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Authors: Christine Riccio

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14. Sail?

I’m up at 7:00 a.m., washing my face and doing my makeup in the bathroom. I pull on dark blue jeans and a black turtleneck, because it’s freezing outside, and leave my hair down. Back in the room, one of the strangers is gone, but the other is still asleep. He looks oldish, in his forties or something, and he’s wearing a sleep-apnea mask.

I’m sitting on my bed playing Angry Birds,
dressed and ready to go, when Pilot stirs awake a little before 8:00 a.m.

“Morning,” he says, sitting up.

I drop the iPod in my lap. “Morning.”

“What’s that?” He yawns, nodding at it. His eyes narrow. “Are you Angry Birding without me?”

“Um.” I smile guiltily.

He laughs, bringing his legs over the side of the bed and pulling on jeans. “How dare you?”

Pilot grabs his bag from our gym locker.
He eyes me with surprise. “Are you already ready?”

“So, guys, I signed us all up for Paris Pass,” Babe explains as we walk toward the Metro. “It’s this all-inclusive thing that gives us unlimited access to the Metro for the next two days and includes tickets to the Louvre and
Versailles. We have to go pick it up first, but maybe then we head to Versailles and do the Louvre and everything else

“Saturday night, we hitting the club scene for my birthday, yo! It’s gonna be sick,” Chad adds.

“Sounds good,” Pilot says. “I took a look at the map. Our hostel is kind of far from everything, but we’ll make it work.”

It takes us an hour to get to the convenience store and pick up the Paris Passes. Pilot wasn’t exaggerating when he said we were far from everything. But once we get
there, it only takes Babe a minute to run in and emerge with our tickets. She hands us each a pass.

“So, how do we get to the palace now?” I ask with a hop.

“Now, we catch the RER,” she answers cheerily.

“The what?” Chad interjects as Babe leads us away.

“What is this, RER?” Pilot questions in a ridiculous French accent.

“It’s a bigger train that goes to farther places,” Babe explains as
we trot behind her down the street.

“So we’re taking the Rerr
” I say goofily.

Babe laughs. “The R-E-R,” she repeats.

“The Rerr,” I repeat back.

“We’re hitting up the Rerr,” Pilot backs me up.

“I’m so pumped for the Rerrr, you guys,” Chad pipes in. I laugh, and Babe starts chuckling along.

“Okay, the Rerrr,” she concedes loudly.

Babe leads us to another underground platform much like the
Metro, except cleaner. We stand in a little circle, waiting for the train. There’s a distant rumble as it approaches, and with a rush of wind, the RER pulls into the station. It’s a double-decker, and we’re all thoroughly impressed by it. The seats are arranged in groups of four, a set of two across from a second set of two. Pilot takes the seat next to me, and Babe and Chad sit across from us.

“How long is the ride?” I ask Babe.

“I think around thirty minutes,” she answers. Chad leans his head against the window and closes his eyes. Babe pulls a brochure for Versailles from her bag and starts to read. I watch them for a moment before Pilot turns to me.

“Angry Birds?” he says with quiet excitement. I smile and dig my hand into my purse.

Versailles doesn’t look real. A massive stretch
of gravel spans before us. Is this a driveway? Maybe for a family of giants with twenty cars. It leads to an endless sprawl of gold building.

When we get inside, a tour guide escorts us up to the second floor. On the way up the stairs, I catch sight of the backyard (if you can call it that) through the windows.

“Holy crap, do we get to go out there?” I look to Babe anxiously.

“Yes, don’t worry!”
She giggles.

Pilot’s mouth quirks up his right cheek. “I’m excited about this.”

We come to a stop in an overwhelmingly lavish foyer area that leads into the legendary Hall of Mirrors that everyone talks about. After snapping a few pictures (Babe snaps one of Pilot and me, and Pilot takes the camera to get one of Babe and me while Chad hangs to the side), we stroll on in.

It looks like a ballroom.
Gorgeous chandeliers drip from the ceilings. Tall golden candelabra line the edges of the room, and mirrors decorate the walls. Are they mirrors? They’re more like old, decorative reflective glass.

“Wait, this is the Hall of Mirrors?” I ask hesitantly as we make our way across it. “Where are all the mirrors?”

“Right there!” Babe points to the decorative glass panels along the wall.

“But those
aren’t mirror mirrors, those are like glass … that reflects you,” I fumble. That didn’t come out right. Pilot starts laughing.

“Glass that reflects you? Like a mirror?” Chad asks sarcastically.

“But there are no real mirrors!” I protest.

“Is this the real Hall of Mirrors? Are we in the faux Hall of Mirrors?” Pilot exclaims, pretending to be outraged.

