Staring out the window of the train, Sammie observed the scenery as it rushed by. It was early fall, the ideal time to be traveling through North Carolina. Though she had not been many places in the world, she doubted anything was as beautiful as the fiery shades of red and orange draped over the trees outside. Try as she might to enjoy it, a glumness now clung to her.
Only a couple hours into her trip on her way to meet her six-month-old goddaughter and visit her best friend after a long year away, she received a phone call that they were officially under quarantine with Covid. Sammie almost instantly had the thought to ditch the trip altogether, plainly getting off at the next stop and hopping the next train back to D.C. This was her first time back to her home state since she had made her move, though, and there was no ignoring how good it felt to back.
She then told herself she could go visit her parents who were both only about an hour outside of her destination in Raleigh. That was what she should do since her plans had fallen through, but there was a major flaw in that idea. Her parents had divorced a few months into her moving away. It was still all too fresh, especially since her dad now had a live-in girlfriend. Spending a stress-filled week split between the two of them talking trash about the other just did not feel like the way she wanted to spend a vacation.
Finally, she came to the decision to take the vacation for herself. Therefore, when she arrived, she found herself a hotel room. Putting on the nicest dress she had packed, she wrapped her long black hair into a neat updo and left straight away to eat at her favorite Italian spot a couple blocks down the street. She sat sipping her wine while waiting for her food. As she did so she studied the people as they walked by on the streets. At this point, she had become accustomed to eating alone. Though, she had hoped once she had gotten established in D.C. she would have connected with people, co-workers or perhaps someone from the gym, but no serious relationships had come about for her. She assured everyone back home that she was doing well, only the truth was she was isolated out there.
As she watched couples strolling by, arms hooked together as they kept from the evening cold settling in, she regretted her spontaneous decision to take this trip on her own. In the moment, there had been an excitement to it, but now a loneliness was setting in that made her want to rush back to the privacy of her hotel room so no one else could bear witness to what a companionless creature she had become.
Suddenly a man walking by himself felt her eyes, turning his gaze straight upon her. Her mouth dropped open as time seemed to slow down outside of the two of them. He was the kind of attractive that belonged in fantasies. There was a tan to his skin, highlighting a head of wavy auburn hair that reminded her of the trees she had admired on her journey in. The second his eyes locked onto hers, she found herself wondering what his beard would feel like against her cheek if he was to kiss her.
The man continued walking on, though, breaking their eye contact as he carried on down the street. She sighed deeply, averting her eyes down to her half empty wine glass when a tapping sound came from the window. Looking up, she saw the man smiling in at her. He gave her a little wave before holding his phone up to the glass.
Leaning in, she read the words he had typed out in his messages. He had no way of knowing it, but the question across his screen was the one she had been waiting to be asked for the past year. It read simply, “Would you like some company?”
She smiled back at him, nodding her head. He walked into the restaurant, sliding smoothly into the seat across from hers. “Hi,” he said, his brown eyes shining as he took her in.
“Hi,” she giggled, biting her lip as she felt the blood rush to her cheeks. The butterflies inside her fluttered together all at once, breaking the lid from their jar, and at long last flew freely.
The stranger’s name, though he never felt like a stranger even before she knew what to call him, was Adam. He was from South Georgia but had recently moved here after his late father left him a house and a construction business to run. From what he told her, he had been given much in life; yet there was not the slightest hint of entitlement to him. He was a humble, hardworking man that for some reason wanted to know everything there was to know about her.
After sharing their meal, they walked the city together all night. She had never encountered another human being who was easier to talk to. They told each other secrets and their dreams for the future as naturally as a stream runs down a mountain side. The one thing she did carefully leave out until the night was almost over was that though she was from here, she no longer lived here. She had wanted to hold on to the feeling that this would be something more than temporary for as long as she could. The disappointment in his face was unmistakable.
They walked on for a few minutes, silence falling between them for the first time that evening. Then, without truly intending to, she began to tell him thoughts she had not dared to speak aloud. “I moved to D.C. because I got this amazing job offer at a publishing house right out of college. At the time it felt like what I was supposed to do, you know? To get out there and experience a new place. Mainly, to find out who I was all on my own,” she explained, staring out at the buildings lit up in the night sky in front of them. “I think I hate it, though. All of it. The thing is I wanted to be a writer, but it didn’t feel secure enough, so I settled. Now all I do is work my butt off getting other people’s books on the shelf while I try to bury my own bitterness. All the while, I’m too scared to change anything, like admitting I made the wrong decisions makes me a failure.”
Adam halted in the middle of the sidewalk, suddenly grabbing hold of her hand, and taking off running while she rushed to keep up with him. He routed them through alleys and parking lots before they finally burst through a pair of hedges into the backside of a park. They lay side by side on the grass laughing while they caught their breath.
He reached out again, this time slowly slipping his fingers between her own. “If you only travel the road paved out in front of you, you might find yourself regretting not taking the turn to see what was down the dirt path,” he spoke quietly as they lay with the tips of their noses touching, gazing into the other’s eyes.
When they arrived outside of her hotel, the birds beginning their morning songs as dawn approached, Sammie wanted with every fiber of her being to invite him up to her room. She would have had he been any other guy, but more than the desire for his body, she desired his respect. Therefore, she took her notepad from her purse. Clicking her pen, she wrote down her phone number, then paused and wrote down her address in D.C. as well.
“I leave in a week,” she informed him, ripping the paper away and handing it over to him. “I’d love to see you again if you get the time.”
“How’s tonight sound?” he asked immediately, taking a small step towards her. His gaze bored into her, filling her with an infatuation she had never known even in her adolescence. She exhaled in quiet relief knowing he was just as eager to be with her again.
