THE SPRINGING POINT by Deirdre Swinden

By the time Harry hurried in to collect his ticket, Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station seemed more like the hushed halls of a high school long after the students had gone than a major railway hub. He tucked his chin into his coat, tightened his scarf and pulled his hat low, hiding his face from those he passed. He still felt the stares. He always felt the stares.

At the kiosk, he printed his pass with barely a glance at the display, then found an out of the way bench snuggled up next to a cold marble pillar where he could wait. He checked his watch, the distinct blue face reminding him of the waters of the Hauraki Gulf. He had taken Kate to Rakino Island in New Zealand for their tenth anniversary. Off the grid. No shops or electricity. Free diving in the waters. Free from the stares and the gasps. Free.

She had given him the watch the first night, candlelight dancing in the auburn strands of her hair. A year ago almost to the day. Too much had happened since. Too much and not enough.

Overhead, a voice droned the station stops for the long-haul train, the last Miami Beach, Florida. From there he would rent a car and drive the rest of the way to the beach in Key West where they had shared one of his life’s happiest moments.

Home. He was finally going home. And so was Kate.

The 25-hour train ride would be difficult, no doubt, but it was far less painful to him than a two-hour flight. The airport, while always crowded with people who rarely saw anything other than their own belongings, was not a place he could hide. Not when one had to nearly strip naked to get through the security protocols.

A gasp caught his attention and without thinking Harry looked up.

Before him, a little girl stood absolutely still, eyes wide, mouth a perfect circle of surprise. “Mommy,” she said. “What’s wrong with that man?”
Harry tucked his chin and pulled his hat further down. He knew what would come next. The tightened grip. The simple tug closer to the hip. The stuttering disclaimer that it’s rude to stare and a hushed and hurried retreat, as if his twisted countenance might somehow infect the child from afar.

Gathering his things, he avoided it all and scurried away. He’d nearly made it to the stairs when he crashed into a breathless woman in a white wedding dress. Startled, they swung to face each other, apologies on both their lips when they locked eyes. Her puzzled gaze neither softened in pity nor darted away, and Harry felt his mouth gape in astonishment before he ducked his chin and bolted down the staircase. On the platform, the Silver Meteor snuffed out exhaust like an angry bull, and Harry moved swiftly along the tracks to a sleeper car near the back of the train.

“Ticket, sir?”

Harry held out his pass, hands shrouded in soft cotton gloves.

“Very good, Mr. Cox,” the attendant said. “Do you have any luggage?”

Harry lifted a simple, weather-beaten leather tote, the handles worn and fraying, the random marks on its sides a testament to the adventures shared on distant shores. It had been Kate’s favorite, and he had felt it only right the tote make this journey as well. Within its ample compartment he had stashed all he needed—a bottle of Teelings Irish Whiskey, a change of underwear, his toothbrush, and a small tube of paste. At the bottom, a biodegradable container about the size of a shoe box. The essentials were in his jacket pockets—wallet, smartphone, earbuds, and a small plastic canister of sleeping pills he’d picked up from the pharmacy that morning.

With a nod, the attendant stepped back to let Harry pass. “Down the hall to the right, sir.”

Harry mumbled his thanks and found his way to the Roomette—a simple two-seater whose pleather perches converted to upper and lower berths at night. A private bathroom in the form of an awkwardly placed toilet seat and drop-down sink provided everything he needed to make his journey comfortable.

Harry shut the door and sat down. He removed his gloves, jacket, scarf, and hat before deciding to keep the hat in place. The attendant would be back to ask what he wanted for dinner. He knew the routine. He and Kate had taken this route twice before.

He sat down heavily in the rear-facing seat, the tote bag on his lap. He wrapped his arms around it, head bowed as the pain coursed through him again, and he couldn’t help but think, why her? Of the two of them, why did it have to be her? And yet, he wouldn’t have wished this kind of pain on her. If one of them had to be left behind, he was glad it was his burden to bear.

