That’s Seattle for ya
Movement to her left caught Susan’s eye, bringing her out of her reverie. A tall lanky man in his early thirties had entered the bus stop and was shaking the rain out of his hair like a dog after a bath. His chestnut colored hair was short and curly, framing a face as round as a cherub. He had on a pair of chinos, a light blue dress shirt and a mocha colored casual jacket, which was currently drenched from the rain.
As he approached Susan, she instinctively slid her hand into her pocket, wrapping her fingers around a canister of pepper spray. She had groaned when her father had given it to her before she left for college; now she was grateful for his foresight.
Just as she was about to slip the canister out, the man smiled at her, as if seeing her for the first time. He sat on the bench to her left and deftly crossed one leg over the other.
“Sure is a doozy, isn’t it?” the man said.
Still unnerved, Susan quietly muttered, “Uh, yeah, it is”, unconsciously sliding down the bench away from him.
“I don’t bite, you know.”
The man gestured towards the obviously increased gap between them and laughed. It was a warm honey laugh that disarmed Susan’s defenses. Suddenly, her face flushed with embarrassment as she realized how silly that must have appeared. She released her death grip on the pepper spray and tentatively smiled at him.
“My name is Sam “, he said, extending a hand toward her.
Cautiously, she shook his hand. “I’m Jessie,” she replied. Why did I just lie to him? she wondered. An uneasy silence fell between them as the rain continued to pound the shelter mercilessly.
Ten minutes later, the muted lights of the bus appeared from around the corner, growing brighter as they approached the bus stop. Susan bolted through the door before it had fully opened and found an empty spot next to an elderly lady near the back of the bus. She watched as Sam folded himself into a seat in the second row.
The lights of Seattle's city streets, blurry through the bus’s rain-laden windows, whipped by as Susan’s attention was inexplicably drawn back to the stranger she had just met. Why did alarm bells go off when I first saw him? she wondered. He hadn’t made any threatening movements, yet her instincts had taken over in defense. Sitting there now, his long muscular legs painfully wedged into the seat back in front of him, he seemed about as threatening as a puppy.
Susan watched as Sam said something to the lady beside him, before reaching over her to pull the bus’s bell cord, signaling for the bus to stop. He extricated himself and turned toward the back. As he approached, Susan’s hackles were raised once again. Nodding his head slightly toward her, Sam said, “Nice to have met you, Jessie.” She simply stared straight ahead, refusing to acknowledge him. With a gentle smile, he exited through the back door and was gone.
As the bus pulled away, Susan couldn’t help but glance over her shoulder out the back window. Sam was standing there, watching the departing bus. To her utter mortification, he waved at her, catching her watching him. She quickly shot back around in her seat, feeling the heat of her cheeks as they burned a bright crimson.
The following night, as Susan approached the bus stop, she could see Sam waiting on the bench. To her relief, there were also a handful of other students grouped together near the far wall. She took an empty position on the bench and waited silently for the bus.
“I saw you watch-”
“I know,” she said, cutting him off. Her cheeks burned again as she quickly looked down. She nervously picked at a loose edge of plastic on her notebook, chastising herself for again, being so short with him. He must think I’m the rudest girl on campus, she thought.
“I was wondering-“
They both laughed at their collision of words.
“You first,” Sam said.
Susan took a deep breath to calm her nerves and spoke. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry for my behavior last night. It was rude of me. It’s just that I was running late, I missed my bus, my thesis is so far from being finished, which is making my mentor very nervous, which in turn makes me nervous. It was dark, and late and this rain makes me cranky.”
Realizing she was babbling, she looked away and let out a nervous snort.
“Did you just snort?” he questioned, as he doubled over in laughter.
Things were going from bad to worse, Susan thought. First he thinks I’m a rude snob, and now I’m this crazy lady who rambles on and snorts. Oh my god, I can’t believe I just snorted in front of him!
