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My name is William barrios. I'm 44 with brown hair, brown eyes, I'm average height and likewise intelligence. I never knew my parents, my mom died in childbirth and my dad was shot down in cold blood on his way home, when I was a month old. This is the story of how a single conversation while waiting for a train to Nottingham changed my life
(intercom) the train from London to Nottingham will be delayed due to weather.
"Oh come on! If the country was run like this station everyone would be at war!" I angrily yelled at the intercom. I was aware of the people staring at me, but at the time I didn't care. I realize know of course I was acting like a complete jerk and idiot, but at the time all I was thinking about was my meeting. It was going to determine whether or not the company I worked for got a huge multimillion dollar deal. And also got me a promotion. But I didn't even have to be there for it to commence. I was merely invited to listen in and speak up if I had opinions. If my opinion were good, then good things happened for me. I guess I was just thinking that I was finally going to be at something important in my company, finally going to matter, and now the chance was gone.
"I'll never move up to VP." I murmured. I went and bought a coffee then went outside to the blinding snow. There was a small glass room with two benches inside it. No one was in it so I went through the door and closed it and sat down. At the time I'd thought that no one would be stupid enough to come outside in the snow, just to come into this outdoor glass room. So I took off my jacket, since the room was heated, and set down my coffee and kicked off my shoes. I lay down with my head on my jacket as a pillow, sipping on my coffee. Just as my eyes were slowly shutting, I heard, "Wow you're feet stink." I sat up and looked at the door. Great, a homeless guy. A black man dressed in a ripped and highly dirtied jacket, an equally ripped and dirtied backpack slung over one shoulder, a big gray beard, black pants, and shoes that stood out the most. They were like Swiss cheese, yellow with holes.
"Listen pal I don't have money."
"Good, because I have too much of it." There was a very long pause. It started getting very uncomfortable until the man started laughing. And when I say laughing, I mean he laughed as if he was about to have a heart attack. And he looked to be in his late 50's or so, so I did worry a little
"Oh, son," in between laughs he said, "I don't ask for money." He limped over and...wait, he was limping. I remember noticing this but not caring. Gosh I was so mean to him.
"Please don't sit so close sir, you stink." I said.
"I might say the same." He started his insane laugh again.
"I swear I'll call the cops. Leave." I pointed to the door.
"Cops? Boy this ain't one of your Hollywood movies, you're an American and I'll call the Scotland Yard if you don't put your shoes back on." I couldn't tell if he was serious or not, but the snow had increased to a raging blizzard, so I wasn't leaving, and apparently neither was he. The man followed my gaze towards the door, and could tell what I was thinking.
"Well doesn't look like either of us is leaving now does it? Ah well, we can have a nice chat." He smiled.
"I would rather wait in the freezing snow and freeze to death then engage in conversation with a homeless man."
"Be my guest." He waved his hand at the door. I just glared at him. Soon I picked up my stuff and moved to the second bench, right next to the first one. I picked up a newspaper from the rack and started reading, trying to forget about the man. The news had lots to report, as always, it looked like my favorite basketball team had lost again, of course. And that actor was on drugs...figured. There was a horrible tornado in-
"Is that a comfortable jacket?" The man was still alive.
"Why are you still talking to me?"
"Seems like we are two gents trapped in a glass box with a frozen death just outside the door, so why not talk?" He said with a smile.
"Seems to me like you're a homeless loser with no life and I'm an extremely successful businessman with enough money to buy a bulldozer to run you over."
"Wow you're mean."
I didn't really know how to respond to that.
"Why are you interested in talking to me? Don't I appear as a jerk who you want nothing to do with and you'd rather nothing than to see something horrible happen to me, like death?"
"Well you're a jerk, but the other stuff ain't true."
I looked down. That was shockingly honest and direct.
"People have said they want me dead, why are you different?"
"Why are they? Who are they to decide who deserves to live or die? Who am I to decide it?"
This man was peculiar. He wasn't mad at how cruel I'd been, or at least didn't seem mad. There was another long silence.