Outside, the attendant called, “All aboard!” just as the infernal computerized voice told passengers to step away from the doors, the train’s heavy engine roaring in preparation for departure.

Twenty-five hours. A drive. A drink. Then one last dive.

It was almost time.

Sighing heavily, he placed the bag on the seat across from him and sat back. The window reflected his twisted features and he turned away, wondering why the hell he hadn’t thought to sit the other way. He stood to switch as a blur of white dashed onto the platform, the young woman’s scream to “wait” not heeded by the slow rolling train.

Harry shook his head, this time his reflection catching in the window to the hall. He reached out to close the privacy curtains just as the door to the tiny compartment burst open.

“Is this seat taken?” the woman in white asked. Without waiting for an answer, she pushed inside, dragged her skirt in behind her and slammed the door. She plopped down on the front-facing seat with a huff of annoyance as she tried to catch her breath.

“This is a private compartment,” Harry said.

The young woman lifted her phone, the buzz of incoming texts like the drone of a beehive in summer.

“Shut up!” She leaned over, dropped open the convertible sink, stuffed the phone in the basin, and slammed it upright.

“Pardon me?”

“Sorry,” she said. “I wasn’t talking to you.” She tucked a lock of dark brown hair behind her ear. It had escaped from an elaborate style held together by what looked like floating crystals. It caught the light, sparkling like dew-covered spiderwebs as the train shot out of the underground.

Harry opened his mouth to speak when a brisk knock sounded on the window.

“Congratulations are in order, I presume?” the attendant asked with a broad smile.

Harry and the woman spoke at once.

“Oh no. No…not at all.”

“At least not yet…” the woman said with a wink.

Harry snapped his gaze to hers, the brown eyes imploring his help and for a moment, he remembered the man he had been when a similar set of eyes had danced with such mischief.

“New reality show,” Harry said, surprising himself as the joke left his lips before he could think it through. The young woman’s eyes never faltered or strayed from his face, thanks written within. It sparked a flash of his former playfulness, and he faced the attendant with smirk at his ridiculous subterfuge. “Beauty and the beast.”

“Reality show? Really?” the attendant asked, interest piqued.

“If she kisses me by the time we make it to Miami, we’ll get married.”

The attendant blinked at Harry before breaking into a smile. “I’m going to be on TV? Where are the cameras?”

Harry tapped his glasses, and looked at the woman, who dropped a pointed stare into her cleavage.

The attendant straightened his uniform, eyed the stowaway, and motioned Harry into the hall. “The thing is, your ticket didn’t mention a guest, Mr. Cox.”

“An oversight by the studio,” Harry said and took out his wallet. “What do I owe you?”

Satisfied, the attendant ran the card and took their dinner order before offering Harry a smile. “Good luck. You need anything, ask for Bill.”

Harry shut the door and let loose a breath that fogged the glass before he lifted the tote from the remaining seat and placed it gently overhead.

“Close one,” the woman said and offered him a sheepish grin. “Thanks. I’ll pay you back for the ticket.”

“You’re welcome,” Harry said and sat down. “And don’t worry about it.

She stuck out her hand. “I’m Althea Bidwell. Call me Thea.”

“Harry Cox.”

“You got teased a lot as a child, didn’t you?”

“A bit,” Harry said and felt a smile tug at the edge of his lips. He tucked his face to the side and pulled the hat down.

“You don’t have to do that,” Thea said.

“Do what?”

“Hide. I don’t mind your face.”

Harry merely looked out the window.

“Do you mind my asking…”

“Yes,” Harry said and faced the woman again. “I do.”

“Right,” she muttered and wiggled in her seat. In the closed sink, her phone buzzed again, the reverberation on the stainless-steel rattling like a coin in a dryer.

“Any chance you can stop that noise?” Harry asked.

“If I answer it, will you tell him I’m dead?”

Harry felt the strings pull harder, the twitch of his lips nearly forming a smile, but his muscles didn’t want to remember how.

Thea retrieved the phone, ignored the call and set it on the sill above the sink. “Where’s this train going?”


