Welcome to part 2 of my short story series! If you missed the first post you can check it out here, but basically this series consists of me looking back on some old short stories that I wrote at university. Now, due to it being Valentine’s Day this week I thought I would post a romance short story that I wrote for my genre fiction class. It’s a little bit longer than my first short story so get comfy, I hope you enjoy and I’ll see you on the other side for some analysis! (Also I’m aware the paragraphs should be indented but they seem to revert whenever I preview the post, I will try to work out what’s happening there)
I tapped my foot in time to the drumming in my ears. Sitting on my usual bench I sipped my morning coffee, watching the same old commuters hurry past with suitcases. The woman who always wore her hair in a slick bun, her glasses slipping down her nose as she ran for the train she was always late for. The man in a navy suit whose tie was slightly askew.
It felt like any other day.
Except a girl was coming towards me. A girl I’d never seen before.
Her choppy brown hair bristled as another train went speeding past and she jumped, clutching her book tighter to her chest with frightened eyes. Hadn’t she been to a train station before? Her face relaxed as the blare of the train disappeared into the distance, eyes crinkling in a smile as if to say ‘Silly me!’
I managed a grimace back; who smiled at eight in the morning? She wore a giant scarf, knitted red wool wrapped twice around her neck, trailing long past her baggy grey sweater.
That’s when she sat next to me. On my bench. No, she definitely hadn’t been to a train station before. No one ever sat on the same bench as anyone else, especially on the morning commute. Everyone claimed their own.
I pushed my earphones harder into my ears, scowling.
A loud roaring from behind my back startled me and I tensed up. Of course, it was just a train. I hoped no one could tell it was my first time at a train station. Before I moved to London, I’d never even needed to get a train anywhere. Twenty-one years old and I hadn’t been on a train in all my life. It was silly really.
I realised the man on the bench was staring at me. I must have looked like an idiot scared of a train when I was about to catch one. Grinning to hide my embarrassment, he gave an awkward smile back as I went to sit down next to him.
He was frowning, the skin pinching between his eyebrows and I wondered if I’d upset him somehow. Oh well, I thought, it’s too late to get up now. He couldn’t have been that much older than me, though the suit and tie did make him look more mature, his dark hair slicked back neatly out of the way. His lanky leg was jerking up and down to the drumbeat leaking from his earphones.
I debated whether to say something to him or just to carry on reading my book when my train came into the station. We stood up at the same time, but he walked briskly over to the first class carriage. Fancy, I thought, joining the bustle of people squeezing into the other carriages.
She sat by me again the next morning. The girl with the ridiculous scarf. This time she was earlier, not long after I’d got there. She had the same book open on her lap, Pride and Prejudice, but she also held a cup of coffee like mine.
Secretly, I’d always loved the literary classics. Not that I’d ever admit that to any of my friends, I wouldn’t hear the end of it. My eyes dipped down subtly; I found we had the same reading speed. She turned the page exactly as I’d finished reading.
“I’m Grace,” she said suddenly and my head shot up. I realised that she had eyes the colour of bark, with flecks of a darker earthy brown scattered through her iris, and a smattering of tiny freckles across her delicate nose.
“Elliot,” I replied. She gave another of those smiles; the one where her eyes almost disappeared behind her crinkled skin, causing something to stir inside me.
Before I could think of what that something was exactly, our train pulled in and we rose from the bench, parting ways to our separate carriages.
I sat down on the same bench as yesterday, next to the frowning man. However as soon as I opened my book to read he seemed to relax, slouching into the bench. Out of the corner of my eye I could see him reading Pride and Prejudice along with me. It surprised me that he’d even want to read it, but I said nothing. I could tell I was slightly faster than him, so re-read the last sentences a couple of times until I saw his eyes had reached the bottom of the page, then turned to the next.
“I’m Grace,” I said, and he looked up. If we were going to be sitting by each other every morning he may as well know my name, I thought.
“Elliot,” he said. His eyes were a peculiar shade of grey, dark snow clouds but with a slight blue tinge, and his nose was slightly crooked.
I smiled at him but our train came to a stop in front of us before I could say anything else. He went off to his posh carriage and I went to mine.
It took a week before I could actually speak to Grace. We sat in silence each morning, reading together, though I didn’t think she knew that yet.
“How come you get this train?” I asked, after taking a deep breath.
