On the best evenings, they would forget to turn on the lights.
They'd get lost in conversation after dinner at Olivia's, passing a bottle or a joint as the last of the sun slipped away and they were safely cocooned in the darkness. Tiny lights would flicker from distant homes across the lake, like fireflies or far-off lanterns signaling to come or go, and no one wanted to get up and break the spell.
Eventually it would have to happen. Someone would need the bathroom, or a snack, or they'd run out of cigarettes. One or another would stand up, snap on a light, and they would all come blinking slowly back towards the real world. On the best nights, though, the magic would still cling to them. Maybe they were sitting on the porch in a row of rocking chairs, Olivia's hand on Joe's arm. Maybe they were in the den, Fin and Olivia at opposite ends of the small sofa, legs interlocking. Maybe they were still around the table, plates and glasses rearranged as a visual aid to one of Joe's epic stories.
Wherever they were, they'd get up, still caught in the evening's haze, exchange warm sleepy hugs, and head up to bed.
"I love this house," Olivia said one night, "But it has too many empty rooms." Even hers was too empty until the night she took Fin’s hand and turned him away from Sam’s old room.
In the morning, Joe grinned at Fin in the kitchen and, in a remarkable display of restraint, squeezed his shoulder. It wasn’t a big change, just a natural extension. Fin still spent nearly as many nights in the depot as Joe spent in Manhattan. They’d paid their dues, and they all knew when they needed to be together and when they needed time apart.
It was Emily who talked them into decorating the depot for Christmas. Emily had the idea, Fin gave his permission, Olivia insisted on her aesthetic sensibility (“Otherwise it’ll be all flashing lights and giant inflatable reindeer like goddamned Las Vegas”), but mostly it was Joe up on the ladder, stringing lights along the roof and around the windows while Sinatra sang that next year all our troubles would be out of sight.
Joe hung strings inside as well, and they all liked the soft white light so much they left them up after the holidays were over. After the baby came, Emily would escape with her to the depot, both of them drowsy on the couch in the gentle glow.
Fin had never spent much time with babies before, but Joe was a natural with children, volunteering the three of them to babysit often enough that Olivia's sharp pain turned to a dull ache and finally to a slow sweet sadness. "You have to smell the top of her head," she said, her voice husky as she handed the baby to Fin. "There's nothing like it in the world."
The rail fan community had felt the loss of the Golden Spike. Tiboni forwarded mail on to Fin in Newfoundland, Emily helped him find suppliers online, and it wasn't long before people were shipping him model trains to repair. "Nice!" Joe said. "You have the skills, bro!"
Olivia just fretted that he would ruin his eyes in the dim depot, and set up a workshop for him at her house, a long table in front of a large window. "I can't accept this," Fin said.
"You have to," she argued. "How much work do you think you'll get done at the depot, Joe knocking on your door all day?"
It was a fair point. Fin may have been the impetus that brought them together, but Joe was the glue that made it work. Joe had to have people around him all the time, his longing for companionship too much of a need for one person to fill. Fin had perfected the art of being alone together in his years with Henry, a skill that served him well sharing a space with Olivia, but luckily it was something Joe had never learned. When Fin started spending time out in the lounge, Joe's cell phone bill fell 37%.
“Besides,” Olivia told him. “I expect you to earn your keep.” She brought down the train set that used to run around the base of their Christmas tree. “It hasn’t worked for years,” she said. “David always said he’d fix it, but.” She shrugged.
Fin took the box. “I’d be glad to.”
When the baby started crawling, Fin got serious about clearing out the depot. It had been fine when it was just him crashing on the couch on the nights he didn't stay at Olivia's, but now it seemed like the right time to make the space his own.
The depot was full of history, but it didn't seem that Henry had ever been able to spend much time out there. Cleo came by to help Fin sort out all the detritus of the depot's old life, where by "help" she really meant claiming "all that cool old train stuff" for herself.
Cleo was a quick study, smart and funny, and Fin couldn't help but think how much Henry would have liked her. She was more interested in the real thing than the models, though, and when she'd visit she'd lose herself in plotting trips by rail, tracing routes across the US and Canada on the map with her finger, her brow furrowed in concentration.
The truth of it was that none of them were easy people, but somehow they made it work, being easy together. They were simple and boring and angry and dependent, and each of them had needs it took more than one person to fill.
When spring came around again, they walked the right of way, single file, one after another. The train tracks carried on in front of them, as far as the eye could see, to all points west, to so many of their potential lives.
Early in the day the three of them walked. They were quiet together. They watched the tracks. They each had dizzying moments when they thought they could just keep going, pioneers choosing a new way of living.
At night they were in another world, the magic space, but now they saw the world for what it was, and they made the choice to be in it together, the three of them one in the morning light.