The Final Stop
If someone were to ask you what day was worse than Monday, Tuesday should be your answer. What’s worse than the first day of the week? The day that follows. It was simple science. The world never stops when you do. It keeps going, advancing where it could and stopping short from time to time.
I was never the type to ‘stop short’.
Until I saw her.
The girl that smelled of sandalwood and rose. I was only close enough once to memorize her scent. She worked as a barista in my favorite bookstore, a little hole in the wall in New York City. The first time I laid eyes on her, I didn’t know what to do with myself.
Today wasn’t any different.
Opening the storefront door, I walked inside, my gaze instantly landing on Marina. She was dressed up today, leaving her signature bright pink ratty Converse at home. That was the first thing I noticed while she sorted a box of books in front of her.
There wasn’t anything special about the bookstore, not unless you counted Marina working there. It was a large square room with black and green shelves haphazardly nailed to the cracked eggshell-colored walls. Well-worn couches and bean bags were scattered in the middle of the room. The owner, an older Hispanic hippie man who called himself Reyes, liked to call it the ‘reading bowl’.
I was one of his regular customers, unable to stop coming once I saw Marina. Reyes knew I appreciated her beauty, even though I’d never make a move.
It wasn’t like I was planning to anyway.
“Erin!” Reyes’ velvety voice tore me away from my daydream. His gray hair was sticking up on all ends, matching his loud… colorful outfit.
I smiled, running a hand through my short hair. “Morning.”
Instinctively, my gaze slid over to Marina, who was still shelving books. She turned her body a bit, glancing at me for a moment. “Hey, Erin!” Marina called, her melodic voice carrying over and ensnaring me. I leveled my gaze over her fully. Her curly pink dyed hair was thrown up into a bun, a kinky ringlet falling forward.
I wanted to tuck that strand of hair behind her ear.
“Morning, Marina,” My voice was a mere whisper as I involuntarily took a step towards her.
Large doe eyes met mine. There was a clearness to them, an innocence to them that sent shivers down my spine and made my throat dry. Gulping loudly, I took a step forward. She seemed to be having trouble putting the last couple of books on the top shelves. Marina was a short girl with a petite curvy frame.
Without thinking, I reached over and pulled the two books from her sun-kissed hand. “Here let me help,” I heard myself say, using my six-foot frame to place the last books on the top shelf.
Marina looked up, cerulean eyes meeting mine. I took a sharp intake of breath. Marina’s eyes were fire in water. If you could imagine such a thing. Passion. So full of life.
Never dominating nor submitting, but someone so walked freely between that line. And she was much more. There were days that she looked at me, a little too long, her waving ocean blue gaze.
Merriment danced in her eyes as she watched my arm fall back down. “Thanks,” she said, a quiver in her vowel.
I rest my elbow on the edge of the shelf, never once taking my stare off her freckled face. “Your welcome. How was your weekend?”
“It was good, I mostly stayed home and read. It’s why I’m putting all these books back.”
My mouth dropped, slack-jawed. It was a pretty big box that held all those books. “You finished all those books in one weekend?”
Marina cackled. “No! Those were throughout the week. Reyes lets me borrow books instead of buying them. The ones that I really like I buy.”
I whirled around to the old man. “You never offered that to me!.”
“You pay a lot for these books without me asking, I won’t stop you from giving me business,” he shrugged, a grin plastered on his wrinkled face.
I sighed, shaking my head. “Maybe I’ll borrow books from you sometime.” It was out in the open before I could even take it back. My eyes widened and I looked at Marina’s face.
There was a secretive smile beginning to form. “As if a bookworm would ever let you borrow one of their books. You could come over if you want to read them.” Marina said, taking a step forward.
I swallowed loudly. “Wait really?”
“Yeah. I dorm in an apartment off Hunter,” She explained, her expression serious. “I get off at 6, how does that sound?”
“T-tonight?” I breathed out, shoving my hands into my pockets.
Marina nodded. “Unless you’re busy?”
I held my hands out. “No, I’m totally free.”
“Okay cool, I have to get back to work now but wait for me. I’ll make you a drink,” Marina straightened, a grin plastered on her face. Her cheeks were slightly flushed as she bent down and grabbed the empty box, walking back toward the cafe.
I let out a breath I didn’t think I was holding.
Erin waited for me all the way until I got off. I expected to be surprised, but at the same time, I wasn’t. She was so genuine. She had my bookbag slung over her shoulder and a stack of books in one arm.
“Ready to go?” She asked, her steel grey gaze glancing at me.
I nodded. “Yes,” I turned around, “Goodnight Reyes, see you tomorrow!”
“Don’t have too much fun, you two! Goodnight,” Reyes called, putting the final lock on the bookstore before walking the opposite way.
