Chapter 1B

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HE IS AN adult. Although the subway cart is crowded, how can he not know how uncomfortable his touch is making me? The hairy man presses himself against me more with every second until his buttery rolls of fat piles over me like a greasy avalanche. Worse yet, he's so close that his armpit sweat is leaking onto my new Forever 21 t-shirt.

"Do you have a boyfriend?" He asks me with a knowing smile as though he can already guess the answer. He is right. A fat middle-aged guy wouldn't be groping my breasts on the subway if I had a boyfriend.

This is the type of thing people always tell me happens on the subway, but I never imagined it would happen to me. Especially not in front of all these people — all these grown-ups in business suits. I don't want to speak up, to make a scene, or to bring my AP economics textbook down on the sexual assaulter's head. I don't do any of those things because I am scared. I don't want to get in trouble. I want to show my parents I am grown up enough to take the subway on my own.

"Why doesn't a pretty girl like you have a boyfriend?" The man asks again. He spits as he talks and his gummy teeth look like kernels of Halloween corn. His mocking eyes look down at his meaty forearm arm that is pressing up against my breast as though he's daring me to say something about it. He wants me to talk about it. Maybe, my hesitation to bring it up, my meek silence, is a form of submission. Maybe my discomfort even turns him on.

"She has a boyfriend, I'm right here," a voice comes from above. Before I am even able to look up to find the source of that voice, a blond boy nudges himself between the chubby old guy and me. The boy drapes an arm around my shoulder and squeezes me. Oh, this strange boy who now has me in his arms is very muscular. My terror turns into something else — something even less familiar to me. I want to be held by this boy. It is a silly thought, but I suddenly want the subway crowd to push us even closer than we already are. The boy smells nice, like vanilla soap and crisp linens dried in the sun. "Hey babe, was this guy bothering you?"

There is a sour look on the assaulter's miserable wrinkly face now. Without another word, the obese man hurries off the train at Franklin Street. I breathe a sigh of relief after the doors close behind that monster. I can still smell his disgusting nostril-stinging European cologne on my shirt.

"Thanks," I mutter after the train starts up again. I don't realize it at the time, but I am having my own Densha Otoko moment. The only thing is, my rescuer, is hot, like seriously hot. He has the smile of Liam Hemsworth, the eyes of Timothée Chalamet, and the aura of a Sistine Chapel angel. He is so ridiculously good-looking that he seems to have a halo around his entire body even among the packed, dirty subway car. And by the way, he keeps running his fingers through his messy, tousled hair; he doesn't even seem aware of how stupidly handsome he is.

The hottie is dressed in a plain white t-shirt like the kind you would find on a discount rack at Gap. His cargo pants are faded, and his sneakers are barely holding on for dear life. His face, and his smile, though, I bet there are girls out there who would pay a million dollars for a smile from those lips.

"I'm Nicholas Driscoll; my friends call me Nick. What's your name?"

"Cori, I mean Corrine Stone, like the rock."

"Like Stone Street," Nick offers with a nervous laugh. He glances down at the Economics textbook on my lap. Property of Piotr High is stamped on the binding. "You're a student at Piotr too? How come I've never seen you around?"

"I'm a transfer," I whisper. "Today's my first day. I don't know what happened back there. I've never taken the subway by myself before."

"It's okay," Nick says with a casual chuckle. "The girls at school complain about the subway gropers all the time. Usually, they go for good-looking girls with long curly hair. I had a feeling that the neckbeard was going to make a move on you. He had his eyes on you since Times Square."

"Oh, eep! How gross!" I say, making a face. How does Nick know that the guy had been stalking me since Times Square unless he was checking me out too? My disgust suddenly turns into delight. I can't believe this is happening! Is a hot guy suddenly into me? No, this has to be a joke. My life isn't a Teen Lit novel.

"Yeah, the guy was licking his lips and inching toward you the whole time."

"Nasty! Why me? I don't have long hair or big boobs." It is true, I have curly hair, but I am definitely not good-looking.

"You had that look on your face."

"Like I'm in a coma?"

"No, like you're keeping a secret," Nick says with a small laugh. "I bet it's a good one."

"No," I stammer and blush. I hope he means the dirty kind of secret and not something boring like my secret life as an Internet Writer. "You're full of it."

"I'm in AP economics too," Nick says as we get out at Chamber Street. His friends are waiting for him on the platform. "See you around, Cori."


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