David’s phone buzzed. A text from a familiar number appeared.

N: Hey David. You there? It’s Nico.

Bern wasn’t the only one feeling a sense of déjà vu. Nico did well three years ago, so David hoped he’d be around. To hear that Nico was indeed around and willing to talk, even after all that happened last time – it meant more to David than he’d ever admit, even to himself.

D: Hi Nico. Yes, I’m here.

N: Tell me, Author. What the hell is going on?

“Nico…” David whispered. Didn’t Nico realize that they needed to take precautions? The enemy can access their phones.

Sakari overheard. “Nico?” He glanced at David’s phone. “Is that who you’re texting?”

David quickly locked his phone and slid it back into his pocket.

“Why would Nico be…?” Bern started. Wheels turned and facts fell into place in his mind. The expresion on his face shifted from confusion to realization to anger as he stood and confronted David, looming over the feather-haired boy. “No. No, I know exactly why he can text you. You were his partner, then you left him for dead. You prissy little punk-ass…”

Sakari sprung up from his seat, slipped behind Bern, and put him in a chokehold, cutting him off.

Rianne screamed, “Bernie!” at the same time Cara shouted, “Sakari!”

The recording pleasantly informed them, “Now approaching Broad Street. Transfer here for Yellow Line. Please stand clear of the doors.”

Sakari dragged Bern toward the doors. “First Mia! Now you! I’m sick of people attacking my friends!”

Mia jumped to her feet. “Everyone, calm down!”

Between gasps for air, Bern said, “Wait. Listen. You don’t know him. He’s that…”

“What do you have against him?” Sakari demanded. “Tell me why.”

“…trying to…”

“Sakari, stop. Please. Just let Bernie go,” Rianne begged.

“Only when he promises not to hurt David,” Sakari told her.

Bern insisted, “Bad dude, man. He’s a bad…”

Sakari tightened his hold on Bern’s neck. “Promise!”

David stood and shouted, “Enough!!” His voice sounded deeper than normal and so authoritative that everyone froze.

But it was too much for David. He fell into a coughing fit. His lungs burned. His legs turned to jelly. He sank to his knees. Cara knelt beside him in the aisle, putting a comforting hand on his back. They could barely hear the announcer lady over David’s coughing. “Arrived at Broad Street. Transfer here for Yellow Line. Next stop: Mason Plaza.”

Bern pried Sakari’s chokehold loose enough to give himself more room to breathe. “You got something to say, you son of a bitch?” he taunted David.

Sakari jerked Bern backwards. “I oughta throw you off this train right now.”

“Go on and try, shorty. I dare ya.”

Mia commanded, “Hold it, both of you. The only way we’re going to solve this peacefully is if everyone stays onboard and everybody can talk.”

“We don’t have time to solve this peacefully.”

“We do, actually. The whole train ride to Coldessi Park if need be.”

“David, are you okay?” Rianne asked. “You sound awful.”

David’s coughing finally subsided. He looked at the hand he used to cover his mouth, now splashed with red. “That can’t be good,” he observed, his voice hoarse.

Cara saw the same thing. “Crap. That’s blood.”

“B-blood?!” Rianne exclaimed, catching everyone’s attention.

Sakari was stunned, so Bern took his chance to wriggle free of Sakari’s grip as the train recording announced, “Now boarding Red Line to Nielsen Quay. Next stop: Mason Plaza.”

Cara held out her hand. “Mia – the tissues in your purse.”

Mia dug out a small packet of tissues. Cara gave a couple of Mia’s tissues to David. He wiped his hand and mouth with the tissues as Cara helped him back into his seat. She sat next to him and took out an empty potato chip bag from her purse. She told David to put the used tissues inside.

“I see a trash can on the platform,” Mia told Cara.

Cara rolled down the top of the bag, closing it tightly. She gave it to Mia saying, “Come straight back.” Obediently, Mia hopped off the train.

Bern angrily broke the silence. “C’mon, you bastard,” he told David. “I know who you are. Quit the act and tell us straight up. What is going on?”

David said, “Nico asked me the same thing. I should reply back.”

Bern stomped his foot loudly. “Don’t you weasel outta this! Tell us already, goddammit!”

David grabbed the pole beside him with both hands and pulled himself onto his feet. “If I knew what was going on, I wouldn’t be going to Coldessi Park. Nor would you, Rianne, or Nico even be involved. If it were up to me, I would’ve done all I could to spare you.”

“Bullshit! You’re just feeding us a line, just like you did Nico. I ain’t some tuna, asshole!”

“Would you quit being rude at least?” Sakari asked Bern, angry and annoyed.

David held out a hand to stop him. “No, Sakari. I… I deserve it.”

“Huh?”

David’s arm shivered with exhaustion. His legs were still jelly. He had no choice but to let gravity pull him back down into his seat. “Everything Bern’s said about me is true,” he told the group. “I’m the jerk who used our friend Nico three years ago.”

Bern snorted. “You dare call him friend.”

Mia hopped back onto the train as the recorded lady announced, “Now departing for Nielsen Quay. Please stand clear of the doors.”

The group silently settled into their places for the next leg of the journey. Rianne sat across from David. Mia sat across from her sister. Bern and Sakari grabbed poles by the doors as they slid closed.

©2021 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.