“Marcos, my butt is sore already.”
Marcos scrunched his nose, chuckling quietly. However, he didn’t remove his gaze from the schedule he’d made; he felt he needed to revise it at least once more, twice, maybe three times in order for everything to run smoothly.
He felt Lucas writhe next to him. The other moved closer and placed his head on his shoulder, huffing some air into Marcos’s ear as he further complained. Only then did the auburn haired male look to the blonde laying on his shoulder, his big deer eyes staring at him in expectation. Marcos chuckled once more, stretching his hand to brush Lucas’s long bangs away from his face. He watched him pout cutely with shiny pink lips that formed a kiss on themselves. Marcos smiled, admiring how Lucas’s delicate features were illuminated by the light coming in as the train rode through the mountainside. The sun gleaned on the heavy snow of the Alps.
“There’s a stop soon. We’ll stay there for a day, and then we’ll head for the high peaks. That will take some time, though.” He looked back at the maps he had brought.
Lucas leaned in, still resting on Marcos’s shoulder, to take a look at the maps as well. “Isn’t there a town closer to the high peaks?” He wanted to rest but he could withstand it if it meant they’d be closer to their final destination. It was their second anniversary and they had planned to spend it skiing at Zermatt.
“There’s a town ahead but this one looked nicer on Google. It has a Bed & Breakfast; I booked us a room already.”
“Oh, technology,” Lucas mused with his sing song voice.
Marcos chuckled, enjoying how Lucas accommodated yet again in the seat to his right and cuddled closer.
Being taller, Lucas stretched above Marcos to take the suitcases off the rack they’d been safely attached to. His boyfriend was still glued to those papers, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“Marcos, the train is going to stop,” he pointed out, calling for the other’s attention.
His boyfriend nodded, engrossed. He started to move, however, getting up while clutching the mess of maps.
The train pulled up smoothly. Lucas waited patiently for the passengers ahead of him to disembark, stumbling from time to time with the ones that came in, not knowing to wait their turn. He looked back over his shoulder, while pulling onto the pair of red suitcases. “Marcos!” he shouted when he saw the other open his eyes wide and turn around to where they had come from.
“Keep going,” Marcos shouted at him without looking back. “I think I forgot something.”
Lucas rolled his eyes but the weight of the huge backpack over his shoulders urged him to keep going. He almost fell on his face as he took a step down the train, barely managing to avoid the gap. The station attendee was nowhere to be found and he had to carry the suitcases off the step and hope nothing had broken as they slammed against the granite ground. He was breathless by now.
The young blonde man leaned against the suitcases, removing the backpack and letting out a sigh of relief. He couldn’t see Marcos through the windows and guessed the other was crawling all over the floor. He must have had left a map or maybe their ticket pouch. Marcos was clumsy like that at times but he always managed to recover quickly; better than Lucas at least. From the first moment they met, Marcos had been the one giving directions and Lucas just followed, happy to have such a charming man to guide him through life. At times he thought he might be too clingy but Marcos would always assured him that was one of the things he liked the most about him, so Lucas made sure to keep a strong hold.
Suddenly, the doors closed and without any sort of warning the train started to move out from the rustic platform. Lucas opened his eyes wide, mouth dropping as he watched, unable to move or ask for help. Marcos’s head popped up from one cabin farther right from where Lucas was standing. He started to rush through the carts, looking frantically to his boyfriend gawking at the departing train.
“Marcos!” Lucas yelled. He didn’t know if he should be upset or laugh at the whole situation. There was certainly a light sense of panic invading him.
“Lucas, stay there. I’ll come back on the next train!” Marcos shouted, his voice miraculously making it through the ruckus of the heavy machine.
“When the hell is that?” Lucas asked himself.
There was just no way of going around it; he would have to find everything on his own. He only hoped it wouldn’t take long for the other to return though he feared that would be the case as he remembered his boyfriend telling him, all excited, of how the train took half an hour just to circle the mountain of this foreign town.
