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Ned Clovis had just drawn a straight black line under which he wrote a precise black total. He smiled at the number. Spring was a busy time for the feed store—new life all over the neighboring farms. So busy, in fact, that he thought maybe he should stay open all afternoon. But then he felt the vibration of the office clock chiming the hour. Two o’clock. After blowing the ink dry on the page, he closed the ledger, stacked it neatly against the others, and took his well-worn newsboy cap from its hook beside the door. It was his store, after all. He was the reigning Clovis of Clovis Feeds. Had been since his father died. He could leave any time he wanted. And he always wanted to leave at two o’clock.
Six days a week for the past five years, Ned’s path to the two o’clock train’s baggage car led him straight past the little ticket booth where Ellie Jane Voyant sat behind the glass. Six days a week for the past five years, the window standing between him and Ellie Jane gave Ned the courage to offer her a wave, or a smile or, on days when he was feeling especially brave, a tip of his hat.
Six days a week for the past five years, two o’clock was his favorite hour, bested only by the time spent in church on Sundays where she sat two pews ahead of him, slightly to the left. Although she often returned his greetings in kind—a wave for a wave, a nod for a nod—in five years, Ellie Jane never left the confines of her little ticket office. As Ned slicked back his curly dark hair in preparation for his daily greeting, he had no reason to suspect that this day would be any different. Perfecting an air of nonchalance, he measured his pace so he would turn and smile just as he passed the center of the window. Today, however, something was wrong.
Ellie Jane wasn’t there.
Not wanting to appear affected, lest she be watching him, he cast a careful glance up and down the platform that rumbled with the approach of the train. Seeing it in the distance, he abandoned his search for Ellie Jane for just a moment as he closed his eyes and imagined the sound of its whistle—the only noise capable of penetrating the thick packing of silence he’d lived with since he was twelve years old. As long as he kept his eyes closed, he could listen to the train and feel whole.
When the whistle stopped, he opened his eyes and saw Ellie Jane halfway down the platform. Her crisp white blouse billowed about her, standing out in clean contrast to those who wore their coats to combat a surprisingly chilly spring afternoon. Her hair reminded him of hazelnuts, both in its color and its undisciplined pile on top of her head. She seemed to be battling the breeze to keep all the strands tucked away.
This was his chance. He could make his way through the crowd, sidle up to her, tap her elbow, tip his hat. Maybe some miracle would give him the voice of a man rather than a goose when he asked, “Who are you meeting today?” Or maybe he could just gesture toward the train and assume an inquisitive expression on his face, which she would immediately understand.
He imagined her turning and giving him a response in a voice so loud it would capture the attention of the other people waiting on the platform. He wouldn’t take his eyes off her lips, watching them for clues, knowing that she’d replied, “My brother, Dave,” or “Miss Higgins’s aunt.” No matter, he would nod in understanding, and they could stand there together, side by side, waiting for the train.
But he didn’t make his way through the crowd—if such a small gathering could be called a crowd. He was about to take a step, really, when Ellie Jane motioned for Morris, ever ready to lend an open hand, to come to her. She bent to talk to him, her dainty hand resting on the boy’s shoulder. When she was finished, the shock and smile on Morris’s face made Ned wonder if she hadn’t told him that he would be carrying trunks full of pretty girls and candy, a percentage of each he could keep as a tip.
Whatever the prize, Morris
stuck close to Ellie Jane’s side. When the train finally came to
a halt, a blur of movement materialized behind the windows of the passenger
cars. Ned imagined people gathering their belongings—umbrellas,
books, children—and making their way to the front.
End of Day 2 Excerpt - More coming in tomorrow's email!
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