Strangers on a Train Platform: Part 1

Ummm.. this is just a porn-free short fic in two longish parts which was inspired by a conversation I overheard. It wasn’t on a train platform, but it was between two strangers and it made me smile all day long.

Rating: A (for language only).

For a bit of background info, here are some images of Brive-la-Gaillarde and Sarlat. I heartily recommend both towns to you.

* * * * *

Strangers on a Train Platform, part I

“Ma’am, are you by any chance American?”

Spencer Carlin removed her in-ear headphones and smiled up quizzically at a young man who couldn’t be more than twenty. His shaggy blond hair, two-day growth of beard scruff and huge backpack alerted her to the fact that he was probably a student on the modern equivalent of the grand European tour on which fashionable early twentieth century families sent their scions. His faded, well-worn baseball cap, pulled down tight, proclaimed his allegiance to Paris Saint-Germain, one of the great titans of French sport.

Oh, pardon,” she replied in French. “Répétez-vous, s’il vous plaît.”

The young man pointed to the copy of Time she was reading. “Sorry, I thought you might be American. Uh, excusez-moi,” he added, before turning away.

“Hey,” she called after him, setting her magazine and her headphones on top of her own much smaller backpack and standing up. “Hey!”

The boy turned around. “Oh, you do speak English!” he exclaimed. “Well, thank the Lord for every small mercy!” He arched backwards and looked heaven-wards, making a pointing gesture to whatever deity he believed in. Straightening up, he hoisted his heavy luggage from his shoulders and dropped it to the ground in front of the bench Spencer had been sitting on.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear your question the first time and your cap threw me,” Spencer explained. “My name’s Spencer Carlin and I am most definitely American,” she confirmed. “You?”

The boy removed his baseball cap with one hand and extended his other in greeting. “Huey Harwood, ma’am, from Virginia.” He looked down at the cap he was holding. “This, I won from a guy in Barcelona in a particularly low-stakes game of Hold ‘Em. I don’t think he was even French. I’m pretty sure he was Portuguese.”

Spencer sat back down next to her things on the bench and motioned for the young man to join her. “So, how can a fellow American help you out today?”

The boy sighed sheepishly and twisted the ball cap in his hands. “Well, um, I managed to get separated from my friend last night and she’s the one who speaks the French.” He laughed then, a deep, rich sound that sounded like it belonged to a much older man than this boy. “Okay, ‘speaks French’ is a bit of a stretch, but she speaks a lot more than the eight words I know for ‘please’, ‘thank-you’ and ‘beer’.”

Spencer snorted. Given his age, she was willing to bet that beer was at least partially responsible for the friends becoming separated.

“Anyway,” he continued, “we’re supposed to be getting a train today so I was kind of hoping she’d be here already.” The boy slumped back, spreading himself out and throwing his arms out across the back of the bench. “I tried to ask the ticket guy but he was no help. I mean, he was trying, but his English was as bad as my French. And I’ve looked everywhere in and around the station for the last couple of hours, but there’s no sign. Then I noticed your magazine and I figured that at least you spoke English and I -” He ran out of steam and lifted his hands to cover his face. Spencer felt for him. He looked exhausted and she could only imagine what it must be like to have lost someone in a strange country when you didn’t speak the language.

“What does she look like?”

“Um, my age, about 5’8″, dark hair, green eyes. Real pretty. Not real skinny, but definitely not fat. I mean, she thinks she’s too fat sometimes, but she’s wrong. Oh, and she’ll have on a dark brown leather jacket with ‘Norton’ stitched into the back of it. It was her grandpa’s and she always wears it, even if it’s like ninety out.” He smirked to himself.

“Well, I was here when the last train left and that’s a little under an hour ago. I haven’t seen anyone at all like that. In fact, it’s been pretty quiet all around.” The only other two people on the platform with them were a couple of teens. The boy was trying to get the girl to kiss him, but she kept twisting away from him and slapping his hands as he tried to grab her. “Are you taking the train to Paris?” The young man nodded. She looked up at the station clock. It was nearly 2pm. “Well, the connecting train’s not due for another ninety minutes. There’s plenty time for her to show up.” Spencer smiled in what she hoped was a reassuring manner. “Why don’t you just sit here and wait? That way, when she gets here, she’ll find you. If you’re away looking for her when she arrives, she might think you’re the one that’s lost and then she’ll panic, too.” The boy nodded his agreement. Wanting to calm his nerves by getting him talking, she asked, “So, how did you lose your friend anyway?”

The boy scrunched his nose up and shook his head. “We were in a bar last night and then we met these people who invited us to a party and, um, well, I might have ducked out for a while to have a private word with this girl that I’d met and, by the time I got back, Mikey must have headed back to the hotel. Only, well, it was, like, 5am by then and I didn’t actually know where the hotel was, exactly. I mean, we were in this weird-ass little town with a whole bunch of narrow streets and I kept going up and down these really steep alleyways and always ending up in the town square. By the time I eventually found it, the manager guy told me that Mikey had fu-” He checked himself. “Mikey had taken her stuff and left.”

