Four hours on the train to Portland feels like a week to Ralphie, whose palms are beginning to sweat at the thought of actually seeing her today, of actually having a face-to-face conversation. How many times has he rehearsed? Too many, probably. An hour ago, just outside of Centralia, Ralphie had walked through the swaying train cars – gripping the backs of seats to keep balanced, squeezing by passengers carrying trays of hot bagels and coffee – and climbed the narrow staircase to the observation car on the upper deck. He had sat in the middle of an empty row of seats that faced sideways toward the broad, reflective windows. The view was limited to marshland; miles and miles of it. In his head, he practiced the conversation again, and then again, and again, stopping only when the train itself came to a stop at the next station.
Now, back in his seat, he can feel the sweat on his hands. He decides that he will practice once more, and then try to take a nap, so that he will look rested when he sees her at the train station. Then he'll tell her why he needs her to come back home. And it will work. He knows it will. It has to. On this accelerating train, with only two stops to go, that much he is sure of.