Why the fuck didn’t I drive?
Sabine was furious with themself. Their Jetta was sitting at home. It was their college graduation present from their mother and the only car they knew they’d be able to afford for a very long time. The car they only used when public transportation wasn’t an option.
Sabine and Melika were a couple blocks out from Terre, and Melika hadn’t said a word since they’d left the gallery. Melika was breathing again at least, and Sabine counted their blessings that they weren’t going to have to give Dr. Zhi an emergency late night call. Sabine wasn’t sure how “there” Melika was when they grabbed her hand and led her up the steps to the bus from Downtown to Lawrenceville.
Vol. 1: Overture
By Dawn Saas and Nic Frankenberry
Powered by the Apocalypse and the work of D. Vincent Baker
as well as
Urban Shadows by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman
Microscope by Ben Robbins
Content Warnings: Teacher-student relationships, physical assault, blood.
Sabine swiped their bus card. Melika fumbled through her purse and fed three bucks to the bus’s cash machine. She paid no attention as a quarter popped out of the change receptacle and bounced down the bus’s stairs and into the sewers.
Sabine looked around the bus. They were shocked at how empty the bus was for Art Crawl night. There were only four other occupants.
The bus had four “benches” against the side walls at the front of the bus. At the back of the bus, there were four rows of tattered plush seating with the rows split down the middle, two seats on each side except for five seats in the unbroken back row.
Two guys in their early 20s were making out in the most rear of the benches against the driver-side wall. One of the men — a Korean jock in a forest green Hodges shirt that his muscles barely contained — had his hands under his boyfriend’s floral print t-shirt. The boyfriend — a Nordic twink — was nibbling on his beefcake’s ears. There was an elderly white man with a long beard and dagger-sharp fingernails muttering to himself while sitting on the passenger side bench closest to the entrance to the bus. His head was resting against the rubber partition that separated the benches. He was repeating a tale of incomprehensible non-sequiturs.
“She sings the song. She passes through walls. They watch. He does as he’s told. They try to kill themself for nothing. She knows. She knows. She knows.”
There was a middle-aged black woman in baby blue nurse’s scrubs at the very back corner of the bus reading a well-worn copy of Beloved. Sabine grabbed Melika’s hand and dragged her to the front row of the seats at the bus’s back.
The bus took off just as Sabine sat down and they wound up in Melika’s lap. Melika giggled and picked Sabine up and placed them on their seat. It was the first time Sabine had seen Melika smile since they’d left her alone at Terre.
“Are you okay? Do you want to talk now? Or should we wait til we get home?”
Melika shook her head quietly and put her arms around Sabine and held them against her shoulders. Sabine watched skyscrapers fade away to office buildings as the bus carried them out of downtown Pittsburgh.
The bus reached the last Downtown stop before you got to Lawrenceville. The twink and jock held hands as they walked out the front of the bus. The driver — a white guy in his late 30s, wearing a camo trucker cap — rolled his eyes as they walked out. The twink blew the bus driver a kiss and leapt off the bus steps and into the Pittsburgh streets with a balletic flourish.
As the driver shook his head in embarrassed frustration, Professor Arnoldson boarded the bus, and he had his right arm around the waist of an inebriated eighteen year old girl with long, straight blonde hair and a little black dress with what appeared to be most of a bloody mary spilled on the lower hem. The young woman was giggling at something Arnoldson whispered in her ear as he proceeded to kiss her neck and pay for both of their bus fares. Arnoldson led the girl by the waist to the benches opposite of the now departed gay lovers. Sabine could have spat on Arnoldson from their seat, but he never turned towards Sabine and Melika’s direction. He was too busy rubbing his hands down the back and hips and ass of his barely legal companion.
Sabine hadn’t seen Arnoldson since the OED party nine years ago with Melika. Melika hadn’t gone to any other OED parties after that, and Sabine had never been one for the big campus party scene to begin with. Sabine preferred intense gatherings with close friends. If they wanted an evening of orgiastic madness, they could always stop at Jardin.
