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Riding the bus made me feel like a seventh grader. After seventh grade buses were unspoken of. I shrink in my seat, curled in a ball with a hot coffee, hiding myself from other eyes. I have nothing to be embarrassed about considering I’m an eighteen year old on a city bus and not a middle schooler in a judgmental small town.
I’m clueless, I have never been to the city before and here I am, running away from my problems, running away from everything I know. I planned to count the lucky number four stops before I got off and improvised the rest of my life. I counted each time the bus jerked me forward and others scrambled out of their seats, the weight in my stomach grew heavier. The fourth jerk and scramble came and I followed the crowd with a white-knuckle grip on my over the shoulder bag. I promised myself as soon as I found work, everything else would sort itself out.
Each business came and went, each owner looked me up and down with judgement before sending me on my way. “No way hun.” they’d stare at me with little sympathy, I was so vulnerable. Outside the local coffee shop I sighed, so much for the lucky number four. People passed with frowns, with tired eyes, with dirty clothes, I admired everyone of them. They knew what they were doing here, they knew where their miserable lives were taking them and here I stand in my nicest outfit and bright teary eyes with not a clue in the world where I’ll be sleeping tonight. The tears hung on the edge of my eyes as I pictured myself in a cardboard box shivering in an alleyway just as I had seen in so many movies before. I sucked in a sniffle and looked up and around, maybe for the next job opportunity, maybe for an overhang to sleep under but, instead I met the eyes of three boys around my age. Heat rose to my cheeks and a scowl covered my previous emotions, they laughed at me. I had never been laughed at.
“Don’t you feel you may be on the wrong side of town?” one asked, his friends laughing behind him. Panic filled every part of my body as my cheeks flushed a new color of red- the kind you’d see on a rose, for sure. “I mean, the rich kids usually stay away from the streets they find scary.” he motioned around him, his hands making a large circle, my eyes traced that circle. I looked down at my outfit and glimpsed into my bag, considered how dumb I looked, and took another huge sigh.
“If you want the truth I couldn’t tell you what the right side of town was, and no matter if the streets were dirty or clean, I would still be scared out of my mind.” I yelled back, laughing at myself, laughing at the fact that I was these boys new favorite joke. “So if you want to give me crappy directions that you promise will lead me somewhere safe but really leave me with nothing, do your best, I guess I’m the new kid!” The three of them looked at each other and then back at me, alone on a street corner, makeup smeared into an art piece you’d see in a couple windows I have passed. I had spent the day uncomfortable in this stupid dress and tight flats and my bag was growing too heavy on my shoulder although it did not contain much. I wanted to scream at these dumb kids as they stared at me in confusion.
“Who are you?” One of them blurted out and there I was, back to feeling vulnerable and embarrassed, my rage disappeared but, an ounce of confidence took its place.
“Alex Fare, from small town in New Jersey where a building above three stories is a sight to see and a job is easy to get because there’s always one open at a family friends small business or farm stand.” I blurted, almost all in one breath. Their confusion made me burst out in tears, well if people weren't staring at me before they are now!
“Woah, you need to chill.” they stepped back as if they weren’t already far enough away from the weird country girl. I laughed at them and their brows furrowed in confusion. My emotions came together like the eye of a hurricane. Anger, at these boys and the people in my hometown who lead me to this dirty street, sadness for everything that was left behind and the challenges I now face. I laugh because I made this stupid mistake in the first place and now these boys are watching my life fall apart. These random boys that I wish would just mind their own damn business.
“Stop standing there and staring at me. Do you want to hear my life story or do you want to pretend you never started this?” I challenge, waiting for them to finally scatter far away from the psycho girl who should probably catch a bus back to Nowhere-ville, New Jersey.
Then, the first boys raises his brows and smiles. “Well actually, I’m up for a life story. You should follow me to my dad’s restaurant where you can figure out the rest of your obvious problems too. I’m assuming you’re here for a job?” I stopped for a second and stared at them all, smirks settled on their face as they knew they knew better than I did. I couldn’t speak but, I looked to crossed the street.
“You thought you were better than me didn’t you?” We step foot into an elegant restaurant, advertised as five stars, decorated with puffy-cloud white cloth and collections of flowers and candles. His friends had said goodbye at the door and now it was just us. I assessed his statement and the fact that I did assume he was well, underprivileged, I felt a pang of guilt. “I mean like you thought I was some poor kid who pokes fun at others that don’t know the streets as well?” Yeah, that was a little too accurate. He made himself comfortable in a nearby booth like it was a crappy diner similar to the ones I had visited on my unsuccessful job hunt. “So that life story?”
“Why are you helping me, I shouldn’t even stay here, it was such a stupid decision to leave town. I just didn’t know what else to do.” I mumbled in a panic that I would have to tell him the whole truth. I was uncomfortable and more and more sure that even with his help, this was not the place for me.
“So you run away from your problems?” I frowned at that thought and he proceeded quickly. “Well you’re here now so you might as well follow through. If you don’t then I will officially label you a stupid country girl.” He was putting effort into helping me calm down, I was beginning to relax in my seat and even chuckled a little at his stupid joke. This whole situation was becoming funny but I was trying not to laugh in fear that I may lose this opportunity for the only job I was going to get. Breadsticks were set on the table and the boy tore right in, my stomach growled at me to do the same but I didn't act on its request.
