Read Again, but Better Online

Authors: Christine Riccio

Again, but Better (12 page)

BOOK: Again, but Better

“He had his hand in it and he was pulling me back down, and I lunged away and his hand fell away ’cause he was going down the
stairs. And I—it’s okay, he didn’t get anything,” I babble softly.

“Oh Mylanta,” Babe whispers. “We have to get a cab. Let’s get back. Come on.” She shoots me a sympathetic look, turning toward a cab stand in the distance. Chad follows, and I fall into step robotically. I focus on trying to quell the panic circuiting through my veins. Pilot’s hand is on my back again.

16. A Million Little Shining Stars

I sit in the middle of the taxi bench. Pilot’s on my left, Babe is on my right, and Chad’s in the front seat. I want to lean into Pilot’s shoulder. I don’t have much shoulder-leaning experience, but I think I could handle it. I don’t do it.

In the silence, my brain replays the night on a loop, my stomach going up and down, like on one of those milder roller
coasters with lots of little unexpected drops. I focus on the good parts. Something is happening with Pilot. It makes my heart balloon up in my chest.

After an eternity, we spill out onto the gray concrete outside the hostel.

Babe and Chad get out at their floor, and as the elevator doors close behind them, I blow out a breath. Babe and Chad’s anger made for a quiet, tense cab ride. I want to
lighten the mood again. Pilot’s leaning against the railing along the back wall of the lift, staring at the doors.

“Finally,” I say, breaking the extended silence. He turns to me expectantly, and I freeze up.

Finally what?
Jesus Christ. I curve my lips up into a small smile. Smiling is always good. He smiles back, but doesn’t say anything, and then abruptly stuffs his hands in his pockets
and looks at the floor.

The elevator dings. Nerves snap around inside me as we walk toward the room. I feel like one of those crackling orbs of electricity you see at sci
ence museums. When we reach the door, I dig around in my purse for the key. Another eternity passes before I yank it out and plug it into the lock.

“Shane,” he says.

I turn around. He was right behind me, right in front of
me now. He’s leaning toward me again, and the world slows. I still don’t know what to do. Where will my arms go! I’m having a hot flash. My hand grapples at the key behind me. I rip it out of the lock and drop it to the floor, jumping slightly as it clashes against the white tile. Pilot jerks his head back. I whip around, swoop to collect the key, plug it back into the lock, twist the door open, drop
my purse, collect my suitcase, and speed to the bathroom to get ready for bed.

When I emerge fifteen minutes later, Pilot’s seemingly passed out on his single. I slip quietly into my bed. My heart’s in overdrive. I can’t get it to calm down. I snuggle up in the covers and pull my legs into the fetal position. Almost immediately, tears spring into my eyes.

Why am I crying? No crying! I twist
onto my back, letting the saltwater slide down my cheeks. I gasp in a shallow breath, staring at the ceiling. Seriously, what’s wrong with me? I flash to Pilot at the club, Chad’s face on mine, Babe’s glare, the man’s face on the steps of the Metro, Pilot again outside the door. My study abroad goal list would be ashamed. I wasn’t brave tonight; I was pathetic. And I almost lost my purse.
I suck more oxygen. Close my eyes.
Stop. Crying.

There’s light tap on my shoulder. My eyes snap open. Pilot’s standing next to my bed. I frantically wipe at any still dripping tears and jolt up to my elbows.

“Hey,” he says, quietly hovering above me. I just look at him. What is he doing? He nods his head in a move-over gesture.

Hesitantly, I scoot to the left side of the twin bed. He sits and
lowers himself down next to me,
on his back, facing the ceiling. Holy shit. I flatten onto my back again. I suck in one last steadying breath, damming up the waterworks through sheer force of will.

He’s still wearing his jeans and a white T-shirt.

“Are you okay?” he says softly.

I talk to the ceiling. “Yeah … I’m sorry, this is stupid.” Another breath. “I’m just feeling overwhelmed or something.”

“Someone almost mugged you; it’s not stupid to feel overwhelmed.”

I blink up at the ceiling.

“Can I ask you something?” Pilot continues.


He turns onto his left side, propping his head up with his arm. I rotate to my right to match—insides in full freak-out mode.

