How To Get From Point A To B
©2014 dear-llama. All Rights Reserved.
I wait until the last minute possible to board the train.
Once on board, I slip into my seat, glancing around as I do. I always reserve the same seat – seat number 65 in cabin 4, in the 'quiet zone'. Since it's barely 7 in the morning, the train is typically emptier than most Berlin-bound trains. I know, though, from experience, that it will steadily fill up over the course of the six-hour journey.
I stare out of the window at the large white-faced clock anchored to the centre of the metal rod running across the ceiling above platforms 9 and 10. On either sides of the clock hang the two digital signboards. The one on the right announces: "ICE 694: Mannheim – Frankfurt – Braunschweig – Berlin East Station". The board on the left is a blank blue save for the number of the platform – 9 – in the top left corner.
A muffled public announcement comes on outside. The train will be leaving in five minutes.
I glance out the window again, taking in the sight of the pyramid-topped recycling bin, the row of unused trolleys and the empty platform.
Maybe he's not coming today.
Just as that thought surfaces, so does a dark running figure out onto the platform. My face is almost pressed against the glass in an effort to see more clearly. The conductor shouts something, and the figure vanishes, boarding one of the carriages towards the end of the train.
My heart falls. Not him, then.
The train gives a protesting grunt and starts to move. I settle back in my seat, listening absently to the speakers buzz as the captain's voice comes on. "Good morning, ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board…"
Tuning out the familiar broadcast message, I dig in my bag for my earphones. This is going to be a long six hours.
I've just stuck in one ear-bud when the automatic doors connecting the carriages slide open, followed by a chorus of harried footsteps that disrupt the silence of the cabin. I look up in time to see him flop onto the seat opposite mine. His light brown hair is a total mess and, as he shrugs out of his coat, I notice he missed one of the buttons on his long-sleeved plaid shirt. He has a rumpled, just-rolled-out-of-bed look that looks so good on him I would believe he's done it on purpose, if I didn't already know this is exactly the way he looks on mornings when he's particularly late. He's taking deep, measured breaths, trying to get more oxygen into his lungs after his last-minute sprint on-board. I don't realise he's also stretching out his legs under the table until the tip of his shoe taps mine.
My eyes fly up to meet his and I see that he's grinning widely. "Hi."
He was in seat 67 the first time we met. It was on the same train – the ICE 964. I always took the 6:51 train back to Berlin. Unlike him, I've always been an early riser. That very first time, he ended up on the ICE 964 at 6:51 because his brother had pulled a prank on him when ordering the tickets and he hadn't wanted the hundred-forty-two euros to go to waste.
We were the only two people in the cabin at that time. I was unwrapping my Egg McMuffin when he slid into the seat beside mine and, with a groan, slumped onto the table and buried his head in his arms. I paused in the act of peeling away the yellow wrapper and looked at him. As if sensing my gaze, he angled his face toward me and opened one eye.
"I am going to kill him," were the first words he ever spoke to me.
I turned back to my McMuffin, ridiculously unworried about my own safety in the presence of a potential murderer. "I see," I said.
"I doubt you do," he replied, turning his face back into the burrow his arms had created. Then he half-lifted his head again, a lock of hair falling into the single eye he turned on me, "Is that an Egg McMuffin?"
"Yeah." I took a bite and tried to ignore the fact that a rather attractive boy - from what I could see from one side of his face, anyway - was watching me chew. I had read somewhere that if you took frame-by-frame photographs of someone eating, you'd see that the human face contorts into particularly ugly expressions while chewing.
"Damn," he muttered to himself. He watched me take a few more bites, then said in a hopeful voice, "You wouldn't happen to have another one, would you? I'll pay you back."
"Um, no." His face fell, and I felt bad. "I have fries though," I offered.
He perked up. "Fries?"
I pushed the paper bag emblazoned with the McDonalds logo towards him without a word.
He finally took his head out of his arms and I saw that, yes, he was as attractive as I had thought. It was a cute, boyish kind of attractiveness – he had the kind of open face and expressive green eyes that made you want to hug him and tell him all your secrets. His nose was straight and sharp, his jawline subtly defined, and he had long eyelashes that were wasted on a boy. His short hair was a light, brownish colour – not all that special – but he had achieved the sought-after slightly tousled, bedhead look that many guys tried to emulate. Judging from the yawn he was stifling, though, his hair looked to be the real deal.
His boyish good looks made him dangerous, I deduced, but oh-so-beautiful. I could've stared at him forever.
He was propping his head up with one hand while fishing out fries from the paper bag with the other. He stared pensively past me as he ate, his eyes not seeming to be focused on anything in particular.
