Trains. A blessing a curse. A blessing because they remind Clarke of her father, a curse for the same reason. She runs her hand along the side paneling as she makes her way toward the first car entrance. As she reaches the front she spots a familiar face, Nyko. He has worked this line as long as she can remember and she smiles a little when she sees him. She patiently waits her turn and hands over her ticket.
“Welcome aboard, Clarke.” She smiles one more time at him and nods as she gently touches his shoulder as she passes. It’s been ten years since Jake Griffin passed away and every year on his birthday she rides his line just to feel closer to him. It was an accident, one of those fiery, national headline kind. It happened at a crossing, a truck driver fell asleep at the wheel after driving all night. It might not have been so bad if the truck wasn’t a gasoline tanker. Forty seven people died that day, including Jake. He was on his way to work at the Union Pacific office in Omaha, taking an Amtrak from their home in Lincoln. He could have driven everyday but he said the ride inspired him. Ironically he was a safety consultant, and he said people plus trains plus observation equaled great insight.
Clarke obviously misses her father but she is strong. Stronger than anyone ever gives her credit for, stronger than even she knew she could be, stronger than any obstacle she has faced and there have been many. First was her father, then her first love. She thinks about her life since her father as passed, what she has experienced without him there to guide her through, as she reaches her normal spot. The bitter taste of a broken heart seeps in as she takes her assigned seat on the passenger train. He did a number on her, making her fall hard, believing he loved her too and then leaving her for someone else when she was swamped with school and didn’t have time bend to his every whim. The other girl was a model actually, if she hadn’t met her, she wouldn’t have believe it. Met is also a strong term, more like walked in on whilst mid romp one afternoon with Finn.
She focused on herself and graduating after the Finn debacle, she even pulled away from her friends for a while because of that, which she felt bad about. They said she went MIA for three months, but she got it back together after graduation. She apologized for being so absent with her friends, she sat down and talked things through with her mother. She put in every effort to be better, and it paid off. So yeah, Clarke Griffin is strong, but on this day every year, she is so very weak.
After graduation she interned at Grounder’s comics, the most profitable comic company in the world and quickly was spotted as a true talent. They offered her a permanent position before her internship was even over and she has worked her way up to lead graphic artist in the last six years. There is absolutely nowhere else she would want to work. Grounders is still run like a small, family business. Mostly she loves that they allow her to bring her dog, Beau, to work every day. She tells her mom at their weekly dinners how much she loves her job. She wishes she could tell her father about it, that they could discuss her future projects.
She sighs and leans her head on the glass as the train pulls from the station. Nyko walks towards her and stops he gestures to a young woman behind him then looks to Clarke with sorrowful eyes. “Sorry Clarke. It’s the last seat available. Full train today.”
She half smiles at him and nods politely. “It’s fine Nyko. Thanks for trying.” He tries to give her as much privacy as possible, usually directing travelers away from where she is seated in a small roomette knowing the importance of the day. Jake rode this train for nearly twenty years before the accident so Nyko knew him well, too. She could always see the hurt in his eyes that washes over after the initial surprise and joy of seeing her.
“Anytime.” He tips his head slightly and continues down the aisle as the woman who was following him slips into the seat across from her and the cabin door slides and clicks closed. She tips her head offering a tight lipped smile that Clarke returns before glancing back out the window. She stares out at the passing world, lost in the memories of growing up with Jake as her dad.
Minutes that seem like hours pass as the train continues on, but Clarke doesn’t move from her spot. Neither does the stranger, though, who is now reading a comic book. Clarke smiles because it’s hers, Wanheda and the Delinquents. It took her 5 months to complete the work on that single comic, a brain child between her, Bellamy and Octavia. The siblings are her work family and they poured blood, sweat and so many tears into that book, and boy did it pay off. It’s currently the best selling new work for the company and has been hailed as a champion for change and inclusivity. It has been drawing in the young female audience to comic books unlike any before it, and Clarke is proud of it. The stranger glances up just in time to catch her proud smirk.
Clarke watches as the brunette, admittedly gorgeous brunette, looks around then back at her. “What?”
The artist smiles softly before answering a question with a question. “You’re a fan of comic books?”
“I - uh, yeah. I am. You?” The brunette, who looks somewhat embarrassed, closes the work and places it in her lap.
