Read Again, but Better Online

Authors: Christine Riccio

Again, but Better (4 page)

He grins and jogs up the front steps to the door. I expel the giant breath I’ve been very aware of holding for the past thirty seconds.

It’s so dark in our room. Sahra’s asleep, but I’ve caught a second wind. Up in the bunk, I turn on my laptop for light, grab a pen, and throw
open a fresh page in the new Horcrux.

1/11/11 1:03 a.m.

I just added all my new flatmates as friends on Facebook (Babe Lozenge, Sahra Merhi, Atticus Kwon, Pilot Penn), and finished off a short email to the parents letting them know
everything went well today. I haven’t figured out the best way to actually speak to them yet since I only have a certain amount of allotted minutes on my burner
phone. The lights are off, so I’m scribbling via the light of Sawyer’s screen. It works.

After grocery shopping with Pilot, all of us (minus Babe, who left earlier after orientation to visit a friend she has upstairs) met in the kitchen and sat tentatively around the table. Which, by the way, has terrible chairs. Atticus chatted easily for a few minutes about how excited he is to immerse himself
into the London theater scene while the rest of us listened, politely inserting a word or two, but not really furthering the conversation. I was about to descend into a cone of social anxiety, but Pilot broke the silence by pulling out the ciders he bought. And then I broke out the Taboo. Well, the version of Taboo I have on my iPod Touch called Word Kinish. Nothing breaks the ice like a good
game of Word Kinish. (In the interest of being outgoing, I obviously prepped my iPod full of group activities).

I got a little competitive, but I think we all had fun. We kept switching up the teams. My team always won because I’m a professional Taboo/Word Kinish player. The cousins and I used to play this all the time during summers back in our early teens.

Sahra was the worst of us at Word
Kinish. She was easily flustered when she couldn’t think of ways to describe the word she needed to make her team guess without using the illegal buzz words. Instead of talking it through, she would make angry noises until time ran out. I’m not sure what to think of Sahra. She’s kind of nice, but she also seems kind of cold. She doesn’t smile when she
talks to me, and she always speaks in short,
chopped sentences. I don’t know if she doesn’t like me or if that’s her demeanor.

I regret not having brought a deck of cards with me. I’ve got to get myself one out here. There’s something magical about a good game of cards when everyone’s into it. It used to be that at every Primaveri gathering after dinner, we’d play cards. In general, the Primaveris are a loud and opinionated people. Normally,
I observe rather than participate in their discussions because I’d rather be overlooked than potentially judged or scolded for saying the wrong thing. But when we’re playing cards, that fear kind of falls away. Awkwardness with the cousins falls away. I’m automatically more confident and all of a sudden I have things to say.

I hope Pilot likes cards. He was totally into the game today. Not quite
on my level of into it, but into it in a way that was fun. Atticus too.

Atticus is a drama major. He’s really easy to talk to. There’s this dorky charm about him that automatically makes me feel less alone. He just finished
The Lost Symbol
. I’m totally pumped to talk Dan Brown with him when we get a chance. He’s super-passionate about theater and wants to intern in the West End while he’s here.
He recently broke up with his boyfriend because of study abroad, but he seems okay about it. He talked about being excited to mingle with the British. While Sahra and Pilot played Word Kinish tonight from a calm sitting position around the table, Atticus joined me, jumping up and yelling things.

I’m trying really hard to hold back the tsunami of Pilot excitement that’s been building in me since
I first saw him in the kitchen this afternoon, but now that I’m just sitting here in the dark, pre-sleep, I can’t stop all these giddy thoughts from flooding my brain. Could we be a thing? There was a moment tonight where I’m pretty sure we almost kissed.

Pilot’s so … like, cool. He’s definitely kissed people. Having never been kissed feels like a giant Achilles’s heel. I hate feeling so inexperienced.
I hate that this isn’t something I can study. I hate that I get sweaty at the mere mention of the game Never Have I Ever because I’m so scared of broaching sexual topics. How am I twenty years old and I’ve yet to even hold a boy’s hand? It’d be fine if I didn’t want to hold a boy’s hand, but I do. And I’ve never even been close.

But now, the potential’s, like … right in front of me.

The word
“boyfriend” is already dancing around my brain. My family’s been pestering me about the existence of a boyfriend every few months for the last seven years. How could I not be thinking about it? I’ve been fine by myself these past million years, but I want to know what’s it like to have someone care about me that way. To put their arms around me from behind. I don’t want this Achilles’s heel.

5. Open Your Eyes and See

My eyes snap open. A high-pitched bleeping noise is blaring. It takes a second, but yesterday slowly gurgles to the forefront of my mind. I’m in London. That noise is my new plastic phone. It must be 9:00 a.m.

One of the four wardrobes in here is smashed up against my bunk and the top of it is level with my bed, so I’ve turned it into a makeshift bedside table down
near my feet. That’s where my phone sits now, bleeping away. I shut it off and make my way down the ladder to start getting ready. Everyone on the program is going on a boat tour down the Thames today to Greenwich.

