Hazardous Youth — New York

"Good morning everybody. Hope you had a good rest. We are on schedule and should arrive at our final stop in about two hours. However, we'll be taking a twenty minute break. The bus will be leaving at eight-thirty, so please be sure to be back by then. Thank you." The bus driver spoke through the intercom, placing it back on the handle.

Finally, I was able to walk again. It felt as if I was in the bus for what seemed like centuries. I was hungry, my butt was numb and my legs had this weird ache that needed stretching. Walking towards the food court, I took in a good whiff of cinnamon buns and fresh coffee brewing, I would have loved to indulge myself in sweets and caffeine, but opted to get solid food instead.

As I was waiting on a line that seemed as long as the Great Wall of China, I got to thinking… what were my parents doing at this very moment?

My mother should have figured I was gone by now, especially when Mr. Reynolds came by for my math lesson. Once she noticed that I wasn't nestled safely in my bed, she probably had a coronary. Afterward, she would make an emergency phone call to my father's office, ordering him to immediately come home because I'm probably dead.

Settling down at an empty table, munching on my long awaited burger, I watched the small crowd of people settling together and starting to chat. I never had a companion to really know the mechanism of how a friendship really worked. Actually, I hardly spoke to anyone outside of my home with the exception of Mr. Reynolds. But when in discussion of women in movies, they always base them on the stereotype of being complex, conniving and were able to babble on the phone on end about useless things like hair, make-up, boys and gossip. I always pondered, how could that be possible without running out of things to say and eventually becoming bored? It only took ten to fifteen minutes tops to discuss tomorrow's wardrobe choices, not twenty years.

I'm still in the food court taking a drink of my water and about to get back at my half-eaten burger when a girl comes over and plops right down in a plastic seat beside mine. In her right hand, she had a paper cup of fresh hot coffee, the steam rising from it and in her left hand she was holding a small container with sandwiches inside. Her fingers were long, slender, and feminine, her nails done and painted black.

Looking at her face, I had to say that she was definitely a beautiful girl. She was practically luminous. Blessed with a exquisite deep café latte complexion, her face was oval shaped, her cheekbones perfectly pronounced, her nose was ski-sloped and delicate, her rose-colored lips pouty and full. Her eyes, diamond-shaped and deep-brown in color, were surrounded by a fringe of very long soot colored lashes too chaotic to be fake, and her eyebrows, thick yet perfectly arched, gave her already perfect face an appealing expression. In all honesty, she looked completely stuck-up too. There was something about her that had a completely intimidating effect. She was very tall, her body slim with big hips that brought out her curves and she had good-looking legs.

Her large diamond stud earrings sparkled on her earlobes. Her thick, chocolate-brown hair was styled in a fashionable 1920s-like bob-cut, her short bangs stopping about an inch above her eyebrows. She had on a small sophisticated leather black jacket with brown fur around the collar worn over a thin silk white shirt. A large brown suede bag hung from her right shoulder, and her legs, covered in straight-leg denim jeans and clinging to her like a second-skin, were crossed and completed her outfit. Evidently, I guessed she just washed her face, since a few strands of her bangs were plastered to her forehead.

"You were on the bus, weren't you?" She suddenly asked me, her voice soft yet slightly husky.

Taken aback, all I could answer with was, "Yes, I was."

She frowned after taking a sip of her coffee. "How old are you?"

"Seventeen," I lied. I was starting to get a bit nervous. I didn't know what to expect out of this conversation, or any. I wasn't used to communicating with strangers.

"So, you're in high school?"

I nodded my head.

"Where are you headed?"

"New York."

"So am I," she said, pursing her pouty lips. She paused, reached for a box of cigarettes in her bag, taking one out and placing it between her lips before lighting up and taking a deep inhale. "Are you visiting, or do you live there?"

"Visiting," I absently replied.

"Oh. Well, I just got back from visiting a close friend of mine. So, I'm on my way home. Who are you visiting? Friends or family?"

"Family."

She nodded. No more questions. "I've got a younger sister the same age as you," she suddenly told me, as if she'd just remembered. "Things happened and we haven't seen each other for a long time… you know something? You look a lot like that girl. Anybody ever tell you that?"

"What girl?" I asked, curious.

