I rushed out of the hospital into the cold autumn air of London as soon as I changed into my casuals. Thank God Ashleigh showed up before the endorsement.
She just came back from a two-week vacation plus another 2-day leave because her husband fell ill. It took up my six days off since I was the only one she knows who can’t resist to requests, which is one of the reasons why I sometimes hate myself.
I don’t want to go home yet. Not now. Since her condition was she’ll take my place for three days straight when she arrives, I brought a set of clothes with me today so if she ever pops in, which she did, I could visit Manchester all by myself, which I kind of wanted to do since arriving here last year.
I took a taxi to the station which, as usual, was packed and it literally took me 20 minutes to get to the train because of the familiar faces I meet and the crowd itself. Someone tall even bumped into me as he went to the opposite direction as I saw a bit of dark sleeve swing near my face.
“I’m sorry,” he muttered. I didn’t care though. I’ve done that to people several times.
The train wasn’t less packed either. The train was already half filled with passengers. I entered the first class car (I’ve been saving up to experience this one) and looked for any empty seat. Fortunately, there was one that was situated near the end of the car with no one sitting at either side of the table.
I sat down, swinging my bag and putting it on the table. I craned my neck to see if there are more people coming to my direction.
None. It seemed like many of them has seen someone they know and sat down with them, although there are still some who bustled around.
I opened my bag and rummaged through my stuff until my hand felt the quadrangular thing I was looking for. I opened my phone and saw a text message, sent by my colleague just a couple of minutes ago.
Hey, Elle. Sorry for not notifying you that I would be coming today, she said. Hoping that it didn’t annoy or irritate you.
It did annoy me, but I didn’t want to make it an issue, and I don’t want it to stress me out early in the morning.
It’s fine, Ash. If it weren’t for that, I wouldn’t be able to visit Manchester now, so don’t worry about it, I typed. As I pressed Send, someone said, “Excuse me. Is someone sitting with you?”
I looked up and saw a tall guy in all black attire, probably in his mid-twenties. I gave him a small smile and shook my head.
“May I?” he asked gesturing at the seat next to me.
“Sure,” I said.
As he sat down, he took off his coat and set it on the table right in front of my bag (I’m surprised that my bag and his coat could fit on such as small table… or maybe it’s just me). He took his phone and earphones out of his coat pocket and started scrolling through.
I scanned his face: brown eyes, beauty marks scattered all over the place, brown hair with the fringe straightened to one side, although I can see some wavy strands… I looked away, realizing that what I was doing was creepy.
And I felt something hard hit my shin. I gave a surprised “Ah!” and raised my leg to rub the part where I’ve been kicked. The guy in front of me looked at me with his eyes wide open.
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry. Are you okay?” he asked, removing an earphone and leaning towards me with concern. I set my foot back on the floor and smiled slightly.
“It’s okay. I’m fine,” I said, waving my hand. “Don’t mind it.”
He gave me a weak smile. “I’m sorry.” He straightened his back just as I heard shuffling under the table, and something brushed against my leg. “Just a little short of leg room.”
“Don’t worry. I feel you.”
He smiled at me once more and returned to his phone, reinserting the earbud.
I decided that I shouldn’t mind him, and I figured that I couldn’t sleep, not in front of a stranger, so I fished out my earphones, plugged it in and opened Piano Tiles 2 on my phone (What? It’s addicting, and it does help me with my hand coordination.)
No one else came to the end of the train, except for a really noisy family who sat on the other side.
I tried to focus on what I was doing but the kids were complaining really loudly on why their parents still hasn’t given them iPhone 6.
“We’re waiting for the next one to come out so your phones will be brand new,” their mother explained. “Harold, when are we going to buy a new car?”
“Today, love, after we visit mother,” the man said, unfolding his newspaper and began to read.
“Ooh, I want a Lamborghini!” one exclaimed.
“Me too!” the other one agreed.
I rolled their eyes at them and saw the guy turn away from them shaking his head. His eyes met mine and gave a sideways glance back at the family and rolled his eyes. I gave him a smirk and went back to the game.
I felt the engine being brought to life as my nth attempt to gain three stars at Gypsy Rondo failed. Exasperated, I closed the application, checked the time (6:16am) and put it back in my bag. I remembered that I took something randomly out of the bookshelf earlier in case I get bored on the train. I positioned the bag on its bottom and opened its mouth wider. I felt something hard at the back of the bag and seconds later, Thirteen Reasons Why was out.
