Chances Are - Four

‘So the only thing I could do was sleep in my car,’ Meghan shrugged. ‘Couldn’t risk walking in the dark in central Queensland. That is serious croc country.’


‘You’d be more likely to be killed by a snake or a spider around there,’ Johannes pointed out. ‘The really big crocodiles are in the north.’


‘Whatever, I wasn’t going to leave my car in search of gas in the pitch dark.’


‘That is sensible,’ he conceded.


They were the only ones left in the dining carriage. The bar shut a while back, but Carolina had produced a box of red wine from her compartment, and Johannes contributed some of the weirdest-tasting chips Ali had ever encountered. She was almost certain some tasted like ketchup, but surely that couldn’t be right? The train rocked gently, and the little lights on each table were cosy against the darkness outside. Ali was so far beyond jet lag a little part of her thought she might actually be currently asleep, but she didn’t want to break the spell.


Especially not while the Scottish guy was sitting so close. She could feel the warmth of his leg through her yoga pants. He hadn’t spoken much since the initial kidding about who would have sex with him, but she had gathered from Meghan that his name was Gus.


Meghan had gotten a fit of giggles about just how red Ali went when Gus arrived. Ali had tried to laugh along, stammering awkwardly that she just blushed easily, but that just seemed to make Meghan laugh harder. Carolina shot Ali a sympathetic look, and Gus told Meghan to knock it off.


It quickly became apparent that they knew each other. Ali hated the ridiculous flutter of jealousy she felt when she wondered if Meghan had ticked Scotland off her Bingo card. Not, like, actual jealousy or anything. She hadn’t exchanged a word with the guy. He could be married, gay, a mansplainer or the kind of dude who puts no drama in his dating app bio. She was just, a little bit curious about what might be up between them.


‘I pulled into a little lay-by off the main road, crawled into the backseat and covered myself with a beach towel and some clothes. I didn’t have a sleeping bag, but it was pretty warm out. It was hard to get to sleep, though. You never realise how much of a car is windows until you are lying there, exposed and vulnerable. Even so, I heard the men before I sat them.’


Meghan paused for dramatic tension, and Carolina gasped. Ali tried not to watch Gus watching Meghan, but her eyes betrayed her, and he caught her gaze with a brief smile. Ali glanced away quickly. Great.


Gus’s phone buzzed on the table, and he went into the next carriage to answer it. Ali was sure she imagined Meghan's smile fade when he left. Hans slammed his empty plastic cup on the table, making them all jump.


‘What happened?’ he demanded.


‘Oh, they were just drunken idiots,’ Meghan shrugged, bored of the conversation. ‘They tried to tip the car, but then they got bored and wandered off. I’m actually pretty sleepy. I think I’m going to go to bed.’


‘We go to bed also,’ Carolina announced. She clicked her fingers, and Giuseppe obediently got to his feet. Carolina gave Ali a dramatic kiss on each cheek and made her promise to stay with them when she got to Calabria. Hans and Johannes headed off too, arguing all the way.


Then Ali was alone. She should go to bed, but having felt half-sedated all night, she was wide awake and could barely imagine ever sleeping again. She was on a train in England. A little thrill of glee fluttered through her. Or Scotland. She had no idea whether there would be any indication that they had crossed the border.


She had spent the evening drinking wine with Germans and Italians, hearing the kind of travel stories she had been dreaming of her whole life. The kind of travel stories she would have of her own, pretty soon. Maybe someday it would be her holding court on a train like this, wowing a bunch of wide-eyed baby travellers with her world-weary tales. Ali gave a happy sigh. It had all been worth it.


Just as Ali had decided to go to her compartment and at least try to sleep, the door slid open, and there was Gus.


The kilted man didn’t appear to notice Morven. He stared mournfully at the departing train for a moment, then abruptly sat down on the steps and fell fast asleep. He leaned against the railing, his arms loosely crossed. His long, and, it had to be said, far from unpleasant legs, lay lazily akimbo across the metal stairs as he snored softly.


He looked phenomenally uncomfortable. It reminded Morvan of when her family dog was a puppy. She would sleep splayed halfway out of her bed with her head smooshed on the cold tile floor. Morvan would worry about how uncomfortable she looked. Once, she tried to lift Shauna’s head gently back into her bed, and the puppy woke up and nipped her. Morvan’s mum said it served her right. Haven’t you ever heard the expression, let sleeping dogs lie?


