A Sleeper Car Named Annoyance

          The sleeping compartment was a joke. Stephanie couldn’t figure out how to actually get to the tiny cot suspended above her head, let alone try and sleep on it. She had paid for a single compartment but overbooking downgraded her to a communal bunk. She put her hands on her hips and looked around the tiny room. Three strangers already had their backpacks, briefcases, and handbags strewn across the cot they claimed as their own.
          Stephanie had met one of her bunkmates earlier in the afternoon. She had just boarded the train and was headed towards her newly assigned bunk when a giant had shoved past her in the narrow car hall. She followed him to Room 324: her room. A grin spread across the giant’s face as he dropped his bags on the last bottom bunk. As she tried to sneak a look into the room around him, Stephanie’s bag rattled the doorframe. He turned on his heel to face her. Easily a foot taller than Stephanie, his prickishly handsome face loomed down at her.
           “Hey there, roomie! I’m Grayson.” He held out his hand in greeting but his voice was too loud and deep for the sardine can room. Stephanie, already agitated, rolled her eyes and walked away with a sigh.
            The train was in New Mexico now. It had been hours since she had seen any of her roommates. Stephanie had ran into BuckTooth Betty in the dining car and Sweaty Steve on her way to the bathroom. After vigorously washing her hands to rid the feel of Steve’s wet handshake, Stephanie decided to isolate herself in the back corner of the viewing car. It had the most comfortable seats but the worst view; it was perfect. Between the first stop in Colorado and the border of New Mexico, she emptied three paper coffee cups and finished over 20 crosswords. She had decided there was no way she was going to sleep, especially not in that damned bunk. She checked her watch. Fifteen hours until freedom, according to the conductor.
            “Has anyone seen a misanthropic blonde girl come up here?” The deep voice rattled Stephanie out of her musings. She glanced up. There he was, staring at her, that stupid frat boy grin set at megawatt. She sighed again.
            “Can I help you? Is there something devastatingly important that you need to share with me? If not, please turn around and walk back down the stairs. Trip down them, if you want to be especially extraordinary.” Stephanie looked down, her eyes trying to refocus on the half-finished crossword in front of her. His footsteps shuffled closer and he cleared his throat.
            A softer voice floated down to her, “Look, I found this on the floor outside our bunk. I thought it might be yours. It seems pretty important, so I figured I should come find you before you jumped off the train. I have a feeling I didn’t make the best first impression, and judging by my own run-ins with our other bunkmates, they didn’t either.” He stretched his tan hand out to her and something gold glinted in his palm.
             Stephanie blinked and gasped. Her fingers flew to her throat then snatched the delicate chain from his fingers. “That’s my great grandma’s necklace! Oh my god, how in the world did you know it was mine?” Her fingers were shaking too much to work the clasp, so she tucked the necklace into her jean’s pocket.
             “You were wearing a necklace when we met, but when I saw you at lunch you weren’t. I found the necklace on my way to lunch. It wasn’t so hard to put two and two together.”
             Stephanie shifted her weight, not sure how to continue. “Well thanks. I would have just lost my mind if I had actually lost this. It’s the only thing I have from my grandma.”
              “Hey, it’s no problem. I’ve got a watch from my dad that I’m terrifed of breaking but I wear it anyways. I know how it is,” his voice trailed off and he ran a hand through his hair. Stephanie saw the shine of a watch poke out from under his shirt sleeve.
              They both stood there awkwardly, not really sure what to do or say next. Finally, Stephanie gave him a nod and sidled back behind her table and pulled her crossword closer to her. Grayson shoved his hands deeper into his pockets and looked around the deserted viewing car. He knew that she had nodded her goodbye to him, but he didn’t want to leave just yet.
              “Hey, is that a crossword? Mind if I bum a page off of you? I’m a sucker for a good crossword, and there’s nothing else to do on this train right now.” He bit the inside of his cheek waiting for Stephanie’s response.
              Stephanie looked up at him, cocked an eyebrow, then tore a page out of her book. She slid it across the table to him and rummaged in her bag for a pen. As she pawed through the pages and books, Grayson slipped into the booth beside her. She jumped when his knee bumped into hers.
              “Oh, sorry, I didn’t… Is it ok if I sit with you? I can go somewhere else if you want. I just like the company,” his voice was suddenly high, and it made Stephanie smile.
              “Sure, but you had better keep your eyes and pen on your own puzzle. You’ll come back with a stub if you try and help me.”
              Grayson cracked a grin, “You mind yours, and I’ll mind mine. It’s a deal.” He shrugged off his jacket and grabbed the pen she had found for him. Shuffling a coffee cup out of his elbow room, he hunkered down and began to scribble. Stephanie was watching him out of the corner of her eye, a smile lurking on her lips.
               Hmm. Grayson… His smile isn’t THAT stupid… Stephanie put her pen back to her crossword, but her thoughts just couldn’t seem to focus on the clue for 78 Down.

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