- One-shot -
Jessica sighed in relief when the bus pulled up at its stop. The weather outside was frigid, and she was thankful to be able to get out of the cold.
"Good evening Fred!" she called out cheerfully to the bus driver as she pulled out her ticket and shoved it in the slot. "How have you been?"
"Hello Jess," he responded, beaming. "I've been well - how are you? And why are you on the bus?" It may seem like an odd question for a bus driver to ask a passenger, but he had his reasons.
Jessica Walters had won the lottery a few days back, and was to receive $3,000 per week for life.
She leaned against a metal pole and smiled. "It's habit," she responded wryly. "Besides, I don't see the point in wasting money on a car when the bus stops right in front of my building."
Fred smiled back. "Well, I'm just glad I'll continue to see your pretty face every day." He peered out the windshield. "Jess, maybe you should take a seat - there are a lot of passengers waiting at the next stop."
Jessica nodded. "Will do, Fred. I'll see you tomorrow." She loosened her scarf as she headed to the very end of the bus and took a seat beside a guy around her age.
Normally, she might have engaged him in conversation - Jessica was a social butterfly - but the guy was digging through his backpack with a look of supreme concentration, so she shrugged to herself and busied herself watching the passengers getting on.
Soon, though, she could not take the mumbling the guy had launched himself into. "Excuse me?" she asked politely.
"What?" he snapped, his eyes meeting hers furiously.
Jessica wasn't one to back away from animosity, so she met his glare and smiled. "Is there something wrong?"
He looked surprised at her question, but quickly went back to his backpack.
"Hello?" she ventured again.
"Yes, there's something wrong," he growled.
By tilting her head a tiny fraction, Jessica could see that he was holding a wallet in the depths of his bag, and was counting the money in it. "Money problems?" she whispered.
He immediately pushed the wallet into the bottom of his bag and turned back to her. "What's your problem?" he demanded. "You don't just go around nosing into people's lives."
"Sorry," she said quietly, meaning it. "You just look so upset and miserable."
"Maybe because I am," he sighed, letting the backpack drop to the floor by his feet.
Jessica let the silence continue for a few seconds, until she couldn't resist the urge to speak again. "Well...do you want to talk about it? It usually helps to confide in someone - especially a stranger."
When his face turned to hers again, there was amusement curling his lips, and his blue eyes were less sad. "What are you, a shrink?"
Jessica blushed. "Actually, I've finished a degree in psychology and am interning with an experienced psychologist right now."
"Well." He couldn't help but smile at how close he'd been. "How long until your stop?"
She leaned over him to check what street they were passing. "Um...we just passed Delaney Street, right?" He nodded. "Then I have another 15 to 20 minutes. What about you?"
He hesitated before responding. "I'm not sure...I'm going to the last stop."
"The airport?" she asked incredulously. "Are you picking someone up?"
"No...hey, do you have any idea how much a plane ticket to L.A. costs?"
She almost countered his question with her own question, but restrained herself when she saw he was truly interested in her response. "I'm not sure...maybe around $1,000 one-way?"
He looked crestfallen. "Damn."
"You wanted to go?" Jessica probed.
"My dad kicked me out."
"He said I'm a fool for wanting to go after my dream...he wanted me to work construction with him instead of pursuing my own goals."
"Which would be?"
"Oh." He turned red. "I want to become an actor."
"Why are you blushing? There's nothing wrong with that."
He spread his hands helplessly. "It's near impossible to become someone big...and I'm going to have to turn around go home anyway, because there's no way I'll be able to afford a plane ticket, boarding, and food with the money I have."
"You obviously hadn't thought things through."
He shook his head. "No...I wasn't going to leave for a few more months, until I managed to get enough money, but my dad took me by surprise and kicked me out."
"Oh." The gears in her head were turning super-fast as she considered his possible options. "What are you going to do now?"
"Turn back, I guess. I'll go back and grovel to my dad and go into his business like he wants - maybe if I do that, my younger brother at least will be able to follow his own dreams."
"How old is he?"
"Oh." Jessica leaned around him again to check the location of the bus. "I have to get out in about 5 minutes," she told him.
"Oh. Well thanks for listening to my sob story," he said, kicking his bag with a wry smile.
And that movement helped Jessica make up her mind. She dug in her purse and pulled out an embroidered chequebook. "What's your name?" she asked, finding a pen.
"What? Why?" He looked down at the cheque and blanched. "No, that's not necess-"
"Look, I have to get out soon, so just tell me what your name is-" Realizing his mouth was too slack to reply, Jessica reached down and pulled his wallet out of his backpack and flipped to his driver's license. "Camden Hayes. Nice name." She scribbled down his name on the cheque and passed it to him. "Here."
Camden's fingers were stiff as he held the cheque without looking at it. "Why?" he murmured. "I could be a fraud for all you know."