“This is it!” Babe cackles.

“I was expecting,
like, a fun-house maze of mirrors…” I explain, full-on laughing now. I guess I heard about this when I was really young, and that’s the image I conjured in my brain. Pilot appears on my right, grinning broadly.

“No, I was expecting a fun house too,” he says quietly.

“Right?” I exclaim.

“I mean, when you think Hall of Mirrors you think
hall full of mirrors
—mirror maze.”

I snort. “They should
add a mirror maze for, like, Halloween.”

Pilot’s expression goes blank. “I’d be so down for that.”

“Maybe they have a suggestion box,” I add. His head kicks back with a laugh. I bite down a pleased smile.

Babe veers off toward the blurry, foggy-ish mirrors, and the three of us beeline after her. Once we’re all in front of a mirror, Babe frames up a mirror pic. In the Hall of Mirrors. I stick
my hand up and do a queen’s wave.

“It’s like the Mirror of Erised!” I grin.

Babe laughs. “I’m not seeing what I desire.”

Room by room, we wind through the palace. We see Marie Antoinette’s bedroom, and where King Louis the somethingth slept. We see a painting that literally takes up a ballroom-sized wall! I’ve always thought of palaces like castles, I guess. Stone and cold, ancient-looking—nothing
like the ridiculous grandeur we tour through.

Then comes the backyard. I know backyard isn’t the right word—it’s more like an endless expanse of park, complete with a lake, fountains, hedges, and statues. It looks like photo-shoot heaven. Park heaven. It’s like an ocean in park form; you can’t see an end, there’s
no edge
! It just keeps going.

I don’t know how long we’re out there making our
way through the jumbo-sized courtyard and taking pictures with the different landscapes. We meander farther and farther in until we reach a caf
where we stop for lunch. I could frolic around this place forever.

“So are you, like, into photography?” Pilot asks as we make our way back to the RER.

I turn to look him in the eye. “Yeah, it’s one of my things.” I smile.

“Really? You’ve never said
anything about liking photography.”

“Well, it hasn’t really come up, and it’s more of a hobby.”

“You do take great pictures; my mom loved all the ones from Rome.”

I chuckle. “Glad to hear I have your mom’s approval.”

“You need one of those nice pretentious cameras.”

“I’d love one of those pretentious cameras. One day!” I smile up at the sky longingly and then drop my eyes back to Pilot. “Are
you not into photography?”

“I mean, I appreciate a good picture. I respect that.” A grin tugs at his lips.

“You’re a good co-photographer.”


“Yeah.” I turn my oversized grin away from his face. I need a second without eye contact to gather myself. “I mean, usually I end up having to give people lessons about how a picture should be framed.” I turn back to gauge his reaction.

He gives me a funny look.

“Like, they don’t ask for the lessons. I kind of obnoxiously teach them after they take a picture for me and it’s framed poorly—like, I give them a mini-lecture and make them do it again.”

Pilot laughs in disbelief. “What?”

“Yeaahhhh.” I look at the ground. “You didn’t get a lecture, though, and you’ve taken quite a few pictures for me.”

When I meet his eyes again,
he brings a hand to his heart. “Wow, I’m so honored to have passed this secret photography test.”

I look away, trying to get my expression under control. “Mentally pushing you over again.”

He shrugs. “Sorry, mentally dodged you. Didn’t get me.”

A wave of giddiness roils through me, and I’m so distracted that I trip walking up the train stairs.

“I’m so pumped for tomorrow, y’all. I’m turning
twenty-one. Shit’s gonna be amazing.” Chad’s voice snaps me back. I got lost in a Pilot-related thought spiral while eating my quiche. We’ve stopped in a French restaurant for dinner. Chad raises his drink off the table, and we all clink our glasses.

“It’s gonna be great,” Babe confirms. “I asked the girl at the front desk about the best area to go to.”

“I’m pumped to go to the top of the Eiffel
tomorrow,” Pilot adds.

Chad nods his head past us at something. “Check her out, man,” he says in his bro voice.

I turn around to see a petite dark-haired girl walking over to the bar to get a drink. I’m about to turn back and serve Chad a dirty look when I notice the bartender. A woman with a shock of red hair piled up on top of her head moves toward the girl to get her order. It looks like
plane/Starbucks lady? Why the heck would she be—? The woman looks up, makes eye contact with me, and winks.

“What the fudge?” I bellow, abruptly standing from my seat.

“Shane…” Babe mutters, embarrassed. I turn to face her. She thinks I’m about to yell at Chad. I glance at Pilot.

“You okay?” he asks.