“Lead the way,” Erin replied, stiffly walking beside me. Even from here, I could see how nervous she was talking to me. I found it adorable.
“We’re taking the Q to the final stop,” I said, linking my arm through hers as we walked. I shuddered as the winter air bit into my chest. I adjusted my scarf as Erin leaned forward, helping me with the back. I smiled in thanks and we crossed the street, heading towards the Christopher Street Station.
“I thought we were taking the Q?”
“We have to take the 1 train to the Q, silly.” I shook my head and bounded down the steps in tandem with Erin.
Erin chuckled, stopping at the turnstile. She took out her wallet and was about to swipe, but she stopped tilting her head to the side.
There were cops stationed at the entrance of the emergency exit door, talking to a young African-American teen. Except, they didn’t seem to just be talking to him. There were two of the pressing him up against the gated wall roughly, shoving his head harder into the black rusted metal.
Erin took a step forward. I grabbed her arm. “What are you doing?”
She looked down at me. “Here hold our stuff.” She took off her bag and mine and eased the books into my arms.
“Erin!” I whispered yelled, my heart pounding in my chest. I was always nervous with cops around lately. They seemed to be doing more harm than good.
Erin approached the cops, talking to them. “Hey! Aren’t you being a little too rough with him?”
The taller cop turned around and sized up Erin, his beady eyes settling over her slender frame. She was tall, but her lithe body gave her masculine features that could easily misgender her. “Sir, you need to back up now. This isn’t any of your business.” He placed his palm on her chest and shoved her back with a force that was much more necessary than it should’ve been.
I mashed my lips together. This was exactly starting the way I thought it would. Passerbys and bystanders that were walking in and out of the station were beginning to notice what was going on. The shorter, more rounder cop shoved the young teen harder against the fence and tightened handcuffs around his small wrists.
A small crowd had gathered around the cop and Erin, yelling at him for manhandling a woman and a young boy. You could hear a low chant begin to get louder as the attention became focused more on the cops.
I squeezed in, cupping Erin’s elbow. Her black short hair was disheveled as she turned her head to look at me. “Marina! C’mon, let’s go. I think it’ll be okay.”
Raising my head, I stared, the cops were calling on their walkie-talkies for more back up as their yells grew louder. “That’s what I was thinking.”
Erin grabbed our stuff and swiped us past the turnstiles, then grasped my hand immediately after, running towards our train. We raced down the steps, and hurriedly I led her into the 1 train, going towards Van Cortlandt Park.
There were no seats inside so we stood by the exit, our arms touching as we leaned against the door that said not to lean on. A couple of stops passed before any of us started to speak. We were too busy giving each other flushed glances and sidelong looks.
It was me who broke the silence.
“Hear me out here right now.”
“Okay, so on Thursdays, you look forward to the day that followed, right? Same thing with the weekend except on Sundays. However, on Monday it’s like you’re somewhat excited for the week even though you’re dreading it. Mondays are bittersweet.” As I spoke, I grew more antsy, worried that I was speaking too much about the days of the week.
Marina laughed, a soft string of sounds coming together. “What about Wednesday?” She countered.
I lifted a brow. “Well, what about it?”
“Wouldn’t Wednesday be the worst day? It’s in the middle of the week and there’s no happiness from it. Sure you can look forward to Thursday, but Tuesday was just before that so Wednesday would be the worst day of the week,” Marina explained, her hands moving around animatedly.
A smile spread on my face before I could even hide it. She smiled back, her dramatic lips stretching wide. I leaned forward, looking around the subway. “What day of the week do you look forward to?”
She raised her head, her lips mere centimeters away from mine as she leaned hard on the subway door. “Tuesdays.” There was a playful glint in her eye as she said that.
“THIS STOP IS 28TH STREET. TRANSFERS ARE AVAILABLE--” I shut out the sound of the 1 train immediately. You learned to do that after taking these trains for a while. It blended in with the rest of the world melting into the gray.
Marina abruptly laughed out of nowhere, her bright eyes meeting mine. “Did you hear how she said that?”
My brows furrowed. “Who?”
“The train conductor? Do you ever listen to those? The way they pronounce some things is so funny,” she explained.
Tears pricked the corners of my eyes. “You pay attention to their accents?”
“Always. I like to meet my train conductors.”
“You know it’s just a recording right?”
“Stick with me, we need to work on your creativity,” Marina lightly swatted my arm. There was a light-heartedness to her that made my heart swell. Please never let me forget this moment. “Where would you go if it was the last place on Earth?”
I tipped my head up, thinking about Manhattan. “Am I dying?”
Marina took a moment to consider. “I think it was more of an impulse question. Don’t think, just say.”
“The pier, I don’t know,” I scratched the back of my head.