Deciding that I'd done my part as a good Samaritan, I went back to my McMuffin. Naturally, he hardly managed a minute of silence before he spoke again.
"I woke up at four," he told me.
I gaped at him. "To do what?"
Popping a fry into his mouth, he shrugged. He chewed slowly, seeming to be deep in thought. After he'd swallowed, he said, "I don't know… Last-minute packing. And a shower to wake myself up."
I reflected that even though summer's only just ended, a shower at four in the morning still sounded crazy. "Did it work?"
"For about five minutes." He peered into the paper bag and pushed it towards me. "Here. I left you half."
"Thanks," I said, bemusedly, reaching for the bag. I had finished my McMuffin by then.
"No, thank you," he replied. He slouched back in his seat and threw an arm over his eyes with a sigh. "This is all my brother's fault."
It seemed rude not to respond, so I asked, "Why?"
"He knows I'm not a morning person, so he booked this train on purpose."
"Is he the one you're going to kill?"
He laughed. "Oh, yes. Definitely."
I set to work on the fries, munching quietly. For all his claims that he wasn't a morning person, he was the chattiest seat-partner I'd ever had.
"How are you so awake in the morning?" he asked suddenly.
I shrugged. "I don't know. I'm a morning person, I guess."
"I should hate you on principle," he said, but his smile took the sting out of his words. He had a really nice smile – the kind that looked like the sun was rising after a cold dark night. It brightened up his entire face and set his green eyes afire. "I'm more of a night owl."
"Uh-huh." I was so thrown off by the power of his smile, I wasn't even paying attention to what he was saying anymore.
"Do you always take early trains?"
He let out a low whistle and shook his head. "I don't know how you do it."
"I like early trains," I said.
"I could never wake up in time," he said. "I can barely wake up in time for my morning classes."
"I sometimes drink peppermint tea before class to make myself feel more awake," he said in a hushed tone, as if confiding a huge secret.
I didn't know what else to say. "Okay?"
"I hate peppermint tea," he muttered, his eyes drifting shut. He didn't say anything else, or even move, so I assumed he had fallen asleep. I watched him doze for a few seconds before realising how creepy I was acting and turned away.
He was cute and charming, and I was stuck next to him for the next six hours.
I was in deep trouble.
He slept past the next stop, where two people boarded the cabin. One was a woman who looked to be in her early thirties and the other was an older man who had a shock of white hair but still looked robust. Their seats were on either ends of the cabin, away from the two of us. I couldn't make up my mind if I was pleased that nobody had occupied the seats opposite us yet.
Halfway to Frankfurt, a particularly sharp jerk of the train caused his head to slide sideways off the back of his seat and land against my shoulder. Startled, I tried to nudge him away, but he didn't budge. I observed his face – his lips were slightly parted in deep sleep. With a sigh, I resigned myself to being his human pillow for the time being.
When the train stopped at Frankfurt's main station, there was a flurry of activity as the elderly man got off and a group of others got on. In the midst of all the noise, the boy beside me jerked awake.
"Oh, shit," he said, rubbing at his face quickly to wake himself up, "did I fall asleep on you?"
"Sort of," I said.
"I'm sorry." He turned bleary green eyes on me, blinking several times in rapid succession before giving his head a quick shake, as if to clear it. "I didn't mean to."
"It's fine," I said, eyeing one of the passengers who was hovering nearby in search of his seat. When he sat down in the row directly behind us, I stifled a sigh.
"I hope my head wasn't too heavy," he said with a sheepish grin.
"No problem," I said, "I have strong shoulders." Then I grimaced. Because that was what every boy wanted to hear – that a girl had strong, manly shoulders.
But he laughed. "That's good." He studied me for a bit, then said cheekily, "Maybe I should continue to sleep on you then."
Not sure if he was joking, I let out a startled laugh.
His smile got wider. "I made you laugh."
"Um... Yeah, you did." I shrugged, wondering what the big deal was.
"That's the first time I've seen you smile or laugh."
I shot him a disbelieving look. "We just met an hour ago."
He grinned, saying angelically, "Haven't you heard, 'laughter is the best medicine'? You should laugh more than once a half hour."
I couldn't help smiling at this. He was ridiculous. I had no idea how to deal with someone like him.
"Aha!" he exclaimed, pointing at me. "I made you smile again."
"I don't think you're supposed to talk this loudly in the quiet zone," I whispered. People had turned around to stare at him.
He laughed. "I'm sorry," he said to the other passengers who hadn't yet turned back to their own business. "I'll speak softly from now on."
