Thing a Week 1: New Cameras

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This year marked the first white Christmas since 1997 in my city. On this Christmas my younger brother David, visiting from Texas, woke me up early to open presents with the kids. I sat patiently on the living room couch while the they all excitedly bounced off the walls at how many presents Santa had brought this year.

When everyone had finally congregated downstairs, David gave us the okay to go ahead and open presents. Immediately, Tommy ripped into the paper of his largest present, throwing it behind him as he looked at his brand new Xbox. I watched David watch with a smile on his face. Both boys seemed ecstatic at the other. After several minutes of a cacophony of paper ripping, all three feet of Alex approached me, bearing a gift.

“This is for you,” he said, stumbling over his words and not even attempting my name.

I opened my present much slower, directing my eyes to instead watch Tommy open the last of his gifts in a frenzy, rather than focusing on the wrapping in front of me. I didn’t expect anything great, but opened the present just to be sure.

A look in my eye asked audibly, “A camera?”

Let me tell you about Christmas and I. I’m not the kind of woman that fantasizes about Christmas; I never really have. Each year, my husband asks me over and over what it is I want, and each year I tell him the same thing: surprise me. He would always get me plenty of useful things like clothes and deodorant and office supplies, but this year was different.

Every day since Christmas, the weather warmed up a few degrees. By the time the kids’ classes started up again, it was almost warm enough to tolerate going outside. Almost. But then again, if I hadn’t gone outside, I wouldn’t have seen Her.

* * *

I commute to the local university every day to work as a receptionist. I ride the city bus there each morning and I ride the city bus back here just as the afternoon starts. This particular day I had managed finish the last of my assigned work for the week, struck up a fun conversation with a professor passing through, and got further than I ever had before in Snake. Before I knew it, I was waiting for the city bus to arrive so I could go home.

Okay, I lied. The weather hadn’t warmed up to be tolerable yet, even if it looked like it had.

It’s really cold, I thought.

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The bus stop was merely a bench with three walls and a roof to protect the people waiting from the rain, so it didn’t do much for warmth. I glanced at my watch. The bus wasn’t scheduled to come for another thirteen minutes. I looked at the nearest building, wondering whether it’d be worth risking missing the bus for a little inside warmth.

A girl approached the bus stop wearing a green sweater and tight jeans. She was probably just under six feet tall, so quite a bit taller than me. The way she walked, dramatically swinging her hips with each step, caught my attention: she looked like a whore. She smiled and waved as she noticed someone else was waiting for the bus, and I managed to feign a smile back at her. If she would have sat down next to me on that bench, I would have gone inside to wait for sure. But, luckily, she stood, and we both waited in the cold without saying another word. I knew she didn’t talk to me because she thought she was better than me—but I didn’t care, because I knew better.

The bus finally arrived. Well, the city calls it a “trolley,” officially, but it’s really a bus that they decorated to look like an old-time trolley. It’s a big, green thing that has all the bells and whistles of a generic trolley, and even has miniature, wooden benches inside to sit on.

Which is stupid, I always think, because you can’t put seat belts on a bench.

I entered through the open doors and handed the driver the fee to ride: one dollar. It’s a good deal, and yet the trolley is rarely even partially full for some reason.

“Where to?” he asked, his eyes obviously wandering to the girl behind me.

“Second and Main,” I said, but was actually thinking, I’ve been riding this bus for over a year, and I tell you the same place every day. What’s so wrong with you that you haven’t learned?

I took a seat near the back of the bus. I have a thing about people being behind me. I just don’t like not knowing whether or not they’re looking at me, I guess.

I watched as the whore that waited at the stop with me paid a dollar and gave the driver her destination as well. She glanced at me, but I nonchalantly scooted over to the center of my seat to imply I didn’t want her sitting by me. She choose one of the wooden seats near the front.

There were five other people on the bus. A man as black as coal sat closest to the entrance, whose lack of teeth was probably related to whatever had left him scarred and bulging in random places on his body. He rides every day when I’m riding. You know how you get when you see someone who’s been through something terrible that’s disfigured their body and you can’t help but look? That’s him. When nobody else of interest was on the bus, I always ended up watching him. He’s just that interesting. Luckily I sat in the back of the bus, so nobody could see my constant glances in his direction.

