She was just sitting there, the wind whirling by her. When she hadn't shown up for their class, he'd figured she was here. Again.
This wasn't the first time he'd seen her here. She didn't seem to come frequently, but it was enough. She always seemed to take refuge at the bus station or the baseball park. He knew well enough why she went to the baseball park. He just didn't think she realized how much she went there.
It was at least once a week she'd slip away from classes to one of her places. He was surprised her mother hadn't noticed anything, despite everything. She was the only one left for her mother.
There went another car, pulling away from the station, leaving her still on the cold, hard bench. She had to be cold, he thought, between the wind and her only wearing a thin sweatshirt.
She just looked so small and alone, defiantly huddled on the end of the bench by herself. So alone to be taking on the world as she was.
He couldn't decide if he should go talk to her or not. There was a chance she's seen him here before, and he didn't want her to think he'd been following her. Because he hadn't. He was just making sure she was okay.
And besides, today he was actually supposed to be at the bus station. His mother had sent him to pick up his aunt and cousin.
He winced, hearing his voice crack and watching her back visibly stiffen. She didn't want him here. He never should have come over, never should have said anything. And yet here he was, sitting casually next to her as though nothing was wrong.
"What do you want?"
Her immediate response took him aback. She rarely spoke in school, and he'd never heard so much emotion from me as there was in just that one sentence. He couldn't really blame her, though. She probably just wanted to be alone. And he'd moved here just after it happened, so he'd never really known her before.
Unless, he realized, she didn't know who he was. He'd lived on the same street as her for over a year now, but she may not have noticed.
"Brian Johnson. We have class together, remember?"
Her eyes flickered with impatience.
Brian repressed a sigh. He was only making her upset with him. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched her blow another bubble in her gum. She'd been doing that the whole time he was here. She'd been doing it on other days that he saw her, too.
"You could probably say I want the same thing you want."
Jamie's head jerked up, startling him almost as much as what he'd said. He'd never told anyone about his dad, and here he was, almost talking about it to a girl who didn't even want him there.
"I'm waiting for the bus to come. I want to get on it. Isn't that the same as you?"
And she retreated right back. Brian marveled at how she'd show sparks of life, then shut down again. Maybe it was a good thing his mom had insisted they move after his dad's heart attack. He might have to deal with his aunt and cousin Sara every weekend, but at least he wasn't a shell.
He glanced at her again. She was back to staring blankly at the road. Maybe he'd give it a shot. Maybe it'd take his mind away from his mom, school—
"What—where are you going?"
Not away. All he'd wanted for a while was to start running and never stop, but he hadn't. The urge still came back sometimes, though. But he couldn't.
"I'm actually not going anywhere."
"But – then why are you here?"
She sounded so nervous. He couldn't laugh, he shouldn't. Just keep talking to her now that she'd started.
"I'm waiting for my aunt. She and my cousin are coming in on the bus."
Not that he and his mom couldn't do without them for a weekend. They took over the house, left him no space. He understood that they wanted to keep his mind off his dad, but they drove him crazy. Although maybe that's what he was to Jamie. A distraction, albeit an annoying one.
"So, are you waiting to get on? Or is someone coming?"
Brian watched her shrug. She was slipping away again. Too personal? Maybe it was still too hard for her.
She blew a bubble with her gum again.
Brian repressed a sigh. He'd tried. It just bothered him, because he understood her a little better than she probably knew. His dad hadn't been his world, but he knew what it felt like to have the ground fall from under your feet. His dad had a heart attack. Her brother was in a car accident. And then her father left her and her mother. Her life would never be the same, but she didn't have to be the way she was. He was living.
"You're waiting for your aunt and cousin?"
Brian wasn't sure if Jamie had actually spoken or if he's imagined it. She was still staring out at the street, but her hands had relaxed from gripping the edge of the bench.
He nodded, wondering if she'd see it. Should he say something?
"But you said you want to get on the bus."
"Wanting and doing are two different things, Jamie. Are you doing what you want?"
Because he realized this was what he wanted. Whether it meant her getting on the bus and never coming back, or walking away from this bus station, he didn't care. But he wanted to help her. That was why he always followed her. He needed to help her.
And she looked like she might be realizing that, too.
He gently took her hand, hoping she wouldn't run away. She looked at their hands as if surprised to see the human touch. Had she gotten any affection since her brother died? Since her father left? Maybe she was afraid to let anyone touch her after her brother.
"You're going to have to let him go, Jamie. You can't hold on forever. He wouldn't want you to. For your sake."
He held his breath, hoping she'd accept what his mother had told him.
Then she looked up, meeting his gaze for the first time. And he knew she was almost there.
"This bus can't bring you to him, or him to you, no matter how much you want it to."
She opened her mouth, but did not speak. Brian saw more emotion in her face than he ever had before. She understood.
He could suddenly see Sara gawking out the window. When had the bus arrived? He had to go, and could only guess at all the ribbing he'd get for this.
But it was worth it.
And no one could ruin that for him or Jamie.