Some of them gave him indulgent smiles. An older lady exclaimed, "Don't worry about it, boy. You young lovers enjoy yourselves."
I choked on the breath of air I had just inhaled. I turned to him and saw that his face had turned pink, with the tips of his ears the reddest of all. He smiled a little embarrassed smile when he saw me looking at him. "She thinks we're together," he whispered, as if translating the old lady's statement for me.
"I don't know why," I responded.
"I hope you don't think I'm a flirt," he said, turning to look straight ahead, so that I could only see his profile. The tips of his ears were still red. "I don't usually do this."
"Talk this much with strangers on train rides," he divulged. He cast me a sideways glance paired with a small smile.
I stared at him in astonishment. He had seemed so natural striking up a conversation that I'd thought he did it all the time. "Oh," was all I said.
"So," he said after a pause, as if the previous part of the conversation had never happened, "what are you going to Berlin for?"
"I live there."
His face fell. He had such an expressive face that it was impossible to mistake the disappointment that washed across his face. Then he struggled to school his features into a more neutral expression. "You're not from there," he stated with the utmost confidence.
"I'm not," I agreed, knowing that my accent gave me away. I spoke with a local accent identical to his. "I go to school there."
"Oh?" I had peaked his interest. "Which one?"
"Wow." He was suitably impressed. "I go to Uni Stuttgart," he said with a chuckle. "Typical, I know. What's your major?"
"Philosophy," I said, a little embarrassed. "You?"
"Wow, philosophy," he parroted, "that's really cool. So you can tell me all about people like Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, then?"
"Well... Yeah, I guess."
"Cool." He sat back in his seat, regarding me with shining eyes. "Tell me about Nietzsche's eternal recurrence theory."
I stared at him. "It sounds like you already know it."
He chuckled, "Okay, you caught me. I read Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being."
"Einmal ist keinmal," I quoted, smiling at him.
The phrase is a German adage that translates to 'once is never'. It was also a recurring theme throughout the book, which was in opposition to Nietzsche's theory of eternal recurrence. Unlike Nietzsche, who hypothesised that a single event had far-reaching consequences because it would be repeated over and over throughout time and space, Kundera's theory was that the single event was insignificant, since it had only happened once.
The protagonist, Tomas, had stated in the novel that, 'if we have only one life to live, we might as well have not lived at all'. If something only happens once, it might as well not have happened at all. Thus the idea, 'once is never'.
"Exactly," he said. "So do you agree more with Kundera or with Nietzsche?"
I had never before met anybody outside of the faculty who wanted to discuss philosophy with me. Even my own father's eyes tended to glaze over when I brought up the topic. I looked at him in surprise, but his question seemed sincere.
He wasn't asking because he had nothing else to say – he really was interested in my answer.
That realisation brought forth a surge of warmth bubbling in my chest.
I thought about his question, pursing my lips as I did so. "Probably more with Nietzsche, even though I don't believe the universe is so rigid in repetition as he seems to think. But I like to think every single thing that happens has its own meaning."
"Great answer," he said, smirking. "Am I being too much of a brown-noser if I say I agree with you totally?"
I laughed. "Do you really?"
He considered my question seriously. "Yeah, I think I do. It's a more optimistic view of life compared to those two."
"Philosophy can be quite depressing," I agreed.
His forehead was still creased in thought. "So if we only ever meet this once on this train," he said musingly, "according to Kundera, it would be as if we'd never met at all."
That wasn't really what Kundera had meant, but it didn't matter.
"I guess we're going to have to meet more, then," I said jokingly.
He was looking at me with a soft, odd smile. "Yeah. I guess we do."
I broke eye contact, a little embarrassed from his steady gaze.
"Oh, yeah," he said, as if it had just occurred to him to respond to a question even I had forgotten about asking, "I'm in Engineering." He made a face, "Boring, I know."
I objected to that, "An Engineering student who reads philosophy in his free time? Not boring at all."
He chuckled. "Are you saying Engineering students who don't read philosophy in their free time are boring then?"
"I didn't mean that," I said indignantly.
The conductor came over to check our tickets then, putting our conversation on hold for a bit. After she had left, he turned back to me.
"So… You're from around here, aren't you?"
"Yeah. Born and bred in Stuttgart."
"I knew it," he said smugly.
"It's the accent, isn't it?"
"Yeah." He laughed. "Don't worry. It's not a bad thing."
"It sets me apart from the Berlin natives," I lamented.
He raised his eyebrows. "I bet half the people living in Berlin right now aren't even from there."
I giggled at this. "That's probably true."
"Do you come back to Stuttgart often or is this a once-in-a-blue-moon type of thing?"