“What is your name?” I wanted the spotlight anywhere but on me and he seemed to be forgetting that I had offered to explain things on the street. Hopefully he didn’t even actually care.
“Matt.” he says in between chews, right before crushing my hopes. “Now tell me this story, you don’t get the job without the story.” He’s still chewing the breadstick which was making them, unfortunately for my hungry stomach, less appealing. In my head I threw options back and forth, I could leave this building and never tell what he wanted to know. So you run away from your problems? No. I could beg for the job without the story, oh but I would just be making a fool of myself. I could lie but besides for the true story the only thing that could have driven me this far from home was murder.
“I sold drugs back home.” He almost spit out all of that disgusting food and I took that has a signal to continue. “Like the kind you’d find in the medicine cabinet after your parents forget all about their surgery they got a few months ago or something. I would never take them, that’s not really my thing, but, I made enough money to support my shopping habit which was the only addiction I faced.” He put the rest of the bread stick down on the cloth, he was testing his limits before it all came out of his mouth and I had a feeling even he knew that was disgusting. His eyes wide he nodded for me to go on. “So obviously my family was going to find out at some point, I shouldn’t have been that dumb to think otherwise.” He shrugged, I kept pausing waiting for him to tell me I could stop at that was enough. Wait until he tells his dad about the drug dealer he feels they should hire.
“One day I get home from high school, it has to be one of my last days before summer, before the next fall when I was supposed to leave for college. I was committed to John Hopkins.” I chuckled at myself, a month ago, shopping for dorm accessories, full of excitement and money I shouldn’t even have. “And my mom is furious with me she tells me all about how she has connected all the dots from the empty pill container in my bedroom garbage straight back to the Burberry jacket I was wearing. She told me she already called the police.” Now that I had gotten this far, there was no point in hoping he would let me stop.
“My life basically shattered into a million pieces around me. I told her I was going to go wait in my room until they came and I confronted my consequences but really I was planning my way out. In about a minute, I had to give up every dream of college, new friends and the law degree I hoped for to run away from everything I knew.” I looked down at my bag with the Burberry jacket still stuffed inside it like a forgotten blanket. “So, basically I got on a bus and left until I hit the city. Then I waited my lucky number, four stops, before getting off and seeing where the hell it took me.” I paused for a moment and looked around. “And here I am with an expensive jacket in an ugly shoulder bag and nothing but a desperate plea for a job.” I stare him down for a reaction, angry when there wasn’t much of one. He picks up his bread stick again and stuffs it in his mouth.
“You know I’ve definitely heard worse.” he says, barely audible from the carbs filling his mouth, I want to rip the food away from him, this was the worst. “But, do you honestly think you’re city material. Your ugly bag or whatever does not hide that you are full more of entitlement than fear.” I felt my eyes turn stone-cold as they poured into him. He didn’t even mind.
“So what if I feel entitled, I think anyone would avoid jail time no matter who they are. If they are some gross city boy or spoiled country girl, would you not?” I blurted out, intending on my words hurting him. The familiar sense of entitlement he was referring to washed over me like a wave and I finally gave in to the breadstick in front of me. He shrugs at me and signals the waiter for more.
“I mean, trouble like that, you can’t run away forever, what’s a little jail time, you think you have a chance at college still?” He took a hit back, I had never been and never will be so stunned by another person’s words again and I thought that was true when my mother told me she had called the police on me like I wasn’t her child. “Ex-drug dealer now pre-law! Nothing wrong with that statement to you?” He interrogated, my eyes followed his hands as the moved from bread basket to butter to knife to plate to plate to mouth and repeat, I have nothing to say.
“So your dad owns a restaurant and doesn't feed you?” I change the subject in a manner that was too obvious, I already know he’s too smart to let me dodge his questions. He shoves the basket over to me and leans back smirking.
“Oh, just trying to make you feel comfortable it’s obvious you haven’t eaten much in the past 24 hours. How much money did you even take with you? No way you’ll sell that stupid jacket.” I put my arm over my bag as if I’m trying to protect the jacket and regret the action before it’s even complete, dare I meet his eyes again his eyebrows will be raised in amusement, that stupid smirk. “Eat the damn bread and sell the jacket and then come back. If you can’t sell the jacket you need to go home and face the facts. I don’t recommend the jail cells around here they are much scarier than whatever is in your home town.” I don’t look him in the eyes again, I as well as he, already know I can’t sell the jacket, I as well as he know I am not in the right place. I eat the bread slowly before sliding my way out of my seat.
The fear in my stomach settles back at the bottom eating away at my insides. “Real city kids fess up to their dumb choices.” His smirk is going to be engraved into my memory, he analyzes my ashamed expression. “I guess I won’t be seeing you again?” I can’t get myself to answer, I felt so defeated by a boy I didn’t know. I smooth my skirt the material too expensive for my family to afford under my shaky fingers. All this, just to fit in. I suck in a breath and stare at my jacket still crumbled in a hidden ball on the seat.
“Take the jacket.” I tell him with a false sense of confidence, I straighten my shoulders and head towards the door to catch the next way back to my small home town.
“You know what you’re doing Alex Fare.” He cheers behind me but I cannot smile at his encouragement. “Maybe I’ll see you again city girl.” This time I smiled.