Jessica shook her head with a grin and shoved the chequebook back in her purse. "If you're a fraud, you're a very good actor - so you should really consider acting...if you're telling the truth, then everybody deserves a chance, and I'm just helping out somebody in need." She stood up and pulled the bell to signal the bus driver to stop at the next intersection. "Good luck Camden - I'll watch your movies in theatre and buy your DVDs for home use. Bye!"
"Bye," he murmured as she stepped off at her stop. It was only after the bus had pulled away that he looked down at the cheque he was holding in his fingers. "Jessica Walters," he read out loud.
The amount box was filled in for $10,000 and the memo line read 'TO PAY FOR A DREAM'.
Two years later, Jessica stepped into a packed theatre with friends to watch the first mainstream film with Camden in a lead role.
Anjali, her co-worker and close friend, stood up and waved them over to the prime seats she had saved. "You wouldn't believe how many people almost dumped their drinks on me when I said these seats were taken!" she complained. "But I wouldn't have gotten up even if I was soggy and sticky - Camden Hayes is too hot to walk out on!"
"The movie hasn't even started!" Jessica whispered as she slid into the seat beside her. "And you're getting married soon - you should be fantasizing about Vikram, not Camden!"
The other girl snorted and shoved popcorn in her mouth. "If Camden and Vikram stood side-by-side, I would jump Camden - who would give up that opportunity? Never mind that he's two years younger than me - age is but a life-spoiling number." Anjali was 27, meaning Camden was now 25.
Jessica thought back to evening she had met Camden, and couldn't help but smile when she realized she had been too focused on his emotional turmoil to consider him as an attractive man. And he was definitely attractive, based on the number of females in the audience; at 24, she could definitely see what the hype was about.
"Hey Jess, do you think this'll win an Oscar?" Christine whispered from Anjali's other side.
This time Jessica snorted. "Chris, we haven't even seen the film yet!"
"They should really have a 'hottest actor' award," Anjali butted in. "Camden would definitely win."
"Oh hush," Jessica interrupted, "the movie is starting."
When they walked out of the theatre almost two hours later, Jessica was nearly in tears with pride. Camden had definitely made the most of her contribution, and had channeled the intensity of his emotions into the film - she did not, in any way, regret handing him that cheque two years ago.
"Jess? Are you okay?" Christine asked, looking worried.
Jessica smiled. "Don't worry, I'm just a little overwhelmed."
"By Camden's hotness?" Anjali asked, practically bouncing around.
"No," Jessica laughed. "By how amazing he is at acting - Camden is very talented!" She had not told anybody about the money she had given him.
Christine rolled her eyes. "I'm with Anjali...I was too busy drooling at him to notice anything else."
"You guys really have to- Oh, hey Vikram!" Jessica beamed at him.
"Hello." He slid an arm around Anjali and kissed her temple. "How was the movie?"
"Camden is so HOT!" Anjali and Christine chorused, making Jessica and Vikram laugh.
"Do I have competition, meri jaan?" Vikram winked down an Anjali.
Before she could respond, Christine's cellphone went off.
"Oops, sorry," she said, pulling it out. "Good thing it didn't ring when we were watching the movie. Hello?"
"What are you guys doing now?" Jessica asked the couple.
Anjali grimaced. "I have to try on clothes for the wedding - Vikram's aunt sent a boatload of heavily embroidered lenghas from India."
"Sounds like fun."
"On the contrary, they are very heavy and I will probably be a hunchback by the time this wedding nonsense is over. No offense," she added with a grin up at Vikram.
"None taken," he responded in kind. "And it's a good thing I'm a chiropractor."
"Sappy much?" Jessica teased, pulling her own cellphone out to check the time. "I'm going to head home now, guys. I'll see you at work on Monday?" she asked Anjali.
"Yep. See you then!"
After tapping Christine on the shoulder and waving goodbye, Jessica headed for the bus stop. The bus was just pulling to the stop, so she sprinted to make it on.
"Hey Jess," Fred greeted her. "What're you doing here so late?"
Jessica dug out her ticket and pushed it into the slot, trying to catch her breath. "I...oh God, can't breathe..."
"Here, do you want water?" he produced a full bottle.
She shook her head and took a deep breath. "No, I'm fine. I just came from watching a movie."
"Oh, was it that new flick with...what was his name, Cameron?"
"Camden. Camden Hayes."
"Yeah, that's it. My daughter is crazy about him. Fights with the wife all the time about how she's going to elope with the guy." Fred rolled his eyes. "Did you go back to the office to grab something?"
"You got on at your usual bus stop," Fred pointed out.
Jessica laughed. "Oh, no...the theatre is actually in the plaza right opposite my office building."
