I feel I should point out that I'm not proud of this.
This is certainly not my finest moment, but as the old saying goes: desperate times call for desperate measures. Or whatever. I mean, when it all comes down to it, it's all about karma. There's no real thing as good or bad—black and white are more than mere colors, but rather the absence and collection of light, respectively. Whatever I take I'll pay back to nature in turn, as well as accepting the consequence of my actions.
My legs are on fire, spastically jittering against the ground impatiently. You think I'd be more collected by now, but I think I'm still slightly reeling from the turbulence of last night. Calm down, Effie, calm down, I tell myself. I just need to get out of this stupid country and things will go back to normal.
I zero in on my target. Poor kid doesn't stand a chance. All knees and with a firm set mouth, cosmically, he probably even has this coming. His eyes are wide, and even from my distance I can make out their blueness—a vast potluck of ocean smelted into the crescents lining the bridge of his nose, which is a little ruddy, slightly on the larger side, but somehow still makes sense on his face.
His brown hair is trim, neat, probably the kind that takes at least a certain level of manicuring—certainly nothing like Wendell's, my last boyfriend, who had bright cherry dreadlocks spinning goops of red-gold from his scalp.
I scratch my nose, which, like the rest of my face, is obnoxiously covered in freckles, mismatched constellations filling the gaps of skin.
Not my type, I think absently, and yet still feel my eyes lingering longer than necessary. Although he is really fucking tall. I like tall guys. Not that it matters. I'm done with relationships. Straightening, I run my palms over my thighs to calm them.
Let's do this. I swing my backpack over my shoulder and scoop my duffle bag into my palm, picking up speed as I approach him.
He's staring down at his ticket—his fault for having it out, really—with a blank sort of look on his face. Unreadable. Apathy, maybe? Not that it matters, I tell myself again as my feet begin to fly on the train station's tiled floors, my long golden braids flapping around my neck.
"Go time," I whisper encouragingly as I smash against him, knocking us both to the ground. The bigger they are, the harder they fall, I suppose is true because he eats pavement particularly hard.
"Christ," he hisses, his too-long legs splayed out around him. I realize a beat later that he's British, which surprises me because he's the first one I've met so far in Berlin.
"Oh my God!" I cry, supporting myself on my knees and wobbling over to him. "I'm so sorry! I'm just, oh, crap, I'm so late!" Unbeknownst to him, I swipe his fallen ticket under my calf, and, using my foot, pass it down to where my duffel lays, quietly shoving it under. "Are you okay?"
He's taken back, because they all are. If possible, his eyes have opened even more, and I can't help but be struck by their color again. He's frowning, which makes sense, but it softens as my eyebrows knit together. "Yes, yes," he mumbles curtly, brushing himself off as he hoists himself up. "Are you?"
His eyes are steady, narrowed. Calculated.
I exhale with a curve of laughter, wondering if anything is given away. I need to look away now, I realize, I need to make my exit before he notices I've stolen his train ticket. But his eyes are like shards of glass, narrowing before me, taking in my haphazard fishtail braids, long skirt, long-sleeved shirt (despite the summer heat), sandals. The pretty smile that normally wards off suspicion seems to have no effect on him, so warily, I gather my things, subtly slipping the ticket into a fold in my palm.
"Yup, yup," I smile in a rushed fashion. I have to get out of here. His eyes are, for lack of a better word, piercing. Rude, much? "I'm used to this. I'm such a klutz, you know."
"No, wouldn't," he murmurs. His voice is kind of lovely, actually, but I should know better than to be swindled by a pretty accent.
Uncomfortable, I let out another awkward titter and step back.
He knows. Crap, he knows.
No, he couldn't know. I've done this a million and one times. He doesn't know. Does he fucking know? Shit. He knows.
"Okay," I exclaim, squeaking slightly. "I'm going to miss my train, so—sorry, so sorry, again," I'm saying, but I'm already gone, my sandals slapping against the ground as I speed towards the track.
