Night time at the train station always made Jasmine uncomfortable. The pushy people, the echoes and the lights mostly. She almost always stared too long at the lights as they moved in long diagonals, projecting flickering vibrations. When the trains pulled in they howled and that upset her too. There was always such a long pause before the doors opened. The rush of people and smells made up for the stagnation and only agitated her nerves more. Most days with books she could ignore it a little, but today it was suffocating. She spent her few moments in line to board daydreaming about whether or not other people felt that way too. It seemed to her like she was the only one.
Two pages into her new chapter, someone asked her to sign another donation form. It was for a basketball team from a local high school. She must have made a strange face while she was thinking about the boy's half-hearted speech that he stopped mid sentence and scoffed at her. Then he walked away. She hated it when people did that. It made her feel even more alone. Now she was thinking about what expression she could possibly have made to make him react that way, or if it was just the way she looked, instead of those first couple pages in her chapter. That bothered her most of all.
It was raining on her street. Jasmine loved the rain because it made people move slow and carefully. She felt less like her own pace made more sense. She knew how to be fast, it just upset her in the same way the train station at night upset her.
"Fast people are stupid" She mumbled to herself. The words got lost in the downpour, "They make me feel stupid for being slow but they don't see how the world really looks. They miss everything."
After turning her usual pattern of corners she turned on tuesdays, Jasmine skipped up the short steps into her porch. The end of her walk home was the only time she ever skipped. She fumbled with her keys like always and heard a skittering. Her fumbling stopped with an abrupt rattle and slink as the keys fell flat next to her feet.
Her eyes became wide and her pale skin white. She wanted to be a cat and hide behind her claws in the hardest-to-reach spot around. Instead of becoming a cat, she just stood there staring into the night. Her eyes darted from bush to bush and her adrenaline pumped through her making her hands shake and her face quiver. Finally after several eternal seconds she knelt down to pick up her keys and went inside.
The next day, at QQC Enterprises, her mind wandered. Jasmine thought of little else beside that moment on the porch the night before. She always use to mind being surrounded by many anonymous strangers and the office was no exception. The thin carpet cube walls were all that stood between her and the dry forced interaction beyond. Even her computer screen, her last bastion of solitude, betrayed her with every stroke of the keys.
The smell of the place was wretched, so Jasmine always plugged her nose with plastic wishbone plugs. She removed it to take a sip of coffee from her carafe. Spinning sideways in her chair, she caught a quick glimpse of a strange woman looming toward her. She quickly spun back to hide inside her computer screen and tapped the keys like crazy.
"Hello?" A new voice. Smoother than most.
She glanced up while tapping nonsense on her keyboard and tried to ignore the powerfully attractive woman resting on her cubicle. Resting.
"What is it?" She hadn't meant for it to sound so curt.
Visibly taken aback, Chloe shot back "You been here long? I know just about every programmer in the building but I don't know you." She coyly tapped a loose folder against her palm as she leaned in overhead.
"About three years eight months."
"Huh. Well you got a name, Three Years Eight Months?" Chloe was absolutely pouring out of her half-open button down dress shirt.
"Hey Jasmine, I'm Chloe."
Jasmine realized she had written ten long lines of completely ridiculous gibberish and that it was probably visible from where Chloe was standing. She turned the screen of in a brief panic and sat still.
"Are you busy? I can come back later."
"I was just getting ready to go eat lunch. Excuse me." In a sudden torrent, Jasmine swung up from her chair and into her favorite coat and made a dash for the door.
"Jasmine!" Chloe turned every head on the floor when she called after her. The door slammed behind her. "You forgot your lunch," she finished to herself.
The train catapulted through the MacArthur tunnel and screamed as it passed another. Jasmine tapped her foot and could think of nothing more exciting than the two trains colliding in the dark. She felt so morbid for thinking it, but it was like a sickening thrill to her. She hated roller coasters, crowded theme parks, driving fast and heights, yet found herself locked in thought with the imagined crash.