Morvan didn’t think she’d have much luck hauling this six-foot-something man into a more comfortable position, but she wasn’t entirely sure she’d mind if he bit her. He was gorgeous, she thought, feeling a tiny bit creepy for watching him sleep. Though, to be fair, it was hardly her fault he’d sat down and conked out right in front of her.


His sandy hair was neatly cropped in a dorky way that should have undermined his sexiness but somehow didn’t. Sensible, steel-trimmed glasses framed eyes that Morvan guessed were either blue or grey. Broad shoulders tapered to a slim waist and the aforementioned well-built legs.


She was itemising him as though he were cattle, she thought with a giggle. She deliberately turned away to let the poor man sleep in peace. She had rather more pressing matters on her mind in any case. Such as, what on earth she was going to do?


She opened her phone again, optimistically hoping that a bar or two of service might have materialised, but no. The Highlands didn’t seem to go much for snazzy mod cons like a spot of mobile coverage here and there. Another point for civilisation.


The station was barely a shed plonked on a single track. Morvan tried to remember how long the taxi ride from the wedding venue had been — ten, fifteen minutes? At the speed the cabbie had gone, that could easily mean the best part of ten miles back to the venue.


Far from ideal to undertake in the dark and barefoot, but probably her best bet. Preferable to freezing to death in this wee station if she sat here to wait for the first train of the morning. Which is what would happen to the sleeping man if she abandoned him. In fact — wasn’t it a bit concerning that he had fallen asleep so suddenly? What if he was in a coma or something, and she was merrily perving on him?


She edged a bit closer, peering dubiously at him. How exactly where you supposed to tell if someone was unconscious, as opposed to, just not conscious? A mirror! Many, many years ago, Morvan took a first aid course with the Girl Guides, and she had just remembered that you were supposed to hold a mirror close to a patient's face. She couldn’t remember exactly why, but hopefully, all would become clear if she did it.


Rummaging around in her bag, Morvan triumphantly extracted a compact that had a little mirror. She gingerly held it up to his face, wondering what she was supposed to be looking for, then jumped a mile as the poor man snuffled then woke up. He too jumped a mile when treated to an unexpected close-up of his nose, and Morvan dropped the compact with a clatter.


‘Sorry!’ she shouted, scrabbling on the ground for the compact. She usually wouldn’t bother, but it was a fancy one she’d got at Space NK in the January sales, and even then, it cost a bomb. ‘It was just that I thought you had a concussion!’


The man was staring at her with an expression that could reasonably be described as terror. With a frown, he gingerly felt his forehead as though checking for a bruise. ‘What made you think I was concussed?’


‘Well, it was more that I was checking you weren’t.’


‘By — showing me your makeup?’


‘Yeah, I think maybe I misremembered that bit.’ Morvan rescued the compact from where it had rolled under an old packet of salt and vinegar crisps crumpled by the foot of the stairs. ‘They never use mirrors on Greys Anatomy. But you seem to be conscious now, so well done. Clean bill of health.’


‘Thank you,’ he said faintly.


‘Green,’ Morvan said in surprise.


‘I beg your pardon?’


‘Your eyes. I guessed blue or grey.’


‘Oh.’


‘Anyway, I just wanted to make sure you were alive. That was the last train to Glasgow. Maybe you knew that. I think I will try to walk back to the venue where my friend’s wedding was, because I can’t think of anything else to do. It’s maybe five or six miles —‘ She squinted vaguely at the darkness. ‘Thataway.’


A shadow crossed his expression. ‘It’s seven miles, and it’s that way. And you don’t have any shoes on.’


‘Alright, Negative Nelly.’


It took her a second to realise that his shoulders were shaking with laughter. ‘What did you call me?’


‘Negative Nelly,’ Morvan huffed with as much dignity as she could muster, but she started to giggle too. ‘I’ve never said that in my life before.’


‘In that case, I’m honoured,’ he said, getting up abruptly. Oh, he was tall., A little flame sparked to life in her. She was allowed now. He was conscious. ‘There’s a pub in the village a mile or two that way. There might be a phone. I guess we’re walking.’

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