"I go back every week," I replied, then rushed on a little defensively, "I know it's strange to go home every weekend when you're away at university in another city."
He had perked up at this information. "I'm sure you have your reasons," he said, which was very nice of him. My university friends usually just assumed that I couldn't cut the umbilical cord. "So you're in Stuttgart every week?"
"More or less," I said.
"Let me guess," he grinned, "you take the early morning train back to Berlin every week."
I laughed a little. "Yeah, I do."
"Isn't your boyfriend unhappy that he doesn't get to spend weekends with you?" he asked casually then.
"I don't have a boyfriend." I wondered if there was any way I could ask him the same question without seeming overly interested.
"Ah," he said, his eyes dancing. He looked oddly pleased about something. Then he took the dilemma out of my hands by volunteering, "I don't have a girlfriend, either."
"Okay." But I was glad.
He was the one asking all the questions. I wasn't usually such an abrupt person. I could carry on a conversation as well as the next girl, but there was something about this boy that tied my tongue up into knots. It wasn't his fault – he intimidated me simply because I was so attracted to him. If he hadn't been such a chatty person, I believe that six-hour train journey would've consisted of me huddled in my seat in silence, all the while sneaking side-glances at him.
But his friendliness and determination to coax even one word out of me kept the conversation flowing for the next six hours. When the dining cart came around, he bought a packet of overpriced chips to repay me for the fries.
We ended up splitting the chips because he got hungry watching me eat.
By the end of the train ride, I had learnt more about him in six hours than I had about any other person in six months. He was both a dog and cat person – "Although I admit being slightly more partial to dogs," he'd said – loved Swabian, Japanese and Turkish cuisine, listened to classic rock music, liked to ski but couldn't for the life of him figure out how to ice-skate, and it was his first time visiting his brother Florian in Berlin.
Six hours after he had sat down beside me and declared his murderous intent towards his brother, we stood on the platform in Berlin's main station looking at each other, not quite strangers but not yet friends.
"So…" He blew out a breath. "I enjoyed that train ride."
"Me too," I admitted.
"I–" he started to say something else, but loud music suddenly started shrilling from his pants pocket, cutting his words off. I didn't recognise the tune, but it sounded like heavy metal. An odd look came across his face as he reached into his pocket. "The bastard," he muttered. "He changed my ringtone again."
His chagrin made me laugh. "Your brother again?"
"Yeah," he held the phone gingerly in his hand as if it were a dead fish, "it's one of his band's original songs."
"It's… interesting, that's for sure."
He was looking at his iPhone, the screen flashing with the name 'Florian'.
I took a few steps away, wheeling my suitcase along with me. "It's fine, take it," I said, waving my hand awkwardly in farewell. "I'm leaving anyway. Bye."
"Wait–" he started to say, but I was already walking away.
When I next looked back, he was on the phone, speaking with a slight frown on his face.
I took one last look at the cutest, most charming boy I had ever met and turned to leave, lamenting that I would likely never see him again.
Einmal ist keinmal.
It would be like we had never even met.
"Hi." His smile is so contagious, I can't help but grin back at him. It helps that my spirits have lifted at his mere presence.
"I overslept," he says, running a self-conscious hand through his hair. Contrary to his intentions, all this does is make his hair stand up even more. "I thought I was gonna miss the train… Ran all the way here."
"I'm glad you made it." The understatement of the year. Then I lean forward, over the table in-between us, and tug his hands away. "Stop. You're messing it up even more."
He props his chin up with one hand, watching me as I straighten his hair for him. His gaze is freaking me out a little and I'm pretty sure my face is red. My fingers start shaking after a while and I sit back and clench my hands in my lap.
"There," I whisper.
He's smiling softly at me, his eyes now more of a warm green than their usual light, mischievous shade. The more he stares, the more my heart titters. I try to hold my breath for a couple seconds so that I don't look like I'm breathing too quickly.
"You missed a button there," I say, just to get his attention off me. I point to the general area with a trembling finger.
He looks down at himself. It takes him a moment before he spots it. Chuckling, he reaches down and twists the button into its hole. "Sorry. I was in a rush. I didn't even have time to pack."
I've noticed. "Do you have everything you need?" I ask, concerned.
He glances at the only luggage he has – a black duffel bag so flat that I'd be surprised if he even has change of clothes in it – and laughs sheepishly. "Eh. I'll survive."
"Einmal ist keinmal, right?" said a voice from somewhere above me. I looked up in surprise and saw the boy from seat 67 standing in the aisle. He was grinning. "This is our second time meeting on the same train, so now we've officially met for real."
