045. Merrybrook. Simone Schreiber

“Next stop, Merrybrook.”

The voice behind the announcement sounded forcefully cheerful, a harsh contrast to the sulking commuters stacked into the train like sardines in a can.

Edward’s heart fluttered in eager expectation. Merrybrook was his stop and the favorite part of his morning commute.

Helen felt a knot form in her stomach at the announcement. She feared Merrybrook station every day on her way to work.

He jumped off his seat like a love-struck teenager, not like the middle-aged businessman who resembled his worn-out leather briefcase.

She tried to sink further into her seat, hiding behind the book she had brought with her for this specific reason.

Edward pushed his way past row after row of seats, carefully shuffling past passengers he did not even take a second glance at. He tried to appear casual, slowly making his way to the door, while scanning each car for one specific person.

Helen had tried different things every day. Sitting by the doors, sitting far away from the doors, sitting with people, not sitting with people, standing, leaning, crouching, taking an earlier train, a later train—he always found her. Today she had picked the very last car on the train, hoping to avoid him that way.

When he saw her, his heart was hammering in his chest. She was sitting at the very end of the train, her nose deep in a book. Edward leaned against the doors a few steps away and took a good look at her: She was the same stunning image he harboured of her in his mind.

She had spent over an hour in front of the wardrobe this morning, trying to pick out something to wear. Was her bra showing under this blouse? Did this skirt reveal too much of her legs? Was there anything she could do to stand out less, to make herself invisible to him?

He loved how her white toes protruded out of her filigree leather sandals, how her nail polish matched her lip gloss, and how strands of her auburn hair fell over her porcelain neck where they had escaped the firm bun. He knew he was staring. He couldn’t help it—she was too beautiful.

Helen felt him staring at her before she saw him, a shiver running down her spine. The cold sweat on her neck felt frozen, like tiny shards of ice. She tried her best to focus on her book, reading the same paragraph over and over again, desperate to avoid eye contact, a nod, a smile, anything that might encourage him. Her stalker.

The train stopped. The doors opened. He got off. Edward stole one last glance at her from the platform, sculpting her image into the marble of his mind. He could not wait until tomorrow when he would see her again.

He finally got off the train, and Helen dared to breathe again. With shaking hands, she dialed the number of the police.

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