“Mikey?” It was a strange name for a girl.

“Michaela.”

“Ahhh.” Spencer nodded. “So, I take it you were in Sarlat?” The description he had given matched perfectly with the little medieval village on the hill which was one of the biggest tourist attractions in the area, especially since Dan Brown had popularised the Knights Templar; there was a museum dedicated to them just off the town square Huey had mentioned.

“Beautiful place, but confusing.”

“Especially at 5am, when you’ve had an eventful night, I bet.”

“Yeah.” He sighed sheepishly again and lifted his feet until they were propped on top of his backpack, crossed at the ankles. He looked like he could happily go back to sleep in that position within moments.

They lapsed into a companionable silence, but Spencer’s curiosity was piqued. “Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure.”

“You came with a girlfriend, but you picked up a girl?”

“Ahhh, no, we’re not like that, me and Mikey. She’s totally my best bud. We’ve been best friends since elementary school. But, no, not like that. Never like that. She’s my wing man, always helping me out with girls and stuff.”

Spencer suspected there was probably more to the story, but didn’t push it. “So, your friend’s probably having a great lunch by herself just now,” she reasoned. “How about you? You eaten?”

Huey shook his head. “I was so busy hightailing it here, I haven’t had time to eat at all today.”

“Well, I was just about to get myself something so why don’t you wait here and look after our bags and I’ll get us a couple of coffees and a bite to eat?”

Huey pushed himself into a sitting position and shook his head. “Ma’am, I totally couldn’t allow you to do that. You’ve been so kind, listening to my tale of woe. I couldn’t take -”

“Cappuccino or regular coffee?” Spencer interrupted, standing up and fishing a twenty-euro note out of her jeans pocket and snapping it between her fingers. “You know, when I was almost exactly your age, someone bought me a coffee in this very station when I had no money of my own. Think of it as me repaying the universe for that favour. You’re just the random pawn of fate here.” She gave him an encouraging grin. “So, is it a cappuccino or an Americano?”

The young man shrugged and returned her grin. “Make that a double espresso and I might even propose, ma’am.”

Spencer laughed. “Oh, I think you’ve got yourself into enough female trouble for one day without proposing to older women who’ve just offered you breakfast.” As she started to walk away, she turned and added, “Oh, and Huey? If we are going to get married, you need to stop calling me ‘ma’am’ and start calling me Spencer.” He grinned and tipped his cap at her in a jaunty salute.

She returned five minutes later, carrying two double espressos and a brown bag which contained two croissants and two pains au chocolat. Under her arm, she had two bottles of water. Handing over one of the coffees and one of the bottles, she fished into her pocket and pulled out a selection of sugars and sweeteners and dropped them into Huey’s lap.

“I forgot to ask what you take. I’m assuming no milk?”

“Right now, black is all good.” He twisted open the sports cap on the water bottle and downed a considerable proportion of its contents.

“Hangover, huh?” Spencer chuckled. She sat back down and opened the paper bag, helping herself to a pain au chocolat and offering the open bag to Huey.

He pulled out a croissant. “Like the Seven Dwarfs are going ‘hi-ho’ inside my skull.” He took a sip of his coffee and a large bite of the pastry. “Honestly, thank you for this. This might be the best lunch I’ve ever had.”

Spencer laughed. “Because it’s free?”

“Because it was unexpected.” He grinned slyly. “You have a beautiful laugh, Spencer.”

“Hey, what did I warn you about not looking for any more women trouble?”

“Oh, yeah. Sorry.” He didn’t sound remotely sorry. Looking at him, Spencer could see that he probably did at least okay with women. He had an earnest charm, just the right side of cocky and he wasn’t so good-looking that young women would think him unattainable. No, he was probably as successful on that score as he bothered to be.

“Have more respect for your elders,” she joked.

“Oh, come on, you can’t be more than a couple of years older than me. What are you? Twenty, twenty-one?”

“Smooth,” she muttered. “Twenty-four.”

“See? That’s nothing. I’ll be nineteen in a couple of months. It’s not like we’re talking Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher here.”

“Huey!” she warned.

“Okay, okay, I give.” He held his full hands up in supplication. “But I think you’re making a huge mistake.” She shook her head at him. He wasn’t being serious, she could tell, but she was beginning to suspect that she might be wrong about his earnest qualities and that he might be a player.

“So, you and Michaela have been to Spain already?” she asked, changing the subject and taking a bite of her pastry. She was really enjoying her pain au chocolat, which was a lot better than she could have hoped for from a coffee stand inside a train station.

“Yeah, we flew into Lisbon about ten days ago. Couple of days in Portugal, then Madrid, then Barcelona, then here. Mikey really wanted to see the Dordogne. Something about some film.”

“The Dan Brown?”

“Nah, some chick film.” Huey opened the bag and asked, “Can I have the chocolate one?”

Spencer nodded. “Of course. I got us one of each.”

“And you kept the croissant for last? Surely it should be plain first and chocolate second?”

She shook her head. “When it comes to me and chocolate, I do not believe in delayed gratification. What could be worse than feeling full and not having room left over for chocolate?”