In theory it didn't go like that, but I laughed. "Hi again. Why are you on the 6:51 train? You hate mornings."
"You know what?" He slipped into the seat beside mine, shrugging off his backpack to drop it at his feet, "I only realised I forgot to get your name or anything else after you left the last time."
"So you decided to take the 6:51 train to Berlin a week later, just to meet me again?" I was joking, but he reddened. "Oh, my God," I said, "that isn't true, is it?"
"Well, my brother lives in Berlin, anyway," he said, the non-answer giving me my answer.
I stared at the boy who had spent another hundred and forty-two euros just to meet me again. He was rubbing at the nape of his neck, studiously not looking at me.
My heart melted.
"My name is Juli," I said, changing the subject to dispel his embarrassment. "And before you ask, no, it's not short for anything."
He paused, turning that over in his mind, then grinned at me. "Your name is July? Let me guess, your birthday's in July."
"No," I said drolly. This was the reaction I always got upon introducing myself. "It's in December."
He burst out laughing. "Oh, that's novel."
I shrugged, but I was smiling a little, too. "My mother wanted to confuse people."
"She must be one funny lady."
I felt the smile on my lips fade. "Yeah. She was."
He didn't say anything for a while. When he next spoke, it was in his usual easy, casual way. "Well, I'm going to call you December."
I stared at him, bemused.
"What?" he asked, obviously amused, "nobody's come up with that one before?"
"It's longer than my real name," I pointed out. "It's impractical."
"So I'm impractical," he said unrepentantly. He stuck out his hand. "Hello, my name is Micah."
I shook his hand, feeling my heart-rate speed up at his touch. He continued holding my hand in his long after the socially acceptable length of time for a handshake. We were frozen, staring into each other's eyes, for a long moment. Then I turned away and he let go, and the moment was broken.
"So," he said, settling back into his seat with a grin, "we have six hours to kill. What should we talk about?"
"You're not in 67 this time?" I ask now. His usual seat is beside mine, not opposite.
He looks abashed. "Actually, I'm not in any seat… I didn't get a reservation."
"I meant to," he hurries to say, as if afraid I will take it to mean that he's getting tired of our six-hour train rides together. "But I bought my ticket too late and all the seats nearby were already taken."
"We could find some other seats, the unreserved ones." But even as I say it, I know most of the seats on the train will have been reserved. The high-speed trains to Berlin are usually packed, especially since semester break ends this week.
"No, it's fine," he shakes his head. "Most of the seats are already taken. You reserved this seat - you should sit in it. I'll just stay till…" He pokes his head out a little and looks up at the small display above the seat number plate. "...Frankfurt. Crap, we have an hour."
I follow his lead and take a look at the reservation data for seat 67 and 68. The little screens above both say 'Mannheim'. That's a stop before Frankfurt.
"Well, heck," he says, laughing with a kind of resignation, "we'd better make the most of this hour, then."
This is probably the cue to start chattering away, but we both just sit and look at each other. It's been two weeks since I've last seen him, and four weeks since we've taken the train together. The mere sight of him now has my heart brimming full with emotion.
Ironically, though, I can't think of a single thing to say.
Soon enough, the train stops at Mannheim and the two seats next to us are taken up by a middle-aged couple. They are too engrossed in their own conversation to pay any attention to us.
He's the one who speaks again first. "It's been so long since I've last seen you," he says softly.
I can't take my eyes off him. "Yeah… It's been a while."
"How have you been?" With him, this question never sounds like a casual social greeting. He's looking fixedly at me, like he really wants to know.
"Fine," I say. "I've been working on my thesis over semester break, so I haven't done much else. How have you been?"
He sighs, leaning against the table tiredly. He's clenching his fist, the stress manifesting itself in his white knuckles. "Busy. I feel like I haven't slept in weeks."
I reach out and touch the knuckles of his hand lightly. He flips his hand, palm-up, and lightly grasps my fingers. His fingers are warm, so warm that I feel my whole body heating up from that point of connection alone. "Don't overwork yourself," I say softly.
He smiles at me wordlessly.
We sit there for a long moment, almost holding hands and staring at each other silently.
He finally clears his throat and looks away, even though he doesn't remove his hand. He is still holding onto my fingers, just a little bit. "How's your dad doing?"
I smile. "He's doing really well."
"That's great," he smiles back, genuinely happy at the news. Over the past few months, he's become well-acquainted with every detail of my father's progress.
"What about your brother?" I ask. "Still playing gigs with his band every Sunday night?"
He lets out a laugh. "Florian? No. His band broke up a while ago."
"Oh. That's a pity." I don't ask him why he still takes the train to Berlin almost every week., if it's not to see his brother play.