“It says you can see it from this spot,” he had heard Marcos say but he had been too busy putting extra sugar in his coffee.
If he was expecting Lucas to run after the train only to wave at him from some odd peak he was certainly wrong. Lucas huffed and laughed bitterly, placing the backpack over his shoulders once more and heading to the center of town in search of the B&B.
The bell above the door rang a few times, tinkling fast as Lucas stood on the doorframe stomping his feet on the carpet to remove the excess of snow. He shivered before removing his scarf and looking up, studying the place. He had seen it as he made his way to the lodging and decided to return here to wait for Marcos. It was a small café, a cozy looking place, filled with the orange light from a chimney. Inside it seemed even better, with small tables near the store-front window and some couches at the back, where the fire was being kept strong and alive. He reached the bar, settled to the right and sat on a stool, wincing a little – his butt still hurt from sitting for so long on the train.
“Good evening,” the guy behind the bar greeted him.
“Oh. Hi.” He was surprised to hear English instead of some natal language. But then again, this was all a tourist zone, especially at this time of the year when people rushed to the Alps to dive contently into the snow. “One coffee, please.”
Lucas saw the pastries displayed by the window at one end of the bar. His stomach growled loudly and he almost salivated at the thought of eating one of those. Marcos would scold him for having too many sweets but he wasn’t there so Lucas could do as he wanted, thank you very much.
“Can I get one of those, too?” He pointed at the delicious looking pieces of cake.
The service boy smiled, amused by Lucas’s shiny eyes as he stared at the display.
A pang of guilt hit Lucas all of a sudden. “Make it two, actually,” he sighed. He bet Marcos would be hungry when he came back.
The fast movement outside the window caught his attention. A second person passed, running in the same direction as the first. The boy behind the bar looked up as well, with furrowed brows.
“What’s going on?” Lucas whispered without knowing why he was being so careful.
“Maybe the train got stuck again. There’s been too much ice on the rails.”
Lucas ran out the door and followed what was now a crowd. He didn’t know where they were all running to but moved forward even when he felt breathless. The snow was heavier and his feet kept getting buried in the snow as they reached the border of the forest. He saw people standing on the top of a slope and he also made his way there, blinded with a fear so strong that was eating his entrails faster than the cold he felt.
And still, that was nothing compared to the blow to Lucas’s heart when he saw the stone bridge, elevated high, on par with the mountain. Next to it, carved on the rocks, a lonely, narrow tunnel silently waiting for its time to engulf anything alive into the most absolute darkness. However, the majestic view was perturbed right in the middle by the chain of smoke rising from the depts.
No one was saying a word, but Lucas knew. He knew where the smoke came from; he knew why there was no train, why the bridge was empty. Lucas knew that his life was over.
Lucas stepped off the train, his eyes traveling through the now familiar town. The only thing welcoming him was the blurry sign of Bahnhof Lax, shaking nosily from its post. He took a deep breath letting the cold wind spike its way from his nostrils to his lungs. This time he carried only a small backpack over his shoulder and headed straight to the café, wanting to leave the growl of the train behind as it extricated itself from the station to that place Lucas had never been to but knew so well. He hadn’t dared take another peek at it. He wasn’t strong enough. And though this time it was different, he still couldn’t face it.
He chose to enter the café as per usual, and sit at the same stool, the closest to the window, where at least the smell of pastries could relieve some of his grief.
“One coffee, please.”
Not a second later a cup of the hot dark liquid was placed in front of him. Lucas placed both hands around the ceramic, letting the warmth seep through his skin.
“Would you like carrot cake or lemon pie?”
Two slices of the delightful cake made their way to his hands, the plate barely making a hard clink as it was left on the bar. Usually, Lucas would eat it all in big, sloppy spoonfuls. Sometimes his face would shine with chubby tears while gulfing it all down with a burning sip of coffee. No one would say a word and neither would he. After he was done he would get up and walk back to the station where he would wait patiently, slouching on a bench, for the train that would go the same direction he had just came from.
