"I did it," Molly Wilson whispered, sliding into the bus seat next to her best friend, Anne. "You owe me fifty dollars. And another ten for the ad."
Anne arched her brow. "No, you didn’t."
"But I did." Molly grinned and held out her hand. "Cash please." The bus jerked to a stop and Molly held her breath. He’d never know. Never in a million years. Which was why she’d done it.
A tall blond man stepped up the stairs and took one of the center-facing seats in front, stretching his long legs in front of him as he opened up the newspaper.
"When does it run?" Anne asked.
"Today," Molly said, swallowing hard. They watched in silence as he thumbed through the pages, selecting a section and folding it in half with a smile.
For months they’d watched the man during their morning commute. One crowded morning he’d sat close enough for them to spy his amusing reading material — the personal ads. Every few minutes he’d grin and shake his head.
Molly’s attraction grew in silence, until one morning last week he didn’t get on, and she pondered aloud where he might be. Anne dared Molly into a stunt she’d never be able to go through with. If her cat hadn’t coughed up a hairball so large Molly panicked and took him to the vet, she’d have stayed in her comfort zone. But with the vet bill looming, the dare was the easiest way to pay it.
"Molly? What does it say?"
"It’s a poem." Molly barely blinked as he scanned the page.
"A poem? Oh, honey, you’re too sweet."
Molly’s mouth went dry. She’d tried to come up with something funny, but in the end, she’d written from her heart:
What you think is funny, may be the only way.
I see you each morning, but am never brave enough to say
Hello, how are you, my name is…
I’m a shy girl, no conversational whiz
So today I’ll watch while you read
Your reaction shows how we’ll proceed
A smile in my direction would be a plus
I’ll see you on the bus
Molly watched him blink hard, twice, and stare at the page again. She grabbed Anne’s hand and squeezed. This was such a bad idea.
The man shifted in his seat, his gaze darting from person to person. His stare hiccupped on her for a moment, before he looked past her. Her heart sunk. Until his eyes met hers and the world stood still.
The disco of butterflies in her stomach calmed, the universe narrowing to a single moment in time. The corners of his brown eyes crinkled as he grinned, the smile spreading across his face. Molly responded in kind.
A bell dinged and the bus jerked to a stop, shattering the spell. Molly glanced out the window in a panic. His stop was next, which meant —
"This is where I get off." His voice rumbled through her. He stood right next to her, so close she caught the clean scent of his cologne.
"I know." Molly didn’t dare look up at him. She wanted desperately to melt through the floorboards.
"I thought for sure you never read them."
"Read them?" Molly met his gaze, a warm cocoa brown melting her anxiety.
"The personal ads. It was you, right?"
"It’s her," Anne piped up behind Molly.
"You never let on. I figured you didn’t read them, or you weren’t interested."
"Wait a minute." Anne leaned towards the aisle. "You put ads in, too?"
He nodded, his gaze never leaving Molly’s. "One day you sat behind me, and I could tell you were reading them over my shoulder. So I put one in."
"That was months ago!" Anne flopped back in her seat, chuckling and shaking her head. Molly heard her rummaging about, but wouldn’t turn, wouldn’t break eye contact for the world.
The bus lurched, moving on to the next stop. He grabbed the back of the seat, just where Molly’s hand rested. Her skin tingled and warmed at the touch.
"Here you go, Molly, you earned every penny." Anne nudged Molly’s shoulder, thrusting the bills at her.
His gaze dropped to the bills, then met hers again in alarm. He recoiled his hand as if she’d burned him.
"She dared me," Molly tried to explain.
"Dared you?" He pursed his lips together and shook his head, reaching down for his bag.
"Not like you think." Molly pushed the money away, fighting the urge to reach for his hand.
He shouldered his bag and turned in the aisle.
"Wait!" Molly stood, just as Anne pushed her into the aisle at him and the bus careened to a stop. She stumbled, falling against him as they both tumbled to the floor.
Staring down into his exasperated expression, Molly realized it was impossible to be any more embarrassed. The knowledge gave her the courage to speak.
"Anne bet me I’d never tell you how I feel. I had no idea you’d ever noticed me, let alone put ads in the paper."
"Molly, we need to get up." He shifted beneath her, but she stayed put.
"Can you at least tell me your name?"
"Will it get you up off the floor?" She nodded furiously, and he smiled. "Drew Foster."
Molly pushed back, rising to her feet. Once she righted herself, Drew stood beside her. Every eye on the bus was trained on them and their spectacle.
"I’m sorry." Heat crept up her neck, flaming her cheeks.
Drew’s warm hand wrapped around hers. "When’s your stop?"
"The last one," Molly mumbled, trying to breathe as embarrassment consumed her confidence.
"I’ll walk you to work."
"You’ll walk me?" Molly’s eyes fluttered open, hope flowing through her veins.
Molly fell against him as the bus lurched to a stop again. Anne thrust Molly’s bag into her free hand. As they made their way to the door the bus erupted into applause.