It was almost midnight, yet the train station was filled with people. Late night revelers, buzzed from the high of the evening that they didn't want to end. Shift workers trying to make ends meet. Lonely hearts waiting desolately for their turn in the wheel of love. Lovers stealing tiny kisses in plain sight of embarrassed onlookers. Poets, thieves and drunkards shifted their feet uneasily under flickering fluorescent lights that were never bright enough, impatiently waiting for the tiny rumble that would signal the impending entrance of the train.
Anya said good-bye to Tara and stepped off the train onto the dirty tiled surface of the platform. Vaguely she heard the tannoy announce that there would be a short delay because a train ahead had been held up. She glanced at her watch and made her way quickly toward the stairs that led to the exit. She had no desire to linger any longer than necessary at the station. She opened up her bag and was fishing inside for her cellphone when a shape in a hurry ran smack into her. She looked at the other person and was appalled to see a flustered redhead who was trying to gather up junk that had fallen out of the giant carrier bags that she was holding.
Anya's nose wrinkled in barely concealed distaste at the dvds, posters and comics of what appeared to be a cartoon that was scattered around her feet. The nerd girl looked around her age, yet appeared younger because of an abject lack of any trace of sophistication. Plus, a twenty-something still interested in cartoons? Anya shook her head. Her own wallet, a white alligator leather limited edition from Chloé, had also fallen out, to her chagrin, on the filthy floor. The nerd girl reached out to pick up the wallet, but Anya immediately pounced on it.
"Don't touch it!" she exclaimed, with more shrill in her voice than intended.
"I'm sorry," the nerd girl kept repeating. "Let me help."
"I said, don't touch anything," Anya yelped. She grabbed her wallet and stood up hurriedly, intent on getting away from the girl.
She hadn't gone too far down the rest of the stairs when she felt a hand on her arm. She jumped with the shock.
It was the nerd girl. "You forgot this," she muttered, handing over a cosmetic brush. It was coated with dust and lint, and Anya frowned as she gingerly extended her hand to take the brush from the girl's hand. Without another word she walked away from the girl, with a scandalized expression on her face. As she neared a trashcan, she forcefully threw the brush inside. She ignored the stunned gasp that escaped from the girl.
Willow was aghast at the other girl's attitude. She could never understand her type anyway; they were snobs, hunted in packs and tended to bully her, so she stayed as far away as possible. An announcement about the train about to depart made her cast aside thoughts of the rude snob girl as she ran toward her train.
She found a corner seat and arranged the carrier bags so they formed a makeshift fortress around her feet. She looked around the rest of the train, careful to avoid eye contact. A giggling teenaged couple barely able to contain themselves sat next to her; a group of middle-aged ladies talking about knitting opposite them; and a beautiful blonde girl reading a book sitting directly opposite her. Willow risked a second look at the blonde and she was captivated immediately. Fine wispy hair, clear blue eyes, flawless skin, even the dress (which she knew nothing about but was sure it was expensive) and the posture screamed elegance.
In other words, the Perfect Woman.
And the very definition of Perfect Woman in Willow's books ... unattainable.
"I think she's a model," the teenagers next to her were whispering to each other.
"She's pretty," they continued.
"I want to get her autograph," one said.
"Don't be stupid! What if she isn't a model?" the other one whispered more urgently.
The answer from the first teenager was drowned by a loud crash at the other end of the compartment. The door between the compartments snapped open and a middle-aged man in a disheveled suit stumbled through.
"Bastards gotta make these doors automatic," he slurred as the doors slammed shut behind him. He was obviously very drunk as he staggered toward the seated passengers, all of whom turned away in embarrassment.
"They must put eggs in Happy Meals," he declared, almost falling on a young man who was listening to his iPod. "What're you listening to? Something no good?" he squinted at him.
The young man squirmed and tried to turn away, but the drunk was relentless, smacking him with his rolled up newspaper. Then his attention was diverted to musical notes coming from the briefcase of another young man. "You!" he continued. "Why is your cell ringing?"
"It's nothing --" the young man said, trying to keep his composure.
"Don't talk back at me, punk," the drunk yelled, while violently yanking at the young man's hair. "Now tell me about your girlfriend. Does she have nice tits?"
The young man struggled, but was unable to escape the death-grip of the drunk. "You are all useless. Useless," the drunk continued his assault.
Willow wished someone could stop him, but the other passengers were either unable or unwilling. Even the able-bodied seemed to be intimidated by the drunk's behavior. He continued to spew tirades about random objectionables, lurching from one side of the compartment to another while he moved closer to Willow's end. She was beginning to feel anxious, and hugged her backpack closer to her body.
"Who's laughing at me? Who? You people are jerks. I hate you, all of you. Bastards," he was closer now and was screaming at the teenagers next to Willow.
Seemed like nobody was immune to his attack. He looked around for his next target. Willow audibly gulped.
"I know what you're thinking," his face was mere inches from hers as he stepped closer and leaned in. She could smell the alcohol and smoke and whatever else she didn't want to think about on him. "You're thinking I'm a loser, that you're better'n me? Huh??"
Willow shook her head, she was terrified that he would hit her. "N-n-n-no," she whimpered.
