"You know that'll kill you, right?" I let the cylinder between the lips rest snugly before turning to the man with the black toboggan. For an instant, I believe I recognize him: Philip Till, the one from Almande who drives like a bat out of hell every Sunday and Wednesday morning.
We are standing at the bus stop on Myers Street, and it's cold, colder than any day I've ever known it to be. I hold the mouth still to keep it from chattering away into oblivion. Philip isn't in any better condition: His brown leather jacket trembles like stringed puppets against his bony arms, which probably couldn't even lift a gallon of milk.
"Says who?" I challenge, letting the smoke form a blanket around us before rolling the cigarette stick to the side of the mouth. He snorts, driving his hands deeper into his pockets, ones stained with oil.
"Every dead soul that asked the same question," he replied coolly, keeping his eyes locked forward at the beautiful monoliths adorned with lipstick red dirt and blush colored mud. As if the buildings were cowering in embarrassment under his gaze. A gaze that tried to mirror that of determination, but only resembled the painful look of unrelieved constipation.
I faced him, expectant of something to happen, something that I couldn't fully comprehend. It wasn't that I though he was admirable - he was average at the most - but it was out of habit, I guess you could say.
Every time I changed skins, I wanted men to look at me. Two at the least, but three was preferred. Why three? Am I secretly a part of the Fates, or do I just enjoy being accused involving the illuminati? Uh, no.
Boys are like dominoes. The first two trip over their drooling tongues at the first sight of anything that gets them off. I mean, you can't just rest assured that you're the poo when only two knuckle head guys, who probably mistake your air of uneasiness as bashful interest, look at you.
You've got to snag the last one as quickly as you'd scarf down the last cookie in the jar. He may fall, but not in the way that you'd think. This one shouldn't notice you at first. He won't know the full extent of your beauty, and as smart as he may be, you might think of him as a numbskull, but...
It's up to you to fix him.
So, that's why I'm currently succumbing to the aggravation of being ignored while standing in the lip splitting cold. "So, you talk to the dead, huh." The voice comes out hoarse, and I almost curse under my breath. Why can't I ever come across a voice like the femme fatale bad asses from the movies? Is it so much to ask for a pretty face, and a good voice to go along with it?
"Depends. If you mean the misanthropes whose caskets are recliners lined with snuff wrappers, then yeah, I suppose I know a few," he remarks, turning back and forth. Probably looking for the bus, which happened to always be late.
Further down, the doors to Suki's Café rings cheerfully, signifying the start of the day, yet the toll of the bells does nothing to lighten the gloomy gray skies. "I never had the pleasure to know of any." "Be glad for it. Being around all that smoke," he says, eyeing my giant death bubble warily, "only burns dreams, and turns them into ashes."
Ah, well this one's poetic. The soft hull of the metro's engine fills my ears, the big lug pulling up slowly to us, barely missing the couple of bushes in front of us. I guess Marcus wasn't driving today. It's a shame. That poor Lynette couldn't drive even if she could get her crossed eyes fixed.
"Think about it," he says, adjusting his toboggan, "and anyways... people like us don't need to do those sorts of things." He finally faces me with a half smirk, his hands on the bus railing entrance. I suddenly realize that this guy isn't Till from Almande, and before I can ask who he is, the bus swallows him. With a sigh, I put out my cig letting it fall to the damp ground below, and get on.
I'm immediately met with rambunctious laughter from the city kids who should've been in second period, and the rancid smells of unwashed peddlers. "Five, please." I'm reacquainted with a heavy set black woman wearing a bright green 'Ayersville Transport Express' shirt, the words spilling across her supple breasts. Shit. I forgot my money at home.
A long pause follows, and she raises a perfectly arched eyebrow. The mouth flashes the best smile that it can muster, and before I can lay it on thick, Lynette rolls her eyes.
Now, Lynette has never liked me. I mean the lady seems to have the worst grudge against me. Maybe I questioned her driving skills a few times, and I might've spilled my latte on her but that's besides the point. The situation at hand is very important: I need to get home and watch Cupcake Wars, and if I can't ride this bus right now, then there's about to be a major problem.
"Girl, I ain't one of your men of the night. You ain't gon' run no game on me. Either you gimme five, or you can walk on up outta here." Her acrylic nails tap impatiently on the wheel, her eyes growing wider by the second. See what I have to deal with everyday?
"Come on now," someone from the back yells, "Just kick 'er off!" I love you too, you random old hag. The hands instinctively travel to the pockets of my jeans, which I already know are empty, save for the melted gum that's stuck to the inside. "Time's up, Princess. Get 'cho - - "
"Excuse me, ma'am? If you don't mind, I'd like to pay for Ms. Hansen's fare." Huh? How did he know my - her - name?
An arm extends past me and into the view of Lynette. There's randomly folded bill clutched in his hand. I don't have to turn around to see who it is. The eyes scan his dirty brown leather jacket covering his skinny arms. Lynette takes the money, and shoos us to the back.
"You didn't have to do that," I say as we find a place in the rear, behind the large crowd. He is about to sit on the busted up seat, but instead, changes his mind, and reaches out an inviting hand with a smile on his face. I am about to take the offered seat when he suddenly pipes up.
"Would you like a seat, ma'am?" His attention is behind me, and I suddenly feel the itch of wool rub against the neck. A woman no younger than eighty eyes us warily before taking a long plop onto the beige cushion. "I'm not a charity case. I could've handled it back there, you know."
