...Station Road (A Vignette)
By the time he finishes paying and get back to the station, the sun’s going down. Everything’s brighter but somehow darker at the same time.
Murph looks at me. He swings his gift bag around his legs. “Did you have a good day?”
I nod, but don’t say anything. My stomach’s knotted.
And I’m not sure how his face isn’t sore from smiling. He’s been doing it all day. Not that I’m complaining. It’s cute.
He frowns and adds, “I-I’m sorry if this was really boring for you.”
I don’t know what I’m doing. “Don’t say that,” I whisper. “I had a good time.”
He smiles. His dimples distract me. “I...I’m glad.” Murph looks away for a moment before looking back at me. “Was there anything you liked seeing in particular?”
I shake my head. “Uh...n-no.”
Murph’s smile kind of shrinks down before he gasps. He reaches into his bag and pulls out the Flying Scotsman book. “Here.”
“You were looking at it for a lot longer than you probably thought you were.” He sighs, and starts smiling again. “Just because I’m here to enjoy myself doesn’t mean you shouldn’t enjoy yourself a little.” He moves the book a little closer to me. “Here. It’s yours.” When I don’t take it, he takes in a long breath and adds, “Besides, I indulged and bought the other two books over there so I’m way over my budget anyways.”
“How American of you,” I snicker.
Murph pushes the book into my chest. “Please take it?”
I don’t say anything.
He tilts his head back and stares at me. “Well, I think you should take it.” He pushes the back back into my chest. When I still don’t take it, he puts it under his arm. “Why won’t you take it?”
“I...just got no use for – ”
“Name three of the things I’ve bought here that I have use for.”
I snicker. “You’re such an American.”
“I bought them because they interest me. Because they indulge this unquenchable curiosity I have to learn. Naturally, not everything I get will help me in a career but...” He stops and looks away.
I didn’t do anything. “...Murph?”
Murph pushes the book into my chest again. “Please take it.”
He harrumphs and flaps it in his hand. “While it might not lead you into a successful career taking care of steam locos, – ”
“ – and this is just my observation so I could be wrong, it interested you, right? Why should you strip everything away like that, only to accept what you already know will benefit you immediately?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “And, and even if it didn’t interest you, even if you really don’t want it, then...please let me gift it to you. For, for putting up with me. For coming with me today.” He makes it sound so sad.
I frown. “Murph – ”
“I’m glad you came.” Murph takes in a breath and smiles. The smile stays for a second. “And, and I’m sorry if I wasted your time today – ”
“ – because you said you don’t care for this, but you still came. You traveled 2 hours to see trains with me.” Murph looks away and holds the book out to me again. “Please take it.”
I take it.
I don’t know what else to do.
My fingers snake between his. His hands are how they should be, and how I remembered them – not sweaty. Cool to the touch. Soft. They’re just right.
Except I forget to breathe. So I exhale and go back to holding my breath.
He looks at my hand in his, then back to me. “What are you doing?” he asks, his voice shaking. He tries to shake my hand off his. “Y...I said you shouldn’t do that.”
“It could give me the wrong idea,” he says. His voice’s getting louder.
I step closer to him. “Thanks for the book.”
“Are you listening to me?” he asks.
“Yeah,” I whisper. “Thanks for the book.”
“Tommy, you can’t do this.” His voice trembles. But he doesn’t step away from me.
“Murph,” I whisper.
He looks at me.
I squeeze his hand.
He takes in a slow breath.
“Thanks for the book.”
His breath shakes. Murph’s deep blue eyes go glossy, and he takes off his glasses to cover his eyes. He sniffs, leans into me, and squeezes my hand back.
I wrap my arm around his neck and pull him in close. His hair’s in my face, but he feels warm all over. “I’m real, real sorry, Murph.”
He chuckles. Then sniffs. “Why are you saying ‘sorry’?”
“...dunno. Feels like I should.”
Murph pushes back. He’s trying hard to smile but his eyes are getting red. He puts back on his glasses.
“I j – I didn’t even realise.” I squeeze the book a little. Somehow, it feels warm. Like him.
Murph laughs even though he looks like he’s crying. “Finally, I’m not the slow one here,” he says.
That makes me cringe.
His eyes’re glossy. Murph sniffs again, and plants his face in my shoulder.
I take in a breath and hold him.
I hold the book a little tighter in my other hand.
I hear the train’s horn.
Our hands stay together.