An older couple sat behind that man. Around their feet were six, full Wal-Mart sacks. They’re probably too poor to buy a car, I thought to myself, wondering just how poor of a stop they would get off at.

On the other side of the bus, an overweight man in his late fifties sat about four seats behind the bus-stop whore. He also rode the bus on a lot of the days I rode it. I cringed as I remembered the first—and last—time I took a seat even remotely near him: the stench was horrible and I fought my gag reflex the whole ride home, only mostly successfully.

Well, not all the way home. The bus doesn’t go all the way to my house, so I go as far as I can and then walk the rest of the way each day. You can pay a dollar extra and they’ll go out of their way to take you somewhere off-route, but it’s probably not worth it.

We arrived at the first stop on the trolley’s daily path, and a black kid a few years younger than myself boarded and paid the fee before sitting down across from the other black man. They always stick together, I thought. Duh.

At the second stop, a lady that couldn’t have been more than a year or two older than I was sitting at the bench. She glanced upwards at the bus as it approached, and our eyes met. Almost immediately, she looked away, towards the entrance of the bus. She stood up, gathered her bag, and boarded. Did she see me? I didn’t know. I smiled at her and scooted to one side of the bench when she scanned the bus for a seat, but she didn’t smile back.

The woman was probably the prettiest woman I’d seen in years, clad in some red designer coat that stretched down nearly to her knees, which were hidden away by the pencil skirt she’d decided to complement her power suit with this morning. Her hair was long and wavy, a dark red color that shined beautifully in the sunlight.

She took a seat in front of the fat guy and I immediately felt sorry for her, knowing she’d have to deal with his smell just like I had. Maybe I should go tell her, I thought. No, that’d be weird. Obviously, she’s already realized, and it’s not like I can do anything about it anyway. I looked up and realized the fat guy was blocking my view of her. With a frustrated sigh, I moved as close to the window as I could to try to see around him.

She was tall, but not too tall. The perfect height. I could only see her from a limited view of the back right now, so I closed my eyes and recalled what she looked like when she looked for an open seat just seconds prior. Underneath her flowing hair she had a pretty face hidden behind her wireframe glasses, and on it was painted what could likely be the most impressive make-up in the state. I breathed in heavily and opened my eyes.

Breaking away from looking at her, I realized that my stop was next. With a chuckle, I thought, Glad I didn’t miss that; I’d hate to have to walk any further than I have to in this weather. We reached my stop, and I looked at her until there was a chance she could see me. Then I didn’t look at her at all. She was amazing. I couldn’t put my finger on what it was about her; I just… wanted to appreciate her, you know?

During the walk home, she was all I could think of. I tried to imagine situations where I could talk to her or just get close. I wouldn’t sit by that big guy anymore. He stinks! She chuckled and agreed. I’m Andrew. What’s your name? She merely giggled and asked if she could sit with me next time. Yeah, I’d like that. I smiled.

I woke up the next day and showered for work. On my way out, I noticed the camera I’d gotten from Christmas on my dresser. It was blue, my favorite color. Maybe I can get a picture of Her, I thought, but immediately reconsidered. That’d be creepy. I set the camera back down, but hesitated with my hand hovering over it. I’ll just bring it, I decided, just in case some magnificent photo opportunity arises. No reason not to. I picked it up and tucked it safely away in my backpack and headed for the morning bus.

Nothing exciting happened on the bus, nor at work. When I reached the bus stop again, I was fifteen minutes early again. To avoid the cold and the girl who showed up yesterday, I waited inside the warm, nearby building. After a while, I saw the bus approaching, so I went out and met it at the bench.

Today the bus merely had the black guy missing teeth, a college student who looked to be in his thirties or so, an older lady that was fairly ugly, and myself. I chose a seat near the back of the trolley again, where people would have to turn around to see me. I looked at the college student. He’s not that ugly. I immediately began to wonder if he’d ever met the girl from yesterday. I grimaced, realizing if they both ride the trolley it wouldn’t be surprising if they had met.

