Our eyes meet across the train car. I see the timer counting down over his shoulder on the screen above the door. It’s now or never. If he doesn’t forgive me, it’s over.
I think he turned his back on the timer on purpose. His eyes are hard. They look almost grey in the dim light, but I know them better than my own. Soft, hazel irises flecked with gold. Outside the train car, the wheels shudder over the tracks. The lights from a passing station flash like strobe lights over the sharp lines of his face. I blink.
As my eyes flutter open, the dark train tunnel swallows us whole. The rhythm of the tracks ripping past settles in the base of my skull. It seeps into my clenched jaw and rattles up my bones along each vertebra in my spine, breathtaking as a drum line. I force myself not to move even though I desperately want to run. I can’t read him from this far away. His dark curly hair hangs around his cheekbones like shadows framing his russet-brown skin.
My body vibrates and I don’t know if it’s from the train or from my own shaking.
I want to run to him. I want to run as far as I can in the opposite direction. His thick arms hang at his sides and my eyes flicker to his hands. I know the feeling of those hands around me and against the skin of my back.
Why doesn’t he get it over with?
I glance at the seats and count heads. Two women with their backs to me on the right side. A little girl sitting on an older man’s lap further down. On the left, there’s only one: a man with his head leaned back, snoring.
None of them would pay any attention. There may as well be mistletoe hanging over my head as a socially acceptable exception to avoiding public displays of affection. And if he hits me instead, they probably wouldn’t notice that either. None of them want to be on this train for New Year's any more than we do.
I brace myself, planting my feet and clenching my hands into fists. If he needs to get in a good punch to make himself feel better, I won’t stop him. I deserve it. We both know it. So, why doesn’t he just move?
My heart is a lump of coal in my throat and I know I deserve that, too, but I just want it all to be over. The things that I said — the lies that I told — coat the back of my tongue like bile. Just because I was afraid of what people would think didn’t give me a right to play with his feelings like that. I should have just told him. From the start.
Honestly, a punch might make me feel better than anything else. Maybe it would knock the memories right out of my thick skull.
He takes a step. Maybe a whimper comes out of me. Or was that just a squeak from the train wheels?
More lights fly by in the tunnel around us, dancing a discotheque across his cheeks, lighting up his eyes with more colours than a sunset. I blink away tears. My throat chokes on a swallow.
I wish I wasn’t such a fool. I wish I hadn’t lied and had just told him I was in love with him from the start. There’s enough stigma around us without me bringing more into it with every word out of my mouth.
As if that first step confirmed something for him, he walks forwards with purpose. Each step of his combat boots beats in time with my heart, even though I can’t possibly hear his footfalls over the rattle of the train car. The man snoring on the left shifts in his seat and scratches his nose, but his eyes stay closed. Further down on the right, the little girl points to something on the window I can’t see.
My chest is squeezing and my breaths are coming fast. I can’t bring myself to look at him. I look everywhere else, instead.
“Why did you run away?” he asks.
I hear him, but I don’t. Not over the noise. All the same, his voice draws my eyes and I can’t look away anymore. He’s halfway down the car — halfway to me. Every word out of his mouth rumbles in my ears, making me quiver. I don’t think I can hold back the tears anymore. That’s okay. I got over the stigma of men crying ages ago, and besides, it’s dark. No one’s going to notice.
Why can’t I get over the stigma to love who I wanna love the same way?
He stops in front of me and my breath catches in my chest. I still can’t move — indecisive as always. I hate choices, but this isn’t my choice anymore. I know what I would choose if I could do it all over again, but I didn’t last time, so it’s all in his hands. His big, callused, beautiful hands.
He grabs my face between his hands, smearing the tears on my cheeks with his warm, gentle palms.
“I get it, okay?” he whispers.
I wish he’d shout. That would be less terrifying than the gentle flutter of his voice.
At the next station, the train is going to stop. No matter what he does now, we’re going to get off on that platform—
The lights go out. Even the screen at the far end of the car blinks off just in time for the countdown to end.
“And I love you, too.”
His breath brushes my cheeks like kisses. His warm hands still cup my face. I’ve braced myself for anything — a good punch, maybe a knee to the groin. I know I’d deserve it, but—
What did he say?
He kisses me on the mouth and all the lights flicker on. A voice talks over the intercom, but I hardly hear it as fireworks go off on the screen over his shoulder.
Or are those fireworks sparking behind my eyelids?