Neve and Jonas: the train
He had a girlfriend. Of course he had a girlfriend. Why would he not have a girlfriend?
The train rocked gently as it pulled out of Copenhagen, but Neve barely noticed. Stop scrolling, she told herself, as he continued to scroll through his girlfriend's Instagram grid. Oh, they spent last Christmas in the Alps! How lovely.
She should have known it was too good to be true. Robin, slim and bearded with a long blonde plait, had served her in the little sidewalk café near her hotel in Berlin last night. He'd been funny, charming, and seemingly interested in her — proven by his offering her his Instagram to keep in touch.
Or, so she'd thought.
His own grid was full of sunsets and arty shots of Berlin streets, but on the second photo, she'd spotted a heart emoji from a woman's account, and instantly her own heart plummeted. Could be an affectionate buddy, she told herself, knowing full well it wasn't. She clicked on the woman's account because of course she did. As the train sped towards the Öresund Bridge and Sweden, she was now about three months deep into their seemingly idyllic relationship.
Idyllic other than him giving out his Instagram to random women, of course.
Neve sighed and put her phone face down on the table. The Öresund Strait twinkled brilliant blue in the sunshine, and distant wind turbines turned lazily in the gentle breeze. It wasn't as though she'd fallen for him or anything ridiculous, it was just — why did it always happen to her?
Whenever she got chatting with a guy and felt a tiny spark, she'd think maybe… it wasn't. He'd have a girlfriend, he'd be gay, he'd just want to be friends. Again and again. Neve thought she was alright. She was no supermodel, but her face was fine with a bit of slap and her hair done. She was friendly and nice to animals. She was fairly sure her breath was okay.
But for some reason, the universe kept sending her men who were just not into her.
Which was mostly fine. She loved living her remote nomad life as a freelance technical writer. Hoping on a train to somewhere she had never been before was her favourite thing to do. So really, she wouldn't even want a relationship that might tie her down.
It would just be nice to know she had the option.
Once in a while.
Neve picked up her phone again and quickly blocked Robin and his girlfriend. Not that she thought either of them would have any interest in creeping on her profile. She wanted to remove temptation from herself. There. Done. They were gone from her life, and so was that tiny flicker of disappointment prickling in her tummy.
‘Ursäkta, är denna plats upptagen?’
Neve looked up and blinked. Even if she didn't know a smattering of Swedish from her various trips here, she could work out from context that the beautiful man was asking if the seat opposite her was taken. Yet somehow, she was gawping at him like a goldfish as her brain refused to formulate a response.
‘Förlåt, jag stör dig.’ With a brief smile, he turned to look for another seat, and Neve finally found her voice.
'No, it's fine — go ahead. Umm, varsågod,’ she muttered.
'Oh, English, sorry.'
Only a Swede would apologise for speaking Swedish in Sweden. She smiled. The beautiful man — for he was beautiful — sat and tried to fold his long legs into a vaguely comfortable position. He was tall, even by Swedish standards — six and a half feet, at least — and his broad shoulders and arms were bear-like. Thick, dirty-blond-with-a-hint-of-red hair was scraped into a messy bun, and his eyes were the same colour as the sea they were crossing.
'You can stretch your legs under my seat if you want. I like to curl up anyway.'
'You are very kind. Trains were not built for anybody over 1.82 metres.'
'That is wonderfully specific.'
He chuckled, a warm, boyish laugh that shook his huge shoulders. 'I never thought of that. My oldest brother is 1.82 metres and comfortable on public transport, while our younger brother and I are not.'
'I guess there is a reason Vikings tended to travel by ship.'
His smile faltered for an instant, and then he beamed.
'What?' Neve asked.
'Sorry, it's just funny you say that — I am going to play a Viking.' He rummaged in his backpack and pulled out a pile of thick, battered hardback books. One was a retelling of the sagas, while two more were academic-looking history tomes. 'I have been thinking a lot about Vikings lately.'
'You're an actor? That's pretty cool.'
He shrugged modestly. 'I am trying to be.'
'Sounds like you're doing well. I'll have to look out for you. That guy stuck his feet under my chair, I'll say to people. I could smell his feet all the way to Stockholm.'
He laughed again, the rumble of his voice striking Neve — no, she was not going there. Of all the men on earth who would never fancy her in a million years, this beautiful specimen had to be number one. She would enjoy passing the time of day with a gorgeous stranger, and she would not pointlessly break her own heart by so much as —
Noticing the way he was staring at her as though she was the only woman on earth.
There was nothing passionate about his gaze. He just had blue eyes.
'I'm sorry, I've had these sneakers for a long time —'
'Oh —'Neve blushed in horror. 'I was kidding, they don't — I can't smell anything, I promise.'
Just at that moment, the train passed a field of cows that very much did smell, and they both burst out laughing.
'That was not my feet,' he said very seriously.
'I think you would need medical attention if it was.'
This might be why men didn't fancy her, she thought, and she couldn't help but grin at her own hopelessness. Accusing a beautiful man — a sensitive actor, no less — of having smelly feet probably wasn't mentioned in The Art of Seduction. Good thing she enjoyed her own company and had a solid collection of toys.
The beautiful man seemed to be engrossed in one of his Viking books. Neve turned to look out the window. Despite travelling at over 150mph, the train barely rocked as the Swedish countryside slipped by. The entire country consisted of luscious forests broken occasionally by shimmering lakes.
'Hey, I am going to the dining carriage to get myself a beer.' The beautiful man had put his book on the table. 'I haven't really celebrated getting this job yet. May I get you one so you can celebrate with me?'
'Oh — I —'Neve was fairly sure her face was actually on fire. 'You don't have to. I can buy a beer —'
'Of course, if you prefer,' he grinned easily, those sparkling eyes threatening to hypnotise her. 'But you will join me?'
