Night had just reached the tips of the horizon as I arrived at one of those dusty glass bus stop enclosures. The brisk night air was just cold enough to make my body wrack with tiny shivers. And there I was, thinking the bus must be late, despite the white numbers on my phone assuring I was early.
Looks like someone left a keychain on the worn wooden bench. As I stared and wondered if they’d really miss it, more people showed up. The stop was now a gathering place for groups of two, probably all on their way out to some party where they’d drink and shout at other twosomes until they couldn’t anymore. I was taking notes on my phone.
The bus to the restaurant arrived and the lights on the inside glowed like a traveling beacon of a guaranteed good night. I was squished between a significant number of men in cheap cologne and a few girls in tight jeans – must’ve been too cold for tight skirts. My laptop leaned precariously on my knees as I struggled to keep it upright and out of the lap of the guy in the peacoat next to me. Some talker in a leather jacket was informing the three guys surrounding him about this certain fish that tastes like steak. I’m a vegetarian.
Creamy tomato soup: one of the few marked non-meat meals at Panera and that night’s dinner of choice. A woman’s cackling laugh drowned out the clanking from the kitchen as I sat down to write. Some pseudo-couple next to me talked about quitting a job. A single mom ignored her daughter as she ran off to the pointless wrought-iron handrail in the middle of the restaurant while I peered across at the elderly man seated in front of me.
He was alone too. His fingertips tapped against the edge of his generically-yellow coffee mug, a golden wedding band snug on his ring finger. He finished his food, but wouldn’t leave. Meanwhile, Boyfriend tells Girlfriend, “You can’t let him control you like that. You need to decide if this is worth it or not.”
Elderly Man folded his napkin up into a tight little square before pressing it to his wrinkled lips. He broke from staring out into the dark night and we made eye contact for the briefest of moments. I smiled, contemplating the softness of my baguette and the comparative alone-ness of Elderly Man and myself. Boyfriend said not to “base your life on someone else’s perception of you.” I thought that was good advice.
Elderly Man slowly gathered up his things to leave as someone pulled up in a shiny black Volvo, their headlights piercing through the window and into me. I took my turn looking out into the night, and I knew through the darkness and glass that Mystery Driver could see right through me. And that gaze stuck in my chest as I willed myself to see past the tinted windows and the glossy sheen of midnight blue and the spotlight of headlights cast only on me. And it hurt.
And as the car pulled away and I pulled away, I turned back to the blinking line on the glaring white screen and began to write.