Juliet’s journey was not as comfortable as Corey’s, and every seat on the train was taken. They were mostly old people, about her parents’ age and from what she gathered, they were on some pilgrimage or something. They would be getting off a few stations before her and for that she was thankful. She was squashed in on all sides as she had chosen a window seat. Two large ladies sat opposite her, and an even larger one beside her. From the outset they decided to be her friend, the last thing she needed. Her mind filled with the image of her family waving her off, and the circles, that looked darker than ever beneath her mother’s eyes.
“Are you travelling on your own?” The women sitting opposite asked.
“Yes, I am,” Juliet smiled, and put her headphones in to her ears, but she had to take them out again as the woman’s mouth continued to move.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said,” she apologised.
“I asked if you are going to the prayer meeting.”
“No, I’m going to Brittlestown,” Juliet held the earphones up, hoping the woman would take the hint, but no such luck.
“Have you family there?” The woman beside her eased her considerable bulk round in her seat.
“No, I’m going on an archaeological dig with some of my school friends.”
“Archaeology, isn’t that something to do with digging up old ruins and things?” The woman asked.
“Yes, that’s right,” Juliet said, through gritted teeth.
“That wouldn’t suit me,” the woman huffed and turned away. “All that dirt and worms, ugh,” her fake shiver made the seat shake.
After that they lost interest in her for a while, and she could listen to her music and think about what lay ahead. She had not dared tell her parents about Corey, and she hoped it would turn out to be a huge mistake. The enormity of what she had done did not hit home until she was on the train, and she seriously hoped he did not turn out to be some murderer or worse. Though she was not sure what was worse than murder. Her computer was standing between her legs on the floor, but she did not want to put it on the table in case the ancient ones started asking questions again. Corey told her he was leaving his computer at home. Other than an email from Rick, she would use hers to contact home and play games to pass the time. She closed her eyes and tried to nod off, but it was useless as the woman beside kept jostling her every time she moved. A soft touch on her hand signalled her attention was demanded.
“Have you brought anything to eat?” The woman opposite her asked.
“Yes, I have some sandwiches in my knapsack, but I’m not hungry.”
“Nonsense,” the woman smiled. “I’ve never known a young person who wasn’t hungry.”
“There’s bound to be something here you like,” the women spread napkins out on the tabletop and unload an assortment of sandwiches and scones on to them.
Think, Juliet urged her brain. The look of the food was making her feel ill.
“I can’t eat any of that I’m afraid, I’m coeliac, I can’t eat gluten.”
Brilliant, thank you brain.
“That’s terrible,” the three women looked at her in horror. “So, you can’t eat bread or cakes?” The woman beside her asked.
“I can, but only special, gluten-free cakes,” Juliet shrugged.
“Well, isn’t that terrible,” she tutted. “I can’t imagine not being able to eat a proper sandwich or cake.”
She tried to drown them out and concentrated on the sound of the wheels. Her father topped up her phone credit and warned her not to waste it gossiping with her friends, but as soon as she got off the train, she would call home. Her mother said to let them know that she had arrived safely, and this would be the perfect excuse to sound her out again about her health.
There was a flurry of activity from the woman as the train slowed. Juliet swore the seat lifted a good two feet when the woman beside her got up.
“Have a nice time,” one of the women said, as they started to shuffle down the aisle.
“You too,” Juliet’s smile was genuine; she was so relieved to see them go.
The train was almost empty now and the air around her seemed lighter. Once they left the station the landscape changed dramatically and like Corey, she pressed closer to the window to drink in the amazing view. True, it was bleak, and some might find it forbidding, but it called to her. There was timelessness about the land that made her heart swell and brought tears to her eyes. From somewhere out there among the rocks and gnarled trees, a voice called to her and for the first time in her life, Juliet felt like she could spread her wings and answer its call.