“Don’t you have anything stronger?” he asked in his low monotone.
He saw the pair of languid, calloused hands tap the bar right in front of him. “How strong?” the deep yet watery voice asked from across.
“Knock me out,” Lucas muttered.
His eyes started to open groggily, fighting against the light that filtered through the window. It was daylight. Lucas looked around, unmoving. He could recognize the musky smell of wooden walls along with the smell of fresh and clean sheets. He nuzzled his nose on the pillow next to his head and then blinked when he noticed the room full of books. His eyes kept traveling along the wall observing a heater, a nightstand, a closet full of clothes that weren’t his.
The young blonde man rolled onto his back in a quick movement; a heavy grunt escaping his lips, feeling his body heavy – he had gotten drunk and now he was…
“The Bed & Breakfast was booked so I brought you here.”
Lucas shuffled in between the sheets until he was in a proper sitting position.
Standing in the doorway was another young man – tall and lean, with chocolate brown hair falling lazily over an attractive face. He was leaning casually, wearing pajamas and looking at Lucas with an amused smile – Lucas’s blonde hair was sticking every other way on his head and his left cheek still held the pattern of the pillow he had been resting on.
“I’ll leave in the next train,” he started to remove the sheets trying to get up.
“The train is stuck.”
Lucas looked up, fear invading his now fully awake face.
“It’s been snowing non-stop out there. So there’s no train coming or leaving.”
The sigh of relief leaving Lucas’s chest was loud. “I’ll pay you for the night,” he mumbled, unable to look at the stranger.
“It’s ok,” the other smiled reassuringly. “I don’t mind the company.” There was the light tinge of pink spotting his cheeks.
This made the blonde blink a few times, not knowing how to react or what else to say. He was fully dressed so he knew nothing strange had happened, only the highest probability that he had been dragged all the way from the café to this guy’s apartment.
“I made some breakfast.” The other nodded towards the kitchen for Lucas to follow. “Don’t worry, it’s on the house.” And there was that smile again.
Lucas thought of refusing but he was really hungry; he hadn’t eaten anything on the train and then he had drowned himself in whiskey.
It was a bit awkward at the small, round table. The food looked great but Lucas didn’t know how to be himself around this guy. He used to have great people skills but now it was the total opposite. He took a sip of his coffee to have something to do in the meantime. It was good.
“The coffee is very good,” he mumbled.
“You do know who I am, right?” the other asked with laughter in his voice.
“Of course. You work at the café.” The boy behind the bar.
Those dark brown eyes stared back at him in expectation. Lucas could almost hear the next question: who are you?
Lucas fixed his eyes on a spot on the wooden table. He was thankful for the hospitality the other had shown towards him but he didn’t feel comfortable enough to start displaying his life or what was left of it, anyway.
The boy caught up on it and knew better than to pressure his guest, even if he had another thousand questions running through his head. “I also made this.” He pointed at a plate filled with slices of golden cornbread.
Lucas gasped, unable to control his mouth from dropping.
This time it was him who blushed when the other’s laugh rang along the kitchen, softly, like the bell above the door of the café; his lips becoming thinner, showing pearl white teeth and his eyes turning into crescents, while his whole face was illuminated by the single act of laughing. Lucas almost gulfed a whole slice of bread down his throat in order to keep at bay the fluttering he was feeling. It was surely the hunger, he told himself.
The two of them made their way through the thick layer of snow to the café. Lucas was glad he could spend the day there, where he could see other people and feel the warmth of the chimney. He learned the boy’s name was Sean and though he was taller, he was also younger than Lucas, but only by a few years, nothing drastic. However, the old men sitting at the end of the bar, closer to the hearth, called them both boy.
“Oi, boy. Can you pass me that?”
