It had taken years, but she's gotten used to the idea that there will be people in the city who she knows, unexpectedly - people from high school who ran away like she did, people from college who stayed, maybe even the odd adult from her childhood in town to see the sights. It doesn't jar her the way it used to, when she felt like a stranger in a city full of strangers, bouncing off the walls and into each other. It'll never be the same as when her universe was five miles of dusty roads, filled to bursting with parents and cousins and what always felt like too many brothers until it suddenly became too few.
She getting used to how guys check her out on the train, too. It's got a different quality than the oglers on the street, when they could be trapped in a metal box together for half an hour or more. On the street, guys will try about anything without a second thought. Even on the subway, if it all goes wrong, they can just hop off and get on the next one.
On the train there's a cautiousness to it that she doesn't get from passers-by, or maybe it's something about the suburbs. This guy doesn't look interested so much as confused, though. He's wearing an enormous hoodie and no jacket and absolutely nothing about his body language indicates that he wants to be noticed. He keeps turning to the guy sitting next to him - cute, scruffy in a way that she'll probably always want to take care of - and the shaggy guy keeps shaking his head. He says something in response that looks like it could be "paranoid" but they're a little too far away for her to hear the words or be able to read his lips clearly. After a few more seconds they both look away, out the window. Hoodie leans away from the glass so that their shoulders are pressed together and closes his eyes.
If he looks familiar, well, once you have the chance to cross paths with a couple million people, everyone starts looking familiar.
She doesn't see them again, or at least doesn't notice them, until after winter drips its way into spring, another late weeknight trip home. It's definitely the same two guys, though, one rumpled and shaggy, the other a little jagged-edged under his beanie cap, still sitting a little closer than buddies usually do.
They're closer this time, just five rows away. When she looks up from her book she's got a clear line of sight across the aisle, without the divider obscuring the view. Shaggy looks away from the window and seems to notice her first, and he nudges the other guy with his elbow.
When he looks up, and then over at her, her brain has an "oh, hey!" moment that she barely keeps from noting aloud, and before she thinks better of it, she's standing up and moving towards them. "Tunny?"
This guy, it's got to be Tunny. She'd only really gotten one good look at him in person, but he's got the same eyes and the same tattoo on his neck as the kid in the torn picture that Johnny had stuck to the refrigerator. He swallows visibly, and then says, "Yeah. Uh, hi." He makes no effort to introduce his friend. Boyfriend, maybe, because when she breaks eye contact and looks down for a second, Tunny's holding on to his wrist like he's afraid the guy's going to jump out of the window or something.
And then she realizes that she's hovering over two strangers, one of them a man she only knows from stories that are unflattering at best: a soldier who abandoned his friend and enlisted in order to go kill people in a war she doesn't believe in. And now she's the one invading their space while they're trapped in a sardine can on rails. She takes a step back and reconsiders what little plan she had.
"Do you hear from Johnny?" It's as close to neutral conversation as she can imagine now that she's gotten herself into this, but Tunny doesn't look like he's warming to the topic.
"Yeah, he's, uh," Tunny says. "He's good. Did you...?" Tunny's got a look on his face that she recognizes, the one that says 'you're trouble, but I don't know how to get out of this.' She's seen a version of it on her kids' faces a hundred times, but never directed at her.
"I worry about him, sometimes," she volunteers. "He wasn't. Well. The last time I saw him." She shrugs, and smiles, and tries to look as disarming and nonchalant as she knows how. "I just worry."
Tunny nods. He shoots an uncomfortable glance at his friend, but he doesn't seem inclined to interject. "He mentioned, once," he says. "He doesn't, uh. Doesn't talk about it much. At least not to me. He jokes that he fried his brain, doesn't remember much, but. I don't know, y'know?"
She can imagine, even if her memories aren't anywhere nearly as clouded as Johnny's must be. It's been a long time since she's woken up from a nightmare, but she used to wonder whether it could be worse to remember clearly.
And then the conductor announces her stop. "This is me," she says, and she's definitely not imagining the relief on Tunny's face as she stands.
"Well, tell Johnny I say hi. Next time you talk to him. That I hope he's doing okay." She doesn't say that she misses him. She doesn't, really, and if he's not going to talk about her, she's not going to talk about him.
Tunny nods, but he doesn't quite meet her eyes. "Yeah," he says. That's it.
She checks her purse, her scarf, that she still has her phone. She knows just where her business cards are, but she doesn't reach into her purse to retrieve one. One more small smile and a wave goodbye, and it's just a few steps to wait by the door.
"See ya," the shaggy guy says to her back, the first words he's said since she saw them, and the least true. She doesn't turn around.
When she looks back from the platform, neither of them are paying her any attention, heads bent together in conversation.