"Yes it is."
"What?" The man said confused.
"Yes it's comfortable. My jacket."
"Oh that's right. It looks comfortable." I ceased to talk and went back to the news. The headline was "Man Found Dead: Murderers Name Is-"
"How bout them shoes?"
"Look I would like to be left alone." I tried to be a little nicer.
"I'm just asking if those shoes feel as bad as they smell."
"Stop saying that!"
"That they smell bad!"
"Well they don't. They smell horrible!"
"STOP!" I had screamed it. Right when I did I wish I hadn't. My feet didn't smell great, but he wouldn't shut up.
"Son, it looks to me like you've got some troubles in your life. Why don't we talk about em. See if I can help you."
"What are you, my therapist? I'm not gunna tell a complete stranger my personal sob story."
"I'm Arty Wells, who are you?" He smiled and pulled out a filthy cloth, attempting to clean his yellow shoes. It didn't help.
"I am not telling you my name."
"You don't have to it's on your jacket there." I had my company I.D. badge clipped on my jacket still. "William Barrios, I know your name, so now we ain't strangers."
"I know nothing about you. We are strangers."
"I like cookie cake, what cake do you like?"
"Please shut up."
"I'm just tryin-"
"Please." I tried to go back to my paper, but I knew the man, now I knew him as Arthur, was staring at me. After a while I couldn't take it.
"What?!" I yelled angrily.
"You think just 'cause you got a fancy job and more money than me that makes you better?"
"No I don't think that. I know it."
"Well you're wrong."
"Oh yeah? How?"
"You're a jerk. A flat out jerk. You don't care about anyone but you and you'll shoot down anyone that doesn't make your life better in some way."
"Tell me more, Oprah."
"Like right there. Why do you gotta be so mean? Can't you just tell me your favorite cake and move on from there?"
"You're still hung up on the cake?"
"I'm still curious, yes."
"Aha! Now that's interesting."
"You strike me as a Devils Food cake kinda guy."
"Thanks." I said dryly
"Have you ever had the chance to enjoy wedding cake at your own?" I looked over, he was grinning."
"You mean my own wedding?"
"Yeah I've gotten married. Twice. Both of em didn't work out. At all."
"I'm sorry to hear that."
"No your not."
"Uh, yeah I am. Do you have a girlfriend?"
"Nope, I haven't found that one special girl yet. I thought I did recently, but..." I trailed off, thinking of Tina. They had been on a few dates and it all seemed perfect. Then, right after she had kissed him, she said..."Look I hope this isn't a deal breaker, but I have three sons." And I could have dealt with that, if her husband wasn't still married to her. He had been dating a married woman, he wasn't even that low. He instantly broke off the relationship and that was that
"Hello? Earth to William." Arthur was waving his hand in front of his face.
"Sorry sir, I Uh-"
"Sir? I was just getting used to homeless loser. Call me Arty please."
"I'd really rather not."
"Come on, I insist." Oh no, he was grinning again.
"There ya go!"
"Anyway, I was with someone and it didn't work out."
"So there's no one."
I was about to tell him when I realized what I was saying to a man I hardly knew. "Nothing."
"Yes?" He was interested now.
"Why? If she's so special why not chase her down?"
I thought about whether or not I should tell him why. It didn't look like this weather was getting any better, so I guess I should just try talking.
"First of all, I never said she was 'so special' and second, she lives in France. In a small town at the base of Mont Blanc called Chamounix. She moved there in a big hurry after her father died."
"Well that's it then!"
"There's a train from this very station to France! I'm not quite sure exactly what station, but it's definitely close to Mont Blanc!"
"Arthur, if by some miracle, this blizzard lights up in time for my meeting, there's no way I'm canceling it for the train to France. My current train leaves in 20 minutes, and the one to France leave at the same time. And I'm not missing mine!"
"Well you just proved that you need to go after this girl."
"And how's that Arthur."
"You know what time the train to France leaves. You must have checked the schedules."
"I might have noticed that they are the same time."
