I'm at the station platform waiting for a train to take me to Guildford. It's a boiling day and I have a job interview, which means I'm wearing a very tight, high-waisted pencil skirt that was not meant for this unexpected but welcomed change to the British weather. But I'm 20 minutes early so I find a bench in the shade and take out my iPod as I wait for the train.
Earphones go in ears, and without thinking, I do what I always do - I click 'shuffle' when it presents me my entire music playlist. And the song that starts bursting its melodic lyrics at me could not be more symbolic.
Breaking Up by Rilo Kiley.
My boyfriend and I are having problems. Huge problems, that have only been made worse by the fact that he's chosen to ignore them, and for a while now, ending the relationship has been the main carnivorous thought that's been circling all others for a while.
But the abruptness of such an appropriate song only makes me laugh. Four hours later when I think back to that moment, it makes me laugh even more. My boyfriend and I have just broken up.
I digress because this story is not about him.
So I'm at the station platform, trying desperately to ignore the nervous butterflies that seem to be flying around with daggers in my stomach, when I see someone run up the steps to the platform, curse loudly thinking they've missed the train, and then attempt to kick air.
I take my earphones out. "Umm, the train hasn't arrived yet," I say cautiously.
The guy swings round facing me with a puzzled look. "It hasn't?" he asks.
Oh. He's American. Or Irish. One of the two.
"It should get here in about 15 minutes," I smile and put my earphones back in. He's pacing up and down the platform in front of me. I sense he's nervous because he's walking so fast back and forth, he's practically becoming a blur.
"Are you OK?" I ask.
He turns towards me swiftly. "Huh? Oh. Yes. I'm fine. Thanks though,"
He's definitely American.
My earphones go back in, but I'm interrupted.
"Actually, would you mind if I sat down?"
I look at the empty space of bench next to me, and I'm almost surprised that he'd even ask. "Of course," I reply.
I don't put my earphones back in. With someone that you've exchanged words with sitting next to you it almost feels rude to block one of your senses.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you when I ran here," he says.
I have to laugh at his apology. "You didn't startle me. I didn't really know what was happening though,"
"I'm meant to be meeting a friend in Guildford but I'm already half an hour late. He's going to kill me. I've never been good with public transport," he tells me. I smile, and then ask a question that I wish I could take back.
"Are you a tourist?"
He looks at me with amused eyes. They're a sky blue - exactly the same blue you'd see when you look up on a sunny day.
A bit like today.
"No. I've lived here since I was 18. Since I started university," he clarifies.
And I feel like an idiot.
"Sorry. It's just because, you know, your accent," I look down at my hands like a scolded child.
"Don't worry, I get that a lot. Strangely, the longer I've lived here, the more people have asked if I'm visiting,"
I look at him and smile. "Sorry," I say again.
"It's really OK," he beams a smile. "I'm Alex,"
"It's nice to meet you,"
And we both stare straight ahead at the giant billboard that seems to be ordering us to get a mortgage.
"So where are you going to today?" he asks me.
"To Guildford. I have a job interview. Well, actually, the job interview is tomorrow, but today I have to meet with the recruitment agency," I pull an annoyed look, "You know how irritating they can be,"
He laughs, "A lot of people keep saying that. I'm starting to feel lucky I've never dealt with them,"
"Well, then you're very lucky," but I desperately want to ask him what he does for a living. He's far too well dressed to be unemployed, but far too young to be self-employed.
"What do you do?" I finally ask after a few seconds have escaped us.
"I'm a doctor,"
Didn't expect that.
"The general kind," he says with a smile.
"A GP?" I ask nonchalantly. I bet he gets girls swooning over him all the time when he mentions that. I don't want him to think I'm one of them.
"A GP," he confirms.
For a couple more seconds we sit in silence.
"Where?" I ask, again trying not to seem impressed.
"At a hospital," his smile is now so wide, I almost smile back.
"Yes, but which one?" I say impatiently.
He laughs now. A full, manly laugh that leaves me confused. Surely what I asked was a normal question?
In between laughter he says, "Were you about to lose your temper with me?"
"No!" I quickly defend myself.
"Oh, I think you were,"
"I was not!!"
"You know, you are allowed to be impressed that I'm a doctor. People seem to go about it in one of two ways; either they're so in awe over it they let it show completely, or they do what you did, Ella. They pretend they don't care,"
"Well, I don't care. It's not like I haven't met a doctor before. My doctor's a doctor!"
"Your doctor's a doctor? Well, I'll be damned! There was me thinking I was the only one. I always knew I should have listened to my parents and become a lawyer,"
"It's not like you can either be a doctor or a lawyer to be deemed successful, you know!" I reply.
"That's not what I meant at all," the laughter has suddenly stopped because he's sensed that I'm rather annoyed. "And what did you study at uni?"
"Well, that's not much better. That's pretty much on the same level. Had you read a subject a little more interesting, I might have understood your anger towards my statement,"
"I'm not angry," I say quietly.
"Somehow, I get the feeling there are other things worrying you at the moment that are causing this. Not just my pride towards my job title. Although, as oddly satisfying as it would be to annoy a perfect stranger before 2pm, I don't think I'm the reason you're so tense,"
I turn to him in surprise and smile. It's like that moment when you're a small child and you fall over and graze your knee. You don't want to cry, but you need to, and the moment someone comes towards you with a worried look asking what's happened, you can't control it. Floods of tears escape.
It's just like that.
Except I don't cry.
Instead I say, "I've wasted the last four months being with a guy who isn't worth being with. He makes me mad. He makes me upset, and yet, I seem to be too stubborn to get away from it,"
He nods as he's listening to me and I can tell he's genuinely worried.
"Why can't you walk away?" he asks.
I take in a deep breath. "Because nothing's stable," I begin, "Since I graduated from uni, nothing seems to have lasted past 2 months. This time two months ago I had just left my job and was in the middle of a new relationship. Two months before then I had just started a new job and had just met my now boyfriend. Two months before that I was unemployed and with my long-term boyfriend from uni. Two months before that I was still a student. There's too much chaos. Is it wrong to not want things to change just because you want to sort out other parts of your life first?"
"That's not wrong at all," he says. A gentle smile sweeps over his lips. He pauses for a second, then begins again, "When my last girlfriend broke up with me, she said she couldn't sort out her career unless she was single. I didn't understand it at the time, but now it makes perfect sense. If there's something in your life that's distracting you from something that should be a priority, you need to cut them loose,"
"Weren't you mad at her for breaking up with you over such a stupid reason?"
He laughs again. "I was at the time. But if you think about it, at least she was honest with me,"
"It's still a stupid reason," I say, but he only laughs.
The train pulls up at the station, so I rise from my seat.
"Get up," I playfully nudge his leg with my foot, "you don't want to miss it. Goodness knows what you'll kick this time,"
"I'm not getting on it," he says, looking at the train as if he's finally figured something out. "I lied to you earlier. I wasn't going to Guildford to meet my friend. My ex wanted to meet up so we could talk about getting back together, but you know what, I really don't want to," he laughs at his realisation.
"Oh," I don't know what else to say. "Are you sure?"
"Umm, I hope I wasn't the reason to cause this?"
He smiles at me as he stands up. "Oh Ella, more than you know. Good luck with your job interview,"
"Thank you," I say as I get on the train, dazed from the situation.
"Maybe I'll bump into you again sometime,"
The train doors click shut and I'm on my way, but the nerves of tomorrow's interview have alerted me of their presence again.
Right, you annoying butterflies, I say in my head. It's just you and me now, so let's go get that bloody job!
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