I just want to take a moment to thank all of you for reading my story and seeing it through to the end. It was so fun to write, and even more fun for me to get feedback from all of you. Your support and encouragement means/meant the world to me, and I am just happy that someone found a little joy in Trains. It's all writers can hope for.
Please check out my other story, very recently begun, called North of Nowhere.
She is twenty-two, and he is twenty-three. And we are all together again.
Driving Derek and Monroe-who is now Alyssa, professionally- westward for days it seems, beginning in a hometown that is no longer all of our homes and heading out, following the sunset as it marks the fleeting passage of our best years.
For Derek and Alyssa, though, they are nowhere near to finished. Alyssa left the McDonald/Monroe household as soon as she turned eighteen to attend the state school she'd find her stepbrother nearby. They now spend the holidays with Derek's mother and couldn't be happier. They'd been waiting to finish school until they finally gave in to what Shea wanted to do for their wedding. They'd been engaged since our trip to the lake house, after all.
And that is how we all landed in the back of Nolan's recently acquired used car- paid for by the fact he now owns the brake shop at which he used to work and several more- because our once upon a time ringleader, spark in her eyes, opted for one last nonconformist's victory over the conventional, the forbidden road trip and neon nuptials that is a Vegas wedding. Derek and Alyssa had agreed not just because they felt that if they tried for a normal wedding, too many people would RSVP with regrets, but because they wanted to see us all at once. It's been almost three years since that's happened.
The affianced sit in the far back, with me and Cole in the captain seats between them and the front. The highway lights frame Nolan's shoulders with a white glow as he drives, and Shea lounges in the seat beside him, both five years aged, talking and laughing as if they haven't been apart for three. Cole and I look at each other knowingly because we no longer mind, because we know that there's hope that the two of them will find their way back after all. Maybe there's still hope that they'll stumble back into each other's embraces by the time we reach thirty. I've decided that they haven't yet because they are both far from clumsy, Shea so poised and graceful and Nolan so solid and steady.
Shea hasn't yet admitted to us that she has been recently promoted from an unpaid intern at the PR firm where she works in the city, or that her mother is finally leaving her father to pursue what awaits her in Europe from when she was our age.
Nor does Cole, his hair shorter and his face unshaved, using his hands as drumsticks and his thighs as the percussion, tell us yet that the girl from the café finally accepted his dinner date invitation, or that in ten years' time there's an eighty-five percent chance that his mother will have lost both her men to the same ailment.
And I in turn keep my mouth shut that I'd recently written an odd little tale about a hurricane girl of whims and wonder, a super-powered insomniac who goes without sleep but is made of dreams, a boy with a child-like lion heart and clumsy affections, a purple-hearted sprite spraying obscenity, a boy spun of smoke and sins, and a shy girl that let them in to make her heart their home. My first manuscript, I keep silent about the news that it was rejected by five publishers so far…and accepted by one.
All of us ignore the facts that Cole has given up on about seventeen of his summer dreams, and that Nolan still lives in our old town, and that we find ourselves saying "Monroe" once or twice before Alyssa remembers that we're talking to her, called back to a five-year-old dream.
Instead we choose to leave the moment as it is, because if we bring up what has happened to us as of late we will be admitting that any time has passed at all, that we don't know everything about each other anymore, that the heartstrings that once bound us so tightly together can no longer lead us through the labyrinth like they used to. For a moment, we let ourselves pretend that we are younger and we are foolish, that our last summer will stretch into forever, elastic, eternal.
And because we pretend that it hasn't been over two years since we've all been together, it seems to be so. At least for the last half mile before the Vegas lights swallow us up.
In the backseat, in a borrowed white sun dress and tissue paper veil, and a knotted tangle of a blue neck tie, Alyssa and Derek are exactly where they were when we left them.
Once again, she is seventeen, and he is eighteen. We all are.
And the six of us will always be together, even when we're not.