Chapter Fourteen: Ashe
They pooled their coin. Ashe had his stash, and Jaxx had brought a fair amount with him, the money he said he’d been saving in a jar at home for his dream vacation. Which was now, apparently, a slow dash across country trapped on a train with his ex.
The woman at the ticket counter stared at them for a moment, and then shook her head, as if she had forgotten something, and waved them on.
The charm on Ashe’s chest felt warm.
They boarded the train and found their cabin. It was nothing special… two reclining seats that would form part of a bunk bed at night, with the other half folding down from the ceiling. There was a picture window looking out on some of the seedier parts of Tucson as the train headed eastward. There was also a plastic toilet and a metal sink, all cramped into about half the size of his bedroom in the trailer back home. Not that he had a home anymore.
He and Jaxx moved in their meager belongings and settled in as the train left the station. Their long journey would take them out to Texas, and then up through the middle of the country to Chicago. Finally they’d make the short run down to DC.
“Well, here we are,” Jaxx said, sinking down into one of the blue chairs.
Ashe sat in the other. He was exhausted. “Here we are. And I feel like I could sleep for a week.”
Jaxx looked at their tickets. “We may have almost that long. It’s gonna take three days to get there.”
“How are we going to kill three days?”
There was a gleam in Jaxx’s eye.
“Oh no,” Ashe said shaking his head. “That’s not a good idea. I just lost my father, and I’m running on fumes, emotionally and physically. Besides, we weren’t so great together, the last time.”
“No, we weren’t.” Jaxx sighed.
Still, it was nice to have Jaxx here. “Could you just hold me for a little while?”
“Of course.” Jaxx stood, pulling his chair down. In a moment, they had rearranged both into a bed, and Ashe lay down facing the window.
Jaxx lay behind him and put an arm over him, settling in next to him. He was warm.
Ashe closed his eyes.
For a little while, he felt safe.
* * * * *
They passed the first day catching up. Ashe told Jaxx what had happened over the past week, starting with the break-in at the trailer he and his father called their home.
Jaxx told Ashe about his break-up with Brian because Jaxx was stuck in a “boring job” at the hospital that would “never take you anywhere.” Brian had wanted more, apparently, though exactly what that was, Jaxx couldn’t say. He guessed it meant the hot new college freshman Jaxx had seen him with at a gay bar just off campus one night.
Ashe and Jaxx would sneak out of the little sanctuary from time to time to grab something to eat, bringing it back to the room and locking the world outside.
Ashe imagined that every person on the train was watching him when he left the sleeper cabin—from the goblin conductor, in his smartly tailored red suit with its cap and brass buttons down to the old gorgon grandmother who sat in a seat by the window, knitting what looked to be a bright orange beanie, her snakes quiescent upon her head.
All the while, the land passed by outside, from the lush southern Arizona desert through New Mexico and then along the drier deserts fronting the Rio Grande. The train turned north, running up to the DFW metro, and then through Arkansas on its way up to Chicago.
Early on the morning of the second day, Ashe lay awake in the top bunk. Sleep had eluded him, and he had all but memorized the various spots and cracks in the plastic ceiling above.
He tried to recall what it was that had gone wrong between him and Jaxx.
Then he remembered. He had cheated. Plain and simple as that.
He’d been young, and college had been his first chance to experiment away from the regimented life on a military base. He’d met Jaxx and fallen head over heels in puppy love, but after a year together, something new had beckoned.
He was no better than Brian, in the end.
He turned over as softly as he could manage, not wanting to wake Jaxx in the bed below. He peered over the edge.
Jaxx’s eyes were open, and he was staring out the window at the early morning light. “Hey there,” he said, without looking up.
“Couldn’t sleep, huh?”
Ashe climbed down to sit on the edge of Jaxx’s bed. “Not so much. You?”
Jaxx shook his head. “I kept thinking—“
“Me too.” He took Jaxx’s hand, and this time his ex looked up at him. “I’m sorry, Jaxx. For what I did to you, in college.”
Jaxx took a deep breath, and then sighed. “We were young.”
“That’s no excuse. You didn’t cheat on me.”
Jaxx snorted. “I was trying to let you off easy.”
Ashe shook his head. “See, that’s not what I want. I need to say this. Please let me say it.”
Jaxx sat up, his back against the window. “Go ahead.”
“I’m truly sorry. I was an idiot to let you go. I don’t expect you to ever forgive me, but there it is. I left you for a brief thrill. And I’ve regretted it ever since—if there was one thing I could go back and change about my life, this is it.”
Jaxx sat there, looking at him for a long time. Finally he replied, in the barest whisper. “I regretted it too.”
Ashe reached forward impulsively and pulled Jaxx to him, hard, kissing him on the lips.
Jaxx didn’t resist. Instead, he returned the kiss hungrily.
Ashe pulled back, staring into the satyr’s eyes. “Are you sure?”
They were twinkling again. “Is anyone ever really sure?”
That was enough of an answer for Ashe. He pulled Jaxx down onto the bed, their bodies meeting skin to skin.
The rest of the trip passed much more quickly.
* * * * *
On the afternoon of the third day, the train arrived in Washington DC. Ashe looked back at the little cubicle with regret. It had been a safe place for the two of them, and something more. It had been a new beginning.
Jaxx squeezed his hand, and they followed the crowd off the train. As they stepped off the platform, a man in a gray business suit and mirrored sunglasses stepped up to them. “Mister Heyoka?”
“Who wants to know?”
“Please come with me.”
Their “charmed” luck seemed to have run out.