Compartment Three, Occupant One: Jared
Too tough to tumble.
Too tough to crack.
Walls built around me to withstand tragedy.
Strong enough to withstand the death of everyone I cared about?
Yeah. Strong enough.
I’m eighteen now. Old to go on the road. I’m still young by conventional standards, but when you live your entire life on the road and in the wilderness, you don’t live long.
I glance around. So far no one’s joined me. Good.
I relax a bit, calming down a smidge. Maybe this was going to work out rather well.
Smirking out the window at the people who think they know who they are, where they belong, and the people they say they love, I settle down a bit in my seat. I wouldn’t have to deal with those people. I’d only have to deal with the ones who aren’t blind, who go around knowing that their time on the earth is short, and just wanna live it. Without responsibilities.
Just like I’ve always been livin’.
I pull out a notebook, and sketch down a few lines while I wait for the train to get moving. Periodically, I glance at the door, waiting for someone to join me.
Was I dreading it, or wanting it?
I glance down, and realize what I’d written.
There is no glory without shame
There is no future without past
Cry out her name
Make the agony last
Shriek and howl
Wait for the dawn
The Devil’s gone on the prowl
The time of light has gone
Come take me down
If you must
Come take me down
If your cause is just
But what is glory without shame
What is love without her name?
A girl, who had slipped in without being noticed while I was singing to myself, applauded, along with a few other people I had also not seen.
I gave them a cool nod, and, realizing that by going catatonic and silent—like my instincts were screaming at me to—would only make me suspicious and weak-looking, and I automatically reverted to friendly socialite behavior, hiding behind a wall of cheery perfection while, inside, I sneered out at them.
If only they knew how many of their friends lied….
When the wheels screeched, signaling our arrival in Venice, I said farewell politely and left, singing the song to myself.
But what is glory without shame
What is love without her name?
Welcome to Venice.
Compartment Three, Occupant Two: Adal
I sat across from the singer, eying him carefully. He was singing softly, his eyes closed, not reading the lines rapidly sketched down on the page he held in his hands. It was a really good song. Depressing, though. It expressed a deep and profound knowledge of the agonies of this world, and also a rather good love of opposites. The final line, ‘There is no love without her name’, was strange, because earlier in the song he had sung of her name causing him agony, and when he sung the final line it made me sad, because he loved her so much. So much that he didn’t believe in love if it wasn’t for her.
When his song ended, we applauded politely, and you could see in his eyes that he was shocked by the realization that he had company, but he hid it well and automatically reverted to being very social, hiding his awkwardness and startlement with charm.
He was good at that.
Was he another one of me?
Together, we ease the quiet fears of each other and the group alike, not out of any desire to be friends with them but only out of a need to be there for them, make their days brighter.
But why did I feel that Jared’s every word was false?
Was it because of his song?
Yes, but something else as well….
Curious and hoping I could solve his mystery, I looked deeper into his eyes, and found my answer.
They held mockery.
He was mocking us by being kind.
But for what reason?
Rarely have I come upon someone who…interests me as greatly as Jared. Whenever I do, however, they are either lifelong friends, people I can share the burden of the world with, or lifelong enemies, people who seek to trick me into passing my share of the load to them so they can drop it, and laugh at the look of betrayal on my face.
But I have a responsibility to not choose the people I help.
If he needed a friend, than I would be there. If I could help him in any way, shape or form, I would.
Why, you ask?
Because, if I didn’t help the detritus of the world, who would? Whether they deserved it or not, I would help them.
Because no one had helped ME.
And I have to prove that I will be the best person I can be. No matter what I have to do, I will help them and prove to them that there is someone you can rely on. Someone who will be there for you. No matter what.
When the time comes to leave the train, I pass the enigma that is Jared my email address, knowing that, if I was to prove I was truly who I said I was, I would need to be there for him.
Sighing but happy enough to have a difficult project ahead of me—after all, I couldn’t relax anywhere when there were things to be done, not even in the City on Water—I set off to find my hotel and the friends I seek to help.
Welcome to Venice, where all you have to do to commit suicide is walk off the edge of the street.
It was going to be a long week.
