Read Again, but Better Online

Authors: Christine Riccio

Again, but Better (24 page)

BOOK: Again, but Better

I scuff at the ground, processing. “I guess that would be appropriate … We left without paying for our food.”

“Oh shit.” He laughs.

I carefully stash the medallion in
my cross-body, inside the tiny zipper area inside the main section of the purse, for safekeeping.

9. Might as Well Embrace It

“What the heck was that in your food?” Babe asks as she uncaps her lipstick in front of the mirror.

“Um, it was like a coin or something. I dropped it outside.”

“Oh my goodness, that’s insane! You’re okay, right?”

“I’m fine,” I insist with a smile.

“And things are okay with you and Pilot?”

“Yeah, we talked. It’s going to be fine.”

“What does that mean? Is
he ending things with Amy?” She pulls a towel from the dispenser and uses it to blot her lipstick.

I swallow. “I don’t know, but I promise, I’ll fill you in when I can.”

She pops her lips, makes eye contact through the mirror, and nods. “Okay.”

On our way back to the table, she recaps how Sahra yelled at our waiter and got all our meals for free because I almost choked on something in my food
and got sick outside.

The overall mood of the group picks up exponentially now that Pilot’s not completely distracted, and I’m not moping around like I got coal for Christmas. Pilot resumes his role of Map Man and leads us through Rome. I let my hair fall around my shoulders. I pull out my little, super-old digital
camera and start taking pictures. I giggle and converse with Babe and Sahra.
I feel a thousand times lighter.

When we stroll into the Pantheon, Pilot stops short at the threshold and throws his arms out in a
. “Wait! Guys.” We all stop short. “Remember how Robert Langdon came here in
The Da Vinci Code
?” he announces with exaggerated enthusiasm.

Sahra takes him seriously. “I never read it.”

“Nope,” Babe says as she strolls off after Sahra to inspect one of the niches
against the wall.

I mash my lips into a line, trying not to appear amused. “Ha-ha,” I mutter. He shoots me a mischievous look that makes my heart do somersaults, before strolling away toward one of the niches.

Sunday, we go back to the Vatican. I’m the first to burst out onto the balcony at the top of the endless staircase. When I find an open spot, I grab hold of the railing and step up as
close as I can.

Pilot comes up on my right. “This was the coolest thing we climbed.”

“Agreed, it was definitely my favorite.” I grin out at the sea of red rooftops.

After a moment, a mass of my hair shifts. I turn, to find Pilot tucking it behind my ear. His face is so close. My chest aches as I pull back, searching his eyes.

“Pilot, what are you doing?” I ask.

“I don’t know.” He swallows.
“I couldn’t see your face. Sorry, it wasn’t on purpose,” he mumbles.

I catch his eyes. “Hey, Pies.”

There’s an unfamiliar diffidence in his expression.

“I don’t want this to happen again until you break up with past Amy. If we’re going to try this, I want to try it for realsies.”
Why did I just say for realsies?

Pilot nods, looking serious now. “I’m sorry,” he breathes. He runs a hand down
his face and walks away.

Pilot keeps to himself the rest of the trip.

10. The Green Light, I Want It

We’ve been home for twenty minutes. I’m sitting behind Sawyer in the empty Flat Three kitchen, editing the few photos I took and gearing up to maybe write a blog post about Rome.

I pull up Gmail and find four missed messages from Mom and Dad, each more panicked than the one before. I haven’t checked in with them since the day I “got here.”
This is so strange.
I quickly shoot back a response, log into Skype, pay the ten dollars for real phone call minutes, and dial my house in New York. My mom picks up. Mom, six years ago.

The whole experience is surreal. She talks about my younger cousins who’re still in middle school. She tells me how worried she’s been because I haven’t posted anything on Facebook or responded to an email in days. I tell her about
Rome. She’s shocked and excited to hear more details. Talking to her is so casual and easy. When we get off the phone an hour later, my eyes are glassy. We’ve fallen into such an uneven cadence these past few years. I lost the desire to share anything but the surface details of my life with her. I love my mom, but I felt this need to step away sometime during med school, and I never stepped back.

I work on a Rome-centric blog post until Pilot walks into the kitchen. I glance at the time: 11:30 p.m. He looks at me expectantly. I give a tug on my old white iPod headphones, letting them fall to the table. “Hey.”

“Hey, can we talk? You hungry? Shawarma?” he asks in quick succession. His face lights up with that last one. He’s fidgeting. I close my laptop with an amused look.

“You writing?”
he asks.

