The clakity clak of the railroad tracks was lulling me into a doze, as I gazed out the window, watching the countryside wind past. The train was moving at a fair speed, so I wasn’t focusing on anything in particular. It was residential area we were passing through, with holiday lights of various types and colors lighting the darkness, with a splash here and there of streetlights and the odd community building that would have its parking lots lighted up. The effect of the reds, greens, blues, yellows, and white lights created these pools of luminescence that was fuzzy in the snow-covered landscape, through the semi-fogged window. It made me feel more and more like it was actually time for Christmas.
The train car swayed, gently, in its steady motion, and this added to my near-doze. The car itself was a private one, and it was a plush, old fashioned style of passenger compartment. The red suede covered seats, velvet drapes, wooden window panes and walls, made for quite the experience of old world style travel. It intensified that feeling of the holiday season, and I smiled.
It wasn’t as warm as I hoped it to be, in the train car, so I kept my jacket on, and tugged the fur lined collar a little closer to my neck, but I didn’t bother buttoning it up. The white pullover I was wearing underneath was comfortable enough, but watching the snow drifting on the wind outside gave me both a shiver, and a visual delight. You can’t hardly have Christmas without snow, right? It’s always seemed that way to me.
I checked to make sure all of my cases were there; The suitcases, my instrument cases, and my presents. I’d had help from the porter to get all this stuff into the carriage, and I planned to maybe even change outfits. But in the end, I just decided to doze.
Someone knocked on the door three times. They were loud, and it startled me out of my reverie. I blinked, then glanced towards the entryway. Before I could open my mouth, the door opened, and in stepped a tall young man with dark eyes and long dark hair. He was carrying a suitcase and a backpack, wearing a long black woolen trench coat with a smoke gray scarf, and a flat cap, that had been pulled low.
He was lean, and wore black linen trousers with pinstripes of silver, black shiny leather dress boots, and a royal blue woolen sweater with a rolled turtleneck that drooped down the front of his chest a little. His face looked angular, with high cheekbones and a little bit of a hawkish nose, and his ears appeared to be pierced in several places, as was one of his eyebrows. He looked to be in his mid 20s, perhaps, and he had several days worth of dark stubble on his cheeks.
The man passed something to a conductor outside the door, who looked in, tipped his hat to me, as he took whatever was in the newcomer’s palm, and then closed the door behind him. The newcomer smiled at me with an almost embarrassed look. My mouth was open still from when the door first burst open, but I closed my mouth, furrowed my brow, and tilted my head.
“Hey, umm.. You know this is a private car? I paid for this.. “ I crossed my arms over my chest in a defensive posture, as I started to get my hackles up. I watched him as he put his suitcase on the luggage rack above the opposite seat, and he glanced at me with those dark and mysterious eyes.
“Oh, hey.. Sorry .. I know you didn’t expect a companion in this car, but the rest of the cars are full up, and the railroad says this is a double, not a single. So the conductor…” The newcomer’s voice was mid-range, and very pleasant to listen to. He had the kind of voice that he could read the phone book to you, and you’d be charmed and want to hear more.
I pursed my lips, as he spoke, his voice draining the irritation out of me, but I had dealt with charmers before, and I cut in on the explanation.
“So you bribed the conductor to put you in here. Does that about sum up your story? This is a private car, so.. You should..” I stopped as his face seemed to fall, and a weariness seemed to descend on him, as his shoulders slumped.
At first I thought he was going to spin a sob story, but he didn’t. He simply reached up, and took hold of his suitcase, and pulled it down. “My apologies. I … don’t want to ruin your trip. I will see if I can find some other place. “ He turned towards the door, and began to open it.
For some reason, the fact that he didn’t try to shine me on with a sob story quieted my bullshit alarms. This was a weary traveler, someone that was trying to make his way home for Christmas, most likely, and I had just kicked him in the stomach and sent him back out into the proverbial snow. And damnit, it was Christmas.
“Hey, “ I said before he could get out the door. “Wait. Come on back in. There’s plenty of room, Ok? “
He turned back, and his frown seemed sincere, as he looked back, and seemed torn between leaving with a shred of dignity, from my earlier rebuke, and wanting to believe I meant it.
“Are you sure? I don’t want to be a bother to you.” He said that last with a perfectly level tone, but it sounded hopeful, and made me think I’d made the right choice.
“If you’re going to keep the door open, it’ll let the in the riff-raff, so close the damn door, and get back here, Slim.” I uncrossed my arms, and said that last with a quirk of a smile as I gestured him back in. “Truly. I actually don’t mind. It’s just – you startled me. But no harm done.”