At the second bus stop, nobody boarded. We were ahead of schedule by a few minutes, and waited around until the scheduled departure time. I moved seats to the other side of the bus so I could better scan the area for girls running to the bus at the last minute. Where is she? This is Her stop, isn’t it? She’s supposed to be here! I reached down and felt the pocket with my camera in it. She made me bring my camera for nothing! Why isn’t she here?

I furiously grunted and the old lady looked back at me. I gave her a face flatter than her chest and she quickly turned back around. I pursed my lips tightly. I can’t believe I was stupid enough to think she’d be here again. She’s gone; I missed my chance. At my stop, I angrily left the bus and angrily walked home without a word. When I was home, my feet hurt from stomping and I couldn’t believe that I had been so mad at someone so perfect.

The next day, however, She was back. I had my camera out in anticipation before we even approached her stop.

She’ll be here today, I know it.

Sure enough, She was. I sighed in relief when I saw her sitting at the bench. Today she was wearing a white coat and a fitted suit. Just as pretty as I remember. No—maybe prettier. She paid her dollar to the driver and looked for an open seat. Our eyes met for a brief second, and it felt like eternity. I wanted to scream, “Sit here! By me!” but I refrained. She sat down a few seats in front of me, providing me a perfect view of her freshly brushed hair. I sat there and took it all in for a few moments before I remembered the camera in my hand.

Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I cautiously looked around at the others on the bus. I held the camera between my thighs and pressed the power button. The tiny, two-inch screen powered to life with a SAMSUNG logo. It’s so bright! I wish I could turn the screen’s brightness down, so people don’t see! Ugh, it’ll only be a second anyway.

I looked down at the camera in my lap and realized I only had a short amount of time before departing the bus. If I don’t take a picture soon, I won’t have time. I raised the camera, hiding it behind the wooden seat in front of me. I poked the lens of the camera just enough to see over the seat and get a glimpse of her hair, and I gently pressed the button halfway down to focus it. When it was focused, I pressed the button down the rest of the way and heard the shutter click.

My eyes shot open at the last second, realizing my mistake: the flash was on.

I violently jerked the camera downwards and a bright flash of light lit up the floor beneath me. Frightened that someone had seen, I quickly scanned the bus for people looking. Oh God, that was close. Stupid! I sighed in relief, but I knew time was running out. I brought the camera back to my lap and pressed the button to disable flash. Okay, this time I’ll get it.

Shaking from a mixture of adrenaline and receding fright, I raised the camera over the threshold of the seat in front of me again and clicked the shutter half-way to focus. When I had the perfect shot of the perfect girl, I clicked the button and the shutter swished as the picture was taken. I pulled the camera down to my lap and looked at the new picture displayed on the screen. It was absolutely wonderful aside from being slightly blurry, probably because I had moved the camera so quickly, so I decided to try again.

I took another. It wasn’t better, so I took another. I turned on the burst setting to take three pictures at a time hoping one of them would be good, and took three more. I’ll just choose the best picture when I get home out of all of these. Some should turn out well. I took pictures until my stop, and didn’t feel bad doing so because I should take advantage of this one-time opportunity and take as many pictures as I can to get a good one, right? No use settling for a bad photo just because I was afraid to take more.

The bus driver called me stop and I scrambled to put my camera back in my bag and stood up to notify the driver I was getting off. Clumsily, I rushed off the bus.

I loaded all the pictures to my computer and cleared the camera. Wow, I took 64 pictures? Crazy. I deleted a little more than half of them, and saved the others to a folder on my desktop. I didn’t know what to name it, so I just named it Girl. I realized I still didn’t know her name.

I wanted to.

The next day on the bus, I brought my camera again. Today, however, there were more people than usual, and my view was completely blocked of her aside from a limited view of her shoulder. Pictures were out of the question today, so I put the camera back in my bag. Damn. I didn’t worry though. When my stop came off, I stared at the driver in his rear-view mirror with a smile as he looked back at me, only slightly surprised. Not today, old man. Keep driving. When it was the scheduled time to leave, he left, and I rode along.

