Neighbors

I see her on the train platform, tapping her feet in a way that seems out of place for a morning that feels gray and heavy like a dull headache. At first I’m not sure it’s her – her shorter friend’s hat blocks part of her face. I look closer and she cranes her head, her small, sharp features squinting above mustardy yellow yarn. “Hey,” she says and I know she isn’t going to walk towards me, so I walk towards them.

She stamps her short, low-heeled boots on the graying, weathered wood and smiles delightedly, like the frigid drizzle is a rare treat. It’s a cold, wet September morning, the opposite of Indian summer. She laughs and her friend half-echoes. “I’m just running into everyone I know this morning!” she says and I nod and grin a little, because her manic morning energy is jarring but infectious. It’s weird.

Her eyes are clear and hazel, thin berry mouth parted slightly over cute, white teeth. Her new jeans look great on her tiny waist and big ass. She’s a pretty girl. She looks around, at her friend, at the damp platform and its damp citizens. She’s looking around expectantly but not at me, or even her friend. Just around. She can’t seem to keep her eyes on one thing, it’s just all so funny.

“How are you?” I ask.

Her face snaps back to mine. “Oh, I’m good, I’m good, sorry I didn’t come to your birthday. I forgot.” She smiles matter-of-factly.

“That’s okay.” I feel my face flush, and try to talk my way back to pale. I met her for the first time two years ago, at a party with an ex-boyfriend. We were both drunk, which masked our personalities and made our interactions pleasant and murky. Lulled into a false sense of friendship, our next meeting (a book signing) was a cool shock: she could barely remember me with five painful minutes of prompting, and even after she did was moody and distracted. Oddly enough, having her recognize me instantly is similarly awkward.

It’s cold. The train rumbles, edging closer over slick tracks, navigating. I start to say something else but everyone’s piling in and we end up face to face. If the car jolted our foreheads would knock. I grip someone’s seat tightly, shifting my feet. She’s grinning at her friend now, who’s short and mousy with Harry Caray glasses and a flush of acne decorating her small, square jaw. Her friend smiles and I instantly like her more than this girl I technically know better who turns back to me and whispers, loud and confidential and faintly embarrassed.

“So, I was dating this guy, all he listened to was Otis Redding.” She rolls her eyes dramatically. I don’t know what to say. Otis Redding and I have the same birthday. I love Otis Redding. I wait for her to keep going. I don’t have to wait long.

“It was awesome!” The last word explodes, ruffling her glossy bangs. That burst of energy leads to another one and she turns away, I’m boring now, she starts twitching in her friend’s direction.

“Come on, it’s a dance party in here! We need champagne or cocktails or something!” I cannot gauge her friend’s reaction, her jerking body makes it hard to tell what Harry Caray thinks of all of this.

A few more stops. We talk more. At one point she’s telling me how she graduated from some school in Indiana, where she’s from. Her eyes flick. I think she’s finished. We’re standing almost next to each other, but the way we’re packed in makes us angle awkwardly, never quite parallel.

“We had to write these essays,” she says, “saying where we would be at 25.” Her words slip over each other, slick with brash, self-conscious confidence and her probably still together parents’ long-paid off mortgage. “I said I’d be married, with a baby and a house, studying to be a lawyer.” Another pause I don’t fill, save for a weak smile.

“Boy, was I wrong!” Her voice sounds like a sad bleat, high and shrill amongst the sea of tired people clutching their briefcases or backpacks or children, standing rumpled and close like boxes of soft-pack cigarettes.

These are not familiar goals, possibly because  familiar with having goals – but they definitely aren’t those. I feel a shred of some sharp and clean feeling work its way through the potent combo of intimidation and irritation she inspires. I’m 22.  I lack a lot of what she has, or think I do, but in some ways I am free.

This is her stop and she starts to walk out, friend in tow. “See you,” I half-shout, trying to catch her before the doors close.

“Yeah,” she says, voice floating over the back of her head, “we’re neighbors, we should hang out sometime. We’re practically right next to each other.”

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