“Never been there. Is it nice?”

“Rains a lot.”

Thea grimaced and sat forward, fingers fumbling at the back of her gown. In moments she produced a pin, the bloodstained tip dripping on her dress. “Nothing like being stabbed in the back. But you know all about pain, don’t you?”

“It’s an old friend,” Harry said.

She cocked her head and surveyed the carnage with a clinical eye. “I’m a nurse. I can tell it was a burn. But not recent. No. Not recent at all. How much?”

Harry pushed his glasses up his nose. “Sixty percent of my body.”

“But only half the face,” Thea said. “You know face transplants have started to gel for certain patients. Have you looked into it?”


“Why not?”

“Because then the face I see in the mirror wouldn’t be mine.”

“I get that.” Thea caught her reflection in the window. “I’ve worn this face for thirty years and sometimes I still feel like there’s a stranger in the mirror. Some grown up who took over. What would our ten-year-old selves say if they could see us now?”

“Many things, I’m sure.”

Silence lingered for several minutes before Thea asked, “What’s taking you to Miami?”

“That’s private.”

“Okay.” Thea ran her hands to the edge of her knees and grimaced in pain before she settled back again. “So, what is it you do?”

It was Harry’s turn to shift in his seat. “I’m a marine biologist.”

“Explains the watch.” Thea leaned forward to inspect his wrist. Harry tucked his hand under his armpit. “It’s beautiful.”

“My wife…” Harry stopped short, choked on the words.

Thea plucked the pendant from her neck. “Zach gave me this. Told me to wear it on our wedding day.” With a tug, she broke the delicate chain, opened the toilet, and dropped it inside.

Harry listened as it clattered to rest at the bottom of the bowl. “I’m assuming that was supposed to be today?”

“You assume correct.”

“But you’re not married?”

“Never will be, if I can help it.” Thea flushed the toilet. “Only thing I’ve done right in five years.” Behind her, the phone buzzed again. She ignored it as it danced sideways. The sun cast the silver case in an orange glow as it plunged off the sill. She kicked it to the door.

“I saw you run for the train,” Harry said.

“I haven’t run like that in years. Not since I was a kid.” A whisper of memory crossed her face, lighting her eyes. “But back then it was the swings that really called to me. I used to love to swing. Not so much for the swinging but for the springing point.”

“The springing point?”

“That point in the arc when you can let go.” She gazed at him, seeing confusion in his brow. “That moment when the swing hits its height, just before its ready to take you back. You slide your butt to the end, put your elbows in front of the chain and when you reach the springing point, you leap. Sometimes the wind would lift me higher—and for a moment, I felt free—like I could spread my arms and fly, just like a bird. You know that feeling. I can see you know it.”

Harry felt something stir in his chest, unfurling like a young fern toward the sun when the shadows danced on the forest floor. He stomped it down, grinding the leaves to dust.

“Gravity is a bitch,” he said, but his mind slipped to the water and the way he and Kate had loved to float face down just below the surface until their lungs burned. Strange, he thought, that he could’ve felt so free when he yearned for breath.

“Zach was gravity,” Thea said. She lifted a perfectly manicured hand and swiped at her cheek, a dusting of powder coming away on her fingers. She wiped it on the dress, leaving a streak of pale make-up on the full skirt.

“Got anything to eat in that bag?” she asked and stood to take down the tote.

Rising swiftly, Harry snatched the bag. “Don’t touch that. Please.”

Thea held up her hands. “Sorry.”

“There’s a snack car,” he said, folding the top of the bag over and hugging it close.

Thea fluffed her skirt. “Not sure I want to go looking like this.”

Harry huffed and slipped out of his jacket, offering it to her. “My wallet’s in the pocket. Get whatever you like.”

“I don’t need your money.” She found her phone and dug into a little pocket on the back cover. Cursing, she laid out the contents: a Pennsylvania driver’s license, a customer card for the local grocery store, a gift card for a free manicure if she got two more punches. But her credit card failed to make an appearance. “Damnit! I must’ve left my card at the dress shop.”

