“You – you what?”
“I love you.”
The three words echoed across time, space and everything in between, but Kate still couldn’t believe it. “You love me,” she repeated, blank-faced, to the person sitting across the aisle.
“I do,” the boy said, his hands stretching earnestly across his armrest. “I – I mean, I’ve just met you, but I think I do.”
Kate leaned back in her seat. “Wow,” she breathed. The iron tracks click-clacked under their feet and the coach swayed gently from side to side, magnifying Kate’s rapid nausea. “Really?” she asked.
The boy look away towards the window; the sun was just completing its daily run across the sky, which was a shade of deep, carrot red. Electric poles flashed across the orange desert landscape, which was barren save for an occasional decrepit house and a joshua tree.
“This is … wow,” Kate couldn’t help but repeat, more to herself than anything. “This was not what I expected when I booked my ticket, you know.”
“I know,” he laughed, half out of anxiety, half out of fear. “But don’t you feel the same way? I mean, don’t you feel like this is fate?”
Kate mulled over his question. With her long, auburn hair and pale blue eyes, she didn’t doubt that he was lying; she knew that she wasn’t bad-looking, and she regretted her decision to wear a short skirt and wool tights on this cross-country excursion.
And, to be quite honest, she wasn’t sure how she felt. He had definitely been out of the ordinary; from their first stolen glance three days ago on the other end of the country, she knew that they would strike up a friendship, and that they did. They first shared a laugh over the conductor’s florid speech – “Please kindly be aware that shoes must be worn at all times” – and had grown friendlier over a couple of overpriced beers in the lounge car.
But … love … after less than a week? Was that even possible?
He leaned forward. “I don’t want to let this go,” he said. “Because if I didn’t tell you now, you would get off this train and I’ll never see you again, and I really, really don’t want that.” He laughed a little. “I really don’t.”
“Do you want that?”
Kate shook her head slowly and finally met his eyes. “No, I don’t,” she smiled. “But… I don’t know.” She had never been one to jump into unforeseen situations; she tested the water, and then she tested the water again, just to be safe. Kate was the kind of person who would create a ten-page itinerary out of an afternoon’s picnic.
“Well, I know,” he said firmly. “And I don’t think I can bear it if you left me right now. I’d chase after you,” he said, matter-of-factly. Kate had to laugh. He seemed encouraged by this, for he suddenly reached out for her hand. She flinched a little but didn’t pull back. “What – what do you think?”
What did she think? Heck, ten minutes ago she was thinking about which side of the train she should get off on.
The sharp announcement from the conductor made both of them jump. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be arriving at our final destination in five minutes. Please make sure you have your luggage and thanks for traveling with us.”
He kept talking, but the two seatmates ignored him. Kate’s breath caught in her throat. “I… I do want to see you again,” she began, truthfully. “I’m not sure what we have right now, I really don’t. I mean, four days ago my love life consisted of a pet hamster and a cat.” She laughed wryly.
The boy nodded earnestly. “I know.” He didn’t say anything else, just waited.
Kate stared at him, at his unassuming face which had laughed at her seashell joke (the first person, including her parents, to have done so), his golden hair, which flew every which way when he stuck them out the window on an after-beer dare (they still hadn’t settled), and finally on his dark brown eyes, which were now anxiously waiting for her. The past few days had passed by in a blur.
The train slowly halted to a stop, bells tolling. Kate could see her parents waiting for her outside, her friends, her normal life. She made a decision.
“I don’t want to let you go, either,” she said. His face lit up in response. “Really?”
Kate grinned. “Really.”
For a brief moment, they shared a happy silence, comfortable in the fact that they had both beaten the odds, one of a thousand people who happened to sit next to each other and had found true – well, she wasn’t sure about that last part, but she was hopeful.
Kate shrugged as she picked up her luggage. He stood up, too. “But promise me one thing,” she told him as they began their slow walk toward the doors. “What’s that?”
“The moment we set foot out there – on the ground – we’re going to be going back to our real lives.”
His face darkened somewhat. “Yeah…”
“And you know what people say about meeting strangers on a train.”
She grasped his hand for a brief moment, on the verge of the exit platform. “What we have… it’s something different. It’s totally unrealistic, romantic, and maybe that’s why I like you so much. And I want it to stay that way.”
His hand squeezed hers. “This is just between us.”
They stepped out into the sun together. “I’ll … I’ll call you, okay?” she hurriedly scrawled her number on his forearm. She spied her mother waving to her from the other side of the platform. “Just … just wait for me!” She grinned, suddenly feeling lighter. She laughed briskly and waved. “Or you can call me too, I don’t care!”
He smiled and looked at his forearm. “I will.”
Kate bounded on her toes a little as she grabbed her carry-on. “I – I’ll see you.”
“Yeah,” he called after her. “I’ll see you.”
The surrounding mob of people broke their gaze, and when the rush finally cleared, they were both gone.