I realized I haven’t read it in a while so I closed the bag, laid the book down and opened to the first page. I looked over at the guy and saw that he is too engrossed with his phone. As the train took up speed, I stretched my arms and then touched my hair to find out that it was still in a bun. I removed the net and ponytail holder and fixed my still-wet dark hair so that the family is blocked out of my sight.
As we pulled out of the station, I could hear pounding of heavy rain, which is really great (no sarcasm). Well, a perfect one when you’re just sitting all by yourself… Well, in this case, sitting with a stranger.
The family hasn’t stopped babbling so I took out my Walkman (yes, it still exists) and plugged in my earphones. Scrolling down to A Window to the Past by John Williams, I pocketed it and started to read.
By the time I reached page 47, my eyes began to strain so I closed it and placed it in my bag, on which I laid my head down facing the rain-splattered window, not caring if a stranger is sitting across me.
I woke up in which seemed like only five minutes. I raised my watch to my eyes.
7:26. I’ve been on the train for a little over an hour. I turned off my Walkman which was playing Boulevard of Broken Dreams and almost drained. I immediately regretted it when I heard those teenagers bickering.
“I won’t let you come with me. I’ve already given the other ticket to my friend,” one said.
“Then, what am I supposed to do on Saturday, then?” the other one wailed.
“Buy yourself a ticket, then!” Teenager #1 almost shouted. I looked at the people sitting behind them but they didn’t seem to be disturbed.
I looked over the guy and he really seemed to be disturbed by them, a tiny crease appearing in between his eyebrows. His eyes are fixed on his phone’s screen but they were not moving, and so was his thumb which was hovering over it. Finally, he took off his earphones and yawned as he looked up at me, giving me a smile as he did so.
I leaned over slightly to him, which he also did so I had no choice but to lean all the way to the center until his head completely blocked the scene and our cheeks were barely an inch away.
“What are they even talking about?” I whispered to him, to which he gave a chuckle.
“I almost forgot that you’ve just woken up. You looked so peaceful,” he said. I felt my face burn as I looked away. He took a quick glance at them. “They were talking about a meet and greet with Nelly here in London and the older one gave her extra ticket to her friend instead of her sister.”
“Oh-kay,” I said slowly. “I don’t care as long as it’s not Fall Out Boy, Green Day or Adele, but seriously they need to stop and she should’ve given it to her sister.”
“Agreed,” he said, taking a quick glance at them. “If ever I was in a situation similar to theirs, I would’ve just given the ticket to my brother, although he could be a pain in the ass at times especially when I’m home at Berkshire.”
“Same here,” I said. “Me and my sisters fight literally every day but I still love them to bits.”
“Well, that’s what that say about the eldest ones in the family,” he said, straightening his back, so that left me no choice but stare at the window. There was a moment of awkward silence and then, “You sound a bit different.”
“Oh yeah, that.” I coughed. “I’m actually from California. My aunt who works here in England took me. It’s been a little over a year since I started to work here and even though I’m a bit used to it, or so as I think, it’s still surreal, to be honest.”
“Visiting someone in Manchester?” he asked.
I shook my head. “No. I was just going roam around. It’s been on my bucket list since I was in high school.”
“Are you planning to stay for the night?”
“Yes, and thank you for reminding me that,” I said, pulling my phone out of the bag. I looked at him and saw confusion in his face. “I still have to look for a place to stay,” I explained as I connected to the train’s WiFi and set it down as I waiting for it to load.
“What phone is that?” he asked.
“This?” I raised my phone slightly began playing with it. “Android. Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.”
“Okay. That actually looks cooler than iPhone 6s plus,” he said. I saw his hand move slightly towards me. “May I take a look at it?” he asked.
He looked at my phone for a while as I waited it to load and then shook his head slowly. “You might still be using it.”
“No, no, it’s fine, really.”
“Are you sure about that?” he asked, staring at me with his eyebrows knit into a mock serious expression. I laughed.
“Yes, I am.”
With that he set down his phone and held out a hand. I whistled. “Your hands are humongous.”
“Thank you for pointing that out,” he said sarcastically. I closed Google and handed it to him. He stared at it in awe as a finger slid along one edge. I could her him breathe out “Wow”, and I smiled. He looks like a scientist who might have just discovered something that will help find the missing link in the evolution of man.
He swiped across the screen and pressed something lightly. He brought the phone on an eye level. “Ho. Ly. Crap. The camera’s amazing.” He stared at it with his mouth hanging slightly open and not long after, he smiled at it and then handed it back at me.