Harry dipped his hand into his jacket pocket, took out his wallet and gave her a crisp bill.

“You still carry cash?” Thea asked with a teasing smile.

“You try finding a cab at the Miami train station that takes credit cards when you look like this.”

“Any requests?”

“A glass of ice,” he said and took the bottle of whiskey from the tote.

“Ahhh, the good stuff,” she said when she spied the label. “I’ll make it two.”

Harry sat down as Thea disappeared. He glanced out the window, the darkness beyond now complete and he saw his reflection clear as the moon. For a moment he felt Kate behind him, the slip of her arms around his chest, catching hold of him when he faltered, and he leaned back into the warmth. Wrapping his fingers in hers, the matching wedding rings would clink like rain on metal. But there was no one there. There never would be again.

Reaching into the tote, Harry let his fingers graze the box. He thought about the day ahead, his plan to drive to the ends of the earth, to the beach where he had proposed. How they would watch the sunset together before he would wade into the ocean with the box under his arm to take Kate home, to the one place they had both felt the most comfortable in the world.

“Got us some ice!”

Harry snatched his hand from the tote as Thea returned with a tray full of chips, sodas, brownies and candy. Thea looked into the bag and then looked away before she tipped down the table between the seats and grabbed the brownie.

“Haven’t eaten a thing all day,” she said. She took a bite and cupped a hand beneath her chin to stop the crumbs from spreading over her lap. “Hell, I haven’t really eaten all year.”

“Why not?” Harry asked, the gruff ache in his voice soothed by the first sip of whiskey.

“Zach bought the dress two sizes smaller than I usually wear.”

Startled, Harry looked closely at Thea who blushed under the scrutiny.

“He said it would motivate me.”

“Even three sizes larger you wouldn’t have needed to lose an ounce.”

Thea manufactured a smile and held out the second glass of ice. “Hit me.”

Harry did as he was told, and Thea tapped the plastic cup up to his.

“What shall we toast to?”

Harry gazed into the ice. “Things best left unsaid.”

“Hear, hear,” she said and downed the shot. Taking the bottle, she let a second swirl in her cup, staring into the depths as if the whiskey would predict her future.

Her phone buzzed again. “I’m going to have to go back, aren’t I?”

“Why?” Harry asked.

“Look at me. Do I look like I planned this? I ran with nothing but the clothes on my back. By now he’s blocked my access to our accounts. And I flushed the only thing of value I had down the toilet. I can’t even get a hotel room. I wouldn’t be on this train if it weren’t for the kindness of strangers.”

“You’ll be all right.”

Thea scowled. “What makes you so sure? Are you all right?”

Harry looked away.

“That’s what I thought.”

“If you didn’t plan this, why did you run?”

Thea sat back and sipped her drink. “Zach was handsome, rich. He took me to Paris on our third date.” She smiled at the memory, the light of joy as distant as the date. “Everyone said he was the one. My mother. My sister. My best friend. Everyone liked him.” Shifting, Thea wrapped an arm around her waist and propped her drink on her elbow. “Then one day he paid off my school debt. ‘Surprise!’ he said, and I damn near vomited. Strange, isn’t it? He’d dug me out of a mountain of debt and all I could think was that I didn’t want it. I didn’t want to feel obligated. Not to him. Not to anyone. But he did it anyway even after I begged him to take it back. Same as the engagement. Threw a big party. Got down on one knee in front of all of his friends.”

“Where were your friends?”

“Gone,” she said. “I hadn’t realized how distant they’d become. How distant I’d become.” She shifted again to straighten her skirt, pulling it away from her thigh with a quick intake of breath. “Everything we did was his decision. I never wanted to get married. My parents had a shit marriage, and Zach knew exactly how I felt about the m-word. When I asked why he’d done it, he said it was because he knew it was what I wanted, what all us girls really wanted.” Thea’s eyes darted around the small room, searching for something it didn’t contain. “That’s why he did it in front of his friends. He knew I’d feel obligated to say yes, and once I’d given my word, I wouldn’t go back. That was important to me. Keeping a promise—the one thing my parents never did. But then one morning it happened.”

