The girl steps off the train. She is tired after a red eye flight from New York to Heathrow, the Underground to Kings Cross and then finally the train to this, her final destination. She pulls a carry-on suitcase behind her; a backpack weighs heavy on her back and a hobo bag is slung across her left shoulder. It is the end of December and chilly, so she wears a puffy silver blue coat that she bought specifically for this trip and a quirky, jersey hat, patterned with dark trees silhouetted against a pink and gray sky. The station is crowded. She stands still, unmoving, and waits for the station to clear. She looks around, searching for the boy. Well, not really a boy. He is a middle-aged man now. The last time she saw him was 30 years ago when he was 22 and so, was she. She nervously scans the crowd for his slight figure, his pale face, his short-cropped silver hair, slate blue eyes, and aquiline nose. She looks for a man wearing a brown leather jacket. He’s told her that he will be wearing this particular coat. It makes him feel cooler than he is, and he wants to impress her. He has told her this. He is open about his insecurities – it is one of the things she likes about him.
She too has carefully chosen her outfit. Under her coat is a girlish, black, and brown floral dress that she wears with a pair of black leggings and boots. She chose this dress because her friends at work unanimously told her to wear it for this occasion. She pulls at its hem, making sure it covers her butt. The skin around her thumb cuticles is red and raw, bleeding where she picked away the skin. She picks at her cuticles when she is anxious – a self-soothing habit she developed when she was a kid to help her get through the nights when her stepfather decided not to come home, but to stay at the bar where he worked, drinking until he couldn’t stand. She knows her mother is also up waiting – at the ready to pounce the second he stumbles through the door. The girl knows from experience how this will end. Shouted words, recriminations, slurred “shut the f**k up you f**king bitch” from him. Her mother’s voice, quieter, but no less menacing, needling and name calling. For hours the fighting will go on, and she will stay awake until the end, pleading with her mom in her head, “please stop – let him sleep it off”, hoping that neither one of them will get irretrievably hurt. Not a good example of a healthy relationship. Her little sister likes to joke that her parents put the fun in dysfunctional. But despite all that, she still believes in love.
She feels a hand on her back, and she hears her name said in his Rhotic accent.
She turns and sees his tentative face. She is nervous too. But, to lessen what they both know will be an awkward moment, they have decided together beforehand that they are going to simply shake hands when they first meet. She reaches out her hand, he takes it, but then pulls her in for a hug. He is not much taller than she, and their bodies feel aligned, like when you find that elusive puzzle piece that finally fits.
He offers to carry her suitcase. She lets him but first, she takes off her backpack and pulls out a manuscript and hands it to him. “How will this end?” she asks.