The Buildup - Emory Sabatini

            The outbound train whooshes into the lower level of Park Street Station. The red and grey flashes before my eyes, the cars blurring into one as the all-too-familiar voice reads out, “Attention passengers, the next Red Line train to Alewife is now arriving.” Waiting for the train to slow down, I stuff my hands into my coat pockets.

            “It’s amazing no one ever gets hit by these things,” Noah says to me. “I mean, it’s pretty scary if you think about it. The trains must go, like, really fast.”

            I look down. Our shoes toe the yellow line that divides us from the tracks—just within the safe zone.

            “Dude, I heard a couple months ago some guy got dared to jump into the tracks,” says Noah. The train screeches to a halt and the doors open. Crowds of people push their way out of the cars. “Within seconds the train came and splattered him to bits.” We board the train, our shoulders briefly brushing. “Barely saw it coming.”

            “That’s awful,” I say. “How old was he?” As the doors close, Noah shifts his left foot so his shoe is pressed against my right one. The train takes off once more.

            “Young,” says Noah. “Like, college age.” He furrows his eyebrows. “I wonder if we knew him. Maybe he went to BU or MIT or something.”

            “Maybe,” I say. My eyes flick up from the floor as we pull into Charles/MGH. The weak, dimming light of the winter afternoon cascades through the windows. I look at the city skyline across the river and nudge Noah. “Have you seen that new building they’re constructing across from the Prudential? They’re almost done with it.”

            “No,” he says. “What’s it for?”

            “Some finance company or something like that. It doesn’t matter. Look for it once we’re on the Longfellow.” Our train lurches forward as we pull out of the station again. “It’s really something.”

            Now we both turn our heads to look out as the train chugs forward. Within seconds we’re crossing the bridge. The sky is half orange, half blue, and the glass panes of the Hancock have turned a bright shade of yellow. Nearby, across from the Pru, an equally tall building towers above the rest of the city. Its dark windows absorb most of the light coming from across the river. Construction ribbons stream out in the wind from the top of the building. I point at it, and Noah’s eyes follow my fingers. As I lower my hand, my pinky brushes his.

            Noah stares out the window. “It’s really beautiful.”

            “It kind of is.” I catch myself and quickly look back down at the ground. “Hey, there’s something—”

            Before I can finish, the train jolts as it hits a bump in the tracks. I lose my balance for a second, stumbling forward. The outside world plunges into darkness as the skyline disappears and we enter Kendall Station, twenty feet below Cambridge.

*          *          *

            “Thank you!” I close the door behind me as I leave my professor’s office.

            My phone buzzes; the text from Noah reads: where r u?? wanna go out 2nite? I smile and shake my head as I head down the stairs and out of the building into the Yard. His texts always vaguely remind me of middle school. I text back: sorry was meeting with a professor. meet in front of wadsworth now? A little grey chat bubble appears then disappears. I hold my breath. k.

            I slip my phone into my pocket and pull out a pair of gloves as I walk. At 6 p.m. it’s completely dark, and my breath materializes in the chilly air before dissipating. Shuddering, I quicken my stride. Turning a corner, I see Noah in front of Wadsworth. He notices me and goofily waves. I smile and wave back. Wow, he got there quickly, I think.

            “Hey!” Noah runs up to me, laughing. “I’m still dead from that fall yesterday.” He lightly punches my shoulder, and I flinch but smile.

            “Yeah, I know, I know. Where do you want to go tonight?” We begin walking toward the gate, out of the Yard and into Harvard Square.

            Noah drapes his arm around my shoulder as we walk. “There’s this party at BC tonight that I was thinking we should go to.” As we step onto Mass Ave, someone quickly walks by us, pushing Noah and me closer together. “We’re gonna have to take the T there. You sure you’re not gonna fall this time?”

            “Okay, enough with the jokes already!” I’m hyper-aware of how close he is to me, how his hand rests on my shoulder. We separate as we board the escalator into the Harvard Station.

            I look back at Noah behind me on the escalator. He appears to be lost in his phone, his thumbs moving rapidly as he responds to someone. Who could he be texting? I think. I nudge him and he barely looks up.

            “Hey, who are you texting?”

            “Oh, no one,” he says. He quickly puts his phone back in his pocket and stares straight ahead.

            My cheeks flush red. He wasn’t texting a girl, was he? My mind rushes. He would have told me, right? He tells me everything. Why didn’t he tell me about whoever the hell he was seeing now?

            We arrive at the bottom floor. Noah is talking now, going on about how hard his psychology midterm was, but I’m not listening. As we swipe our CharlieCards and head toward the outbound platform, I wrack my brain, trying to remember every girl we had mutually met in the past few weeks. None of them were Noah’s type.

            We amble on the platform, waiting for the next train to Park Street. Okay, maybe Noah likes a girl now, but it’s fine because he’s probably bi anyway. Or he’s gay and doesn’t realize. It doesn’t matter. He could still like me, right?