Pilot purses his lips. “Do you think Chad is Santa?”

A laugh bursts out of me. “Dear god, I hope not,” I say shakily.

Pilot grins. “Do you have any siblings?” he asks.

Master of distraction. My eyes drift down to his mouth and quickly back up to his eyes. “No, I’ve got a load of cousins, though. You?”

“Two younger sisters,” he says.

Two younger sisters. Is that why he’s so nice? I smile to myself.

“What?” he asks, lips turning up.

“Nothing,” I say quickly. I rotate onto my back again, falling under the pressure
of prolonged eye contact and opting to stare at the ceiling. I feel Pilot shift next to me until we’re side by side again. Sharing a pillow.

I swallow. “What’s the scariest thing you’ve ever done?”

He purses his lips for a moment. “I— What do you mean by scary?”

“I mean, not scary commercially, but scary to you, you know?”

There’s a beat of silence before he answers. “I’m not sure … I kind
of left my … I mean”—he blows out a breath—“I guess change has always been scary for me.”

I’m quiet for a moment, nodding in agreement and working up the courage to speak.

“This is the scariest thing I’ve ever done,” I whisper.


“I mean, not this-this—I mean, coming out here for study abroad. I’m not very good at trying new things, and I’ve never been this far from my family. Um, but
more than that, I’m, I’m always the good child, you know. I get great grades, and I don’t talk back. I do what they tell me to do. It’s
only me, and I want to make them happy, and I’ve never lied to them. So, when I lied to them about this, they believed me.”

“They don’t know you’re out here?” he asks quietly.

I huff a sad chuckle. “I’m premed, so I told them I’m out here doing a premed program.
I, like, made a fake brochure and everything. I took care of all the paperwork and stuff. But there is no premed track out here … and they’re gonna be pissed when they find out.”

“I thought you were an English major.”

“They wouldn’t pay for college if I didn’t major in something that lined me up for a
future.” I blink at the ceiling. “My grandpa did the struggling-artist thing, wrote
poetry and stuff, worked a bunch of temporary jobs. It made him a pretty shitty dad. He was never around, and when he was, he was distant and tired, had a short fuse with my dad and his siblings.

“Now my dad’s obsessed with financial stability, in this macho Italian, I’m-a-real-man sort of way. I’m his only kid so … he … it’s a lot. Like, I know in his own way, he’s just trying to be a good dad—and
writing, being creative, it’s not exactly known for being a pragmatic career path.

“I’m good at math and science, and I like numbers. My mom was gonna be a doctor. But she had to drop out of med school when she got pregnant with me, so it just makes sense. She’s really excited.” I turn my head to get a read on Pilot. His face is right there, a breath away. There’s a sadness etched in his eyes.

“I don’t hate being premed, I’m just not particularly, you know, it doesn’t have the same—and it’s so all-consuming. I don’t know, I want to make things. These past two weeks here, studying something I really care about, and writing, it’s been the best.

“I hadn’t really found a place at YU, so I’d been going home like every other weekend. And everyone in our year was prepping to studying abroad,
and I felt like maybe this would be a way to start over. Make new friends and have new experiences and not spend all my time in the dorm.

“I started looking into programs, saw this writing internship track in London, and I knew it was my chance to try to do … what I would really love to do because there’s the internship—a writing internship … like a
real job, and if I did well there, maybe they
could help me get a real paid summer internship job somewhere in the US, and maybe then I could show my parents that, you know, I can do this.

“I can do it. I’m good at it, and I can do it. I’m gonna do it.” I swallow hard. Pilot’s watching me attentively. I meet his eyes for a moment before shifting back to the ceiling tiles. “So, um, when I get jumpy, that’s me doing my best to deal with all
the residual paranoia and fear swirling around. Like when I lost my purse, I thought, you know, it could ruin everything. They would find out and, I don’t … I don’t know … I haven’t told anybody any of this.”

Pilot’s fingers weave through mine. He squeezes my hand. Warmth shoots up through my fingertips.

It’s quiet for a minute before Pilot says, “Shane. That’s insanely badass.”

laughter rises in my chest. My shoulders shake as I try to contain it. I don’t know what to say. I gently squeeze back. We lie like that for another twenty minutes. I don’t know what to do with myself. I couldn’t possibly sleep. My heart is ping-ponging around like a Super Ball. After a while, he finally gets up. Carefully, he scoots back into his own bed. I pretend to be asleep.

