I wonder if the person who invented the bus did it because he was sad. If he wanted to get out, just get away from it all. So he thought I'm going to come up with this magical vehicle, this thing that other people can go on so you're not so lonely, and it's going to take me away. Away from it all. And then hey, I'll even put wires all around, so when people feel a little better, they can just pull themselves up. And leave.
"It's going to be okay," Zulya says. This time I actually start to hear her. "Now. What we need in a time like this is some rassolnik and hot tea."
"It's okay," I say. I can't even remember how I got here, just that I couldn't think of anywhere else to go. But Zulya doesn't seem to mind. I still haven't told her why I came into her home crying, but the minute I came in she was nothing but soothing and now she comes back with tea and sits on the couch, I want to thank her. I want to tell her. Only nothing comes out. Everything sounds so stupid. She looks at me for a moment, I look back, and it's funny—I hardly even know this woman, and yet I honestly thinks she gets it. That I'm in a state of falling. Words mean nothing.
Finally I find myself getting up and pacing around in her kitchen. All at once Zulya looks up at me. She has this excited look in her eye. Zulya nods. "Flying only happens when you need it to the most." And she smiles and motions with her head toward the trampoline. I look at it for a moment before comprehension sets in.
"Are you kidding?" I say. "I can't even get a boy to like me, let alone fly. I'm nothing. I'm good at nothing."
"Megan," Zulya says, "I want you to try. Come on, get up. Get up, my Megan. Just try." The least I can do is get up. So I go over and get on the trampoline.
"Good. That was hardest part. It's all easy from here. Just let go."
I close my eyes. As usual nothing happens. The Zulya says it again. Again, I try. Nothing. I look at her, wondering why she's even bothering. But Zulya just smiles.
"Megan, let go." It's weird. The way she says go. It sounds different. Like almost for a second the trampoline isn't a trampoline, but instead, a rail or something. And all I have to do is let go of it.
Zulya does it again. "Megan," she says, and her voice is gentle as she looks me in the eye. "It's time to let go." And now I know what she means. But—I don't want to let go, I think. I can still see him, see him tossing a blue M&M into his mouth, see him laughing with snow in his hair, see him crouched on the Wendy's bed, pointing off toward Neverland with his eyes lit up, see him ten years younger with crooked teeth and orange lips, smiling at me with a twig in his hair, taking my hand, my hand—and just like that, he's Zulya smiling at me and suddenly I think, but I'm more than all that, because maybe he can fly but God knows he'll never fly because I know what real magic is, and my magic is that I have loved.
Someone's laughing. Zulya. I open my eyes. Only the ground isn't there. Not where it should be at least. It's two feet below. I'm flying. "Zulya!" I scream out, laughing. On the ground, over there—which I'm not on, Zulya's clapping and shouting and dancing and jumping up and down like a crazy person. And me, I can't stop looking at the ground. I did it, I actually did it. I let go. It's the strangest feeling. Seeing my toes and then space. Then ground. Everything in me keeps saying, this can't be right. And then the concentrating. I hadn't expected that. I kind of thought that as soon as you got up, you'd kind of just float, but it's like you have to hold on, keep yourself up there. And my legs are trembling so much, I have to keep focusing on holding on to that link, to stay on that soft edge in between holding and dropping—as if I'm really on some invisible plate in the air. Finally, when my legs start to tremble so hard I'm pretty sure they're about to give out, I let myself down.
Zulya hugs me. "How was it?" she says. She's got the hugest smile.
"Amazing," I tell her. Zulya hands me my tea but I'm way too excited to drink it. Also I think I'm shaking too much to hold it. " And I think that's when I realized what scared me the most—how little there truly is between falling and flying.
Well at least my body's calmed down a little bit, I think as I head toward the last window seat on the bus. Although my heart's still racing like mad. I can't believe it, I think as I sit down. Peter Pan? Superman? Ptt. They're nothing, nada. Me, I can fly. Real flying. Without wires or parachutes or planes or anything. Just me. Just the thought gives me delighted chills, and I smile. I keep wanting to sing, I can fly, I can fly, I can fly! It takes me a while to realize my phone in my pocket is shaking, my whole body seems to be shaking with excitement. I look and see I have a new text. It's from Lucy, this girl in my hall. It says, "Hey, call me as soon as you get this." Happily fingering the glass windowpane with the dark magical Chicago world outside, I press on her name and call her.