“I think I’ll just shut up now,” she muttered.
Sam motioned to the bus that was slowing at the curb. “Saved by the bus,” he quipped, as he walked toward the opening door.
“Well, are you coming?”
Susan quickly scooped up her study books and papers. She slipped past Sam as he courteously waited for her to enter the bus first. Finding an empty row on the right, she slid into the seat against the window. Before she even had a chance to place her books down, the vacant seat beside her was stuffed with Sam’s tall frame.
Sam grinned at her surprise. “I couldn’t let some complete stranger sit next to you now could I? I wouldn’t want the poor unsuspecting soul to find himself with a face full of pepper spray”, he said, and nodded toward her pocket.
Susan absently reached toward the canister then stopped. “How did you know?”
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure it out, Jessie. A beautiful girl, late at night, alone on campus. A stranger approaches and she reaches into her pocket. C’mon girl, it was a no-brainer!”
He laughed that sweet honey laugh that had made Susan weak in the knees the night before. It had the same intoxicating effect tonight.
“My name isn’t Jessie, by the way”, she said.
“How could you know?”
He shrugged. “Same way I knew about the pepper spray, I guess.”
They rode the bus in silence for a few minutes. Unable to get the memory of his laugh off her mind, she flipped open the binder on top of the stack and started reviewing the night’s lab analysis. She frowned. The reaction of the stem substrate had not been what she had expected.
“Biology major?” Sam asked.
Susan looked up at Sam, who was hovering over her shoulder looking at her lab printout.
“Uhm, no,” she said, as she leaned slightly toward the window. “I’m majoring in Ethnobotony. The difference between it and Biology is that Biology is the study of organisms in general whereas Ethnobotony is the study of just plants. Specifically, the relationship between humans and plants. Kind of like the difference between an all you can eat buffet, and a salad bar.”
Sam chuckled at the imagery as he regarded her. She hadn’t noticed his eyes before, but they were the deepest green, almost like chlorophyll. She shook her head and giggled.
The stop bell on the bus chimed, snapping her out of her thoughts. Only then did she realize she was still staring at his face, which was only inches away. Her face blazed and she instantly looked back down at her notes. Stupid, stupid, stupid! she told herself. She buried her head in her research and remained that way until Sam touched her on her shoulder.
“May I?” He pointed toward the thin cord above the window, that snaked its way down the length of the bus.
“Oh, of course,” she muttered, then leaned back as he reached across her and pulled quickly on the cord. The bell chimed and the bus began to slow.
He extricated himself from the seat and turned to Susan, extending a hand. She hesitated, then allowed her fingers to be wrapped in between his warm, soft palms.
“It has been a pleasure.” He paused, then added in a buttery soft tone, “I do hope we meet again, Susan.”
He turned toward the front of the bus and swiftly exited through the opened door. Susan sat there, stunned, almost tasting the last word he uttered. His voice had been almost melodic when he said her name. An unbidden shiver chased up her spine, exploding in a blush across her cheeks. Her hands covered her cheeks in embarrassment as she furtively looked around, hoping no one had been watching. She had never minded the fact she blushed easily, a trait she inherited from her mother. But now, sitting silently as the bus continued on its journey, she cursed it for all it was worth.
Susan awoke early the next morning as the sun attempted to burn off the early morning’s overcast skies. She threw on her favorite pair of grey sweats, a University of Washington sports bra and a pair of jogging shoes. Pulling her mousy blonde hair into a ponytail, she stretched the morning creaks out of her body before heading out the door. She turned right on Thirty Fifth Ave towards the cemetery. Her usual route took her through the burial ground, across Blakely Street and into University Village where a welcoming cup of Wild Hibiscus tea would be waiting for her.
While reverently walking through the cemetery, Susan suddenly had a feeling that she was being watched. She looked around but there was no one there, at this early hour on a Saturday. Chalking it up to where she was at the moment, she dismissed her feeling of unease and continued on her way.
