Winter’s Heart (1)

Lars didn’t notice the girl until it was clear she had also gotten off at the same bus stop. 

For a moment, the two stared at each other, and Lars felt like they were a couple of cows who had bumped heads in one of the fields not so far away—because they had been so busy grazing. 

Not that there was much to graze this time of year.

“Uh, hey—” she started. “Ye live hereabouts?”

Her accent was as clear as the winter air around them, and it was… kind of charming, he had to admit.

Cut it out, he thought to himself. You promised yourself to go home and write that song.

“Yeah,” he said, looking for some kind of excuse to get moving—in the opposite direction. “Yeah, I do.”

He had to get that song out of his head or it would explode. And he didn’t care to think more about school today. 

Except maybe how to quit school completely without making Mom and Dad go ballistic.

She smiled at him. “I live over there—on Grant.”

He took note of that smile—and of her clear ice-blue eyes. 

She didn’t wear a pinch of makeup. There was only a slight blush on her cheeks because of the cold.

“Ah,” Lars exclaimed as if he had been thinking of that all along. “I live on Deveny.”

“That’s outside the district, isn’t it?”

“We moved just before Christmas. I got permission to stay because it was so close, I think.”

“Oh,” the girl said. “I, ah, haven’t seen you on the bus before. But didn’t ye join the school at the start of the semester?”

“It was temporary until my dad’s company found something better—and now they did, it is outside the district of the school I started in,” Lars said impatiently. “And I usually bike or drive, but in this weather…” He made a dismissive wave with his hand toward one of the snow piles along the road.

“I… just go by bus,” the girl said, and for a moment, she looked down. Then she looked up again and firmly presented her hand. “Carrie Sawyer.”

Lars took her hand and tried to seem as if he had all the time in the world. He wasn’t usually so fed up with other human beings, but today was one of the bad days. 

Carrie seemed nice, though, so he could at least pretend until he got home and found that guitar and did a little prepping of his own before meeting the band tonight.

“I’m Lars,” he said, with the proper American intonation.

“That sounds Scandinavian.” Carrie kept up the smile. “Ye are the lad with that band, right?”

Finally, he felt like smiling. “Yeah, we play a bit here and there.”

“‘A bit’? There was a glint in her eyes.

“Everywhere is more like it, I guess,” Lars admitted. “You ever been to one of our gigs?”

“Uh, I guess I’m more into… other kinds of rock music.”

“That’s a relief.”

“It is?” Carrie looked as if she didn’t know how to react to this.

“Yes, because it’s honest.” Lars meant it, but he also felt the cold seep up through his sneakers. He thought of the song again. Damn, girl, aren’t you supposed to go home and… do something else?

“Well, I have to be home,” he said.

“Okay.” Carrie lowered her gaze. “Well, it was nice meeting ye.”

Lars felt a pang of regret. He hadn’t wanted to cut her off like that. “Well, if we’re both in the same neighborhood, I guess I’ll see you later,” he quickly added.

“I guess.” Carrie smiled again, but it was more guarded this time. She still stood by the bus stop, close to the edge of the pavement as if she was about to cross. 

Then Lars remembered—Grant Avenue was on the other side of East 71st. 

She was waiting to cross and traffic was thick right now. 

He felt he needed to say more because she hadn’t just walked away. “We, ah, came to Cleveland from Dakota this summer—not as far away as Scotland, though.”

Stop it now, before you say more stupid shit. She doesn’t care anyway.

“Nae, Scotland’s far enough.” Carrie clutched her white bag. “We also moved here after the summer holidays, and it was like a day or so before we finally got to Cleveland. All those airports and…”

Carrie glanced over her shoulder. “Well… it was nice meeting ye.”

She had obviously sensed that Lars was not in the mood for longer conversations. Or for any conversation.

“Bye,” Carrie said. Then she was busy getting safely over East 71st.

“Bye.” Lars caught himself glancing after her. Then he saw it. On the back of Carrie’s white bag there was a big wine-reddish splotch, like a marker had broken and its ink had dripped out in the bag.

Lars hesitated. It was probably just an accident. 

Although… those markers seldom broke unless somebody broke them on purpose like Ian from the band had done the last time he had one of his fits about their setlist. 

Carrie evaded the cars and then she was gone—somewhere down on Grant Avenue.

Too late, then. And more regret. Carrie had been refreshingly normal… like he thought of himself, in a way: Just another guy on the bus. 

And she had deserved better from him, hadn’t she?

Well done, Lars… Maybe you should just move to a deserted island if you can’t be around girls without coming off as a jerk. They aren’t all as bad as Megan, you know.

When he got to his house, he got out his keys and hurried up to his room. He had to forget about that little incident. There was enough to worry about in his life. 

And he had to write that song now. 

Another damn song that maybe was about another girl, but in reality, it was just a new song about Megan. Not using her name, of course.

Would he show it to the band tonight? Probably not. 

But eventually, there would be a song he could play for everyone. 

Maybe Megan would even hear it if she showed up the next time they played at a school event.

Maybe she would think it was about her.


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