It’s growing dark by the time the bus arrives. It’s only just after six, but with the menacing grey clouds that promise rain, it feels a lot later. There are only a few others waiting for the bus. I mean, it’s a Sunday evening; who’d want to be at uni on a Sunday?
A girl, perhaps twenty, sits hunched over on the bricks, earphones in, talking into her phone. The wind blows her dark curls around her face. She glances over at me and gives me a tight-lipped smile. I recognise her from the soccer game; she’s one of Josh’s friends, Sophie. She was with another girl standing on the sidelines. I offer her a smile in return, taking a step to towards her. But then I stop, noticing the glistening of tears in her eyes, which she brushes away before boarding the bus.
Is she okay? Should I go and talk to her? If I do, what do I say? Hi, my name’s Amy, I’m Josh’s girlfriend. Are you okay? I saw you watching the soccer game. What did you think of it?
I follow her onto the bus, half tempted to sit beside her but she’s twisted away from the aisle, facing the window, nodding her head as she holds the phone. Rethinking my decision, I take the window seat behind her.
“I’m…I’m really worried about her. I just wish I had more advice I could give,” Sophie says, sighing heavily.
Who’s she worried about? The girl she was standing with? Someone else?
It’s no concern of yours. You hardly know this girl or her situation.
I reach into my bag for my headphones, but my fingers brush only squishy, soaked soccer clothes and muddy shoes. Shit! Zoe must still have them. I lent them to her during the game and forgot to get them back from her.
I lean back in my seat, tracing drops of splattered rain as they shoot across the glass. The wind batters the windows, the lights flickering.
“I can like see all sides to the situation and I just don’t know what to say to her. I mean, it’s tempting to move out with her but practicality-wise…” Her laugh is beautiful and for a second her eyes light up.
“No, but you know what I mean. She’s just so stressed at the moment.”
My phone buzzes as she laughs again and I inwardly groan as I glance at the screen. Two messages from my brother.
I’m spending the night at Jared’s.
Mum’s out with Brad.
My stomach tightens. Okay, I tell him. Great, another night alone with mum. Not that I can blame him for wanting to get away.
You don’t have to go home. You can just stay on the bus.
But where would I go?
Sophie continues to talk on the phone and I wish I could hear the other side of the conversation.
“Yeah. No, no, I’ll pick Grace up from school tomorrow. No, don’t get Gram, she’ll need the day to herself. She’s got the lunch tomorrow and she shouldn’t be stressing…
“Have you guys eaten?
“Yeah, no don’t worry about me. I’ll get something to eat…
“She looked really tired this morning when we saw her. It was good she ate breakfast though.”
Who’s she talking about now? The same person? Someone else?
“No, you need to be there with her, mum.”
Sophie’s lips tighten as she stares out the window, shifting in her seat as if trying to curl into a ball. In the reflection of the glass I see her brush away silent tears, swallowing hard trying to keep her voice from breaking.
My screen lights up again and I inwardly groan as I read mum’s message.
Hey, won’t be home until late. Pizza in fridge.
And most likely won’t come home, I add the unspoken words to the text, not bothering to reply knowing I’ll probably end up sending something far from kind.
Do I go home? Do I crash at Josh’s? No, he’s sick. I should let him rest.
“No, go, I’ll see you soon. Thanks mum. Love you.”
The call ends and Sophie exhales shakily, lowering the mobile. Her head is bowed for a few moments as she rakes a hand through her hair. She takes a deep breath before resuming to stare out the window.
My gut twists at the sight and my heart aches for her.
Do I go and talk to her?
She might just need some space. Besides, she probably won’t even remember me, Josh only introduced us briefly at his party a few weeks ago.
But she looks so lost and alone.
At least she has a mum who cares, a mum who cooks and is there waiting when she gets home.
A few more people board the bus as it traverses through the winding streets. A group of girls, perhaps a few years older, climb on and take seats across from me. They’re laughing and chatting happily to each other, eyes bright and huge grins on their faces.
Sophie turns to face them and smiles before resuming her window position. She rests her head on her hand and pulls her grey coat tighter around her, twisting away from everyone as if wanting to disappear.
I bite my lower lip.
Maybe I should just say hello?
But I still hesitate.
Why do I want to talk to her so bad?
I think back to the days I’d spent staring out windows wishing someone would care. I brush a loose strand of hair from my eyes, the sleeve of my jumper riding up to reveal the fading scar on my wrist.
I tug my sleeve back over it, forcing the horrid memory from my mind. Taking a deep breath, I lean forward, forearms resting on the back of the seat in front of me. From here I can see over Sophie’s shoulder to her phone that has the screen lit up with the song ‘I Need a Hero’ from Shrek.
Seriously? I can’t back down now. I need to talk to her.
I suck in a deep breath, moving to stand as the bus stops. However, a young businessman sits down beside me. I curse, flopping back onto my seat as the bus lurches into merging traffic.
Before long the bus reaches the city. Sophie reaches up to press the red stop button and I know the next stop will be hers. She slips an arm through the strap of her bag, pulling out her SmartRider from her phone case.
Sophie stands and glances only briefly behind at me as she shrugs on her bag. Her eyes are dry, though there’s a tightness to her lips that I know only too well.
It’s now or never.
I open my mouth to speak but no words come out.
Sophie smiles at me and there’s a sense of understanding in her gaze as if she knows what I’ve been thinking for the past half hour, the courage I’ve been trying to summon.
I’m sorry I wasn’t brave enough to talk to you. I hope you’re okay.
Sophie’s smile widens and I imagine the words coming from her lips: It’s okay. I understand. Thank you for trying.
I watch her wander off the bus, calling a thank you to the bus driver and I can’t help but think of it as a thank you to me too. Nonsense. I’m being stupid.
Sophie brushes hair from her face, squaring her shoulders as she strolls towards the stoplights.
You can go after her. You can still go and talk to her.
I glance up at the red stop button by my head.
You can hang in the city and not go home. You still have a chance.
I chew my bottom lip, wincing as my tooth pierces skin, the metallic tang of blood filling my mouth. My fingers itch to hit the button. Sophie’s going home.
But I’m not Sophie.
“Are you getting off?” The man beside me questions.
The light changes and the bus drives off. “No,” I tell him. I’m heading home.
As I walk through my front door a half hour later I put on a brave face. I can do this.
I square my shoulders, walking into the kitchen that reeks of off food, with day old dishes piled up around the sink, food still stuck to the surface of them that the ants seem to be loving, scurrying around.
I open the fridge, pulling out the leftover meat pizza from last night, shoved behind bottles of beer and cider.
Stuffing a piece into my mouth I grab a rubbish bag and begin to chuck all the empty bottles, food wrappers and weeks-old food into it. I then fill the sink with hot water and start on the dishes.
It’s disgusting and the water is soon a murky brown, food scraps swirling around. I nearly gag, having to step away from the bench.
Breathe. You can do this.
Exhaling, I roll my shoulders, stretching for a moment, muscles aching from standing hunched over the sink.
Go have a shower and watch TV.
No, I have to finish the dishes first.
Why? Mum made most of them. You shouldn’t be cleaning up after her.
But if I don’t then they won’t get done at all.
I straighten my spine, tightening my shoulders once more as I reach for the next plate.