Clarke nods with a half smirk. “I guess you could say I am. How do you like that one?” She points with her chin.
“I was expecting mediocrity, you know, because of all the hype. But I am pleasantly surprised with it. It’s amazing. Wanheda is truly a badass, and I am so rooting for her and the Commander to rule the world.” The stranger smiles and Clarke thinks there might be something special about those green eyes.
“So is everyone else. Have you finished it yet?” She smiles sheepishly before holding up three fingers. “Wow, you do like it.”
“Yeah. Have you read it?”
“I wrote it.” Clarke says cooly before glancing at Nyko in the aisle once again.
“Wait, what?” The stranger looks to her bewildered. Clarke extends her hand and confidently introduces herself.
“Clarke Griffin, graphic artist, sometimes writer. And you are?”
“Lexa Woods, avionics engineer.” The stranger, Lexa, grasps her hand shakes firmly.
“That sounds impressive, is that impressive?”
Lexa shrugs. “I fly and fix planes. It’s impressive if you’re impressed.”
“Where are you headed today, Lexa Woods, avionics engineer which is totally impressive.”
Lexa smirks and Clarke knows she’s said the right thing, which isn’t always her strong suit. “My sister lives in Omaha, my nephew turns five tomorrow and she wants to have this big party. Normally I’d drive but I was in an accident last week. Damn drunk totalled my Accord. I loved that car.”
“You’re okay though?”
“Perfectly fine, Clarke. I was stopped at a light behind a truck, saw him coming and hopped out. He slammed into the back of my car so hard he skimmed over the top and into the truck in front of me. I’ll get the pay out next week sometime.” The blonde hums and then swallows a lump in her throat. The accident was somewhat similar to what happened when the train Jake was on was hit by the tanker. The driver hit a car and a big rig pushing them into the passing train before it barreled through the crossing as well. “What about you?”
“Where are you headed?”
“Oh.” Clarke swallows once again. “Nowhere.” A long pause. “Visiting my dad for his birthday.”
“Does he live in Omaha?” Lexa tilts her head and eyes the blonde curiously.
“No, um. He died.” Clarke looks at her hands, her own fingers becoming extremely interesting.
Lexa leans over and puts a soft hand on her knee. “Mine too. It’ll never feel the same, but it does get easier.” The artist sniffles a bit and hurriedly wipes the tear that’s fallen from her face. She has never been a public crier and refuses to start now.
“It was a long time ago, ten years, but I always do this for his birthday.”
“Was he…” Lexa stops and shakes her head dismissing her train of thought, instead opting to rub a circular pattern on the woman’s knee. It’s a few quiet seconds before she speaks again. “Do you want to talk about him? I’ve got plenty of time to listen.”
“I…” Clarke opens and closes her mouth, staring into sincere green eyes, willing herself to say something. Anything. No one ever asks her if she wants to talk about him. They just say ‘I’m sorry for your loss’ and awkwardly move on. But here is this stranger, this beautiful stranger who wanted to listen. She didn’t offer half-hearted apologies or a pat on the back with a ‘there, there.’ She willingly offered to listen to whatever Clarke wanted to say, which made the blonde tear up even more.
“It’s alright, we don’t have to talk about him. I know it hurts.”
“No, I want to.” Clarke mumbles and looks Lexa in the eye. “I love my friends, but they are really bad with the whole consolation thing, and my mom still can’t talk about him. No one ever wants to hear about him from me.”
“Yeah.” Clarke wipes her near falling tears from her eyes with both hands and Lexa chuckles. “What?”
“You look like a raccoon. A bad ass raccoon, but a raccoon nonetheless. Here, let me help.” She reaches up and wipes at the blondes tear tracks with one of her thumbs. “There. Beautiful.”
Clarke’s throat bobs at the compliment, and her face feels slightly flush. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome. So, tell me about your dad…”
“Jake. His name was Jake. He was a safety consultant at Union Pacific for like 20 years. He and my mom, they met in college. They had one of those perfect whirlwind romances. He got the job with UP right out of school and she went to med school. She’s a badass surgeon and I wish I had just a fraction of her balls.” Clarke chuckles to herself and smiles at Lexa. She closes her eyes and licks her lips, before continuing. “He was the best dad, the kind that shows up to support everything you do. Tells you your dreams are valid even if they are astronomically silly. I once told him I was going to invent space suits for horses and be the first person on to ride horseback on the moon. He just looked at me and said ‘make sure you tether both you and the horse down, otherwise you’re going to be the first horseback rider to drift into space.’ God, I miss him.”