"You know, that Asian girl who takes naked pictures of herself on the internet! My ex-boyfriend subscribed to her website and used to beat off to her pictures all the time, but I just can't remember her name for the life of me. As soon as I saw you on the bus, I thought you looked like her. I hate it when that happens." She paused to take a bite of her sandwich, her cigarette held between her pointer and middle finger, gray tendrils of smoke slithering into the air. "When something is on the tip of your tongue, but you just can't think of it. Hasn't anybody said that to you before—that you remind them of somebody?"

I shook my head. Nobody's ever said that to me, but then again, I didn't really venture out for anybody to tell me that. I mean, this was my first real conversation with a different person who I had no connection with at all. She was still staring at me, eyes narrowed intently. "What kind of person do you mean?" I asked.

"A TV person."

I laughed. She looked like a TV person, not me. "A girl who's on TV?"

"Right," she said, picking up her ham sandwich and taking another bite, then drowned it down with coffee. "A girl in one of those cheesy after hour commercials who offer phone sex, no offense. The really, really young looking ones who look like they have no clue what a dick could do to a pussy. Fuck—" she cursed, and I winced. I wasn't used to people actually swearing in my presence. "I just can't remember the name of that specific girl I'm trying to say though. You don't have any idea who I mean?"

"Sorry, but I don't watch TV after hours. I'm usually asleep by ten." And that was the truth.

The girl frowned before giving me a hard look. "You've never stood up one night past twelve and caught one?"

I shook my head silently. Wait a sec—should I nod or shake my head here? I decided to go with the nod.

"Not very talkative are you? One line at a time seems your style. Are you always so quiet?"

My face flushed, and I became slightly embarrassed. She didn't know the half of it. I actually wasn't very quiet, at least not in front of the people I felt comfortable with. I didn't know her from a hole in the wall, could she really blame me for being so shy? After all, not everyone could be like her, gorgeous and full of confidence enough to talk to a stranger like she probably would a close friend.

"Anyway," she went on. "what I was trying to say was that you looked a lot like that one of those innocent girls who are really slutty is all. You're hair is just different, a little too plain, but beautiful none the less. I have a friend that I know who would love to style it sometime."

The cafeteria was dead quiet now. None of the usual background music, nobody else was talking except us.

Her smile stepped offstage for a moment, then did an encore, all the while I was dealing with my flushed face. She looked surprisingly adorable when she smiled, "Maybe you don't like to talk?"

I shook my head and took another sip of my water, before replying, "No, that's not it at all."

She rested her head in one hand and gave me a serious look. "You think it's a pain to talk to people?"

"To tell you the truth… I don't know how." I answered as I was cleaning up the mess that I had made.

She gave me a puzzled look before implying, "Know how to do what?"

"To talk… to people." I felt the heat rising in my cheeks, like my face was going to burn off. I'm a complete asinine, I mean what red-blooded human didn't know how to talk? She probably thought I was some kind of fool dropped down from planet moron. The one chance I was able to maybe have a companion, I screwed it up with my lack of verbal skills.

However, she doesn't say anything more on the subject. Instead, she picked up her other sandwich, then frowned before giving me a look of disbelief. "Would you eat this for me? I hate peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches more than anything. Ever since I was a kid."

I took it from her. Peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches aren't exactly on my top-ten list either, but I didn't say a word and just started eating.

From across the table she watched until I finished every last crumb, before saying, "Can you do me a favor?"

"A favor?" I repeated.

"Do you mind if I sit next to you on the bus?" She asked, tilting her head slightly to the side. "I don't like sitting alone. I feel uncomfortable and kind of freaked out that some weirdo would sit next to me."

I examined her closely, shocked that she was wanted to sit next to me. "Uh… yeah. Sure… I guess." I replied shyly. A thought suddenly hit me. "I don't think we had a proper introduction." I said as I held my hand out. "My name is Lux."

She gave me a sly smile glancing between my face and my held out hand, before reaching out her own and giving a very stern shake. "Mathilda. It's nice to meet you Lux."

"You too."

"What exact origin of Asian are you?" She blurted out, before continuing, "If you don't mind me asking."

"Vietnamese and French." She nodded as I said this, as if it all made sense. "How about you?"