After six months, I think I have an inkling. Even though we've never spoken about it, we both know that there is something between us. I am pretty sure I'm already halfway in love with him. But with him living in Stuttgart, and me living in Berlin… I don't have the guts to say anything. That will change everything, when I just want things to remain as they are.
Maybe for the same reasons, neither has he.
"It's good to finally see you again," I say, the only allusion to my feelings that I feel safe saying.
"I'm sorry it's been so long." He's looking down at the table, and I sense that he feels bad about it.
"It's not a big deal," I reply, even though I had been disappointed not to have seen him as much as I thought I would when I'd come back for the semester holidays. "I know you're busy."
He makes a face. "It's the damned thesis."
I laugh a little at his frustration. "I know. It's such a pain. Mine's just about killing me."
"I've been working on mine day and night," he says, "so that I can graduate early."
My heart skips a beat. We've never discussed concrete future plans. I've always known our situation couldn't last forever, but I never thought the issue would come up so soon.
I know that once he graduates, these weekly train rides will have to stop. The only time we'll get to see each other during term time will be on Saturdays, the only day that both of us are in Stuttgart. The only other realistic solution would be for this ambiguous relationship to end entirely.
I am too afraid to face reality.
"That's great," I say, in a cheery tone. "Have you got a job lined up yet?"
"No." He is watching me, his gaze contemplative.
"The Engineering sector in Stuttgart seems to be doing well," I babble on, "I'm sure you'll have no problem getting one."
"You know," he says, looking at me with such a serious air that I instinctively know what he's about to say is very, very important. "I've been thinking…"
Just then, the train slides to a stop and the recorded announcement blares, "Frankfurt main station. Exit on the left."
There aren't that many people getting off, but there's a swarm of people boarding the train at Frankfurt. Within moments of the train stopping, the aisle is already full of passengers and their luggage.
Sighing, Micah lets his sentence trail off unfinished. "I'll see you later," he says instead. He removes his hand from beneath mine. I feel cold all of a sudden as my fingers come into contact with the cool surface of the table. "Wait for me by the door when we reach Berlin?"
I don't get the chance to reply, because he's already getting up. A blonde girl around our age is standing by our seats, double-checking the seat number against the ticket in her hand. She looks at Micah. "Um…"
"Number 66, right? Sorry, I'll be gone in a second." The middle-aged lady in 68 gets up to let him pass. There is a bit of a congestion in the aisle, which makes the manoeuvre a little hard.
"I'm sorry," the girl says, with a friendly but embarrassed smile, "I reserved this seat, so..."
Micah smiles back at her even as he moves out of the row of seats. "No problem, it's fine." He makes it out onto the aisle and gestures to the seat he was just in, "Here."
"Thanks." She takes the seat he has just vacated.
"Bye," he says to me with a small smile. I turn to watch him walk down the aisle. The cabin doors slide open for him and he vanishes out into the area where the train exits are located.
"Are you with him?" The girl opposite asks me curiously.
I glance quickly down the aisle again. He is nowhere to be seen. "Yeah," I say softly. "I am."
Then I stand up to get out of my seat. "Excuse me." The man in seat 67 gets up to let me pass.
In the aisle, I'm a little too short to reach the luggage racks above, so I have to stand on my tiptoes to get my luggage. An older man, probably in his fifties or so, standing nearby reaches up and gets my suitcase for me. "Thanks," I say.
"No problem," he says, beginning to turn away.
"You can have my seat if you want." I gesture to my seat. "It's reserved all the way to Berlin's main station, but I don't need it anymore."
The stranger's eyebrows fly up, but he smiles at me. "Thank you."
Pulling my suitcase behind me, I make my way to the automatic doors. Outside the cabin, the rattling noise of the train magnifies. In the small space that connects the third and fourth cabins, I see Micah sitting on the ground by the train doors.
His long legs are stretched halfway out in front of him with his knees facing upwards and his forearms resting on his knees. His fingers are loosely clasped where his hands meet in the middle and he's staring at the grey train doors broodingly.
I stop in front of him, pushing my suitcase over with a thud.
He looks up in surprise.
"My dad has finally decided to get help," I told him on the third train ride we took together. It had become something of a habit for the both of us to meet every Sunday morning on the 6:51 train to Berlin. I never asked him why he went to Berlin so often, not after that last time, and he had never asked me why I was always on this train every week.
He looked at me in alarm, but didn't say anything. He was waiting, for once, for me to continue the conversation.
"He's…" I ran through the words in my mind before settling on, "clinically depressed. My mother died a while back and he's been dealing badly with it."
