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L.A. Affairs: Thank you for a train ride I’ll never forget

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I was a freshman at Cal State L.A., and I hadn’t made any friends yet. So I joined a club and it announced its first socially distanced event: Beach Day in Santa Monica. I thought about skipping at the last minute, but my older brother encouraged me. He had a friend who was part of that same club. Hesitantly, I reached out, and my brother’s friend invited me to meet him at the South Pasadena Metro station so we could take the train together. I said yes, but honestly, I wasn’t looking forward to spending hours on a train with a stranger.

When I arrived, he was already waiting, and waved to me.

He held out his hand. “Nice to meet you.” I took it and introduced myself.

“First thing I like to ask everybody,” he said, “what did you have for breakfast?”

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“I don’t eat breakfast,” I answered, and he gave me an incredulous look.

“What? Why?”

“I work out for breakfast,” I said, and then immediately wanted to kick myself because that was such a stupid thing to say.

He looked amused, and we continued to make small talk while we waited.

“So what do you do for fun? I mean, besides working out and not eating breakfast.” He glanced at me with a lopsided smile that made my stomach do a tap dance.

I had to admit: He was so effortlessly charismatic and funny. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad.

I told him I liked to read, and we talked books for a bit. (He mentioned that he had just finished “The Art of Witty Banter.”)

“Do you go on the Metro a lot?” I asked. He nodded. “Every day.” I looked around for our train. “This is so stressful for me,” I confessed. The last time I went on the Metro was in third grade. “And I almost got off at the wrong stop, so my teacher had to yank me back by the hood of my jacket.”

He laughed, and I noticed that he had dimples.

By the time our train arrived, all my worries had evaporated. He was so easy to talk to. Soon enough, we were in Santa Monica for a fun day of card games on the beach and avoiding the cold and salty water.

The train back was packed and we had to stand for the first part of the ride. We held on to a pole, quietly people-watching together. When a seat opened up at the next stop, he turned to me with a gleam in his eye.

He gestured to the now-empty seat with over-the-top formality, and asked, “Excuse me, ma’am, would you like to sit?”

“Oh, my God,” I muttered as I rolled my eyes, and fought back a smile. As I took the seat, a warm, rosy hue crept up my cheeks.

As the ride resumed, he leaned against the pole and looked at me. I studied him back. His eyes. They were framed with dark, curled lashes that fanned out in every direction. They were hazel. Or were they just light brown? They had little amber specks in them too. Whatever color they were, they were dreamy. And unnerving. I broke eye contact.

We lapsed into silence, but it wasn’t uncomfortable. I caught myself looking over at him more than a few times. At one point, we played charades to pass the time. We thought we were being quiet, but I guess we were a little too enthusiastic. A woman a couple seats away called out an answer. She was right, and we all laughed.

As we neared our station, I remember wishing the ride would take even longer. I knew that once we got to our stop, reality would set in and what felt like a dream would end.

I wanted to stay in that train, sitting on the hard seat that was missing its cushion, surrounded by two-dozen people peering over masks, with the distant stench of marijuana drifting, staring at a boy with beautiful eyes.

The train slowed to a stop and the doors opened. We grabbed our bags and stepped out. It was already dark and my mom had texted, telling me where she’d pick me up.

He told me he was walking home and pointed in the opposite direction

.

I felt frantic but didn’t let my emotion show through my nonchalance. I said my goodbyes. I turned and as I was walking away, he called out my name.

When I glanced back, he was standing there with his arms out and a wide grin.

For a giddy moment, I forgot about everything that stood in our way — he was busy planning for his upcoming graduation and taking a gap year, I was just getting started on college. I ran back to give him a hug. Then, he was gone.

As I headed to find my mother, I looked back a few times but couldn’t make out his retreating silhouette in the darkness.

A few days later, I came up with an excuse to reach out to him, and we began taking walks in the local park together. There was always so much to talk about. And there was always the hug to look forward to as we parted ways.

On a walk one evening, I asked him if we could be anything. He’d told me before that he was using his time outside of classes to work on himself, that he didn’t want someone in his life romantically. Would he consider making an exception for me?

I hated the hope that I still secretly nursed.

He was silent. And every passing second was making my heart beat quicker. Making my breathing erratic. Maybe, just maybe…

No, he said.

I nodded. I got it. It made sense, really.

So why did it still feel like my heart was physically shattering?

I slowed my walking as my house came into view. Every step felt like a countdown. Five feet away, 4 feet, 3, 2, and soon we were at my doorstep.

He held out his arms, and I buried my face in his chest.

It felt like a goodbye. It felt like the end. It felt like the end, but we never even started.

Then, I let go.

The author is a freshman in college at Cal State L.A., studying finance and creative writing.

L.A. Affairs chronicles the search for romantic love in all its glorious expressions in the L.A. area, and we want to hear your true story. We pay $300 for a published essay. Email [email protected] You can find submission guidelines here. You can find past columns here.

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