By the time she reached the Red Mango Cafe, she had forgotten her earlier misgivings. Waiting at a small table near the window was her best friend Claire, who waved when she spotted Susan making her way toward her.
“So what was so important that you wanted me to meet you here at this ungodly early hour? It’s Saturday, did you know that?”
She shook her head at Claire and laughed. Claire was her best friend from home. The two of them had applied to, then later attended the University of Washington together. Both were majoring in the sciences: Susan in botany and Claire in oceanography. And most importantly, most days Claire beat the sun up each morning.
“Well, what is it?,” Claire said. “Oh! It’s a guy isn’t it? I can see it all over your face.”
Susan’s cheeks flared in answer. “Possibly, I’m not sure.”
Susan explained the events with Sam from the last two days, including the rollercoaster of emotions she’d experienced since meeting him. Claire nursed her strawberry and granola yogurt smoothie as she listened to Susan’s story unfold.
“Claire, what should I do?” Susan asked, as she finally acknowledged her tea’s existence.
“I’m not sure Suze. You said yourself that your initial reaction was fraught with caution. I don’t think you can just chalk that up to being alone at night. How often have you been waiting for the bus by yourself?”
“Quite a bit, actually,” Susan acknowledged.
“Exactly! And you’ve rarely been nervous or felt wary of anyone.”
“But he’s done nothing to warrant it. I was so rude to him too and he’s been super nice to me. Can you believe he actually stood aside and let me get on the bus first? Guys just don’t do that anymore. Oh and did I mention he’s totally gorgeous?”
Claire laughed. “So when do I get to meet him?”
Susan blushed and turned her head to watch a young mother and her small son passing by. The son was attempting to devour a lollipop the size of his head but seemed to get more of it on his face than in his mouth.
“I’m not sure if you will get to meet him. I don’t know if I’ll even see him again. Like you said, maybe Sam is bad news. Maybe after the way I’ve treated him, he’s not even interested. Maybe – “
“Oh look at you,” Claire interrupted. “Listen Suze, from your description, he seems to really dig you, even if you were being a total wench to him. I’m sure, come Monday, he’ll be waiting for you at the bus stop and before you know it, you’ll be falling in bed together having hot, steamy sex.”
Just the thought of being intimate with Sam brought on another blush. The thought of laying there next to him, feeling his arms wrapped around her, the sound of his gentle silky voice whispering next to her......
Claire snapped her fingers in front of Susan’s face for dramatic effect. “Where were you just now?”
“You don’t want to know,” Susan said as she fought to stop a huge grin from appearing on her face.
She said her goodbyes to Claire, threw her mostly full cup of tea in the trash and started her jog back home. By then, the sun had successfully chased the clouds away and the heat bathed Susan’s face with warmth.
By the time she neared her home, she had decided that if Sam showed up Monday night, she would try her best to make it clear she was interested. She took the steps leading up to her brownstone apartment two at a time and unlocked the front door. A man was leaning against a large Ash tree a few houses away. As she retrieved her mail, out of the corner of her eye she saw the man step into his silver Taurus and drive away. She thought nothing of it and went inside.
Monday could not have come soon enough for Susan. With nervous energy, she breezed through her labwork and found herself finished by eight thirty, a full hour and a half earlier than she had planned. She reviewed the test results, re-ran a few tests that had been inconclusive and prepped the cross section slides for tomorrow night’s work. Looking at the clock, she saw it was now nine forty, still twenty minutes early but there was nothing else she could do to extend her stay.
On her walk from the Science building to the bus stop at the front of the campus grounds, she passed several other students. One couple, arm in arm, were kissing and whispering to each other. Another lone student, clad in a three-quarter length white coat was obviously headed to the science labs. A young student, most likely a freshman, hurried past Susan, a look of fear on her face. Stopping the young woman, Susan asked if she was okay. Visibly shaken, the woman shot a look over her shoulder toward the covered shelter of the bus stop, mumbled something barely audible and hurried away.
