A Serendipitous Cancellation

This is another oneshot I’m migrating here that was submitted to Glimmer Train a little while ago. It started as a fluffy fanfiction piece but I touched it up and made some much needed changes the second time around. It didn’t go anywhere with Glimmer Train but I’m still satisfied with it. It’s now more slice of life than fluff but the change also felt more realistic. First meetings with possible romantic interests can be interesting, but that is doubly true when one is dealing with the after effects of leaving a now ex. I hope you enjoy and please feel free to ask any questions or leave a comment if the urge arises. Thank you!

Synopsis: Everyone hates unexpected cancellations and delays. Henry is no exception so when he gets stuck at the bus station in miserable weather, he figures it will be a long night of solitude with nothing but his music and soggy feet. That changes considerably when a very drenched, noticeably tense, and rather attractive young woman arrives in a hurry. The fact that she is clearly bothered by something and just as upset over the unexpected cancellation does not go unnoticed by him. Cue his attempts to get to know her more.

            Stifling a yawn, Henry leaned back in the slightly uncomfortable bench seat and stretched his long legs out. The bottoms of his blue jeans were wet, as were his sneakers, and he’d only just managed to avoid the same fate for his dark gray coat. His saving grace was a now ruined newspaper he had when he came in. Taking a deep breath, he ran long fingers through his dark curls and sighed, slouching in irritation.

            The bus stop wasn’t particularly crowded. A handful of people were waiting, would-be passengers catching a late bus, only… his bus had been cancelled. The station hadn’t been able to offer a good explanation yet. Only numerous apologies and the promise that they’d fix it as soon as possible, which wasn’t going to be until tomorrow morning if he understood correctly. “Ugh,” he groaned, glancing to either side of him in the too-bright overhead lighting before he pulled his phone out. He texted his ride to let him know what was going on.

            It was almost ten in the evening and none of Henry’s fellow riders looked happy either. At least there was music though. It was the equivalent of elevator music in a bus station but Henry found himself tapping his hands on the tops of his thighs, following the beat with a tentative smile as he nodded along to the tune. While he’d much prefer to be on his way, he had nothing pressing waiting for him on the other end. He was actually returning home from visiting a friend who’d had to drop him off hours earlier due to work constraints. Poor thing.

            Now he was set to spend a lonely, uncomfortable night by himself in a strange depot filled with people he didn’t know. A glance outside showed lightning illuminating the area, followed by an impressive crack of thunder that startled several people, and Henry was suddenly rather glad to be indoors and not in the horrendous weather. It had only gotten worse since he’d arrived and it didn’t seem set to lighten up anytime soon. Reaching over for his shoulder pack, he rifled through it until the door chime sounded, drawing his attention to a completely drenched figure who looked out of breath and slightly panicked.

            Henry glanced at his watch. It was just past his initial departure time. With another look at the newcomer, he was pretty sure the young woman had been planning on the same ride as him. Pulling out his ear buds from his pack, he clicked his music on and kept an eye on the soaked woman who appeared rather put out that her ride was cancelled as well. From the back, he couldn’t get a good look at her, though she was slender and probably a good head shorter than himself. She was crowned with shoulder length black hair that was absolutely plastered to the side of her head and dripping a small puddle in front of the check-in station.

            He was about to look away but then the woman turned around, revealing a striking visage. The fact that she was soaked through and had eyeliner and mascara running down her cheeks only increased her noticeability. Delicate features dominated her face with shapely lips, fine cheekbones, and captivating, light brown eyes.

            It didn’t take Henry long to realize he was staring and he quickly tore his gaze from the drenched figure, taking note of the rest of her attire. Dark blue stretch jeans paired with a maroon and black long-sleeved shirt a size too large clung to her lean body. It slightly distracted him from the fact her shoes should have been white, if not for the mud caking them. Glancing at her face again, he could see her lips were quivering and he felt a pang of pity for her.

