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Hope on a Train This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

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     As I hummed a random song, the dusty air blew my hair this way and that. People passed, but they were not in my world; they were distant, like spirits stuck in the afterlife - not that I believed in ghosts. My conscience was floating above my being. I was in a trance. All of a sudden, a noise took me out of my reverie. A train flew up to the station, and I realized that I was finally leaving. I was leaving and never looking back.

I picked up my bags with the bare necessities crammed inside and started walking toward the train smothered with graffiti. This is it, I thought. This is the end of my old life and the beginning of a new one. No more drug-addict roommate, no more possessive and secretive boyfriend, no more hypocritical and dramatic mother. I was so caught up in my liberation that I barely realized I had bumped into a stranger.

"Oh, I'm sorry," I apologized, bending ungracefully to pick up the bags strewn across the walkway. Geez, I am so clumsy. Should've taken ballet lessons like Mom suggested. As I straightened up, the stranger bent down and our heads collided. I rubbed my forehead and the stranger and I started laughing. We laughed in hysterical fits and dropped to the ground, the bags coming with us.

The stranger was a man about my age. A very different but good-looking man. He was of normal height, with lanky limbs. On his slender body was a plain white t-shirt and some beat-up pants. His jet-black hair was longish, and his prominent but narrow nose was a bridge to his lips. He looked average, except for his eyes. They were amazing, glistening an unbelievably pale blue, with a metal ring on one of his eyebrows. What a day to skip make-up.

Our laughter died down and we were sort of staring at each other. I, uncomfortable with silence, decided to talk first. "I'm really sorry for bumping into you. I guess I was in my own world. Anyway, my name is Erin. Whom do I have the pleasure of running into?"

His lips turned upward and his eyes sparkled. He shook my hand with a firm grip. "I'm Hope, and don't be sorry. It was my fault just as much as yours." He stood and lifted me up with him, his hand never leaving mine.

Hope. That's a weird name for a guy. People were starting to get annoyed at our bags obstructing the sidewalk, so Hope and I set them on a nearby bench.

"What are you thinking?" he asked.

"I'm trying to figure out what scent you're wearing. Hmm ... Angel For Men, by Ralph Lauren." His eyes lit up.

"How did you know?"

"I used to work at a department store. Trying on perfume and cologne is really fun when you're bored." I smiled and he chuckled lightly. He had a really nice smile.

"I don't mean to sound rude, but I've never heard of a guy named Hope. I like it, but I was just wondering why you were named Hope."

"My dad wanted me to bring hope to people who have none. He likes helping people out, ya know? He's really into saving the less fortunate."

I shook my head like I understood, but I didn't.

"Where are you headed?" he asked, putting on a white sweatshirt and pulling up his white socks under his white shoes. He sure does have a thing for white, I mused. In fact, the only thing that wasn't white was his hair.

"I'm heading anywhere but here. Well, actually, I think I'm going to New Mexico, but I don't know if I'll stay. You?" I really did know, I just wasn't going to tell him that I was going to stay there. Forever.

"My dad is giving me a job opportunity in Albuquerque."

"All aboard San Francisco to Albuquerque! All aboard!" came the call. We grabbed our things and scrambled onto the train.

As I crammed into the last car, I didn't realize that I had forgotten to say good-bye to Hope. He was different. It was like talking to a friend I'd known for years. And when he smiled, his whole face lit up. I tried to pry his image out of my mind, but couldn't. I started to wonder what kind of job he might be looking into. He could have been a model, but didn't have that kind of personality.

Was he single? Did he like outspoken girls he met at train stations? I forced myself to stop right there. Whoa girl, that was a little obsessive. He wouldn't like you anyways. Heck, I'd be freaked out by a girl who had a miniskirt, hole-covered socks and sneakers on. Oh, and don't forget the random band-printed shirt and dorky glasses. He'd never even consider a girl with drab blond hair lugging around an orange '70s suitcase who talked a mile a minute. I sank into my seat by the window. Always by the window. I was claustrophobic, among my other annoying traits, or maybe I just needed to feel I had a quick escape.

I hummed softly as the train started to move. I closed my eyes, leaned my head against the wall, and tried to clear my mind. After a while it was clear, except for Hope. Why was he haunting me? It's like God Himself was trying to tell me something. Not that I believed in God. Nobody was watching over me, I'm a failure. All of a sudden I was brought out of my thoughts by a tap on my shoulder. One guess who it was.