“THIS STOP IS TIMES SQUARE 42ND STREET. TRANSFERS--”
Marina stepped out abruptly, taking my hand. She led out of the subway and down two blocks, past Bryant Park. We didn’t speak, just held hands all the way until waiting through the maze of the underground subway system.
She brought us to the Q train going Uptown. I glanced up at the screen, looking at the train that was due to come in two minutes. “You don’t live too far from the bookstore,” I replied, taking a step towards the platform to see if I could see the train lights.
“Be careful!” Marina called, tugging on my messenger bag
I turned around, peering down at her. “What’s wrong?”
“You were stepping on the yellow tape. Shouldn’t step there,” she grinned lacing her fingers with mine.
I leaned in, holding my breath, ready to press my lips against hers. Her lips parted, and she closed her eyes.
The loud wailing of the train pulled in, rushing past us. My hair whipped around my face. I face her, the tips of my cheeks twinged red. The electronic sounds of the doors opened and she slid past me, walking into the Q. I followed, pointing to a seat at the end of the train car.
Marina nodded and she sat down, scooting over for me. I slid in next to her, instinctively wrapping my arm around her shoulders. She easily tucked into the nook under my arm and rested her head on my chest.
Tensing slightly, I gazed up at the screen displaying all the stops. Five stops. “Want me to wake you up when we’re there?”
“That’d be nice, I get so tired lately,” she breathlessly said, her eyes beginning to flutter.
Within minutes, she was asleep.
I glanced down at her from the peripheral of my eye. She asked me what was the last place I’d go on Earth. I wanted to tell her that I didn’t care where I was, as long as I was with her. Sitting here, at this moment with her, I wanted to tell her that.
I sucked in a deep breath. “I think that I’m falling in love with you.”
She shifted slightly and I gasped, holding my breath. I was hoping she wouldn’t wake up… or rather wait for her to wake up. I wanted this moment to last until the very final stop.
I watched the yellow little dot get closer and closer to 95th Street. As it reached the stop before, I gently tapped Marina’s shoulder.
Marina stirred, nuzzling herself closer to me as she roused. “Hey,” she murmured, rubbing her mascara covered eyes.
I smiled. “Hey, sleepyhead.”
Marina’s lips were twisted in a downward smile. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t think I can do this.”
Her brows lifted, an expression of surprise on her face. “What?”
I stood up, noticing that we were the only ones in the train car. “This, us. It can’t work.”
"What's wrong? Is it because you don't want to be with a girl?" she barked at me, tears welling in her eyes, "is that it?" She stood up, standing behind me. The doors opened and I glanced at the exit.
I shook my head, a smirk twisting the edges of my mouth. I couldn’t hold back my smile at the remark. Did she think she was gayer than me? "Marina," I drawled, "it isn't about you being a girl." I whirled around, stalking forward and catching a pink strand of her hair. I curled it around my finger and tucked it behind her ear.
"Then what is it?" she asked, her wide eyes looking at my lips from a brief moment.
I sucked in a breath when her lips parted, sending a zing of longing throughout my body. My throat dried and my eyes darkened. In an instant, I pinned her against the wall and shoved my face in the spot between her neck and shoulder. The sandalwood scent that she emanated assaulted my nose and it took all of me not to let everything out right here, right now. I could hear the blood rushing through my ears, my heart pumping.
I raised my head slightly, my lips grazing her earlobe. "It's because you turn me on so much I can't freaking think. You invade all my senses and break all my barriers. You’re constantly on my mind. All I think about is you, Marina. Every day of the week I think about you. I look forward to seeing you every single day." My lips pressed against her neck, a shiver rolling through me I stroked her back.
I shuddered again, painfully pulling myself away from her neck. She didn't dare move while I yanked myself away.
Tears began to well in my eyes and I cursed myself at being so weak. I'd spent years gaining the strength to come to terms with my diagnosis. Most of the time I didn’t let myself think about it, especially when I was around her.
The doors closed and we were on our way to the final stop.
I closed my eyes and sharply exhaled. “I’m dying.”
Marina’s face contorted in despair instantly. “You what?”
“I have a brain tumor. Grade 3 meningioma. End of days, it’s too close to my spinal cord and--”
“But you’re so young,” Marina blurted, her blue eyes dark and full of emotion.
I nodded, a shaky breath coming out. “I know. It’s rare for my age, but not impossible.”
Marina nodded, taking a step forward.
Everyone asked that question. It was something they couldn’t help. They always wanted to know how much time I had. “A couple of months depends on how I handle the symptoms.”
Marina took a deep breath, her gaze looking up and meeting mine.
“THIS STOP IS 96TH STREET. THIS IS THE LAST STOP. TRANSFERS--”
“Let me rephrase the question I asked before,” she took a deep breath and smiled. “Where do you want to go?” Her eyes were glassy as she asked as if a part of her soul was leaking out.
“Anywhere, as long as I’m with you, Marina.”