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the 5:16

the 5:16

The prologue for Once Upon a Subway, a contemporary romance novel, available on September 5, 2022.

 

Harper didn’t even bother to pick up the folders she knocked off her desk. She stabbed her headphone cord into her phone’s port a dozen times before she finally connected.

Annoyed, she threw her Louis Vuitton purse over her shoulder and looked both ways before emerging from her cubicle.

The coast was clear.

headed towards the office’s exit.

Fifteen minutes.

Thirty-two floors.

Ten blocks.

No problem.

“I’m going to make the train,” she told herself.

Harper hurried through the rows of people in gray boxes, avoiding any eye contact with her colleagues. She stared at her phone, pretending to be deep into something important.

If she missed the 5:16, the next one came at 5:55. The train back to New Jersey had the worst schedule, turning every day into a race to catch the 5:16 for Harper.

“Heading home for the weekend, Harper?” a male voice asked.

There was always one.

This one was Jacob from the sales department. He was a sweet boy, but too nice. And a boy that looked like a man. He asked annoyingly deep questions that he had no business asking a colleague. He also refused to let any conversation die. Harper and Jacob had nothing in common, but he sucked up to her, anyway.

“The cost of beauty,” Harper thought.

He approached from the left side, but Harper blazed past him.

“Any plans this weekend?” Jacob called to Harper’s back.

She focused harder on her phone. She could feel him trailing behind her now, just out of obvious ear shot. If he got any closer, she wouldn’t be able to justify ignoring him.

She also couldn’t afford a fifteen-minute conversation with a lost puppy when she needed the weekend.

And the 5:16.

Jacob gained on her.

Harper picked up her pace.

But so did Jacob.

She couldn’t outrun him.

“Omg. Really? I’m on my way home now,” Harper said into her headphones, pretending to be on a call.

Harper stopped, turned around, and faced Jacob. He was closer than she realized, which startled her for a second. Harper mouthed to him, “I’m sorry. Let’s talk later.”

Harper finally escaped through the office’s front doors.

“Another Oscar-winning performance,” Harper thought.

She tapped the elevator button and waited. After a few seconds, Harper started hitting the elevator call button repeatedly.

“The elevator takes fucking forever,” she whispered.

She put a hand over her mouth after realizing she said fuck aloud.

It wasn’t lady like.

She knew that, but patience was a quality she never mastered.

Or ever would.

DING.

The doors slid open.

She stepped in and hit L, followed by repeated smashes to the “Close Doors” button.

The elevator ride seemed to take longer than usual.

When she finally reached the lobby, she could feel all the men staring at her, which wasn’t uncommon for Harper.

Despite her rush, she still enjoyed the attention.

One man in a bad fitting suit tried to stop Harper in her tracks by trying to position himself in front of her. Harper kept her eyes glued to her phone as she swerved to the right of the young man. Other men stared as she glided through the building’s lobby.

One entitled yuppie yelled “Hey” and then “Where’s the fire?”

Harper kept walking, ignoring the boys who catcalled her.

“Ben, stop staring,” a woman said to her distracted man.

Harper smiled and exited the building onto the city streets.

The frigid air and swirling wind caused Harper to shrink a bit. Her outfit wasn’t exactly practical for the below freezing temperature, but Harper never let anything get in the way of a perfectly planned outfit. 

Harper focused on each quick footstep, while constantly glancing down at her Michael Kors watch as she made her way through the human traffic jam that filled the streets.

“I’m going to make it,” she thought.

She picked up her pace.

Harper refused to run.

She’d rather miss the train than be caught running in public.

It wasn’t the knee-high boots that were preventing her from running, either.

Harper believed that ladies didn’t run unless they were in the gym or playing sports.

“This is going to be a lot easier once I live in the city,” Harper thought as she cleared another block. 

In two weeks, she would no longer have to commute from New Jersey to Philadelphia. She and Rich were closing on their first house. Just in time for their five-year anniversary. She expected a ring next. 

Harper power walked down the subway stairs and scanned her ticket to gain access to the subway stations.

The train’s whistles and bells rang.

“I’m going to make this train.”

It wasn’t quite a run, but it certainly wasn’t a walk as Harper made her way to the platform and squeezed through the train doors as they slid shut.

She sighed in relief.

Her gigantic purse hit other passengers as she found her way to a seat in the first row of the car. She plopped down and got as comfortable as someone could get on a crammed train with a metal bench ramming into her back.

She rubbed her hands together, realizing how cold she was now that the adrenaline had subsided. Harper hated winter. She investigated the window in front of her and noticed her hair was a travesty. As she attempted to salvage it, she noticed a familiar face behind her in the reflection.

“My mind is just playing tricks on me,” Harper thought.

She looked harder into the reflection, thinking it was some sort of illusion.

“I’ll turn around and it’ll be just a random guy. No way it’s Derek,” she assured herself. 

Harper turned around to face the stranger who she mistook for her ex-lover. His eyes were deep blue and a five o’clock shadow grazed his face. He was casually resting on a pole with a confident smirk on his face.

When her eyes caught his, Derek’s smirk turned into his trademark smile. It wasn’t a beautiful smile, or even perfect. It was a smug smile that you either fell in love with or hated.

For Harper, it was always both.

“Oh my God.”

Harper wasn’t sure if she mouthed the words or if they came out of her mouth. Her jaw dropped to the floor.

“It couldn’t be,” Harper thought. “What should I do?”

There he was.

She smiled awkwardly before Harper slowly turned back around to face the front of the train.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying to gain her composure.

“I’m embarrassing myself,” she thought. “Out of all the trains, Derek had to be on this one.

Her legs rattled. Her heart pounded against her chest. She attempted to fix her hair. Again. She adjusted her shirt and pushed her bra up. She used her hands to smooth out her outfit.

God forbid there was a wrinkle.

“Just go and say hi, Harper thought. “You’re being awkward.”

She rose from her seat and made her way towards Derek. His smirk grew wider and more confident the closer she got. It had been five years since she saw him. And here he was, calm and smiling.

Like always.

“Such a cocky asshole,” she muttered under her breath.

After several long seconds, she finally made it to Derek. Before she could muster a word, he spoke.

“You look wonderful, Harper.”

Harper’s face grew warm. She batted her eyes and looked away from the man she left five years ago.

Even after all this time, she was still in love with him.

 

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