Here is the much anticipated, completely unedited, possibly horrible opening to FELL.
I see him again on the northbound 17 express: rush hour traffic and nowhere to sit, rain spattering the windshield, and that boy standing in the aisle ahead of me, pretending to read Steinbeck like yesterday but never actually flipping the page.
And it scares me. The day before yesterday, he was just another passenger. Yesterday he was cute, and once I stared back when I caught him looking, fluttered my eyelashes and smiled like a fool. Today, he is terrifying. I don’t know why. I zip my raincoat, five dollars at Goodwill, up to my chin.
He doesn’t normally ride the metro bus. I pick that up right away. Number one, he doesn’t have a bus pass. Number two, he always tries to pay as he enters, even during peak hour when everyone knows to pay on the way out. Number three, he can’t keep his balance.
We stop on Market street. Almost half the bus floods out into the February rain. Shoes squeak, umbrellas pop. I squish to the side of the aisle, half leaning on some poor old lady with a million shopping bags as a bunch of people push past. The second I move, the boy pops out of his Steinbeck. He pretends to drift his gaze toward the side window, toward Ballard blurred by downpour and headlights, but his eyes flick to me. Just once. My heart sends electric shocks through my chest — oh gosh this kid is weird. His eyes are brown, brown to match his hair, which is swoopy and kind of emo. He doesn’t break the stare, and that’s the fourth reason I know Steinbeck’s not used to metro buses. Metro buses have rules: only look people in the eye if you want trouble. Steinbeck is trouble. I feel it in a tingling in the tips of my fingers and a crawling across the back of my neck.
I grip my umbrella, seventy-five cents at Goodwill, ready to use it.
The bus jerks forward and everyone shifts, grabs handholds, sits down. Windshield wipers swish faster as we move into the rain. Like magnets my eyes snap back to Steinbeck. Is he watching my reflection in the window? Or only watching the flickers of night between the reflection of my raincoat and the reflection of the passenger behind me?
Birch, I tell myself, shivering, stop being stupid.