“Yeah.” I look back at Babe, who’s silently urging me to sit. I raise my eyebrows. “No, I,
it’s not that. I know the lady at—” I look back at the bar. She’s gone. There’s a guy there in her place, talking to the dark-haired girl. I blink, shaking my head.
What the hell?

“I— Never mind.” I settle back into my seat.
Why am I hallucinating a middle-aged British woman

Back at the hostel, we split off to our separate rooms. Pilot brushes his teeth and gets into bed. I take a ridiculously
short shower and snuggle into the single bed next to Pilot’s around midnight. He’s asleep facing the door again.

“Night,” he mumbles as I settle in.

I yank the covers up to my chin. “I always think you’re asleep, and you scare the crap out of me,” I mutter.

He turns toward me, wearing a mischievous smirk. “Muahahahaha!”

We’re only a little more than a foot apart. I grab my pillow out from
under my head and whack him in the face. He snorts.

I pull it back under my head with a smile. “Night.”

15. Fail

I’ve always been under the impression that the Louvre was a museum under that iconic glass pyramid. We’re now standing in front of said pyramid, but it’s surrounded by what looks like another palace.

“Is all of that the Louvre?” I ask, stunned.

“Yeah, of course!” Babe answers.

“Holy crap.”

I’ve been dreaming about visiting this museum since I first learned about it in sixth grade,
when we were all forced to take Intro to French and Spanish. And then of course
The Da Vinci Code
only added fuel to that fire.

I’m particularly hyped when we come upon the
Winged Victory
statue—the famous, armless angel missing a head. It’s from, like, 200 BC. I did a report on it in that sixth grade French class. I skip up to it. I’m only there alone for a moment before Pilot appears at my

“You want a picture with it?” he asks knowingly.

“Yes, please!” I hand him my camera.

As I step out in front of the sculpture to pose, we make eye contact—he smiles and my brain malfunctions. I raise and lower my arms like they’ve just sprouted from my torso.
Oh god, not this again. Hand on hip? Both hands on hips? Arms out in glee? One hand up? Pop a foot? Jazz hands? Stand sideways?
I snap my arms down and smile with them straight at my sides like a soldier. And then it’s over, and I’m offering to take one of him, des
perate to get back behind the camera as soon as humanly possible. He stuffs his hands in his pockets doing his cool-guy stance. Chill as ever.

I check the camera to see what pose he got. Jazz hands and Soldier. Cool.

We spent forty-five minutes walking
from the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower. Now it looms over us, dark and daunting. While the four of us are gazing up in awe, a man wearing a winter hat and puffy jacket walks up to us with a giant metal ring threaded with oodles of tiny Eiffel Tower replicas.

“Five, one Euro?” he asks anxiously. We just stare for a moment. “Five for one Euro?” he repeats.

“No, thanks,” Babe answers. The man hurries
away to a new group of tourists.

“Ready to scale this thing?” Pilot beams.

“Let’s do it!” I cheer. After climbing the Vatican, I want to climb all the things.

“Yo, heights freak me out, but I guess I’m down to climb, ’cause how often am I in freaking Paris,” Chad comments.

Babe looks from Chad (who’s paler than usual) to Pilot to me. “I don’t think I really want to—Chad, I thought you’d want
to take the elevator. I’d really rather take the elevator,” Babe says, turning to him.

, Babe, let’s do the steps. When do you get to climb the Eiffel Tower?” he whines.

Babe frowns and stares upward for a moment before her gaze drops to me. I nod at her encouragingly. She heaves a giant sigh and mildly rolls her eyes.


“Yay! To the stairs!” I exclaim.

Minutes later, we’re
at the base of another never-ending staircase. I hurl myself upward, taking the steps two at a time, leading the way, Pilot climbing at my heels. Three hundred and twenty-eight steps later, we make it to the first tier of the tower. We spend a few minutes snapping pictures, leaning against the wire fencing, and admiring the view.

Babe heaves a sigh. “Okay, guys, I’m going to take the elevator
the rest of the way.” She looks at Chad expectantly.

“Okay,” he answers, oblivious to her obvious hinting that she wants him to come with her.

“Chad, can you come with me, please?” Babe asks pointedly.

“Oh, um.” He sighs. “Yeah, sure.”

“Thanks.” Babe looks at us. “We’ll meet you guys at the bottom!” They walk off into an indoor area.

I look over at Pilot and raise my eyebrows.

“And then
there were two.” He smiles at me again.

“Ready to head for the top?” I squeak.

“Am I ready? Please, Shane.” He smirks, striding toward the next set of stairs.

A sign lets us know we have 341 steps till the next tier. We climb in silence for a few minutes, our feet against the metal providing the soundtrack to our ascent.

