Chapter 1: The Guy at the Train Station
It was a cool, clear, winter morning and Emma sat at the train station, snug in her favorite yellow hoodie, waiting.
Union station was a beautiful sight right then, covered from top to bottom with cheerful, extravagant, Christmas decorations, and that, paired with the high rectangular windows near the ceiling filling the space with natural sunlight, gave the place an almost magical quality.
There were a mixture of smells in the air coming from the half a dozen or so restaurants all around them, once in a while being overpowered by the sweet, buttery scent coming from the nearby pretzel shop.
At that time of year, the station was filled with people either hurrying along with their luggage needing to get to their trains, or otherwise sitting and waiting for one to arrive and bring their loved ones home for the holidays.
For the most part Emma found it a welcome visual distraction while she waited, but her audiobook was reaching its climax, so she tucked the stray locks of light-brown hair that had escaped her braid behind her ears, adjusted her earbuds, and opened the accompanying text to follow along with instead.
By the end of the page, she'd started absentmindedly biting her thumbnail—she hated this part. The immersion didn’t last long though; she was soon distracted by someone walking up and taking the seat across from her. There were only a few other people sitting that far back, leaving nearly empty rows all around her, so why anyone would choose that seat over all the others was a little curious.
Emma admittedly listened to too many of those podcasts, so she stole a quick glance, making sure there were no obvious red flags that would force her to fake a phone call and promptly leave.
It was a guy… tall, athletic, messy black hair, a green Henley t-shirt, and dark jeans. He checked the time on his phone and she saw that he had dark brown eyes. Emma figured he was right around college age, if only because he didn’t seem any older than she was.
As he yawned and stretched back in his seat she glanced at his things. A blue carry-on, dark gray jacket, and black composition notebook were all clumsily stacked up beside him. There were no obvious reasons for her to find him suspicious, so she looked back down at her phone.
“So, what are you listening to?” He asked suddenly. She looked up at him again, somehow expecting he was just on the phone with someone. He was looking right at her though, with genuine interest (this part caught her off-guard), so she removed one of her earbuds.
“Oh, um, ‘Sense and Sensibility’, Jane Austen.” Emma half-smiled and flashed her phone screen so he could see the text. She was about to go back to reading it when he continued.
“That’s cool. I read that one in high school. What do you think of it so far?”
Was he trying to start a conversation? What a foreign concept that seemed. Usually in any public transportation setting everyone just kept to themselves and there was little to no interaction with other people. Maybe a remark or a question once in a while, but conversations were rare.
“Well it’s my second time reading it, but my feelings are the same as the first time, I like it fine.” She shrugged.
“You like it fine? Not a fan of the classics then?” He smiled.
“No, I am. I love her books. ‘Pride and Prejudice’ is possibly the greatest love story ever written, but some parts are just so… frustrating.”
“What do you mean?”
She looked at him curiously. Did he actually care? Or was he just trying to keep a conversation going?
“You said you read the book, right? What did you think of the space battle at the end?” She asked in all seriousness. He chuckled.
“I think unless Marianne and Elanor were actually space warriors from another planet and I really misunderstood the plot, you’re just trying to test me to see if I actually read the book.”
Emma couldn’t help it and smiled.
“Okay, so you did read it. Just making sure.”
“So what did you mean, then?” He persisted. She took a second to collect her thoughts and answered.
“Well, the women. They’re all so… submissive. Like, if it weren’t for the men letting their feelings known in the end, the women wouldn’t have, and they wouldn’t have had their happy endings. It’s just frustrating sometimes reading about the heroines passing opportunity after opportunity to let their feelings known and maybe have their happy endings sooner. And all for what? Modesty? They came so close to not having a happy ending.”
The guy stayed quiet for a second and she wondered if what she’d said had come off at all like a rant. He did something unexpected, however.
“Well, I think that’s just how women at that time had to be. I mean, a nineteenth-century woman going around letting her feelings about a man known publicly? Can you imagine how brazen she would have to be? She’d probably be shunned from society.”