First all of the lights would crackle and snap off and the windows would shatter all around. People would be launched from their seats into each other in each car spraying blood and vomit everywhere. There would be no telling whose face had your foot through it or when the next thoughtless flailing human would crash into you.
Jasmine grinned without noticing.
"Did you know that more people die in car wrecks than airplanes and trains combined? By about at least 4 times, I think." Chloe slid into the seat next to Jasmine. She was still holding her lunch.
"Hi. You know you forgot your lunch back there."
She had to laugh, "Is that my lunch?"
"I tried to find you but you sped off like Speedy Gonzales!"
"I am not like Speedy Gonzales." Jasmine caught herself smiling and shied away for a moment and said, "Well how come you still have it? That was like five hours ago!"
"There she is! Here," she handed her the semi greasy bag, "I ate your banana."
There was a long and very awkward silence, as there always was when conversations between strangers and Jasmine reached this phase.
"You like movies?"
"Not really." She blinked away the fear and dared to ask, "Why?"
"Cus I'm going to see one tonight and I wanted to know if you liked movies and wanted to come. But since you don't like them I'll just go by myself. It's okay, I was going anyway."
"No, I would - well what kind of movie is it?"
"A violent one. Lots of blood and swearing. Just like the ones I had to sneak over to friends' houses at night to watch when I was little. You in?"
Chloe looked at Jasmine now like nobody ever did. She felt uncomfortable at first, but forced herself to look up and saw Chloe's eyes every time, just piercing through to the core of her. Each time she glanced into Chloe, she felt a little bit more courage to do it again.
"Great! This is the stop, come on!"
Suddenly Jasmine was being pulled through the crowded train and into the front of the departing commuters. She was squeezing Chloe's hand so tight by the time she realized she was holding it, it was too late to retract back into the comfort of her pockets.
Chloe led Jasmine down strange Berkeley side streets at the speed of an extrovert bounding toward sensational relief.
They turned dark corners into bright busy streets and crossed them together hand in hand. Wind blew across the heavier intersections, but always in the direction she felt it wanted to. Just as Jasmine began to relax and accept the new pace, Chloe stopped and turned to her and proudly presented, "The theater!" with her entire body. She then jerked Jasmine into the doors like a wild pregnant mare.
They said nothing in line, except for "Two please!"
This was utter shy-person hell. The theater was full when they got there and there were people standing in the aisles spilling popcorn as they laughed for what appeared to be no reason. There was a roar of haphazard conversation that rose and fell and crushed Jasmine beneath itself. The environment dawned slowly on Jasmine like a sickness. Somehow Chloe found two seats, in the relative center of the dark theater.
"I don't feel good, Chloe." As she stumbled over feet and nearly slipped on popcorn twice.
"What! It hasn't even started yet!" Chloe swam through the crowded aisles and found the row, "Use the sticky soda to stop yourself if you slip." She smiled back at her. They crashed down into their seats and immediately reclined. She touched Jasmine's leg lightly and locked eyes with her for the first time since the train. "Just relax."
"Okay." Jasmine melted back into her seat and let Chloe put her hand wherever she wanted once the lights went down.
To Jasmine's surprising disappointment, Chloe had not put her hand anywhere she had wanted her to. They were holding hands again, but the pace was different now somehow. Jasmine began to feel uneasy again. Her feet kept up but she felt sad and couldn't figure out why. Chloe led her down through more side streets, dark and light until she found herself turning a familiar corner and stood bewildered before her own doorstep. Chloe's hand unclasped and released hers and she stood back and beamed at her.
"Good night then." Chloe leaned in and kissed Jasmine softly between her ear and her neck and then on the other side of her nose just above her lips.
Stunned, Jasmine gasped a "Good night," and slowly fell, no floated, backward against the front steps she had always savored skipping past. She picked herself up from a daze and on her feet again regained a more Jasmine way of seeing. She was still holding her greasy lunch bag.
Chloe was gone. Jasmine went inside, listening for a soft whispered hello.