"I'm sorry," he said softly. "He must've really loved her."
"It's not just that," I admitted. "He was in the same car crash that killed her… I think he feels responsible."
"Survivor's guilt," he offered.
"Exactly." I looked down at the smooth surface of the wooden table.
"Is that why you come back to Stuttgart every week?"
"Yeah. I worry about him, alone in that house full of memories."
He was silent for a while. "So… He's decided to see a therapist?"
I nodded. "I went with him for the first session yesterday."
"How was it?" He sounded curious. "Do shrinks really answer questions with questions like everyone says?"
I laughed a little. "Mostly, yeah." I changed my voice to mimic the voice of my father's therapist, "'So how do you feel about it?'"
He laughed too. "So the movies aren't lying about that."
"Yeah." Then I sobered. "I hope it helps, though."
"I'm sure it will." He suddenly slung his arm around me, pulling me close in a gesture of comfort.
I hoped he didn't feel me shaking slightly. The dizzying warmth of his touch was making me nervous. I sat there stiffly until he retracted his arm with a wry smile.
"So… What's your family like?" I asked, because he was staring a little moodily out of the window.
"Oh," he said, smiling faintly. "They're pretty normal, I guess. My parents are pretty much still happily married and my older brother lives in Berlin."
"Cool. That's your brother Florian, right? In the heavy metal band?"
He laughed, his good mood apparently back. He didn't seem like one to sulk for long. "They're pretty good, actually. They play gigs at a local bar every Sunday night."
"Maybe I'll go check them out next week," I said.
"Not today?" he asked, rather hopefully.
I shook my head. "I have some work to finish tonight."
"Next week, then." He grinned at me, the previous awkwardness forgotten.
The rest of the journey continued in much of the same vein as the previous two we had taken together. At Berlin's main station, we stood at the platform once again, in almost a re-enactment of that very first time. This time, he was holding his phone in his hand, even though it didn't ring again.
"Would you call us friends?" he asked.
I looked at him. His green eyes were trained on my face seriously. The answer was important to him. I thought about the conversations we'd had – all on this same train, all eighteen hours of them. I realised, right then, that although I had only met him three weeks ago, he already knew more about me and my life than anybody else in the world.
"Definitely," I said. "We're friends."
A dazzling smile spread across his face. "Great." Then he held his iPhone out towards me, "Friends ought to have each other's numbers, don't they?"
I laughed. He had been building up to this? I took the phone from him and typed in my contact details. "You could've just asked, you know. You didn't need to beat around the bush."
"Nah," he said, "I wanted to know what you thought about us."
My face heated up and I lowered my head so that my hair would cover most of my face as I concentrated on creating a contact file in his phone. I was sure I was blushing.
When I was done, he pocketed his phone and smiled at me. "I'll call you. Maybe we could have dinner, or something, the next time you're back."
"All right," I said, even if I wondered that meant the end of our train rides together. It made sense – after all, he had never been a morning person from the start. Besides, it wasn't like he had to go to Berlin every week. Taking the train at 6:51 every Sunday morning simply didn't make sense for him.
"Oh, and," he turned around to flash me an impish grin, "see you on the ICE 964 next week."
I sit down on the floor next to him, wincing as the rocking of the train jars me more than a little.
"You really shouldn't have," he says, even though something warm has come into his eyes. He's smiling at me like I've done something extraordinary. He springs up and pushes my suitcase to lie horizontally against the wall. "Sit on it," he tells me. "It won't be as uncomfortable."
I do so, and realise that he's right. When he starts to settle onto his spot on the floor again, I grab his arm and pull. He turns an inquiring look on me. "There's space for the both of us," I say simply, scooting over on the suitcase.
"It's okay, I'm used to it," he says.
I raise my eyebrows, waiting.
"I'm going to flatten all your clothes," he warns.
In reply, I just tug on his arm again until he obliges. My suitcase isn't that big. Now we're sitting really close, the sides of our bodies touching. His thigh is pressed against mine. I can almost hear the thudding of my own heartbeat above the deafening clang of the train.
We sit in companionable silence for a while.
"How many train rides has it been?" he asks suddenly, laughing softly, looking down at his hands. They are clasped together lightly. The rocking of the train makes it hard to determine if the shaking of his hands is from more than just the train's constant motion.
"I don't know, six months' worth?" I estimate.
"So, twenty-four?" He sighs a little, shifting so that his jean-clad thigh brushes against mine. "You know, I…" He pauses, then starts again. "You know, I live in Stuttgart; you live in Berlin. You're in Stuttgart two nights a week… and I'm in Berlin for… probably less than a day."
