Train Tracks

June 2, 2010
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Melanie Pettey

Connor Holden grasped the ticket in his hand tight enough so he could feel his finger nails digging into his palms. He heard murmuring, the screeching of trains and everyone bustling, trying to get to their transportation on time. He scratched his five-o-clock shadow, and subconsciously pulled out a cigarette from his breast pocket. His dark green eyes searched the station, found the large clock and he noticed it was already a quarter past four. His train left in fifteen minutes. Connor heaved a sigh; he was experiencing a little anxiety because of this trip. He just wanted to go back into London one more time as a final goodbye to the city and his days with Penny.

He turned his direction and headed toward Train C65 to London. His accomplice, Reese, made the money for the two. Connor got half the earnings and the leaf every now and then. Connor saw the muscular backside of Reese and his white-blond hair stepping on to the train and quickened his step to catch up with him. He could feel the bags under his eyes sagging even more, and he rubbed them as if that would cause them to vanish.

“All aboard Manchester!” Connor heard a distant, South England, voice coming from the conductor. “Next stop, London Bridge Station in London, England!”

Connor ran a hand through his short, black hair. “Connor, mate, hurry…” Reese’s ragged accent called through the window, and Connor made notice of the face it belonged too and gave a simple nod. With his ticket still in his hand, he firmly grasped the straps on his back pack, making sure it wouldn’t shake around too much, and followed in step with everyone else boarding Train C65.

Connor forcefully collided with a passerby, a result of keeping his head down as he walked, and stumbled backwards. Before he could form an apology, the woman walking behind his innocent attacker caused Connor to drop his hands from his pack and stare. She was hand in hand with a taller man, decked out in straight legged pants, a green shirt that read HURLEY, and tennis shoes. He smiled at the girl, his blue eyes twinkling, making Connor tense. The passerby got the hint that Connor was otherwise engaged, and walked off without saying anything.

“CONNOR!” Reese’s voice yelled through the station, causing eyes to wander. “THE TRAIN IS LEAVING, BLOKE. C’MON!”

Connor ignored Reese’s comments, and the conductor’s warning. He turned away from the train, and Reese, suddenly unaware of the happenings taking place by in the station.

Train C65 to London, England was now moving. Connor realized he wouldn’t be working under Reese any longer.

Connor knew that the woman was highly aware of his presence; her sudden stiffness in her manner and paranoid eye darting from the unnamed man with her and other travelers gave Connor the hint. She brushed her auburn bangs aside with her left hand, and kept in conversation with her significant other, trying to brush off Connor’s existence. Connor saw a white-gold engagement ring placed on her finger. He swallowed and began subtly following them. The man didn’t seem to notice, but the woman made haste, and started walking faster. After stopping in front of a jewelry store – Connor never understood why they had turned train stations into malls as well – the man whispered something in her ear, and headed to the ticket room.

Connor waited.

The woman still had her back faced to him, and was making a point to stay that way. She rubbed her hands together behind her back, and ever so slightly rocked back and forth on her feet.

“Penny.” The train station seemed silent. With Penny in front of him, he couldn’t hear the laughs or chatter of other travelers.

As soon as Penny was facing him, Connor suddenly felt self conscience about his attire. His army green jacket was bulky, and pairing it with faded jeans did him no justice. The holes in his shoes seemed blunt as he shifted his feet to try and cover them up. And even though his five ‘o clock shadow was enough to throw Penny off, she knew who he was.

Connor gazed at her caramel eyes; everything about his past – and her – he was trying to let go of, rapidly started flooding over him. He took a deep breath, calming his insides, and kept staring. He knew in any instant that the man she was with could come trotting back with questions as to who he was, making the scenario that much more awkward.

“Penny,” he said again. This time he whispered it, his voice breaking. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and grabbed the object inside. His free hand still clasped the ticket. If he wasn’t holding onto his back pack straps, he was gripping the familiar item pocketed in his trousers.

“What are you holding?” Penny asked. Her first sentence – or question – to him in five years, and she was only inquiring about what he was hiding.

Connor looked down at his arm and pocket, and then looked back up at Penny. Her black dress pants and pale blue blouse seemed expensive, as did her pearl earrings. “N-nothing,” Connor stuttered. He glanced away at a man sleeping on a bench: His tattered clothes, messy hair, and small bag looked so aged and grimy. For once, someone was less pathetic than Connor.

She vigorously pulled his arm, causing him to snap his neck and look at her, and presented the object. She scowled, whilst shaking her head, and dropped his arm. “You haven’t changed, Connor Holden, have you?”

He cleared his throat, a sign of discomfort. “Yes, I have, Pen.” His tone was so matter-of-fact and serious, that Penny considered believing him. But she wasn’t fooled.

“The needle, Connor. This is how your mother passed away, and you’re following in her footsteps.” She clutched her small, black bag, and looked at the ticket counter, hoping to see Liam strutting towards them. He wasn’t. “No,” she brought her eyes to Connor again, “you haven’t changed.”

“Penny, can you just give me a chance to –”

“To what?” she cut him off. “Explain? Connor, you’ve had five years of chances. You’ve had five years to quit your addictions and prove it to me. And you never did.”

