This is the first installment of a short story I’m working on. I hope it’s actually going somewhere.
“Buon giorno,” Audra said to the young mother with two small children already seated in the private train compartment. And that, she told herself, exhausts my conversational Italian.
The other young woman murmured something in reply, but avoided eye contact. The boy who looked about eight or nine sprawled oblivious in a corner, his thumbs and attention busy with a videogame on a smartphone – probably his mother’s; the tiny girl on the other side of the young woman chatted merrily in Italian with her doll and also ignored the strange woman sitting opposite.
Audra pulled some fresh magazines from her roll-on computer bag – they were written in Italian, of course, but she loved looking at the photos and translating as much of the text as possible relying on her hodge-podge of high school Latin and college Spanish. That the other occupants of the compartment weren’t interested in her suited her perfectly, it had been years since she’d had anything resembling a vacation and she was basking in the glow of having a few days to herself in one of the most outrageously photogenic and expensive resort areas in the world.
The train was rolling slowly away from the Milan station when a conductor opened the door to the compartment admitting a latecomer.
“Pardon,” said the tall man with a deep tan and salt and pepper hair as he wound his way between Audra and the young Italian family. He let the well-traveled leather duffle slide off his shoulder and settled into the rear-facing seat next to Audra. He turned to her and extended his right hand, “Hullo, David Gray.”
She shook his hand and grinned, “Audra Preston. I’m not psychic or anything, but I’m guessing from your accent that you’re not a native of Milan – or Italy for that matter.”
He returned her smile, the white lines that fanned out from his deep brown eyes disappeared into the tan. “Just a frequent visitor. You’re quite obviously American – from where exactly?”
“Thank you for not calling me a ‘Yank’. I live in Chicago, now. That’s in the Midwest. Illinois.”
He laughed, “I’m familiar. What brought you to Milan?”
“Business. I’ve been in and out all summer and I adore it. Saw ‘La Boheme’ at La Scala and thought maybe I’d gone to Heaven,” Audra sighed and patted her chest.
“Ah, you enjoy the opera? That seems – unusual – for a ‘Yank’,” his mouth quirked at the presumed irony.
“Not so!” she said with mock indignation. “Opera has a strong following in the States. Chicago’s Opera Theatre is renowned.”
He bowed his head, “I stand corrected. And I agree, La Scala isn’t to be missed.” He turned to glance out the window at the fringes of Milan slipping past as the train headed West along the Mediterranean. “As you’re on the train, may I assume your business is concluded and now you’re doing some sightseeing?”
Audra contemplated the wisdom of sharing too much of her plans with a stranger, but decided there wasn’t much chance their paths would continue in parallel beyond the train. “You assume correctly. I’m taking a few days for myself before flying home. And you?”
“The same, actually. I have to be back in Milan in a week, so it’s closer to take a short holiday in Monaco than travel home to London and back.”
The fine hairs on the back of her neck ruffled at his comment. “I…see. A coincidence, I guess. I’m doing the same, except I fly out of Nice in a few days, back to Chicago.”
There was that quirking smile again, “Not really so much of a coincidence. Well, I suppose you could be traveling on to Nice – certainly not all the way to Marseille, no one would, but for a holiday Monte Carlo is the logical destination.”
Audra smiled and absently paged through one of her magazines.
[Part Two is a WIP]