"Uh huh, and your feet DONT stink." I was about to go off on him about the feet thing again, but I couldn't. In fact, I remember I was hiding a smile. Even trying not to...laugh. This man with yellow shoes was the strangest man I'd ever met.
"Now that's a nice smile, I didn't think I'd ever see that." Arthur said.
"Are they that bad?" Arthur sat in thought for a little, then screamed.
"BY GOD YES THEY ARE!" I tried to keep my mouth shut and not smile as Arthur laughed. "So tell me about this girl, I know she's special, it's obvious. Why her?."
"That Arty," I had actually said Arty. "is something that's hard to explain. She's the kind of woman that you think she isn't even real. But at the same time, you know she's the most real thing in your world." Arthur smiled.
"What's her name?"
"Taylor Brooks." I said it with a smile.
"What's so funny?" He asked.
"Well this one time, a guy got her name wrong and said 'Taylor Bronks'. and..." I didn't even finish the story, I started laughing so much. I see now that I must have looked insane to Arthur, but I didn't care, he was insane too. But I thought of Taylor. She was one in a million. She had gotten so mad at that guy for getting her last name wrong that she had gotten all red in the face and what was even worse was that she tried to hide it. The guy that had said 'Bronks' had known Taylor for three years, and that's why she had gotten so mad. But I had been laughing so hard because she had slapped him the next day at school and said he should learn the last name of a girl he'd sat next to in biology an hour a day for a year.
"You okay there buddy?" I was still grinning.
"Yeah, and by the way this was in high school."
"So how long have you known her?"
"Since second grade, and we went to different colleges but still kept in touch."
"And was she one of the 'popular people'?" He said it like some rich stuck up gentleman.
"Well not really, but she never wanted to be. I mean she knew everyone and everyone knew her, but they never really talked or hung out besides classes."
"And how did you meet her in second grade?"
"Yeah, she was sitting at a table with a bunch of drug addicts, not talking to anyone, and at the time not really knowing anyone, so I went over and said she was sitting on gum and that made her get up. Then I brought her over to an empty table and explained that those kids were probably high at the moment."
"Bold move. Now would you consider yourself popular?"
"I guess so, I couldn't really say."
"And what's this Taylor look like?" Arthur wasn't afraid to get real personal real fast.
"Brown hair, beautiful green eyes, tan skin, medium height. Sort of the perfect height, she would always fit perfectly in my arms when we hugged, or when I would comfort her if she was sad. Or when she would always be there for me."
"She sounds lovely." The man said with a smile.
"Yeah, you know all the love songs? That say that all the sweet sappy stuff?"
"Well it's like, whenever I see Taylor, one of those songs should be playing. And it feels like most of the times we're together, it's like something in a romantic movie."
"So y'all got along well obviously."
"Well we fought a lot. But it felt like those fights brought us closer together."
"I bet they did Will. It's like a rainbow after a raging storm. It makes you peaceful, makes you happy."
"Makes you smile." I said.
"That's right. Now when's the last time you saw this girl? Why isn't she right here right now?"
"Well that's where my life took a big turn. I was nineteen and she was eighteen. Her father had just died and she had locked herself in her room. We had gotten into a big fight the day before, so I didn't think I should try and go over immediately, so I called. She picked up sobbing, and said she thought it would be best if her and I..." I stopped suddenly, my throat was full of tears. I hated this one night of my life more than any other. "That her and I shouldn't be friends anymore. I started crying myself, I was heartbroken. I had had a crush on her ever since I met her. Not even a crush, something much stronger. And I tried telling her that, I told her I didn't have a crush on her, but something different, something better. She cut me off and said that she didn't want to hear it. I kept asking her why she was doing this. And she kept ignoring the question, and then she pulled out the big one. 'I have enough money from daddy's inheritance to start a new life somewhere else. I don't know where yet, but it's a new life William, and that means no parts of my old one in it, including you.'"
"I am so sorry, William. I truly am." Arty said, and he really meant it.