Connor stared at her then, knowing this was true. He squeezed his eyes shut, so when he’d open them, Penny would be gone and he would be on the train to London, saying goodbye to his memories, as if nothing ever happened; a dream. Sadly, when his eyelids fluttered open, Penelope Jones was still standing there, her pale skin looking even lighter from the beam of the lights above. Connor looked over and saw Liam trotting through the jewelry store, and Connor highly hoped he wasn’t looking at gifts for Penny. “Who is he?” Connor nodded to Liam in the shop. But, judging by the gorgeous ring on her finger, and the way they were holding hands a few minutes ago, Connor knew exactly who Liam was.

“Liam Judd. He’s my fiancé.” And still, the words stung Connor, and the needle that occupied his pocket was going through his heart, slowly killing him. Connor was silent for a moment, watching Liam, and feeling Penny’s gaze on him.

“Why?” Connor inquired. He didn’t have to explain any further for Penny to know what he was referring. “You still love me, Pen. I know you do.”

“Because, I fell in love with him.” She clutched her crucifix and glanced at Liam, and then to Connor. “It doesn’t matter if I love you or not, Connor. I cannot be with you.”

“Rubbish,” he scowled.

“Rubbish?” she laughed dryly, showing the creases in her laugh lines. “It’s rubbish that you were too absorbed in your drugs and alcohol to pay any attention to me? It’s rubbish that because of your constant depression we had to pay doctor bills and I had to tend to your every need? It’s rubbish that whenever we’d plan to go out, you’d be too wasted or high to even stand up? It’s rubbish that when we’d kiss, I’d taste alcohol and the leaf instead of your lips?” She dropped her hand from her necklace, and they were both at her sides, one of them still clinging to her clutch, but a bit tighter. “And it’s rubbish,” she said, quieter, “that I’ve moved on – when you haven’t – because you failed to change, and prove to me that you’re sober?” She shook her head. “Yeah, it’s rubbish alright.”

Connor looked down to his holed shoes. The silence that fell between them once again was agonizing. He brought his murky green eyes to her brown ones. They kept the gaze, and Penny was still so tempted to follow Connor wherever he went, no matter how messed up he was.

She broke out of her trance, and remembered Liam – the good, sweet guy, whom she sincerely loved. Connor could see it in her eyes that Penny wanted to let go of him as much as he wanted to let go of her. They both wanted to release the past, and bring on the future, letting the other fade away until everything they went through seemed like a hallucination. But seeing her there, being that close to her physically once again, would ruin Connor’s aspiration.

“Look,” she sighed. “Liam and I are on the next train to Bolton, visiting my family. I’ve got to go.” She turned to walk off, but Connor was able to seize her arm before she could escape.

“Just tell me one thing, Penelope.” He released the hold and asked her a simple question. “Do you still love me?”

She watched Connor intently for any signs of falsehood. But all she could see in those foggy eyes were truth. Love. Compassion. And they were all for her. It was only fair that she gave him an honest answer. “Yes, Connor, I do.”

“Come with me, Penny,” Connor pleaded. “I’ll be a different person. I’ll change. I love and miss you, Penny.” He swallowed, his throat felt scratchy. “If you don’t, I may never get over this.”

Penny studied Connor for a brief couple of seconds. In that time, she felt the certainty of his words. The way he looked, how he talked, and how he caused Penny to suffer for loving him was almost convincing her to oblige to his wishes.

“No,” she forced herself to say it sternly. “I know you, Connor, too well. You won’t change. I’ll be back right by your side and you’ll be overdosed or wasted once again. I really do love you, and I’ll never stop. But sometimes, love just isn’t enough.”

They felt Liam walking towards them, and Connor kept looking at Penny as her fiancé draped his arm around her shoulders and kissed her on the cheek. He dropped his arm to her hand, and they laced their fingers together.

“All aboard, Manchester! Train C66 to Bolton, England will be departing in ten minutes.” The conductor, who sounded almost exactly the same as the one on the previous train, called.

Liam smiled, and said to Penny, “That’s us, sweetheart. Ready?” Penny nodded, looking away from Connor.

“Goodbye, Connor. I hope you’re okay.” She managed to give him a small, but sweet, smile.

Penelope Jones walked away with Liam Judd, listening to what he was saying earnestly, as if the conversation with Connor never happened. Connor watched the two fade into the distance, and step onto the train as the horn blew. Suddenly, he was highly aware of other travelers at the station, going about their business. He was a nobody to them. He was a nobody to Penny.

Connor felt his anger and sadness rising as he let Penny go once again. He took the needle out of his pocket, and studied it for a moment. Instead of the over powering urge to stick it in his arm, he broke it in half, and threw it towards the train. It hit close to Penny’s window, and she looked at what was thrown, and then at Connor. She connected eyes with him, probably for the last time, and the look in her features portrayed a sense of longing and love. She averted her gaze and accepted a kiss from Liam, putting her past behind her permanently.

Connor Holden watched the train take off, as Penny left him standing there, alone, the way she had five years ago.

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