The Train Not Taken

Originally posted: November 17, 2006

He was on the train again. The guy with a shaved head, charcoal grey suit this time and a red silky looking scarf. No hat, he never wore a hat no matter how much it snowed or rained. I always watched him, shy, from my seat. Sometimes he noticed me, sometimes he didn’t.

I hadn’t seen him this past week. One whole week of commuting without seeing him. I had nearly cried on Friday night, thinking he must have moved or changed jobs and I would never have the chance to meet him now. I regretted not doing something, even something really dumb.

But, there he was back again. Same shaved head, same suit and that same smiley face. He was just one of those people who seemed to smile easily. Sometimes he had conversations with the people around his seat. He laughed easily too and it was a laugh that made me smile, even on the hardest days when I felt worn down to a stub of myself.

I had to meet him tonight, finally. I couldn’t let another day pass by. Maybe he had moved and today was one last trip on the old commuter train. My palms were slick and my stomach in knots but I just had to do something this time.

I knew I looked ok, not one of my better days for looks but it wasn’t too bad. Hopefully I didn’t get too wind blown while I was waiting at my stop for the train. I couldn’t quite dare reach up to pat my hair, he might look over at just that moment.

Before I could think about what I was doing I made my legs stand up. I shuffled my purse and laptop over my shoulder and made myself take that first step. I was committed then and couldn’t go back. Besides, some jerk stole my seat before I had even gotten into the aisle.

He looked up and watched me coming along the aisle. He smiled and I smiled back. I hoped my teeth didn’t have any leftover lunch and then I just hoped my voice wouldn’t come out in a squeak or not at all. “Hi”, brilliant, I thought. All these months and I couldn’t do better than a Hi.

“Hi,” He answered, “Was it too cold there by the door?”

“No…” I couldn’t think of a thing to say, rot my brain.

“It’s always colder by the door. John gets off at the next station you could sit in his place then.” He gave a nod to one of the men sitting across from him. They’d been talking awhile, I’d been listening but really only hearing one of them.

“Sure, that would be great.” I let my purse and laptop slide down to rest at my feet. The train moved on, snow and darkess blurring past the windows. No one said anything for awhile and I began to feel like an intruder, the odd woman in their group of guys.

I looked down at my boots, still dripping snow and slush. “You should be wearing a hat. I never see you wearing one and tonight is going to be freezing they say.” I braved a look up at him through my hair.

He laughed, in a nice friendly way. “I like to freeze my head, keeps me thinking.” The other guys laughed a bit. One of them started making a joke about freezing something else and then stopped, kind of looking at me. I had the feeling he was a well trained married guy, careful what he said in mixed company. I grinned over at him. After that we had a steady conversation. The next stop came and I sat down with the guys. We talked about our jobs and car repairs and the coming Christmas holidays.

I didn’t realize it was just myself and Greg until the last guy left and we were the only two sitting there. It was too late to be ackward by then. We’d already been talking for half an hour and I knew his name.

“It’s really nice to meet you, Jane.” He said. “I thought about bumping into you or something for awhile but you looked like you didn’t really want to talk to anyone. Shows how easy it is to be wrong about people.” He smiled. “Would you like to go for a warming up coffee at the restaurant in the station before we head out?”

“I’d like that.” I said. “They have a really good hot chocolate. I bring my nephew over once in awhile on the weekends.”

We spent the next hour talking. Talking about everything under the sun it seemed. We talked as we got off the train, we talked as we had our hot chocolate and we talked until he noticed it was already after 8:00.

“I didn’t think it was so late. I can’t stay longer. We moved my Mother into a nursing home last week and I promised I would visit her tonight. They close the doors at 9:00.” He put cash on the table, enough for both drinks and a decent tip.

We walked out to the parking lot together. The snow had kept up, all the cars in the lot were coated in a thick layer of white.

“Could be a challenge just to find your car tonight.” I said.

“People coming on the late train will be stuck getting a cab home it looks like.” He pointed to where the snow was piled up from the plough, a huge mountain already. One of the cars was very close, at least a third of it was under the mountain. Why did it have to be my car?

I moaned, thinking about getting it out.

“That’s not your car is it, really?” He sort of laughed and grimaced at the same time.

“It sure is. I have a window scraper in the trunk. If I can get it open.”

“I think you will just have to leave it here. Do you have CAA so you can call them to tow it or something?”

“Yes, do you think they would come for something like this?” I asked, hopefully.

“Probably.” He said thinking. “What else can someone do when something like that happens. You can hardly wait for the Spring thaw.” He laughed and I had to laugh too, even though I seemed to be stuck without a car.

