He Meets Her (Passage)

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(The following is a passage from Heroes in the Dark in which Steven, the main character, meets a beautiful, young woman named Anne)

The sound of the train lurching to a jarring halt was followed by the sound of doors sliding open. More people left than entered. A young man and woman walked through Steven’s peripheral and sat catty-cornered to him in the opposite row of seats. Still wound up in his thoughts, Steven happened to glance up at the girl. His heart jumped from both the familiarity of her face and the radiant beauty of her form.

Could it be? I think that’s the same girl that I saw on the bus the other day. It’s Anne. Is that even possible? He looked down at the ground to keep from staring. Some nymph’s dart hit the bull’s-eye, wounding him, injecting him with pure eros. He kept his head downward but glanced up again, hoping to keep his investigation covert. I mean, in a city as big as this? It’s too big of a coincidence. She spoke with the young man beside her. By her body language, she was guarded and closed. Her beauty was breathtaking, and her presence was of the type that could transform the ambient feeling in a room. The subway car felt brighter and livelier since her entrance. It was as if a single friendly word could spark a wildfire of a smile on her face. Steven basked in wonder, barely able to prevent his gaze from gluing to her, when her eyes suddenly darted toward his. For a split-second their eyes locked. She continued to speak to her companion as a slow smile curled upward. The moment felt like ages to Steven, ages of bliss. He ripped his gaze away and nervously tried to find something, anything, else to look at for the next moment. He only found his own hands, and he pretended to study the twiddling motions of his thumbs.

She talked quietly with the young man next to her—too quiet to hear. As they spoke, she removed a decorative scarf from around her neck and laid it across her legs. The train’s doors opened, and a rush of air blew the scarf from her lap toward Steven. He instinctively bent down, grasped the scarf, and handed it back to her. The smooth material of the scarf surprised him, especially when compared to the stiff and thick materials from which his own clothes were made. The girl smiled widely and said,

“Oh, thank you. It’s nice to see you again. How are you?”

“I’m good. Thanks,” Steven replied. “How are you?”

“Good to hear. I’m well, thank you.”

She watched him a little longer than he would have expected. Her expression changed, as if her mind was grasping for a fleeting memory. Steven looked toward the young man, who stared back at him in return. The young man’s expression was subtle, but its hostility was unmistakable. He spoke to the girl, pulling her gaze back away from Steven. Their quiet conversation continued.

Who is he? I hope he isn’t her boyfriend or something like that. Maybe he’s her brother or a friend. A prodding, antagonistic voice boiled up in his mind. Though the voice made no English words, it seemed to say to Steven, accusingly, “It wouldn’t matter if she were alone. You know you’re not good with girls. You know that you wouldn’t talk to her. Why does it matter to you who that guy is? What makes you think that a girl like that would want anything to do with a guy like you?” He solemnly shook his head in resignation and accepted his chancelessness. Though he could not distinguish the words between Anne and her companion, he could tell that their conversation was devolving into argumentation. The young man pleaded while leaning forward. It was an arrogant, entitled sort of lean. He broadcasted his belief that the world owed him a great many things. His chin was perpetually lifted, and his face appeared ready for anger and accusation. She shook her head solemnly. He reached his arm across the seat back and placed it around her. Steven didn’t prevent himself from watching. Anne took hold of the young man’s wrist and unfurled herself from his half-embrace, moving herself a foot farther from him. Stiff indignation colored his face, accentuated by angry whispers and finger pointing. The train slowed to a halt, and they both stood.

The young man tried to lead Anne toward the door, but she stood her ground. Though singed, he composed himself. A devious smile grew on his face. Loudly he proclaimed,

“Okay, babe. I’ll probably head over to your place tomorrow.” While speaking, he slid his hand around her waist to her lower back. She conspicuously rejected his touch.

Steven watched as she plopped back down onto her seat. A long, quiet sigh betrayed an almost-hidden inner desire. Instead of giving in, she maintained an impeccable posture, her back a few inches from the seatback behind her. With slow, deliberate motions, she crossed her legs and laid both hands on the higher leg of the two. Her forward, far-reaching gaze was held aloft with the pride of unquestionable self-worth. Steven, self-conscious and unsure, continued to stare at his hands.

“You must think I’m quite clumsy.”

Steven, stunned, could not believe that she was talking to him. A few beats passed before his mind started to function.

“Ha-ha, yeah. I mean no, you’re not clumsy. Things like that uh … they happen. Scarves, keys, they get uh … they get dropped sometimes.” He reprimanded himself for sounding so eager.

“Well, thank you,” she said while smiling. “I thought I remembered seeing you. On the 9A, right? Anyways, thanks again. Not all guys are so nice.” She pronounced the latter sentence with an end-of-conversation emphasis pattern.

What do I do? I have to keep talking to her. What do I do? Gotta think! Do I get closer to her and keep talking? Would that be weird? I think it probably would be. What else can I say? I have to do it. Stop thinking about it, and do it.

He arose and sat down near her, leaving one chair between them as a buffer. His heart raced at a feverish pace.

“I … I’m Steven. I mean, in case you didn’t remember.”

She turned to him and smiled, although she appeared slightly taken aback.

“Oh. Hi. My name is Anne. You caught me, Steven. I had, in fact, forgotten your name, but it’s nice to see you again.”

Steven shook her hand. It felt slightly cooler than the ambient air and as soft as a fleece blanket after a long day.

“So, what do you do, Steven? You’re done with school, right?”

“Yep. I uh … do tech work at the Inova offices. Computer stuff.”

“Very cool. Do you like it?”

“It’s okay for now,” Steven replied. “I uh … I’m trying to get a new job, something in software design. I don’t want to work at the help desk much longer. I actually just interviewed for a job. I’m not sure if I’ll get it, but I have some different options lined up.”

“Nice! That sounds cool.”

“What about you?”

“Well,” Anne replied, with a smile on her face. “I took a break from school, and now I’m finishing up at GW. I should have been smart like you and studied something practical, but what did I do? I majored in psychology. And I know what you’re going to say: Everybody majors in psychology. I really do enjoy it, though. I love learning about how people work and why they act the way that they do. It’s so interesting, you know?” Steven nodded, pleased that Anne was opening up. “I feel like a better understanding of human behavior can help in any walk of life, but that’s just me. So what are your plans today?”

“Oh, I’m uh … running a few errands. Nothing important.”

“Cool cool.”

Their small talk continued as the connected cars whizzed through the tunnel. A few strands of hair fell down over her left eye. With two fingers she brushed them back behind her ear. A superficial inspector might have called Anne a brunette. Steven, having been allowed a closer look, discerned a distinct, golden hue. Her hair was many colors and yet one. But it was the gold between her fingertips, shining like amber, that would forever stain his memory of that day.

Brown Street (Passage)→