She lifted her skirt, sliding it up to her thigh, and Harry twitched in pain as she showed him the twisted flesh of a months-old burn.

“Hot coffee,” she whispered. “He said it was an accident. And I believed him.” She skipped away from Harry’s eyes and stared at her reflection in the window. “The first time.”

“How did you get out?”

“Three sizes,” she said and picked at the dried drop of blood on her skirt. “I lost so much weight that when I put the dress on this morning, it needed to be adjusted. There I was, standing in a dressing room while three women tried to pin me into shape. But when I looked in all those mirrors, I didn’t recognize myself. Those were my eyes, my cheeks, my lips, but it wasn’t me.” She lifted the skirt again, this time on the left side to show him a fresh burn on her inner thigh. “I was petrified. Terrified to go through with it, terrified not to.” She sipped her drink, the tension in her shoulders easing. “And then I saw a swing set on the way to the wedding, and I knew.”

“Knew what?”

“I’d reached the springing point,” Thea said. “So I jumped.”

“Onto a moving train.” Harry gazed at her, a new appreciation for her sparking in his belly. He marveled at the unexpected resurgence of feeling—the idea that he would ever feel something even remotely like it again not even dreamt of during the past six months. “Brave woman.”

Thea poured another large shot just as the attendant knocked on the window and held up their dinner. Bill placed the meals on the table and leaned close to Harry.

“Any luck?”

“Not yet.”

Straightening Bill beamed at them both. “Enjoy your meal. If there’s anything I can get for you, don’t hesitate to ask.”

Thea smiled politely until Bill shut the door and then burst out laughing. “Does he really think he’s on a reality TV show?”

“Seems so,” Harry said, a smile finally lighting his face.

“You don’t really watch those things, do you?”

“I consider them voyeuristic pimping for the beautiful people.”

“And you think you’re not one of the beautiful people?”

Harry eyed her over the plates of chicken fettuccine. “I was never going to be one of the beautiful people.”

“Doesn’t mean you aren’t. So, what’s your story, Harry? Because it seems to me we’re both at the springing point.” Thea twirled a forkful of pasta and savored the taste. “Reminds me of hospital food.”

Harry chuffed. “And you’re still eating it?”

“Three sizes,” she said. “I hope to destroy at least a dozen donuts for breakfast, and the biggest cheeseburger you’ve ever seen for lunch.”

For the first time in six months, Harry laughed. “Always did like a woman who knew how to eat.”

“Your wife knew how to eat?”

Shame caught Harry by the throat as his mind served up the first night he’d taken Kate to dinner. She’d ordered the biggest steak on the menu and then mopped the plate clean when the peppercorn sauce had proved to be the best thing she’d ever eaten. She hadn’t stopped talking about it until the waiter delivered a cheesecake that had been pure New York perfection. It had been the moment he’d fallen in love with her, and it hit him now like a torpedo to his chest.

“Don’t,” he said and pulled the tote onto his lap.

Startled, Thea eyed him over the meal. “Don’t what?”

“Don’t talk about my wife.”

“Then tell me about you.” She reached over and gripped the brim of his hat. Harry caught her wrist, but Thea merely smiled and set the hat aside. Harry turned the right side of his face into his shoulder. Soft fingers cupped his chin and gently tugged it forward. “You have beautiful eyes. Anyone ever told you that?”

“Not in a very long time.”

Thea glanced at his uneaten meal. “You gonna eat that?”

“Help yourself.”

Delighted, she switched her empty plate with his and dug in.

Harry watched her, slowly relaxing. “It doesn’t bother you?”


“My face.”

“Seen worse,” Thea said through a mouthful of chicken.

“No, you haven’t.”

“You ever see an entire body covered with Guinea worms?”