"Hope, I didn't know you liked sitting in the back, too." I gave him a curious look and he just shrugged and sat. I shook my head, amused at his nonchalant manner. I glanced at him as he fished through his bag. I decided to look through mine. I got out my poem journal and CD player. As I listened to a loud obnoxious song, I tried to start a poem. Writing was a way to calm my feelings and pour them out. My notebook was like my own pro-bono psychiatrist.

I felt another tap. I looked at Hope. He was reaching for my notebook and mouthing, "May I?"

Did I want him reading my thoughts? Oh, what the heck, it's not like I was ever going to see him again. I nodded and he took the book. I looked at him as he hunched over it, his eyes drinking in the words. I decided to stop being nosy and looked out the window. Why am I running away? Was my old life really so terrible? I could just dump my boyfriend and my mom isn't that bad. She's my family. I feel like Dad, leaving without saying good-bye.

What am I saying? I don't care! I'm sick of my old life. I'm going to Albuquerque, where cigarettes are cheap, and everything else is too. Nobody cares! I'm all alone and it's going to stay that way.

As these spiteful thought ran through my head, I knew I was lying to myself. I wanted to go home. I took off my headphones and seconds later Hope handed back my notebook and sighed. I looked at him cautiously. I couldn't figure out what was in his eyes. Was it a mixture of sadness and desperation? I turned away, but he put his index finger under my chin and turned my head gently back. Why had I let him see the notebook?

He looked into my eyes and didn't have to say anything - I knew what he was asking. Normally, I would have freaked out, but I felt calm. I told him about my life, how my mom and dad met and fell in love, how my dad left when he found out about me, how we barely had enough money for anything. How I had no faith. He seemed pretty interested, but did not speak. I just let my whole life pour out like blood from an open wound.

When I was finished I looked down at my hands and said, "You don't say much, do you, Hope?"

He smiled and answered, "What you have to say is more interesting."

"That's not true. Nobody's life is boring. Tell me things. Things about you." I said softly.

"Okay." He looked reluctant but started talking anyway. "Well, my dad is a big-wig," he made an upward gesture. "At the top of the ladder. I don't get to see him much, but we talk frequently. I don't have a mother, or at least I don't know her," he continued, his voice almost lulling me to sleep. I didn't even notice when he stopped talking. I heard movement and felt a blanket on my shoulders. It made me remember a moment from a long time ago, when my mom would put me to bed. So peaceful, so warm.

"Sweet dreams, Erin. Sweet dreams won't come until you realize you're not alone," I heard Hope whisper.

I had horrible dreams. Dreams of harsh voices, blinding lightning,

drowning. Ghosts from the past. When I had had enough, my subconscious woke me. The dim lights on the train only made the storm outside more eerie. Rain pelted the window and everyone, including Hope, was asleep. All of a sudden, I had a weird feeling. My stomach was churning and my mind felt like someone was pounding a sledge hammer on it.

Feeling the need to be alone, I took my pack and tiptoed to the bathroom. I rubbed my eyes furiously, then rummaged through my pack looking for my toothbrush. I felt a sharp pain in my hand and pulled out the object that had pierced it. It was my old pocket knife. I looked at my skin, opened, with beads of red seeping through. All I could think was, Pain. Physical pain to block out the mental pain.

I took my knife and stared at it. Its silver glistened in the light and I thought it resembled a river cascading down a mountain. I carefully lifted the blade to my wrist and grazed the flesh. It brought minimal pain and so I pressed harder. My head throbbed and I started to sweat. I did it again, and the door slammed open. It was Hope. He quickly took my hands, not looking at them but rather at me. He slowly turned my wrists and looked at the cuts, breathing heavily. I started to speak but he stopped me, putting his finger over my mouth. He wrapped me in his arms and searched my eyes. What was he doing? Seconds before I had felt ice cold, now I was overcome with warmth. A brilliant light hovered all around me.

Hope finally broke away, putting his hand on my cut. After a second, he lifted it away and, amazingly, the cut was gone.

"Who are you?" I whispered.

"I told you, I'm Hope." He gave a lopsided grin and whispered, "You've still got hope, Erin. You're not alone. You never were. Your mother loves you, and needs you. Your life doesn't stop here. Go home." He gave me one last look and left the bathroom. I waved good-bye, even though he was gone, and touched my healed cut. There was a scar. A scar of hope.

I didn't go to New Mexico. I got off at the next stop and went home. For the first time in my life, I knew I would never be alone.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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Karamel This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 15, 2010 at 4:57 pm
This is really neat! I had to go back and read the part where Hope said his 'dad' was a 'big-wig'. Clever ;) Kudos for getting this in the magazine!
 
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