I don't know where the guilt is rising from, as it gnaws at my stomach and snacks on my conscious. Shmuck had it coming, right? Rich guys with money to burn. Whatever, it's already done. No point in feeling remorse about someone I'll never see again. Time to get out of here.
My green eyes close tight against my lids as my forehead presses against the glass of the train window, the German countryside opening its wings to me. I've forgotten how lush the world is, especially in the fairytale summer, having travelled from city to city this past month.
I hear someone sit across from me. Normally I'd pretend to be asleep, but something notifies my senses and I whip alert. My apple-red lips part, dangling ajar awkwardly.
"How did you…" I start, but words have become chalk on my tongue. I drop my eyes." Shit."
His gaze is flat, that grim-set mouth deeper set than before. "Did you think I wouldn't notice?" I open my mouth to reply, but can't find the words, just an awkward humming escaping my throat. "Honestly, you've got to be the worst thief I've ever encountered."
Finally, I find my voice. "I've never been caught before," I manage out. The train conductor will probably be here any second at his request, ready to report me to the authorities and thrown off the train, or worse, into jail. Or what if there's a fine? God knows I couldn't begin to afford that. My eyes squeeze shut with dread.
"Yeah, well, there's a first time for everything," he chuckles, but without much humor. "Aren't you even going to try to explain yourself?"
I stare at my hands, dirty and blackened with charcoal. I feel disgusting, and it spins from more than my artist hands.
"Do you want the truth, or are you satisfied with a reasonable lie?" We spark eye contact, green to blue. His gaze is steady, uncomfortably unwavering.
"The truth, naturally."
"Then no," I murmur, turning my eyes to the countryside again, although whose countryside, at this point, it is, I'm not sure. "I won't explain."
I notice him eyeing me curiously, something softer in his face. His jaw has relaxed, but his eyes are still anything but pleasant. "Fair enough," he says simply, and reaches over to his briefcase and pulls out a laptop. He slips his headphones in and begins to type away.
What the fuck? A few moments pass by before I, out of frustration, lean across the table, my elbows propping me up, staring at him. I wait for him to look up from his computer screen, which he takes his sweet time doing, despite the fact that he is wholly aware of my presence, which I know because I see him ever-so-briefly glance at my chest.
Casually, he tugs out one of his ear-buds. Gone is the knife-like stare, left only buried amusement, subtle behind a fictive indifference. "Yes, miss?"
I look around dubiously. The conductor is nowhere to be seen, and the car is almost totally empty. He could've sat anywhere. Is he just fucking with me? It's been a while since anyone played a game with me. "Quit yanking my chain. Have you had me reported or haven't you?"
"Oh," he mouths, giving way to more of his amusement. He's enjoying watching me squirm a little too much. "No. Shan't."
I cross my arms, confused. Since when are people naturally forgiving? "Why not?"
There's a catch. There's always a catch. I hope he doesn't expect me to screw him as thanks, but I feel slightly guilty even thinking that. He doesn't seem like the type. Corny as it is, I get the impression he's an actual nice guy. Not that I'd really know.
He looks at me, and I mean, really, looks at me. The kind of stare that was different than before, not so much a pierce as a prick beneath the skin, as if he sees wholly through me. He is a mole under my flesh, nestling itself in my thoughts. He takes out his other headphone, and places it next to him. I can't help but notice that he methodically lines them up together, straightens out the cord so it won't tangle.
Suddenly, and I can't quite entirely explain it, I see him differently. It's as if I realize there's something off about him, something not completely pieced together. Not necessarily craziness, because I know craziness, especially based on my last boyfriends, but a missing slice, a tiny sliver in his pie chart out of place.
His pale blue shirt is immaculate, hardly a wrinkle and certainly without a spot, a thin cardigan tucked in all the right places, under the collar and perfectly rolled around his wrists, with crisp slacks that speak for an upstanding man that somehow don't suit him—this guy isn't older than 25, and yet he's dressing like he's thirty, at minimum.
