By the second stop, her stop, I am ready, back straight and legs crossed again to make the seat beside me appear as large as possible. My arm rests on my bag. I check my reflection in the window made darker by the walls of the station’s tunnel and bring a hand up to my hair, fixing it as much as it can be fixed, but then realize that I’m really only scratching at my scalp.
The doors open and she is first on. Not typical, much like the spring in her step, that wide-awake movement, but then with the opened doors I remember the cold and figure that’s why.
I move my bag. Head up, eyes forward, she turns left toward me and I watch her in profile. She is long black coat, dark hair, black shoes with high heels that clap against the clean subway floor. She hesitates at the seat I’ve saved, eyeing it with a slight and secretive tilt to her head, but then makes her way down the aisle, taking a seat diagonal from mine between the man in the Patriots jacket and a woman who always coughs without covering her mouth.
A woman places a suitcase on the seat that I did not save for a suitcase. She apologizes and giggles, brings three shoulder bags down to the floor by my feet.
I say, “Early flight?”
She says, “To Belgium, yes.”
She has an accent that’s nice, one I haven’t heard before. It’s one I would give to Oona since the way she speaks belies her nationality. Less English, more Dutch.
But the suitcase, along with the unexpected influx of early morning passengers, blocks my view of what I really want next to me. I try not to reposition myself too much, not wanting her to notice me like that. I am anxious again, though, tapping two fingers on my leg, wrapping my bag’s shoulder strap around my other hand until it pinches, until I feel the blood flow taper. They’re still cold, my hands, but my cheeks feel warm again and I imagine them flush with embarrassment or confusion, whatever this is.
Again with my thoughts, but uncomfortably so. I remember the Wednesday marketing meeting that will last through lunch, the website edits from Research that need to be passed on to Jacob, our senior designer, the two interviews for the spring session internship available that I forgot to dress for. There is a conference call at 2 p.m. with Lisa, our production manager, that I didn’t want to be on, and then, to end the day, my performance review. I need to figure in a time to call home to see if Oona’s still there, and if she is, how long she thinks she’s staying and then how we’ll—or I’ll, really—go about handling it.
But I am distracted. I am distracted by thinking that she’s looking at me, that she can see through the Belgian tourists and watch my every move, notice my fingers white from poor circulation, the shoulder strap, my red face. I want her to use this chance to take me in, see me full-size, no sideways glances, no views from behind while I exit the train. But then a Belgian baby starts to cry and I am left to stupidly think, Why don’t they cry with accents? spending a few moments then to ponder this, to try and hear how that would sound.
We enter south station. I let the Belgian tourists clear out ahead of me, in a rush to connect at the silver line. The woman with the suitcase smiles at me, apologizes again. I smile, slide forward in my seat.
When I stand, I can feel her, a heavy, dark presence at my left. When I look she is looking, not up from a book or from another focal point. Her head and neck are fixed my way, and her eyes moving as I rise to keep them on my face. When her lips move, I want her to speak, but she only licks them, chapped, perhaps, just like mine.
Face on, she is big brown eyes, pale white skin, unnecessary make up. Face on, she is beautiful in a way I’ve never noticed before.
To exit, I need to excuse myself, put up an arm to keep the doors from closing. On the platform I pick up the baby’s bottle who threw it in irritation, hand it back to the woman with the suitcase that took the seat. She apologizes for the third time, and I say, “It's no bother.”