            As the woman looked over the open seats, Henry tried to pretend he was only vaguely aware of her when she meandered closer to him. But it was hard to ignore the look on her face, a strange cross between worried and lost. He watched her drop haphazardly into the seat two spots down from him with a heavy sigh, head leaning back to stare at the ceiling glumly. In his periphery, he saw her settle in, chaffing her hands and arms for warmth, before she pulled her considerably smaller shoulder pack onto her lap, the outer layers of the fabric as soaked as the rest of her.

            “Man…” she groaned, flipping through the contents with a small frown on her face. Glancing around, her dark eyes alighted on the sign for the restroom and Henry was briefly disappointed when she got up and vacated his sight, leaving him to his music and his musing.

            “Hmm,” he hummed to himself, eyeing the spot the woman had just left. Henry doubted anyone else would show up in this weather, but he didn’t want her to lose her seat, so he shifted in place and extended his legs over the other spots, resting his heels where the young woman had been. Nodding to the music, he pretended as if he was just stretching out and not unobtrusively saving her a spot.

            Lost in the tune he was listening to, he was startled when he caught movement in his peripheral vision. “Oh!” Henry gasped, grinning as he realized the stranger had returned and was regarding him in confusion. He was glad to see her makeup was mostly fixed and her clothes were only damp now. “Sorry,” he laughed, removing his feet and sitting properly.

            “It’s alright,” the woman nodded with a dismissive wave. She brushed at the seat with a slender hand and offered a hesitant smile before settling into place. He was acutely aware when she hugged herself for obvious warmth. When that didn’t seem enough, she pulled her knees to her chest and balled up on the seat, her chin resting on top.

            Henry watched her for a little while longer, one brow raised, before he leaned forward a bit. Of course it was none of his business but he couldn’t just ignore the shivering woman beside him who was doing her best not to look absolutely pitiable and on the verge of tears. It wasn’t working. He finally pulled one ear bud out and shifted to look at the stranger. “You okay?”

            “Huh?” she chirped tensely, sitting up in surprise as she looked over at Henry with worried eyes. “Oh,” she laughed right after, offering a forced smile. He still thought it was cute though. “I’ll be fine. Just need to dry out I think,” she admitted, shivering despite her words. “Hell of a storm,” she added, nodding towards the torrential downpour outside before hugging her knees again.

            “You could say that,” Henry agreed with a lazy smile. Taking a breath, he eased out of his jacket before he extended it towards her. “Here,” he offered, smiling at the woman as he waited for her response.

            She sat up at the offering, surprised and wary. Despite that, she looked as if she wanted to take it, but shook her head, “I couldn’t.”

            “Just take it,” he chuckled, leaning over further so that he could lay it beside her.

            She watched his hand pull away, leaving the jacket where it was, and then stared at it longingly for a couple breaths. “Thank you,” she murmured before gingerly picking up the large overcoat and pulling it over her shoulders. It was much too big for her, nearly swallowing her whole, but she sighed in contentment when she relaxed into its dry warmth.

            “You’re welcome,” Henry smiled, happy with her response. He bit his bottom lip nervously and gathered the courage to slide over one seat, leaving a space between them. “I’m Henry by the way,” he began, extending his hand in greeting.

            Mildly surprised, the woman glanced over and warily smiled at the hand, but she did work one of hers free so she could accept the offering. His hand was much larger than hers, but their shared grip was comfortable and light. “Katherine. It’s nice to meet you,” she said, nodding once.

            “Nice to meet you too,” Henry beamed, letting Katherine’s hand slide free when she pulled away uncertainly. Unsure of what to say next but unwilling to just drop the conversation, he nodded towards the storm, “Some weather we’re having.”

            Katherine laughed at the restatement and nodded in agreement. “I would say the weatherman was wrong this morning.”

            “I forgot to check,” Henry admitted, rubbing the back of his head in embarrassment.

            “I forgot to take my umbrella,” she grimaced, pulling the coat around her tighter.

            “I have a newspaper,” Henry grinned, expression completely open. “Well, it’s soaked now and in that trashcan over there, but I had one until it started raining.”

            For a moment, Katherine just blinked at him, not sure how to react. Then she started laughing, hiding her mouth behind the jacket covered hand.