At each stop, I watched Her to see if she was going to get off, wishing others would get off so I could see her better. Well, I thought, they do make it easier to blend in, so I guess that’s okay. Maybe just a few could get off. A few got off at each stop, and one or two got on.

Finally, the girl grabbed her purse as we prepared to stop in a nice residential area. I smiled. I’m glad she lives somewhere nice. She deserves it. I grabbed my backpack as well. Luckily, we were almost five minutes ahead of schedule, so the bus driver waited at the stop. It gave me the chance to put a little time between the time She got off the bus and the time I got off. Don’t say a word, bus driver.

The whole thing felt surreal. Adrenaline rushed through my veins as I stepped off the bus. On TV shows, they usually tail people on foot about a block behind, don’t they? I think they do, unless that person thinks they’re being followed. I’ll go off in the opposite direction at first and keep an eye on her. When the bus leaves, I’ll run back the way she went. She shouldn’t be able to get far. I began walking, making sure the bus driver saw me walking in the opposite direction as Her.

It’s about time for you to leave now, Driver. Finally, he drove away. As soon as he was out of sight, I turned on my heels and sprinted in the opposite direction I’d came. You took too long! I can’t see her anymore! She’s gone! Still, I kept running in the direction she went off in. Eventually, I could see the faint outline of her body. Wow, there she is. I got butterflies in my stomach and slowed down slightly, making sure to keep her in view but stay out of her view myself.

Only once did she look behind her the whole way home, but she surely didn’t see me. I had quickly turned and walked towards a house that threw myself out of her vision. I’ll just wait here a minute. Then I’ll go on. When I peeked around from the corner of the house, She was almost gone from view. I think she’s going into that house!

I sprinted to be sure I got the right house before she entered. When she was safely inside, I looked up and down the street before withdrawing a pen from my pocket and scribbling her address on my hand: 593 Pine St.

I didn’t think this plan through, I realized. It’s gonna be a bitch to get home, but I’d say it was worth it. I smiled. I have her address now. I walked the whole way home with a kick in my step.

When I arrived at my front door, I went immediately to my computer. The phone book can tell you someone’s phone number and address based off their name, but there are sites online that do the reverse and tell you someone’s name and phone number based off their address. Her name was Andrea McBeel. I created a small notepad file and wrote down her name, address, and phone number and saved it to the same folder her pictures were in.

I picked up my cell phone. Should I call her? Would that be weird? I just want to know what her voice sounds like. Maybe if I block my number. I punched in *67 before dialing her number. I’ve never blocked my number before, I hope this works.

She picked up on the second ring. “Hello?”

Your voice is absolutely amazing. It’s so relaxing to listen to. I leaned back in my chair happily, forgetting that she expected me to identify myself.

“Hello?” she said again.

Should I say something? Suddenly, I was frightened. I didn’t say anything. She hung up. I replayed her voice in my mind over and over as I went to sleep that night. It just seemed to “fit” with her body. Perfect. I dreamed about her that night, but I don’t remember what of. I just remember waking up with a smile on my face.

She didn’t ride the bus the next day. When she didn’t show up at her bus stop, I became worried for her. I hope she’s okay. She lives in a nice neighborhood, so I bet she is. Maybe when I get home I’ll give her a call. I did. She didn’t pick up, so I called again. I called four times before she finally picked up.

“Hello?” she said, obviously annoyed.

She doesn’t want to talk to me. Why did I call? I knew I made a mistake, and cried out in my head as she hung up on me. Maybe I should call her back and apologize. I don’t want to upset her, I was just worried! I didn’t call to apologize, because that would be weird.

She was waiting at her bus stop the next day in a black, button-up shirt and some black Capris. The moment I saw Her, I thought, They fit so well on you. It’s getting a bit warmer; I hope it’s warm enough that you aren’t too cold in those pants. As usual, she boarded the bus and paid a dollar to the bus driver. Today, she took a seat across from me and one seat forward. My eyes widened when I realized it was a perfect angle for some more good pictures of her profile, body shape, and outfit.

I withdrew the camera from my backpack and set it between my legs before turning it on. The first thing I did was turn the flash off.