“Where did you see that?”

“Ghana. Nurses without Borders.” She forked another bite of chicken into her mouth. “God damn this is good. You sure you don’t want any?”

“Enjoy,” Harry said.

“So? How’d it happen?”

“House fire when I was seventeen.”

“How long to heal?”

“Five years.”


“More than I care to remember.”

“So your ass and thighs look like a patchwork quilt?”

“I would rather not talk about my ass.”

Thea sat back and gave her stomach a firm pat. “Then let’s talk about your eyes. They change color with the light, don’t they?”

Startled, Harry looked up. “How did you…” He felt a laugh hit the back of his throat at the memory. It was the first time in months such a punch hadn’t caused him pain. “Kate…”


“My wife,” he said. “She said that exact same thing when we met. I’d been working at BIOS, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Had a grant to study the effect of acidification on corals. She joined the sustained atmospheric observation team as a chemist. I took her out on the reef.” He smiled at the feeling of the wind beneath his shirt and the way she’d tilted her head back to enjoy the sun. “I’d given up hope of ever finding someone to spend my life with. But she didn’t shy away from my face. When I was with her, I didn’t care who stared.”

“She must’ve been a remarkable woman. How did she die?”

Harry dropped his chin, anger he couldn’t control burning like a brush fire through in his veins. How could he tell her what he had lost? The wild, mad, deep love that had graced his troubled life when Kate had looked beyond the twisted wreck of his skin.

“Stop it. Just stop it.”

“Stop what?” Thea asked, startled.

“You have no right to know her. You’re nothing to her. You’re just a stranger on a train.”

Thea caught her bottom lip between her teeth, eyes shining as he brought the tote to his chest and wrapped himself around it. “I’m sorry, Harry. I didn’t mean to…We can talk about whatever you like. Just…”

“Just what?”

“Don’t do it, Harry.” She dipped her hand into his jacket pocket and set the little vial of pills set on the table between them. “I don’t think a woman like that would’ve wanted you to do it.”

“How did you…”

“Twenty Ambien. One bottle of booze. A box of ashes and one change of underwear. There’s only one reason to travel so light. If you were planning to go back to Philly you’d have at least packed one more pair of underwear. And if you were planning to stay in Miami, you’d have another bag.”

Harry bristled. “I don’t have to explain myself to you.”

“You’re right, you don’t.” She placed a hand on the tote. “There’s only one person you need to explain things to.”

Harry snapped the bag away from her fingers. “Who the hell are you to tell me what to do? You’re planning to go back to a man who could do that to your legs. Why? Do you even know?”

“No,” Thea whispered. The train slowed then came to a full stop, the silence between them filled with the hiss of escaping exhaust. “Seems we’re on the back swing, aren’t we?”

Harry said nothing and she stood, a hand on his shoulder as she let herself out of the car.

“Think I’ll go catch some air.”

Harry inhaled deeply, the exhale bringing a torrent of tears he hadn’t been able to cry for six long months.


Harry woke, the morning sun streaming into his face. He lifted a hand and squinted at the southern landscape. They were nearly there. In another few hours he would be home.

Thea wasn’t in the second berth, although his jacket lay across the bed. He sat up, stretched and opened the sink to splash water on his face. Digging into the tote he came up with his toothbrush and paste. Rather than risk Thea returning while he availed himself of the toilet, he put on his hat and went out into the hallway to find a bathroom.

“Why have we stopped?” he asked the attendant.

“Smoke break,” Bill said and then leaned in. “You don’t mind me asking, when is this show going to air? I can’t find anything about it on the internet.”

“Pilot,” Harry said. “Guess it’s not all that easy to find a beast.”

The attendant nodded. “Your beauty is getting a little air.”

Harry tucked his toothbrush into his pocket and stepped outside. Thea stood on the platform, face turned to the sun, locks of hair swirling around her cheeks, and he felt a soft lurch in his chest. She opened her eyes and smiled when she spotted him.

Steeling himself, he joined her on the platform and offered her his jacket once more.