"So I guess that's why she didn't want us to see each other any more. Because I was too big a part of her 'old life'." I was holding back tears.
"And I heard from her mother that she had settled down in Chamounix, but I never pursued her. I just stopped caring. I got a new job, a new personality, a new look for myself, and I started my new life."
"You listen to me Mr. Barrios. Never in my life have I heard a man talk about a girl with such passion and caring. Now she may have started a new life in France, but that does not mean you shouldn't be a part of it. Now you are going to get on that train to France, and you are going to get your woman!"
I almost laughed at him, he was so excited for another person to put his life back together. He was tapping his yellow shoes as if he himself where going to get Taylor back.
"I can't do that, she told me she doesn't want me. And besides she probably has a husband by now."
"You know something?"
"When there is a person in your life, where you can't imagine what life would be like without them, where you wake up, looking forward to see them, when you have that kinda person. Don't you dare let 'em go. Because if you truly love this girl, you don't give up." I said nothing, but I knew the next question. "So tell me Mr. Barrios, do you love this girl?"
I looked up from the ground to this man. This man who, despite my insults and our differences, is trying. For once in my life, someone is actually trying talk to me personally, trying to relate to me. It was then that I knew my answer. Because there was someone else who cared, someone who was there from second grade, who could relate to my deceased parents, who had kissed me on the cheek under the big oak tree in her backyard, and told me that the kiss would make me smile, and it did. Only one other person had truly cared.
"Yes. Yes Arty, I do. I love her with all my heart. And I can't loose her."
"Well then let's go! In case you haven't noticed trains are moving!" I looked around, the snow was a light downfall, and trains were steaming around us, I looked at the schedule, and the train to Chamounix was boarding, and so was the train to Nottingham.
"Before this happens Arty, why are you limping?"
"Army, forget about it. Now come on buy me a ticket I need to see this!" He was jumping up and down. "You're going after your girl, right?" I said nothing, but kept staring at the schedule, hoping something, anything would change. Loosing this meeting meant kissing the feet of the guy above me for who knows how many more years until another spot on the board opened up. I knew what I had to do.
The train shook rhythmically on the tracks. I sipped my coffee, wondering if I'd ever get to finish it. I didn't even really like coffee, I just drank it to stay awake. I was happy with the choice I made, I mean, it was the right decision. A man's voice on the intercom came on.
"Attention passengers, if there is a Mr. William Barrios on board, we need to see you immediately at the front of the train. We will be arriving in Nottingham in one hour on schedule."
The front of the train? I sighed, got up, and made my way to the front. The conductor was standing there with a land line phone in his hand, one hand covering up the mouthpiece.
"It's your father sir, and he's very upset."
"Father? I don't have a father my parents are dead." I took the phone.
"Who is this?"
"It's Arthur! What the heck are you doing! I leave for 5 seconds to go to the bathroom and you go to Chamounix without me? I had to find the emergency number for the train and buy my own ticket!"
"Arty, I'm going to Nottingham. And you had money?"
"Yeah 10 bucks, that was all I had and now most of it's gone! Now when you get to Nottingham, catch the fast train to Chamounix and I'll meet you there."
"I mean I'm supposed to be there!"
"How could you do this without me?."
"Arthur!" I had shouted, I hadn't meant to. I mouthed 'Sorry' to the conductor, who was watching. "I'm not loosing this promotion. After this meeting, maybe I'll go see Taylor."
"Don't you get it? This isn't just about you going to see Taylor, this is about you, mate. This is about changing the man who you are. I heard you talk about a boy in high school, bring him back. Bring back the one who fell for Taylor Brooks, and go get her!"
I sighed. "Arthur, I'm a businessman, and I can't blow off an important meeting for a girl."