“Well, yeah, I know society at the time was a lot different, and women were basically taught to be… unassertive, and that the author meant to satirize women’s situations, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to read.” She explained. He nodded.
“I’ll agree with you on that. Personally my kryptonite was ‘Emma’. We read it the next year and I could not get through it.” He admitted. “I’m Luke, by the way.” He moved forward as much as he could in his seat, sticking out his hand.
Emma chuckled and shook it.
“Emilia, but everyone just calls me Emma.”
Luke sat back and a surprised blush formed.
“Really really. And it’s okay, I had to close that book and take a deep breath at least six separate times getting through it.”
He smiled politely and there was a short pause where neither knew what to say.
“So… Pride and Prejudice is one of the greatest love stories ever told? What about Romeo and Juliet?”
“So you like tragedies? Well, in that case I don’t think we’ll see eye to eye on very many points of literature, let alone love stories.”
“No, I’ve actually never read it… beyond the cliffs notes, but when people say, ‘greatest love story ever told’, they’re usually talking about that.” He explained. Emma shrugged.
“Well, it’s a good story. Shakespeare definitely knew how to get you to feel, but whether I’d call it a good love story is different. I mean, I don’t look at Romeo and Juliet and think, ‘Gosh, I wish my love life was like that’.”
Luke let out a small laugh.
“I really hope not.”
She inadvertently smiled back and tried to continue more seriously.
“I prefer Pride and Prejudice. I overall really love the character development and story.”
He nodded and Emma stayed quiet, not sure what else to say.
“So where are you off to?” Luke asked. “Going home for the holidays?”
“Yes, actually.” She smiled. “School just got on break. How about you?”
“I’m going home too, but my school got out a couple of days ago. I’ve been staying at a friend’s house.” Luke replied. “And I made the mistake of letting him talk me into a road trip instead of taking my own car, so now I get to wait for my cousin to pick me up.”
“Oh, was it a long train ride?”
“Not really. I was just in San Diego, so all in all it was only a couple of hours. Still have more to go though, this is just the meetup point. Marcus, my cousin, was already in the area and said we could go up together, and, what can I say I’m a sucker for a road trip.”
“He lives with you?”
“No, but he always comes over for the holidays.”
Emma nodded again. Was it her turn to say something?
“So… I still have a few hours before I go because of some… poor planning. What about you? How long until you get picked up?” She asked him.
“Well, I made sure to confirm the meetup day days ago, and the meetup time last night and this morning, so knowing how responsible Marcus is… I’d say probably around the same.”
Emma laughed. After a moment she gestured to the composition notebook on top of his luggage.
“Are you planning on doing some studying?”
“Oh, no.” Luke nonchalantly took it. “It just fell out of my backpack earlier and I didn’t put it back in.”
“Well you should put it away, you might lose it.”
“Yeah, I don’t know where I’d be without my math notes.” He replied, disinterestedly putting the notebook down on the seat beside him.
“Not a big math guy?”
“Not any kind of math guy.
“So... how’s the college life been treating you, then?”
“Other than the gen ed math courses, great.” He smiled. “I have my own space, I’m free, and independent.”
“Your own dorm?” She asked enviously.
“Apartment?” She repeated with surprise.
“It’s an on-campus one, I have the option now that I’m a junior. They’re more expensive than dorms, but not by much, so I got a job and told my parents I’d pay the difference.”
“Ahh. How’s that?”
“I love it, personally. Sharing a room with a strangers really wasn’t for me. Now I can make my own rules.”
“So it’s a huge mess then?” She guessed.
“Yeah, most of the time.” He chuckled. Maybe it was all of the Jane Austen she’d been reading, but Emma was finding this practical stranger to be very pleasant company. And dare she say, she even found him to be quite handsome.
The next two hours were spent with the two talking about… anything and everything; whatever came up. They talked about the train station, how cheerful the decorations were, the city, what they thought of it, other books they’d read, what they thought of those, movies they’d watched, etc. Emma mentioned having watched Thor: Ragnarok recently, which led Luke to do a very bad Chris Hemsworth impression from the opening scene, Australian accent and all, that made her laugh.