Using extreme caution, I slide horizontally out of my chair and stand. “Yeah, I figured I’d try to post something on my blog. I’ve been slacking.”

He clicks his tongue disapprovingly. “Can’t leave those French Watermelon readers hanging, Shane.”

I grab my bag and jacket, grinning at the mention of my blog. “So, shawarma?”

“Relax, Shane, we’re gonna get your precious shawarma.”

bark a laugh as I follow him out the door.

Almost everything in Kensington is closed by this time, so it feels like we have the entire sidewalk to ourselves as we stroll down fancy-white-buildings lane. I wait impatiently for Pilot to initiate whatever conversation he wanted to have. After four minutes of silence, I nudge him gently with my elbow.

“What did you want to talk about?” I ask.

He runs a hand through his hair, stuffs his hands in his pockets, takes a breath like he’s going to speak, doesn’t speak, runs a hand through his hair again.

“The suspense,” I tease.

He laughs nervously, but we continue to walk in silence. London and I wait with bated breath for 108 more seconds.

Out of nowhere, he blurts, “I’m gonna do it.”

I eye him sideways. “Do what?” I ask tentatively.


“You’re going to…?” He smooshed all his words together, but I got the gist.

He might not actually do it. Keep your hopes down.

Let’s be real; there’s no stopping my hopes. They pulse through me like
an adrenaline rush. They run and jump and twirl down the street. I manage to hold onto a neutral expression.

“I’m gonna break things off with Amy,” he says more clearly.

I inhale a slow breath. “You are.”


We’ve come to an intersection. We get the walk signal, cross left, and continue on.

“Are you sure?” I ask quietly.

He nods. “There was some truth to your Kelly Clarkson speech.”

I worry at my lip.

He exhales a long breath. “Things were kinda different with Amy and me after I came back from London. She was worried about my relationship with you while
I was out here. And like, I felt so guilty about it because she was right to worry.

“And when I got back to New York, I tried so hard to fix it
I promised myself I’d never let something like that happen again … but in a way the damage was done. She, like, investigated every woman I interacted with.

“After a while, she stopped voicing her concerns aloud, but I catch her doing it to this day.
I mean, not this day, but in 2017. And I can’t fault her for it. I just go through this guilt cycle because she’ll forever have a right to feel paranoid … because of how I felt about you.

“I always picture that image from the
Princess and the Pea
story. Like that one seed of distrust I planted years ago is buried under all these years we’ve spent together, all these memories, but we still feel
it.” He pauses as we cross to the next block.

Pilot shrugs, emotion bleeding into his voice. “I think, maybe, the best thing Amy and I can do is let each other go.”

I blink at the ground, sadness welling in my chest.

“I’m sorry, Pilot. I don’t know what to say.”

“Don’t be.” He sighs. “I was trying really hard to do what I thought was the right thing for so long, and turns out maybe the right
thing was the wrong thing.… It’s hard to come to terms with that. And it’s crossed my mind so many times before.… Confrontation is just so fucking hard.”

I stay quiet. Beirut Express comes into view a little way down the sidewalk.

“I’m gonna do it tomorrow,” Pilot adds carefully.

I swallow, letting the words sink in as we approach the restaurant.

A couple minutes later, when we’re right in
front of the door, I open my mouth to speak again: “I’m sending Melvin a preemptive breakup letter, just to cover my ground, even though we haven’t technically met.”

A laugh blows out of Pilot.

I nudge him gently. “Shall we shawarma our troubles away?”

I’m high on hope and shawarma as we mosey back to the Karlston.

“So, Pies, while we’re here, what’s the plan to jumpstart your music career?
Can we get you on YouTube? I’m gonna really push for this ‘Wrecking Ball’ cover.”

He grins and shakes his head—default humble, cool guy response.

“I just want to sing ‘Wrecking Ball’ and claim we wrote it first. Just one time!”

He laughs now. “You’re ridiculous.”

“This is a great idea! I have a camera. Why not?”

“You have a video camera?” He perks up curiously.

“Uh, duh, my Casio has a video
setting. I myself thought about starting a YouTube channel about writing and such many a time circa 2010, 2011.”

“French Watermelon Nineteen: the YouTube channel?”

“But of course.”

“How ’bout French Writer-melon?”

“That doesn’t make any sense,” I reply melodramatically.

“What do you mean, it doesn’t make any sense?” he protests.

“The internet knows me as French Watermelon. I don’t want to
tarnish the good French Watermelon Nineteen name.”

He smirks at me, eyes gleaming. “Ridiculous.”

“You say ridiculous, I say tech savvy. Tomato-tomahto.”

We cross another intersection.