“He sounds like a riot.”
“So, you said it’s his birthday? Where are you going to visit him?”
Clarke looks around, sort of self-conscious about her ritual now. “I uh… here. Right here.”
Lexa furrows her brow in confusion. “I’m sorry. I don’t follow.”
“He used to take the train everyday from home in Lincoln to Omaha for work, then back. This train. On his birthday I ride the train like he did. He always talked so highly of trains, they were such a big part of his life. It makes me feel close to him.”
Lexa nods understandingly. “You said it was ten years ago that he passed? Was it… Was it here? In the accident?” Clarke tears up again as she nods affirmatively.
“My mom was on the train too, but she was way in the back. My dad was the guy in the big rig that the tanker pushed into the train.”
“Lexa.” A ghost of a whisper escapes Clarke’s lips as she looks at the woman in front of her. She reaches out at takes her hand, intertwining their fingers. Lexa shakes her head back and forth.
“You want to know what the investigator said to me and my sister when they finished? He said that my father’s death was heroic. If the rig hadn’t slowed the tanker down it would have impacted a more populated area of the train. How do you tell a kid that their father is a hero, then never allow it to be discussed?” There was a strict gag order placed on the investigation. The only thing people ever got to see was the final report that was issued by the NTSB.
Clarke swallows thickly, luckily she didn’t have an experience like that. “What was his name?”
“Gustus, everyone called him Gus though.”
“And your mom?”
Lexa smiles at her, big and bright. “Andrea. Alive and well. Living out her days in sunny California.”
“And your sister and nephew are here?”
“Yeah. Anya and her husband Roan and Aden, who’s five. Altogether we’ve had a fairly happy life. I mean, obviously we’ve had our downs. Like when I came out at school and people were shitty or when Anya got arrested for drunk in public at seventeen. Oh, when I caught my girlfriend of two years sucking off some guy in a bar bathroom. That was fun, physically and emotionally painful, but yeah no. It wasn’t fun at all.”
Clarke’s eyebrows shoot up. “You have one of those too, huh?”
“Cheating ex? Yeah. You?”
“Ex boyfriend. Year and a half. Walked into his apartment to a face to face with the girl he was taking from behind. He had the nerve to ask if I wanted to join in because I ‘like both and we’re all really hot.’ Can you believe that?”
“Why are people so gross towards bisexuals? As a lesbian, I would like to apologize on behalf of the gay community for the times you have been marginalized or told you’re only half gay or greedy.”
Clarke laughs, a real full bellied laugh. “Well, on behalf of the bisexual community, I thank you.”
They continue to talk about their fathers and families and lives in general up to the topic of work.
“I just love that I get to have a job that can evoke such emotions from people, you know? I have met people that I’ve pissed off but I have also met people that tell me I saved them.” Clarke beams pridefully. “One teenage girl told me that she came out to her parents because Wanheda made her feel safe in the world. Can you believe that? I know it might seem silly, but it inspires me.”
“That doesn’t seem silly at all.” Lexa smiles at the artist. “It’s incredible.”
Clarke bites her lip subconsciously. “Sometimes I ramble when I get excited about something. I’ve been told I can be a talker. Just tell me to stop if I’m boring you.”
“Whoever has told you that’s a bad thing is an idiot. I don’t think I could ever get bored of you. Besides, I think the rambling is cute.” The engineer looks out the window as they pull into the Omaha station. “So, what do you usually do now?”
“I usually walk around the city for a bit, then head home. I try to catch Nyko’s return trip.” She points to the burly man in the aisle. “He’s worked this train since before I was born.”
“I see. Well, do you think I could tempt you into some fun instead? If I learned anything about Jake Griffin in the past hour, it’s that he wouldn’t want you to be sad on his birthday and there happens to be a party happening not too far from here.” When Clarke doesn’t answer Lexa lets out a heavy sigh. “Ten years is a long time to suffer Clarke. I am not saying you shouldn’t mourn him, I’m just saying you don’t have to do it alone. I think having my mom and my sister helped me cope, let me help you.”
