience. Lauren was very pretty, and although she was buying the objects for others, she still tried them on and made me give my opinion. As red-blooded a man as I was however, I drew the line at giving my opinion on what I thought of the underwear she was picking out.
“But why not?”
“It’s indecent! I’ve known you for what, two hours, and already, you expect me to ogle you in lingerie?”
“It’s not much of a problem, really. I mean, it’s not like it’s something you won’t get to see someday, or haven’t already seen.”
“What are you implying?”
“Why are you so defensive, are you gay or something? I mean, because that’s alright with me, whatever floats your boat.”
I felt my face warm up, and no matter how many times I tried, I could not bring myself to a retort. Gnashing my teeth, I just told her that my opinion was to trust her judgment, and went to wait outside the store, carrying a heavy backpack, an equally heavy binder, and her purse. As I passed by her, I could hear her mutter something along the lines of, “Too easy.”
“You know, I think that’s just about it,” she said, several wondrously spent hours later.
“It had better be. I’m carrying double my weight in birthday presents, not including my school things, and that’s saying something, coming from a fat guy like me.”
“Oh, come now, you’re not fat,” she said, knocking lightly on my head.
“That’s what you think,” I groused. We walked a bit longer, and made small talk. Lauren was a rich girl from a rich family that sent her to a prestigious private school I didn’t care to remember the name of. It was a strange coincidence that a large number of her friends had birthdays around February. She took my phone and made a call to her father, assuring him that she would be on her way home soon. To be honest, I was actually kind of surprised that I found myself not looking forward to her departure. As obnoxiously impulsive and forward as she was sometimes, she had grown on me.
She hadn’t grown on me enough, however, to keep from annoying me from time to time. She would alternate between whispering in my ear and kicking me in the back of my knees, much to my annoyance. We stopped for dinner at a McDonald’s, and I welcomed the opportunity to sit down. We rested at a bench just outside the restaurant. To anyone looking at us, we must have looked like just another teenage couple. She even went as far as to teasingly offer to feed me. It was at this point that I decided that she wasn’t the only one that could play this game.
When we’d gotten on the bus which would take us to her house, I made my move. I got up, went behind her chair, and began to rub her shoulders. It was something I’d learned to do after having to massage my father’s shoulders every time we played basketball. He was good at the game, but his joints would tend to make him suffer. The effect I was having on Lauren was immediate. She had something like a full body twitch when I began. Not one to be outdone, however, she began to playfully purr and make exaggerated little peeps of pleasure. The other passengers on the bus must have been giving us strange looks, but surely, they decided that there were much worse couples out there to see. Regardless of their opinion, I found myself having fun with this little competition. With my fairly introverted disposition, doing such a thing as this would have been out of the question, but something about her made me feel like coming out of my shell. She made me want to be bold. She forced me, through some strange phenomenon, to be unlike my usual self. And so, I continued to play her little game of embarrassment and audacity.
After what seemed like too short of a time, we arrived at her stop, and we both got off the bus, wordlessly daring the other to do something else. After what seemed like even shorter of a time, we arrived at her front gates. “Well, that was a fun experience,” she said. I replied with silence. “You know, I always see you on the bus, but you’re always keeping to yourself. Now, though, after what you did on the bus? You seem like a changed person,” she continued, trying to gauge my response.
“Maybe you’re just a bad influence on me.”
“I’ve gotten that remark before, and I always say the same thing: ‘I just bring out the worst in people.’” Well, perhaps you do Lauren, but in my case, I hardly think it was such a bad thing you brought out in me.
“Well, I have to go, then. That’s my dad at the door,” she said as she gestured to her front door. I saw the silhouette of a freakishly huge man at the door, illuminated by the porch light. He was waving at us, and I waved back at him, smiling faintly and scared to death.
“Oh, don’t worry. That thing I implied earlier about my father? Don’t worry. He’s completely harmless, although I will concede he is fairly protective of me,” she said brightly. I replied with a simple, “Yeah.”