            “What?” Henry asked, mystified while he looked around, trying to see what he’d missed.

            “Nothing,” she admitted, dropping her hand so her voice wasn’t muffled. “I just wasn’t expecting this is all.”

            Henry observed the rest of the bus station, taking in the dismal weather outside before he resumed his appraisal of her. “So getting stuck at bus stations in horrible weather conditions and talking to random strangers isn’t something you do on a regular basis then?”

            “I should think not,” she laughed lightly, ducking her head to hide her face behind her knees.

            “Finally! I’m not the only one!” he grinned, raising both fists on either side of him in a victorious gesture.

            Once more, Katherine laughed and shook her head, giving tacit agreement. “No. You’re not the only one.” She hid her mouth behind her hands again and smiled, an expression Henry could see by the way her eyes crinkled as she looked at him. “So where are you headed?”

            “Back home,” Henry answered easily enough. “I was visiting a friend and well… all good things must come to an end,” he shrugged, slapping his palms against the tops of his thighs.

            Katherine’s smile faded just a fraction as she nodded in agreement. “Very true.”

            “How about you? You look like you were a bit rushed when you got here,” he mused, shrugging at the observation.

            “Well… I’m just… I’m…” Katherine trailed off, apparently having a hard time explaining what it was that she was actually doing at the bus station.

            Henry picked up on her unease and shook his head, waving his hands in front of him animatedly. “Never mind. Forget I asked,” he suggested, seeking to ease her discomfort. Katherine smiled gratefully and nodded, revealing her mouth once more when she shifted to rest her chin on top of her loosely balled fists. “Is that all you brought with you?” he asked, nodding towards the flat shoulder bag she had with her.

            “I’m afraid so,” she admitted, freeing one hand to drag the item in question into the obscuring folds of the coat.

            “Aren’t you gonna be bored then?” he asked, brows furrowed in concern.

            “I hadn’t thought about it,” she admitted, shaking her head as she peered at him.

            “Here,” Henry offered, extending a hastily cleaned ear bud towards her in a friendly gesture.

            “Oh, I’m fine,” she assured him with a vague wave of her hand under the jacket.

            “Seriously. What kind of music do you like?” he asked, scooting over one more seat so that he was next to Katherine, looking over at her with honest interest.

            “Umm…” she murmured, mystified.

            “Here,” he tried again, extending the iPod so that she might be able to flip through songs to find something she could enjoy. “It’s gonna be a long night otherwise,” he chuckled, his smile widening when she finally accepted. She stuck the bud in her left ear when she took the player and started circling through songs to see what there was. He leaned over and watched with almost childlike delight as she homed in on some of his International music. A fellow music lover!

“You like them too?” Katherine asked and looked over, unfolding her knees to a more relaxed position as she grinned at the taller man.

            “Are you kidding me?” he chuckled. “f(x) is one of my favorite groups,” he promised with a smile, leaning closer to see if she would choose anything else he liked. Pleasantly surprised, Katherine laughed and held the iPod so that Henry could see it too as she rifled through the rest of the available music.

            Time seemed to disappear when the two fell into a relaxed conversation about some of their favorite songs, bands, and even specific members. Katherine controlled the music but Henry had no problem with listening along. It was his playlist after all, though he did have to speak up when favorite artist order came into play.

            “Whoa, whoa, whoa!” he gestured sitting up, briefly startling Katherine who jerked at the unexpected outburst. “You can’t, I repeat, can’t discount Luna. She’s amazing. And adorable and tiny and always smiling and it’s Luna. Come on,” he urged, slumping in his seat when Katherine just shrugged.

            “What?! I’m not even arguing,” she defended herself, gesturing under the borrowed coat. “She is amazing and adorable,” she confirmed, grinning all the while. “She is almost my favorite too.”

            Henry made a playfully objecting sound. “She was my favorite first,” he warned jokingly before he dissolved into laughter and leaned back in his seat. “But I guess I can share if I must,” he winked, glancing at Katherine out of the corner of his eye. They both flinched when a nearby person shooshed him in annoyance, a finger over their lips as they glared at him from over their shoulder.

