At this time of night, the subway is far from crowded and Noah Mayer perches on one of the metal benches spaced out along the platform. He’s only just missed the previous train and settles to wait the few minutes for the next one. Hunched into his jacket, hands pushed deeply into his pockets, eyes on nothing in particular, he shifts in his seat as the cold seeps through his jeans; the discomfort doesn’t bother him. It’s the end of a really long week and he just wants to get back to his apartment and shut the world outside. He takes no notice of the young woman sat on the other end of the bench, her coat pulled just as tightly around her to keep out the cold air.
Noah’s not sure how long he’s been sitting there when he realises he can hear music. Well, okay, he might be pushing it a bit to describe it with that word, but it’s close enough. It’s getting louder, reverberating around the station walls, the echoes pounding back until it feels like a wave of sound all around him. He can’t distinguish the words and, to be honest, he’s not sure he really wants to. He looks up, vaguely interested to see who doesn’t own an iPod and a pair of ear phones in this day and age. He catches the eye of a dark-haired girl sitting on his bench – he hadn’t even realised she was there, so wrapped up in his own silence – and she grins as she motions to the end of the platform behind him with a small jerk of her head. He turns to look at a middle-aged man clutching tightly to a battered portable stereo, his lips moving, although there’s no way to tell whether he’s actually with the music. The guy’s wearing so many colours that, for a moment, Noah’s stunned brain freezes as he tries to process the sensory overload – sight and sound – before turning back to the girl with wide eyes and a genuinely stunned look on his face. She’s laughing now and seems about to speak, although there’s no way in hell he’d be able to hear her above the noise.
At the same moment, the whole subway begins to rumble, signalling the approaching train. Noah stands and moves hurriedly towards the platform edge, his eagerness at getting home now overshadowed by his need to get away from the…madness…that suddenly seems to be surrounding him. He doesn’t want to be here; doesn’t want to be involved in whatever this is that’s happening here tonight; he just wants to be home and safe.
As the train slides slowly into place, still moving, but barely, Noah catches sight of his reflection in the scratched and grubby windows. As always, there’s a momentary flash of surprise that he knows he should be used to by now - surprise at what he sees. He knows that, on the outside, people see a tall, dark-haired guy; pretty average-looking, although he’s been told he’s ‘hot’, whatever that means. But this outside image just doesn’t match what’s on the inside, the place of his true self. The guy on the inside feels disconnected, like…like he’s out of step with everything and everyone around him; like he’s a jigsaw who’s pieces are all there, but are put together wrong. People see the perfectly put-together edges on the outside but the inner pieces are jumbled and squashed. For a long time, he tried to make them fit; tried to force them into the spaces he knew they were supposed to go - to create the perfect picture - but he just couldn’t do it. So he gave up trying. It’s not like there was anyone to try for either because, let’s face it, if your mother can leave you, a small child, with no backward glance; if your father can spend your whole life telling you what a disappointment you are to him and how you’re never going to amount to anything, then why would anybody else think anything different? What could they possibly see in you that’s been missed by the people who are supposed to love you?
Noah shakes off his melancholy thoughts as the doors slide open and his reflection, thankfully, disappears. He isn’t used to bouts of self-pity, no matter how much his life sucks, and he’s suddenly feeling slightly ashamed of himself. Looking around, cataloguing the whereabouts of the other travellers almost without realising, he lowers himself on to a seat that places him furthest away, sighing softly as his arse thanks him for the relative comfort and warmth. It’s not until the doors begin to close that he realises the rainbow man with the interesting taste in music-sharing also got on the train. Fortunately – or not, depending on your view – it’s not quite so loud now the sound waves aren’t bouncing back and forth off all that subway tiling.
Settling himself for the ten-minute journey - a journey that usually consists of him staring out of the window and ignoring everything else – Noah surreptitiously watches the few people around him, suddenly finding himself interested in what they’re thinking. He’s surprised that nobody seems that bothered by rainbow man, who’s now singing along – quite inharmoniously – to his music.
“You the best I ever had you the best I ever had.”
He has a sudden mental image of a movie he’s seen, where a guy reaches out and squeezes the man’s shoulder in order to get him to turn his music down. What was that movie? Oh, yeah – it was Spock from Star Trek. He grins to himself, imagining having the power to do that, to switch people off. He catches the eye of the girl who was on the platform and feels himself blush as she smiles at him, before going back to her book. He returns to watching the rainbow man, who’s now swaying in his seat, still singing,
“You the best I ever had you the best I ever had.”
Noah doesn’t recognise the song, but suddenly finds the words inside his head. The best I ever had? It’s a nice sentiment, he thinks, although not exactly relevant to him. Has he ever had a best? Of anything? More like the best he’s never had, if he were being truthful. He turns to look out of the darkened window, his eyes suddenly far away. There was a best once – a long, long time ago it seems now, in a place that he tries not to think of too often. He has enough sadness already seeded within himself without nurturing it on purpose. But once…yeah…he felt like he had the best of everything; a best place to live, a best school to go to; all tied up in a best friend; Luke Snyder. Noah knows that everything about those bests were because of Luke. For six wonderful months when he was fifteen, Noah lived the life he should have always had, surrounded by a family that welcomed him with open arms whenever he visited, showing him what had been missing from his own life for so long. And Luke? Luke showed him that love wasn’t about age or gender, but about connection and completeness. For six months, Noah was happy and whole and loved. And then, in the space of three days, his father was packed and shipping them somewhere new, barely giving him time to breathe, all made worse by the fact that Luke and his family were away and he didn’t get the chance to say goodbye. He never recovered, not really, and it spelled the end for any relationship that he might have subsequently formed. Losing Luke, who never replied to the letters he sent, had caused those pieces inside him to fracture and shift.
Noah is jerked back to the present and into blessed silence as he feels the train begin to slow. He turns to look at the rainbow guy, wondering why the music has stopped, but he’s gone already. Noah was so caught up in himself that he missed the first stop. He looks towards the young girl who’s busy putting her book back in her bag and zipping it up. She turns, catching him watching, and she smiles so sweetly at him that he can’t help but smile back. He wishes now that he’d been brave enough to speak to her. She stands, ready to get off the train, but then suddenly turns and grins at him, raising her hand and spreading her fingers as she does so,
“Live long and prosper,” she says softly, and then she steps through the doors. Noah is stunned…what the hell…and is on his feet before he even realises what he’s doing. The doors slide shut as he reaches them, but he sees her turn and, without thought, he raises his own hand and places it on the glass, mimicking her gesture. They both smile and stay there as the train pulls away.
Slowly sitting back in his seat, Noah is hit by a sudden thought. The Voyage Home - that was the name of the movie. He stares out into the blackness beyond the windows, unseeing, as he feels something beginning to unfurl within him, something that he can’t really name but it’s definitely there. Maybe it’s about time he made his own journey home. Maybe it’s about time he took a chance and stopped being scared all the time, because…hell…he was so tired of running from himself; so tired of trying to deny what he really wants, no, needs. He needs there to be bests in his life, or at least for there to be the chance of bests.
Noah’s eyes focus and he really looks at himself for the first time in a very long time – maybe even since he was fifteen. Does he look different? He thinks so, although he couldn’t explain how. Maybe it’s in the eyes. Did they ever look that bright? He stands as the train begins to slow and moves towards the doors, pulling his zip up in anticipation of the cold night air. Maybe it’s about time he bought that computer he’s been thinking about. Luke’s out there somewhere.