I gazed at the lush green mountainside through the little window, beautiful. I moved my head from the window to scan for a seat. I’d spent too long in my day dream. There were no seats to be found now.
As the train took off my body spiraled forward. I reached for the nearest pole, but there really wasn’t one within my grasp.
I felt a strong hand on my hip steadying me. I wanted to shriek but there was something familiar in the touch, something that told me the hairs on my arm weren’t standing up because I was in trouble.
“I’m sorry.” He said. He had a drawl. A little inflection from another part of the world called to me from the voice. I knew that place. Home. But we were so far from there. “I thought you were going to fall. You look like a girl I knew. She’s clumsy. I just didn’t want to see you hit the floor. I’ll move.”The drawl told me he was from my place but something else called to me in his voice, tender words more familiar than the hand still supporting my hip, though the man had said he would move.
“I—my—if—I.” I needed to tell him something but I couldn’t remember what. It left me. I turned my head to look back at the person standing behind me. My throat locked. I could be a child again. My breath caught. Now I could be a teen ager again. Vertigo slipped over me not without his notice and he slipped another arm around me to keep me off the floor.
“Katie? You know you don’t stand up on trains.” He made no effort to let go of me. “What are you doing here?” He asked as he shuffled us forward to a shiny silver pole.
“I.” I looked up at him again. My eyes spoke what my mouth couldn’t. They must have because he seemed to understand. He nodded once hard. His eyes wild like he tried to keep from passing out while trying to say something important the same something important I tried to spit out yet couldn’t remember, like he battled the same raw emotion I fought now. Like he knew we couldn’t be here, not together, but we could both breathe a sigh of relief because after all those years, we were here, together.
I grasped the pole. He threw his arms protectively around me and the pole. He wouldn’t let me fall. I didn’t need the pole because the boy that used to take care of me would compensate my weight with every jostle of the train.
The train stopped abruptly. My body tilted forward but not very far and only for less than a second before arms around my waist steadied me.
“You’re okay.” He whispered.
A couple of seats became available as two women exited the train. He towed me to them, helping me sit before taking the seat beside me.
We sat side by side, no longer touching now that there was nothing to protect me from, not even a dirty floor. But his body angled in my direction. He leaned just a little too close to me, just close enough that I could smell and feel a mint breath on me. I closed my eyes as I inhaled, letting it tickle my body the way it once had. I couldn’t keep that breath in me forever. I had to exhale and when I did it hurt like I was letting go a second time.
I felt the tears bubble around my eyes, but I didn’t cry, just a little leaky fluid in my bottom lashes. I leaned closer to him now. “Brendan.” I whispered.
“I know.” He said softly.
I brought my hand up to rest on his cheek watching in a serene contentment as he closed his eyes and sighed. I watched him surrender to what we knew to be true.
He made no effort to move my hand. Instead he sighed my name, “Katie.”
I let my lips turn up in a peaceful smile. He placed his hand over mine, running his fingers over my skin. I lost myself to bliss.
“What’s—that’s--.” He pulled my hand off his cheek and stretched it forward with his. “You’re married.” He said it like an accusation but he couldn’t keep the pain out of his voice.
I closed my eyes and fell further into the seat. The important thing I tried to tell him before we were back in our old roles again. The words I couldn’t get out, the thing I’d forgotten. I loved someone else the way I loved him now. Someone who would never do the things he did. Someone who loved me as much as he loved me, but who took care of that love and my trust like he never did. Someone who was my life now.
A daunting realization, I loved them both. One made my present and would be my future and as painful as it was to let my mind wrap around the other was only my past. The thing about past is it has to turn to ash for the present to be fruitful.
It didn’t change the fact that the man beside me still loved me. I heard it in his words and I felt it in his touch.
“Katie?” He whispered begging me to say it wasn’t true.
I choked past the lump in my throat through the tears in my eyes and nodded. “I’m married. I shouldn’t be here.”