“I want to apologize,” he said as she slid the material over her shoulders.

“For what?”

“Last night.”

“Nothing to apologize for.”

“Yes, there is.”

Thea put a hand on his arm. “There’s nothing you said or did that requires an apology. I’m sorry I pushed.”

“Pancreatic cancer,” he said. “It took her down in three weeks from her diagnosis.”

Thea gripped his arm.

“It wasn’t enough time.” Harry put a hand over Thea’s. “There just wasn’t enough time.”

“It would’ve never been enough,” she said. “We’re all swinging, Harry. And we all have to make one last leap. Some of us just jump faster than others.”

“I miss her,” he said. “Every day. Every hour. Every minute. She was the first woman to see me, and the only one to find what she saw beautiful.”

Thea laced her pinky over Harry’s. “Not the only one.”

Startled, Harry looked up, catching her eyes before Thea’s phone buzzed. She uttered a soft curse, squeezed his hand, and returned to the train as she answered the call. Harry gave her a few minutes of privacy before he joined her. Bill had stopped in, the previous night’s sitting room once again in place. On the table, a plate of egg and sausage sandwiches waited beside a thermos of coffee. Thea divided the sandwiches and poured them each a cup.

“I want you to take this,” Harry said and held out all the cash he had on him. “Get yourself a room. A place to think things through.”

Thea smiled but didn’t take the money.

“I’ll book you a room in Miami. Stay as long as you like.”


“Please,” he said. “Don’t go back to him.”

Ducking her chin, Thea shook her head. “You don’t understand. I don’t have anywhere else to go.”

“Yes, you do.”

Thea slipped her hand into his jacket pocket. “And just where are you planning to go?”

Harry dropped his eyes to the prescription bottle and stared at his name as if he had forgotten how to read.

Thea closed his fingers around it. “Thank you, Harry. But I can’t take your money.”

They said little else for the rest of the ride, the last two hours spent watching the changing scenery, arbitrary thoughts passing their lips but never amounting to more. As the train pulled into the station, the attendant offered them a stellar smile, the questioning raise of an eyebrow bringing smirks to their faces as they stepped into the warm, muggy air.

As the crowd filtered away, Thea and Harry stood between two possible exits. To the north, Thea’s return train. To the south, Harry’s taxi. Neither of them moved until Thea touched a hand to his cheek, running a thumb over his scars. A surreptitious glance at the train found Bill still watching from the doorway, a knuckle tucked between his teeth. With a wink at Harry, she raised on her toes and he felt the feathery warmth of her lips graze each cheek.

Bill let loose an emphatic “yes” that echoed across the cavernous platform, applauding them as the train departed.

“He’ll be searching for that show for a year,” Harry said with a laugh. Thea grinned, light dancing in her face as she slipped out of his jacket. Harry held up a hand. “Keep it.”

She settled the material back over her shoulders. “Thanks for being one of the beautiful people, Harry Cox.”

“Thanks for being, Althea Bidwell.”

Digging her hands into the jacket pockets, Thea turned away but stopped short and abruptly faced him again. In her hand she held a fistful of cash, face alight with that same imploring gaze she’d worn when she’d first looked at him on the train.

Harry locked on to her, three long breaths exchanged over the distance between them before he produced the prescription bottle and tossed it in the trash. Smiling, Thea stashed the cash, blew him a kiss and stepped onto the escalator, waving as she slipped into the slow-moving stream of passengers and rose toward the exit.

A swirl of cool air rushed beneath Harry’s arms, lifting his shirt from his skin, a sense of soaring igniting in his stomach. He swept the hat from his head, tossing it into the trash as well before he tucked the tote under his arm and headed for the southern exit—a promise he needed to keep before he could seek out the biggest cheeseburger in Miami.

Deirdre Swinden is an emerging writer and MFA student in the Creative Writing program at Arcadia University. For the past 20 years, she has built a successful career as a writer/editor in the corporate world. She is currently working on her first novel.