Cramp, yet somehow roomy, trains had a habit of messing with one’s perspective. They had a comfortable atmosphere to them that allowed people to relax without a problem despite being in a large mechanical contraption that exceeded the speeds most motorized vehicles tended to move at. They also had a way of feeling nostalgic even if your first encounter with trains was just a few minutes ago. It was difficult to say for sure why that was--maybe trains simply had that unique and uncommon an atmosphere? The sound of the train’s whistle that echoed throughout the entire platform, telling all of the non-passengers to say their tearful farewells, struck an odd chord in any person that was hard to place, and hearing it once would allow a person to recognize it each and every consequent time.
In any case, as common a transportation as trains were, Jack Springer had never expected to actually ride in one. Or maybe it was stranger that he had never been on one before to begin with? Either way, the feeling of the train beginning to move, rapidly gaining speed with every passing second, shaking slightly beneath his feet; it was an odd feeling that he could not shake off. He was absolutely positive that if the train jumped too high at any point (possibly due to a misplaced pebble or mound of dirt on the tracts, or even a thick piece or rust, thick clump of grass, or what have you), especially while turning, it would immediately derail and send all of the passengers within flying throughout the inside of the train in total chaos.
Of course, the odds of that happening must have been pretty low, since it hadn't happened yet and no one else seemed to be as nervous as he was toward the idea. Even Vivian seemed composed as ever as she casually glanced back at him when she noticed how he'd paused cautiously in the hall when the entire train shook suddenly, making his heart skip a few beats.
“Keep your head up and walk forward, Jack.” Vivian suggested pompously in a clear attempt to make her sound more knowledgeable than she really was. “As the older man, you shouldn’t be fazed by something small like. The reality is that it is all beyond your control.”
How profound of her. To be she was just saying whatever quotes she thought sounded cool in the situation.
“That’s easy for you to say.” Jack muttered as he continued after the young lady while glancing worriedly out the nearby window. Did the landscape have to pass by so quickly? Couldn’t they move at a safer speed? It made him nervous just to pass by other people in such a narrow space--wouldn't pressing too hard against the walls tilt the train too much to the side? “I don’t know how safe these things are and the boss would kill me if anything happened to you. How can I relax when my job of getting you home safely is being threatened by the transportation we’re using to return?”
“You're as paranoid as ever. I never said to not be afraid, Jack. That, too, is beyond your control. I merely suggest hiding your fear since you're supposed to be the adult.”
Jack merely regarded the girl with an exasperated expression. She could talk all she wanted; there was no way he could be expected to be as calm as the well-bred young lady of high class society. Grunts like him got through each day by worrying about tomorrow’s paycheck. Stress was their constant companion and close friend, unappreciative a friend as it was.
“Make sure they have room for us before barging in.” Jack called his warning as Vivian found the next compartment door and moved immediately to open it. “It might be full like all of the other ones.”
A single moment passed where Vivian said nothing and Jack curiously approached Vivian from behind.
“It seems we'll be able to fit in here just fine.” Vivian responded casually even as she unconsciously shifted her body shyly, probably due to all of the eyes that must have been on her. Jack was surprised when he saw the compartment was mostly empty, only three people sitting inside.
“You don’t mind if we sit in with you, do you?” Jack asked as he nodded to the people inside, removing his fedora politely.
They didn’t seem like your average group of people. One of them was a young man who had probably just entered college, sitting by the window while focusing his gaze toward the dark silhouettes of the trees outside, not showing any acknowledgement by turning even as Jack and Vivian announced their presence. He had fairly casual clothes on, but was drew Jack's eye to him first was his dark skin and hair that couldn't only be described as the traits of a Native American.
Sitting beside him was a young woman who was probably as old as Jack, around her late twenties or early thirties, wearing a slender dress and had her short hair pulled into curls that sat across her shoulders in a manner similar to springs.
On the seat across from where the other two sat, a single young man who was probably in his mid-twenties sat with his arms folded over his chest as he regarded two new arrivals with a raised eyebrow. He wore a strange assortment of clothes that consisted of thick pants, army boots, and a combat vest. The overall impression he gave was that of a thuggish man who’d been sent to the army by his family and ended up becoming a decent soldier.
“Would you simply shrug apologetically and leave even if we refused?” The woman smiled at Jack with coy amusement coloring her face. Jack lived his life ascertaining what people were like at a glance, so he could trust his gut instinct that told him that she was probably from the world of the upper-class. “The open seats here don’t lie.”
