All she wanted was to graduate from this insufferable school; no one asked for an after-school lecture. Once her math teacher repeated for the tenth time that the work she was turning in was grossly overdue, she mindlessly nodded an occasional response while trying to determine if she would miss the train she needed.
“Suri McAllister, are you even listening?”
“Do not use my full name,” she said, snapping her head away from the clock and snatching her bookbag from the desk beside her. “I turned in everything that I was missing. Can I leave now?”
She glared at her teacher as he frowned at her. The stack of work in his hand fell against his desktop with a thump. He dropped into his chair as if the weight of the stack had dragged him down with it. Her eyes almost rolled across the room when he looked at her contemplatively.
“Yes, you may leave,” he said, on a sigh. Before she could step through the door, his words held her still. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
The further she stepped from the classroom, the quicker her steps became. She had settled into a light jog as she passed the drive thru at the front of the school and made her way through the graveled path leading back into the city. The melted snow splattered up as she stomped her feet towards the emerging cement sidewalks.
Tomorrow. What made him so sure that he would see her tomorrow?
Her feet stopped. Her teeth gritted together. Her head hung low as she gripped the straps of her bookbag to tug it tighter against her back. In her exasperation, she fussed about for her headphones, detangling them with a sigh and shuffling forward as the music began bouncing loudly against her eardrums to tune out her annoyance. This is also why she didn’t hear the storefront door forcefully swinging open towards her face.
A forceful shove earned her backside a painful visit with the ground beneath her. The burning embarrassment across her cheeks felt worse against the brisk air. Timidly, she peeked from beneath her messy hair to properly glance towards the owner of the pair of black sneakers hovering in front of her.
His goofy apologetic smile fell upon her. To her surprise, the moment she made eye contact, he crouched in front of her as she tucked her legs closer. He pursed his lips but there was an obvious, irritating undertone of amusement in his features as he lifted her headphones and phone from the ground. With a nod of his curly haired head, he prompted her to take the items.
“Thank you,” she murmured.
The easy smile he gave her in response was almost kind, but it slowly shifted into a frown that clearly displayed his confusion. She narrowed her eyes at him. Everyone always looked at her that way.
As he saw the irritation come over her features, he made a noise as if to speak, but the upset teen had already looked down at her phone and glimpsed the time on the display screen. The loud groan of annoyance she gave blocking out any words that he had said.
Suri pushed herself from the ground, darted past him, and pumped her feet along the sidewalk in time with her unnerved heartbeat, not bother to look back as he called out to her. Instead, she opted for fiercely sprinting across the last few blocks to the train station, weaving through the people blocking her path and making no attempt to slow down.
The crowd was thinning as she spun into the station and down the staircase. Only briefly shooting her gaze in the direction of the arrivals board, she mumbled a silent plea to whatever force was cruelly controlling her luck before moving to track five. Sadly, the train pulled away just as she reached the platform.
She tilted her head back to groan in frustration, walking down to where the train would enter the station, just before where it would hit its brakes. The next one. She would just have to wait for the next one.
With nothing else to do, she stared down at the floor and frowned as she ran her fingers through her tangled pink hair. The boy didn’t need to stare at it like that. Like many of the things in her life, this wasn’t her choice. Somehow, she had gotten just the right genes to inherit the disastrous colored locks after three generations of brunettes.
It was no matter, though. After today, it wouldn’t be an issue.
She slowly inched her way forward, until the bumpy tactile paving could be felt beneath her shoes. Her eyes darted to the arrivals board. Fifteen minutes until the next train, but she was sure it would feel like forever. A deep breath grounded her to the edge of the tracks, and she gazed down at the metal rails, the wooden planks, the gravel filling in the spaces.
Her heartbeat picked up its pace, but she vehemently shoved the reflexive feeling down, ignoring the ache in her chest. She closed her eyes and rehearsed the plan. Look around, be sure you’re alone, and then…
A soft giggle broke into her thoughts, and she slowly lifted her eyes to glance across the tracks.
She saw the usual train folk: an older man with a newspaper and a pen in his hand, a person in ridiculously high heels, and a young girl with her father—or so she assumed by the similarities in their faces. The girl laughed sweetly as her father handed her a sandwich and took a sip from his coffee cup. They held each other’s free hands and settled onto a bench of their own, leading the teenager watching them to think back to when she used to take the train with her father.
Her father was the only one who ever complimented her hair. She realized that her insecurity about the color is probably what led him to create that silly game they always played on his way to work. When she was small like the giggling girl across from her, she would hold her father’s hand tightly, too, and shy away from the curious glances the passengers would throw her way.
“Daddy, won’t you be late to work?” she asked as the train came into the station.
