It all started on a train.
It sounds both overly cliche and unique at the same time. Really, it didn’t all start on a train, but if we went back to where it all started, we’d go far too back in time, so the train ride in which I was traveling from Manchester to London seems like as good a place as any to begin the story.
There are a few things one notices as an American in England.
For one, obviously, the accent. It’s overwhelming. It’s like you’re suddenly living in an old-timey movie and all the women around you sound pretentious and the men like gentlemen. Deceiving, really.
I was reading. Sherlock Holmes By Conan Doyle, to be precise, because reading books with the setting of my surroundings always made the experience more enjoyable. A tapping coming from the window was steadily getting annoying, and I assumed it was a branch hitting the window, or somehow, droplets of rain.
To make a long story short- it wasn’t.
I had naturally taken the first(and only, the train was quite crowded) empty train car I could find, so I couldn’t depend on anyone else to investigate the noise. After three more consecutive taps, with a huff, I set my gaze on the window.
It was a good thing there was no one with me, because the hardcover book slipped from my hands onto the leather seating and I jumped up. The thud of the book further slipping down onto the flooring made me jump an extra measure.
On the other side of the foggy window(they’re not lying when they say it’s always raining in England), there was a face staring right back at me.
Not just a face, a whole body, clinging for dear life to whatever they could grab off the side of the train, their torso and up visible through the window.
The mystery reader in me couldn’t help but scan him, taking in his ripped sleeves and untucked dress shirt, flowing in the wind. His eyes were panicked, and the little bit of his fingers I could see were red. As I was focused on the scar running down his neck, it took me a moment to respond when he yelled, though the sound was muffled both by the wind and the window.
“ARE YOU GOING TO OPEN IT?”
“Oh! Right.” I slowly walked to the window, wondering if it even could be opened. After running my fingers over the wood for a couple seconds, I found a latch. It was hard at first, but I pulled it down(muscles that came with carrying books from the library, obviously). The only problem was, I pulled it too hard. The whole window opened outward, taking the boy with it. I winced as his body hit the other side of the train.
I tapped my fingers against the sill and sighed, Sherlock Holmes long forgotten. With the window open, the deafening sounds of the train moving noisily over the tracks made their way into my ear.
“PULL YOUR KNEES UP AND BRING YOUR BODY ON THE OTHER SIDE, ALRIGHT? DON’T LET ANYTHING BE BEYOND THE WINDOW!” I yelled to be heard over the train, slightly unsure why I was bothering to help. I clicked my tongue and waited for a couple seconds before planting my feet firmly in front of the wall of the train and leaning out. The whipping wind blew my hair in every direction possible, and for a moment I appreciated it.
The next moment, I reached my arms out as far as I could against the side of the train, my elbow stretching somewhere over the neck of the boy. I let out a gasp of breath as my fingers finally reached the end of the window. I yelped as I almost lost my foothold, standing on my tip-toes to reach. I reached just a little further and clasped the window tightly with my fingers.
He didn’t answer, but I pulled hard anyway, pulling the window back in. I completely lost my foothold and let go of the window just as it was about to close on my fingers. I tripped on my feet, the boy crashing on top of me, probably detaching himself from the window so he wouldn’t be flung out again. For a moment we lay, catching our breath. He pulled himself up, palms on the floor, and we were nose to nose.
“Thank you,” he practically whispered, still out of breath. I had the urge to roll my eyes, because there was something about his voice I hadn’t noticed when he was yelling, but was somehow very apparent when he whispered. He was British. Of course.
I pushed him off and he scrambled to get up as I grabbed my book from the floor, standing. I smoothed my hair down and set the book on the seat, examining him carefully.
“I’m Holden.” He thrust his hand out and I narrowed my eyes at it.
“And I’m not telling some weird boy that was just hanging off the side of a train my name.”
“I think sharing a near-death experience deserves naming rights!”
I huffed, late to respond because there was just something familiar about his demeanor and name.
“Are you crazy?! You could’ve gotten killed, you’re lucky I helped you!”
“Look- you’re American, you wouldn’t understand.”
I raised my eyebrows.
“Where I come from, we literally have to double-check if the loud noises were fireworks or gunshots. Don’t play that card. What are you doing anyway, running away from something?”
“You know too much already.”
I squinted at him when his familiarity clicked into place. I facepalmed.
“You’re that foreign exchange student, aren’t you? You came to Florida for something?”
He squinted at me back, still wiping the dust from his clothes.
“Ha! Emily, right?”
I rolled my eyes and didn’t answer.
“Are we just going to ignore the fact that you were just hanging off of the side of a train, or are you going to explain? If not, then kindly exit please.”
He smoothed his hair back and laughed. He was doubled over in a moment, completely out of breath. I looked at him when he straightened, puzzled.
“I literally...almost died.”
I raised my eyebrows, still not seeing what he found funny with the situation.
