The following is a novel excerpt by Sidsel Bang.
It is winter. One of the early days of January. Thick chunks of snow are falling lightly from the sky. I am standing on the curb stones, staring at my black boots, which are now white, covered in snow. I tug my face deep into my scarf, and heat fills my icy cheeks. A car passes by. And another one. By this time of the day, kids are being picked up from school. I too, should be heading home. But today, on this cold January afternoon, I am standing by myself on the edge of the pavement, on Elmore street 31. It was here, at this exact spot, a couple of days ago, where I saw him. The boy. He was sitting on a wooden bench, on the opposite side of the road. I’d only seen him a few times at school. Mainly in the hallways, or in line in the cafeteria. I never really noticed him. Or, I guess I did. His bright green eyes are not something you miss. But despite that, he was just another face in the crowd, walking around in this big big world of ours, doing his own thing. Until the other day.
He was sitting on the bench with a red ball clasped between his hands. His eyes found mine, just as I remembered him from school. The boy with the green eyes, I instantly named him. Just as his gaze catched mine, a boy walked past him, rolling the ball right out of his hands. It landed on the ground with a thud. Then it trundled down the tiles and continued all the way to the center of the road. The guy just walked away laughing with his friends by his side.
As the boy rose from his seat, I shouted, “Wait! I’ll get it,” and I walked carefully out on the road and grabbed the ball. “I believe this is yours,” I said, and reached it out for him to take it.
He just shook his head. “It’s not. I just found it and wanted to take it home to my sister.” I didn’t ask him why. I just placed the ball next to him and give the best smile I could. After all, he was a stranger, and being around people I don’t know is not my specialty.
I fish my phone out of my pocket and check the time. 3:17. He should be here by now. I embrace my mouth with my hands and exhale. My breath seeps through the gap between my fingers, making it look like a white little cloud. I look down on my boots again. My feet are numb, and I wonder if I would even be able to walk with them. But that thought gets shoved away quickly when I see the boy. He sits on the bench, right at the same spot as last time. I think about saying something to him, but I can’t figure out what. Maybe this was a bad idea — waiting for a boy who I have only glimpsed a few times. What am I going to do now? I don’t even look at him. I have nothing to say, no reason to be here. Instead, I just keep staring at my shoes and the snow around them. I hear the sound of shoes pressing down snow. Footsteps. I look up, and my eyes land right on his. He is not more than a few steps away from me.
“You cold?” he asks. I nod — not because I’m too shy to talk to him, but because I’m actually cold and can’t make any words come out of my mouth.
“Are you waiting for the bus?” he asks, but then realizes that there is no bus stop anywhere near us. “I have a car parked a few meters from here. I can drive you home, if you don’t mind?”
I just look at him, too focused on his green eyes. How can they possibly be so bright in this dark time of the year?
“You’re Olivia, right?” I give a slight nod. “I’m not a stalker or anything, don’t worry. I just happen to have seen you in the school newspaper,” he continues.
The newspaper? I forgot all about that. A couple of months ago, back in late September, there was written a short article about me.
OLIVIA CARROLL, the headline said in fat black letters. Under it was a picture of me from the yearbook. “Olivia Carroll, a 17-year-old girl, a student at MNS High School. She lives an ordinary life with her parents and her little brother, Cody. But not more than a week ago, her life changed.”
The words “life changed” are maybe a little too excessive, but the writers of the school newspaper always make the small things sound more eye-popping than they really are.
“Olivia was driving to school on her bike. It was a morning, just like every other. The sun was bright, the wind whistled in her hair. If only she had known what was coming. Right when she turned left at the junction, a car came passing by. She hit the brakes as hard as she could, making black marks on the road. Unfortunately, it was too late. The car driver didn’t notice her, and they crashed right at the spot. Olivia was immediately sent to the hospital. She was sobbing her eyes out all the way over there, begging for help. Her skin was covered in cuts and bruises, and she felt disabled, like a baby. Luckily, after a few hours of surgery, and sleep, little Olivia Carroll recovered, as well as the car driver. This appalling moment hit hard on poor Olivia, and she had to stay home from school the rest of the week. Now, she is well and alive, and ready to take on the world. This proves that…”
I’d stopped reading the article by then. It miffed me. Yes, I was involved in a car crash. Yes, it was terrifying. But no, I did not cry like a baby during the entire ride, and no I was not alive and well when I came back to school. I was alive, yes, but I barely even felt like it. The world was still spinning, and I couldn’t even come near a car or a bike without it being dreadful. I felt multiple eyes staring at me when I walked down the hallway. People who whispered my name or asked me if I was all right. I don’t mind that people are trying to show compassion. But it does bother me that people who usually look down on someone like me or call me stupid nicknames suddenly seem to care — because, “Oh, she was in a car crash, and I feel so bad for her.” Like, please, don’t pretend that you for one second cared for me before the accident.