Compartment Three, Occupant Three: Stephanie
To tell you the truth, I don’t feel too bad about what I did to Joel. I knew that he was probably on the train with me, somewhere—even after I had ditched him, he had a tendency to pop up unannounced and uninvited wherever me and the guys went.
By guys, I meant Adal, and his twin (but rather moody) twin brother Micah. Those two were insanely alike—they both wanted so badly to be the best friend in the world, they are insanely good at knowing what people are feeling, they both are creative, wise, and willing to give everything out of the desire to be good people.
But how they do so is how they differ.
Adal is intelligent, wise, a mover and a shaker. He is tolerant of other’s beliefs, but is swift to fight against anyone he perceives as someone doing wrong. Micah is the same, but when he is done with righteous indignation he doesn’t fly into other tasks, doesn’t apologize swiftly and give reasons before being filled with a need to help with the problems the people around him have; no, he becomes moody and unhappy, becoming tactless and angry.
I do too, sometimes. But not as often. And I, unlike him, am not as focused on doing our best to make people happy.
I like people. They interest me.
But not enough to care.
You see, I am always the most interesting person in every room. I have always thought that, and I have always known it was true.
And, it was also a defense mechanism. No one can hurt you if you keep to yourself.
And in those foster homes? Keeping your mind hidden was important. Hide from ‘em often enough, they’ll lose interest in you. I know that all too well.
But hiding from those two didn’t work. They sought me out, became my friend, blew up the wall of creativity I’d put up around myself with dynamite, and let me shine.
I don’t know if I hate ‘em or love ‘em for what they did to me.
But they were worth it.
I listen to Jared’s song, hear his sorrow and anger. It was beautiful and sad—remind you of anyone? But I ain’t beautiful. I’m just me.
I’m just me.
And, now, ‘me’ is in Venice with her three greatest friends in the world: Adal, Micah, and myself.
Welcome to Venice.
Compartment Three, Occupant Four: Micah
I hated myself for what I’d done. I knew the reasons behind ditching Joel, but he’d been a friend! He’d been someone I’d cared about, and I’d hurt him. How could I ever forgive myself?
Beside me, Adal charmed a smile from the sorrowful—but grinning—Stephanie and the strange singer Jared. I let him. Why did I care? Couldn’t they just leave me alone?
Couldn’t they just leave me alone?
I knew what Adal—that jerk!-always pointed out when I cried out that need for being alone: “Micah, didn’t you tell me a while back that you wished they hadn’t left you alone?”
And it was true that I’d said it. When the ‘rents finally kicked out that jerk of a foster kid a while back, and Adal had come to talk to me about how he’d punched me in the face and no one’d done anything about it—not even my own brother!—I’d yelled at him about why he’d left me alone.
He’d answered, “Because every time I tried to help you’d yell at me.”
We’d parted company, ignoring each other, causing ourselves pain because we were hurting each other.
I hated the fact that we were so close. Okay, yes, Adal was a good guy, but I am just getting tired of his company. He never changes—he always wants to be good, to be the best. He loves creating, and he has a ton of hobbies that keep him busy from dawn until two a.m. on the weekends, but he’s so boring about them.
And neither of us like people very much. We find them rather annoying. Too much work.
I sighed, and listened to Jared’s song.
Seeking to help me out of my funk, my ever-so-patient brother clasped me on the shoulder, drawing a look from the two other passengers in the compartment. One of them, the young girl, kept talking a mile a minute, the older guy in glasses and a suit talking to her quietly, his look patronizing.
I gave them a cool nod, reminding myself to smack my brother on the face when we were alone and remind him about the folly of being comforted.
But I let him be, as Stephanie leaned her golden-haired head against mine, the scent of her bouncy curls tickling my nose, their softness tickling my cheek.
Oh, man , did I ever love her.
Did I just say that?
That I loved her?
I shrugged her off, angry at her intruding on me, making me feel this way.
Love was weak.
I would not be weak.
Glaring out over her head at the world flying by, I frowned my way into Venice.
My brother and Stephanie both ignored me when I got off the train.
Why did they leave me alone?
Sighing when I remembered my brother’s words, I followed them into the City on Water.