Huey spluttered into his coffee. “I have to say, I like your logic there, Spencer.”

Ever After.”

“What?” He looked confused.

“The chick film. It was probably Ever After. They filmed it in and around here.” Spencer made a circular motion in the air with her hand. “Drew Barrymore and Dougray Scott.”

“Uh-huh.”

“You have no idea what I’m talking about, do you?”

“Not a clue.”

“Well, that’s probably because you’re a guy.”

“Last time I checked anyway,” he agreed.

“It’s Cinderella, only set in medieval France.”

“Right.” He was definitely not a fan of romantic drama, judging by his tone.

“Not your thing, huh?”

“No, really not. I’m more of an action-thriller-sci-fi guy myself.”

She nodded and fished her croissant out of the bag, sipping thoughtfully at her coffee. “Paris next, then what?”

“I don’t know. Amsterdam, maybe. Rome. The money’s holding up better than I thought, so we might make the whole month without having to sleep rough.”

“Well, it’s not a proper European trip if you don’t spend at least one night sleeping in a railway station,” Spencer reflected.

“That sounds like experience talking.” Huey drained his coffee and swivelled around to sit, cross-legged, facing Spencer. He shrugged off his jacket and bunched it up to create a small pillow to wedge between his back and the metal armrest of the bench. “You said you’d been here a while back. Was it then?”

Spencer blew on her coffee. “Oh, you don’t want to hear about that.”

“Hey, I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t interested!”

It wasn’t like they didn’t both have time. She narrowed her eyes as she thought back. “I was nineteen, the summer between freshman and sophmore year at college, and my brother and I came over to visit his girlfriend. She’s his wife now and they have a baby on the way. Chelsea was an art student in Paris, but she’d got a summer job down here, working in a hotel. Some friend from art school knew someone and, well, Chels wanted to come down here and paint. The light, she said, was different. She hadn’t really known how different it could be till she came to France. She’s a California girl, not really used to the seasons.” She smiled to herself as she thought of the letters she used to get from Chelsea, with the photos of the buildings in the 16th Arrondisement, the Algerian street markets and other snippets of Paris. Chelsea loved to find inspiration in the everyday, the mundane.

“Anyway, Glen – oh, that’s my brother, obviously – and me, we flew into Paris and took the train to this very station and then we took the bus outside over to Sarlat.”

“There’s a bus?” Huey groaned. “I paid for a taxi!” He looked crest-fallen. Spencer patted him kindly on the arm.

“Without your French-speaking guide, you can’t be expected to know these things.”

“You think she’s on the bus here now?” He sounded concerned.

Something suddenly occurred to Spencer and she couldn’t believe that she hadn’t thought of it before. “Don’t you have a cellphone? Can’t you just call her?”

He shook his head. “Only Mikey has 3G. I got here and found out my phone was a dead brick.”

“Yeah, in my day, American cellphones didn’t work here at all either. Something to do with different signals. Glen explained it, but it was all just a bunch of letters to me.” She reached into her backpack and pulled out her own cellphone. “But this one definitely works. Give her a call.”

Huey looked at the handset warily. “I can’t. I’ve imposed enough.”

She shook her head and took his hand in hers, placing the phone in it and closing his fingers around it. “Call. Her.”

He looked down and sighed before tapping the number onto the touch screen. He frowned as he lifted it to his ear. “Sounds weird.”

Spencer took the phone from Huey and listened for a second, then ended the call. She amended the number, adding in the international dialling code for the USA and handing it back. “Try it now.”

A few moments later, he grimaced, “Voicemail. Must be out of -. Hey, Mikey, it’s just me. I’m at the station. I’ll be here till you show up. I’m, uh,” he lowered his voice a little, “sorry I bailed on you last night. Just, you know, get here, Mick. We can work it out. I’ll see you soon. Bye.” He hung up and handed the cell over. “Thanks again, Spencer. That’s twice you’ve saved my life now.”

“Overdramatic much? Coffee, a croissant and a phonecall is hardly saving your life.”

“Well, it’s pretty damn special for a stranger to do for another stranger and I really appreciate it.” His voice wavered and his youth shone through. “She’ll be here, right?”

“She’ll be here,” she reassured him. “Stop worrying for at least another,” she looked up at the clock again, “forty-five minutes. When it’s less than thirty minutes before your train’s due, then you can start worrying. And, even then, it’s not going to be the only train ever. There’s always another train.” Her tone was wistful.

“Voice of experience again?”

She nodded. “Yeah.” She didn’t elucidate further, though.

“So, what happened once you got to Sarlat?” he prompted.

