The laughter among us died down, and I turned to look out the window of the limousine, watching the lit signs of unfamiliar buildings flash by as the driver whisked us from the Sprint Center to the hotel. There was always this moment after a show, when the giddiness ebbed and the creep of exhaustion reared its fun-killing head. But what a show it had been.

My cell buzzed with a message from Ed: Did you know 26% of Icelanders believe in elves?? The trivia battle was back on! Yes. Once when we were both super bored, killing time before some event, we’d started texting each other the most obscure factoids we could think of — even though we were sitting right across from each other. Just like we were know. I gave him a playful kick across the seats where he was chatting with Caitlin, and he pretended like he had no idea why. Oh it’s on, Sheeran. I opened up the little note I’d been keeping of random weird facts just for this occasion, and copy and pasted one into a text. Did YOU know when a snake has “king” in front of its name, like King Cobra, it means that it eats other snakes?! I looked back out the car window, watching Kansas City pass by, playing coy myself. Ed had clearly prepared some material himself, because it was mere seconds later when my phone buzzed again. Did you know a fully laden freight train can take up to a kilometer to stop?

I laughed and looked up at him. “Did you know that we don’t use the metric system in the U. S. of A., Mr. Sheeran?” Caitlin must think we’re bananas, I thought, seeing the confused look on her face at my seemingly apropos-of-nothing comment.

“I win,” Ed replied. “You broke the text-only rules. Which I just invented this second.”

I stuck my tongue out at him. I’d think of something major to retaliate with. That was the fun of touring: all the time in the world to play games and silly pranks on each other. Ed leaned over to show Caitlin our trivia texts, explaining the game to her. I looked back out the window, and became pensive. I did know how long it could take a train to stop.

* * *

I unfolded the letter to read it again, for the hundredth time; its creases were worn, and I smoothed it out on my bed on the tour bus. It feels like I’ll be on this train forever without you, he wrote, and my hands instinctively touched the locket I still wore around my neck, even though I knew better. I should have long ago taken it off and forgotten it in a drawer somewhere. Or left it behind on a tour stop for someone to find. Given it to a fan at the T-Party.

My eyes skipped down the page — just can’t work out between us . . . always love you . . . make me crazy . . . I turned the first page over and tried to read what he’d scratched out — they say you’re too young for me? His letter was all over the place, just like our relationship had been once those initial beautiful, perfect days has past.

My heart felt like it would burst, and a lump in my throat forecast tears in my near future. These feelings I’d grown far too accustomed to, and I knew my tour family worried about me. Some days I was hopeful and myself; some nights I felt despondent and begged off the hijinks and fun to hole up on my bus, claiming I was tired or writing or in desperate need of rewatching season three of Law & Order: SVU.

Tonight I didn’t feel angry or betrayed or let down. I felt sad. Like our love affair had gone from magic to tragic. That what we’d had had been magic but now … the distance and the timing, the hangups and breakups. For the life of me, I could not make it work. He had too many demons. And they all look like me. At that thought, I couldn’t hold back my tears. Time, my mother had told me, time would make me hurt less, but time was taking its sweet time healing my heart and I knew I had to help things along as best I could.

I took off my locket, placed it on the letter, and wrapped the paper around it. I opened up my guitar case, and jammed the packet in the little tear between the lining and the case. Strumming my acoustic, I felt the stirrings of melody around that rhyming tension of magic and tragic.

And you’ve got your demons and darling
they all look like me
we had a beautiful, magic love there
What a sad beautiful, tragic love affair

I sang in almost a whisper. It was haunting and melancholy and exactly how I felt. A far cry from the last song I’d sung on stage tonight. Ending the Speak Now show with “Love Story” had seemed like such a great idea when I was madly in love. Now it was like I’d played a practical joke on myself. I’d written that song to reimagine the tragedy of Romeo and Juliet — give them a happy ending — and now I found myself the star of my own doomed romance. Though, thankfully, one with a zero body count.

I kept strumming my guitar, lyrics popping into my head — the image of a train was so powerful, and so him. Our love had been like a train hurtling down the tracks, and one that was taking forever to stop no matter how badly we wanted off. Actually, I thought, more like we’ve been derailed. Or he’s on it, and I’m waiting on the sidelines, waiting for him. Or all of the above, and that’s why I feel so mixed up and confused.

kiss me, try to fix it
could you just try to listen?
hang up, give up and for the life of us
we can’t get back …

It felt like a dirge for our love, this song. And, hey, maybe it would exorcise a few of my own demons. I kept strumming.

* * *

“Ooh! I wanna play,” said Caitlin, breaking me from my reverie. “I’ve got train trivia from my home state.” She looked positively giddy. “Did you know that there was a law in Washington — an idiotically worded law — that says when two trains come to a crossing, neither shall go until the other has passed?”

Ed looked as if he’d never heard anything sillier, and I grinned in appreciation and leaned over to high-five Caitlin on her excellent trivia debut. Trains, I thought to myself, are just rife with metaphor.

Looking at my pals — so keen to geek out with me — I was grateful to have them, to get to tour the world with such beautiful, absurd, delightful friends, and to meet more along the way. No heartache was holding me back from living every day of this tour to the fullest. Though that letter and locket were still tucked deep in that guitar case — I hadn’t touched them since that night — time had finally done its job and I had long stopped waiting by the tracks.

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