If she just turned a little, she could see the camera. How could I explain that? Tell her I was a photographer? It was for an art project? I didn’t mean to take that picture? I didn’t know. I don’t care. She’s worth the chance. Nothing ventured is nothing gained, as they say. Cautiously, I positioned the camera to point out from the side of my leg in Her direction. From that angle, I was able to get her whole body in the shot. Her beautiful, petite body. I don’t have a picture of that yet. I couldn’t wait and my adrenaline started to rush. I focused the camera, and then took the picture. She didn’t notice. Phew.

I took another from the same position before moving the camera to another angle. I’ll just get a few more from this angle, and…

She turned around. I jerked the camera behind my backpack and grinned like a child caught in an act of wrong. I must look pitiful, I thought, but she only glanced behind her in the bus, not at me in particular. I think, at least.

Eventually, she turned back to look straight ahead. She didn’t say anything. Did she see the camera? Oh God, I hope she didn’t. Crap! What have I done? Maybe I should explain. Maybe I should have just asked for a picture! My stop came.

I put my camera back in my backpack and headed home. I can’t believe I was so stupid. It was so obvious she could have seen me! Why did I have to take those pictures? Tomorrow I’ll apologize. Yeah, that’ll do. I’ll just apologize to her. She’ll forgive me.

Waiting at the bus stop after work the next day, I played through as many possible situations as I could in my mind. What’s your name? Do you want to sit by me? Sorry about yesterday. Oh, yeah. The camera thing; don’t worry about it. You’re just a really pretty person; I’d like to be more like you. I was alone on the bus stop bench again, but I didn’t mind. The weather was warming up and the sun beat down on me, warming me against the slight chill in the air. Feels good.

Where’s the bus? I glanced at my watch. It’s late. It better be coming today! I looked down the street as far as I could, but only saw normal cars. Angrily, I stood up from the bench and walked over to the sign that posted the bus schedule. Running my finger down the list, I found today’s date. It’s definitely coming today. That idiot must be late.

I went back to the bench and sat down right as the bus appeared down the street. It’s about time. I glared angrily at the driver as I paid my dollar and told him, “Second and Main” again. I sat down and found a seat that gave me a good view of every other seat on the bus, regardless of the two other people riding.

Today’s the day. I’m going to talk to her. I should have already talked to her; why haven’t I?

She got on the bus and sat down in the front-most seat, right behind the driver. Ugh. She was at least twelve seats in front of me. Should I go up there? The bus started up and we drove. Not a lot of time now. I gripped the seat in front of me and my knuckles slowly turned white. She sat there, watching the trees and cars go by from her window. We were too close to my stop. Tomorrow.

The bus stopped, and I grabbed my backpack. As I stood up, I had a crazy idea. I’ll be going by her anyway. I might as well just say something. I looked around nervously, but nobody but the bus driver was looking back at me. As I approached her, she turned to look towards the isle, and our eyes met again. My legs went rubber, and a million butterflies spawned at the base of my stomach. I paused beside her, and she kept looking at me. I couldn’t think. I was lost in her eyes.

“Uh, hi.” I said, awkwardly. Before giving her a chance to respond, I added, “We ride the bus a lot, I noticed.” She raised an eyebrow. In my mind, I was screaming, but I managed to utter, “You should sit by me tomorrow or something.”

I rushed off the bus before she could respond.

As soon as the adrenaline subsided, I was overcome with a wave of nausea that forced me off the sidewalk and out of view so I could heave without anyone seeing.

That went so much worse than I had planned! Maybe I should have waited until tomorrow. Maybe the extra day of preparation would have been worth it. Maybe She would have sat next to me on Her own. Did I just ruin everything?

The weekend came and I stayed at home, brooding over my actions. I couldn’t believe that I had talked to her, let alone asked her to sit by me. If she sits by me, I’ll have no idea what to do. I’ll just look stupid. It was stupid of me to ask! I spent a while looking through the pictures I had taken of her and couldn’t get over how pretty she was. I wanted to hear her voice again, but I resisted the urge to call her. For now.

