When he saw Charlotte seven months ago, Harry got caught up in her face, lost in her eyes because of the way they shone when she smiled, lost in her hair when the sun met and entwined with it, lost in the small words she had said to him and the silence after them. Now, under the sterile white lights of the train carriage, those same features which were before inaccessible to him were perhaps even more beautiful than that first day he saw her. Months of wondering what colour her eyes were, he found comfort in the orange suns of her irises, bordered by green forests.
He was oblivious of the way Charlotte’s eyes danced between courteousness and trying not to lead him on. All day she had carried two letters in the inside pocket of her jacket – one written on lined paper in a plain envelope, the other on letter-writing paper with a matching coloured envelope. One broke up with him, the other didn’t. It was a comfort to her to know that a decision would be made based on which envelope she chose, even though it was the sort of thing characters did in books. She hadn’t ever been the sort of person to write letters, but seven months of receiving Harry’s poetry had seemed to demand a letter in response. Unlike his, it wasn’t full of professions of love – she detailed her life to him, as he had asked her to.
She thought about how he had kissed her earlier that day for the first time, how he had just pulled her close to him as they were walking and went straight in. How his kisses were so flat that his nose stabbed her. How he smelled after walking around Norwich. How he had freaked out when he found out about Suzie, her ex. She didn’t think it was that uncommon for break-ups not to be clear-cut. And anyway, Suzie had gotten with a guy recently – not because she actually liked him or anything, but because he had bought her a £70 dildo. What chivalry.
She flipped down the awkward little seat desk in front of her, saying, ‘sorry, just need to text my mum,’ as she felt her pocket for her phone.
‘No problem,’ Harry said.
Her phone not being in her jeans, she began to dump all the stuff in her bag out in front of her.
‘Can’t find your phone?’
‘It should be in here.’ Her hand reached up and checked her inside pocket, and then she saw it next to her on the seat. ‘Idiot,’ she said lifting it and rolling her eyes.
She began to text to her mum that she was almost at the station while Harry stared at the reflection of a tired, stubbly man in the train window, trying not to act as if he’d just seen the letter in her jacket pocket – the same coloured envelope as the first she had sent him.
‘So,’ he said, ‘when are you planning on giving me your letter?’
‘What?’ she said, her chest frozen, looking up at his smirk. ‘Oh, you saw.’
Once Charlotte had stepped off the train, Harry clung to the unopened letter as if it was proof that he was loved, was capable of being loved, and he looked out the window for her as she squeezed through departing passengers, her eyes stinging – remembering the way she felt when she got with her first boyfriend, the feeling of being trapped, of being on a set of tracks with one destination. She didn’t turn to look for him as she ascended the stairs to the bridge that crossed the rails.
Coming to rest on the edge of the bridge, she inhaled the nostalgic winter air – the smell of wood, of smoke. Taking the plain envelope out of her pocket, she felt her mouth tremble. She closed her eyes and tried to swallow, instead hearing herself sob as the train slid out from under her.