At first, Sean had responded to it and then Lucas figured they were referring to him as well. And so, he ended up helping the younger. He had nothing to do anyway and being the temporary waiter helped take things off his mind. Like that snow.
“It’s like a curse,” he breathed; his nose and hands glued to the window back at Sean’s place.
The younger stepped next to him, looking out into the pitch black night. He then looked at Lucas who froze when he noticed how close they were to each other. One inch more and Lucas’s button nose would touch Sean’s incredibly perfect one. The shortest wanted to move back but found himself entranced by Sean’s handsome face; his dark eyes, his manly jaw, those high cheekbones over soft, clear skin.
Lucas could do nothing but blush. Sean smiled to himself, turning his attention back outside the window. Lucas did too but found his gaze returning to the taller’s face. The eldest gulped loudly when he noticed Sean watching him intently. He hid his face against the window bumping his forehead against it. The younger chuckled and walked away, falling backwards onto the smaller couch facing the fireplace. He handed Lucas a cup of hot chocolate when the shorter sat on the sofa across from him.
Lucas watched the light from the blaze dance on Sean’s face.
“Do you know who I am?” The question escaped his lips but he didn’t regret it.
Sean stared at him for a moment. “You have been coming to Lax on the same day for four years.” He hesitated before continuing. “You lost someone in the train wreck.” It wasn’t a question; he didn’t know the details but that much was obvious.
Lucas lowered his gaze giving that as an answer.
“It must have been a very important person, for you to return here.”
Lucas’s eyes were set on the fire now, his knees coming up to meet his chin as he folded into himself.
Again, Sean knew better than to keep questioning him.
“It’s the last time,” Lucas whispered. “I just…” His eyes started watering, intent on the flames. “I don’t have the strength anymore.”
He had already moved out of the apartment that had been home to him and Marcos. He had stopped meeting their acquaintances, including Marcos’s parents; all of them always staring at him with eyes full of pity. He had abstained from any sort of routine they had sustained previously and yet he kept coming here, every year. He didn’t know what he gained by it, for surely it was a dead end back to pain.
Sean watched the frail figure with new eyes; indeed the strength that Lucas was professing was weakening him at the same time. He moved swiftly from one couch to the other, patting Lucas’s shoulder in an attempt to comfort him.
There was silence for a brief moment. “I still don’t know your name, though.” He offered a soft smile when the shorter looked up.
“Lucas,” he replied.
Lucas shivered as a blast of wind gusted through the café, the door slamming back shut while a pair of tourists left.
“Oi, boy,” called one of the old men. “Take this.” He offered Lucas a shot of whiskey.
Lucas looked toward where Sean was standing. It seemed he would have to spend yet another night at the younger’s place and he didn’t want to be a burden further than he already was; getting drunk would surely add to that annoyance. However, Sean winked an eye at him, encouraging him to comply with the old man.
Lucas took the drink, downing it in less than a second.
“That’s what’s best for this forsaken cold,” the man patted him strongly on the shoulder, making him shake in the same spot and handing him another shot right away.
The wind howled in Lucas’s ear, pulling him sideways like a ragdoll. The white snow surrounding him only got thicker and heavier, sticking to his hair and eyelashes, making it impossible for him to see where he was heading. He was breathless and dizzy, and going up and up and up, surrounded by giant pines trees. The only thing he could recognize was the light from the oil lamp he was carrying though he didn’t have a clue where he had gotten it from.
Suddenly, his boot got stuck in the snow and as he struggled to get free, the view up front cleared.
Ahead, in the distance, stood the stone bridge and the entrance to the tunnel; the place where he had lost everything. Lucas’s lower lip trembled and he fell to his knees. He let the lamp roll over on the snow while his hands rested on the ground. He knew he shouldn’t have gone there, that he’ll lose what little strength he had. The twinge in his heart left him deaf and more blinded than before. Perhaps he should stay there as well; it’s not like it was the first time suicidal thoughts had made their way into his head. Yes. He would stay there and let the storm do away with him once and for all.