“Well, we couldn’t afford to stay in Chelsea’s hotel, but we found a little place not far away. During the day, we explored. We walked all over Sarlat, ate cake from every patisserie they have – and you know that’s a lot of cake,” she chuckled. “We took the train to Bordeaux one day. All the usual tourist stuff. On one of Chelsea’s days off, we took the train to Arles and hung out at the beach. It was surreal. Me, Spencer Carlin from Ohio, sitting in a cafe on the Côte d’Azur, watching the rich on their huge yachts. Glen and Chelsea had gone off somewhere, doing a little window-shopping, and I was sitting all by myself. I remember the sea was perfectly calm, like a shimmering glass plate. I had a glass of white wine in my hand. I was surrounded by people who looked like they had walked straight out of a fashion magazine. It was like something from a 1950s film. I kept expecting David Niven or Cary Grant or some other old-time British movie star to stroll past in a white linen suit and a panama hat.”

Huey had leaned forward and was hanging on her every word. “Man, I bet Mikey would love that.”

Spencer smiled and pointed in the direction of the tracks. “Train from Paris gets in at 2.45 and it’ll be heading in that direction. One after that’s around 6.30. You just need to change at Toulouse. Like I said, there’s always another train.”

He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. “Maybe I’ll ask her when she gets here. She loves the beach.”

Spencer wondered if Huey even knew that he got a certain look when he talked about his best friend. It wasn’t a look that she’d ever seen a man use when talking about a drinking buddy or the guys he played pick-up games with. It was the same look Glen used to get when he was twenty-one and they were planning their trip to France to see the girl he would eventually marry.

“Do you go to school together?” she asked.

“No. I’m starting at Virginia Tech in the fall, but Mick’s the smart one. She got a full ride to Wellesley on an academic scholarship.” He sounded genuinely proud. “Where’d you go?”

“UCLA. I had a chance at a couple of places back east, but we’d only just moved to LA eighteen months before and I couldn’t face leaving everyone I loved behind and starting over again.”

“Boyfriend?” Huey asked.

Spencer snorted wryly. “Hardly.” She paused. They’d reached the first point in their conversation where she had to choose whether to come out or not. She could tell him that she had been dating a girl called Carmen who was over-possessive and that she’d already known by half-way through her final semester at King High that the relationship was over, or she could say nothing. She said nothing.

“How about now?”

She danced around it a second time. “Right now, I’m -” She looked down at her hands. “I’m waiting to see.”

He chuckled. “Very mysterious.”

“It’s all part of my older woman charm.” She winked at him and they shared a brief smile. She saw Huey staring up at the station clock again. “She’ll be here.” She reached over and patted his shoulder.

Huey looked down at her hand. “Thanks,” he murmured. “Hey, you want another coffee? My treat this time.”

“No, I’m okay.”

Huey stood up and did a cute little soft shoe shuffle, his hands stuffed in his pockets, moving left-to-right and back again. Spencer giggled.

“I’m going anyway.” He pointed to the coffee stand. “And I ain’t sharing if you change your mind,” he taunted.

“Fine,” she gave in. “Just a plain black coffee this time, though, thanks.”

He jogged off, then jumped in the air and clicked his heels together. Spencer clapped and Huey gave a dramatic bow before trotting away to get their drinks.

She looked around the station. The teens had disappeared and there were a few more people loitering about, all of them studiously minding their own business and reading newspapers or listening to mp3 players. None of them looked like Huey’s description of his friend but, if she had taken the bus, she wouldn’t get in till almost three o’clock. If she had been in town all morning, hiding out, she’d probably leave it till the last minute; that was what Spencer would have done in Michaela’s place at any rate.

Huey reappeared with their drinks and sat down. “You know what I think?”

“What?”

“I think you still haven’t told me who bought you your coffee.”

“No?” she replied teasingly.

“You promised,” he crooned.

“Funny, I don’t remember promising.”

“Well, you meant to promise, then.”

“No, I don’t think I did.”

“But you want to tell me anyway.”

“And why would I do that?” Spencer challenged.

“Because confession’s good for the soul.”

“Who says it’s a confession?”

“Tell me!” Huey pleaded. “Come on, I’m dying of curiosity here!”

She looked down into her cup and then checked the station clock again. It was two-thirty. She nodded to herself.

“My flight out of Paris was on a Thursday,” she began, “but the morning train would have got me to Austerlitz only an hour or so before check-in. I’m one of those people who likes to be super-early for everything and I just didn’t want to risk not getting to the airport on time, so I decided to take the afternoon train on the Wednesday instead. I was going to stay at an airport hotel. Or, at least, I had been planning to.”

“What about your brother? Wasn’t he with you?”

“Nah, he was staying on another couple of weeks. He offered to ride here on the bus with me, but I told him that was stupid and I didn’t need my big brother to put me on a train. So, we said goodbye at the bus stop.” She could still picture Glen, trying to be all manly, but surreptitiously wiping away a tear. She had kissed him on the cheek and promised to leave a message at their hotel the following day to confirm that she’d got checked in for her flight. There was no point calling him in the evening, as he had spent every night sneaking into Chelsea’s room in the staff quarters of her hotel.

“I got off the bus here and realised that I had pretty much zero cash left, so I looked for an ATM. It really didn’t love my credit card. I tried a second card. Still no joy.”

He snorted wryly. “I know that feeling.”

