"Thanks again, Mr. Simmons." Keith shook hands with his companion and turned abruptly to hide the tears that were welling up in the corners of his eyes.
Simmons watched in admiration mingled with regret as the eight-year old boy followed the conductor down the length of the Grand Central Station platform. That boy - or one just like him - could have been his. He'd had his chance, but shied away. His own broken home had colored his attitude towards marriage and family. A life of career and bachelorhood was what he'd chosen.
His eyes continued to follow Keith as the boy clambered onto the train and turned back to wave at him. Simmons returned the wave, then spun on his heel and started for the exit. "Fool," he told himself. "You're a fool."
Keith settled into his window seat in the first class car and stared out at the platform. He searched the forest of faces for a final glimpse of Mr. Simmons. The man had such an air of confidence and self-possession that his very presence was comforting. But Simmons had disappeared. Keith was on his own.
After a few minutes, Keith heard the sound of a whistle and felt a gentle jolt as the train started to glide along the platform. As he stared out the window, Keith saw his reflection in the glass and watched a tear slowly rolled down his cheek. All at once, he felt very alone - even more so than during those long days and nights when his dad left him with the maid in their Manhattan apartment.
Suddenly, another face appeared beside his in the window glass. "Hello, Keith. Mind if I join you?" Keith whirled, to find Mr. Simmons sliding into the seat next to his. "I decided that I needed a couple of days off," Simmons explained. "I haven't visited Boston for a long time, and I thought I'd ride up with you. That is, if you don't mind."
Keith rewarded him with a delighted grin. The unlikely friends passed the hours chatting about baseball - Keith's dad had taken him to a Yankee's game - the Central Park Zoo, and the dinosaur exhibit at the Natural History museum. Simmons pointed out various landmarks as the train trundled through New York, Connecticut, and Rhode Island, and into Massachusetts. He made the history of Springfield, New Haven and Providence come alive for the boy as the train stopped in each city.
They entered the Boston suburbs, and Simmons' running commentary limped to a halt. "Are you feeling OK?" Keith asked him.
"Just a little tired." Simmons closed his eyes, but not before the boy noticed a hint of moisture in them.
The train slowed as it entered Boston and wound its way through the rail yards into South Station. "We're here, Mr. Simmons." Keith tugged at Simmons' sleeve. "Look! There's my Mom on the platform. She's the pretty lady in the green dress. Hi, Mom!" His mother's worried face relaxed into a smile when she spotted her son waving at her from the train.
"C'mon, Mr. Simmons. Come and meet my mother." The boy took Simmons by the hand, and pulled him into the aisle as the train came to a gentle stop. The pair stepped onto the platform; Keith flung himself into his mother's arms, then stepped back. "Mom," he said. "I want you to meet my new friend, Mr. Simmons. He took me to the train and kept me company all the way here."
"Mr. Simmons and I already have met, son." she said. "Hello, Brandon. It's been a few years." Betty Emerson held out her hand. "Thank you for taking care of Keith."
Simmons stared into her self-possessed blue eyes. "Twenty years. It's been twenty years." He took a deep breath to steady his voice. Can you forgive an old fool?"
"There's nothing to forgive, Brandon." Betty looked down at Keith and took his hand. "It's time for us to go." She hesitated for a heartbeat, then held out her other hand to Simmons. "Shall we?"
©2013. Phyllis Entis. All rights reserved.
A Note of Explanation: I received several requests for a sequel to The Train. This is it.