“Do you want me to explain, or do you want me to leave? It’s your choice, Emily.”
I plopped down on one of the leather seats, tapping my nails against the cover of my book. What would Holmes do?
I patted the part of the seat left beside me. Holden grinned and sat.
“You’d better start explaining, and fast.”
He nodded towards my book.
“What’re you reading?”
“One of my favorites.”
His eyes sparkled and he looked to where the window was still open, flapping slightly in the wind as we moved along. “Have you read any of Steinbeck’s?”
“He’s on my to-read.”
I watched as he clasped his hands together at his lap, one of his knees shaking.
“There is someone on this train that would like me dead.”
My breath hitched. I evened my breathing and made eye contact with Holden.
“As in… would not mind killing you with his bare hands wants you dead or, like…”
“And you...what? Escaped somehow from another train car and made your way to the next one over from the outside?”
“And now…? You’re afraid to get out of the train car because he thinks you died on departure?”
“And now? You expect me to just help you, putting my own life in danger in the process and likely getting caught up in whatever makes someone want you dead.”
Figured. It’s the plot of some sort of thing out there. And now I was living it. Wasn’t this every bookworm's dream?
The door of the train car opened, startling us both.
“Bloody hell!” Holden started, standing.
The woman wheeling some sort of snack cart gave him an odd look.
“Where’s your manners boy? Would you like anything missus?”
I shook my head and she rolled out, pulling the door closed on her way out. I scoffed at Holden.
“What? I thought it was- never mind. The train’s stopping soon. If you’re helping me, we need to prepare to get off this train immediately."
He walked over to the window and leaned out slightly.
“What, don’t want to jump while it’s moving? I kind of took you for the daring kind.”
“Do you have some sort of death wish?! Jump off of a moving train?”
“We’re all going to die in the end,” I rolled my eyes and picked up my book, hugging it tightly. I tapped my toes in my boots and looked thoughtfully up at the luggage carriers. My sketchbook, my clothes, ugh, my camera.
I elbowed him out of the way and pushed the window completely open.
“This’d better be worth it.”
“Emily. Emily, I know you’re not going to jump out of the window.”
“You’d better follow.”
“I knew Americans were crazy but this is a bit much. Emily, back away from the window.”
I threw my book out and winced as Sherlock Holmes probably lost a couple pages. Forgive me, Mr. Doyle.
I gripped the edges of the train and hauled a leg over.
I shut his voice out and focused on my breathing as I grunted and pulled my other leg over.
Sitting on the edge of a train. I wondered what someone would think if they saw me. Probably think I’m some crazy tourist trying to get a selfie. I shook my head hard and closed my eyes.
Holden’s yells faded away into wind when I pushed my legs against the train and let go.
I coughed the dirt and grass from my throat, examining my surroundings. It was just a grass field, right by a train track. How delightful. I swear if someone saw me they’d think there was some sort of movie being shot.
I grunted and rolled over on my side, wincing at the sharp pain at my waist.
I inhaled deeply and pushed my hands to the ground, trying to stand. I settled for sitting up instead. There was about a ten-second gap with my jump and me throwing Sherlock Holmes off, so my book can’t be far. I wondered if Holden had even jumped. If he hadn’t...well, I’d just made a very big mistake.
I cracked my neck and looked far-right, shielding my face from the sun with my hands. It was all grass from here, so it was easy to see a silhouette not too far away. So he had jumped. With a grunt, I pulled myself up onto shaky legs. I wobbled before walking in the direction of the shape of a person. My hip yelled at me with each step, begging me to stop.
I tried to distract myself with the mystery.
What causes someone to want someone else dead?
Why was he on a train?
Did destiny bring him my way?
Would I be back in America any time soon?
Had I just done something stupid?
I’d jumped out of a moving train. My parents would probably be notified as soon as I wasn’t off the station and at Nana’s house, my bags left behind.
I was so caught up in my thoughts, I hadn’t realized I was almost beside Holden, so I slightly quickened my pace.
He sat staring at the sky, hands clasped at his knees. He was panting for breath and shaking a little.
“Well well well, you jumped.”
He turned to me, shaking his head.
“You’re really crazy, you know that?”
“You’re really British, you know that?” I mimicked his accent at ‘British, wrinkling my nose.
He scoffed. I sat down next to him, rubbing my side.
“Harder than you thought, America, no?”
“No. Are you going to help me find my book before we continue with whatever it is I’m helping you with?”
“In a minute. Isn’t it pretty?” he motioned to the light green grass, the dandelion here and there, all misted slightly with dewdrops from the almost-never stopping rain of England.
“I suppose it is.”
I leaned back on the wet grass, and for a moment, ignored the pain at my waist and the anticipation of what was to come. For now, it was me, the grass, and a mystery I had yet to solve.
Sherlock would be proud.