Clarke looks out the window and sighs. “I don’t let it dictate my life like I did when I was seventeen. I have mostly healed, it’s just this one day.” The train’s brakes screech as it reaches its stop in the station. “Enjoy the party Lexa. Thanks for the company for the last hour or so. I hope your nephew has a great birthday party.” She sees the brunette swallow thickly in the reflection of the glass and nod defeatedly.
“It was really great meeting you, Clarke.” With that, she picks up her belongings and slides open the roomette door and steps back out into the aisleway. She looks back over her shoulder briefly before sliding the door closed again and nods to Nyko as she makes her way from the train.
Clarke watches from the window of the train as the brunette slides into a car, an uber she guesses. She slowly makes her way out of the cabin, toward Nyko who waiting by the door. “See you in a while Clarke.”
“See ya.” She softly touches his shoulder again as she passes. She wanders around the city, taking in the people and the buildings. She walks past the headquarters where her father worked and took a good hard look. She looks around and sees how life doesn't stop because if her mourning. She digs the cell phone out of her pocket to call the one person she knew would understand. “Shit.” She curses herself because she never asked Lexa for her number.
Two weeks later
“That’s what I’m saying Marcus. There is now way in hell that will fly with the fans. Number one, there is far too much that we can do with these two characters. Number two, they’re soulmates for god sake. Number three, do you know what people will call us? Queer-baters. I’m not ruining the story I have built, the trust of the fans that I have created. Not for you or anyone else. And definitely not for ‘shock value.’ No way.” Clarke’s hands are on her hips as she walks around her office yelling at her boss on speaker phone. Beau occasionally lifts his head and watches her pace before he sets it back down, uninterested in what she is doing.
“Okay Clarke. You win, I get it.”
“I don’t really think you do Marcus. I’d love to explain it to you in person next time we are here. Maybe we can visit an LGBT community center.”
“I don’t really think that’s necessary Clar-”
“I do. You don’t even realize what an overused trope you asked me to use a minute ago. Why don’t you read into how many gay and lesbian characters have been killed off in the same manner. Just… Let me write my story, okay? If people stop reading it, let it be on me.”
“Clarke, look. I trust you. You’re the boss on this one alright. I am sorry I offended you.”
“Thank you Marcus.”
She ends the call with her boss and calls Beau over for some cuddles. The huge Bernese Mountain dog trots over and sets his head on her thigh so she can comb her fingers through his long fur. His ears perk up and he jerks away from her as he trots over to the office door. She watches him curiously as two people round the corner to her office and her breath catches.
“Hey Clarke.” Harper pats Beau on the head after opening the door. “She says she knows you.”
“Yeah, thanks Harper.” Clarke rises from her desk as Harper smirks then turns and leaves back down the hallway. “Beau introduce yourself to Lexa.” The dog sits in front of the visitor and holds out his paw.
“Well hello Beau.” Lexa shakes his paw and then pats his head then stands up straight. “Hello Clarke.”
“Hi.” The artist rounds her desk and leans back on the front side of it. “It’s nice to see you again.”
The engineer smiles at her and steps closer. “I got home Sunday night from my sisters and I had this overwhelming urge to call you and tell you about it. It was then that I realized I made a terrible mistake and didn’t get your number. I wanted to come here and find you sooner, but work has been crazy this last week.”
“Lexa. I wanted to call you Saturday afternoon but I realized the same thing.” Clarke takes a step toward the nervously rambling brunette. “I would have found you the same way, except I never asked which company you worked for.”
“Really?” Lexa rubs the back of her neck nervously. “Because I felt a bit stalkerish.”
“I don’t think that.” Clarke takes another step and is just a breath away from the visiting woman. “In fact, I think it’s sweet.”
“Yeah?” Lexa’s gaze flicks down to Clarke’s lips, ever so briefly.
“Yeah.” Clarke breaths out. “Can I kiss you?”
Lexa looks stunned for a moment, then nods nervously as she swallows hard. Then they are both leaning in, and innocently pressing their lips together. Clarke pulls back first and exhales sharply. “Can I take you on a date?”
“I’d really like that.” Clarke hums tracing her fingers down Lexa’s muscular arm. “Want a tour of this place?”
“What I want is your number.”
Clarke chuckles and pulls her toward the door. “You’ll get it, I promise.”