Neve had lost track of time when she glanced out the dining carriage window and saw the sun resting on the horizon. Tall, skinny trees were silhouetted black, and the sky had turned a deep orange. Her fingers brushed Jonas's as they both reached for the peanuts they were sharing, and a bolt of electricity shot through her.
'So, because of the flood in my apartment, I was late for the audition — I'm running up the stairs, all flustered and panicking —'Jonas took a swig of beer as he chuckled, and Neve thought she could not imagine him flustered and panicking.
She wasn't exactly known for being relaxed around attractive men, but Jonas had such a warm, open energy that she was lulled into an odd sense of ease. The dining carriage had been busy when they arrived, so they'd squished into the same side of a booth opposite an elderly man tucking into meatballs. The man had shuffled back to his seat at least half a beer ago, but Jonas hadn't moved to the other side. Neve was acutely aware of the warmth of his thigh against hers, but he was so stratospherically out of her league that she wasn't getting her knickers in a twist waiting for the inevitable rejection. They were just two strangers passing a few hours together, and it was perfectly pleasant.
'The receptionist had just told me to go to the second floor, so I race up, taking the stairs two at a time, and when I get to the landing, there are three doors. I'm like, what the hell — then I see a couple of guys about my age going into one of them, so that's the audition. It's already started, there's a bunch of people sitting around and a guy is at the front talking. As I slip in and sit at the back, this woman gets up and starts monologuing about being an addict. That's what the movie is about, but I don't recognise what she is saying from the script, so I'm like, she is improvising. Oh, shit —'
Jonas looked up and listened as an announcement came over the loudspeaker. Neve noticed for the first time that the train had stopped moving. They weren't at a station; outside the windows was unrelenting darkness.
'Did you get that? There is a broken-down train ahead of us on the track. We need to wait here until they move it.'
'Did they say how long?'
He shook his head. 'There is only one track in this area. I guess it is going to be a long time.'
'Then I hope you have plenty of nightmare audition stories for me.'
He frowned, making a show of counting in his head. 'I have twelve,' he said finally.
'That should get us through the night.'
He met her eye and raised an eyebrow with a flash of — something. Hot nerves danced through Neve. That wasn't a double entendre — was it? Oh no — he didn't think she fancied him, did he? She'd die. He'd die.
'Hey, can I braid your hair?'
'I beg your pardon?'
'Only if you want. It's my favourite thing to do. I'm pretty good at it,' he added hurriedly, as though the fact he might do a crap braid was the issue.
'I mean — sure.'
He put his beer down, and they shuffled around so that Neve was facing the window, Jonas behind her. The carriage was otherwise empty, even the server seemed to have disappeared. Neve could see Jonas's intense look of concentration in their reflection as he carefully pulled her hair from its messy bun. Neve's heart thudded and sparkles danced through her as Jonas gently combed her hair out with his fingers.
'So, I hate improvisation,' he murmured.
It was an effort to keep her breathing even as he continued to play with her hair. Her every cell fizzed for him, and she forgot to worry about whether or not he would ever be interested in her. She wanted him with a need that had no patience for insecurity.
'I'm no good at it, I never have been. I walked out of classes at drama school when they made us do it. I'm an actor — my job is saying other people's words, you know?'
Neve nodded, the centre of her pulsating insistently as he tugged gently on the hair at the base of her scalp and it was all she could do not to moan. She glanced at their reflection and saw with a flush of mortification that her nipples were standing to attention through her thin T shirt. Jonas leaned closer, holding her hair in a ponytail with one hand while he softly trailed a finger from behind her earlobe down the side of her neck.
'I sat there, panicking while person after person got up and performed these phenomenal monologues one after the other. I couldn't understand why they were all such great actors and yet I didn't recognise a single one.'
A traitorous gasp escaped her and Jonas met her eye in the inky-black window. 'It turned out I had accidentally walked into a real AA meeting.'
Neve burst out laughing, not even realising she had leaned back until she suddenly felt his breath hot on her ear and he was so very close.
Time stood still as he grinned at her in the window, raised a questioning eyebrow. Neve nodded and he immediately swooped down, planted a rough kiss on the base of her neck.
Fireworks exploded in her core as he kissed and nipped her neck and shoulder. With a boldness she'd never felt in her life, she reached behind, running a hand up his denim-clad thigh until finding the rock hardness straining at his fly. He groaned, cupped her cheek and turned her face to kiss her, deep and insistent, their tongues urgently entwined as she rubbed and stroked.
An unfamiliar sense of power filled her. Jonas muttered incoherently, seemingly at the edge of his senses as she rubbed harder and faster, tracing the contours of him through the soft denim.
'Oh god oh fuck oh please —'
One hand was still entwined in her hair, the other clutching the table's edge for dear life. Neve watched their reflection, loving his ravaged expression, the way this huge, spectacularly gorgeous man, was utterly at her mercy.
'Look at me,' she whispered.
He obeyed, meeting her gaze in the window, frantic plea dancing in his eyes. His knuckles holding the table were white, his breath ravaged. She felt him strain and twitch in her hand. His face twisted, as he grimaced, flinched and roared —
'Oh — shit —' He clamped his hand over his mouth, his entire body shuddering.
Neve sniggered and looked over his shoulder. 'The coast is clear,' she grinned. 'I don't think anyone heard.'
'Oh wow. You are —'He shook himself like a wet dog, dazed awe spreading over his face. 'That was —'
Neve giggled, her usual awkwardness rushing back at her, yet -- yet draining away again immediately, like a wave rushing back into the sea. That was fun, she thought. I needed that. She'd savour the memory of this mad little encounter for the rest of her life.
'Me neither. You are — wow.'
The train jerked and started to move again.