She raised a brow. “Try not to fall in love with anyone,” she said dryly.
I slowly closed the door and she sped off, honking at the bus as she drove past it.
Phfff, I thought to myself. Try not to fall in love with anyone? She obviously doesn’t know me at all.
I shrugged on my heavy bag and hauled it over to the bus in time to see a short and rotund looking driver come hoping out of it. Though I was afraid he was going to reprimand me, his mustache and smile were miles wide.
“So you’re Vera!” he said in a thick accent. He went for my shoulders. “I’m Manolo. Come, come, give me your bag.”
I awkwardly spun around so he could take it off. He then said, “Go, go on board and take an empty seat.” He started to lift up the compartment at the side of the bus.
I thanked him and shrugged, adjusted my purse on my shoulder as I walked up to the bus. I knew people were looking down at me from their window seats and already making their judgements. But fuck it.
I took in a deep breath and climbed up the stairwell.
Everyone was staring at me as I stood in the middle of the aisle, quickly scanning the rows for an empty seat. I thought I saw one at the back.
Luckily, no one looked mad or upset at the interruption. Most were smiling. Some of the grey-haired folk eyed my tattoos and even my tiny nose ring stud with disdain, but that was normal.
Well, might as well introduce myself.
I raised my hand and waved it. “I’m Vera Miles,” I announced sheepishly. “And I’m the one who was late. Lo siento,” I added, the only Spanish I knew.
Everyone laughed and a few people applauded.
A cheery middle-aged man in a cowboy hat and checkered shirt nodded at me. “No more Spanish for these folks, they said it’s English only from here on in,” he said in a boisterous drawl, shooting me an apple-cheeked grin. “Didn’t you get the memo?”
“No, I was late,” I joked just as Manolo came back on board.
“Vera, sit please,” he said. “There’s a seat down there.” He quickly pointed down the aisle then climbed back into the driver’s seat, closing the hydraulic door.
The bus lurched forward and I steadied myself on the backs of people’s chairs. I made my way down the aisle as he pulled out into the road, giving everyone the shy “hey, I’m sorry” smile as I walked past. There really were people from all walks of life here. Even though it was hard at first to tell who was a native English speaker and who was Spanish, I started to pick up on the fact that every English person was seated beside a Spaniard and making awkward small talk. The Texan was right—the program had already begun.
I kept going until the second to last row where I had seen an empty seat. Actually, it was the only empty seat on the bus.
It was beside a man who was staring out the window, chin resting thoughtfully on his fist. I only had a good moment to take him in unabashedly before I had to sit down. After that, staring at him would become really awkward.
And for some reason, I wanted to stare at him.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t some reason. He was handsome. Like, wow, that’s a handsome guy, and then you nudge your friend and get her to take a look as well. That kind of handsome. Though I couldn’t see him straight on, he had a nice, strong face, broad nose with a bump on the bridge, and just the right amount of stubble on his cheeks and jaw. His deep-set eyes looked rich brown, his longish, thick hair a shade darker than that and his brows even more so. I couldn’t tell how tall he was, he was at least a few inches taller than I was, but his body was fit and lean. His stomach looked washboard flat under his white dress shirt and his forearms that peeked out from the rolled up sleeves were muscular, the same color as wet sand, a beach in the afternoon light.