A bittersweet interaction

After missing a train home for her brother’s birthday, a girl seeks unrequited companionship in a stranger.

I glanced at the train station in the distance and slung the backpack I’d had since the third grade over my shoulder. I put one foot in front of the other and walked the lines on the sidewalk like a tightrope.

It was getting late, but I didn’t feel much like going to my apartment. I hummed under my breath and avoided eye contact with passersby. I walked in the opposite direction of my block. I walk when I’m upset.

I missed a train home to visit my brother that night. It was Oct. 21, his birthday. I was supposed to make a surprise trip home to watch him blow out 16 candles on a birthday cake.

Looking back, it seems childish to be upset. God willing, my brother Tucker will have many more birthdays, and I will once again return home for an afternoon. But that night I was craving familiarity and home and chocolate cake at the kitchen table. Tucker loves cake – especially chocolate.

I picked a spot on a bench, a noticeable distance from my apartment. I wanted space. I focused my gaze on a man sitting on a bench across from me. I folded my hands in my lap and thought about my brother and how old he’s getting.

“16,” I muttered under my breath.

Tucker and I are opposites. He admits he will just never understand my tendency to sing in the morning. I will never understand his habitual OCD. I think I love him more for our differences.

“You’re so weird, Em,” echoes in my head and I smile. Tuck is always saying that to me.

I thought about him blowing out the candles and about what I’m missing and what I will miss in the months to come.

The man across from me lit a cigarette and opened a newspaper.

He wore a tweed blazer and brown loafers and his hair was gelled to the side. He was handsome. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, just like my father. I missed home again.

I looked down at the birthday gift wrapped in a blue blow and pulled out a Temple T-shirt. I knew he would like it, as he is hoping to come to Temple in a few years. I smirked, thinking about us at the same school. The thought of sharing a home with Tuck again made me happy. An image of him, lanky and boyish, standing in our backyard, flashed across my mind. He’s getting so old.

I refolded the T-shirt and reached into the bag. I pulled out a box of Hershey’s kisses. He loves chocolate. I picked them up on a whim because I wanted to give him something sweet. I wished I could share them with him.

I sighed and opened the box. I unwrapped one and plopped it in my mouth. It melted on my tongue and gave me a bit of momentary relief. I had another.

The man across from me stared at the space in front of his feet. He picked up his phone and stared at it. I wondered if he was waiting on someone.

“How long have we been here?” I thought.

I glanced at my phone. 9:27 p.m.

I looked down at the Kisses and over at the tweed chain smoker. I grabbed the bag and walked over to him.

“Want a Kiss?”

He stared at me for a second too long and shook his head.

“You don’t want some chocolate?”

He shook his head again.

“But who doesn’t like chocolate?”

By this point, I sounded mildly desperate for this stranger to take a Hershey Kiss from me.

“I’m just not hungry,” he said.

I looked down at the bag. I pulled one out, examined it and set it on the bench next to him.

“Well … I’m just gonna leave this here,” I said. “If you change your mind.”

He just looked at the Kiss, then at me. He said nothing. I walked back to my bench, grabbed my bag, and sped-walked out of sight. Who doesn’t like chocolate?

I miss my brother, I thought. He loves chocolate.

Emily Rolen can be reached at emily.rolen@temple.edu or on Twitter @emily_rolen.

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