With pepper spray in tow, Susan warily approached the bus stop, expecting the worst. All she found was an empty shelter. Susan glanced back at the retreating woman and dismissed her behaviour that of being a jumpy freshman, unused to nights on campus.
The ten o’clock bus pulled up shortly after Susan had found a spot to sit on the bench. She absently waved the driver on. She had met Sam both other nights on the ten twenty bus, and she didn't want to miss him.
A few minutes later, she heard footsteps approaching. Hoping it was Sam, she felt nervous butterflies launch in her stomach. Instead, two female students crossed the threshold into the building and sat at the far end chattering away to each other. Three other students and an older professor dressed in a light blue suit joined the congregation waiting for the bus; there was no sign of Sam.
Susan’s hopes were all but dashed when she saw the approaching lights of the ten twenty bus. It was the last bus of the night; she had to take it. She waited for the others to board it, then slowly followed suit, hoping that Sam was maybe just running late. Finally, she took her seat near the back, the doors closed and the bus pulled away from the curb.
The following night was a repeat of the previous, with the man nowhere to be found. As Susan rode the bus home alone, she resigned herself to the fact that her previous brusque actions toward Sam had closed the door on any possibilities with him. He was obviously avoiding her, that much was plain to see.
On Wednesday evening, as Susan stepped into the bus stop shelter, she was understandably surprised to see Sam sitting there by himself on the bench. He was absorbed in a novel and munching on something that looked like trail mix. He looked up from his book as she neared, a warm smile lighting up his face.
“Well look who it is!” he said. “How have you been, Susan?”
“I, I..” she stammered. “I didn’t expect to ever see you again. You weren’t here last night, or the night before. I figured after I had been so ungracious to you, you were avoiding me.”
Sam uncrossed his legs and moved his briefcase from the bench onto the floor so Susan could sit beside him. He was wearing a pair of Levi jeans and a burnt umber turtleneck under the same jacket he had worn the other night. Susan perched next to him, smiling nervously.
“I wasn’t avoiding you,” he explained. “My sister went into labour early Monday morning and her husband asked me to watch their two kids while they went to the hospital. Well, three kids now. She had a baby boy not too long after they got to the hospital. Named him Stephen.”
Susan exhaled a sigh of relief. “Congratulations, Uncle!”
Sam beamed with happiness and thanked her. They talked pleasantly until the bus arrived. Susan gathered her belongings and walked toward the bus door.
“Hey,” said Sam. “If you don’t have to rush home for anything, would you like to continue our conversation over a cup of coffee?”
Susan was thankful that her back was turned so he couldn’t see her face redden.
“Sure, I guess,” she replied.
They walked several blocks in silence before arriving at University Village. Susan slowed at the entrance to Starbucks but noticed Sam was headed elsewhere. By the time she caught up with him, he had turned toward the Red Mango Cafe and was weaving his way through the crowded common area. Susan thought it odd that he’d bypass a coffee shop and head to her favorite cafe, when he had suggested they go for coffee. You’re just being paranoid, she said to herself.
She ordered her usual Wild Hibiscus tea while Sam opted for a frozen yogurt with strawberries, blueberries and mint wafers. As they sat at a table, Susan broke the silence. “So is your sister your only sibling?”
“No. I have two other brothers, one older, one younger. Brad and Derek. My sister, Melissa, is the youngest of us all.”
“And your parents?”
Sam paused to stir his rapidly melting yogurt. “It’s just my siblings and I. Our parents died a few years back in a car accident near Blaine.”
“Oh, I’m sorry Sam.” Susan reached a hand across the table and gave Sam’s a gentle squeeze. He held her hand in place and smiled at her for a moment before releasing it.
“It’s okay. It is still tough some days, but it’s getting easier with time,” he said. “What about you? Do you have any family nearby?”
