The engine purred languidly as the train…azure as the early evening sky…came surely around the bend. My heart sank and rose almost in the same instant as I clutched my bag and fought back acid tears.
“I don’t think I want to go,” I said to the man whose massive, calloused, calming hand was on my shoulder; he was the only person in the world I felt small beside…the only person in the world I truly didn’t mind feeling small beside.
He smiled patiently and gave my shoulder a squeeze. “You have to go,” he said, his voice all honey and resonating bass, “you’ll hate yourself if you don’t.”
“Don’t care,” I pouted. But I knew he was right…he was almost always right…and I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “Will you still be here when I get back?” I asked more plaintively than I had wanted to.
He nodded and bent down and kissed my forehead. “Yep,” he said simply. He straightened my tie as the blue train stopped and its door slid open with a world-weary sigh.
The conductor’s face was impassive but her eyes were kind. “I’ll take your bag, sir,” she said, not waiting for my reply before she gently tugged it out of my hands.
I turned and looked up at the man, memorizing the twinkle in his eyes…the texture of his graying beard…the proud, sun-kissed crags on his forehead. “I’ll miss you.”
He smiled…as much as he smiled…patiently and warmly and stroked my face. “You won’t have to,” he said tapping one of his thick fingers against my chest, “I’ll be right here wherever you go. You understand?”
My face flushed. “Yes, sir,” I said in a small voice.
“There’s a good boy.”
I started to stay a million more things but the train whistle blew and the conductor appeared holding her hand out to me. “All aboard, sir,” she said.
I took her hand and climbed up the stairs as the door sighed shut behind me. Through the glass I saw the man standing, his massive shoulders squared as always, nodding proudly. I waved and he nodded and the blue train pulled out of the station.
I watched as the station…and the man…faded out of sight as we rounded the next curve and then I followed the conductor to my seat. It was, I realized, neither an ending nor a beginning…it was a continuation.