“You can never be certain.” Jack shrugged casually as he motioned for Vivian to enter. The two of them took their seats next to the man in the black combat vest, facing the woman. Jack tried to nonchalantly put himself between Vivian and the man in black without seeming too conspicuous, but he doubted he did a very good job. He was sure he heard a very light chuckle, but that same sound could have come from sinking into his seat. “Some people may have gone to the bathroom or otherwise.”
“I see.” The woman didn’t seem to think too much on Jack’s answer as she focused her gaze on Vivian. “Well I can say for certain that you won’t have to worry about that. It seems we’re all single riders.”
“All of you?” Jack looked curiously to the other two passengers. The Native American boy by the window didn't even move a finger—was he asleep?
“Most families and friends take a single compartment together and fill it up, occasionally leaving one or two spots behind.” The man in the black vest shrugged his shoulders indifferently. “Most single riders tend to avoid taking those seats since it would feel awkward being alone with a group of strangers. So they—or rather, we—unconsciously gather into one compartment where relationships essentially start at zero.”
What a reasonable explanation for their circumstances.
, Jack thought to himself. It certainly did seem to make sense. If he was alone, he would have tried to find the emptiest compartment he could precisely because it would be too awkward to go somewhere where everyone else was talking and joking around him and he couldn’t say a word because he knew none of them. It was similar to trying to break into a circle of friends—you could bravely try to fit in and have a chance to succeed, but the awkwardness of trying and failing would be devastating.
“You’re that woman who appeared on television the other day. Sheryl Lawson, was it?”
That haughty voice was difficult to mistake. Jack turned his attention back to Vivian disapprovingly, unsurprised that she would refer to a complete stranger with such a tone. Vivian was bad with strangers, so she naturally acted like that toward them without thinking about how people might think of her.
However, the woman Vivian had called Sheryl Lawson did not seem the least bit bothered by Vivian’s tone. Instead, she continued to smile at the young girl while showing her pearly white teeth.
“So this adorable little girl actually knows my name?” She seemed to relish in the idea as the words escaped her lips, her smile widening slightly as she spoke. “I’m beyond flattered. That dress of yours compliments your eyes well, darling. Give my praise to whoever made it or bought it for you.”
“Jack,” Vivian ignored Sheryl’s words entirely while narrowing her eyes slightly at the woman. “Be wary of this one. She is a gambling prodigy who’s been called the angel of retribution for many well-known casinos across the country and is an underling from one of my father’s rivaling businesses. She can’t be trusted.”
“Oh, how cruel.” Sheryl suppressed a giggle by pressing to fingers to her lips. “That means you are Vivian Springer, right? I can assure you, I separate work and play very clearly—my lifestyle demands it. I have no intention of corrupting or taking advantage of a young and innocent child.”
“I’m not a child.” Vivian tried to keep up her haughty attitude but failed as her embarrassed frustration leaked through the cracks of her voice. “I’m going to be in the ninth grade this August!”
“Ah, so you’ll be entering high school. I certainly wish you the best of luck, darling. I’ll be pleased to meet you again once you enter the adult world.”
“Who’s to say I have not yet entered that world despite my age, Lawson?”
The expression on Sheryl’s face changed slightly and Jack anticipated another condescending quip. No doubt, it would be something that would set off Vivian, who couldn’t stand being looked at as a mere child. He would have to stop things before they started fighting…
But before he could, the door opened abruptly.
“Relax your clenched fists, my dears!”
That single line filled the compartment in a grand manner and all eyes flickered toward the door with both surprise and wonder, stunned by the abruptness. Someone was standing partly within the room (having pulled the door open and stepped inside to say the grandiloquent line with convenient timing) while making a strange pose with his right profile pointed toward them as he held one hand out in a strange gesture and held the other hand over his bangs with his eyes closed.
“…you’ll scar your knuckles if you continue any further.”
An actor? No, a playwright? Those lines were definitely those of someone involved in the drama business.
This young man wore a tawny sweater vest and pants to match, brown pikolinos that had no laces, and a red tie that was perfectly centered down his line of symmetry. He had dirty blonde hair and features that seemed to be half Asian and half European. Jack found it incredibly difficult to place his age, for some reason.
Behind him was a young lady with long red hair who wore a casual sundress with a jacket worn over it, leaning into the room as she smiled sweetly at the occupants.
“You don’t mind if we sit in on this, do you?”
All characters and personalities are of my creation. Some of you may recognize one or two characters throughout the story. They are probably the same, perhaps with some tweaks to their characters and backstories. Don't mind it.
Through the creation of this story, I have learned just how much jazz exists in anime and games...It's awesome.