I feel a frisson of fear dart through me. I do a little mental calculation and realise he has probably spent around four thousand euros travelling to Berlin alone over the past ten months. Factor in the return trips, and the amount is mind-boggling. Is he trying to tell me he's sick of spending so much money on journeys he doesn't even really need to take?
"We meet up on Saturdays too, when I'm back home," I point out anxiously, wanting to stop where this is going. It's going to be lonely if he stops taking the trains with me, but it doesn't matter.
I don't care if I only ever get to see him an hour a week. All I need is for him to stay in my life.
He doesn't acknowledge my statement. "I'm graduating soon," he continues, still looking at his hands.
"So am I," I inject. I run through the progress of my thesis in my mind. Four – no, three – more months to graduation.
Please, just wait three more months.
"I need to start thinking about my career… about more… practical things." He stops, and I notice that his hands have tightened around each other.
My heart sinks like a stone in my chest. This talk of practicality, coming from the boy who once admitted that he is by all accounts an impractical person.
"So…" He takes a deep breath and I know this is it.
"I'm moving back to Stuttgart!" I exclaim, just as he says, "I'll get a job in Berlin."
There is a long beat of silence in which we both process what the other said. I laugh aloud from sheer relief. He joins in after a moment.
When our laughter dies down, he whispers, "Hey, Juli."
Surprised, because he never calls me by my actual name, I turn to look at him.
He leans in and I move forward to meet him. Then the train rocks sideways and we end up bumping noses, hard.
"Ouch," I rear back, holding my nose. I look back at him and see that he's doing the same. As our eyes meet, we both burst out laughing again.
"Well, that was unromantic," he says, but he's grinning.
Then he quiets down and regards me with steady green eyes. "I was going to wait until we were both living in the same city, but…" He takes a deep breath, "Will you be my girlfriend? I know it isn't going to be easy for now, living so far apart, but I–"
"Yes," I interrupt, cutting short his speech as I pitch myself forward and hug him tightly. He's so cute when he rambles on in this way. "I thought you'd never ask."
He pulls away to look into my face bemusedly. "How long have you been waiting?"
"I don't know," I say, shrugging self-consciously. I can hardly tell him I have been waiting since that very first meeting. "A long time."
"I wanted to ask you out the first time we met," he says, with a nervous laugh. "But that would've scared you off for sure. You were so uninterested back then."
I stare at him in disbelief. Does he really not realise his own charm? "I was just shy. You were so good-looking and charming that I didn't know what to say."
He looks at me, mirth dawning in his eyes like rays from a rising sun. "Really?" he asks hopefully. "You think I'm good-looking and charming?"
I shove at him playfully, tucking my head down to hide my embarrassment. "Shut up."
"You're so damned cute," he mutters, anchoring a hand around my waist and pulling me flush against his side. "Hey, were you serious about moving back to Stuttgart?"
"Yeah," I reply. It wasn't something I'd blurted out in a moment of panic. "I've been thinking about it for a while now."
"But…" He frowns, then gesticulates wildly. "Why? It's Berlin!"
"My friends and family are all here," I point out. Then I look up at him through my eyelashes, "And my boyfriend too."
He grins at the label. I'm discovering I really like it, too. Micah is my boyfriend.
That thought makes me feel all warm and happy inside.
"I'm glad I'm more important to you than living in the exciting capital city," he says, "but are you sure? Because I wasn't just saying it when I said I can get a job in Berlin."
I know what he is asking without words. He doesn't want me to regret moving back because of him. But it is precisely because I understand how he feels, that I know I can't let him move to a foreign city, away from everything he knows, just for me. Besides, I really do want to move back. Living in Berlin has been an adventure, but there's just something about your hometown that will always pull you back.
"If you like Berlin so much, why don't you move there without me then?" I taunt.
He laughs and presses his cheek against mine. "That kinda defeats the purpose, doesn't it?" he says.
I turn my face towards him so that we are facing each other, lips almost touching but not quite. His eyes are lit with a warm, molten green that speaks of trepidation, hope and dreams come true all at once.
"Wanna try that again?" he whispers.
I don't say anything – just look at him with what feels like my heart in my eyes.
And that is when he finally kisses me.
A/N: Hurray for cute boys you meet on the train! The title was inspired by Spark The Rescue's song, 'Autumn'. Funny story, the day after I started writing this (5th April), I met a boy on the train who's a dead ringer for how I imagined Micah to look. Cue a series of unfortunate misunderstandings, and he ended up thinking I was stalking him. But I swear I wasn't. 5 years after Blue Eyes, I am way too old for this stalking business.
Review, please? :)