            Katherine laughed quietly at the exchange and nodded. “I might take you up on that,” she agreed, eyeing the person who had silenced Henry in irritation.

            “Well, good,” he chuckled once, shifting just enough to bring their shoulders together. Even though it wasn’t cold inside and she had his coat, she still looked a little chilly. He chewed his bottom lip in thought and quietly asked, “Are you warm enough?”

            Briefly surprised by the question, she sat up and nodded in immediate agreement, pulling the jacket tighter around her. “Yes,” she answered, hunching down further in a very unconvincing response.

            Henry eyed her skeptically. It was obvious that she had warmed up some, but she was still shivering here and there. Taking a brave breath, he extended his arm over Katherine’s shoulder and murmured, “Can I just, put my arm over here then?” Carefully, he laid his hand against her shoulder gently, waiting to see if she’d push him away. But he relaxed when Katherine actually leaned under her arm after a brief moment of tensing up.

            “I don’t normally do this,” she admitted nervously, hunching in on herself as she pressed into Henry’s side. “But you’re really warm right now.” Her laugh was tired as she rested her head against his chest with tentative acceptance.

            “Oh?” he chuckled, tightening his arm over her shoulder gently. “I have been known as a heat generator among my friends,” he explained in an offhand manner, running his hand over her arm lightly.

            There was a brief moment of silence before Katherine answered. “I’m glad then, because I’m always cold it seems.” Sighing in contentment, she leaned into Henry’s taller frame, eyes shutting of their own accord.

            Warmed by her trust, Henry held Katherine carefully, resting his hand in the crook of her arm over the jacket in a friendly gesture. He didn’t really want to press his luck, or make the situation uncomfortable, but there was no getting around the fact that he was curious about what had brought her here in the middle of a storm. It felt rude to ask, but unless she volunteered the information, there was no way he was going to know otherwise. “Katherine?”

            It took her a moment to answer, obviously cozy. “Hmm?” she hummed, keeping her eyes closed as she shifted her head against his broad chest.

            “I don’t want you to be offended but… why are you here tonight?” he asked in a quiet whisper. He could make a pretty good guess since some things were fairly universal across the board, but in case he was wrong…

            “Eh…” Katherine murmured in response, hunching in on herself at the inquiry, tension and unease evident at the question.

            “I’m sorry,” he immediately apologized, tightening his arm around her shoulders as his embrace turned protective, regretting the question.

            She shook her head and met Henry’s dark eyes when he glanced down to see her face. “My ex,” she admitted, her voice little more than a whisper, as if she couldn’t believe she was saying as much either.

            Henry’s brows dipped further at the admission, understanding that someone else had driven this beautiful creature into the depths of a late-night storm for a bus ride that had been cancelled at the last minute. “Well your ex is a douche,” he stated matter-of-factly, nodding once for emphasis.

            Katherine couldn’t help but laugh at the statement, shifting to rest her cheek against his chest once more. “You can say that again,” she confirmed, pulling her knees closer so that she took up less space and leaned them carefully against Henry’s thighs.

            “Your ex is a douche,” he reiterated with a hint of laughter in his voice.

            “Thanks,” she murmured, comfortable and relaxed while curled against him.

            “You’re welcome,” he smiled, glad that he could make her feel at least marginally safe. Turning his head so that his breath ghosted over the fuzzy strands of her mostly dry hair, Henry smiled and laughed softly. “It’s getting late you know. I’ll keep an eye out if you’d like to get some rest?”

            “Yeah?” she responded drowsily, apparently already halfway there.

            “Sure,” he confirmed, feeling her clutch her pack closer under the jacket. “Go ahead and sleep. I’ve got the first watch,” he promised easily enough, readjusting the protective circle of his arms just a touch. Almost surprisingly, Katherine agreed without much of a fight, relaxing with a sigh against his body.

            When morning came again, Henry awoke in a sitting position with a crick in his neck and the realization that something was resting on his lap. A repositioned Katherine groaned in her sleep as he shifted. His legs had fallen asleep during his slumber and he desperately needed to move.