“Now you have a picture of me. Be thankful for that, Miss Galaxy Edge,” he said, giving me a cheeky grin, his dimples deepening.
“Well, thank you very much for the picture, Mr. iPhone Plus,” I joked. I pressed the home button and opened Google again, this time typing ‘Manchester apartments overnight’.
“Any plans when you arrive at Manchester?” he asked, folding his arms on the table. I had to actually stop and think about that.
“Probably look for someplace to eat, then rest at the apartment then roam around,” I mused. After I couldn’t think of anything anymore, I gave him a smile. “That would be it, I guess.” Then I returned my attention to the phone and began to open links one by one. One apartment caught my attention and immediately entered my check in and out. There was a loud “OW!” and my head swiveled to the direction of the noise, which were the teenagers (surprise, surprise). One of them was holding her hand as she attempted to kick her sister’s leg.
I rolled my eyes at them again and out of the corner of my eye, the guy did the same, then he looked at me and mouthed “Teenagers”.
Then someone rolled in and asked us what we would like to have.
“Are you already serving gourmet burger at this time?” he asked, and the waitress nodded and replied “Yes, sir.” Smiling, he said, “Then gourmet burger it is, then.”
She turned to me and asked the same question. “I’ll just take the same order, please.”
She looked at us back and forth and then winked. “You two make a cute couple.” I felt my cheeks flush again as she went away.
“Cute couple, eh?” he said, laughing at my now-red face, although I see his ears turn pink.
“Shut up,” I muttered, kicking him lightly under the table, but I was unable to hide my smile because to be honest, it DID make me feel a bit giddy.
“Thank God the rain’s stopping,” I said, noticing that the rainfall was lighter. I pulled my bag off the table and placed it in the compartment overhead. “Why are you going to Manchester, then?”
“Just like you,” he said. “Me and my flatmate back in London have been planning to visit Manchester today but his family had other things in mind. They went to Greece yesterday and I’ll be all by myself all week.”
“Why not visit your family then?”
“I’m planning to visit them in the middle of the week,” he said. “Besides, if I did today, I wouldn’t have met you, would I?” He gave me a wink and once again, I felt my face burn.
The lady arrived a few minutes later with two platters of gigantic burgers with a bunch of fries.
“Could we also have orange juice, please?” I heard him ask as I stared at my burger. “Of course, sir,” and above the splatter of rain against the window, I heard her walk away. A hand appeared under my nose and snapped its fingers. I blinked and looked up.
“Never saw a burger before?” he teased.
“It’s just… the last time I’ve eaten a large burger was also my first time at TGIF and I didn’t have any idea how to start eating it for a while, but it was nowhere as huge as this one,” I uttered. “How do I even eat this thing?”
“Don’t ask me if you don’t like your hands getting greasy. I’ve got the whole thing covered,” he told me as he set down a napkin on his lap. “Er, do you have hand sanitizer?”
“I do,” I replied, setting the napkin beside the plate and reached up, groping around the front pocket of the bag until I found the bottle. I quickly looked for the rubbing alcohol before closing it. “Here,” I said as I handed the sanitizer to him.
“Do you know that it makes your hands feel dry?” he asked me as he rubbed the substance all over his hands while watching me do the same.
“I do, but it’s the scent,” I told him, and I took a little whiff. “Mmmmm, alcohol.”
He snickered. “Weird.”
“Be thankful that there’s a weird person in your midst. Otherwise, you’ve got a gray scale life,” I said, waving a fork at him.
“Woah, careful there, Isopropyl,” he laughed. He made a sign of the cross and went silent for a moment and I followed suit. Then he smiled at me. “Let’s eat.”
With that, he tossed a fry in his mouth and began to flatten his burger with his palm.
“Welcome to the Euston Eating Show, the only place on earth where you could watch weird strangers beat each other by crushing burgers in between their hands for them to be able to eat it as fast as they can.” He said that like a slightly constipated guy doing a voice-over at a commercial . I covered my mouth and laughed.
He looked at me, palm still on his food, and smiled. “Glad I’m making you laugh.”
“I’m not laughing. I’m crying.” With that I sniffed and gave a sound that sounded between chuckling and crying. I decided to do his strategy.
“Yes, that’s right. Smash that burger, Miss Galaxy Edge,” he taunted jokingly, causing me to lose the strength I mustered up to flatten the burger.
“Shut up,” I laughed as he took a huge bite. Yet he continued doing that until I was able to smash it into a size that would fit in my mouth.