“Good night,
Shane,” he mumbles from his bed.

My words wobble nervously from my mouth. “Night, Pies.”

17. Such a Breakable Thread

1/23/11 8:30 a.m.


1) It’s time to leave for the train back to London. (100%)

2) Pilot and I have almost kissed multiple times now. (91%)

3) Pilot has a girlfriend. (73%)

Does this thing that’s been happening mean he might break up with his girlfriend? Would he break up with his girlfriend? Has he already broken up with his girlfriend?
Would he have told us? I can’t bring myself to ask. I never ever bring her up, and he hasn’t brought her up since, well… he’s never brought her up.

If something were to happen between us, he would have to make the first move. Not that I would even know how to initiate any sort of move … he might have been making moves last night. Moves that I blocked? I wish I could ask Babe. It feels taboo to
share any of this with anyone, because as far as I know, Pilot has a girlfriend. It’s against the rules to like him. I like to follow the rules.

But, maybe they did break up? It’s not like he would have shouted it from the rooftops. He could have. He said he wanted to go to Edinburgh together next weekend. I mean, the signs are saying yes!


My head snaps up. Pilot’s at the foot of
my bed, waving his hands around.
Last time I looked up, Pilot was heading to shower. I slam the cover closed on my notebook, hastily click off my pen, and smile at him. “Hey! Yes! Ready?” I shove Horcrux Nine into my book bag.

Pilot and I find Babe and Chad in the lobby, sitting on opposite sides of a bench with their arms crossed.

“Hey,” Pilot says as we step up to their bench.

I greet them.

“Ready to get a cab?” Babe jumps up.

“Yeah, sho—” I start.

“Great!” Babe interrupts. She power walks out the door with her suitcase.

It takes us ten minutes to flag down a taxi in this outskirt area of Paris. When we do, I step up and open the door to the back seat. Babe jumps forward and scoots in immediately. The driver pops the trunk and gets out to help load our bags.

not getting in that taxi,” Chad announces from the sidewalk. There’s a thump as Babe’s bag flops into the trunk.

I whip around. “Why? What’s wrong with this taxi?”

“I’m not going in the same taxi as

I hear the thump of my bag dropping into the back. The boys both hold onto their packs, so the driver closes the trunk with a bang and gets back into the car.

“What do you mean, you’re not
going in the same taxi as her? We’re all going to the train station. There are four seats here.” I try to speak calmly, but bits of anger edge their way into my voice.

“I want to get a separate taxi!” he yells. Pilot and I exchange a look.

“Man, it took us, like, ten minutes just to find this one taxi,” Pilot reasons.

I duck my head down into the cab to gauge Babe’s reaction. She’s looking
determinedly at the back of the seat in front of her.

“I will not ride in this cab,” Chad repeats loudly.

“Shut up, Chad,” I say, whirling back to him.

“You guys go. I’ll stay with him, get another cab. We’ll meet you there,” Pilot offers.

I blow out an angry breath, but concede with a nod and slide in next to Babe.

“Okay, good luck,” I say before closing the door. I shoot a glare at Chad
and slam the door. “Gare du Nord, please!” I tell the driver.

My eyes are on Pilot as we pull away from the curb. He nods at me before turning to say something to Chad. I settle into the back seat, my puffy jacket swishing against the leather. Babe pouts next to the window.

I heave a great sigh. “Babe, did more stuff happen with you two? I’m sorry about last night, but please don’t be mad at
me. Chad came at me with his face to make you angry or something, but nothing happened. I ran away from him.”

Babe sighs as well. “I’m not mad. I’m sorry I yelled at you. I drank too much.” She’s still looking at the floor. “Chad’s just being an asshole and making a scene. He gets really dramatic sometimes.”

“No kidding.”

Babe snorts and meets my eyes. Hers are glassy. “Last night at the bar
I thought things were going really well. He freaked out—and then later when we got back to the room, I wanted to explain, but he wasn’t having it. He just talked over me: ‘Babe, we’ve talked about this! I like short girls, you’re not my type, god, why are you trying to ruin this? We’re having fun and you have to ruin things. It’s so frustrating.’” Her Chad impression is pitchy but I like it.

