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Broken

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The boy never spoke to her. He saw her every day, standing at the bus stop, as they waited for the bus. Rain or shine, she was always there, dressed immaculately in a blouse and skirt that recalled an era past, her straight black hair combed out, with part of it pinned back behind her head, keeping it out of her face and off her shoulders.

He didn’t even know her name. They had never talked. Most of the time, they didn’t even communicate; they just stood there, waiting. Once when it was raining he made room for her under his umbrella, inviting her in. She had looked at him uncertainly, her black hair sticking to her head and her dress hanging on her like a sodden towel, and then she had stepped under. With the exception of that day, the full extent of their communication was a slight gesture that meant “you go first” or the rare smile she gave him, bright and captivating as the moon.

Despite all of this, he felt he knew her well, this strange, beautiful girl with the solemn air. Often, they stood so close that he was tempted to reach out and touch her. But he didn’t. He knew that she would shrink away, and that he might lose her trust. She was like a frightened animal at times, this girl.

Usually, when the bus appeared at their stop and they both had climbed on, she disappeared among the people, fading into the crowd. He would sit near the front with some of his friends who also took the bus. But not today.

It was an overcast day, and the air was tinged with the scent of grey and rain. It was a dusty, dreamlike smell, and it hung in the air even as he pushed through the crowds of knees and long teenage legs that hung into the aisles of the bus. His friends called out to him, but he ignored them, moving ahead.

He stopped and scanned the seats. The bus jerked into motion, and he nearly fell, catching himself on the back of a nearby seat. There. There she was. He hurried over and nestled himself into the space on the seat next to her. She looked at him in surprise, colored plastic earbuds already in her ears.

“Hello,” he said.

She continued to look shocked, pulling out one of her earbuds. “What?”

“I said hello.”

“Oh,” she said. “Hello.” She put her earbud back in and looked out the window.

He didn’t know what to do. “What’s your name?”

“Huh?” Her voice was deeper, quieter than he had expected it to be. It was a nice voice, but there was something wrong with it. Nothing physical, just…something. He could feel it.

She turned down the volume on her iPod as he repeated, “What’s your name?”

“Angelica,” she said.

“That’s a pretty name.”

She didn’t say anything, but turned again to stare out the window.

For the rest of the bus ride, he tried to make conversation with her, eliciting stares from other riders of the bus, seated around them. But he didn’t care.

She barely responded to his prompts, and when he did, she was curt and indifferent, sounding bored. But he was determined to talk to her. Here was a girl whom he thought he had known, whom he had believed he cared about. But she was so different.

As the bus ride went on, he began to figure her out, or so he believed. There was something broken inside her. She had the exterior of the perfect young girl, beautiful and intelligent and empathetic, but inside, something wasn’t right. Something had happened to her. He didn’t know what.

All throughout the ride, she didn’t smile at him or give any acknowledgement of his presence other than her short answers, which she gave while staring out the window.

When the bus arrived in front of their school, he stood up and held out his arm. He couldn’t give up now. “Would you care for me to escort you into school?”

For the first time that whole day, she looked at him directly, the ghost of a smile twinkling in her dark eyes.



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