Oh, well, that time is luckily over now. No one speaks about it anymore besides my parents, who sometimes come with a comment like, “drive safe,” or, “remember to watch out at the swings.” I don’t bother to tell them that I always take care of myself. They already know. They just still want to tell me to be careful, just in case.
I get snapped out of my daydreaming by the same green eyes. I clear my throat. “Yes, I’m Olivia. The girl from the newspaper.” I shove my stiff hands down in my pockets. “And, yes. A ride would be nice,” I admit, since I don’t have my bike with me, and I missed the last bus, which only comes every 40 minutes or so.
He follows me to his car and opens the door for me, making exaggerated hand movements in an odd, servant kind of way. He grins, and I laugh a bit. The car is cold, which doesn’t help on my frigid body.
“Don’t worry, it will heat up in a second,” he says, smiling. I want to smile back, but all I can think is, why. Why did I do this? Why am I in this stranger’s car? Why did I even look for him? He starts driving, and the car is slowly getting warmer. My shoulders loosen. Somehow, I didn’t notice how tense they were.
“So where is this house of yours?” His eyes are locked on the road.
“Lockwood Road 2nd,” I say, rubbing my hands together for extra heat. “Do you know where it is?”
“As a matter of fact, I do. One of my mother’s friends used to have a house nearby.”
“What is your name?” I ask. The corners of his mouth curls up in a slight smile.
“Connor. Connor Morey,” he says. I don’t recognize the name. Not that I expected to, either. We barely even talk the rest of the way. I don’t ask about anything since I feel like we’ve already asked and answered enough questions for now.
When he stops in front of my house, I walk out and say, “Goodbye Connor Morey,” smile, and walk into my house.
The next day, I meet Connor at school. I don’t say hi to him. We just exchange a quick smile and continue to walk the opposite ways. I meet my friend Kristen at her locker, just as I do every morning.
“Ready for Algebra?” she asks me.
“I’m never going to be ready for algebra,” I say, grinning. And so first period goes by. Then second. And finally, it’s lunch time. I spot Connor again, waiting in the lunch line. Kristen must have noticed my gaze because suddenly a hand is waving in front of my face. I give my head a little shake.
“Come on. I’m starving,” she says, pulling me towards the end of the line. When we find our usual table, Matt comes to join us. Matt is Kristen’s boyfriend, although she never really mentions him to people. They sit on the opposite side of the table, probably holding hands secretly. I don’t mind. Between them, I can see his face. Connor. He is sitting alone. I can hear Kristen trying to have a conversation with me, but I don’t hear what she is saying.
“Olivia!” she snaps, and suddenly I am back in the cafeteria, staring into Kristen’s eyes.
“What is with you today?” Her voice sounds bothered. “You keep slipping away.”
“Sorry,” I say, “I guess I’m just tired.”
When the last bell rings, I say goodbye to Kristen and Matt and walk towards the other side of the school. The school it quite large, so it’s a long walk to get there, but for some reason I don’t even care. It’s like my feet have a mind of their own and want to keep walking. This time, I cross the road. And right there, a few steps away from me, is the bench. I sit down. Not at Connor’s spot, though. Just next to it. And I wait. One minute. Nothing happens. Two minutes. It is freezing cold, just like yesterday — although it isn’t precisely snowing anymore. Three minutes. A little boy, not much older than 5, walks past me, holding his mother’s hand tightly. They’re talking about plans for the weekend. The boy wants to do something he describes as “superly-cool.” I don’t quite catch what it is. Four minutes. Connor shows up, with his backpack hanging over one of his shoulders. He sits down next to me.
“Hey, Olivia,” he says, placing his bag in front of his feet.
“What brings you here?” he asks.
Oh no. This was the question I feared he would ask me. Mainly because I don’t have an answer…