The following is a rough draft of chapter 2 from my upcoming novel Saving Deborah. Please excuse typos, and enjoy!
People rushed by on all sides, brushing up against Miriam and Simon as they passed. The hundreds of commuters walked with quick, deliberate steps, clear in their destination. Simon stood with his mouth open, excited about the scene while Miriam searched for an exit.
“This is amazing,” Simon said as he watched the people. “Look at how many of them there are. I’ve never seen this many people in one place. I mean, I’ve seen this many people at a football game, but never in, like, a hallway like this.”
Miriam strained to see over the quickly passing heads, looking for an exit sign. “Do you see how to get out of here?” she said.
Simon continued to gape at the crowd. “Look at that guy,” he said, pointing at an overweight man in a pink leotard pushing his way through a turnstile. “Where do you think he is going?”
“Don’t point,” Miriam said, pushing Simon’s hand down and looking away from the man he was pointing at.
Twisting his hand quickly, Simon took a hold of hers.
Miriam sighed and interlaced her fingers with his.
“You said a big guy was on the train with us?” Simon said. “Do you see him? I bet he knows how to get out of here.”
Miriam had woken up as the train pulled into Penn Station in New York and Rothman had been gone. “He’d be hard to miss. He was a giant,” she said, then adding under her breath, “so much for him watching over us.”
“I bet if we just follow the crowd, we’ll get somewhere,” he said.
The thought of just jumping in made Miriam uncomfortable. She didn’t like the unexpected. She liked having a plan with weighed outcomes. “This is a huge city,” she said. “I don’t want us to get lost.” She looked around again for an exit sign, but something else caught her eye.
Twenty yards away a group of four people stood in a huddle – three men and a woman. They wore dirty jeans, heavy coats, and knit stocking caps. The three men were unshaven. All four of them were huddled together in a corner talking quietly with one another. Two of the men were African American and the third was Caucasian. Miriam didn’t think she would have been able to pick them out of the crowd. They looked like construction workers preparing for a long day outside in the cold. It was the woman who’d caught her eye. The woman was staring at Miriam, glaring almost. Tightly woven braids poked out from under her hat. Her light green eyes contrasted with her dark chocolate skin. It was the eyes that had caught Miriam’s gaze.
Miriam stared back, but the woman didn’t break eye contact. Her look sent a chill up Miriam’s spine.
“You sure you don’t want to take the subway? That could be fun,” Simon said, still gawking at the crowd.
Wanting to escape the green-eyed woman’s gaze, Miriam yanked Simon’s hand forward as she stepped into the rushing crowd. “Let’s try this way,” she said.
They joined the stream of people like fish in a crowded stream. Going with the flow, they took a right and then a left. Miriam loved the huge Christmas wreaths hanging from the ceiling, each with a bright red bow. They were perfectly centered on the hallway, spaced fifteen yards apart. She like the precision of them. It surprised her that something so simple could make even an underground tunnel stuffed with people feel warm. As they walked, she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder every ten yards for the woman with the green eyes.
They took another right and found themselves in a large open space surrounded by eateries. “Breakfast,” Simon said, pointing at a bakery.
“Okay,” Miriam said, glancing over her shoulder again. “But we have to be quick.” It didn’t look like the woman and her three friends had followed them.
“What?” Miriam said.
“I’m quick now,” he said with a goofy grin.
Miriam laughed, shook her head, and began walking toward the bakery.
“No, see,” Simon said calling after her. “You said, ‘we have to be quick’ and I’m quick now. That’s why it’s funny.”
The aroma of the bakery was intoxicating. Miriam was glad Simon had suggested it because she didn’t think she would have been able to walk past the temptation. The glass case that faced out was filled with freshly baked bagels. In the back of the space, a man rolled dough and put it into a small oven. Across the back wall, there was an astounding variety of pastries. Looking at them made her stomach rumble.
“It all looks so good. What are you going to get?” Simon asked.
Miriam scanned the direction they’d just left. There was no sign of the green-eyed woman. She sighed with relief. The man called Rothman had spooked her and now she was seeing things. With another sigh, she said to Simon, “Maybe we should go to the street level. If the stuff in the subway looks this good, think about what the stuff above ground looks like.”
“Nope,” Simon said, stepping forward before she could stop him. “Excuse me,” he said to get the cashiers attention. “I’ll get whatever you favorite bagel is, toasted, with cream cheese and the biggest coffee you have.”
The cashier smiled as she rang him up. “Coming right out,” she said. “What about you, dear?” she asked Miriam.
“Just a coffee for me,” Miriam said, glancing over her shoulder once more.
“No, no, no,” Simon said. “We’re in New York. Home of the bagel.”
“I don’t think that’s true,” Miriam said.
“She’ll have a plain bagel, toasted, with strawberry cream cheese, please,” Simon ordered for her. Sliding his credit card through the machine he said, “This is New York, and I’ve never been to New York, so we’ve got to savor it.”
Miriam smiled and took his hand again. “Thanks,” she said. Even though the romantic aspect of their relationship was new, the depth of their friendship made it feel like they’d been a couple for years.
They sat in the back of the small shop at a two top table and ate their bagels. Simon had changed so much since opening the box. He was lighter, even carefree at times. It was as if a huge weight had been removed from his shoulders. She looked at the backpack sitting between her legs and wondered what it held for her.
“You want to open it now?” Simon asked, catching her looking at it.
“No,” she said. “Not yet. Let’s go see what we’re up against first. Maybe I won’t have to open it at all.”
“You don’t need to be scared,” Simon said with a smile. “Whatever happens, it’s going to be awesome.”
“How do you know that?” Miriam said with a smile.
“Because, Jose said the thing reads you before it changes you, and you are awesome, so whatever happens is going to be awesome.”
“Oh Jesus, help me,” Miriam said, laughing. “That was a lot of cheese crammed into one sentence.”
“All truth,” Simon playfully challenged.
Miriam had so many questions about Simon’s new friends Jose and Crystal that she could fill multiple notebooks with them. Although she hadn’t met the pair, from what Simon described, they were beyond rational explanation. There was so much about the world of monsters and heroes Simon had witnessed that confused her. Simon had described his encounters in vivid detail, but each explanation raised more questions, the most pressing of which was, why would people as terrifying as Jose and Crystal would let Simon just leave with the magical box? Miriam had suppressed her desire to interrogate him though. She didn’t want Simon to think she didn’t believe him. She knew the right time would come.
Miriam took a sip of her coffee. “It’s better at your place,” she said.
“No it’s not,” he said with a grin. “But I appreciate the thought.”
They both focused on their food for a few moments and Miriam began to relax. The bagel was warm and crisp and soft. Everything she needed it to be.
Simon broke the silence. “You know, this is kind of our first official date,” he said.
“Man, big spender. You got me a whole bagel and coffee,” she teased.
“In New York,” he said defensively. “I took you to New York for our first date. And we are going to save your sister. I’m like the greatest boyfriend ever.”
She smiled. “What are you going to do for our second date?” she asked. “This is going to be a hard one to top.”
“Not sure,” Simon said, leaning back in his chair. “Kinda taking this one step at a time.”
“Smart,” Miriam said tipping her cup to him. “Keeps me guessing.” Taking a bite of her bagel, she swallowed and said, “You did get me the strawberry cream cheese. Makes me think you’re a keeper.”
“Anything for you,” he said, grinning.