“I know we’ve just met but I could drop you off at home. I’m sure my Mother would understand if I’m late due to helping a lady in distress.”

How could I say no? Spend more time with Greg and get a ride home.

He parked in front of my building and held my hand, rubbing his thumb over my skin. He leaned over and kissed me then, a good kiss. I leaned in closer, took off my winter gloves and slid my hands up inside his coat, under his suit. I held him that way while he deepened the kiss. His heart beat against the palm of my hand.

“Jane…” He moaned, his breath feathering over my face. “I thought of so many things to say, to break the ice, to meet you. It was all so silly sounding when I looked at you.” He pulled back to look at my face close up, just a whisper away. “I really want to make love to you, tonight. I’ve thought about what you must look like under all those layers of clothes. I’ve thought about how much I want to feel your body pressed against mine.” He unbuttoned his coat and pulled it off.

I said nothing, I could hear my own breathing, heavy and fast and excited. I licked my lips. My fingers began working on the buttons of his suit jacket and then the shirt under it. “Jane, not here in the car. Let’s go somewhere at least warm where we can have some room and enough light to see each other.”

“We can go inside, to my place.” I felt so brazen, like a slut. But it was what I wanted and I had been sweet and shy a long time, spending too much time alone.

I would have liked more time, a long slow lovemaking. My clothes were off and on the floor before I had thought about how I should ask him about using a condom. He had one and had it on himself by the time we stepped into my bedroom. On the bed he ravished me, just as the fictional heros in a romance novel did. I never thought any of that was based on reality. Yet, it felt good, quick and fast and deep and penetrating. Even though it was over too soon I felt I had really been loved. My orgasm hung on for days and then the final release was shattering, thundering through my body. He rested beside me, our hearts still pounding and our breath not yet slowing down.

“Thank you.” I said, in a whisper.

He got up then and began pulling on his clothes. I was startled that he would be in such a hurry to leave after that. But, he did.

Almost like a real old fashioned date, I even got a good night kiss from him. He gave me his phone number and his email address. Pressing his business card into my hand he looked into my eyes and told me he really hoped I would call, tonight even. I said I would.

I did too, once I called CAA and heard them laugh over the phone about my snowbound car. The tow brought it to my house. He even made sure it started before he left. Said it happened a few times every winter and suggested I don’t park there just because it seemed like a good spot while there wasn’t any snow.

I had a hot shower and nuked something for a single girl’s dinner. Then I phoned Greg, or I would have. I couldn’t find the business card he had written on. Of course I looked everywhere it could possibly be, even a few places it really couldn’t have been. I was frustrated but at least I would see him on the train tomorrow.

I never did though. I tried to find him in town. I looked at the nursing homes in the area, I asked about any new women who had just moved in the past week. No luck. I wrote a list about every smallest thing I knew about him but each clue I followed up on ended up getting me nowhere.

It was a big mystery.

I stayed living in that small town and working downtown for a few years more. Eventually I met a guy and we married and had a few kids, three of them. We moved to his town. I created my own business from home, gift baskets. It did quite well. The kids grew up happy and my husband and I got along well. It was the white picket fence life, revamped for the digital age.

One day out of the blue I saw Greg again. He looked just the same. I was older, more than 15 years had gone by. But, there he was, the same. He was at the train station of all places. I had gone in to get a schedule for my sister who was planning to visit us. Greg was sitting on one of the benches.

I stopped, just looking at him, totally surprised. Life seemed to swirl around me and come back full circle. As if I had just stepped out to make a phone call and now I was back.

He turned and faced me. He smiled but it wasn’t the same. He recognized me but his look was rueful, as if he regretted something but could do nothing about it. Somehow my feet moved and I sat down beside him. My face felt kind of stiff and no words were coming to my mouth though plenty were spilling around in my mind.

“It’s nice to see you again, Jane.” He said, kindly, as you would speak to an old friend. “You look good, life seems to have treated you well.” He got up then and just started walking away. I turned to say something but he wasn’t there. Vanished. I sat there, stunned. The bus schedule I had been holding slipped from my fingers.

“You dropped this.” One of the station staff handed me back the schedule.

“Thanks” I muttered.

“Funny, you look like you’ve seen a ghost.” she smiled. “Funny, I took yesterday off work cause it was the anniversary of my brother’s death. He was killed by a drunk driver here, fifteen years ago.” She smiled again, “Did you see him? A nice tall bald guy in a suit? Always a smile for everyone.” She sighed, “I still miss him.”

She walked off in her own thoughts. I sat there awhile longer, remembering a young man I used to know from the commuter train.

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