I moaned after taking my first bite, putting the burger down and spread my arms wide and toss my head back “Tha tayft of viktowry.”
I heard the guy cough and laugh, and felt something land on my front. I looked down and saw a wet-looking piece of bread on my stomach
“Oh my God, I’m so sorry,” he said, holding the food in his mouth and grabbed a tissue. I was too busy laughing, covering my mouth (which was still full) and looking up, tears starting to flow out of my eyes, as he took the thing that he spat accidentally on me. I looked at him and slowly lowered down my hands, exposing my open mouth. He pointed at my face and started laughing himself. I had to cover my ears, close my eyes, take a deep breath and chew as fast as I could until I was able to swallow it. I look at him and saw that he was doing the same, and I laughed loud enough to be heard by only him. He gave a snort and shook his head and saw his throat move. As soon as he swallowed it, he laughed again.
“That was… a roller coaster of emotions right there,” he said as the same lady who gave us our food made her way towards us, a tray of orange juice and water in her hands.
“Here’s your beverage, ma’am, sir,” she said. She looked at me and frowned. “Are you okay, miss?”
I smiled at her and said “Yes, I’m good, thank you.”
I heard a gentle rustling and the guy handed out a small wad of bank notes to her. I started to stand up when he said “It’s fine. I’ll pay for you.”
“No, seriously, I sh-” I started, starting to feel sheepish.
“Calm down. It’s fine,” he said, standing up and touched my shoulder. He looked at the lady and smiled. “Thank you. We’ve already got everything.”
“Enjoy your meal.” She gave us a wide smile, and a wink at me, before turning back.
“Thanks, by the way,” I said shyly.
“Absolutely no problem.”
“Let’s not talk while we eat, shall we?” I said, as I smiled again from what had happened a moment ago.
“Let’s,” he said, picking up his burger. He caught me staring at him, smiling and he chortled. “Don’t you dare,” he said, pointing an accusing finger at me.
“Sure, iPhone guy,” I said.
We did eat in silence after that. I caught him staring at me at some times; he caught me staring at him at other times. I was a bit awkward, as it seemed like we were trying to watch each other eat.
After I consumed everything, I checked the time. 8:14am.
“So are you still going to the apartment you’ve found after the ride?” the guy, or iPhone guy as I call him, asked.
I nodded. “I’m just going to rest for a while. I’ll go out after an hour or two. Probably make myself get lost,” I said.
He looked outside, where it was starting to rain heavily again, lost in thoughts. After a moment that he didn’t speak, I held up my hand in front of him and snapped right under his nose. He blinked and looked at me.
“Doing what I did to you earlier, aren’t you?” he asked, a smile creeping into his face.
“Not obvious, isn’t it?” I replied.
“So you’re returning what I did to you earlier before we left London, aren’t you?”
“Really?” he asked and all of the sudden he lunged at me slightly with a hand outstretched and I ducked towards the aisle.
“You should be faster than that,” I said, returning to my proper position.
“Well, I’m so sorry if I’m so lazy almost all the time. I eat and stay laid back,” he said, and then slapped his stomach with both of his hands. “…I should own up to it.”
“Well, same here,” I said, hitting my own stomach as I said ‘here’. “I used to stay at home and watch movies and surf the net on my laptop for hours without moving. My parents and sisters get mad at me because of that.”
“I still do that,” he said with- “Did I just say that proudly?”
“Yes,” I laughed, nodding. “And I’m glad I’m talking to someone right now who’s on the same boat as me.”
“Well, cheers to that,” he said, holding up his hand which I high-fived.
“Ever tried searching for something and then hours later, you’re on a website that’s far away from what you’ve been trying to look for and you end up sleeping at 2am?” I asked. His face broke into a wide grin.
“Yes,” he said enthusiastically. “Yes, I do. It’s rare that I meet someone who’s like me when it comes to personality.”
“Well, if it weren’t for this two,” I pointed at the teenagers who were now on their phones but are still making faces at each other, “I would never have talked to you for this 2-hour trip because you kicked me.”
“Agreed,” he said, laughing. “But have you ever had that feeling when you don’t want it to be awkward so you take the responsibility of continuing the conversation?”
“Yes, I always do,” I told him slowly, grinning.
“That’s what I felt after those 15 seconds that we talked about those two so I just took interest at where you’re from,” he said.
“That’s usually what I do when there’s nothing to talk about. And I’m still wondering how I’m going to pay you back for the food.”