Something is off. I linger on the headphones too long, however, and his eyes follow down to meet the source of my gaze. We both look up at the same time, and in the way I knew that he knew that I'd stolen his ticket, I realize he now knows I see it.
"What," he states, a coldness creeping into his otherwise melodic voice. He holds me with his abruptly freezing eyes and it's if my heart wants to fold onto itself—Wendell or any of my other boyfriends, sexily European or not—have never made me feel so much like my body is made of paper.
My lips are nothing more than rotten apples, and so I swallow and look back to the window. Suddenly heavy-eyed, I let them close, feeling exhaustion override my senses. "Nothing."
I stir under the palm that has placed itself on my shoulder, my eyes heavily flicking open. I gurgle incoherently, licking my lips. The sky is now blackened, and we've accumulated more passengers. Quietly, the train lulls, the cars gently rocking back in forth with a steady rumbling.
The guy—whose name I realize I still don't know—is leaning over me, his blueness scanning my face. The coldness is gone again, and I can't help but think how much I like his eyes, when they're not making me feel like I don't exist in my own skin.
"Do you want anything from the café car?" He asks, the beauty back in his voice.
"I don't have any money," I admit, my hand subconsciously slipping onto my stomach.
A surprising smile curls onto his face. "Yes, I gathered that. But that doesn't answer my question. Do you want anything from the café car?"
I can't help but laugh, although I don't totally know why. I can't remember the last time anyone was this nice to me. I nod, and his hand slips from my shoulder, warm where his pulse was. I find myself wanting it back.
After he's gone, I replay the day's events in my head—why didn't he report me? Realistically, I know I'm fairly easy on the eyes, unassuming looking, at least; long honey-blonde hair, a constellation of freckles and green eyes which speak the finest of America's heartland, but he hardly seems to be the type to cut me slack just because I'm pretty.
I decide to ask him when he gets back. But furthermore, and more importantly, where the hell is this train headed? I didn't think to look at the ticket before I handed it to the conductor. Still, at this point, I'm just happy to get the hell out of Germany and as far away from Wendell as possible. Dickhead.
I hardly notice the guy slipping back down across from me as I replay my last interaction with that douche ex-boyfriend. "Sandwich for the lady," he advances, gently nudging a simple ham-and-cheese across our table.
I simply look at it, my hunger suddenly dissipating. First, I need answers. "Can we clarify some things?"
He takes a large, messy bite out of his sandwich as I say this, and he's almost caught off guard. A large, juicy tomato dangles from his mouth, dangerously threatening to splatter onto his pants. His eyes are wide again, but this time adorably so.
He straightens himself, removes the offending tomato and gingerly wipes his mouth with a delicacy normally reserved for old ladies at teatime. "Of course. Shall we start with names?"
"Effie," I prompt.
Effie and Ian, I test out in my mind, rolling the words on my tongue. I can't help but think it kind of has a ring to it. "Okay, Ian. Where are we going? Or, I mean, where is this train going?"
He places the sandwich delicately in its basket, taking the time to carefully re-wrap the plastic almost to its original form as he speaks. "Copenhagen, in Denmark."
"Christ!" I spit, slumping in my seat. "That means this is, like, a ten hour train ride!"
"Eight, actually," Ian corrects amusedly. "But three have already passed. It won't be so bad."
"At least we're out of Germany," I grumble to myself.
Ian chuckles. "There, there, Germany isn't so bad."
"Oh, it's not the country," I admit, "it's the people. Or, person."
He nods knowingly, though this guy sort of seems like he has the sexual history of a waffle. "Ah, I see. An ex?"
"Um," I mumble, starting to feel uncomfortable. "Yeah. Anyway. Why are you going to Copenhagen?"
"I'm trying to sell myself to clients," he says, and then, a moment later, realizes what he's said. His face flushes a bright red. "I mean to say, I'm a furniture designer. I've been trying to get retailers to buy my chairs. So far I've only sold one design in Germany, but, alas, it's a start. I'm hoping Denmark will be more suited, but my real goal is IKEA in the Netherlands, which is where I'm going after."