"She wasn't just 'a girl' when I heard you talk about her before! Now you are a good man, William. Deep down I know you are. You're down, mate! And life does that, it knocks you down. People are gonna walk all over you, and it's all going to seem hopeless. And in those times, the times where it seems like darkness is winning, and you just want to grab your head and scream. Those times, William. They bring fighters. They bring men and women who will stand up when life knocks them down, they'll rise up and work to change things. For them, and for others. That's a real fighter, William, when you do things for others, more than for yourself. Your down right now, mate, your down bad. But not for good, so get up, wipe off the dust, and change things. For you, for Taylor, for me, and even for your parents." I closed my eyes, trying to block the tears. "Make them proud, make me proud. Go after her, William."
I dropped the phone and ran back to my seat. I grabbed all my things and didn't wait for the train to stop. I pulled the emergency brake and ran. I ran and ran and my feet were burning and my heart was pounding. I reached a place that rented out cars and got one as quickly as possible. I drove, for hours. Chamounix was farther than I thought. I was so tired, I had barely gotten sleep last night. My eyelids were closing, I had to sleep.
A blaring horn jolted my eyes open and I jerked the steering wheel to the right, almost having drifted into another lane. The GPS said I was about 10 minutes away. I called my friend Rob, who knew Taylor from high school.
"Hey Rob. It's Will Barrios."
"Will! What's up my man?"
"I'm good, but I need a favor."
"Yeah what's up?"
"Do you remember that girl Taylor Brooks from high school?"
"Um...Taylor...Oh! Yeah the brunette I remember, why?"
"Have you talked to her recently?" I said with hope.
"No man, I don't even have her number, sorry."
I sighed. "Alright well thanks anyway."
"Well how about her mom? I mean she still lives in the same house two doors down."
"You still live in Alabama?"
"Yeah buddy, my whole life! Here lemme give you Kelly's number."
I wrote down the number Rob gave me, then explained what I was doing and said goodbye. I was in Chamounix, and since I didn't know where to go, I just parked the tiny smart car and got out. I dialed the number, and as it was ringing, I started walking around. I got a jacket out of my bag and I was zipping it up, I looked at this utopia around me. Chamounix was breathtaking. It had the big mountains behind the town, and there was a statue of two men pointing at Mont Blanc.
"The first two men to ever climb Mont Blanc: The tallest mountain in Europe." I read off the plaque, I spoke a little French. Taylor must be happy here, she had always wanted to go to a small town with mountains. This was perfect for her.
"Hello?" I'd forgotten I had the phone pressed to my ear. I recognized the gentle voice of Kelly Brooks. She was the closest thing I had to a mother.
"Hi, Miss Kelly."
"Um, who is this?"
"I'm sorry, I tried to tell Taylor not to kiss me. You had told her it wasn't appropriate for 7 year olds."
There was a pause, then a gasp.
"Yes mam." I said,
"Oh my gosh! I haven't heard from you since you moved to California! How are you why are you calling is everything ok how's the job we miss you!"
I smiled, only Miss Kelly could combine four questions and a statement into one sentence and make it seem ok.
"I'm good Miss Kelly."
"Oh please, just Kelly, you aren't 14 anymore!"
"I was actually calling to check up on Taylor, she's still in France, right?" It had just occurred to me that she might have moved.
"Yes I got an email from her about a week ago with a picture of her and her-"
Her words were drowned in static, my international service wasn't that great. What was she going to say? 'Her and her boyfriend?' husband?"
"Hello?" I heard her repeat.
"Yeah I'm here sorry my overseas calling is really bad."
"Oh it's alright, I was just saying that Taylor messaged me recently with a picture of here and her new dog, Scamp."
"That's good Kelly, do you know her exact address? I was thinking about seeing her."
"You're in Chamounix?! You are full of surprises son! Of course let me just dig it up, you know how bad I am with computers. You know she talks about you a lot. She had this boyfriend, and things didn't work out, and she called me sobbing, and you know what she said? She said 'I wish Will was here. Will Barrios, he was a good guy. He was just there for me, always.'"
I couldn't believe my ears, she had thought of me! Just as soon as I got the address and gotten in my car, I said my goodbyes to Kelly.
"Good luck!" Were her last words as I hung up and entered the address into the GPS. I was only a few minutes away, Chamounix was a small town.