“Oh, I almost forgot to give you your phone back,” she said, and she fished out my phone from her pocket and held it out to me. She placed it in my open palm, but I closed my hand so that I kept her hand in mine. We stayed like that for several seconds. I had no idea where this impulse had come from, but I wasn’t letting go. It didn’t seem like Lauren wanted to let go either.
Reluctantly, I pulled my hand back, and replaced the phone on my belt. “Well, I guess this is it. So long, then,” I said, then turned my back, and began to walk.
I kept thinking that I should have said something, but every step I took convinced me not to. After all, what would I say? It would look stupid to just turn around and say something without thinking first. Where did that boldness of mine go?
As soon as I heard a staccato of clicking footsteps, I turned around. Lauren was running at me. I briefly considered stepping out of the way like a matador, but she tripped over a cobblestone, and I lunged to catch her.
“I’m glad to see chivalry’s not dead quite yet.”
“You alright?” I asked, fairly gruffly.
“I broke the heel on my footwear and crashed into you, but aside from that I’m perfectly fine.”
“Whoever taught you to run in heels is an idiot. Your sarcasm teacher, however, should receive a commendation.”
“When did you get so quick-witted?”
“I’m Asian, remember? We’ve got the sharp minds. Anyway, what’s the hurry for?”
“This,” she said, and promptly, she pulled me by the tie and smashed her lips to mine. Now, at this moment in time, I was more shocked than anything else. The most intelligible response I could have given would have been, “Mmrrph.” I didn’t, however, pull away. She tasted like french fries, as I must have. After about five seconds, I broke off the kiss.
“I take it that was your first kiss?” she asked innocently, with a slight blush. I gave her a look which said, “What do you think?” “Oh, you know you liked it,” she said. Contrary to how most books and movies portray kisses, it didn’t exactly feel like I was on Cloud Nine. At the same time, however, it wasn’t wholly unpleasant.
“Have fun explaining this to your father.”
“Oh, I think he’ll be fine with it. Have fun getting some very inquisitive calls over the phone from my parents.” With this short exchange, we said our goodbyes.
About a block away from her house, I received a text message, heralded by the chorus of The Trooper by Iron Maiden. I flipped open the phone and read: “Well, that was fun. You’re a cool guy Ramon. I like you a lot.” I paused to laugh at the obviousness of that statement. “Yes, I know that sounded stupid. I’m sorry about your schoolwork, but your hereditary good grades shouldn’t suffer too badly. Here’s my number, and I already have yours. See you on the bus tomorrow. =)” I shook my head knowingly at the ground. Oh, that girl.
The next day passed like most others, with one exception. As I would hear from my friends much later, I was a much more open person that day. I started conversations and told jokes. I was being, Heaven help me, sociable, and I think I know what it was that caused me to change this way.
School ended, and I rushed to get to the B1. I put my Metro Card into the reader, and looked to the back. The large crowd of people in the bus obscured my view of the back. I shoved, quite rudely, in retrospect, to get to the back. I found that I really didn’t need to worry at all. There she was, acting like she owned the bus, with her hands behind her head. She was wearing much more casual clothing this time, a welcome change from the business-like clothing I had associated with her. She smiled at me, and I received that impish smile I’ve come to treasure. I sat down next to her, sighing to myself.
“I have a bad habit of forgetting to charge my phone,” she started nonchalantly as the bus lurched forward. The jolt unsettled her, and she caught herself from falling with the armrests of her chair. I chuckled, and she elbowed me lightly in the side.
“You could always borrow mine,” I offered, smiling and pulling out my phone.
“You would have to follow me around all day. I can’t force you to do that.” Her left hand moved a fraction of an inch closer to mine.
“Something tells me that whether or not I refused wouldn’t make much of a difference.” My right hand moved a fraction of an inch closer to hers.
“You always have a choice.” Our hands began to close the gap.
“Well then,” I said. I closed the gap, and I placed my phone in her hand, and held it there. “I guess there’s really only one real decision to make, and I won’t regret it.
“I choose you, Lauren.”