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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
The following Friday, I was just about to tell Mark that I'd agreed to meet The Schmuck, when he whisked me off to his truck and said he had a surprise.
As I sat there in the cab of his vehicle, my conscience ate at me. With hands clenched and unclenched on top of the jacket I'd taken off momentarily, I said, "I need to tell you something.... I'm a wreck of a woman."
He glanced over at me, then continued driving. "You don't seem like a wreck to me. I'm so in love with you, Gina."
I blushed before scooting into the middle seat so I could rest my head on his shoulder.
This wasn't the time to talk with him about The Schmuck. This night was about us, not cutting ties with exes. I WAS moving on.
"Where are we going?" I asked.
"It's not too far. You'll see."
Mark drove down 25th, a historic street in Ogden. Lampposts held glimmering lights high into the darkening sky like peasants holding offerings up to God. The wind whistled past the truck, and I heard faint music drifting from one of the many shops. The town had fine dining, coffee shops, antique stores, art shops, and bars--and all of them had come to life. As I studied the brick buildings along the street, I wondered what Mark had in mind. Maybe a fancy dinner? Or a show at the comedy club?
But he didn't take me to dinner or a comedy show. Instead we drove on and on until hitting a "T" in the road. "We're not going somewhere on 25th?" I asked.
Mark shook his head, rounded a corner, and parked the truck a few blocks down.
"Come on, Gina. There's something I have to show you."
Mark grabbed my hand and began jogging along so quickly I didn't even have time to put my jacket on. The air was bitter cold and my cheeks flushed, as my legs struggled to keep up with Mark. But I didn't have to run long; before much time passed, Mark stopped.
"Isn't she beautiful?" he whispered, pointing to an old, yellowed train in front of Union Station. "They keep her here on display."
And she truly was beautiful. Nice and firm. Tall and majestic despite dents and rust. I felt the cold sides of her and breathed deeply. How many different people had seen this train over the years? How many souls had she carried to new adventures, to loved ones who hadn't seen each other in ages, to people who wanted a fresh start? The train had been used and worn, but here she stood strong and powerful. I wished I could be like that train, someday; battered but never broken.
"Can we climb her?" I asked.
Mark took a couple of steps into the train and reached down for me to follow. We wandered around, me gasping over the details, Mark happy I enjoyed this as much as he did.
"I feel as if we're part of the past right now. Two people taking the ride of a lifetime."
"And so we are," he said, gazing at me with such kindness.
I could never figure how he could make my heart beat so fast. I grinned up at him, then shivered in the cold.
"Gina, you must be freezing! I just realized you don't have your jacket on."
I quickly slid my jacket on and zipped it up. "This really is amazing. I love trains."
"You haven't seen the best part!" Mark started climbing a ladder on the caboose, and I followed right behind him.
He rested lying on top of the train, back against the metal, hands clasped behind his neck.
Another wind rushed past as I steadied myself and sat near him, my legs dangling over the edge.
"Look," he pointed at the street lamps, then the sky, and the train station. "Kind of pretty, isn't it."
In that moment, I soaked everything in: the handsome man next to me, the rusty train, the bustling city surroundings, and the crisp air. If I imagined hard enough, I could envision that same town in the previous century, when the train station meant everything to the people living there.
Although it was gorgeous, and even magical in a sense, I felt awfully cold. My teeth chattered as I gazed around thinking how Mark had opened my eyes to seeing things in such a different way.
"It's pretty cold."
"Why don't you put your hands in your pockets?" he suggested and sat up, watching me the whole time.
My hands slid into my pockets, and I gaped. "What the...? What's in my pockets? Hand warmers!" I laughed. "You put these in my pockets?" I held the two tiny hot packs out to him.
He chuckled, then put his hands behind his head and leaned back onto the train again. "I figured you'd get cold."
"When did you put these in my jacket?"
"When you weren't looking." His eyebrow raised and he smirked, obviously thinking he was amazing.
"THAT was pretty thoughtful." I squeezed next to him on the train and rested in his arms. "Thanks, Mark."
His hand combed through my hair over and over as we rested on the train and listened to the enchanting city sounds around us.
"Doesn't this make you think about the past?" I whispered after a while. "I wonder if our parents ever did anything like this."
"I don't know. Somehow that's hard to imagine, but maybe they did. Now we're snuggling on the train. Maybe someday my own son will meet a girl and fall in love like I have."
"Your own son...."
"Yeah." He kissed me on the forehead, and squeezed me closer to his chest as my heart sank. "Gina, you're the only girl I've ever loved, at least like this."
"I love you too, Mark." But I would never have another baby and that meant we'd break up sooner or later. Plus there was the issue of The Schmuck--I still hadn't told Mark about it.
I closed my eyes, and held him so tightly. His arms felt strong and safe, protecting me from the wind. My hands clasped the little hand warmers he'd slipped into my pockets. "We aren't getting too serious? Are we?" I asked.
"We're just taking it a day at a time."
"Yeah. And if we don't work out, we'll both be okay?"
"I'll love you for the rest of my life. And I'm thankful I'm here when you've needed me most. You and your kids have changed my life. I hope we'll be together, always."
"I know what you mean. You've changed our lives too." And I couldn't help realizing how much all of us really had needed each other: Kids in need of a guy who could be around every day. Me, in need of a man who loved me for the right reasons. And Mark, in need of having a little family who adored him.
Cars whirred past the relic of a train--moving much faster than it ever could have even in its glory days. People laughed, and music played in the distance. But as I felt the hand warmers in my hands, all I could think about was the kindness of a man who came into my life when my children and I desperately needed him.
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