Her father looked towards the train, panting slightly, but kneeling in front of her. “Suri think about now, not later,” he replied as he adjusted her coat, hat, and scarf before the two boarded the train.
They settled into their seats and her father began busying himself with a crossword puzzle that she wasn’t old enough to read yet.
“Right now? I’m bored,” she said.
He tucked the newspaper away, draped his arm on the chair behind her head, and tilted his head down towards her.
“Let’s play a game then.”
Suri nodded in excitement as her father continued.
“Let’s see who can find the most interesting person before our stop.”
Suri looked around before fully understanding what she was doing. She just knew she wanted to win the game.
“But how do I know who’s the most interesting?” she asked.
“You’ll know. They’ll be the person who, who you would want to ask the most questions to.”
An express train rushed past her, the air and suddenness of it making her take several steps away from the edge of the track with a gasp.
Her hand shot up to cover her mouth and her fingertips felt the wetness on her cheek. She removed her bookbag from her back just to have something to throw as she slammed it down to the ground and clasped at handfuls of her hair.
“What a stupid thing to remember. Right now, of all times. Seriously?”
She hadn’t noticed that she was rocking back and forth like a loon until a soft voice spoke out to her, prompting her to abruptly wipe her face.
Suri turned slowly to face the speaker, but no one was there. “Great,” she said quietly to herself, “Now I’m hearing things.”
The voice was so clear that Suri spun her head towards it, feeling the air graze her ear as if the words had been spoken directly into it. However, the only ones there were the passengers that she had seen earlier.
A few others had joined them—a woman in a suit, an older man in a brown leather jacket—but they were across the tracks. No one was on the platform with her.
She rose to a stand. Someone must be messing with her. She leaned forward, looking left and right, turned her head to look behind her and back in front of her, and paced the short length between the concrete pillars that she was standing near. Nothing.
Her eyes continued to scan the area suspiciously, but there was no one close enough to her to speak that softly and still be heard. She had almost written it off as a product of her sleep deprivation. Until she realized that there was one place that she hadn’t checked.
She turned towards the tracks and rushed to the edge. Leaning forward she peered at the metal rails, the wood planks, the gravel filling the space. Tucked against the wall was an oddly colored, clearly distressed, hand sized bird.
“No way. Where did you come from?”
“Help me,” the voice said. It was louder, clearer.
The bird beat its violet wings frantically, but only one seemed to want to take off. The other hung out uselessly to its side. Suri frowned at it. What was she supposed to do?
“Next to arrive, on track five, express train to Somerset.”
Her eyes snapped to the arrival board as the loudspeaker echoed the announcement and then down to the bird who had flapped and fussed to the other side of the metal rails, completely out of reach.
“The train. The train will totally crush you.”
The loud horn could be heard in the distance. Its lights flashed into the open tunnel. Suri’s chest constricted.
It was entirely stupid, but watching this bird, hearing the oncoming train, knowing that there was nothing that she could do to stop it, brought back every reason she had wanted to jump in front of this very train to begin with. The gasp that broke into her thoughts hardly sounded like her own. The train horn blew again.
Her body tensed as she watched on helplessly. The train could be heard skidding across the rails, but that was expected. What was not expected, was the arm that slunk around her waist and the chin that rested on her now rigid shoulder.
“Thank you for finding him.” The man’s voice was sickening, distorted, and entirely ungrateful. She felt his face brush across her hair as he turned to look at the oncoming train. “I cannot have that train kill him. You understand, right?”
With that, he released her waist and shoved her towards the tracks directly in front of the moving train.
Her shoulder slammed into the gravel and her head hit the rails. She twisted as another loud train horn pierced her senses in warning. The tears she was crying for the bird quickly dissolved into sobs of self-pity.
She could argue that she had asked for this, that she deserved the cruel irony beset upon her. This was what she had wanted only moments ago. Was it okay to change her mind?
A series of shadows fluttered across her vision as the train lights refracted in the tears pooling in her eyes. The white feathers on the bird’s chest were smeared in dirt, the useless wing weighing it down to the tracks beneath them.
A weak whimper ripped from her throat, but she desperately fought to pull herself upright, reaching out as she did.
The moment she scooped the bird into her hands a sharp burning radiated from her left palm. She clenched her teeth tightly to restrain the cry threatening to escape her as the searing ripped from her hand and into her arm. Her body pressed against the edge of the platform, but between the pain and the bird she cradled, she couldn’t create enough leverage to pull herself up. The train brakes screeched, making her flinch and scream.
I changed my mind, she thought. Please, I don’t want to die.
Her body felt as though it were fully engulfed in flames as she folded around herself. Fingers curled into the collar of her ripped coat. They yanked the shredded material upwards until they could find purchase on her limbs.She felt herself rise.