“Don’t we all?” Spencer quickly retorted. “Anyhow, I went in there.” She pointed to the coffee place. “I sat down and started going through every single zipper and pouch and pocket in my luggage. I emptied my purse onto the table. I went into my suitcase and pulled out every item of clothing that had pockets and turned out every one of them, too. I amassed about three-fifty in five and ten cents. I had just finished counting it a second time and was about to scoop it all into my hand when I heard someone say, ‘You do know you never count your money when you’re sitting at the table?’.” She laughed. It remained the most outrageous pick-up line she had ever heard in her life.

“He quoted Kenny Rogers?”

Spencer shook her head. “She,” she corrected pointedly. She could hardly tell the story without giving herself away. “She.” It was almost a whisper and the corners of her mouth turned up in recollection. The first moment that she met Ashley Davies was the standard by which she judged her life. There was simply before-Ashley and after-Ashley.

“I looked up and there’s this girl standing there who’s about my age, dressed like she’d either just fallen out of a club or was heading to one right after. She just looked money. You could tell her sunglasses probably cost more than my plane tickets.”

Ashley had been wearing the shortest skirt imaginable, a very carefully distressed top that somewhat artfully hid more than it showed, a tiny jacket and the aforementioned sunglasses. She had grinned down at Spencer and placed her full tray down on the table.

“She told me she had seen me getting the shaft at the ATM and had been watching me scramble all this small change together, so she figured I had no money. Of course, she was right, but I just couldn’t get over what was happening. She just plopped down a tray with two coffees and two cakes on it and sat down and started talking. She didn’t ask me or anything. She didn’t even know me or even if I spoke English. I swear, my first thought was that she was on drugs. But she took the sunglasses off, introduced herself as Ashley Davies and started to tell me about how her father had shacked up with some French woman, a model of some sort, in this fancy big house and how they were basically just having really noisy sex all the time so she’d decided to head to Paris to get a little retail therapy. She just kept telling me all this stuff like it was the most normal thing in the world to tell a complete stranger your entire life story -”

“Uh, Spencer?” Huey interrupted. “You are aware that’s exactly what we’re doing?”

She looked at him with an eye-roll. “That’s different. You were in trouble. You asked me for help. I didn’t saunter over and impose myself upon you.”

“Uh-huh.” He nodded in a way that definitely implied that he didn’t see the difference between the two situations, but didn’t think it was worth arguing about. “So, what happened then?”

“Well, seeing as it’s not every day that a stranger buys you coffee for no reason other than being a nut-job Good Samaritan, I thanked her. Then we did that thing where I said I couldn’t accept it and she insisted and eventually I gave in. I mean, it was clear that she wasn’t going to get up and leave, whether I accepted the coffee or not, so I gave in as graciously as I could. Plus – and I know this sounds nuts because I was the one who was, to all intents and purposes, down on my luck – I felt kinda sorry for her. She’d walked out with only the clothes on her back and whatever was in her purse and she said that she was pretty sure that they wouldn’t even notice she was gone. I definitely got the idea that it wasn’t the first time she’d run off and that she was used to no-one caring.”

“That kinda sucks.”

“Yeah,” she agreed. “My parents would have half of the LAPD called out within the hour if I pulled something like that.” She checked the clock again as she pulled the plastic cap from her coffee cup and drained the remainder of her drink. “So, that’s how I got a free coffee at this very station.”

Huey looked incredulous. “You really think I’m gonna let you away with that?”

Spencer gave a little sly smile, which contradicted her mock-innocent tone. “I don’t know what you mean.”

“Yeah. Right.” Huey reached one leg out and pushed her knee with his boot. “Give, Spencer. You know you can’t just leave it there.”

“How do you know that’s not it, the end of the story?” she asked.

“The look on your face.”

Spencer chuckled. She could counter that statement by telling Huey that it was probably the same look that he got on his face when he talked about his own friend. Or, she could pretend that there was no story. But, it was a long time since she had told anyone any of this. In fact, she’d never told anyone the whole story before and it felt sort-of freeing to be telling an interested semi-stranger, who wouldn’t judge her, wouldn’t call her crazy, wouldn’t call her a stupid, foolish girl.

“Because we were both heading for Paris,” she continued, “we were getting the train to Brive – the same connection I suppose you’ll be taking today – and it seemed to make sense that we’d travel together. It was, you know, nice to have someone to travel with, especially when I thought I’d be on my own.”

She could have added – but she didn’t – that she had spent the entire train journey to Brive-la-Gaillarde trying not to stare at Ashley’s legs and desperately, but unsuccessfully, trying not to become smitten with the strange, forward, beautiful stranger. The more they had talked – essentially about nothing, really – the more fascinated Spencer had become and the more awkward she had started to feel. She was just a normal teenager and Ashley was like some kind of exotic and rare thing, unlike anyone Spencer had ever known. She had been over-awed by the sheer force of will that was Ashley Davies.

She got up and walked over to a nearby trash can, disposing of her drink. “So, apparently there’s any number of trains out of Brive.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah, sure. It’s this little industrial town but a major hub station. When we got there, we realised that we could pretty much get a train every half-hour up to Paris. Some were direct, maybe one or two stops, and some took about eight hours because they stopped in every town between there and Paris.”