“My folks live over in Wenatchee. I’m all they’ve got, hence the pepper spray.” Sam laughed long and hard at that one.
The two of them sat there in the crowded cafe, talking as if they were the only people there. They shared stories of their childhood and other adventures growing up. Susan found out that he was an assistant professor of Renaissance Art at the university. He took the position midterm to replace the previous assistant after he suddenly fell ill.
Their conversation was interrupted as the chorus to “Bringing Sexy Back” filled the air. Embarrassed, Susan rummaged through her book bag, found her phone and flipped it open just as Justin Timberlake was hitting a high note.
“I’m watching you. No, don’t look around,” Claire said as Susan started to glance around the cafe.
“Pretend you’re talking to me about our shopping trip tomorrow and act normal,” Claire continued. “I’m outside the cafe right now. Geez Suze, I said not to look around!”
Susan grabbed for her tea and pulled a mouthful through her straw, trying to stop herself from staring out the window. “What’s up, Claire?”
“Is that him?”
“Yes, I’m still on for tomorrow.”
“I knew it. He’s gorgeous! I figured you were exaggerating a bit but dang girl he’s smokin’ hot.”
Susan chanced a quick peek at Sam and blushed. “Yes I know, but there’s no way I’m wearing that out in public.”
Claire laughed in confusion. “Huh? Whatever! Anyway, I gotta jet but I couldn’t resist calling when I saw you with that hunk of a man. I’ll come by your apartment in the morning.”
“Ok, Claire, I’ll be ready at eight.” Susan briefly peeked at Sam again. He was staring furiously out the window, almost as if he could sense Claire out there. When he caught Susan looking at him, he flashed her one of his melting smiles.
“Who was that?” Sam casually asked as she closed her cell, storing it back in her bag.
“That was a friend of mine. She was just making sure our shopping trip was still on for tomorrow.”
“Oh that reminds me,” Sam said. “You know your way around plants, right? My sister is a bit of a plant freak and she gave me one of her many spider plants as thanks for watching the kids. I’ve had it for one day and it’s not looking too good. I was wondering if you’re free sometime this week, you could maybe come over and take a look at it?”
“If it’s already given up the ghost after one day, I doubt it’ll survive much longer,” Susan kidded as she laughed at Sam’s lack of a green thumb. “But sure, I’ll take a look at it and see what I can do to save it.”
Quiet conversation continued between them until the waitress indicated that she would be closing the store in a few minutes and asked them if they needed anything. Susan was shocked to find that it was nearly one in the morning.
“Oh wow, I have to be up and ready in seven hours,” Susan exclaimed as she rose from her chair and reached for her bag.
They left the cafe and made their way out to Forty-fifth Street where Sam hailed a passing Yellow Cab. “Want to share a taxi?” he asked.
Not ready to say goodnight to him, Susan accepted his offer and hopped into the back seat of the taxi. As they rode through the city streets, Susan reminisced over her evening with Sam. He had turned out to be a fascinating man, opening up to many intimate details about his life. He was charming, endearing and most importantly, a wonderful listener. She found herself quickly falling for this amazing man sitting beside her.
“We’re nearing my place, Susan,” he said. “Last chance to rescue the life of the poor defenseless spider plant.” He doled out a helping of guilt.
In a spontaneous move, very unlike herself, Susan said, “Sure! Why not? I certainly don’t want its death on my conscience.”
Sam alerted the driver to pull over; they hopped out onto the curb and into the pouring rain that had unleashed itself on the ride there. Susan quickly followed Sam as he climbed the stairs, ducking under the relative safety of the entry's portico roof.
Sam’s place was a small one bedroom one bath apartment with exposed brick walls and a dark walnut hardwood floor. It was tastefully decorated. Sam excused himself to find her something dry to change into, leaving Susan free to hunt down the potted plant. She found it tucked on a shelf beside a massive screen plasma television. She wondered how Sam could afford all this hi-tech stuff on an assistant professor’s salary.