Melika had told Sabine, however, those rumors of why Arnoldson had been chased out of New York. And when she had her vision in Dr. Zhi’s office, Sabine was the first (and, as far as Sabine knew, only) person that Melika had told. It had taken several hours of cuddles and video games to coax the information from Melika. When she’d shuffled back into their apartment after her appointment, Melika had been almost completely non-verbal. Sabine hadn’t seen their partner this distraught in years.
Sabine turned to Melika, praying that she was staring out the window and didn’t notice who was on the bus with them. Instead, Melika’s gaze was fixed on Arnoldson, and her fists were clenching. Melika was breathing at least.
Sabine looked back at Arnoldson and he was licking this teenager’s ear, and Sabine snapped.
Sabine stood up and held the overhead rails of the bus as they walked to the side of Arnoldson and his companion. Arnoldson didn’t turn towards Sabine’s advancement until she was directly in front of him.
“You bastard! You gave me syphilis!”
Sabine slapped Arnoldson across the face, and all of the remaining eyes on the bus turned in Sabine and Arnoldson’s direction. The girl had stopped laughing and was looking at Arnoldson and Sabine in confusion. Sabine could tell that this girl was trying to figure out if they were a boy or a girl. Arnoldson’s “date” looked like she had just stepped out of one of those CW shows Sabine never told their serious art friends they watched. Cheek bones like a Hellenic sculpture and pouty lips. A designer purse that Sabine would have had to have sold more pieces than she had in the last six months to afford.
Arnoldson rubbed his face where Sabine had slapped him. There was a light red mark forming there. Arnoldson studied Sabine with his drunken, lascivious gaze and decided he didn’t recognize her.
“You must have me mistaken for somebody else, sweetie. I don’t have those problems.”
Arnoldson put his free arm around Sabine’s miniscule waist, stood up, and tightened his grip around Sabine and then picked her up and placed her in his lap. Arnoldson put his other arm back around his date’s waist and started rubbing her sides. The girl started laughing again.
Sabine was hyper-ventilating but not moving, not resisting. Sabine knew she hadn’t thought this through.
“Take your hands off of my partner or I’m calling the cops.”
Melika was standing in front of Sabine and Arnoldson. Her fists were clenched. Sabine had never seen this much anger in Melika’s eyes. The whole bus was still staring at them and the bus was slowing down for a nearby stop. Sabine craned her head around Melika and saw they had just hit the first stop in Lawrenceville. The only things around were a gas station and a school. Some bars a couple blocks away.
“Do I know you… lady?”
Arnoldson was studying Melika and was sobering up quickly. Without breaking Melika’s gaze, Arnoldson snatched a couple strands of Sabine’s hair as well as the eighteen year old who had stopped laughing again. The pain of having their hair yanked out tore Sabine out of their fugue state. Arnoldson’s grip on their waist had loosened as he studied Melika and Sabine got one of their arms free and placed their hand on Arnoldson’s face. Their eyes were less than an inch from each other.
“You know what you did.”
The blood drained from Arnoldson’s ruddy face. His eyes — which moments before were glassy and distant — were sober and alert. Arnoldson’s face rotated swiftly between Melika, his date, and Sabine. Little rivulets of blood were leaking out of Sabine’s eyes. Arnoldson looked like he was going to throw up and as he blinked in disbelief and cornered guilt, Melika snatched the hairs out of his loose grip.
The bus screeched to a halt at the dimly lit stop in front of the Lawrenceville gas station and the Pittsburgh School for the Deaf.
“I need you all to leave. Right now.”
The bus driver had stood up and was staring at them. The side exit to the bus opened up right next to Arnoldson’s seat. Arnoldson shoved Sabine out of his lap and grabbed his date by the arm and stormed off the bus.
Sabine grabbed Melika’s hand and quickly followed.