He laces his fingers together and leans across the table, his face close to mine. "So, Miss Effie. Are you going to tell me why you were so desperate to get out of Berlin?"
Instead of replying, I haphazardly rip my sandwich out of its casings and shove a large bite in my mouth, chewing slowly. He smiles wide, amused, but behind it is an underlying pinch of concern. I start to feel bad—this young guy, apparently not exactly rolling in dough, has so far let me walk all over him. I find myself feeling…guilty. Again.
I chew faster.
I press my hands together, sighing. "Before I start, I want to say that I am looking for absolutely no pity. So if I hear so much as an utterance of 'I'm sorry' I'll gut you like a fish. Clear?"
His eyes glinter with laughter. "Crystal."
"For a while," I start slowly, testing the words out on my tongue. "I was with this guy. Shortly said, he wasn't a good guy—he kind of looked like this innocent, dreadlocked hippie-stoner, but there was this…crackling ember of anger that was always burning, growing underneath the skin. He wasn't violent at the start, and I know it's dumb of me, but I really love him."
I pause, pressing my lips together, remembering every flinch, the feeling of my back pressing against a cold wall, my toes curling under me.
"Loved. I mean, loved him. Anyway, I came to Europe on a stupid whim, and when Wendell found me, I was this drug-riddled, lost-in-translation college grad with absolutely no sense of purpose. I guess…I guess I just got too dependent on him. He made all the money, you know. But eventually I had to get out after he pushed me down the stairs. That was…last night."
Quietly, I roll my sleeves up to reveal the hideous splotches of yellow, green, blue, and black littering my otherwise tan skin. His eyes slip down to them, widening and softening with a pity that hurts me. God, how stupid I'd been. He looks back up at me, with eyes so strong it makes me feel like I'm built of origami, a broken fold.
I have to look away as I pull my sleeves back down.
"So I ran. Before I met Wendell I'd done a lot of ticket picking to get around—no one suspects some American Dairy Queen-type to be a thief, so I figured I'd pick my target and just head wherever the ticket took me. That was as far as my planning went. But, well, you know how well that worked out. Life's grand, isn't it?"
For what feels like years, he sits silent. He doesn't do much but lick his lips once. Finally, he speaks. "Why are your hands so filthy?"
My mouth falls open. I mean, I'd told him I didn't want any sympathy, but I didn't expect a total lack of reaction. Actually, I realize a beat later, I find it comforting, the lack of forced pity. That's what I think I like about Ian. He seems to live life wholly honest, which is much more than I can say for myself, or any guy I'd ever dated. Not that I'd think about dating Ian.
Dumbfounded, I hold out my hands to inspect them, even though I know what he's talking about. "I…I like to draw. It's charcoal."
A smile folds out of his mouth. "Are you any good?"
"I mean, I went to art school. Ideally I paint, but paint's are expensive. Nowadays it's only to fill my free time between jobs."
"I went to arts university as well, for furniture. I suppose we actually have something in common," he says, eyes glittering, almost winking. Oddly, I find my heartbeat has become a caged bird, flapping anxiously from wire wall to wire wall.
"Yeah," I say, surprised at how my voice has turned into a near-whisper. "I guess we do."
end part 1!
been a while, eh? i've had this idea floating around FOREVER and i had tried to incorporate it into a multichapter novel--but let's be realistic: i'll probably never finish a long story. this is a novella, probably one or two more chapters. there are some changes in my style and if you've got constructive feedback i'm more than happy to have it!
on the subject of Effie's abusive boyfriend--i was really on the fence about having a heroine with one of those cliche "woe-is-I" wahwah sobstories...but I felt Effie's otherwise strong character, and the fact that it actually happens, balanced it out. Truth is, a lot of kids without much sense of purpose flit off to other countries to go "backpacking" or "soul searching" and never come back because they get too sucked in. It happened to a family friend, and she sorta inspired Effie.
Please R&R! You know when you post you want reviews too.
Stay tuned for Pt 2 coming soon