It was during a very heated debate as to who in ‘My Hero Academia’ had the coolest power that the unfortunate news came; Luke’s cousin was there. He told Emma with noticeable regret and grabbed his bags again.
“Oh… uh, okay. Nice talking to you.” She said, disappointed to see him go.
Luke gave a half-smile and small wave as he walked away.
It was a strange, melancholy feeling seeing someone she’d made friends with walk off. It felt like the end of summer camp when you have to go home again and you knew you’d never see your friends again. Even though they hardly knew each other, it still felt… astoundingly sad.
Emma went back to her audiobook once he was out of sight, but it had lost its appeal.
Why didn’t I get his number? She thought after rewinding the same passage five times and still failing to focus. Her thoughts came to a sudden stop, however, as her gaze fell on one of the seats across from her. The black composition notebook, it was still there wedged between two seats! He forgot his notebook!
She shot up and took it. She could return it!
She looked towards the exit, but just as suddenly lost hope. There were half a dozen people coming in and out every second, and she didn’t even know where exactly he was getting picked up… she’d never find him. Oh well… it was nice while it lasted.
Emma looked down at the notebook in her hands and saw the name written on the cover. ‘Property of Luke C.’. Upon opening it to the first page, her eyes lit up. On the inside of the cover, where composition notebooks always have that little section to fill out your information that everyone always ignores, it was completely filled out!
His name, address, and even his class schedule. Luke Carter; that was the name written in it. She could… She could… She slumped back on her chair and furrowed her eyebrows. What exactly would she do with this information? What could she do? It didn’t have his phone number, so she couldn’t exactly call him and tell him he’d left his notebook behind, and any hope of her catching up with him and returning it was gone; surely he’d left by now. All she had to work with was his name and address.
She could search Facebook for him. Surely everyone had a neglected account by now, right? But there were probably thousands of Luke Carters out there, and he might not even have an account after all, so she might just end up wasting her time. Maybe she could use his address. She looked at it again. Northern California! That was hours away. She closed the notebook and groaned. Well it’s not like she could go after him… right?
She pulled her phone out and went on Facebook, then typed his name into the search bar. A sigh escaped her lips looking at the list of results, and most of them didn’t even have an actual profile picture. Alright, so finding him there was out of the question, and any other form of social media would be next to impossible.
She sat up and considered what her real options were again. One: she lets it be, it’s just a notebook after all, and the quarter’s over. He probably doesn’t need it. But then that would also mean she’d never see him again. Two: she had his address… she could go after him, and return it, then get his number.
The mere idea of it seemed ridiculous to her. Go after him? He lived on the other side of the state. But how many hours was that exactly? She took out her phone again and this time went on google maps. Five hours by car! It would take her all day just to get there and back. Not to mention, what would she say once she got there? ‘Hey, you left your notebook behind so I came all the way here to return it. By the way, can I get your number?’ There was absolutely no way she could think of to phrase that without coming off like a complete creep. The whole thing would undeniably be absurd.
Well, that was it then, she wouldn’t go after him.
She sat back and picked up her book again, but she didn’t get through a whole sentence before she thought back to the conversation she’d had with him. Heroines too afraid to make a move—too afraid of how it’d appear. Unwilling to take a chance and let their feelings known. Passing an opportunity for a happy ending.
But that wasn’t what she was doing. She wasn’t in love with him; she hardly knew him! But she did like him… and what if he’d liked her back? They’d gotten along really well. It definitely wasn’t out of the question that he might have, she thought. And what would really be the worst that could happen if she went after him? She’d be about a day later than she expected getting home, but so what? If he hadn’t liked her back, then she’d just leave without a phone number, but at least she would have taken the chance. And if he had liked her… then she’d leave with his number, and they’d text, and maybe eventually something could develop between them. Emma looked down and seriously considered this.
Just how much did she really like him? And how much was she willing to risk acting like a love-struck female protagonist in a RomCom?