“It’s okay.” He whispered. "You can touch my face. Nothing will happen. You’ll get off the train. Life has already gone on but we can have this moment.”
Something told me it wasn’t okay like touching his face was as much as acting on the forbidden love. I did it anyway. But this time as he slowly brought his hand up to cover my own I saw a shining piece of gold flickering light off his hand.
“You’re married.” I said.
Realization hit his eyes. He loved me. He just loved her too. He nodded as I watched his pain reflect my own. He would have to hurt one of us too.
“But we can have this moment.” I repeated his words.
“We have to, because I’m not strong enough not to.”
I let go of the tears. I watched his eyes water as he traced my tears with his finger. “Don’t do that. He has to be better than me. I know what I did.”
I fought past the lump in my throat again because I had to speak. “I—I hope she’s great—beautiful and she makes you pancakes. I love you, Brendan.”
He fought tears now. “You cook for him.” He said feigning an amused smile.
I looked at him.
“I hope she makes you pancakes. You cook for him.”
“I would have cooked for you.”
“I know. He—he takes care of you? He’s good to you?”
“So good. Deserves better than a girl clinging to her past on a train.”
I watched a bulge in his throat appear and disappear. “He can’t do better than my girl. Even if she’s evil enough to make a man cry on a train. Do you know how that looks?” He whispered.
I smiled. “It’s Europe. They probably won’t think anything.”
But I let my head drop to his shoulder now and didn’t fight when he tried to hold me while I—we cried.
Words carrying the same drawl as his rang from a feminine voice now. “Katie. You’ve gotta get out of here. Are you crazy? A reporter saw you. Jason thinks—he thinks.” She didn’t have to finish the sentence for me to know what my husband thought—that I betrayed him—that I didn’t love him. But I did and now my heart filled with a new pain.
The arms around me slid away for me to go do what I had to do. But he stood as I walked with Carrie closer to the door.
I looked back at him. He looked into me. This thing between us real and raging.
“You’re in trouble anyhow, might as well make it worth it.”
I crashed into his chest and enjoyed every second of his hand on my chin tilting my head back, his lips crashing to mine his tongue tracing my mouth, Brendan devouring me. I pulled away.
“I love you. Take care of your wife. Be good to her. Don’t do this again, and please,” and now the tears flowed again, “don’t forget me.”
“I can’t I’ve tried. Katie, if he ever hurts you I’ll kill him. But I know he’s a good man because it’s impossible to look into his wife’s eyes and not know that with faith like that in the world you have to be a good man.”
Carrie and I got off the train and took a cab to where my husband waited. Too my surprise, he wasn’t angry. “I love you.” He said.
“I love you too. I’m sorry.”
He wiped a tear from my eye. “Do you mean that? I mean that you love me.”
“More than anything.”
He nodded. “You don’t have to be sorry. I knew you had a past. I’m not the first man you’ve ever loved and I can deal with that. Don’t leave me though, please.” A new set of eyes begged for my affection now. The set of eyes that I owed everything to and had promised forever.
“I—I didn’t even think about it. But I kissed him goodbye, umm…literally.” Now I sobbed with guilt.
A new set of arms were around me comforting me. “Shh—does he kiss better than me?” I think it was supposed to be a joke.
I laughed through tears, “Different?—he’s jealous that I cook for you.”
“He’s jealous that I got the girl. But I love her and I take care of her. I won’t give her up without a fight.”
“I’m—I’m not going anywhere.”
He was mature enough to understand everything. That the feelings I still had for the boy I grew up with didn’t take away from the way I loved him. That the way he took care of our love and my trust meant more than fifteen minute train rides even if they were bitter sweet. That I loved him, he was my life. I would never do anything to damage our life together.
I can’t say Brendan never crossed my mind again, or that I didn’t have moments where I hoped his wife wasn’t as pretty as me. But I can tell you we never saw each other again because he was in the past where he belonged.