By Isabel Flessas
The night came early and coated the cold November sky in a blanket of darkness. A teenage girl leaned up against the foggy window as the bus flew over long and empty stretches of highway. Outside, the surrounding world was only illuminated by the bright alabaster moon, whose light also bled in through the windows to fill the bus. She sat alone, but her friends sat diagonally across from her. They were all on their way back from a choir festival that had taken them into the countryside for the night, and the bus seemed to be at a place of silence. That is, until Ruby began to sing softly. The girl in the seat turned around, and smiled wearily at her friend in the seat diagonally across from her. The song was “Stars” from Les Mis, her favorite.
She glanced around the bus. Everyone else except for Ruby and Cameron––the guy seated next to Ruby––was asleep or trying to fall asleep. At first, she was hesitant to join, but Ruby’s voice compelled her to sing. The notes came out shakily and crooked, and she couldn’t really hit them as nicely as Ruby, but nevertheless she tried. The song rose up and up and up, and grew louder until it had reached a fever point. It crashed down through the air like a swirling tempest of notes and harmony, splashing down onto a dark and placid sea of silence. Though the song was powerful and sharp, nobody on the sleepy bus seemed to care about it. The haunting and passionate melody sliced through the silent night air, and at that moment the girl realized that Ruby was staring right at her, her eyes piercing straight through the red glow of the safety light in the back of the bus, putting her under a spell. The girl was suddenly aware of all of the rips in her worn stockings and the acne on her forehead in a way she had never been before. She kept singing along until the song ended, floating lightly back out into the darkness. For a moment, she was at a loss for words.
“That was really good, you know,” she whispered, suddenly aware of the newfound silence. “Do you want to be on Broadway when you grow up?”
Ruby smiled a crooked smile, and chuckled sadly. “That is the dream. If I was in Les Mis, I think I’d want to be Eponine.”
“Why? Eponine is an alto, and your high notes are so…perfect. You should be Cosette.”
Ruby chuckled again, this time less sadly. “But you see, Eponine gets to sing the good song. ‘On My Own.’ Do you know it?”
“Of course I do! It’s one of my favorites…” The girl blushed and looked around nervously. “Do you want to sing it with me?”
Ruby just stared ahead. “Not really … not right now.” The girl felt something in her vanish into nothing within an instant. She averted her eyes to the dark floor of the bus so she wouldn’t have to look at Ruby or think about how she had made her feel just a second ago.
“It’s just that I know it’ll never work out, you know?”
She lifted her eyes once more and faced Ruby, gazing once more past the bright red light that glazed her glasses. “You could definitely do it. I mean, I think you’re really talented, I really do.”
Ruby hesitated for what seemed like an eternity. “I just don’t think so. I’ll just become an architect or something. I’m good with numbers.”
“I don’t really even know what I’m doing with my life.” Silence. The girl stared out the window to see if the bus was any closer to the school where her mother was probably waiting to pick her up and bring her home. The moon looked as if it had risen even further above the vast black stretches of forest that lined the highway, and now a sprinkling of stars spotted the skies. She decided that maybe before the bus dropped them off, she could muster up the courage to turn around and tell Ruby that she shouldn’t become an architect, and that by God, she was something special, and that was something that you should never give up.
She took a deep breath, and looked back into the shadows of the bus towards where Ruby was sitting. Ruby leaned against Cameron, painted red by the bus light.
“Hey, Ruby,” the girl whispered, unsure if her words would ever reach her. “You know, I’m sure you’d be a great Eponine. I believe in you.” Nothing. For a second, the girl felt the urge to turn around again and shout. Shout so loud that it could cut through the sickly red light, and finally get Ruby to look at her––look at her and notice her the way she wanted to be noticed. She wanted to hold her in her arms, and tell her that she could do anything that she wanted, and that she was extraordinary. She wanted to point out the window, up towards the stars and show her where she belonged. Instead, Ruby’s window was darkened by the reflection of her and Cameron slumped against it, his arm around her now, and they were seemingly too far away to hear any of the words that were never said.
So the girl resigned and turned to face her window once more. The bus had made it back into the suburbs, and instead of forests, the streets were lined with quiet houses that stood under orange street lights. As the bus pulled into the blue-zone of the school, everyone seemed to shuffle to their feet languidly. She could see the white glow of her mother’s headlights, and a few other cars parked in the lot as well. She collected her things, and walked off of the bus as slowly as possible, only to be sure that she could be around Ruby for even another second. As she climbed off of the bus and on to the sidewalk, she waited to see Ruby exit the bus. Finally, she came climbing off of the bus, in the middle of quiet chatter with Cameron. Out of nowhere, she found all of the courage she needed to walk up to Ruby before she began towards her mother’s car.
“Hey, Ruby,” she started nervously.
“I hope you have a good night.”
Ruby’s eyes were no longer painted in the rosy tones of the bus, and she could only see a blank gaze. The stars were gone. “You too.” She replied tiredly.
As the girl walked to her mother’s car, she looked back towards Ruby, who had vanished with Cameron behind the corner of the school building. So, instead she looked up at the night sky, so vast and rich with nothingness. All of the stars had been washed out because of the street lights, and only the distant white moon remained.