“So, I’ve been pondering that back-in-time question,” Pilot says out
of nowhere.

I grin in surprise. “Oh yeah? And?”

“And I like your Constitution idea. I think I’ll hit that one up with you and sit in on that meeting.”

“Oh cool, I’ll have a buddy to back up my I’m-a-man charade. You can jump in and be like, ‘No, I grew up in his town, he’s legit. Listen to all his genius, forward-thinking ideas,’ when they accuse me of female-ery!”

Pilot smiles at the ground,
and we continue up. “Have you cemented a second choice?” he asks.

“Uh.” I look anywhere but his face because I’m blushing. “Yeah, I think I’ll hit up that Beatles concert with you.”

He looses a breathy laugh. “Damn, when we find this time machine, it’s on.” I laugh too, releasing some of my pent-up giddiness.

The wind whips at my cheeks, throwing my hair around as we step up onto the second
tier. Pilot and I find a spot and lean against the protective grating that encases the area. In New York City, I’ve looked out from the windows of tall buildings at an endless sea of gray skyscrapers. Rome was a chaotic explosion of reds and burgundies. Paris … Paris looks like a
painting. A work of art that was carefully laid out and organized to look beautiful from every angle.

“This … is so
cool.” The words fall softly from Pilot’s mouth. The wind is loud; I only hear him because we’re standing shoulder to shoulder. Chills run over my arms. Pilot pivots around, and I bounce nervously on my heels as he stops the first person who walks by. “Hey, could you take a picture of us?”

He wants a picture of us? A white-haired woman takes the camera from my outstretched hand, and we pose,
smiling next to each other, his arm at my back, against the edge of the Eiffel Tower.

As the woman returns the camera, Pilot turns to me, excited again. “To the top?”

“To the top!” I cheer, new energy zipping through me. Who knows what will happen when we reach the top—it’s just the two of us and I don’t know. I feel good about getting to the top
. It feels like things are … possible.

We circle the tier, eager for the next set of steps, but end up back where we started.

My smile wilts. “Is there no other staircase?”

“What the heck?” Pilot’s expression falls.

We venture inside to ask someone. It turns out you can only take the elevator to the very top, and today even that route is closed due to high winds. As if to prove a point, an aggressive spool of freezing air rams into
us as we exit back out through the doors. My mental list of romantic reaching-the-top-of-the-Eiffel-Tower-together fantasies spins away on the breeze.

Disappointment looms over us as we wind around and around, back to earth.
Is he feeling what I’m feeling? Or is this just normal I-didn’t-get-to-scale-the-Eiffel-Tower level disappointment?

When our feet hit solid ground, Babe and Chad are there
waiting. The four of us cross a bridge and head along the bank of the Seine, moving toward an area populated with shops and restaurants. We’re still strolling alongside the river when Babe stops short to pivot around and look back at the Tower in the distance. The sun’s going down and the Eiffel’s golden lights have switched on.

“Wait!” she shouts. We stop and look at her. “What time is it?”
she asks, her hazel eyes alight.

Chad looks at his watch. “5:45.”

“We have a good view here!” she says.

“A view for what?” I ask. My stomach growls restlessly as I glance at the Eiffel Tower. Now that we’ve stopped, the cold air cuts right through my boots. I scrunch my toes up against it.

“Something cool is going to happen to the Eiffel Tower at six o’clock,” Babe answers, leaning against
the barrier that lines the river’s edge. “You want to see this,” she says confidently.

“What’s going to happen to the Eiffel?” I shoot, rubbing my hands together for warmth. I pull my puffy winter hood up over my head against the wind.

“How cool?” Pilot asks skeptically, narrowing his eyes. He’s got his sweatshirt hood up and his jacket hood up over that.

“Pretty cool. I think we should wait—if
you guys are okay with that,” Babe answers.

“It’s frickin’ freezing,” Chad says, leaning against the wall now, hugging himself, dark peacoat buttoned all the way up. “I hope this is good, Babe.”

“Okay, I guess we’ve got fifteen minutes,” I say wearily.

Five minutes pass. We’re all antsy, but we’ve begrudgingly stayed put.

Babe paces back and forth. “I hope it works now that I’m making everyone
wait.” She laughs nervously.

“I can’t feel my hands,” Chad announces.

“The Eiffel Tower’s preppin’ for takeoff,” Pilot announces.

“If the Eiffel doesn’t go off, it’s going to be really upsetting.” I laugh.

Six minutes left. I can’t feel my fingers, and I’m wearing gloves.

We’ve all staked out spots against the barrier now, staring eagerly. The sun just disappeared behind the horizon. The
Eiffel glows with the remnants of its orangey-gold light.