"Hey Megan—oh my God it's so crazy," Lucy says. Aft first I wanted to be like, I know, but then I think, wait, how could she know? Immediately I take my finger off the glass and came back to earth.
"What's crazy?" I say.
"You know Sarah, that girl in our hall?" Oh no, I thought. Baker girl.
"Well her boyfriend called Stacy from Y-Dorm who just called Amy, and it turns out she got in a bike accident downtown."
There was a pause as I tried to process. Sarah was so innocent. I'd never guessed she was the type that liked to pound pavement. Let alone have a boyfriend. I got this horrible image of her lying on some street corner. "Is she okay?" I said, though it didn't exactly come out like that.
"Yeah. I mean well, nothing serious at least. I mean she hurt her head and back and ribs and stuff, but she's okay. She's at the hospital right now. We're all over here visiting her right now. You should come and see her with us." She gives me the address and I ask the person next to me for directions and figure out the quickest way there.
It's weird though—the whole bus ride I keep thinking of this girl, Sarah, this girl who really is genuinely nice, I mean actually taking time out of her day to make food for her entire hall, but also the kind of person who sees you and smiles, and asks how you are like she genuinely means it, I mean who does that?—and then trying to imagine her in a bike accident, but then in the back of my mind I can't this image out of my head of Vadim kissing that girl. Despite everything. God, even after flying. Even when I thought I let him go. And then trying to imagine the bike accident only different. Having it happen to me instead. Having Vadim come to visit me. And him apologizing, saying it was a mistake, she didn't mean anything, and explaining everything and then me telling him it was okay, forget about it, just as long as he came to this amazing class I was going to, and then Vadim saying okay and smiling, moving closer on the bed...
When I get the hospital, though, there isn't anyone else in the room. It's just this girl, Sarah, lying there in the bed. The TV. is on, but her eyes are closed. I go over to just check and see if she's snoring, when I hear a voice go, "She's asleep." I turn around. For what feels like the hundredth time, I feel a jolt of surprise. It's Oster, the creeper from theater standing in the doorway.
"You're not her boyfriend," I say. It's more of a statement than a question.
"Correct," he says, walking over to the couch and sitting down. I watch as he picks up a magazine. His dark locks looks as greasy as ever. I wonder what his deal is with shampoo—ethical or just couldn't care less. After a moment, he looks up. "If you want Mike, he's downstairs," he says. "He went to repark his motorcyle."
"Mike?" I say, confused. "Yes," Oster says, flipping the page. He looks up with a cocky smile. "Her boyfriend."
"Oh yeah, Mike," I say. There's only one other place to sit other than the couch, so against my better instincts, I sit down in the chair across from Oster.
"So you're visiting too?" I say, picking up a magazine. I wonder if he's friends with her. If so, that's definitely new information. He didn't seem like the person who had any friendd Let alone a sweet wholesome girl like Sarah. At least I thought she was wholesome. Then again, she's with a guy who apparently rides a motorcycle. Plus she did go after Vadim with those cookies.
"Yep," Oster says without looking up. Great, I think. Let's go back to junior high. Mono-syllable answers.
"You know Sarah from school?" I ask, not caring to hide my frustration.
"I do," he says, flipping to the next page of his magazine. It's funny, his voice is softer than I was expecting. Part of me suddenly wants to apologize for earlier when he overheard me and Vadim, but then part of me would also rather not.
"So you guys are friends...?" I just couldn't imagine two unlikelier people being friends.
Oster looks up. "Yes. Would you like to see some certification?"
That shuts me up. Fine, screw trying to be social, I think, and flip open my own magazine. After a few pages though, I remember the bio responses due tomorrow and take out my notebook. I leaf through, trying to find a blank page, then toss it onto the floor when I realize I've used the whole thing. I'm taking out my laptop when Oster says, "So what, you want to be a doctor?" I look over and see my notebook on the floor, sprawled open on an old page titled "Best Medical Schools" and then below that, a list I made way back when.