"Shuddup!" he shouted. "Who told you to speak?"
Willow never felt so threatened in her life. This was one man who couldn't even walk in a straight line, and he was terrorizing a trainful of people. She wished there was something someone could do, but the man was bigger and stronger than her, and in his state probably violent too. He spun around and almost collapsed in a heap on the floor next to her, but at the last moment caught his grip on the handrails.
This brought him into direct line of sight of the pretty blonde, who was trying to be as small and inconspicuous as possible.
"Ooooh, you're cute," he growled as he checked her out, his eyes traveling up and down her body with repulsive, barely contained greed.
Willow felt dirty. She couldn't imagine how the girl felt.
"Come on, baby, show papa what you got," the man leered. His grubby arm made its way around her shoulders and he was trying to sniff her. She was visibly trembling.
"S-s-stop it, please," she begged.
"Stop? I haven't done anything yet. Let me show you ..." he smirked, stood up and fumbled at his pants.
Willow snapped. This was too much, he was violating the girl with ... with ...
"Stop it!" she stood up and faced the man.
He turned slowly around, contempt clearly in his eyes. "What did you say?"
Willow was shaking with fear, but she couldn't allow this animal to continue. How dare he presume to touch perfection? "I-i-i'm telling you to s-s-stop," she tried to sound confident but she knew she was failing miserably.
"Well how about that? You are telling me to stop? Who do you think you are, little girl?" he taunted her, one side of his mouth turned up in a sneer.
"Can't you see you're scaring her?" Willow countered. And me.
"I'll do more than that. Now get out of my way, you punk!" he yelled and grabbed hold of Willow's jacket, trying to lift her off the floor.
Willow had never been in a fight before. Well, mock fights with Xander when they were five years old didn't count. The man was bigger and stronger than her, she tried hitting him but her hands connected to thin air. He was about to push her to the floor, and she knew that once he had her pinned down, she was a goner. In desperation she tried one last effort, and kicked out with as much force as she could.
Her shoes connected with his ankle, and he fell back with a loud grunt. The force propelled Willow to the floor too and she fell face down onto the hard surface.
The man had gotten up and was crawling toward Willow, his mouth spitting obscenities. She knew that was it. She saw her entire life flash by in front of her eyes.
"Not so fast." A pair of strong hands had gotten hold of the man's arm and twisted it around his back.
Willow looked up to see that a transport policeman had found his way to the compartment and had the struggling drunk under control. Another policeman rushed in and they led the man away quickly. Only then did she realized her breath was short and her heart was pounding furiously. There was also a throbbing pain at her nose.
"Are you alright?" a soft lilting voice sounded directly in front of her. She looked up into the blue eyes of the girl who, just a minute ago, was the object of harassment for the drunk. "Your nose is bleeding."
Willow gingerly reached up to her nose and it was tender. "Ow," she yipped, as she tried to contain the bleeding.
"Here, let me," the girl reached in with a piece of tissue and dabbed at Willow's nose. Even in her shocked state Willow couldn't help notice how soft the girl's hands were.
"I'm fine, thank you," she took hold of the by now crumbled and bloodied tissue. She didn't want it to spoil the girl's spotless skin.
"Excuse me, would you mind following me to the station office? I'll need you to file a statement." The policeman had returned and struck out a hand to help Willow get up on her feet. "Both of you. I apologize for the inconvenience, but with an incident report it'll be easier to deal with the guy. Regardless of whether you want to press charges," he added.
They followed him to the office, where the chattering middle-aged ladies were already there, telling the duty officer their version of how they were threatened by the drunk and how they so wanted to stand up to him but of course were no match.
The policeman sat Willow and the girl at an interview table and handed each a form to complete, informing them that he would return in a few minutes with hot drinks.
Her hands were still shaking, but she managed to write down in squiggly letters her personal information. She wasn't sure whether she was supposed to complete the actual report or to leave it to the duty officer.
One of the chattering ladies approached her. "Thank you for your help back there," she said sincerely.
"Oh, it's nothing," Willow stammered.
The lady took out a small notebook. "Could you let me know your address? I'd like to send you something to show my thanks, you were very brave. I wish more young people were like you."
Willow stared blankly at the notebook, unsure of what she was supposed to do. "It's really okay. I couldn't," she replied, embarrassed at the attention.
"Please. It'll make me feel better. Indulge an old lady?" She placed the notebook directly under Willow's pen, and she had such an expectant expression that Willow didn't have the heart to refuse. She quickly scribbled her name and address and returned the notebook to its rightful owner.
"May I have your address too?" Another notebook had found its way in front of her. It was the blonde girl.
"Oh, no." Willow self-consciously shook her head.
"Please," the girl insisted.
Willow looked at the perfect features that had been in her mind and really, how could she resist? She could smell the mixture of the leather of the notebook and a tiny whiff of the girl's perfume and it was making her giddy.
The girl thanked her and the policeman returned at that moment. He took Willow's statement first, then turned to the girl. Willow had no excuse to stay at the office so she made her way back to the train, to continue her journey. She waved to the girl, but she was too engrossed at talking to the officer. Willow was sure that the girl would forget her the next morning anyway.
But she would never forget.