The man’s face lit in a smile, and it made my heart flutter for some reason. It wasn’t like a sexual attraction, though honestly, he was really easy on the eyes. But it was something more than that; It was something personal, and honest in gratitude, and maybe a little humility.
“I can’t thank you enough,“ he said as he replaced his suitcase back on the luggage rack, unslung his backpack, and placed it on the seat. He settled himself down opposite me, and seemed to deflate, as if he hadn’t rested for days. He slipped his flat cap off, tucked it into a pocket, and ran his hands through his shoulder length midnight locks. It was longer than his shoulders, straight and shiny, hanging down his back. He sighed, and then looked up at me with a gentle smile.
He leaned forward, extending his hand. “Where are my manners,” he said, like something out of an old English countryside novel, “Allow me to introduce myself – I am Sebastian Black. Who do I have the honor of sharing this beautiful carriage with?”
I had to grin at the cheesiness that seemed to accompany his rather forward and sincere introduction. I thought maybe the guy had watched too much “Downton Abbey”. I leaned forward and clasped his hand, giving it a squeeze and a gentle shake. His grip was firm, warm, but not overbearing. He was a gentleman, it seemed. He released my palm at just the right moment, and we both resumed our relaxed seating.
“Just call me Ralphie,” I replied, not sure if he’d recognize me from my band, or my other artistic endeavors. I shouldn’t have worried too much. He smiled, amused, at the name I’d given, and chuckled, “Very well then, Ralphie the blond! Where are you headed? Home for the holidays? You seem to be traveling rather heavy. “
I shrugged, and didn’t take offense at his comment on my name. But then I furrowed my brow a little, at his next observations, and thought maybe he was hitting on me, but I kept the tone light. “Well, yes, I’m headed home. You could say it’s an extended holiday vacation. Where are you headed? Going home, as well? “
The question almost seemed to take him by surprise, maybe because he was as exhausted as he looked. But he unfurled his brow, smiled, and said, “Yes, actually. I’m going to see my father and some family. It’s been a long time since I was home, and they finally prevailed on me to make the sojourn. I’ve been traveling for 5 days, non-stop, from halfway around the world.”
His travel plans sounded almost worse than my own, as I was returning from a trip from Asia, and had been traveling by bus, train, plane and automobile for days, leapfrogging across land and sea.
“You have my sympathies, Sebastian,” I said, as he nodded and reached into his backpack, withdrawing a thermos and then two coffee mugs. “Would you like some coffee? I had it brewed just before the train left the station at that charming little coffee house beside the ticket house. It’s actually quite good. “
I smiled and shrugged, thinking that something warm would be nice. It was that or go to the dining car. “If you don’t mind, I’d love some. It smells delicious!” I said with some enthusiasm, as the steaming thermos was opened and I caught a scent of the aromatic brew.
Sebastian handed me a plastic cup, and I inhaled the tendrils of steam rising from the dark liquid, and then blew on the surface, before I took a sip. Simultaneously, he smiled as he did the same. For one brief moment, I had a stray thought that I should have waited for him to drink first, if this played out like any number of movies where the unaware passenger was drugged by a charming newcomer. But I shouldn’t have worried because the coffee slid down my throat, and warmed me all the way to my tummy. We both sighed in delight at the shared experience.
“Thank you, again, for letting me share your compartment,” Sebastian said, after a few more sips. I shrugged and made a dismissive motion.
“It’s OK. We both have had one hell of a long ride home. But if I doze off, don’t take it as an offense.”
Sebastian shook his head, and smiled, the fatigue showing in his face. “You needn’t worry about that. I’m likely to drop off rather soon myself.“
After a few more minutes, and a refill from his thermos, we both finished up our coffee, and I passed the cup back to him, with a nod of thanks. He stowed away cups and thermos, after giving them a wipe with a paper napkin from his pocket, back into the backpack. He then settled himself, and crossed his arms over his chest, and proceeded to doze off, in what felt like thirty seconds. He didn’t snore, thankfully. And neither did I.
Me and the traveling man simply dozed together, in companionable silence, rocked gently by the train, as we made our way home. When I woke, he was gone, and the train was stopped. The only evidence of his presence was a note propped on top of my guitar case, that read, “I love your work, RDL. You rock. Thank you again for letting me share your compartment. I won’t forget it. Call me if you’re in town and have a few minutes. Merry Christmas, Love, SB” And there was a business card with it. “Traveling Man Records – Sebastian Black – CEO”
WOW. Just wow.
Story by: Dehrynn Shepherd
Hair- =DeLa*= Mesh Hair “Elsie” (Store)
Suitcases & Train decor- -DRD- Arctic Express (The Arcade)