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I half-heartedly push the button for the crosswalk; my fingers limp, crumpling into a weary fist. I slouch against a lamppost, pulling the hood of my sweater tighter over my unruly curls, and watch three faceless raincoats jaywalk.
What’s the point of a crosswalk if no one waits for it to turn?
I grow tried of waiting and make a hypocrite of myself, scurrying across at the most opportune moment. As I’m walking away, safely on the other side of the road, I hear the beeping of the crosswalk I just left behind and chuckle bleakly to myself.
I reach the bus stop in record time, too early for anyone else to be there. I guess II gladly take my seat on the worn bench, all soft wood and faded blue paint, evidence of years of being sat upon. I trace one of the countless names scratched into the dirty surface with a stubby fingernail. I can feel, and then see, when I raise my finger up to inspect it, the grimy dust settling into the grooves in my skin. My fingerprint, if I were to press it down onto a clean sheet of paper, would reflect me entirely. A grimy smudge on an otherwise spotless paper: my place in the world.
Someone sits down beside me in a flurry of aerosol vanilla and hairspray and expensive leather. I know if I bother to look up I’ll see red lipstick and poor attempts at concealing unruly skin problems.
More people come crowding around, all seeking shelter from the incessant rain. I look out past them into the rain; the person I seek will be standing in the rain proudly, not like the other nameless, faceless raincoats huddling under umbrellas.
I see him.
Not a raincoat, but a sweater rain-darkened in splotches like mine. Not an umbrella, but a hood held loosely by disobedient hair, hiding his eyes. Hair that I know is the colour of the sun behind a cloud on a summer’s day. Eyes that I know are the pure colour of wild grass tucked away in a forest. Eyes that do not see me.
Nonetheless, I go to stand by him, hoping he’ll know me.
He turns his face towards my movements; the sloshing sound of my footsteps muffled by the ever-pounding rain, the steadily accelerating thrumming of my heart. The latter, I hope he cannot hear.
“Lily.” My name, a sure statement in his clear voice. The corners of his mouth creep up into a smile, sneaking wrinkles up by his eyes.
I hope he cannot hear my breath catch, either.
“Hey, James.” I greet him, same as always, yet more differently than ever. I wonder if he can hear it in my voice; the weight of the realization made last night under my itchy woollen blanket.
He reaches down; his chilled hand finds mine under the cuff of my sweater. The same hand I used to press the crosswalk button with, the same hand I hold my toothbrush with at night…a hand he now holds gently in his.
It feels as though everyone should, by now, be able to hear the pounding of my heart even over the hammering of the rain. But they cannot.
Most importantly, he cannot -- he must not, for if he did, he’d turn to me and ask about it for sure.
What everyone can see, however, and this I am sure about, is the ridiculous smile stealing over my face. I think I wouldn’t mind him seeing that, seeing my reaction to him.
The bus arrives in a cloud of exhaust fumes and opens its doors invitingly, promising a roof and some measure of warmth to all those scrambling on. I take my time climbing on though, my earlier weariness all but forgotten. I wonder if he’ll drop my hand once we take our seats. I like the way his hand feels holding mine; the smoothness of the skin of his palm, the heat at his wrist where I can feel it through my sweater. I’m almost drowsy with the loveliness of this moment.
And then, just like that, it’s gone. He drops my hand and I snap back to attention with the feeling of my empty hand. I’m afraid to look up, to see why he’s let go. But I do, because I can’t help but be curious, and he wouldn’t see me peek anyways.
Oh. He’s counting out his change. I jam my cold hand into my pocket and pull out my own fare; drop it into the change slot. I’m quicker than him, and I could help him with finding the right coins, but I know he’d hate it if I did. Eventually, he feels out the proper amount and drops it in after mine.
And he picks up my hand again.
Just like that. So naturally, as though it’s something he does everyday. Which I wouldn’t mind, if he did.
We take our seats, side by side as usual. It’s so strange, yet so amazing, this mixing of the old and new.
Us sitting side-by-side, old.
Us talking about anything and everything during the ride, old. I tell him about school, and how sometimes I get picked on. I tell him about my fingerprint and what I think of the world and me.
He tucks me into his side, his arm strong yet gentle against my back. New.
He tells me I’m wrong; that the world is not a spotless paper, and that I’m not smudging it.”
“It’s full of dirt and dust and oil-stains and all sorts of other unimaginable horrors, Lily. And you’re…you’re not any of that. You’re like…clear water, or…or fresh air.”
Him stumbling over his words, new.
I feel my face flush, probably the bright red of a tomato, overused as that is. Old.
I wonder about him, about what realizations he has at night, under his sheets. I wonder if his blanket is soft and worn, or if, like mine, it’s scratchy despite years of love.
Too soon, the bus creaks to a stop at our stop. We clamour off together (old), him still holding my hand (new).
We stand in the rain, each headed in different directions.
I’m loath to leave. Old.
It seems like he is too. Not exactly old, not exactly new.
He tugs me forward, into him, securing me in a fierce hug. New, definitely new.
“I’ll see you tomorrow.” He sighs. His hand gently cups my face where it’s exposed to the rain, not hidden by his body.
“Yes.” I say, and I’m surprised I manage to speak at all.
He smiles; his hidden-grass eyes bright, and then turns and walks away, whistling.
And, though I’m sad to see him go, I’m not terrified for tomorrow.
I know he’ll be there, waiting for me with an empty hand. New.