“Oh, don’t mind it. It seems like a proper thing to do when someone’s kept you company.”
“Well, you ALSO kept me company, so I should pay you back.”
“Well then, let me think of something,” he said. “For the meantime, let’s talk abooouuut… Fall Out Boy. I do remember you saying that you’d rather watch Fall Out Boy than Nelly.”
“Yes. I’ve been listening to them since high school. It might be a common opinion but My Songs Know What You Did In The Dark is my jam.”
“Yeah, banging your head all throughout the song. And speaking of which, I know someone who could provide us free tickets for their concert next year in London. “
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,” I said, not believing what I heard. “‘Us’”?
“Well, he had already told me that he’d give me free tickets to their concert, and yup. ‘Us’ and I could ask him now if he would,” he said.
“Are you serious?”
“Dead serious,” but I could tell he was smiling.
“Seriously, why are you doing this?” I asked him, leaning over and stared at him with interest as the train began to pull over.
“Just… I’ve never actually met someone other than my best friend who stays up until 2am like I do, be as lazy as fuck like I am, and share the same fandom with, so yeah. That’s the reason why.”
“Oh my God, thank you,” I said. “I’m already in debt of you twice.”
I felt my phone vibrate on the table. I opened it and saw that it was almost drained. I just pocketed it in my jeans and watched the others bustling around, which included that annoying family.
His phone also lit up and I saw a lot of notifications enter.
“Ooh, someone’s got tons of fans,” I teased, to which he chuckled.
“Yeah, they won’t leave me alone,” he said, opening something on his phone.
I stood up and took my bag. “Where are you going now, by the way?”
He shrugged. “Visit University of Manchester, I think.”
I stared at him in amazement. He must’ve got what I was showing. “But I’m not a graduate. I only studied there for a year and then I stopped.”
“But at least,” I said, awestruck, as the train came into a halt.
“Ah, crap, I still have to get my bag,” he said as he stood up and wore his coat.
“Where did you leave it?”
“One of the compartments,” he muttered as we walked to the doors. “Why the fuck did I even decide to leave it there?”
“I could accompany you, if you’d like,” I offered.
“It’s fine. There’s too many people out there. If we did go together, chances are we’d separate. You won’t be seen, you’d get pushed around, especially with that height,” he teased.
I wacked the back of my hand across his arm. “FYI, I’m five-foot-four.”
But he was right. We’d still separate in the thick crowd. “Okay, then.”
But when we we’re about to go out, he stopped me and held out his phone which was opened to the contacts list. “Just save your number here.”
“Well, you did say you owe me so here it is,” he said with a smile, which I returned as I took it and typed in my number and name.
“Thanks,” he said without looking at the screen and immediately pocketed it. And without any warning, he pulled me to a hug. Good timing, too, because the lady who served us saw us and gave me yet another wink before turning around.
“Nice meeting you,” he said, releasing me.
“You too,” I said, and we parted ways.
But it wasn’t until I entered a taxi and told the cabbie the name of the apartment when I realized that I don’t even know his name, to which I facepalmed. Nice one, Elle, you gave a stranger your name and number, you talked to him on the train and you didn’t even ask what his name was, I told myself.
I took my phone out and the camera, ready to take the sceneries as we drive past. A second before I took a picture, I notice something on the gallery button. I opened it and swiped. It was the guy, and I remember him taking a selfie an hour ago. I swiped one more time and saw myself. He must’ve taken a picture of me when I wasn’t looking at the phone. I was looking at the guy that times and I looked expectant in the picture.
The phone vibrated and a new message arrived. The number was unknown but I knew who it was. I opened and as I read it, I began to smile.
Hello miss galaxy edge aka Elle Daniels. Quite amusing that your last names same as my first name without the ‘s’.
I just want to ask if you’d like company again later when you ‘roam around’. I realized that I also don’t know anyone who could possibly let me in for the night. As a new friend of mine who lived her whole life without having a brother, would you mind if I stay at your newly-found apartment?
-iPhone guy aka Dan Howell
I tapped the screen and replied:
I’ve been assigned in a male ward for one whole week at night shift once and I’ve stayed at an apartment with some of my girl AND guy classmates for two whole months during college, Dan. I’m sure I could handle a guy staying overnight. And I do need some company later.
I hit send and quickly saved his number along with his selfie. Soon after, I received another message
Now that you’ve let me stay you already paid your debts, galaxy edge. Thank you very much. Lunch on me later. No buts.