Welcome to Venice.
Compartment Three, Occupant Five: Laura
Look at this train! It was so big! Were trains always this big?
I couldn’t believe that things could be so big….
Wow, did the big wide world have a lot in store for a kid like me!
Gray holds on to my shoulder, keeping me from bouncing in my seat as the train starts moving. He would be such an awesome guy if he only relaxed! But when was the last time that good ol’ Gray cracked a smile?
I talked to him every moment, smiling. I kept repeating how big this train was, how awesomely awesome the fact that he was taking me to Venice was, how much fun we were going to have, trying to get a big grin on his face to match mine.
I knew it was never going to work, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t work on the other people on the train!
And that unhappy singer…. Man, did, he need to smile every once and a while!
Unfortunately, every time I turned to talk to them or raised my voice too much Gray’d give me a whack on the arm. We’d talked—a lot—about me being annoying, which I so wasn’t, but it was Gray and I was willing to take anything from him. And he was totally cool about it—he’d never whack me harder than he needed to, even though I thought that he didn’t need to whack me at all, because people like being happy, and I make them happy because I’m happy. Get it?
I bounce up and down in my seat, Gray giving me a casual whack to keep me calm. But he seemed fine with it; we were going to VENICE! How couldn’t I be happy?!?!
I listened to the conversations going on around me. One of the twins—the non-grouchy one—was doing his very best to make the unhappy singer smile, and he was succeeding. His friend was moping, and I kept shooting her a smile and a funny face, hoping she’d smile back, my face full of excitement.
WE WERE GOING TO VENICE!
I couldn’t wait to walk on the bridges, hear the laughter, the songs! And the food, Gray tells me, is AWESOME!
Gray should know about Venice. He’s been there twelve times, and he loves it! It was only this year that he finally caved and invited me along, but who cares? I was finally going! I was finally going!
When the tires screech into the station I snatch Gray’s hand, leap off the train, and sprint to find the stores.
Welcome to Venice!
Compartment Three, Occupant Six: Gray
Oh, I am so sorry, Venice. I had to bring her along, or she would kill me. I had been her foster parent for two years now, and because I had to go to Venice every two months on business, she kept begging me to bring her along, even though I knew she was likely to cause me to lose clients.
I hated her. She was so cheerful and bouncy and inanely stupid. She failed every test she took, but that didn’t affect her: She just kept running around, saying everything that popped into her head, bouncing off the walls of everywhere I took her. Oh, god, how I hated her.
But I’d made a promise to her mother on her death bed that I would look after her little Laura. And I wasn’t about to back off on that promise.
I’d adopted her without complaint—I had known the girl since she was but a baby, but in the two years after her mother died, she got happier and happier, and I knew she was hiding her pain with a mask of insane happiness. It worried me—especially because I remembered the surly little girl she’d been before—but it was her way of dealing with it, and I had to accept it. She wasn’t me. She wasn’t as strong as me. She was just…Laura. There’s no other way you can put it: She was who she was, and I couldn’t change her.
I didn’t regret taking her in. Eleanor had been my best friend, and I had promised to her that I would take care of her, and it was the best thing I could do for my friend—the last thing I could do for her except help her grief-stricken brother arrange the funeral.
Attempting to put these dark thoughts, these musings on the past, from my head, I pulled out my laptop and started work on the floor plans of the renovations I was doing in Venice. Humming to myself under my breath, I quickly got them in order—I’d been doing this job for five years now, and I could do it in seconds no matter where I was—and waited patiently for the train to stop.
I loved Venice. I truly did, with all my heart. I loved the silence, peace, tranquility, and freedom its twisting narrow streets and thousands of canals afforded me. I loved riding in a gondola, smiling and calling to the familiar faces as they drift by in the water, or winking at the couples who lay curled together in the little hidden alcoves between buildings. I just loved the city….
Feeling the whimsical love in my heart growing, I quickly stamped it down. If Laura saw me smile, she might get even worse. I remained stoic and unemotional as the train screeched its way into the best city in the world, the sound I hear so often in my dreams, no matter where I am.
Welcome to Venice.
Hopefully Laura won’t ruin it for me.