Bobby Garfield hopped on the Uptown Bus and took a seat across from the most beautiful girl he had ever seen; like he had done five days a week for the last seven months. Bobby wondered again if she even really noticed him, how he took the same seat each day after the briefest glance; more a courtesy than anything else, he decided, simply acknowledging Bobby just as she did the other passengers as they walked by… nothing more, nothing less.

It was a 15 minute ride taking Bobby to his job at the hardware store. She was on the bus when he got on and she remained on the bus when he got off, leaving Bobby with no clue as to the girl’s home or her destination. Sure, she was on the Uptown Bus but it connected to the Midtown Bus and all the other lines that criss-crossed the city.

If she wore any make-up, he couldn’t tell. Her eyes were greenish, her auburn hair almost always pulled back into a ponytail. Her teeth were pleasantly crooked meaning she hadn’t needed all that dental work some people get. She was beautiful but she wasn’t vain…. only natural.

While he had never spoken a single word to the girl, Bobby had learned quite a bit about her. Bobby knew she liked the outdoors. On Monday mornings following a sunny weekend, her skin glowed fresh. 

She carried her lunch four days out of five which meant she probably dined out on Friday, certainly with friends or coworkers. She read a book every day and, almost like clockwork, she started a new one every Monday. The titles gave away only little about her; as if one can learn about another through the books she reads. 

She sat straight while reading, glancing above the page infrequently, perhaps stealing a glance at Bobby when he wasn’t looking. He dared not stare… not too much, anyway… so she had many opportunities to maybe assess him as he had assessed her.

A delicate silver chain around her neck held the smallest Star of David. There were no rings on her fingers, no polish on her nails although they were obviously cared for. A fashionable watch graced her left wrist while a silver charm bracelet dangled from the right. Bobby had studied all the different tokens and had assigned meaning to each in a way that allowed him to pretend that he and the girl were friends; as if they had spent time together sharing the moments of their young lives.

A turtle, a rabbit, a thimble that looked like that Monopoly token, a candlestick, an eight-ball the size of a pea, a feather, and a pair of tiny Hershey Kisses; all these led Bobby to believe, to know, the beautiful girl was care-free, whimsical even, although he had never heard her laugh. He had seen her slight polite smile, though, and each time Bobby imagined that it was he who had said something funny or cute that made it happen.

The Uptown Bus reached Sycamore Street and Bobby stood up. As he walked toward the door, she said, “Excuse me, I think you dropped something.” She held out her hand with a small folded piece of paper. Bobby hesitated, and then reached out, his hand ever so lightly brushing hers.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Sit down or get off,” the driver barked, stunning Bobby back to earth. He tucked the folded paper into his pocket and stepped down to the sidewalk. The door of the bus swiveled shut and the big machine pulled away from the curb in a cloud of grey smoke. Bobby stared after it, somehow noticing through the window that the girl had returned to her book as if nothing had happened.

As he made his way to the hardware store, the small piece of paper pounded with its own heartbeat. Tiny beads of perspiration bubbled on his forehead. The noises of the busy street rushed over him in a silent cacophony of movement. He walked to the back of the store, tied on his red apron, spattered and dabbed with a thousand shades of dried paint, and did his work, as he had for years, without much thought other than the jolty reminiscence of his skin touching hers.

Bobby’s imagination cut loose as he went through his day; stocking shelves, mixing paint, sawing lumber, hefting bags of mulch and garden soil. The work was a suitable distraction but he realized at lunchtime that he could not remember a thing about his entire morning save the briefest moment on the Uptown Bus.

It was an old store and had been owned by the same family through five generations. Indeed, a co-worker was the grandson of the current owner learning the business in the most practical sense; by doing the work.

The old wooden floor creaked in places in a way that reminded customers of how things used to be; before the street out front bellowed with traffic and all the other sounds of civilization. Although Bobby wouldn’t quite call it that.

Bobby liked his job. It had the right balance of working hard and working with and helping others; a practiced routine that allowed his mind to wander. And on this day, the opportunity to imagine how a slight exchange between strangers might lead to something they would write about in the storybooks… whoever was in charge of that… 

And… in his pocket… a small piece of paper with his future in it…

He dared not look at it; imagining all the possible outcomes of his distanced unspoken infatuation… wondering even, how creepy he might appear, but shedding this thought quickly because all he wanted was another moment that might lead to another brush with her hand, another reason to imagine the possibility that more words might be exchanged… that maybe circumstance would take charge of the situation and everyone involved would know exactly what to do… 

Of course, Bobby had no idea what to do. He couldn’t even muster the courage to glance at the slip of paper in his pocket. He was at once so hopeful that it would open the door to another moment and then, just as quickly, the dread flooded over him as he considered that maybe it was just a stray piece of paper, after all, that she had mistakenly assumed was his.

He made his way home after work, no mysterious girl, just the rumbling stop-and-start rhythms of the lonely bus, and then a quick climb up the steps to an empty apartment…