            Noah is still talking. Ten feet to our left an old man behind an empty saxophone case plays blues music, filling the station with dreary notes. In the distance I hear a voice say, “Attention passengers…” and a loud horn honking twice. Bumping into a woman, I barely notice my feet stepping onto the yellow divider as a bright, white light enters my peripheral vision.

            Suddenly, I am being pulled back. I snap into reality. The sound of wheels braking fills my eardrums.

            “Dude, what the hell?! You almost got hit!” I turn, blinking. Noah looks at me, his eyes wide. “What is going on with you?! Didn’t you see the train coming?”

            “I’m sorry, I tripped and must have spaced out.” I say, shaking my head.

            “Well, I’m glad you’re okay,” says Noah. He pats my shoulder as people push around us. The sound of footsteps is all I can hear.

*          *          *

            On the train, I jostle my knees as we wait in Kendall. Noah has fallen asleep next to me, his head resting against the clear window behind him. Minutes ago, he told me that he wanted to “fuel up” for the night. In all honesty, I think he is tired because of his psych midterm. I smile, aware of the fact that his knee rests against mine.

            Finally, the doors close and we pull out of the station. The train ascends out of the tunnel and begins to cross the river from Cambridge to Boston. Out of the window, I see the new building. Gone are the orange construction ribbons from before. Against the night sky it is fully lit, its window illuminated with bright, yellow light. It’s done. Ok, no more excuses, I think.

            “Hey, Noah.” I nudge him, gently at first and then forcefully with my elbow. “Noah, wake up.”

            He yawns, rubbing his eyes and sitting up. “What do you want? You interrupted my power nap!”

            “The building is done!” I point across the river. Noah looks and smiles.

            “Hey, would you look at that!” he says. “I guess we can celebrate at the party tonight!”

            The train slows again as we arrive at Charles/MGH. The skyline disappears from our view. I shake my head. “Let’s not go to the party tonight.”

            “Wait, what?” Noah looks at me, his eyebrows raised. “Why not?”

            “I don’t want to go.” The doors of the train open. I grab Noah’s hand and pull him with me, almost running as we exit the train. “I’ve got something better planned.”

            “What is going on?” Noah exclaims, wriggling his hand from mine. I step onto the escalator going down. Noah follows. “Can you tell me where we’re going?”

            I turn and look at him. “Can you please just trust me? It’ll be fun, I promise!”

            He sighs and shakes his head. “Alright.”

            We reach the bottom floor of the station and cross over to the outbound side. Once we’ve taken the escalator back up, we stand on the platform, waiting for the next train back to Harvard. As the station announcer reads out, “Attention passengers, the next Red Line train to Alewife is now arriving,” I look down. My feet stand within the yellow line, not out onto the tracks nor safely within the platform. As the horn sounds and train whooshes by, my short hair flies up in the wind. I survive the encounter.

*          *          *

            We sit on the bench in the dark, the Charles ten feet in front of us and Memorial Drive ten feet behind us. Between us, burger wrappers and empty French fry containers litter the seat.

            “You got to admit that this was way better than some party, right?” I say, looking at Noah in the dark. He nods his head.

            “Yeah, okay, fine, this was pretty cool. I guess it’s nice every once in a while for us to talk, just the two of us.” He smiles at me.

            “The skyline is so pretty tonight,” I say. We both look across the river at the buildings. Boston lights up the night, the yellow and red lights of the skyline standing out against the dark purple sky. The only dark building is the new one. I look at my watch and barely make out the time. 11:37 PM.

            “Yeah, it’s so nice.” Noah crumples the wrappers between us into one ball with his hands and tosses it into a nearby garbage can. He scoots over so we’re sitting side by side on the bench. He rests his arm behind me on the top of the cool grey plastic. This is it.

            “Noah, there’s something I have to tell you.” I turn to look at him.

            “What’s up?” he asks.

            I take a deep breath. Noah tilts his head, staring at me. He has no idea. And before I even say anything, I can tell he doesn’t like me. I just feel it. Fuck it. Just say it anyway. It’s been long enough.

            “I like you,” I begin. I stare at the ground, avoiding Noah’s reaction. “I have for a while. I’ve been avoiding telling you because I was scared of ruining our friendship. But I don’t want to be friends with you. What I’m trying to say is I want to be with you. I don’t know. It’s just the way I feel.” I nod my head and swallow, still looking at the ground. A few seconds pass. Finally, I look up into Noah’s eyes. Through the darkness I can’t detect the emotions passing over his face.

            “Adam, I…well…just…I don’t feel the same way.”

            I had known it was coming. He begins to say something about being friends and how this doesn’t—well, shouldn’t, at least—change anything. I see his lips moving but I don’t listen. Instead, I stare out at the skyline across the river. The new building breaks out from the rest of the city, rising tall. It’s really something. All of the lights have been turned off and the inside is desolate. Sure, no one lives or works there yet. It’s empty. But at least it’s built.