Mathilda took a sip of her coffee once more, putting her hand up as if to say hold on a second. When she was done, she wiped her mouth, letting out a small sigh and then smiled when she replied, "Cubana y Puerto-Ricania." She spoke in Spanish, smug smile on her face. "And proud of it."

She doesn't say anything for a minute, then slowly brings her hands together on the table and rested them there lightly. I glance at my watch. It was already eight-twenty. "Maybe we better be getting back."

"Yeah, I guess. Let's go," She replied, making no move though to get up.

"By the way, where are we?" I asked.

She shrugged, finally putting out her cigarette. "I have no idea." She says, craning her neck and sweeping the place with her eyes. Her diamond studs shone so much, it could blind someone. "From the time, I'm guessing we're near Virginia, not that it matters. A rest area on a highway is just a place you pass through to get from here to there." She held up her right index finger and her left index finger, about twelve inches apart. "What does it matter where we are? You've got your restrooms and your food. Your fluorescent lights and your plastic chairs. Shitty coffee. Peanut-but and jelly sandwiches. It's all pointless—assuming you try to find a point to it. We're coming from somewhere and heading somewhere else. That's all you need to know, right?"

I nodded and nodded and nodded.

When we got back to this bus the other passengers were already on with us holding things up. The driver was a young man with this intense look that reminded me of one of those intense watchmen. He turns a reproachful gaze on the two of us but doesn't say anything, and Mathilda shot him an innocent sorry-we're-late smile. He reached out to pull a lever and the door hisses closed. Mathilda lugs her little suitcase over in the overhead rack and sat down beside me as she reclined back in her seat. Like it could barely wait to get going, the bus starts to roll the instant we get settled. A loud silence took over, not the uncomfortable kind however. It was the kind of silence that let you know it was okay if you didn't speak. As Mathilda closed her eyes and readied herself for a nap, I un-paused my iPod before falling into a slumber myself.

I was still asleep when our bus arrived at Manhattan, New York City. Somebody gently tapped me on the shoulder and I woke up.

"Hey," Mathilda whispered. "we're here."

I rubbed my eyes before stretching and looked out the window. Sure enough, we really were there, tall sky-scraping buildings surrounding us, cars stuck in traffic, and a whole bunch of people walking the sidewalks in a hurry. My eyes widened in surprise. This really was nothing like the isolated suburbs, this was a completely new place entirely.

"Damn, that was a long trip," she said tiredly as we both began to shuffle out of our respective seats. "I thought my lower back was going to give out. And my neck's killing me."

She picked up her suitcase from the overhead rack while I went for my backpack.

When we got off the bus, Mathilda set off her suitcase on the ground, and plunked herself down on top. Then pulled out a small little notepad from a pocket in her bag, scribbled down something, ripped the page out and then handed it to me. I immediately looked down at it. A phone number.

"My cell phone number," she said with a wry expression. "Like I said, I live here, so if you ever feel like seeing somebody give me a call. We can go grab a bite or something. Don't be a stranger, okay?"

I nodded.

She continued, "You know what they say, 'Even chance meetings are the result of karma.'"

I nodded again, not knowing what else to do, but this time I asked, "What does it mean?"

"That things in life are fated by our previous lives. That even in the smallest events, there's no such thing as coincidence, I suppose." She sat there on her black suitcase, notepad still in hand, giving it some thought it seemed. "That's a kind of philosophy though, isn't it? Kind of a good way of thinking about life. New age kind of thing. But Lux, remember this, okay? I don't go giving around my number to just anyone, got that?"

"O-of course. Thank you, I appreciate it," I told her, that same fluttering nervousness filling me up again. I looked at the paper one last time, before folding it up and putting it into my back pocket with the picture of my brother while she turned to hail her hand out for a cab. Not one second later, one stopped in front of her.

"So how long you'll be here?" She asked.

"I-I don't really know," I responded. "It depends on a couple of things."

Mathilda gazed intently at me, her head tilted slightly to the side. Okay, whatever. She might be thinking. She climbed into the cab and gave a little wave as she took off.

And just like that, I was all alone again. Mathilda, I thought—she seemed somewhat familiar for some odd reason. Maybe, before today, I had somehow seen her before? I shook my head then, knowing how ridiculous that might sound.

But for some reason, even after I told myself how stupid the thought was, the feeling never left me.