“What country do we want to hit next?”

“I’m pretty sure Babe’s gonna pull me aside tomorrow and convince me to go on a trip to Paris with you and that pain-in-the-ass Chad.”

“Oh jeez, how could I forget Chad?
You up for Paris again?”

“Am I up for Paris again?” I say in a mocking tone. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

He snorts.

11. Come Together

I can’t eat breakfast. I’m too worked up thinking about Pilot and Amy; my stomach is in knots.
Will he do it?
I get down on the floor and flow through some yoga before leaving for class. Babe asks if she can join me. I welcome the distraction and quietly walk her through it. She giggles as we struggle through poses in our jeans. Sahra snorts when she wakes up to find us
both in downward dog. As I heave my backpack onto my shoulder to take off, Babe asks if I want to get lunch together. I stop at the post office on the way to class and send off my letter to a clueless past Melvin.

At noon, I meet Babe outside of Byron’s. We grab a booth, and Babe proceeds to pitch Paris for Chad’s birthday. I do my best to drag Chad, but past Babe won’t be swayed by Shane-she-just-recently-met-
who-has-never-even-met-Chad. I find myself studying her face, marking the differences between her and the Babe I talk to weekly in 2017. Future Babe’s hair is different; she has voluminous curls instead of the polished upturned ends she has now. And future Babe has switched to a slightly darker red shade of lipstick.

She comes to a close with her double-date question as the waiter arrives to take
our orders. It’s not my spirit guide. I’ve had my eyes peeled since I walked in, but there’s no sign of her.

“So, what’s going on with you and Pilot? Are you up for this? Will you
come?” She shoots the questions one after the other, without giving me a second to respond.

I vacuum in a breath. “Okay, so let’s just keep this between us, right?”

“Of course.”

“Pilot’s supposedly breaking up with
Amy today,” I tell her quietly.

” Her hands fly up.

“I know.”

“What— Are you two going to be a thing?”

“I don’t want to jinx anything,” I say hesitantly.

“So, you’ll come this weekend!” she says abruptly, her eyes lighting up.

I nod, a smile breaking across my face. “I’m so excited to go again!”

“You’ve been to Paris before?”

“Uh, no, I mean, like, go again … to a place … with you
and the gang. Pilot. Again.”

Later, Babe and I sit in the kitchen together. I’m working on another new blog post. I’m surprised to find a comment from Leo on the Rome post. On my blog. Using his lame old screen name.


Why aren’t you posting anything on Facebook?

I don’t even know what Future Leo is up to. He got a job at the local gas station for a while after he dropped
out of school, and then moved out to New York City. 2017 Mom never talks about him in our bristled conversations, and Future Leo doesn’t use Facebook.

I haven’t posted all the Rome photos, but I included a bunch in this post. They’re not on Facebook because I’m not in the market for a running life commentary from the fam. If they want to see what I’m up to, they can read it on the blog.

to me, Babe’s plucking away at a paper, waiting patiently for Pilot to return so she can pop the Paris question. She jumps to attention when he finally walks through the door with a frozen meal.

“Hey, Pilot!”

“Hey, Babe.” He turns to me with a smile. “Shane.”

“Happy Monday.” I grin.

“So, Babe, I was thinking we should go on a trip again this weekend,” Pilot says casually.

Babe eyes me with
a suspicious smile, and I raise my eyebrows:
I didn’t say anything

“Yeah, I was thinking the same thing,” she says slowly.

“Where do you want to go?” he asks.

“Where do you want to go?” she asks suspiciously.

“How about we both say where on three?” Pilot suggests cheekily.

“Why?” Babe asks as I start counting.

“One, two, three!”

“Paris!” they exclaim simultaneously. Pilot laughs, and I
cackle behind my computer.

Babe is amused. She thinks I told him. “Okay, you two talked already. Does this mean you’re down?”

“Why not,” Pilot agrees as he pops his frozen meal into the microwave. I glance at Babe, and she waggles her eyebrows at me. I roll my eyes, suppressing a grin.

Babe and I make ourselves pasta while Pilot eats his frozen meal. When he’s finished, he takes out his laptop,
pulls on his headphones, and retreats to the chair in the corner to work. I settle in at the table to eat and watch something on Sawyer.

“Hey,” Babe starts. I look up to where she’s dressing her pasta in a bolognese sauce. “Do you play cards at all? I picked some up earlier.”

A smile tears across my face.

We buy our train tickets to Paris. We’re leaving on the same schedule as last time and
staying at the same crappy hostel. I let Babe plan it the same exact way because I’ve been itching to redo this trip for years. It wouldn’t feel right changing the setting.