“There’s always another train, huh?”

Spencer nodded. “There definitely is.” She paused. “She said she felt conspicuous. That was the word she used, conspicuous.” That made her laugh at the recollection. As if Ashley Davies could be anything but conspicuous, in any situation. She was definitely someone that you noticed. “She wanted to get some normal clothes and she asked me if I’d come with her. I must have looked reluctant or something because that’s when she said it for the first time, that there’s always another train.”

Ashley had accompanied the statement with a little smirk that made her nose crinkle and Spencer’s heart melt. She couldn’t have refused her, even if she had wanted to. She hadn’t wanted to at all. There had never been anything in the world she had wanted more than to spend some more time with Ashley Davies.

They had walked out of the station towards the centre-ville and straight into the first department store they had come across, Ashley striding ahead and Spencer trailing in her wake, pulling her luggage behind her. Ashley had made her sit down in one of the changing rooms while she went off and collected a variety of jeans and tops. Spencer remembered that she had gripped the sides of the chair so tight that she had made her hands numb as Ashley had unabashedly stripped down to her underwear to try the various clothes on.

She skipped that part in the re-telling of her story.

She also skipped the part where Ashley had caught her staring, Spencer shyly looking at Ashley’s breasts, barely concealed behind black lace. She didn’t tell Huey about the smile that Ashley had given her when she’d caught her, a smile full of interest and amusement and even promise, a smile that Spencer would treasure forever. But she thought about that moment long enough to make her realise that she’d come to a halt, as she heard Huey clearing his throat.

“So?” he prompted.

She nodded. “So, once she had some less conspicuous clothes, then she needed boots. Then it was underwear, then some basic toiletries, then it was a backpack to put all her old clothes and shoes in.”

The young man snorted in a way that implied that this was normal female behaviour. He even rolled his eyes, for which he earned himself a warning slap on the arm from Spencer.

“By the time we were done with all that and she was changed completely from top-to-toe, well, it was well after six, so, obviously it was about time to eat.”

“Well, clearly,” Huey agreed with a little laugh.

“She insisted that she wanted to treat me to dinner to thank me for everything I’d done. And, to be honest, I was really hungry and my other option was to buy a baguette or a burger with the little cash that I had, so I agreed. We walked around for a bit and ended up at this little row of four or five restaurants with outdoor tables under this kind of stone… Um, what’s the word I’m looking for? Not awning, but with arches and -”

“Cloister?” Huey offered.

“That’s a bit churchy, surely? Maybe I mean alcove,” she pondered. “I’m pretty sure there must be a proper architectural word.”

“How about just archway?”

“There was a series of arches. Does archway not just mean the one?” She frowned to herself and then shook her head. “Anyway, you get what I mean.”

He nodded his agreement. “I got the picture.”

“We sat at one of the outside tables. It was warm, really warm, and the sun was starting to fade a little.”

The early evening sun had caught the highlights in Ashley’s hair and made her look even more radiant than before. She had pulled out some of the purchases she’d made and had started to remove her make-up while they waited for their food. Without make-up, she had looked even younger and even more vulnerable and even more beautiful.

By that point, they were starting to trade stories and the conversation had started to move from the generic to the personal. There was a connection between them that Spencer had known that both of them felt. It had been like a living thing, that spark, and it had been silently acknowledged by both of them: each knew that the other knew. It had become clear from the tone and the weight of the conversation between them that they were leading somewhere that they both wanted to go.

“We were constantly interrupted by guys coming up and hitting on us.” More had hit on Ashley but, then, that came back to her original thought that Ashley Davies could never be described as inconspicuous. The brunette exuded a sexuality that probably turned heads wherever she went.

“It was kind of amusing,” she lied. She had felt irrationally and intensely jealous to an extent that had surprised her into near-silence. That had not gone unnoticed, but Ashley had firmly, but politely explained to every one of these random suitors that she was with her friend – she had flashed another of those secret little smiles that Spencer was storing up to re-live at a later date and had reached across to squeeze Spencer’s hand reassuringly – and that they didn’t need any other company.

“So, anyhow, we ate our meal and drank some beers and it just felt like time had no meaning at all. We missed several trains. Me, who had never been late for anything in my life, I didn’t care. The food was good, the company was good and it just felt like…” She paused as she tried to find the right way to explain it without sounding like something ripped from the pages of a bad romance novel, the type with a bare-chested hero on the cover.

“Destiny?” the boy supplied softly.

Spencer looked up at him. She could tell from the look on his face that he understood everything that she actively wasn’t telling him. The boy had read between the lines and worked out where this tale was going. She knew then that she had given herself away entirely and that he had surmised the truth about Spencer’s interest in Ashley Davies.

“Not destiny, but maybe just somewhere I should be,” she replied, softly.

But, in a way, Huey’s word was more apt: it had felt like the whole point of going to France in the first place had been to have that meal, in that location, with that one girl, while the sounds of people enjoying themselves in the fading half-light surrounded them without really penetrating the little world they had been building for themselves.