She continues, “And I was like, ‘I don’t understand why would you ask me to plan your birthday, then!’ And he had the nerve to say, ‘I didn’t ask you to plan anything.’ And I was like, ‘You sure as hell didn’t ask me not to; here we are in Paris together for your birthday!’ And he goes, ‘Don’t try to turn this into some romantic thing.’ And then I told him he was being an asshole, and then he stormed
out of the room.”

“What kind of douche kabab says those things to their friend? Who treats anyone like that? He doesn’t deserve you in his life.”

“He eventually came back in and went to sleep.”

“And apologized?”

“No, we didn’t speak this morning.”

“What the heck? And that’s why he had a hissy fit outside and wouldn’t share a cab?”

“I tried to talk to him again while we waited for you guys
to come down…”

“Babe, there are other guys out there who like Disney. This whole situation is so weird and melodramatic. It was like you were married for ten years, and he caught you with another man in bed this morning.”

“He’s just passionate.”

I slap a palm to my forehead. “You’re not going to pursue him anymore, right?”

She’s silent for a moment, before shrugging coolly. “You’re one to
lecture. What’s going on with you and Pilot?”

My lips clamp shut. I swallow slowly, debating whether or not to share my breakup theory. I stay quiet.

She raises her eyebrows. I turn to look out the window.

We pick up burgers on our way back to the Karlston. I eat mine in the kitchen with Babe, both of us surfing the internet and catching up with the world. I import all the Paris pictures,
edit them, and get an album up on Facebook. I spend some time on the
Packed! For Travel!
site, getting ready for my upcoming first day of work. At some point, Atticus comes in and asks us about our trip.

As we fill him in, he stabs animatedly at a frozen meal and stuffs it in the microwave. When we finish our highlights reel, he launches into a story about a strange show he had to go see for
class that revolved around the life of a toad. We get a play-by-play of the entire thing, and it’s ridiculously entertaining through Atticus’s sarcastic retelling.

Thirty minutes into the toad show recap, the kitchen door swings open.
Pilot strides in and flops on the black leather couch, looking exhausted. I feel a nervous smile pop up onto my cheeks. Last night—I mean, something changed between

“And then the whole cast is just squatted on the ground ribbiting for, I swear, five minutes straight with no dialogue—” Atticus, who had been pacing around the table, stops short, looking at Pilot.

“Hey! I’m telling them about the toad play!” he says cheerily. Pilot huffs a sarcastic laugh and lets his head fall back against the couch. “How’d your call go?” Atticus asks.

A call? I push
Sawyer aside so I can see Pilot better. Could it be a break-up-with-Amy call?

Pilot runs a hand down his face and looks at the ceiling.
Oh my god, something’s wrong. Was it a breakup call?

“Um,” he starts, “Amy’s going to come visit me next month during her break. She wanted to see me, so she bought a ticket to come. Visit.”

I suck in an audible breath as the cloud I’ve been dancing on dissolves
under my feet. Pilot’s eyes flit to mine and then down to the floor. Babe shoots me a sympathetic look.

“That’ll be nice!” Atticus exclaims from his position leaning against the counter near the sink. “You guys should go back to Paris together, city of
and all that.”

I pull my computer screen in front of my face and stare at it blindly.

“Yeah that’s … that’s where she wants to go,” Pilot
mumbles. He doesn’t sound excited. I don’t know if that makes this better or worse. I need to get out of here. I need to leave the room.

“Even though you were just there?” Babe asks hesitantly.

My limbs refuse to move. They need to hear all the details.

“Yeah, she really wants to go.”

“It’ll be fine. There’s always more to see in Paris,” Atticus says, taking a seat at the table.

Pilot stands
abruptly and strides for the door. “Yeah, I have to—I have a paper,” he says.

I give it a minute before I pack up my computer to leave too. I want to
be sad in the privacy of my top bunk. As I stand, the chair I was on topples backward, clanging obnoxiously against the floor.

I whip around to glare at it. “Fuck off!”

Babe and Atticus watch me silently with wide eyes. I swallow before placing
Sawyer back on the table, picking up the chair, and breezing out of the room.

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