I pulled up to a huge house that looked more like a lodge. Taylor must have done well for herself. I walked up to the door and just as I noticed there was no doorbell, a man opened the door. My heart sunk.
"Sorry buddy, didn't see ya." He said to me. A redheaded teenage girl followed him, her eyes fixated on her phone.
"Do you live here?" I asked the man. He turned, he was American, he had a New Orleans jacket on.
"Yes, can I help you?"
"Well, I'm looking for someone who used to live in this house, Taylor-"
"House? This is a summer resort, but during the winter owners just let out their rooms."
I tried to open the doors but they were locked.
"You need a code to get in, do you know someone who lives here?"
"Yes, Taylor Brooks."
"Oh I know Taylor, she's number 6 on the intercom system."
"Thank you so much."
"No problem, buddy."
I walked over to the panel of numbers and pressed 6. It buzzed for a while then I heard her. She spoke something in French, and he knew a little French, and apparently she thought he was someone named Ariadne. He smiled, he even missed her voice.
"Um, it's not Ariadne. It's an old friend."
"An American? Is this Phil?"
"Uh no, my names William."
"Uh huh, what is it then?"
"I need to talk to you about something." I was worried she might not remember me. Kelly had said she talked about me after her break up, but how long ago was that?
"I need to go get groceries, so I'll be down in a sec.
I sat on a big rock outside the door. I was trying to think about what to say.
'Hey, Taylor, remember me?' No, that's stupid. As I was thinking, my cell phone rang.
"WHERE ARE YOU?!"
"Mr. Atkins I'm so sorry I couldn't go make it to the meeting, I had to change some things and I just didn't have time. But it wasn't mandatory, right?"
"What? It's Arty, mate! I'm at the station waiting for you where are you?!"
"How did you get my cell number?"
"Internet, a fella on the train let me borrow his laptop, he was very nice, he said that once he was in Kenya, and-"
"Arty! I'm at Taylor's house, resort thing."
I gave him the address and since Chamounix was so small, the train station was right behind the resort. So as I turned to see Arty huffing his was towards me, his yellow shoes squishing in the snow. I also heard a door open. I turned, it was her.
"Alright what is it?" She was locking the door behind her, and I waited for her to look at me. I needed to know if she remembered my face.
"Well aren't you going to-" She looked up. Her mouth was slightly open, and she had no expression on her face. Not happy or mad or confused. Just, looking.
"Will?" She slowly took a step forward.
"It's me Taylor."
She dropped her keys and put her hands over her mouth.
"Sorry it took so long to come visit." A tear was inching down my cheek and her eyes were misty. She finally took her hands off her mouth and hugged me.
I've been trying to search for words that describe the feeling that I had during our embrace. The perfect adjective to suit the occasion. But I discovered that...there is no word in the English dictionary that describes how I felt. I can get close though. Because as I was smiling and holding her, the closest I can say the feeling was is, happy. For the first time in years, I was purely happy.
"The end! Night bud." I closed my journal and kissed John goodnight.
"But dad, who was that story about?" A four year old looking up at you with those big eyes can really do something to a person. As I was about to say it, she said it for me.
"That, Johnny, was about me and Daddy." Taylor walked in and kissed Johnny on the forehead.
"But what about Arty?" John looked at me. And I looked down.
"Remember when that man with yellow shoes who kept saying my feet stunk came to visit?"
John laughed. "Yeah he was funny!"
I smiled. "He was, and he was kind. He was a good person."
"Where'd he go?" John said as our dog Scamp jumped on his bed.
"Do you remember where we went today?"
"Yeah, you said it was a party, because someone got to go live with God."
"That's right, and that someone was Arty." The questions stopped coming. It had been eleven years since the day I met Arthur Wells. He had become my best friend and lived to be 70 years old. And he died happy. He died laughing. He laughed so hard his heart gave out. Arty was a fighter, and he taught me to be one too.
"I miss him, Daddy."
"Me too, bud, me too."