It’s eight minutes past five on a Friday afternoon when Adam finally enters the Costa Coffee, adjacent platform five, at Newcastle Central train station. He manoeuvres through the door to a backdrop of warm, equinox sunlight, channelled down ceilinged platforms as it falls below the horizon, and gives a quick smile of acknowledgement before queueing to order his drink. A little over five minutes later he’s sat down and hurriedly removing his hooded jersey.
“I’m so sorry I’m late,” he offers, with no qualifying explanation, any guilt quickly hidden by his top as he pulls it over his head. When his outdoor clothing is completely removed Adam relaxes, and gives a broad smile that immediately turns the conversation from an interrogation over his tardiness to what it was supposed to be: a meeting of friends.
“That’s ok. Why were you late?”
“Oh, nothing really, you know how I can be. I was just working and lost track, I got here as quickly as I could when I realised the time.” He ran his fingers over the indents of the Costa logo on his cup, then the handle and finally traced a finger around the rim. Seemingly bored already of answering questions, he offered his own, “So then, Emily, how are you? I feel as if it’s been forever since I’ve seen you!”
“I know! Well, it hasn’t been so long actually, but I suppose last time we met it was brief. We haven’t had a chance to spend any real time together in a while.”
Adam continued to smile and nodded, then looked down to tear a corner from a brown sugar sachet. He spoke as he poured, “well, no-one could blame you. You’ve just come back from Belgium right, on an EU internship? If I was there I’d have had little time for social networking.”
“Yea! It’s been brilliant, well, mostly. I’ve already had a taste of the kind of bureaucracy I can expect later and it’s going to be so annoying. There’s also so many acronyms, it’s like learning another language!”
Adam looked up long enough to laugh, then stirred his drink. “In addition to French, and German night classes? They’re certainly getting their money’s worth with you.” He returned the wooden stirrer to the table, then continued, “Remember when we took that road trip to Cornwall, and we’d spoke the whole way about how much we were looking forward to sausage sandwiches,” he took a few sips, “but when we arrived we realised we didn’t have any fuel for the stoves? So we had to eat bread and butter and cold tinned beans.”
“I know! Such a depressing start to our little adventure. In fact, I have something you’ll enjoy.” He looked at the photo Emily had presented on her phone and smiled. “You’re even wearing the same top now.”
“I know, it’s uncanny, like a reverse Dorian Gray. In the picture I looked sharp and tanned whereas here I’ve become more tatty.” He suddenly moved farther back in his chair and tensed then relaxed his shoulder blades, as if relieving a cramp, then moved forward again, resting his elbows on his knees.”Remember Steve, and those gloves he wore the entire journey?” Adam spoke to the right of Emily and used his hands to mimic Steve’s outlines, as if addressing his spectre standing over her shoulder, only glancing at her to confirm her attention was still with him, “I wonder if he still has those. It’s funny to think he does.” Adam smiled briefly and tried to hold eye contact, but this time it didn’t last. His gaze drifted from one feature of the room’s architecture to the next, and before long he settled on the floor. He gently squeezed the tip of one index finger.
“How have you been up here?”
“Ah, it’s been OK. What can I say really? I don’t know what to say.”
“Things will get better for you.”
Adam didn’t look up to see her leave to catch her train. It took fifteen minutes before he threw the last cold mouthful of coffee down his throat, donned his jersey, and walked into the Newcastle evening.