“Wolves could be another option.”
Lucas snapped his head up at the sound of the familiar voice. Kneeling next to him was Marcos, a smile playing on his lips.
Lucas gasped, falling sideways on the snow with his boot still stuck. “Am I hallucinating?”
“You’re probably drunk, dummy,” Marcos smirked.
Lucas stared, his eyes trembling before such an apparition. He didn’t know if he should be scared or laugh because he had probably gone insane. There was also that urge of running into Marcos’s arms. “Is your soul wandering these mountains?”
Marcos giggled, balancing his whole weight on his ankles. “My soul is always next to you, Lucas.”
Lucas’s lip quivered. “Is it? Are you always with me? Why can I only see you now?” It came so childish and yet he didn’t regret it.
Marcos smiled at him tenderly.
Lucas tried to straighten himself to be closer to his boyfriend. “I wish we could be together again.” Lucas lowered his gaze and a small hand lifted his chin up.
Marcos stared at him for a while longer with those smart eyes blinking every now and then, producing more powerful storms in Lucas’s heart than the snow ever could. “You know I was the one to turn back in the train, right?”
Lucas blinked a few times as well, letting the words sink.
“I know I don’t have to feel guilty, Marcos. But what do I do with this?” Lucas clenched his chest, where his heart was. “I feel so lost. You were my best friend; the person who I spent my days and night with; the one I told everything to. And now I don’t have anybody. What do I do, Marcos? Where do I go?” Lucas couldn’t contain his tears, from running hotly down his cheeks in spite of the weather.
“You go back to yourself, Lucas. To that beautiful boy I met at Barajas airport who was trying to charm his way into a better seat.”
Lucas let out a chuckle, his breath gurgling in between tears. Marcos traced his thumb across Lucas’s cheek, drying his tears.
“You meet new places and new people. You learn to love again.”
“I can’t,” he shook his head profoundly.
“That boy from the café… he seems nice.”
“I just met him,” Lucas hurried, trying to reassure Marcos that he hadn’t forgotten him.
“Maybe you can get to know him better,” the other smiled.
Lucas wanted to cry again. “I miss you.”
“I’m proud of you, though. It is only right to move on.” Marcos brushed Lucas’s bangs away. Lucas closed his eyes, letting the caress take over him. Once it was done and he opened his eyes again, Marcos was gone.
Lucas stayed there for a while, the wind slamming against him.
At the sound of his name being called by another familiar voice, Lucas grabbed the oil lamp and raised it in the air.
“Lucas!” Sean made it to him in no time, helping him up and out of the snow. He surrounded him with one arm and with the other held him steady to walk down the slope and back into the village.
Lucas walked out of the bathroom after taking a hot shower and getting his senses back.
“Are you feeling better?” Sean was leaning on the doorframe to the kitchen, looking worried. Apparently, Lucas had gotten drunk again and wandered out of the café before Sean could notice his absence.
Lucas nodded, staying quiet. He was sorry he had burdened Sean.
The taller detached himself from the wall and hurried to put a thick, polyester blanket over Lucas’s shoulders in order to guard him from the cold. The blonde looked up, surprised and taken aback by the younger’s kindness.
Sean couldn’t hold himself from brushing Lucas’s bangs away from his face. The tender gesture reminded Lucas of the one Marcos had done so many times. He didn’t dare refuse it for it was too nice and he knew he needed it.
Lucas stepped closer to Sean, their noses inches away again. Their eyes were fixed on each other and the only thing that could be heard besides the fire burning was their fast heartbeats.
“Are you sure?” Sean asked quietly.
Lucas nodded and tiptoed to place a chaste kiss on the other’s lips which was responded with the same gentleness. Sean dared surround Lucas with his arms, stealing another kiss, their breaths mixing and the room becoming warmer.