When Monday came, I considered not taking the bus at all. I thought about just walking the whole way home, but I didn’t. It’s better to see her and look like a buffoon than to not see her at all.

I got on the bus and sat in a seat further up than normal because there were a bunch of extra people that didn’t normally ride the bus in the good seats. How dare they take my seat! Why are they here, anyway? I was too nervous to be mad at them for long, however.

I chose this specific seat because not only did it have a few extra empty benches around it that she could sit in if she didn’t want to sit directly next to me, but also because it was the seat she sat in when I first saw her. It was a special seat, and I hoped she would remember. Surely she would.

At the first stop, a crowd got off, and nobody got on. The bus no longer seemed extra crowded, but it still was a bit more populated than normal.

At the second stop, She was sitting on the bench in a green sweater and slacks. I watched as she stood up. This is it. What do I say? Should I scoot to one side of the bench? Is my breath okay? She reached the door of the bus and stepped up the stairs. Oh god, there she is! She handed the driver a dollar and he asked where she was headed.

Hi, my name is Zhang . Hey, my name is Zhang. My name is Zhang, whats yours? She turned to face me and looked at the available seats. Our eyes locked for a second, and the butterflies came back. Should I wave? Acknowledge her? I smiled meekly.

She smiled at me for a moment, and then sat down in the seat behind the driver again.

I slumped into the side of the bus, overpoweringly crushed and defeated. My head made a thud as it hit the window. I should have known. I’m so stupid! She doesn’t want to sit by me. A tear welled up in one eye, and I wiped it away before anyone could see. Nobody was looking anyway. Nobody cared.

That night, I realized just how mistaken I was. Everything was so obvious, I wanted to hit myself for not realizing it sooner: She does want to sit by me!

I knew I had messed up bad when asking her to sit by me. She’s so pretty, clearly she’s popular: she must just be preserving her image. She smiled at me, after all. I sat up in bed with a stupid grin on my face. I knew what I had to do.

Andrea. I just have to make myself better. I just have to make myself worthy of you, and then we can be friends. I got out of bed and paced around the room. I caught a glimpse of my body in the mirror: not ugly by any means, but certainly not at the top of the scale when it comes to ratings.

I’ll start small. I lifted my arms and flexed my pencil arms. They barely moved.

For you, Andrea! I got down in the push-up position and did five push-ups before I was out of breath. I waited a minute, and did five more. It’s a start. I went to bed and dreamed about producing a fashion show starring Her, and only willed myself to get out of bed and stop dreaming with the acknowledgement that I’d get to see the real thing if I did.

On the bus today, I sat in the far back. I wasn’t going to try to talk to Her until I was better. That morning I had done another ten push-ups, and added ten sit-ups to my routine. I brushed more vigorously and ate a tic tac to freshen my breath. When she boarded the bus, she sat in the front seat again. I guess that’s Her seat. When I realized she didn’t smile at me today, I thought, She must not have seen me. Aside from a wonderful view, the bus ride was relatively uneventful.

I woke up the next morning ready to face the day. My muscles were stuff from pushing myself further than normal last night, and I stretched them in pride. It won’t be long. I looked at myself in the mirror. Soon.

Out of nowhere, my cell phone rang from on top of my night stand. My eyes shot open. Who is that? Nobody ever calls me! Is it Her? I picked up the phone and flipped it open. I don’t think that’s her number. Did I save her in my address book? The phone rang again. Petrified of making a fool of myself or missing the chance to hear Her, I answered.

“Hello?” I said, after a pause. I can hear something. Why isn’t She talking?

“Hello?” I repeated. Still no answer.

Then, a void came through: “I think I have the wrong number.” The line clicked as the woman who had spoken immediately hung up.

That wasn’t her voice, I thought, confused. Who was it?

The clock yelled for me to get going, or else I would be late. Obediently, I ran to catch the morning bus.

After work, the bus came right on time. I sat down in the back, as usual.

I wonder what she’ll be wearing today. I really liked that jacket from the other day. It looked really good on her. I should get a jacket like that, unless she thought matching was weird. My head jerked to the right, where a girl slightly younger than me was laughing quietly. I furrowed my brow at her, but she was looking the other way. Why are you laughing? I wanted to slap her, she had no right to be laughing. Do you think I’m not good enough for Her? I screamed in my head. What’s wrong with me?