            For just a moment, he allowed himself to admire the peaceful profile of his companion. Dark, dry hair framed her pale skin in slightly messy clumps. Very carefully, he traced the strands back with his fingertips and smiled at the relaxed expression. Her shapely lips were pulled up at the corners in the beginnings of a smile. Still engulfed by the larger jacket that almost served as a suitable blanket, Henry thought she looked ridiculously adorable bundled up the way she was. Especially lying on the seats and using his legs as a pillow.

            “Katherine?” he asked, nudging the shoulder that was leaning against his thigh carefully.

            Disgruntled at having to wake up before she was ready, Katherine grumbled in her unconscious state as she tried to remain asleep. “No…” she murmured in a sleepy voice, rubbing her nose against Henry’s thigh.

            Sitting very still, Henry kept his face neutral and placed a hand on her shoulder instead as he tried to shake her awake. “Katherine?” he called again, shifting in his seat awkwardly. “It’s morning,” he reminded her, tentatively holding his breath to see how she’d react. He wasn’t sure if last night had been more a fluke but he was hoping it wasn’t the case.

            “Oh…” Katherine murmured, sitting up when she drew the first threads of cognitive thought together. Still coming around, she huddled under the jacket and blinked sleepily.

            “Here,” Henry urged, helping to ease her up. He paused to make sure she was steady before he stood and approached the check-in desk where a line was already forming with the start of the day. A glance out the windows showed that the storm had finally dispersed, leaving everything completely soaked, but the sky was clear and bright blue with the morning’s light.

            It didn’t take him long to wait in line for the updated information in regard to their ride and Henry smiled when he turned around to see Katherine ensconced in his coat, her eyes smiling above the top of the fabric covering the lower portion of her face. “So…” he sighed as he sank back into the seat next to her. “There should be a replacement bus available around 8.”

            “There is?” she asked, shifting so that she sat upright, hand resting on Henry’s thigh for support as she did so. The moment turned slightly awkward when she realized what she was doing, but when Henry didn’t react, she relaxed again and settled back in her seat.

            “Yep,” he responded matter-of-factly. “You ready to get out of here?” he asked with a grin, though it was a tentative, hopeful gesture at best.

            By her immediate hesitation, it was obvious she didn’t know if she was going or not anymore, but she held Henry’s gaze for longer than was necessary, a thoughtful, speculative look in her eyes. Laughing uncertainly, she eased out of the coat he had let her borrow the night before, returning the garment hesitantly. “Thank you,” she murmured in a soft voice, eyes glued to the floor.

            “You’re welcome,” Henry smiled, leaning forward to get a better look into her face as he took the coat back. “Surely it wasn’t that bad,” he teased, eyes crinkling in amusement as light brown orbs flickered to meet his gaze.

            Katherine ducked her head in embarrassment and shook it in a negative response. “No. I’m sorry,” she exhaled shakily, offering a weak, apologetic smile. “It was very… nice,” she offered, gaze lowered as she eyed his hand, looking like she wanted to reach out herself.

            Henry smiled and solved the dilemma for her. He moved his hand closer and turned his palm up in mute entreaty. It was enough for her to chirp in the back of her throat and slide her palm to rest lightly atop his. With gentle care, Henry curled his fingers closed and clasped her hand as the rescheduled bus times were announced over the intercom. He looked at her until she glanced up to acknowledge him with an uncertain smile. “Well then, Katherine,” he murmured in a quiet voice, standing up and giving an inquisitive tug on her hand.

            “Thank you,” she murmured through barely parted lips, endearingly flustered as she stood beside him with their fingers loosely entwined. The top of her head just cleared his shoulders when she pulled her shoulders back and looked at him again.

            “If you’re still heading the same direction, would you care to accompany me?” he offered, gesturing towards the bus with his right hand.

            “I… would like that.” Katherine gave a half-smile after a brief moment of uncertain hesitation. But then it passed and she bit her bottom lip nervously, as if she didn’t quite know what to do or say next.