"No, that's…it's nothing," I say, pulling open my bio book. "Don't know why I didn't toss it."
Oster doesn't respond. Instead he watches me for a moment, then leans back on his chair and turns back to his magazine. For a few minutes we just sit there, no one saying anything. After a little bit he starts digging around in his backpack. Suddenly he sucks in his breath and pulls back his hand. I look over. His middle finger is bleeding. With his other hand, he pulls out a silver pin. "Shit," he says, staring at his finger.
"What, you just going to stare?" I say, digging around in my purse until I find a band-aid. I pull it out and go over. Then because it's easier if I just do it, I open it and put it on for him.
"There," I say, smoothing out the creases. "All better." As if he was one of the kids I used to babysit. And then he looks at me. And for a second, something's different.
"You'd make a good doctor."
That catches me way off guard.
"Okay." Then I can't help but add, "why?"
"Because of this." Oster holds up the plastic band-aid wrapper.
I laugh. "Because of a used band-aid?"
"Yeah." He smiles. "Because that's what being a doctor's all about, really. Caring about someone's body," and his bright blue gaze is suddenly startling, "even if you don't care about the person." With that, he turns back to his magazine.
Meanwhile I head back to my seat, wondering why sometimes people have to look at you a certain way before you can actually see them.
We end up taking the bus back together, me and Oster, later when we'd both had a chance to talk to Sarah and wish her to get well and Oster had given her the crumbly little peanut butter cookies he'd made. He made it sound like no big deal, but then spent several minutes writing a message on them. For some reason, watching him, I found myself wanting to leave the hospital, instead of waiting for him. Of course, knowing my luck, the only seats left are next to each other in the back, but it ends up being fine because we don't talk or anything. Which is just as well. I'm pretty sure I just want to be back on campus doing my own thing as much as he wants to be back in his room blasting his music, away from me. Which is why it surprises me a little, when he suddenly he leans close to look out the window, and when he comes back, his right shoulder lightly grazes mine. It's much more than I'd been expecting.
Luckily, I get distracted. He's pointing at my purse. "What's that?" he says, pointing to the blue Peter Pan flier sticking out.
I pull it out so he can see.
"No way," he says, laughing. "We're doing this at our school? That kid who flies around in tights? This for real?" He turns to me, but something catches in his smile as he sees my face.
"Apparently," I say. I smile back, but it's too late. Oster looking at the flier like he's registering something. Then he looks away, so I think good, we're done but then he turns to me and says, "Did you see it?"
"Yeah." I don't elaborate.
"How was it?"
"Really awful, if you must know. I mean what would you expect? It's Peter Pan, isn't it?"
He doesn't say anything. His sudden silence makes me uncomfortable. "And you've got to admit" I add, "it's a pretty dumb play."
"I wouldn't say it's dumb," Oster says, his voice a bit softer. "I've just never personally seen the attraction to it."
"Yeah, because it's about a freaking fairy," I say dismissively, crumpling up the flier into a little ball. I'm about to drop it onto the ground when Oster takes my hand.
"I wouldn't say that," he says softly. And I watch as he uncrumples the flier and smoothes it out and then folds it over first on one side, then the other, until he's holding a little paper plane.
He smiles and launches it playfully at me. I catch it. I look at him and he motions with his head to throw it out into the aisle. I lean forward and take aim straight up the aisle. It actually goes pretty far—"Go, go," Oster encourages it. "You got this, little planey," I say, getting into it, and for one excited moment we both lean forward as it continues on its graceful arch, looking like it might actually make it to the front of the bus, before it suddenly plummets to the ground and is stamped on obliviously by a large laughing woman. Oster looks over at me and we both crack up.
After a moment Oster turns toward the window and I feel something in my pocket and pull it out. It's my fortune, the one from earlier with Vadim: "The one you love is closer than you think." God how one sentence can change after one night. Because what would it mean now? That serial killer Oster's really my destiny?
I look over. Oster's leaning close to the window, looking out at everything with that hungry blue gaze. Watching him, I feel a strange contentedness with the world. And maybe that's all that matters I think, as I fold the fortune back into my pocket and look out past Oster, at the deepening blue night.