1 ~ the girl in the glass
Finnian Bell’s eyes looked identical in the train window’s reflection. Funny, that. How such a perfect mirror could tell such a perfect lie.
He willed himself to turn away, but his reflection held him motionless, despite the clickety-bump of the rail sections below him and the cramp in his leg he’d had ever since the Amtrak train left Texas headed for Portland, Oregon.
The scraggy hair and hand-me-down jeans and T-shirt were all right. At least they were clean. But he’d give anything to hide his ugly eye. It was glaring back at him, mocking his stupidity.
What made you think you could come back? That they would forgive your crime?
Finnian absently rubbed at the scar trailing down from the center of his splotchy, brown iris. It should be blue, like his other, like his mother’s. Would it ever be again?
The old ache hit him in the chest again. He had dreamed of his mother for days, dreamed of her accepting him back with open arms despite… He shook his head to erase the memory of the last time he had seen her, the horror in her eyes turning into accusation as she held the lifeless body laying between them.
He forced his eyes away, and his gaze slipped to a spot beyond him in the window, toward a seat across the aisle. A girl sat there. She didn’t look much younger than he was, maybe seventeen or eighteen, and she had a slightly exotic shape to her eyes and mouth. Even through the glass he could tell she was crying.
Finnian did not turn, did not blink. He simply stared at her. She seemed unaware of her surroundings, utterly silent, letting her tears flow unchecked down her cheeks. The other passengers sat in random seats around her, talking, laughing, oblivious in their own cares.
He understood as the other passengers could not. They would suffer a similar pain at some point in their lives but, in this moment, only Finnian was imprisoned in the glass with this girl, locked in her reflection of his pain.
A hulking blur blew through his reverie, blocking his view of the girl. Someone was walking past, but he did not move on.
“Whoa, little lady!” the man said. “Where you headin’?”
Finnian turned at once, not for any other reason but to hear the sound of this girl’s voice as if somehow it would prove she was real, that she lived and breathed outside the glass world he had created.
“Away,” she said. The girl was real. Finnian heard it in the muted tone of her voice, saw it in the perfect symmetry of her eyes. Her beauty was quiet and faded as if not so long ago, she’d had her light snuffed out by something or someone.
She held a piece of paper in her hand and seemed not to care that her tears smeared the ink of the words. Was it a love letter? News of a death? His curiosity turned him from his inward thoughts for the first time in weeks.
“Where’s away, then, beautiful?” the man said, in the unmistakable accent of the Deep South.
He finally gave the man his full attention. He couldn’t be more than twenty and, given his severe crew cut, Finnian guessed he was probably on leave from the military.
The man leaned over the girl, leering at her with weak, bleary eyes. It got Finnian’s back up, but he took a few deep breaths and tried to focus his thoughts. He wasn’t about to break his promise of nonviolence over a drunk guy bothering some girl.
The girl bit her lip, sniffled a little, and slowly formulated a reply. “Doesn’t matter. It’s not where you’re going.”
“You never know. What’s your name, sweetheart? You gettin’ off at the next stop?”
The guy made to slip in beside her, and the sudden fear in her eyes pulled Finnian to his feet. Before he knew it, he’d grabbed the drunk’s arm.
His free hand flew up as if to strike back out of reflex. In that instant, Finnian hesitated as he never had before. Normally, his fists would fly, consequences be damned. Not this time.
“Get off me. What’s with your eye? You wanna scar up the other one? I can help you with that.” He balled up his other fist, waiting for Finnian’s move. For a fraction of a second, he almost went for it, his boxing training with his mentor, old Remi, coming back to him after just a few months away.
What was he doing? Had he forgotten his promise? Finnian let go, stepped back, tried not to look at the girl. He felt her eyes on him but couldn’t see her expression. He tried a different approach.
“Can’t you see the girl is grieving? She’s lost the love of her life, and you’re hassling her?”
The man’s weak eyes bugged out a bit, and a grimace lit his face as the realization hit. Finnian supposed a white lie wouldn’t hurt the girl, and if it were true, then his saying it aloud couldn’t do any more harm than was already done. He glanced down at her to make sure.
She stared, open-mouthed, at his right eye, confusion and interest registering on her face. He knew the look well. Usually, he’d stare right back at the gawkers, which always made them back down and mind their own business. But in this girl’s amber-colored eyes, he was shocked to see a mirror of his own grief. Her eyes were stricken yet steady as a wolf’s on his own.
The guy backed away from them both, clearing his throat awkwardly, stumbling a bit from the movement of the train on his way out of the car. Finnian himself grew uncomfortable under her gaze until he realized what she was doing. Trying to get her emotions under control, trying to make her face into a mask. He knew the technique well, and he was a master at it.
He knew he wouldn’t see her again, but he couldn’t seem to get the apology he wanted to say out of his mouth. He pressed his lips together instead and gave her a slow nod of goodbye.
She tilted up her chin in defiance, reached down to grab her bag, and stalked toward the next train car without a backward glance.
Finnian blew out a breath and shook his head. That’s what he got for butting in where he didn’t belong. He curled back into his seat, wishing he could disappear into that perfect lie again.
I don’t belong anywhere. He touched the cool glass, covering his eye so he wouldn’t have to look at it anymore.
I’m a ghost. A ghost in the glass.