NaNo Day 1

Kate picked her way warily through the crowd on the bus, looking for an empty seat.   The bus had already started moving. She had her earplug headphones on, the noise loud enough to hear the music but not loud enough to drown out the noise around her.  Luckily there wasn’t much noise in the area.

She was making sure that she didn’t touch the people next to her, didn’t make eye contact.  The bus was moving so erratically that she couldn’t really keep her feet, and plopped down into the first empty seat she saw.  It was too close for comfort to the people on either side of her.  As soon as a seat opened up a little ways down, she got up and negotiated her way down the shifting, moving aisle and dropped into it.  Again, there wasn’t very much noise here.

This was one of the last busses from campus heading due east, heading toward her apartment on Back Street.  She had to take this bus on Commonwealth which ran every fifteen minutes, more or less, from the campus to the corner of Back Street, then she could get off right at the Back Street corner and walk the five doors down to the apartment she shared with three other students.  Those five blocks were rough in the daytime; at night, they were downright harrowing.

In between two of the buildings, across the street from her apartment, was a small convenience store, a bastion of light on a street of four-bedroom apartments that were rented out to students at Boston University – students just like her.  Just like her, they rented one room out of the four bedrooms as their own, with a common living room and a common kitchen.  Earbuds became her best friend, having them perpetually in her ears morning, noon and night, except when she was on campus.

She heard a rustle behind her and instinctively glanced back.  A young man in a black duster sat in the seat behind her.  She immediately assessed him as whether or not he was a threat.  He was maybe a bit taller than her, but the duster hid his bulk, if he had any.  He has short brown hair, shorter than her own which was probably about five or so centimeters longer.  He had a triangular face, long and broad at the forehead, tapering down to a pointy chin.  His eyes were blue, dark sapphire blue, almost to the edge of navy.  But then, the inside of the bus was lit only by the light above the signs advertising different TV shows or movies.

“Hello,” he said, as a voice from one of her lectures on Greek War droned on in her ears.

“Hello,” she replied, and went to turn back to face the front of the bus.

“You’re Kate.”

She whipped her head around to face him.  “How do you know me?”

He chuckled, “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

That’s such a stupid pick-up line, she thought.  But it was still mysterious.  She didn’t want this man to have the upper hand on her.  She looked beyond him, outside the window.  They were still on Commonwealth Ave, where the stores were still open and it was bright.  She pulled on the wire to signal the driver to stop at the next stop, then she got up quickly, hoisting her backpack over her shoulder.

“Wait, I’m sorry –“

She was already down the moving bus’ aisle, hanging onto the bars as she walked, still not used to public transit.  The bus stopped, and she hung on, swinging forward a little.  The young man had gotten up and followed her.  She panicked, and jumped off the bus.

The building in front of her was lit up and she ran into it, not caring if what the place was.  With her luck, it would be a nightclub or a strip joint.

Instead it was a coffee house, loud even through her headphones.  There were corners where people were sitting, taking advantage of the free wi-fi or ambiance to write their great American novels.  She hurried through, glancing back.

The young man didn’t follow, but stayed outside.  She stayed inside, buying a very expensive cup of House Blend, and leaning against a corner, watching the window and the door.  She sipped her coffee and seemed to shrink in on herself whenever someone walked by.

As she sipped, she went through her mind thinking of people she had gone to school with, people who knew people, who knew others who might be in Boston.  As far as she knew, and it was advertised through her “award” of “Going The Furthest Away To College”, no one else was coming to Boston.  That didn’t mean that someone wasn’t already here.

But who would describe her to someone, describe her enough to be able to pick her out of a crowd on a bus?  Maybe it was a fluke.  She looked like someone named Kate.  She looked like any Kate.  No, probably not.  Whenever she thought of a Kate, she thought of some girl from Western movies, not a part-German, part-Welsh, and a wee smidgen of Irish stocky girl, with brown hair and eyes, looking pretty   plain for all to see.

She glanced at the clock.  The absolutely, positively last bus for Commonwealth Avenue was just after two a.m., and the time right now was just a little after ten.  The mother hen of the girls at the apartment, Lynn, was probably wondering where she was.  She decided to take a chance, and finish her cup of coffee, then step back outside.

No one was there, thank goodness.  She swallowed her heart that had moved its way to her throat.  She moved to the bus stop.  She didn’t have to wait long for the bus to take her to the darker recesses of Back Street, where she got off and took a deep breath to walk the gauntlet of shadow to her apartment building.

The first couple of buildings were inhabited by other college students, mostly boys.  A matron who lived on the bottom floor of the second building screamed an awful lot to tell people to shut up.  One of the boys in that building was already scraping up the money to get out of there.

The third building was boarded up, and a crack house.  She never knew, having seen no one enter and no one leave, but it was a pool of shadow for Lord knew what to come out and get her.  She found herself walking through that quickly.  The house next door to hers was not brightly lit, as it did not have a porch light, but the street light bathed the area in some semblance of light.

Then there was her apartment, which had a walk up on the side that led to a porch.  Across the porch came a doorway, well-lit, and always locked.  She already had her keys in her hand as soon as she came upon the porch.   She stuck the key in and it turned easily, many others doing the same thing every day and night.

She walked past the fire alarm notification panel, then headed up the stairs.  As she did, the air got thicker – she knew the people downstairs smoked in their rooms, which was against the rules, and she knew they didn’t smoke tobacco.  She got to the third floor, where it was warmer, even on this early October night.

This door was usually locked too, though she tried it.  It certainly was locked, Lynn would have made sure of it.  All these locked doors were so strange to her, from where she was from, people would think nothing of leaving their doors unlocked at night, or even while they go to work.  There were always neighbors looking out for neighbors day and night.  Here, she found out quickly, one did not go searching about to talk to neighbors, and it was best to leave people alone.

The door opened, not creaking on its hinges, well taken-care-of.  It was a sturdy wooden door, meant to outlast the house.  One thing about these colonials, she thought, they certainly seemed built to last.

She could see the TV on through the kitchen, a dull blue glow against the darkness.  Ana liked to watch TV in the dark, and got the other girls to agree most of the time.  Nivedita didn’t watch TV, having come to this country to work hard.  She was already married to a boy from India, having been betrothed when she was five.

Kate didn’t ask Niva about her world, but Ana did.  Ana was a poli-sci major, planning on going into the State Department.  Niva was taking pre-med, and Lynn was on her last year of special education.

“And where were you?” came a voice from the living room.  Kate shut the door and unhitched her back from her shoulder.

“Some weird guy on the bus freaked me out,” Kate said, walking through the kitchen to the fridge.

Lynn’s voice was closer – she had moved into the kitchen.  “Weird how?”

“He knew my name.”

Lynn examined Kate closely, then went to her backpack and examined that.  “Maybe he’s from one of your classes?  One of the big general ed lectures?”

“I would have remembered that black duster,” Kate said, finding her half-gallon of two-percent milk.  All of them bought their own food and labeled it, something Lynn had instilled in them from day one.  Any theft of food was not tolerated.  So far, over the last month, none had been taken, or reported taken.

“Not everyone wears the same jacket,” Lynn said.

Kate found a box of cereal and took it down.  She also found a clean bowl and took that down.  Another house rule was to wash dishes as soon as you were done with them.  They had a relatively empty kitchen sink.  Kate didn’t think that rule would last very long.

“What did he look like?” Lynn asked.

Kate turned to her and opened her mouth to start to describe him, but as she did, she realized she didn’t remember.  She knew the look she gave Lynn meant that she was confused, because Lynn said, “You can’t remember?”

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