A short encounter between strangers.
‘Are you sure that I’m not putting your family out?’
The girl stared out the train window as she waited for the response, resisting the temptation to nibble her lip – a bad habit that she was trying to put behind her.
The person on the other end of the phone laughed. ‘Not at all. I promise.’
It had been one of those weekends, which had only gone from bad to worse. So bad, that she was now sat on this train, taking up an offer that she hadn’t even been sure still stood.
‘We’ll be at the station, okay?’
‘Text me when you’re a stop away.’
And with that, the phone line went dead.
It was hard to believe that only that morning she had been perfectly happy, content – had thought that everything in her life was sorted. Well that just showed her.
Now, she was pretty sure that she was putting on a united face, that everyone on this train thought that she was perfectly sane and normal and that suited her. Little did they know. The girl sitting opposite her caught her eye and she smiled back, marvelling at how a moment between strangers could somehow make you feel more normal again.
She had known that she just had to get out of that city. Even if it was just for a night, even if she had to return tomorrow afternoon, she needed a break. She needed some fresh country air and a change of scene. She needed her best friend and a proper family life for a bit, not the hassle of her real life that had grown too much to cope with.
She turned her attention back to her book but her mind was reeling.
How had it only been that morning?
As if it was coming back to her in flashes, she could still feel the way that the bedsheets felt against the skin, how warm and cosy she had been. She could feel the sunlight hitting her face, the taste of the long, lazy breakfast in bed – the fresh strawberries and fresh orange juice. The maple syrup lingering, and sticking to fingers long after the pancakes had been eaten.
Should she have known then that it was all nearly over? It had been too good to be true, and of course it had been, followed as it was by screaming and shouting and doors slamming.
And then she had thrown herself on the mercy of her best friend, someone she hadn’t really seen much over the past few months, but willing all the same to take her in for a night, to give her a place to escape the crazy city.
She sighed and tried to focus on the words flashing in front of her eyes. She couldn’t help but look up every now and again, distracted by the voice of the announcement lady, who interrupted her dark and painful thoughts.
Nearly there, she thought.
Again, the girl opposite her caught her eye. It was odd how such a little bit of human contact could make her feel emotional. The woman on the other side of her had put a pair of headphones in, but the music was spilling out, spoiling the quiet, evening hush of the train. She caught the girl’s eye and they both smirked, trying not to laugh.
The train pulled into a station and she peered out at the unfamiliar station name. One more stop. She pulled her phone out and sent another text. One stop.
We’ll be there, came the reply.
As the train lurched on through the countryside, she began to pack her things up, put away her book that she hadn’t really read, and resumed staring out the window. At the thought of the impending social state she was going to be thrown into, her stomach churned. Why wasn’t she curled up on her sofa, eating Ben and Jerry’s, watching tear jerkers? But she couldn’t have spent another moment in that oppressive flat. This was good for her.
As the announcement came, she tapped the woman on the shoulder, who glaring pulled one headphone out and then reluctantly shifted aside to let her slide out of the seat. The train pulled into the station and she hitched her bag onto her shoulder, and then stepped out into the night, looking for that familiar face to welcome her home again.