“I know what you mean,” Huey commented.

Spencer wanted to tell the boy that, if he did know, then he needed to tell that person. She wanted to say that life was full of moments that, in retrospect, you would always wish you’d pushed a little further, tried a little harder, been a little bolder; that, at eighteen, nineteen, you thought that life would keep giving you unlimited chances but that, by twenty-four, twenty-five, you realised that you should have seized the chances you had been given. Instead, she continued with her story.

“It felt like we stayed there for hours. Eventually, it was dark and we realised that we probably had to get to the station or the last train would be gone without us.” But the walk back had been unhurried. And Ashley had insisted on taking Spencer’s luggage. They had hardly talked, but there had been more smiles for Spencer to save up, as well as plenty of glances and shy blushes. “We made it back in time but we didn’t make it onto the train. So, we -”

“Hey, hey, hey! You can’t just gloss over that! What do you mean you didn’t make it onto the train?”

“I don’t know,” she mumbled. “It seemed a good idea at the time to get the morning train instead.”

“The same one you decided not to take in the first place because you might be late for your flight?”

“Um, yeah.” She lowered her eyes bashfully.

“Uh-huh.” His tone was amused.

“Okay, I didn’t want the night to end,” she admitted. “We didn’t want the night to end.”

“I wasn’t accusing you of anything.” There was still laughter in his voice and he was barely suppressing a grin. “So, I guess that’s how you ended up spending the night in the train station.”

“Yeah, it is.”

Huey lowered his voice and leaned in a little. “Did you and she…” He let the question trail off.

“Have more coffee?” Spencer finished. “Of course.”

“Cute. Real cute.”

“Thanks. I am.” She looked up at the clock again. It was nearly two-forty-five and the crowds were starting to build for the Paris-Toulouse train, due in at any moment.

“But, did you?” he pressed. “Were you?” His question was clear and his whole demeanour was supportive. This was not going to be one of those occasions where she would be forced into outing herself bluntly. He had obviously worked it out for himself; not that she had made it an impenetrable puzzle for him.

“Not there,” she replied, causing Huey to give her a look of total disbelief. Spotting this, she laughed out loud. “We just talked. Honestly. Well, we lay on a bench together and talked. You know, that way you do, right at the beginning, when the other person is completely fascinating?”

“When you make four-hour phonecalls and don’t want to be the first one to hang up.”

“Exactly.” She recognised a fellow romantic when she met one. In her limited experience of his sex, there weren’t many men who would admit to such a thing. “We talked about life and relationships and things we’d done and places we’d been and what we wanted to do with our lives and everything.”

They had started out sitting together, their voices low. Then they had moved closer and closer, until there was barely space between them. Ashley had leaned back and spread out, using her backpack as a makeshift pillow. Spencer had felt a tug on her arm and had found herself being pulled down – not reluctantly – until they were lying together on their backs, sprawled over each other, her head resting on Ashley’s shoulder. There had barely been enough room for both of them on the hard bench. Spencer had never felt more comfortable.

“I’ve never had that with a girlfriend,” Huey murmured.

“What?”

“That kind of conversation.”

“What about what you just said about the four-hour phonecalls?”

He looked rueful. “Second-hand info gleaned from Mikey. She was like that with her loser ex in the beginning.” He probably didn’t realise that the jealousy in his voice was plain for all to hear.

“Recently?”

“She met him first semester. All she could talk about was how wonderful he was. I met him when I went up to visit her during her first semester last year, but I couldn’t tell her I thought he was a total creep.”

“Why?”

He scratched his cheek. “Well, she wouldn’t have believed me and it would have just caused a fight between us.”

Spencer shook her head. “No, how did you know he was a creep?”

“I saw him checking out other girls when he thought she wasn’t looking, the dick.” He was clearly still angry and resentful over his friend’s relationship. “I was pretty sure he was cheating on her. He definitely wasn’t good enough for her.”

The sound of a train approaching filled the air, beginning with the rattling of the tracks and getting louder as the engine pulled into view. They both looked in the direction of the noise and watched as people started to jostle for position near the edge of the platform. As the train came to a halt, Spencer leaned forwards.

“What happened with him?” she asked.

Huey gave a dismissive wave. “She eventually caught him coming out of some other girl’s room. In her own dorm.” He snorted. “It took everything in me not to say ‘I told you so’.”

People started to spill off the train, some striding purposefully down the platform, others taking time to off-load luggage and look around for the people there to meet them. They both watched as couples and families played out little reunions around them.

“What did she do?”

“She pretty much dumped his loser ass before he could pretend it was all some big misunderstanding.”

Spencer stood up, arching her back and staring towards the train. Only a couple of stragglers remained and the passengers for Toulouse were all on-board. Through the windows, she could see people consulting tickets and looking for their seat or berth.

“Can you watch my stuff for a bit? I need to…” She pointed in the direction of the restrooms.

“Sure,” he agreed happily. “Not like I’m going anywhere anyway.”

She nodded and walked briskly towards the restrooms. Quickly, she went inside, found an empty stall, bolted the door and slumped back against it. Running her hands through her hair, she took a few deep breaths and then went about her business.