"Alright, you know the drill," Fred said, pulling into the next stop. "Lots of people getting on, so you're going to have to move to the back."
Waving, Jessica headed for the back as usual.
Avoiding a man who smelled like drugs, she took the only remaining seat next to a guy wearing a baggy sweatshirt with the hood pulled down low over his eyes.
"How've you been?" The voice coming from under the hoodie sounded disembodied.
Jessica eyed the man curiously but figured he was on the phone, with a headset.
He spoke again a few seconds later. "Jessica."
She turned to him, wide-eyed, wondering how he knew her name. "Are you talking to me?"
"Yes," he turned towards her, and she caught a glimpse of an amused smile.
"Who are you?" she ventured. "How do you know my name?"
He pushed back the hood, just a little, and she caught a glimpse of famous blue eyes.
Jessica gasped. "Camden?" she whispered.
She looked around to make sure they hadn't attracted any attention. They hadn't; it was too late for anybody to pay attention to anybody else. "What are you doing here?"
"I've been riding back and forth on this bus, waiting for you to get on," Camden told her sheepishly.
Jessica blushed. "Really? Why?"
"Just...just wanted to see you."
She felt herself turn more red, if that was even possible. "Oh...what if I had changed my bus?"
"Private investigator," he said with a shrug. "I would have hired one to find you."
"Why?" she wondered out loud. "Why go to such efforts to-"
Camden placed a hand on her shoulder. "Why go to such efforts to give me your hard-earned money?" he countered.
"I won the lottery," she muttered.
"I know...I only cashed the cheque after finding out if you could afford it," he admitted. "But still...why?"
"Why not?" she responded. "I wasn't doing much with the money...I wasn't poor before it, and I wouldn't be poor after giving up some of it..."
"Why didn't you tell anyone about it?" he asked next.
"Any other person would have sold the story to a tabloid - the headlines would have been about how movie star Camden had been kicked out by his father and had to resort to money from a stranger to make it big."
She glared at him. "I have enough money now. I don't need any more - especially not from messing with another person."
"Don't get mad," he pleaded, his hand shifting to her wrist. "I just want to understand what was going through your mind."
Jessica sighed. "Camden, if you feel some kind of obligation to me because I helped fund you two years ago...just donate that $10,000 to some children's organization. You don't owe me anything."
"You really don't care about the money, do you?" he asked with awe. "I mean...my dad came to me a year ago, after my stint in comedy news, and 'took me back' when he learned of how I'd made a name for myself in Hollywood. But you...you really don't expect anything?"
"I expect the thrill I feel when I see you in any role in a film, I expect the pride of seeing you succeed...and I know that I selfishly revel in the fact that I helped you get where you are today. But no, I don't expect anything monetary...or any fame," Jessica responded honestly.
Camden was silent for a few minutes, and then he pulled out a folded piece of paper from his pocket. "Here," he said, pushing it into her hands. "Think of it as a sign of my gratitude."
"I told you," she sighed, "I don't want any-"
"Please. Just open it."
She huffed and unfolded the paper. It was a cheque, addressed to her. His name was displayed at the top-left corner, beside a gold outline of what was unmistakably a bus.
The amount box said 'DINNER', and the memo stated 'TO BEGIN A NEW JOURNEY'.
"What is this supposed to mean?" she asked him quietly.
Camden took her hands in his, not caring about crushing the cheque. "I haven't been able to get you out of my head," he confided. "It might just be a type of hero worship, because of what you'd done for me, but I don't think so; I want to explore the possibility of us being...something more."
"I'm not a hero," she said with a wry laugh.
"You were to me. I might still have made it to where I am without your help, but you helped speed up the process by giving me hope."
Jessica watched him guardedly. "Is this some kind of repayment?"
"No. In fact, you'd be doing me another favour," he said charmingly. "A date - or a series of dates, hopefully - with a beautiful woman? I'm sure that's more beneficial to me than you. So...what do you say?"
"Dinner. Are you going to cash in the cheque?" Camden asked eagerly, much like a small child on Christmas morning.
"Yes," Jessica responded with a small smile. "Yes, I think I will."
And when, three years later, Camden and Jessica got married, they asked Fred to step in as the minister. They had him certified and, just like his bus had brought them together twice before, he spoke the vows that bound them together for life.
A/N: "Meri jaan" directly translate to "my life" in Hindi; it is commonly used as a form of "my darling" or "my love".
So this is my second (unrelated) installation in my 'Bus' series ('Backseat Confessions' was the first)...there is at least one or two more stories to go in this 'series' (I use the term loosely).
Thank you to everyone who expressed reviewed and expressed their congratulations on my engagement - we may be strangers, but each wish touched my heart!
P.S. Anybody waiting on the next chapter of 'Bet You Can't'...I will most likely be putting it up tomorrow (Thursday) or Friday.