            “Yeah?” Henry prompted, just to be sure as he freed their hands and reluctantly stepped back to retrieve his shoulder pack, slinging it in place before he politely retrieved hers as well, handing it over with a smile.

            “Yeah,” she agreed with marginally more conviction, nodding once. Her shifting body language conflicted slightly with her response as she wrapped both hands around the shoulder strap and looked everywhere but at him.

            Henry didn’t know if it was nerves or what, but he couldn’t help the smile that tugged at his lips when he noticed the cute flush to her cheeks, tinging the fair skin a rosy hue. He gingerly placed his right hand atop both of hers and curled his fingertips into the palm of her hand in quiet inquiry, a warm expression on his face when she finally offered him a return smile. “I still think your ex is an idiot,” he admitted, waiting to see what she would say or do, frozen in that moment.

            Her expression flickered in a slightly pained manner, brows twitching once as her eyes crinkled at the edges, but she pursed her lips and took a breath through her nose. “I think so too,” she agreed sadly, though her fingers tightened just a bit around his, and a tiny measure of the hurt in her face eased away.

            “I… uh,” Henry started to speak, chuckling nervously when his tongue suddenly became very thick in his mouth. She smiled at his trouble though, which encouraged him to go on. “I don’t know what your plans are when we get to the other side…” and he felt his stomach do a weird flip from nerves when her expression became instantly guarded. Bravely forging on, he continued in a rush, “But I was wondering if you’d like to maybe get some coffee or a bite to eat or something when we get there?”

            Instantly, the wariness receded, replaced by polite interest as she blinked at him, a tentative smile playing on her lips. They both looked to the side when the front desk attendant announced the new and adjusted departure times once more, before they glanced at each other again. Katherine hesitated for a brief moment, speaking hesitantly, as if she was feeling her way with her words, “That… would be nice.”

            “Awesome!” Henry grinned, giddy at her positive response. “So. Can I maybe get your number by chance?” he asked, pausing as he fished for his phone in his back pocket.

            She giggled and nodded, relaxing her grip on the strap to retrieve hers at the same time. “Sure, Henry.”

            While the rest of the waiting passengers drifted towards the bus, Henry and Katherine exchanged numbers, standing close but not quite touching anymore. With another glance at the bus, Henry nodded towards the open door and gestured with his free hand, “Shall we?”

            Back to clutching her strap with both hands, Katherine ducked her head shyly and nodded in agreement, stepping in front of him to lead the way. He awkwardly held the glass door open for her and then followed her on the bus, lingering close but refraining from touching as she found a set of seats for them to take near the middle back. “Here?” she asked, half-way to sitting down anyway.

            “That’ll do!” Henry responded cheerily, settling himself next to her with a plethora of nerves swirling in his gut. He watched to see what she was going to do with her bag and then placed his between his feet like she did, clasping his hands between his knees uncertainly.

            The heavy silence lengthened between them and both laughed when they caught each other looking out the corner of their eyes. Their attention drifted to the driver who announced their departure over the speaker system and Henry noticed her hands clenched tightly together as they started moving, gaze riveted to the outside world passing by. He was briefly besieged by doubt about her interest, but then again, they’d only just met after all.

            Henry chewed his bottom lip and fidgeted in place before he brightened at a thought as he reached for his bag. He felt Katherine’s focus shift to see what he was doing and when he sat back up, he grinned at her with his music back in hand. “Care to listen with me?” he offered, holding the cleaned ear bud out to her with a hopeful look.

            Katherine smiled back softly at his suggestion and accepted the bud between careful fingertips. “Thanks,” she murmured, placing it in her ear before she leaned closer to see the iPod he held in her general direction.

            They chose a song together and then leaned back in their seats to enjoy it, not sure where to go from there, but it was definitely a start. With the iPod resting on his thigh, Henry dared enough to reach over and clasp his hand around Katherine’s the gesture warm and friendly.

            She looked down at it for a second, considering her response, and then shifted her hand beneath his so that their fingers very tentatively intertwined. Henry nodded at her in encouragement and she responded in kind, the smile finally reaching her eyes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s