There’s something wrong with me. I looked down at the floor, away from the girl. But I’m going to fix it. I’ll be better. I clenched my fists together. For Andrea. I looked up in time to see the girl’s smile fade away. Victorious and ready for more battles, I looked forward until we reached Her stop.

Nobody was at Her bench.

Frantically, I scanned the immediate area for her. Where is she? She has to be here!

The bus driver revved the engine and prepared to leave. I considered standing up to stop him, but stopped mid-thought when I saw her bench. It looks… so empty. She should be there. Something must be wrong. I would say I relaxed back in my seat, but I didn’t. I sat back, as tense as I had ever been. My hands started to shake, just slightly. I have to see Her. I have to see Her today.

Worried, I watched her seat, wishing she would just appear. I hope She’s okay! I remembered that I had her address in my wallet. I pulled it out and withdrew a small scrap of paper, almost ripping it with my shaking hands. 593 Pine St. I need to check on Her. She could be in trouble.

My stop came. Stubbornly, I glared back at the driver in his rear-view mirror as he waited for me to exit. Go already, fat man. Finally, he went.

With each passing minute, I became more afraid that she wasn’t on the bus for some awful, terrifying reason. I’m coming for you, Andrea. You’ll be okay, I promise. I glanced back at the girl from before. She had obviously noticed my uncontrollable shakes of adrenaline, but didn’t say anything. Good girl. There are some freaky people out there. I smiled as friendly as I could, and I think she bought it.

Andrea’s stop came. I got off. Once again, I stared down the bus driver as he raised an eyebrow to me getting off at a weird stop. Shove it, this is important. Now get out of here. He drove off, leaving me at the stop.

A nearby street sign told me I was on Jackson Street. Recalling the day I followed Her home, I traced my steps. I’m probably four or five blocks away. I’ll be there soon, Andrea. Please be okay!

It was a good neighborhood, as I had stated before, but seemed menacingly quiet. It was only three or four in the afternoon, but surely there must have been some activity. What if someone broke in? I gagged, thinking of Andrea being backed into a corner and brutalized. Awful stuff.

I quickened my pace.

A blue car slowed as it drove by, driven by a male college student. Should I? No, he wouldn’t believe me. He wouldn’t help. I watched as the car raced off down the street, faster than I could walk. Behind me, I heard another car. Okay, maybe it’s not so quiet. That’s good. But I still need to check on Her. I’m already here, I should keep going.

I reached a corner where the cement had cracked and I stumbled over it, caught off guard. When I had caught my footing, I was in the street. My first sense to stabilize was my hearing, and that’s when I heard the car’s horn. A million thoughts suddenly raced through my head, but I was flying through the air before I could react. Everything seemed to slow down around me, and I desperately tried to find out what was going on. All around me was a rush of blurs, and all I heard was the screech of tires. The car.

Eventually, I landed on the cement. My shoulders took the brunt of the fall, but my head soon crashed down behind them and everything went black.

“—you okay? Hello? Oh god! Hello!” I may have been in shock, but it sounded like the angels were speaking directly to me. Instantly, the thrill of flying returned to my thoughts, and I knew I was in trouble. The thud of the crash landing and the subsequent skidding told me why I couldn’t move my arms or sit up. The angelic female voice repeated, “Are you okay?”

I didn’t open my eyes. I don’t know if I could have, but I didn’t want to. I knew if I opened them, the pain would get in more. So I just laid there, in the street, not moving. I listened.

The girl had backed away from me; I knew because you can tell when someone is close. They give off a sort of aura you can feel. She pulled out her cell phone and, after a moment, started to speak again.

“Mom, I hit someone with your car. You need to get—yeah. Please come! I called 911 already. Yeah, just please come! I’ll talk to you soon!” She hung up.

If I had opened my eyes, I would have seen her crying. It was only a few more seconds with intermittent blackouts until I could hear the ambulance sirens off in the distance, coming to take me away from my important mission.