We’re supposed to be upstairs by 10:15. At 9:40, Babe and I are both dressed, so we head to the kitchen together for breakfast. Sahra’s running behind, but she assures us she’ll met
us there.

Babe’s sporting a new Canon DSLR around her neck.

“Nice camera!” I admire as we butter our bagels at the counter. I have my Casio digital camera in my purse, but a DSLR—those pictures are on another level.

When we finish eating, the kitchen door opens, and Pilot and Atticus stride in, all ready to go. My heart speeds up. I check my block phone for the time: 10:05.

Pilot grins at
us, his gaze landing on me. “You guys ready to do Greenwich?”

Atticus yawns.

“Hell yeah!” I push up from my seat at warp speed to deposit my plate in the sink. “We’ve got—” There’s an enormously loud crash behind me. I gasp, jumping three feet in the air, only to find that it was my chair falling over. Heat flashes up my neck.

Babe laughs next to me. Atticus is cackling. My eyes find Pilot’s.
He’s laughing too.

“Dammit!” I grin in spite of myself, annoyed, but absolutely overjoyed to be around people who are laughing. My family’s conditioned me to expect the frustrated sigh.

The four of us join a massive group of students on a pilgrimage to the nearest Tube station. Pilot and Atticus walk and chat about five feet ahead of me and Babe.

I’m wearing my long, black, puffy winter jacket
because it’s the only one I have. Under it, I’m wearing my favorite black jeans and a white, long-sleeve sweater. Over that is my new purse that slings across my chest. There are all these horror stories about how thieves in Europe carry knives and run around chopping off women’s purses—the purses fall off their arms, the thief catches it, and runs. It’s been recommended to me by American society
(mostly my aunts, uncles, and parents) that I wear a cross-body purse to make chopping it off more difficult. I’m sure the degree to which America harps on this fear is slightly exaggerated, but, in the interest of better safe than sorry, I have also chosen to wear the purse under my jacket. It doesn’t look too strange because the purse is really small, but it does look a little strange. There’s
an extra butt cheek-like thing protruding from the area behind my hip.
But, try to cut off my purse now, thieves. You’ll have to find it first!

“So, what did you do last night?” I ask Babe.

“I hung out with my friend Chad. He’s here on the program with us. We’re in the same school at YU and stuff. We got food, and then I went back to his flat upstairs and hung out with some of the people there.”
Babe is wearing her pretty green coat and sophisticated beret again. Her lips are painted a bright, cheery red. I feel under-fashioned.

I pause, looking ahead rather than at Babe. “Are you and Chad, like, a thing, kind of?” I ask hesitantly. I’m not sure if we’re at the point in our friendship where boy talk is permissible. But Babe seems nice, and I want to be friends. Friends talk about that
stuff.

When I glance back over at Babe, she’s looking at the ground. She considers my question for a few seconds before meeting my eyes. “We’re … I … I’m not sure. Kind of, it’s a long story.” She’s goes quiet.

Guess we’re not there yet. I quickly change the subject as we turn left onto Gloucester Road.

“So what do you study at YU?”

“Hospitality!”

“Oh, cool! What do you want to do when you
graduate?”

“I want to work at Disney World. I, well, actually my goal is to make my way up to president of the park!” She smiles at me, excitement building in her voice. Her enthusiasm is contagious.

“So, like, President of Disney World, then?” I clarify, awed by this idea.

Babe walks me through the process of how one would make their way to eventual President of Disney World.

We get off
the Tube—the surprisingly clean London subway system—near the London Eye, and our giant posse shuffles onto a ferry waiting along the edge of the Thames River. Once we’re loaded on, I catch sight of Sahra and flag her over to our group.

The five of us stand together on the upper deck level of the boat. It’s open, like one of those double-decker tour buses you see in New York City, and a scratchy
microphone projects the voice of a tour guide. We
oooh
and
ahh
as we float under the London Bridge, and past the pickle-like building London calls the Gherkin. I snap pictures of everything.

I want to get a picture of the Flat Three crew. Would everyone be okay with being in a picture together? Do we not know each other well enough yet for me to suggest it? Is it too soon for friend pictures?
Is this a stupid thing to worry about? I glance around at the people outside our little circle.
Fresh anxiety billows through me at the thought of asking someone to take it.

We pass under another bridge, and I bounce on the tips of my toes as it becomes a backdrop for a potential group shot. I brace myself, mashing my lips together determinedly, and make eye contact with a shorter guy wearing
a beanie, standing near Atticus’s shoulder. It’s just a picture.

“Hey, do you think you could take a picture of us?” I ask quickly.

“Yeah, sure,” Beanie Dude responds. I hand him my camera. Flat Three turns and gathers together for the shot. I didn’t even have to ask them. Pilot stands to my left, and when he leans in and puts his arm around me, my insides twirl around. I know it’s just a picture,
but he didn’t have to put his arm around me, right?

Beanie Dude counts down, snaps the shot, and hands me back the camera. I beam. I have a real-life picture of this moment. Real-life proof that this happened. Real-life friends I’ve made myself are with me on a real-life trip in a real-life other country where I’m living now. And an attractive, nice, funny boy had his arm around me. I take a
quick second to inspect the shot. The framing’s a little wonky, but I’m too triumphant to care.

