Five hours was a long time to kill between trains, and having finished his book he was desperate for something to do. He browsed the little book store, more like a kiosk actually, and found a lot of books but not any that he was interested in. His tastes did not run to pathetic CEO biographies or romantic situations involving handcuffs.
The problem was the rain. He could almost always stroll down one of the streets and find an interesting store. Or maybe a bar that didn’t feature twenty different screens with dudes talking about football games past or upcoming; or god help him, fantasy games.
There would be no strolling today but maybe he could pull up a map of the area and find something he could dash to real quick. Bingo! On the first try he pulled up something three blocks away. Too close for an Uber, but he thought if he hugged the buildings he might be able to stay halfway dry.
As luck had it, there were awnings most of the way and he was able to shortcut through a couple of building lobbies.
The first thing he noticed when he walked in was a gigantic, stuffed beaver. It stood almost four feet tall on its hind legs, supported by its tail. It was obviously the spiritual gatekeeper, leering at all who dared enter.
He passed a few booth sections full of old dinnerware, butter dishes with cows on top and clock radios with yellowing plastic. The cameras almost drew him in but they were common and the prices were stupid. But then something caught his eye.
It was better than he could have wished for. It was stuffed full of trains; the kind he liked. There were old American Flyer S gauge and most importantly, Lionel Standard gauge from the 1920’s…and they were pristine. He picked up a red passenger coach from a nice Standard gauge set, and almost jumped out of his skin. “HEY BE CAREFUL!” came the voice from behind him. He whirled around, his brain deciding it was time to leave before he could even process anything.
But he wasn’t going anywhere.
Standing, hands on hips, was a most entrancing woman. She had locked eyes on the coach he was holding and he slowly put it back down.
She tossed her hair and huffed “don’t you ever think? Just bouncing us around like that?”
“What do you mean…” He broke it off. He was trying to take his eyes off of her without much luck. Was she beautiful? He couldn’t quite decide. He stammered out an apology “I’m sorry, I didn’t know.” Didn’t know what? What the hell did that even mean?
She repositioned her dark brown eyes and fixed them on him. She had shortish brown hair. Dark brown. It matched her eyes. During the silence he took her in: she was dressed like someone out of “The Great Gatsby.” A lacy white dress, tapered down to her shin bones. White pumps with a strap around the ankle.
She indicated with a nod of her head that the coach wasn’t quite back where he had found it. He repositioned it, and then turned around.
She was gone.
What the hell? He had questions, not the least of which was how much was the train set he liked. He also had questions about this strange woman. He went up to the front and found a teenager behind the register feigning interest in a text book. “How much is the red train set from booth 23?” The kid shrugged without looking up, “we never got prices for that booth. Boss says they pay their rent so just let it be but we can’t sell it. Takes all types.” Then he flipped a page in the book indicating the conversation was over.
So he left without the train, and with unanswered questions about this, by now he had decided, beautiful woman. He caught his connection and forgot about the whole thing. Well, not quite the whole thing. He forgot about the train and how much it cost. What he couldn’t forget was that woman. She had crept into his head and just would not leave. But why? Yes, she was pretty. Yes she was exotic and mysterious. And yes, something had made her appear and disappear just at the moment he was in that booth. But none of that explained it. There was a feeling that he had for just a flash in her presence….like he belonged there.
On his next trip he intentionally took a longer route so he would have a layover down the street from the shop again. He told himself he would just go look and see if someone had priced the trains yet. But that was a lie. Getting that train would be a consolation prize. Things had gotten to the point where he felt compelled to see her again.
“This is stupid” he said to himself. She probably wouldn’t even be there. Nevertheless, here he was, feeling like a fool, poking around the shop hoping she would show up.
He didn’t see her even though he’d looked everywhere in the shop and had been to the train booth several times. There was a different cashier this time who shook her head sympathetically as if he had some mental disorder. He noticed she clutched her mobile phone in case she needed to call for help.
He decided to go by the booth one last time, maybe he could at least talk the cashier into selling him the train. Then he remembered, the one thing he had not repeated: he reached out and put his hand on the coach. Just like that, she was there standing next to him.
He was so startled he almost knocked over a Tiffany lamp. “What the hell…do you just appear at random?”
“You finally figured it out. Took you long enough. Were you not looking for me?”
“Well, yes I was, sort of” he stammered, “I just didn’t expect you to materialize out of thin air.”
He looked her over again, her eyes were dark, penetrating. Like she could bend you to her will. He looked away from her face. She was wearing the same kind of period-looking clothing, Although, this time it was a pale green skirt and jacket with a white blouse. She was wearing a creamy yellow hat that exactly matched her heels.
“John, are you satisfied? I am what you remember? What you came back for?”
“Well, yes, but it wasn’t exactly for you, I mean…”
“John, we both know why you came back. So say it, why are you here? Really. Why are you here?”
“I don’t know….there was something about you. Not because you’re pretty. I mean, you’re gorgeous, but that wasn’t it.”
“What about me John?”
How did she even know his name? And the way she said it, repeatedly, made him feel like a school boy. Like he would be bad if he didn’t answer honestly. So he did.
“I can’t describe it. It is a feeling like I belong.”
“Yes, with you.” This had started off weird and was getting weirder.
“John take my hands.”
She held out her delicate hands. He nail polish matched her pale green jacket and skirt. He took them gently.
“What do you feel now John?” A small smile started to form.
What he felt, made him ashamed of himself. He pulled his hands back, almost too fast, he was afraid he’d hurt or scared her. She just stood there…those eyes fixing him.
“Don’t feel bad. You’re not thinking of being wicked. You’re just remembering.”
“What the hell, I have a fiancé and everything.”
“John she is not for you. You can’t make her happy. You and her don’t belong. You left me. You have to come back. Please. Take my hands again.”
“You know what, I don’t even know your name and you’re telling me I left you? And I should leave my fiancé?”
“I told you, you don’t belong. How are you feeling now John?”
“A little scared of you frankly. And like there is something about you and I…but I can’t describe it.”
“Take my hands again.”
He did, and this time he held them firmly, enjoying the sensation of her touch.
“John, you don’t belong now. Do you trust me? Kiss me.”
He was pretty sure he didn’t trust her, but he was 100% sure he wanted to kiss her. He pulled her towards him.
She whispered in his ear, “Beatrice. My name is Beatrice.”
Their lips met and a spark of recognition flashed in his mind for a millisecond.
“Nothing worth reading.” He folded the newspaper and looked over at his wife curled up in the seat next to him and hanging on to his arm. He’d always liked her in green. He found himself wishing they’d booked a sleeper compartment. She was looking up at him smiling, her and those eyes.
“What’s up Trix? You’re being awfully amorous. Not that I don’t like it, mind you.”
“Nothing” she said dreamily “just promise me you’ll never leave me.”
He shook his head, “not sure where that came from, but I would die first.”
That, apparently, was the right answer as she gave him an especially long kiss, scandalizing the old battle ax across the aisle.
“Will you tell me what’s in the box now? You said after we boarded the train.”
“Go ahead and open it John.”
He undid the ribbon and lifted the top off the box to reveal a red Lionel Standard Gauge train set.
“Oh my, Beatrice, this is beautiful. It’s the latest model and just like the one we’re riding on. I love it!”
She burrowed in closer “I know what you like John. You’ve always said that.”
© Glenn R Keller 2023, All Rights Reserved