Two-Seater: a short story

by Michael Yin '18

He certainly knew how to make an impression, though not a particularly good one.

Photography by Laura Cui '19
My first day of high school went by uneventfully; all of my teachers had the ingenious idea of making us freshmen introduce ourselves to break the ice. Eight times, I recited my name and my favorite something, color or animal or movie. My precalculus teacher thought he'd be original by doing favorite shape.

A few girls I didn't recognize were kind enough to approach me during lunch to make friends, so I smiled at them but spoke little. They would get used to it. In the meantime, I hoped they would be able to make other friends quickly; they seemed like nice girls.

The day passed by slowly, like sand through a funnel that's just a bit too narrow. Listening to musicals helped time move a little quicker. I was wearing my earbuds the whole day, those pretty pink ones I got from Ellie when I had to leave San Francisco. I could tell the teachers were holding back on reprimanding me because it was still the first day. They wanted to leave a good first impression. They didn't.

On the ugly yellow school bus to go home, I managed to snag for myself a seat for two in the back. Three-seaters are more comfortable, but people will ask to sit with you. The bus filled quickly; I think I was the only one still alone in my seat. As soon as the bus started accelerating, I heard shouting from outside. The bus stopped, the doors opened, and a disheveled-looking boy with dirty blonde hair and piercing blue eyes got on. He seemed like trouble; I turned up the Phantom cast recording I was listening to and stared at the window, watching his reflection. Hopefully he would ignore me. Most people did.

He staggered through the bus aisle until he reached the only empty seat, my seat, and without turning to face me, he asked, “May I?” I was surprised at his politeness, but more so at his voice; it was light and high, a beautiful tenor tone I had only ever heard in musicals. I nodded. The entire ride home, I kept looking out at the suburbs we were passing, thinking about home, dreaming of my old life in California. I still hoped that the bus would be less crowded tomorrow, so I could sit alone.

It wasn’t. We were in that two-seater every day on the ride home. For the first week, he was always late to the bus, shouting and chasing down the ugly yellow vehicle. Eventually, the poor bus driver just started leaving a few minutes past schedule. I found myself wondering if he sat in the same seat in the morning. I had no idea, as my parents drove me to school every day at the crack of dawn despite their busy schedules, just so I could get a few more minutes of sleep. It was a small display of parental love, but a meaningful one. I wondered if his home life was anything like mine.

He was an enigma, far more complex than any mechanics problem we did in physics. He wore jeans though it was just summer, and it was still boiling hot on most days. He was short and a little stocky, and his face was covered with tiny scars. The only times we interacted were when he asked, “May I?” and I nodded to say yes. I was curious about everything, but I never did ask about anything. I just wondered.

One Monday, he didn’t show. Our bus driver kept waiting for five or six more minutes, certain he would come running up late like usual, but even when we finally left there was no one shouting and chasing after the bus. Then, when we reached the highway, I got a call from my mom. Back in San Francisco, Ellie was hurt... bad. It was a drunk driver. It always seems to be a drunk driver. I hung up and sat in that seat with tears streaming down my face, clutching the pink earbuds Ellie had gotten me for Christmas. I didn’t listen to any music that day. For the first time since I moved, I wished I wasn’t alone.

I wanted to visit Ellie in the hospital. I had to see her, in case... in case the unthinkable happened. I cried and begged, and my parents eventually caved in, but I would have to wait until the weekend. I had four more days of school to slog through, and time seemed to move like a spoon through molasses. I felt like breaking down in all of my classes, but I held the internal maelstrom back. People were used to the silent me, the cold and unfeeling me. So was I.

When I got on the bus that Tuesday, he was already there. I was surprised, but I didn’t say anything. I just sat down, on the outside of the two-seater this time, close to the aisle. A few minutes into the ride, he spoke in that bright voice I had almost forgotten. “You’re not listening to music today?

It was the most awkward conversation I ever had at first, but by the time we reached his stop, he had told me his name and I had told him, well, everything. About my earbuds, about Ellie, about going back to California. When I talked about the drunk driver, I couldn’t hold back my tears, and I sobbed in front of him. He didn’t try to console me with words, but somehow it was soothing just to know he was there, listening, caring. 

For the next three days, we would talk on the bus. I realized I was looking forward to our little conversations while I was at school. He was like Ellie, understanding and compassionate, even towards someone like me, someone he honestly barely knew. It turns out he loved musicals just as much as I did. We joked a little about going to see one when I got back from California. I knew he was just trying to cheer me up, but I was happy, truly happy.

I did go to San Francisco, and I saw Ellie for the first time in ten months. I was overwhelmed to learn that she was fine and that the drunk driver was caught. The relief turned to nostalgia, and we reminisced and talked and laughed in the hospital. I even mentioned him, who had cheered me up and made me realize the world was full of beautiful and kind people: you just have to be willing to look for them. Ellie teased me, as friends do, and we joked throughout all of the visiting hours.

When I got back from California, I was looking forward to telling him about Ellie and maybe finally asking him all those questions I had wondered. Why did he always wear jeans? Did he take voice lessons? Why was he gone that Monday? Why was he on time the day after? Or maybe not. Maybe I wouldn’t ask him anything; maybe I would just say to him, “Thank you.” But it was impossible.

I didn’t hear the news until I got back to class. Apparently the principal had already made an announcement online, and it was the talk of the entire school. I was devastated. I really did bawl my eyes out in class this time; I just couldn’t hold it back. The bus felt lonely again.

Most of you here today are his closest friends and family, so I know I’ve only known him for a short while in comparison, but I think none of us could forget the kind of person he was. His appearance scared me at first—those piercing blue eyes of his seemed to look right through you—but that broke down as soon he spoke. He was polite, and he loved musicals; he had a voice suited for starring in one. He could be so deeply compassionate in such a subtle way that you don’t even realize it at first. He could tell when I was down, and he brought me back up. What he did meant so much for me. I only wish I knew about the thoughts that were running through his mind; I only wish I could’ve done the same for him.

But I do know that if he were here now, he wouldn’t want us to get so hung up over it all. We still will, of course, because he really was a beautiful person, inside and out. And while I’ll never forget him, I know I’ll move forward, and I hope that someday I can make a two-seater on the bus a little less lonely for somebody, too.

Thank you.

This story was selected as the best artistic submission in the 2017 Silver Quest Memorial Writing Competition.