“Did you have a nice day, dear?”
It took Sarah a moment to realize the petite Irishwoman seated next to her on the DART was talking to her.
“Um, yes! I mean, sure. Huh?” She said, kicking her slumbering fiancé Dylan in the shins.
“Ow!” He said. “Shit!”
His crumpled map flew off his lap. The stranger picked it up, smoothed the thin paper, and folded it neatly along the worn creases. She handed it back to Dylan, whose New York City sensibilities snatched it cautiously. The woman either didn’t register or ignored his apprehension. She adjusted her horn-rimmed glasses and continued to smile.
“I’m sorry, what were you saying?” Dylan asked.
“Have you two enjoyed your day so far?”
Sarah and Dylan eyed each other before offering their new traveling companion a smirk and a shrug.
“We got engaged in London!” Sarah blurted out.
“I’d be surprised if you haven’t heard yet,” Dylan said. “She told every cab driver, waitress, and bartender between London and Dublin.”
“There’s an ocean between them, dummy,” Sarah said, sticking her tongue out.
“Oh!” The woman exclaimed, oblivious to their banter. “My word. That’s the best news I’ve heard all week. Magical. Let’s see that ring!”
Sarah presented her left hand like a starlet mugging for the camera on the red carpet. Knuckles and fingers collided as the woman examined the sparkle.
“Marvelous,” she said. “Matches your complexion perfectly. Nicely done, young man. Couldn’t be happier for you two. Love it. Unless he’s a lout, dear, but by the looks of him, I’d say he’s a gentleman.”
“My mother might say otherwise, but I try,” Dylan said. “What’s your name, ma’am?”
“Certainly not ‘ma’am,’” she said. “It’s Madeline. But you don’t have to trouble yourself with that mouthful. Maddy works just fine.”
“Dylan,” he said. “That’s Sarah.”
Maddy delicately shook Sarah’s ring hand, still entranced by the ring’s diamond halo and rose gold band.
“Tell me everything,” Maddy said. “How’d you two meet?”
“Job interview,” Dylan said. “She applied to be my assistant. She ended up on the fast track to ‘wife.’ Go getter.”
“Hush,” Sarah said. “I deflected your advances for a good long while. Took him weeks summon the gumption he needed to ask me out in person. Who sends a direct Twitter message? Really Dylan, it would have been so easy to say no.”
“You intimidated me,” he said.
“I’m real sorry,” Sarah said, motioning to her slender figure. “What was so scary? Was it my pastel summer dresses or the pink cupcakes I made the office on Valentine’s Day that frightened you so?”
“I rest my case,” Dylan said. “Maddy, we haven’t asked about your day. How was it?”
“I’ve been up and at ‘em since 5 a.m.!” She said. “Met up with some friends in the countryside and we hiked some hearty Irish trails. Probably six miles all told! I’m hungry, achy, and exhilarated, but not necessarily in that order.”
Maddy showed off her muddy hiking pants by swinging her short legs, which barely allowed her feet to touch the train’s floor. Her thin face burned fuchsia as she coaxed a last drop of water from her emerald Nalgene bottle.
“Considering how much beer and Guinness stew I’ve had the last couple of days, I may need to hike straight across the country,” Dylan said, patting his thickening midsection. “And I’m not even counting the whiskey!”
“I’m guessing you’re making plenty of friends at the pub,” Maddy said. “Especially considering your lovely, golden-haired fiancée.”
“Bus drivers, rambunctious sons, folk singers, you name it,” Dylan said. “There was a lot of pining wherever we went.”
“Everyone has been so friendly,” Sarah said, dismissing Dylan’s commentary with a wave of her hand. “Refreshing change of pace from back home.”
“Some of us may not have much in Dublin, but we’re usually good for a decent conversation and a pint!” Maddy said. “How’d he propose, dear?”
“We were in St. James Park in London and I decided to walk a few feet away to get a picture with Big Ben in the background—”
“Yeah, first thing she says to me as I walk up to her is, ‘You could have waited by the bench; I was coming right back,’” Dylan interrupted. “Tough cookie.”
“You love it,” Sarah said. “He started getting all poetic, which isn’t out of the ordinary for a writer like him, and I figured he was just caught up in the excitement of his first trip abroad. He said something about the beginning of our next adventure and I realized what was happening. And down on his knee he went!”
Dylan stood and bowed dramatically. Maddy laughed and applauded.
He dropped back into his seat as the train stopped abruptly. The conductor announced the station, which caused Maddy to slap herself on the forehead.
“I’ve overshot home by two stops!” She said. “Talk about getting wrapped up in the drama!”
“Oh man, sorry about that,” Dylan said. “Is it a pain to catch one going the other way?”
“I’ll just grab a taxi at the next stop. Or add a couple more miles to the day’s total. Your folks must be thrilled with all this good news.”
“Well, I’m sure mine would be if we could get them on the phone,” Sarah said. “We’ve only gotten in touch with my grandmother. She was in the bathroom at the casino. She said, ‘I don’t need to worry about losing here because I just won a million dollars.’ That’s going to be a tough quote to top.”
“My folks are thrilled,” Dylan said. “I think they had given up on me finding the right woman some time during George W. Bush’s first term. I know my niece Elizabeth will be excited. She called Sarah a keeper the first time she met her. That was well before Sarah decided that she liked me.”
“I’m sure she knew well before that,” Maddy said. “It was the blue eyes and dark hair, right?”
Sarah blushed and nodded.
“He also has a way with words,” she said. “You’d think because I’m a writer myself that I’d be immune to his charms, but I just melt.”
“That’s because I save my best words for you,” Dylan said.
“Aw,” Sarah said. “You better.”
“That’s as good a note to end on as any,” Maddy said. “I can’t miss another stop!”
The train had slowed to a crawl as it neared the next station. Other travelers shuffled past them and lingered around the nearby vestibule.
“Sorry again,” Dylan said. “And sorry about being weird when you started talking to us. Like Sarah said, we’re more used to people soliciting us for money on the subway.”
“It's quite all right, dear. Go maire sibh bhur saol nua,” Maddy said as she stood. “That means, ‘May you enjoy your new life.’ You two are going to love every minute of it.”
Her eyes welled with tears, allowing Dylan and Sarah to glimpse a deep pain that had previously been masked by the woman’s relentless cheerfulness.
“Thank you,” Sarah said, grabbing Maddy’s hand. “We’re happy we got to share our story with you.”
“Agreed,” Dylan said. “Get some rest once you finally land home.”
“Oh, I’m too revved up to sleep now!” Maddy said, once again slipping behind her optimistic veil. “Hang on to each other forever, loves.”
The train stopped and the conductor bellowed Dun Laoghaire. The doors opened with a satisfying pop! Maddy hesitated for a moment and then blew Dylan and Sarah a kiss. She hopped off the train just as the doors were about to close.
Dylan collected the day’s souvenirs scattered next to him and plopped down in Maddy’s abandoned seat next to Sarah. He gripped his fiancée’s hand as she admired her new treasure for the thousandth time. Sarah elbowed him lovingly after catching his eye roll. He smiled as he closed his eyes and fell asleep.