“Sounds like exactly what I wanted to hear,” she whispered before wrapping her arms around his neck and bringing her lips up to meet his.
Every day over the next week felt like a chapter in a book, each better than the one before. They shared the nights until morning came when Adam had to go into work. She was not sure when he was finding the time to sleep, but he seemed unfazed. When the evening came, he was bright-eyed and ready to dive into whatever they had planned for their time together. They went dancing at a jazz club one night, axe throwing the next, bar hopping, comedy clubs, until they had rung Raleigh dry of its nightlife. She could not remember the last time she had lived like this. It was not a time either of them wanted to end; yet as they both knew it would, her last night there eventually fell upon them.
This time, instead of strolling the streets as they had been, Adam brought his truck to pick her up. “I have some place I want to take you tonight,” was all he told her as they drove out of the city.
Cutting off the highway before eventually turning onto a gravel road, he took her about a mile down before pulling over next to a barn overlooking a horse pasture. A couple of the horses glanced up in acknowledgement as they exited the truck, snorting as if unimpressed by their presence.
“A bit snooty, aren’t they?” Sammie suggested, frowning in disenchantment.
“Want to know the way to their hearts?” Adam asked, chuckling at her forlorn expression. He grabbed a grocery bag from the back of his truck full of red apples.
There was nothing but joy inside her as she stroked slowly down the peach fuzz nose of a gorgeous white horse as it greedily gobbled up the apple in her hand. The setting sun cast an orange glow across the overgrown brush and surrounding trees, making everything around them feel at peace. Eyeing Adam carefully, she questioned, “Where are we?”
“This is my grandparents’ land. Their house is just up the way,” he explained, handing her another apple. “They offered the barn to me for the night when I told them I needed to do something to impress a very special girl.”
“Are you trying to show me what that dirt road of yours looks like?” she asked playfully, grinning over at him.
“Something like that,” he said quietly, putting an arm around her. She felt her heart grow heavy at his touch. It was becoming increasingly difficult to imagine leaving him behind.
When the darkness began to set in around them and the chill of the night nipped their ears red, Adam led her to the barn. They entered through the main doors, walking into a scene fit for a wedding. He had strung up lights around the entire barn, creating a trail made up of purple carnations leading to the ladder that went up to the loft. The first night they had spent together he had made a point to ask what her favorite color and flower was, and it seemed he had remembered well.
She climbed slowly up the ladder, a smile spreading across her face as she reached the top. A beautiful picnic was laid out across a checkered quilt. A romantic illumination filled the room from a small lantern next to an ice bucket with a bottle of wine and a spread of homemade finger foods. Adam moved swiftly past her, sliding open the windows at the back of the loft. Suddenly she was level with the stars, feeling as if she was shining brighter than all of them combined.
They met back together in the middle of the room, the tension between them thick in the air. “I can’t wait a second longer to have you,” she whispered as his lips grazed her own.
Gently, he took the straps of her dress in his fingers and dropped them down over her shoulders. “Then I won’t make you wait,” he replied, lifting her up and laying her down in front of the night sky.
They were brave when he took her to the train station the next morning. No tears were shed, smiles were held, and promises were made to see each other again; yet once she was staring out that train window again at him waving goodbye, the weight of the end of their perfect week together hit. The train whistled loudly, and slowly he disappeared from her view, replaced by the fall trees she had found so breathtaking on her way into the city. Only now their beauty caused her pain, holding only reminders of what she was leaving behind.
The entire train ride back to D.C., she did not pull her eyes from the window. All she did was think about the way she had been living her life. She had gone from the most unhappy year of her life to the best she had ever felt in a single week thanks to Adam. It was impossible to think she had fallen in love with him in a matter of seven days, but the more and more she thought it over, the more certain she became.
By the time the train screeched to a stop at the station in D.C., she had called her boss and quit her job. The moment she stepped into the drab apartment she had spent too long wasting away in, she began packing. To her surprise, as she made these abrupt, life changing decisions, there was no longer an ounce of fear inside her. She would never be a failure when following her dreams. Adam had made her see that, and now all she could think of was getting back to him.
When she awoke the next morning, her apartment now made up mostly of taped over boxes, she made herself a cup of coffee as she looked out over D.C. from her window. It had not been a bad place to live, but it was not where she belonged. While she was saying her silent farewell to her time here, preparing to go rent a U-Haul truck to get her moving show on the road, there came a knock at her door.
She almost laughed out loud. The entire time she had lived here, no one had ever knocked on her door. Glancing down at her flannel pajamas and monster feet slippers, she shrugged at her appearance. “Not like I’ll ever see whoever is out there again,” she thought, carefree as she opened the door.
Her breath caught in her throat as she found Adam waiting outside her door. He looked her up and down, then past at all the boxes stacked around the living room. “I came to help you pack,” he said casually as a wide-spread grin formed across both their faces.
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Enjoyable tale! I would have liked to have read it while sitting next to a fire all cozy-like. Or.......on a train. NIce!
There was a nice flow to your story. I enjoyed following along on Sammie and Adam's journey. Well done!
Ah, kismet! When it happens, it love bombs you, then you change your entire life for it :) It's a sweet meet-cute story. I like how Sammie's trip has to pivot which opens her up for the rest of the story. It felt natural for all of those things to happen in the story. I think you might be missing the word 'go' at the end of the second paragraph. The sentence ends with " felt to back". Good job!
Thank you for the valuable feedback and pointing out that missing word! Just goes to show I can never proofread enough!
It happens to everyone on here. So much pressure to get under 3000 words by Friday night and it has to fit the prompt! A word or two or wonky punctuation happens. I'm always glad when someone points it out for me, too.