Jason’s heard that Kati Cunningham takes the Brown Line too, but he’s never actually seen her on the train before. It wasn’t that he would have minded, or at least not before this morning. But now...Jason wonders if he can sneak away from her before she notices him.
Nope. She turns slightly, then sends him a small nod, and now Jason can’t move away without feeling awful. And that’s mean of him, because Kati Cunningham probably needs help or something. Jason throws her a small, jerky wave. Luckily, she doesn’t respond. Her brown hair is straight down, like a waterfall, but that’s not quite right because waterfalls are alive, and Kati Cunningham’s entire being looks sort of dead right now, like a monotone piece of music. Her arm looks thinner than it normally does as she tightly grips the pole, or at least, Jason hopes that it’s normally not that thin. He wonders what she ate for lunch today. He wonders what she was doing on the roof.
More people leave than enter on Armitage, and a few seats open up. One of them is by Jason. Kati Cunningham is eyeing the seat, or maybe him, and Jason swallows and gestures to it.
She looks around, and then darts over to the seat and takes it. She’s wearing a long blue skirt, the same kind that she always does. Jason wonders if she’s afraid to wear pants. But a scared person wouldn’t have gone onto the roof, right? Going onto the roof five minutes before school started and letting everyone see her up there means that she can’t be afraid. Jason bites his lip. If her arms are that thin, then what does the rest of her body look like? Just how did those stick-arms open the trapdoor to the roof?
They go another three stops with him avoiding looking at her. At Belmont, a man getting off of the train brushes by Jason, and he loses a grip on the handle of his flute—
Jason moves to pick it up, the moving train throwing him off balance. His flute has taken a lot of wear and tear, and he’s not afraid for it, but...still. If anything gets knocked out of place, it’ll be another repair to deal with.
But Kati Cunningham picks it up first, and hands it back to him. Her fingers are cold.
It sounds sarcastic.
“What were you doing on the roof?”
Would you have jumped, Jason means, and he hates himself for asking the question because it’s not his right.
The train drowns out his voice anyway. Kati Cunningham is staring at her hands. They’re shaking slightly. She could never play trombone.
Jason hikes his backpack higher on his shoulders. It digs into his back every time he rides the train, and leaves weird marks on his back. They’re funny, kind of.
“How did you get to the roof?”
Kati Cunningham smiles, now. It’s close-mouthed and feels like someone missing an accidental.
“You know nothing about me.”
The doors open at Addison, and people pour on. It’s finally rush hour. It’s probably manners, but Kati Cunningham stands up and grabs the pole that Jason is holding on to. Jason wonders if she wants to talk. He wonders whether the backpack digs into her back. He wonders how she can hold it up.
“Why were you on the roof?”
Jason repositions his flute under his arm so that it can’t fall again as the train keeps moving. “Do you like music?”
“Does anyone not like music?”
“You know nothing about me,” she repeats.
“Maybe I want to know something about you.”
“Why would you?”
“Because people are interesting? Is there a right answer to this question?”
Kati Cunningham gives a short laugh. It’s more melodic than Jason would have expected from her. “No.”
“Do you hurt yourself?”
Jason doesn’t know why he asked the question. But Kati Cunningham is made of sharp edges, glass bones, and she’s brittle and Jason doesn’t want her to break, or at least, not after they took the same train car home. She’s humming something, and Jason is again surprised, because glass-boned people don’t usually hum. He wonders if that means he’s glass-boned, too, as another hummer.
“What song is that?”
“Oh. What genre…”
“Folksy, bluegrass type. I can’t believe you don’t know that. Uncultured peon.”
What the hell?
“You’re not going to get anywhere by calling me an uncultured swine, or whatever.”
“Would you like to insult me back?”
“Okay. You’re kind of mean.”
She grins. Her teeth are normally colored, normally straight. Her smile looks like it’s going to rip her cheeks apart, and Jason swallows, suddenly feeling unclean. He doesn’t normally get trainsick, but he feels like he’s the one dragging a knife across Kati Cunningham’s wrists. The train voice announces Damen. It’s where he gets off. He stays still.
How do those thin arms hold up the weight of the world?
“I believe you have a place to be.”
He doesn’t bother to ask how she knows that and shrugs.
“Don’t follow me.”
“Then why are you here?”
“Why were you on the roof?”
Her smile is still on her face. It’s disconcerting. A caesura that lasted too long and makes you wonder if the song ended and you just didn’t realize it.
“Yes, Jason Dvorak?”
“Come back to school tomorrow. Promise.”
“I told you not to follow me, Jason Dvorak.”
Jason can only swallow. His tongue feels heavy in his mouth. A flutist’s tongue can never be heavy.
The doors open at Kedzie, breaking the spell, and Jason follows Kati out.
She gives him another smile, a smaller one. “Come for dinner.”
Maybe she’s giving him something, giving in, or maybe not. Jason swallows. “I gotta get back. My mom’s gonna worry.”
Kati turns and walks away.
Jason Dvorak finds a bench and waits for the train.
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