Greenwich looks like a giant fancy green park. It’s littered with enormous white marble buildings and structures with columns. Together, the five of us head to the National Maritime Museum (all museums in England are free). Babe, Atticus, and I laugh our heads off taking silly pictures with all their
statues. Pilot laughs at us, agreeing to participate in the occasional shot. Sahra hangs back, watching with a small smile.

After the museum, we hike up a steep grassy hill to the Royal Observatory and wander through the exhibits. I take a picture of all our hands touching the oldest rock on Earth on display: 4.5 billion years old. We take turns standing on the prime meridian of the world. I
snap pictures of everyone as they straddle both the eastern and western hemispheres. Babe takes the camera to snap one of me. I suck in a deep breath as I plop one foot over the line and then exhale, knowing I’m standing on both sides of
the world at once. In my mind, I see the globe I used to play with in elementary school and the raised line that I would trace with my finger, down the world.
A weird trill of wonder zings through me. I didn’t think I was going to enjoy these museums … this much.

The five of us are starving as we tromp back down the hill from the Observatory, so we stop at the first pub we find and settle in at an empty table. A waitress comes over to greet us and hand out menus.

“So, are you guys all wanting to travel while you’re here?” Pilot asks as we look over
the selection. He’s sitting across from me, smiling with his mouth closed.

“Yes!” Babe and Sahra exclaim immediately in response. My head cocks to the side in surprise.

“I want to travel eventually, but the theater track is super-demanding,” Atticus adds. “I have to be here to see shows most weekends.”

I’m not sure how to respond. I haven’t really thought about traveling more. I already traveled
all the way across the world to get here. We’re in a foreign country right now. I can’t cross the street yet without almost dying. I just learned that street signs are on the sides of the buildings instead of metal poles stuck into the corners of the intersections. I thought we were done traveling, and now we were going to explore the place we’ve traveled to.

But after today’s adventure in Greenwich,
I don’t know. I would like to do more of this. I like adventuring with this crew. I’ve had more fun with these people in two days than I had with my roommates all last year. When else am I going to be living so close to other European countries? Italy! I’ve been taking Italian classes since I was fourteen. I could go to Italy.

Pilot’s gaze has fallen on me. I feel it before I see it, because
when you like someone, you develop a superpower that enables you to subconsciously hone in on all their movements.

They can rotate to face you all the way across the room, and the second it happens, you know: They’re facing me from across the room, ON GUARD!

With a deep breath, I meet Pilot’s eyes. “Yeah, I really want to go to Italy,” I tell him as our waitress distributes waters around the
table.

“Let’s go this weekend, then!” he responds immediately.

My jaw drops.

“Oh my gosh, yes!” Babe chimes in.

This weekend? But that’s, like, now. We literally got here yesterday.

“I’m on board with this,” Sahra adds, picking up her water and taking a sip.

I fumble for words. “Like, go to Rome—for the weekend?” I ask in disbelief.

“Rome for the weekend,” Pilot echoes confidently. I blink
at him.

“Okay!” I blurt.

“Rome for the weekend!” Babe raises her glass of water to toast. We all join her, clinking our glasses.

“You guys are going to have an amazing time!” Atticus cheers.

I take a big gulp of my water and drop the glass back to the table. Across from me, Pilot jumps like someone pinched him.

“Whoa.” He holds his hands up in front of him.

I raise my eyebrows. “Whoa, what?”

“Don’t murder the glass!”

My head twitches to the left. “What do you mean, murder the glass? It’s fine.”

“Take a drink again.”

I eye him suspiciously and slowly raise the glass off the table. I take a quick sip and drop it back down. An amused smile breaks across his face. Babe’s starts laughing.

“What?” I demand.

“He’s right!” She giggles.

“What are you talking about?” I laugh.

“You slam
your glass down,” Babe explains. “Like a sailor after he chugs a beer!”

“I don’t…” I pick up my glass and take a sip again, concentrating now. I drop the glass back down, and it makes a loud thunk as it hits the wood. My breath
whooshes
out in surprise. I’ve never paid any attention to it. Realization must dawn on my face because across the table Pilot’s silently chuckling.

“I…” I start, bewildered.
“I didn’t even realize. Are your cups, like, silent?”

Pilot picks up his glass. His eyes lock with mine as he brings it to his mouth, drinks, and puts the glass back on the table. It barely makes a sound. “It’s all in the technique,” he says. “Be chill. Be Zen.”

Next to him, Babe takes a drink and puts down her glass experimentally. It makes a muffled clunk.

“See? There, she’s got it,” he says,
pointing to Babe.

I pick up my glass and sip again. I watch Pilot with narrowed eyes as I lower it back to the table at snail speed. It makes a small sound as it comes back into contact with the wood. He grins.

“Was that to your satisfaction?” I inquire with a melodramatic flourish.

He squints at me. “With a few months’ practice—”

I cut him off with a scoff, and he breaks into laughter.

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