That night the pair slept in the same bed, Sean shielding Lucas from the low temperatures and also from loneliness.
“Hmm?” he hummed, cuddling Lucas against his chest.
“Would you go with me?” Lucas’s voice could barely be heard in the silence echoing through the room.
“To the next town. When the train is back in order.” He hoped Sean wouldn’t notice how he was trembling by the mere thought of it.
Lucas pressed his eyes shut, nuzzling his nose between the crook of Sean’s shoulder and neck.
“Hmm?” A smile played on the younger’s face.
“I don’t want you to feel like I’m thinking of you as a replacement. Because that’s not it. I swear.”
“I wouldn’t mind if you thought of me as a penguin,” Sean chuckled. “At least you are here.”
For Sean the whole town had turned brighter when Lucas had stepped in the café for the very first time, with his shiny eyes and beautiful smile. And for a lonely lad like him, the opportunity to see him again and getting to know Lucas further than just serving coffee was precious in itself.
Lucas smiled too; it was nice to be wanted.
“You would be a handsome penguin.”
The pair laughed, their hearts feeling lighter, just like the snow that started to clear outside.
The train was almost full as half the village emptied from the tourists that had become stuck thanks to the snowstorm. Lucas sat next to the window, fumbling in his seat. He’d never gone farther than Lax.
Sean bumped his shoulder and smiled down at him.
The platform seemed to move as the train hauled itself away from it. This was all a new sight for Lucas. He could see the café, the B&B, Sean’s place, all getting smaller until the mountain snapped in front of him blocking anything else. Thirty minutes of that wall of snow and rock and Lucas battling the urges to run to the back of the train and stay in Lax forever, always returning but going nowhere at the end. Not letting go. Lost. Stranded in a memory he couldn’t change.
A dry stream of wind snapped against his ear when the wall ended and the train started to cross the bridge. They seemed to be suspended amid the heavens, the view extended beyond. He was stunned by the scenery, full of green forests, sparkling rivers and never ending mountains. Lucas’s heart started to beat rapidly. This was what Marcos had seen; the last thing, ever. It was beautiful. If it were the last thing he saw now, it would have been worth it.
He expected everything to turn black as the train entered the tunnel but instead, a thousand shiny lights glistened from the walls, reflecting over every surface. Lucas gasped, his eyes widening and his heart halting all at once. He felt Sean lean closer, looking out the window as well.
“It was built a year after, in memory of the victims. The first time I saw you at the café again I thought you had come to see this.”
The blonde shook his head, speechless but with a sense of peace washing over him. The darkness he had feared had turned into a starry field of hope.
Lucas waved at Sean from his seat in the train. The café boy waved back, happy to finally get some vacation time and trying dearly not to give away too much of the excitement he felt when he got to see the blonde one again.
Sean boarded the train and found his seat next to Lucas. “So? Where to this time?” he asked.
The eldest looked at the bunch of maps in his hands. “I was thinking Aletsch and then maybe we could go to Verbier.”
The taller smiled and nodded approvingly.
Lucas rested his head lightly on the window once the train started moving, letting the air caress his face. Half an hour later they came to that point once more and Lucas felt a thrill invading his body but this time it was a good kind of thrill. The view opened to an expanse of the Alps and the pair stared at it, their shoulders pressed together. When they reached the tunnel they stared equally awed at the shining lights. It never ceased to amaze him; he wished he could have seen them sooner. Once they were out, Lucas gazed back at the tunnel, while holding Sean’s hand; it didn’t seem scary anymore, not at all. He smiled, breathing freely and feeling like a human being again.
He understood, after crossing it three years ago, that Lax wasn’t the end of it. That Marcos’s death wasn’t either. That the world set multiple destinations for us – each one important – and we should follow.
That life was like a train; sometimes it got detained for a little while but, eventually, if there was still a chance to keep going, then it must.