The three of us spend the evening playing Rummy 500. Sahra
in and out during our first few rounds before finally settling in to join us. Atticus shows up at eight and suggests a game of BS. We chat and cackle until
my cheeks hurt from smiling.

Atticus leaves the kitchen first because he has an early morning. Babe, Sahra, Pilot, and I play one last round of BS. It’s not till then that I remember: Pilot was supposed to break up with Amy.

My stomach lurches.
How the hell did I forget?
From that point on, I have a hard time focusing on the game. When Babe wins, she and Sahra pack up and walk back to the room.
Pilot shows no sign of leaving, so I linger, pretending to do something on my computer.

“You going to sleep too?” he asks. I swallow, suddenly feeling nervous.

“Um, yeah I guess so.” I close Sawyer, pick him up, and hop out of my chair. A millisecond later, I sense it falling. I whirl around with a gasp and snatch it awkwardly by the seat with my one free hand. Carefully, I lower myself and
the off-kilter chair to the floor.

Pilot stands, watching me across the table with an amused expression. “I’ve noticed that you’re trying super-hard to make peace with the devil chairs.”

I shake my head. “I’m being so nice to them, and they just
with the rudeness.” I gather my feet under me and pop up off the ground. Pilot’s here now; he picks up the chair and pushes it back into place
at the table.

“Some chairs never change,” he says.

I snort and head slowly around the table toward the door. He follows me out. We walk together down the hall, veering off to our respective doors. I dig in my bag for my key.

“Hey,” Pilot says behind me. I turn around. He’s leaning against his door, so I stop fumbling and lean against my own door.

There’s a long pause where I look at him expectantly.
Oh god, he’s having second thoughts. He wants to leave. He didn’t break it off. Is he waiting for me to speak?

“Hey,” I respond belatedly.

“I broke up with Amy,” he says.

My heart jumps two feet outside my chest.
Shit. Get back inside me.

“You—” I start.

He cuts me off. “Yeah.”

I swallow, pausing to look at the ceiling.
He did it! What do I say?
My head bobs around, not in a nod or a shake,
just in a weird bob.

I decide on, “Okay.”

He pulls a thoughtful Soprano frown, jutting out his bottom lip, and nods. “Okay.”

I nod in return, still at a loss. “So, good night … uh, I’ll see you tomorrow.”

A smirk flickers over his lips. “Good night.”

He doesn’t move to unlock his door, so I don’t either. I wait a few seconds.

“Are you going in?” I ask, amused.

“Are you?” he challenges.

“Yeah, I’m going in.” I smile.

“Okay, so am I.”

“Okay, same.” And then the door supporting my weight flies out from behind me, and I’m falling to my death. “
The fuck
?” flies out of my mouth as I twist in the air to catch myself before hitting the ground.

“Jiminy Cricket!” Babe’s voice comes from somewhere near my crashing body. I manage to fall on my right forearm, but that’s going to leave
a bruise. Pilot’s in front of me, grabbing my hand, helping me up. Babe’s apologizing profusely.

“Oh my goodness, I kept hearing someone outside the door. And I thought maybe you didn’t have a key, and oh Mylanta, I’m sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it, Babe,” I breathe.

“You okay?” Pilot asks when I’m upright again.

“I’m fine,” I insist with an embarrassed chuckle. And then I keel over laughing.
Babe and Pilot join me.

“Good night, Pies,” I repeat one last time. He nods and I nod back. He retreats to his door again.

“Night,” Babe adds. He finally turns around to put his key in the lock, so Babe and I close our door. Sahra’s on her laptop with headphones in.

“What was that about?” Babe asks excitedly.

I snort as I head for the bathroom to take a shower. “Nothing, we were just saying
good night.”

“Did he break up with her?”

I pivot, make my eyes super-wide, squeeze my lips together in a line, and nod.

“Oh my goodness!” She falls into her bed, giggling.

“What? What happened?” Sahra says, lowering her headphones.

“Pilot broke up with his girlfriend!” Babe squeals excitedly.

“What? Why?” Sahra asks.

“Because of Shane!” Babe laughs.

“No!” I say immediately.

“What?” Sahra
says in surprise.

I lock myself in the bathroom and hop in the shower to avoid an inquisition.

15.4Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

Other books

Tipsy by Cambria Hebert
The Call of Zulina by Kay Marshall Strom
Lab 6 by Peter Lerangis
Storm Killer by Benjamin Blue
Kick (Completion Series) by Holly S. Roberts
Educating Esmé by Esmé Raji Codell