“Are you sure it doesn’t just light up like this?” Pilot asks. I snort.

“No, that’s not it.” Babe chuckles.

“Come on, Eiffel Tower. Let’s go,” Pilot demands. We all cackle. He
turns to smile at me, and I feel a little less cold. “Gosh, the Eiffel Tower is just letting us down,” he continues.

“Two minutes!” I announce. “I can’t feel
my feet, Eiffel Tower. I hope you’re happy.”

“Come on, Eiffel Tower,” Pilot repeats.

“One minute! I’ve got T minus one minute,” Chad adds.

“You sure about this?” Pilot asks Babe again. She smiles and shakes her head.

“Babe’s definitely wrong, and we’re definitely throwing her in the river,” Chad answers jokingly.

And then, it happens. Glitter explodes all over the famous structure. Lights
sparkle up and down its iron legs. It looks like Tinker Bell threw up all over it, and it’s having a sparkly seizure. We erupt into whoops and cheers.

“Ohh snap,” Chad calls out.

“OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD, OHMYGOD,” Pilot yells with mock fangirl-esque excitement, and I can’t stop laughing for a good twenty seconds as we dance around in the freezing air, admiring it.

We indulge in a dinner full of
red wine, ham, and cheese at a French restaurant before taking a taxi to the area recommended to us by the girl at the hostel check-in desk—Bastille.

The taxi releases us at the mouth of a street full of lights, buzzing with activity. Because it’s his birthday, we let Chad lead the way. He stops outside a building where music floods the street each time the door opens, and looks back at us with
an overexcited smile before heading in. We follow, a few steps behind. Through the door is a coat check booth at the foot of a twisting staircase. The music is coming from the second floor, so we check our jackets and head on up.

A live band is playing. The band’s at the far end of a large, open room full of people bopping around to the music. Here, on the opposite end of the room, is the bar.
We grab drinks before zigzagging through the crowd to find an opening where we can watch and nod along. When the indie rock
song they’re playing ends, they start a song I definitely recognize. I find myself bobbing around more purposefully.

I took her out. It was a Friday night. I wore cologne. To get the feeling right.

Babe and Chad are dancing too. Pilot’s smiling and singing at me on my left.
I join him, throwing my arms about as the chorus comes in.

And that’s about the time she walked away from me,”
we scream at the top of our lungs, laughing and throwing ourselves around. “
Nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three

We bounce and laugh our way through the weird mix of oldies the band continues to play—mostly classic rock and punk rock from the early 2000s. When “Eye of the Tiger”
comes to a close, Pilot asks if I want to get another drink. Another familiar tune starts up as we head to the bar.

Pilot orders a beer. He turns to look at me as the bartender fills his order. I hold eye contact, the lyrics to the latest song automatically flowing out of me, my head whipping side to side with the beat. “
This is the ANTHEM, throw all your hands up!”

He laughs.

When the bartender
returns with his drink, I lean up against the bar. “Um, water, please,” I request before turning back to Pilot’s eyes. Music pulses around us so I lean in as close as I dare (not very close; there’s still at least a foot of space between us). “Do you not like to dance?” I talk-yell with a smile.

“I’m not really a dancer,” he says as my water is placed in front of me.

“But anyone can dance. We’re
all dancers!”

He grins and rolls his eyes.

We stroll back to approximately where we were standing earlier, but we’ve lost sight of Babe and Chad. The band has started playing the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice.” We sway back and forth, casually singing along. We’re not close enough that we’re touching, but now that Babe and Chad have moved, it feels like it’s just us here, out alone together.

Fifteen minutes later, we head back to the bar. I order another water. “
When we live such fragile lives, it’s the best way we survive. I go around a time or two, just to waste my time with you,
” belts the lead.

“This band is like my iPod on shuffle,” I comment, lazily leaning up
against the bar and gazing out at the singer. “Except without the Beatles. Where are the Beatles? And also Lady Gaga.”

Pilot snorts. “Don’t forget Taylor.”

“Oh my god, it would be amazing if they played some T-swizzle rock style.” I sigh. “You should play at bars like this, with your music,” I suggest cheerily.

He grins at the floor. “That would be cool.”

We head back out. Twenty minutes later, we’re at the bar again. Pilot orders another beer. He watches me as we wait for his drink.

“It’s been a really great
day,” he says, “a really great day, I’ve had a lot of fun—” He’s smiling with teeth, like an adorable goof. Heat spreads across my chest. We have an eye contact moment before he continues. “… with Chad, of course. What would Paris be without Chad to see it with?” he finishes. I convulse in laughter.

BOOK: Again, but Better
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