When she exited the stall a few minutes later, she looked at herself in the mirror. Shaking her head, she turned on the cold water and let it run through her fingers until she was sure that it was as cold as it was going to get. Letting it pool in her hands, she splashed her face a few times, then stared at herself again. She heard a stall open behind her and dipped her head. She didn’t really feel like making eye contact with anyone right at that moment

Out of the corner of her eye, though, she caught a glimpse of the sleeve of a brown leather jacket. Turning, she saw a girl of about twenty, dark auburn hair, green eyes and a weary look on her face. Leaning back, she checked out the back of the girl’s jacket and smiled wryly.

“Michaela, right?”

The girl looked startled. “Yes?” she answered uncertainly. “Do I -”

“Know me?” Spencer finished. “No, you don’t.”

“Then, uh, how come you know my name?” The girl folded her arms defensively across her chest.

“I’ve been talking to your friend, Huey, for the past hour. It’s my cellphone he called you from. He described you to me.”

Michaela bristled with thinly-concealed anger, unclasping her arms and washing her hands for a second time. “I’m sure,” she responded brusquely.

Spencer shook her head. She suspected these two were as bad or as clueless as each other.

“He’s been worried sick about you,” she murmured reassuringly.

“Which is why he abandoned me in a strange town and -” She stopped herself. “Never mind.”

“I think he feels pretty bad about that. Okay, I know he does.”

“Look, miss, I don’t want to be rude or anything but, uh, I don’t know you at all,” the girl resumed her defensive stance, jutting her chin forward, “and whatever’s happened between me and Huey is our business, so -”

“You want me to shut up now?” Spencer smiled. “I get that. I do. If I was in your position, I’m sure that I wouldn’t want to talk to me, either.” She ignored the wary look she was being given. “But that boy cares about you deeply and he is genuinely sorry. And you should give him a chance because, well, you just should.” She didn’t think it was her place to push anything that Michaela had rightly assessed as being essentially none of her concern. “Just go out there and talk to him.”

“Again, not trying to be rude here, but I really, really don’t think that it’s any of your business.” There was a fire behind those green eyes. Huey had picked himself a feisty one. In Spencer’s opinion, the feisty ones were the best kind.

“Spencer.”

“What?”

“My name,” she explained. “Spencer Carlin.” She extended her hand.

“Michaela Stanopolous. Mikey.” The girl lightly shook her hand. She was still regarding her with suspicion, though.

“I’m going to go back out there now. Are you coming with me?”

“No, not yet.” That was a little uncertain-sounding.

Spencer nodded. “You want me to tell him you’re here? He really is scared he’s lost you for good.” Spencer left that statement and its double meaning open to interpretation.

“I’ll be out in a bit,” the girl replied.

“Okay, but your train’s in just over a half-hour and he’ll start getting more panicked the later it gets.”

“I know.” There was a manipulative and almost evil little grin to accompany the statement and Spencer realised that her earlier hunch had probably been correct that the girl had been hiding out all day to punish Huey for his transgression. Well, he deserved it. He shouldn’t have dumped the most important person in his life for anything, even if he wasn’t aware that he was in love with them.

Spencer gave her a smile in return. “If I don’t see you again, it was nice to meet you, Mikey. It’s always good to put a face to a name.” She walked away, leaving the girl no doubt wondering exactly what Spencer knew about her.

* * * * *

Next up: the conclusion, Part Two [A]

8 Comments

  1. Posted 30 August 2010 at 5.08pm | Permalink

    sweet story! in 3 weeks I should be at the last trainstation of the day around this time.. :)

  2. willweaver
    Posted 30 August 2010 at 9.34pm | Permalink

    Je l’adore!! You don’t understand how much!

    Coming from someone who is in France at this very moment, searching for who knows what, I love this more than words can say!

  3. peanut
    Posted 30 August 2010 at 9.41pm | Permalink

    I adore you, dev.
    Thanks, really. I so needed this right now.
    I love those kind of stories!

  4. Posted 31 August 2010 at 3.34am | Permalink

    Lovely. More please :)

  5. lnkmstr10
    Posted 31 August 2010 at 4.34am | Permalink

    Beautiful! All of it! Spencer’s story, and Huey, and Ashley…just amazing, and I can’t wait for more. So please, write more so I can function again. Please and thank you!

    And by the way, Huey is such a cute little name and every time I read it I just picture this cute little boy who is kind of dorky but still precious.

  6. Fishtosea
    Posted 1 September 2010 at 12.19am | Permalink

    Im with Inkmstr10. I love the name Huey! How long did this take you to write anyway? It seems like years.

    Your amazing. This is amazing.
    (As always.)

  7. Chelle5432
    Posted 1 September 2010 at 1.38pm | Permalink

    I don’t even know what to say except, I love it. I really, really do. Thanks Dev.

  8. tee452
    Posted 2 September 2010 at 2.45pm | Permalink

    Dev, I hope you tell us a bit about the convo you overheard. Really lovely story.

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