"It looked like Lynette was about to handle you. Besides, I couldn't have just left you out in the cold, now could I?" We stand awkwardly in the middle of a sea of people, all while sharing the same overhead railing. The lights flicker on and off, the figures of everyone turning into blackened globs of ghosts.
"You're even more beautiful in person," he whispers, his eyes scanning every part of the wonderful façade that I've managed to create. Okay, so he knows me - her - whatever. I've taken so many that I don't remember. Anyways, I don't think I'd ever taking up with someone so mediocre.
"It's okay if you don't remember," he says, smirking at probably must've been my obvious confusion, "it has been a while." "I'm sorry - " "No, it's fine. It was good while it lasted." We are standing so close that I can feel the heat from his breath tickling my neck.
The bus goes quiet - or less noisier than usual. Out of the corner of the eye, I see an older man gazing intently at the both of us with a bag of popcorn in tow - as if he were watching a segment of a low budget soap opera.
The pitter patter of the rain suddenly falls against the windows in disorganized heaps. I imagined them as tears, tears that would belong to this kid who actually believed that I was the one.
I rack my brain, trying to figure out this kid's name, and a face to go along with it. He doesn't look like anyone that I would talk to. Maybe in the early stages when I was reckless, I could've slipped up and taken anyone that I could find.
The eyes involuntarily look at his broad face, complete with features that didn't really go with anything about him. His eyebrows screamed sleepy, while his lips whispered sneaky. There's somethng about this guy that I can't shake. I didn't notice it before, but now I see his golden brown eyes, suddenly brighter with the illuminating lights from overhead.
The same ones as hers.
Eh. A lot of people have brown eyes, so it's no issue... But there's something off. I don't like the way he keeps starting at me. As if I was something to fix. On any other day, it wouldn't been fine. Hell, it was fine five minutes ago, but now his gaze feels like an iron poker waiting to strike me.
"The weather's all over the place nowadays. Sometimes it's hot with passion, and on others, it's cold," he stares blankly out of the window ahead, his grasp on the railing getting tighter by the minute,"It's a perpetual pain that may bother us to no end. It never stops. Not with the rainy days, or the promises of a warmer one."
I'm looking towards the floor at his muddy vans because, for some reason, I can't look at him. Even though I'd ridden the metro since I was wearing bibs, the enormous amount of people began to suddenly close in around me, and I feel trapped. What's up with this guy? I'm supposed to be the one making him feel weird for Christ's sake.
"Yeah, well that's Ayersville for you," I say, keeping my composure. I was almost home. Once I got there, I can forget all about this creep and eat whatever slop dad decided to pull out of his heiny.
"Yeah, I guess you're right. But hey, even in all this mess, at least the internet still seems to pull through," He pulls his phone out his pocket, and faces it towards me, "even for you."
It takes me while to figure out exactly what I'm looking at, but once I do, it takes all I have not to turn gray and faint.
On it is a picture of a girl with thick bottle caps, and mousy brown hair. She's still got all of her baby fat, and you probably wouldn't think twice about her - Me.
The real me. The ugly I've hidden from most of the world. But somehow..... This jerk has found a way to expose me.
"What do you want," I snarl, shoving the phone out of my face. His hands grab firmly onto my wrist, pulling me wicked close until his lips are practically against my ear. "I want you to get Kara out of the void. That's her real name, you know... The name of the girl you've stolen."
There's thunder outside. The rain intensifies until it seems a waterfall has escaped from the clouds. The cloud... Where Kara was.
"I don't know what you're talking about, okay? Now just let me go!" My feeble attempts to escape does me no good. He has me right where he wants me. A few people look away from their phones and over packed grocery bags to glance at us, but do nothing.
Besides, this kind of ruckus happens all the time here on the metro, but I kind of want some cane carrying grandma to whack Mr. Creepster over the head so I can get out of here! I mean this guy is crazy... He's already figured out everything, and who knows what he'll do next?
But unfortunately, I'm trapped, and there's nothing that I can do about it. "Of course you do, Uma. You know, and I know what you do, and now it's time for you to fix it. For good this time," His grip is so tight that I'm sure the wrist will be blue by tomorrow. If I ever make it to then.
"You think you know me, kid, but you don't. Now let me go before I scream bloody murder." "Go ahead, Ms. Identity Stealer, the floor is all yours. You think any of these drunk fucks will care? And besides...You're not going anywhere until I get my sister back."
The bus then stops in front of the public library. This spot is where most of the uppity armpits of society, who ironically have to use public transportation, end up going. I'm always avoiding that place, but today, it looks like I'm finally going to get a good book. Because I'm being dragged to the front.
"Where are you -" "A place where no one will find your dead body. Now shut up, and come on." He pulls me past outstretched legs, and mothers who are scolding their children. We're only the last step, and before I'm taken to my untimely death, I make a last minute plea...
To the woman who hates my guts. I sharply turn back, sending us both awkwardly in the other direction. "Thanks for the ride, Lynette," I eye her with grimace, occasionally shooting alarming glances at the guy whose currently squeezing the life out of my arm. He smiles. "Yes, it was a really smooth ride. It's been a while since you've killed any squirrels."
She shoots both me and him an eye roll. "Yeah, yeah, whatever. Get out now."
Man. All that woman knows how to do is roll her eyes. Thanks to her, I'm being pulled out into the street by a madman who wants to kill me. Just. Frickin'. Great. Ugh, and I'm going to miss Cupcake Wars.