Taking a closer look at the bedraggled spider plant, Susan found three offshoot stalks broken nearly in two, soil that was as dry as a desert and several brown crispy leaves. She neatly plucked off the leaves, then carried the potted plant to the kitchen for some water.
Something niggled at the back of her mind, but she couldn’t put her finger on what it was. The plant soaked up nearly two full glasses of water before it had quenched its thirst. Susan pinched off the three offshoot stalks, placing the newly exposed ends in a glass of warm water.
She was placing the spider plant on a window shelf so it would be exposed to sunlight when Sam returned from his bedroom. He handed her a t-shirt and a pair of drawstring sweats.
“This is all I had that has any chance of fitting you,” he said.
Susan graciously accepted his offering and slipped into the washroom to change. She could hear the clinking of glasses from the kitchen as she perused her image in the mirror. She splashed some cold water on her face and ran her fingers through her hair in an attempt to tame her wild mop.
She stepped out of the washroom, did a pirouette and exclaimed, “Tada!” She felt the flush of her cheeks as Sam leaned against the kitchen doorway, admiring her with a grin.
“Not too shabby,” he stated. “Have a seat and I’ll be right back.”
Nestling into a corner of a tan mock-suede couch, Susan explained, “You were right. The spider plant was on its last leg, or root as the case may be. I clipped off a few damaged shoots and put them in a glass in your kitchen. If you change the water every few days, you should start seeing some roots forming in a week or so. I’d give it about a month, then you can plant them in their own containers to grow.”
Sam returned from the kitchen holding two glasses as Susan admonished him for letting the plant’s dirt get so dry. “I took you for a red wine girl instead of white. I hope I guessed correctly.”
“You’re right on the money,” she said as she took one of the glasses from him. “Cheers, to the saving of the spider plant!”
She lightly clinked her glass with his and drew a deep mouthful. Strawberry and raspberry aromas filled her senses as the slightly acidic liquid slipped along her palate and down her throat. She sipped again, swirling the light-bodied wine around her tongue. Dry, very dry, she thought. Just like the spider plant.
What was niggling at the back of her head finally swam into focus. If his sister loved plants, and she had just given this spider plant to him yesterday, how could it have gotten so dry? Surely his sister would have meticulously cared for it while it was in her possession.
“When was it again that your sister gave you this plant?” she queried as she took another drink of wine. “It was awfully dry.”
Sam sat smiling at her and said nothing. She was about to ask him again, when her vision started to quiver. Sam was still in front of her, but he was suddenly out of focus. She tried to stand up but nearly tipped over as the room swam around her.
“You should sit back down,” he said smoothly, guiding her back to the sofa.
She saw him raise the glass to her lips, dribbling the liquid into her mouth. Susan swallowed automatically. Black streaks flashed around the edges of her vision as she realized what was happening to her. She tried running for the door of his apartment; making it halfway there before he wrapped his arms around her legs, tackling her to the floor.
Now on her back, with Sam sitting on her chest, Susan attempted to scream, a move that only resulted in her open mouth being filled with more of the drugged wine. She fought to spit it out, but he held her mouth shut and pinched her nose, forcing her to swallow before being allowed to breathe.
“Why?” she mewled. “Why are you doing this to me?”
As the last specks of consciousness ebbed from her, Susan faintly heard him whisper near her ear. “Because I can.”
Isabella Rose lives in a little village on the Adriatic coast of Italy with her husband, Gaetan and daughter Saffi. When she's not writing, you can often find her on the water sailing her pride and joy, a 1955 Morgan Giles sloop she and her husband lovingly restored.
She has written numerous short stories and is currently working on her first novel she plans to publish in the near future. She has a quirky sense of humor and enjoys surrounding herself with friends and family, including her two Great Danes, Simon and Garfunkel.