Andrea. Andrea! I tried to open my eyes, but nothing would focus. She needs me!

Two strong hands started feeling my body; I ignored them. One paramedic yelled something to the other, but I didn’t listen. Andrea, Andrea, Andrea, Andrea. I need to get to her.

I tried to say, “I’m fine,” but it came out slow and slurred. A slight nod was supposed to prove it.

“What’s your name?” One medic asked.

I didn’t listen. Groggily, I said, “Andrea.”

The two of them lifted me onto a flat board that had been laid beside me on the ground.

The first medic spoke again. “Your name is Andrea?” He opened one of my eyes further, and things started to focus.

He had short, bleach blonde hair, and a small mustache to match. Past his face, everything was still blurry.

“Andrea, your neck is hurt.” The voice seemed to come from nowhere. “I need you not to move your head. Okay?”

I didn’t respond. My neck is fine. I need to go. The real Andrea needs me.

“Andrea,” he said slowly, “what’s your last name?”

I looked at him blankly and noticed there was slobber on my chin. I tried to raise a hand to wipe it away, but it wouldn’t move. They tied me down. The rush of adrenaline came crashing back and I immediately felt ready to take on the world again. They tied me down! I jerked my arms. Andrea!

“She’s in shock,” the second man said. He shuffled to sit above my head and placed his hands under my neck to steady my neck. “It’s okay, Andrea. We’re here to help. Can you tell me your last name?”

They lifted the board and hoisted it into the open back doors of the ambulance. I shouted, “Andrea!” My eyesight was clearing up, and I saw them look at each other with frowns plastered on their faces.

The men worked together to strap the board down in the ambulance. The doors were still open, and the fresh breeze from outside rolled in. It felt soothing. I’m fine. I need to go. She needs me!

I could hear chatter outside. People must be gathering. Good. Someone will notice if something’s wrong. Good neighborhood. Andrea. It was getting harder to keep my eyes open. I was completely strapped down when one of the medics fit a neck brace around me.

“I need you to keep your eyes open, okay?” The voice didn’t have a body. It floated around the ambulance like a poisonous gas, infiltrating my ears without me knowing. I have to keep my eyes open. For Her. I nodded.

“We’re going to take you to the hospital,” one of the medics was saying. “You need x-rays and some antibiotics.” I wasn’t actually listening. I wear hearing that angelic voice from earlier again. Where is it coming from?

I opened my eyes wide in an attempt to focus my hearing on its source, but everything remained blurry, both in sound and in sight. The voice stopped speaking and I closed my eyes again before hearing it once more from outside the ambulance, asking, “Is he okay?”

I opened my eyes and tried to look at the medics again, but my eyes were adjusting too slowly. One of them exited the back and began to speak to the girl. She was obstructed by the ambulance doors, but I could see her dark red hair. It’s her.

Andrea! I channeled everything I had to my vision. I wanted to see. It has to be Her. She came for me. She cares! Her hair came into focus. It’s Her, oh my god it’s Her. She’s okay. And then she turned to look into the ambulance. Her face came into view. That perfect, beautiful face. I smiled weakly back at her. You’re here. Thank you for coming.

She was talking fast, but I was happy to just watch her mouth move. Those lips… perfect.

“—stumbled out in front of me!” She was waving her hands at the medic, clearly distraught. He was nodding back at her, obviously not listening to what she was saying. Bastard, how dare you treat her like that! You don’t deserve to talk to her! I tried to lift my arm, but forgot it was restrained. Not that my muscles were working anyway.

I yelled, “Andrea!”

Her head turned to me, and then back to the medic. She asked him a question, and he shrugged. Please come in here, Andrea. I just want to see you closer. I came out here for you.

It seemed like forever that they talked, and my eyelids got heavier with each second. She was so close, but the restraints made her so far away. I just wish I could touch her. Her skin looks so soft! I yelled her name again, but it was groggy. She turned around and walked off, and the medic returned to the ambulance, closing the doors behind him. As I lost the cool breeze from outside, I also lost the ability to keep my eyes open.

As I drifted off into a deep sleep, a smile crept across my face.

She is safe.

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