“You’re only just asking now?” she teased, raising one full eyebrow. “Well, I’ve only recently moved to London, with no clue what I was going to do. So I got a job at a bookstore and here I am. What about you?”
“Apprenticeship at a law firm.”
“Is that how you can afford first class?”
I reddened, though I knew she was joking; I didn’t want to be seen as the posh, rich boy living off daddy’s money.
“I’m sorry, that was rude, I’ll shut up,” Grace mumbled.
“No, don’t be silly. I’ve just always been very fortunate; Dad’s always pushed me to do well,” I explained. I then tried a smile, which I don’t do often. “You might want to try first class sometimes.”
“Not on my wage, Mr Suit and Tie!”
I smiled again.
A week into getting the same train and Elliot finally spoke to me again. A week of him reading over my shoulder.
He asked why I got the train and I explained about my job at the bookstore. What I didn’t mention is that I’d never been on a train, moving from a tiny village in Cornwall to a massive city which terrified me to say the least. But he didn’t need to know my life story.
Elliot had an apprenticeship; I pictured him in a suave apartment at the top of a towering skyscraper. I made a comment about him being able to afford first class and he blushed, his face falling. Now he hates me, I thought, hanging my head in shame.
But he didn’t mind. He actually smiled for the first time. And what a beautiful, lopsided smile he had.
I noticed something new about Grace each day.
She had a big freckle behind her right ear.
I noted new things about Elliot in my head as the days passed.
Elliot had a scar on his neck.
She cracked her knuckles before reading.
He tapped his fingers when nervous.
She wore that damn scarf every day. And it suited her.
He never let any stubble creep onto his face. And I liked that.
Until one morning I was late. Overslept for the first time in months, dreaming of a girl with choppy hair. I thought of her on the bench alone; was she worrying about where I was? Maybe she didn’t even care.
He wasn’t there. He was always there before me. Scenarios flashed through my head and I shuddered. How would I know if something bad had happened to him? Looking down at the new copy of Pride and Prejudice in my hands, wrapped in a bow, I sighed.
I sprinted onto the platform, coming to a halt by the bench where I panted, hands on my knees.
“Sorry, overslept,” I managed to force out between breaths as Grace stared at me.
“That’s good. I thought it would be a shame if you died and I’d bought this book for nothing,” she said, smirking and holding out a shiny copy of Pride and Prejudice carefully tied with a red bow. “Now you can read it by yourself, start from the beginning.”
I grinned sheepishly, taking the book and thanking her. So she did know. Maybe I wasn’t as discrete as I thought.
“Come for a drink with me. Tonight,” I blurted out.
“Sure Mr Suit and Tie. Here’s my number.”
And she left me just like that, smiling that smile I loved before jumping onto her carriage.
There we go, that was ‘Elliot’s Bench’! Something we did at university when workshopping someone else’s work was praise it, then note any criticisms, and then give something positive again. I’m going to do that here so I’m not too hard on myself!
Firstly, I loved writing the characters and their personalities, and I hope it came across well to you. Grace is bubbly and charismatic, whereas Elliot is a lot more serious to uphold his lawyer stereotype. I liked being able to see into each of their heads which leads to some humorous moments, like Elliot thinking he’s the same reading pace as Grace and being discrete, when in reality Grace knows exactly what he’s doing and slows down for him to catch up. I gave some hints of backstory suitable enough for a short story, so readers know but aren’t overwhelmed with exposition.
However, I think this short story has a problem with repetition. I know what I was trying to do by having them both experience the same moment, so that you could see what the characters were like. But I think I should have done less of this and maybe instead switch between their voices for different scenes, so it wasn’t as slow. I also found myself using the same words a lot, like ‘smile’, or I’d use similar words in the same sentence like ‘slight’ and ‘slightly’. This is something I concentrate a lot on in my writing now and I always pick it up in other people’s writing too. Of course, you can use the same words within the same story but if they’re too close together it limits your vocabulary a little.
That being said, I liked that I was trying something new because I hadn’t tried ever having two narrators before. I think it’s cute how Elliot starts off mildly annoyed by her to realising how much he likes her, and you can tell I’m a book lover by using a book as their main connection, even if it is a bit cheesy!
What did you think of this story? Let me know down in the comments and I hope you enjoyed reading!