Read Again, but Better Online

Authors: Christine Riccio

Again, but Better (6 page)

BOOK: Again, but Better

I can sense Pilot silently laughing beside me.

“What kind of Starbucks is this?” I mumble.

We leave five minutes later, both of us
with tall vanilla lattes. That was so strange. I turn to Pilot to tell him about plane lady.

“So that was your friend?” He clicks his tongue before I have a chance to speak. “I mean, you didn’t know what was on the menu, so I’d say you’re mildly acquainted at best.”

I run a hand down my face, trying not to snort at his terrible attempt to continue the Starbucks-is-an-old-friend joke. “I thought
it was my friend,
but, turns out, it was a regular coffee shop who took Polyjuice Potion and was pretending to be my friend.”

“Oh, no, too far.” He shakes his head, grinning. “You ruined it with the Polyjuice Potion reference.”

“What are you talking about? That was clever!
had already pushed it too far!”

“No, I pushed it the perfect amount. Shane, you pushed it to extreme-dork levels.”

My cheeks burn from the force of my smile. We’re about to turn left at the upcoming intersection when I spot something colorful on the corner.

I gasp. “Pies. Look.” I point toward my discovery and watch his eyes widen.

“Is that what I think is?”

“That’s a Beatles store! A whole Beatles-themed store!”

“Oh wait, that’s that band you like, right?” he says.

“I’m resisting the urge to smack your
arm so hard right now.” I’d actually like to grab his hand and drag him across the street, but my arm won’t obey that command; it’s too scared of rejection.

We rush across, hands unlinked. When the light changes on the next corner, we jog across and up onto the sidewalk outside the Beatles store.

“Wow!” I stare at the beautiful, brightly colored window display. “It’s Beatlesful,” I pronounce.
I turn to Pilot wearing a giant idiot smile.

He smothers a grin and shakes his head. “I have no words for that.”

“Did you get it?”

“Oh, I got it,” he says.

“That was clever.”

He shakes his head, smile still smooshed.

“Come on. It was clever!”

“Let it be, Shane. Let it be.” He heads into the shop.

I stand on the sidewalk for a second, processing. “Oh my.” I follow him in.

“Love Me Do”
plays inside the store. We’ve stepped into a Beatles wonderland: CDs, vinyls, sweatshirts, hats, socks, key chains. I know Pilot likes the Beatles. He keeps a chill front, but I can see it in his eyes. They’re all alight and eager as he inspects the trinkets. I squat down to get a better
look at what appears to be a set of Beatles-themed Russian nesting dolls in a glass display case. Pilot squats
next to me. His side brushes up against mine.

“Oh, man, look at the sizes! John is the biggest, Ringo’s the smallest. The shade.”

I turn away from the dolls to look at him. “Look who knows who the Beatles are.” For just a second, he smiles like a goof, then it’s back to cool-guy grin. When we stand up, he starts pointing out different vinyls that he owns as we walk through the displays.

Pilot calls from behind me as we wander down another aisle. “Beatles cards!”

I whip around, leaping over to where he is. “What?”

“Beatles playing cards, Shane. Target acquired. Mission accomplished.”

We walk back through the park as the sun ducks below the horizon.

“What’s your favorite Beatles song?” Pilot asks.

favorite Beatles song?” I throw back.

“Shot, you answer first,”
he says calmly.

“What do you mean,
shot, you answer first
? You can’t shot that I answer first!” I laugh.

“Uh, first rule of shotting, you can shot whatever you want to shot,” he responds with his voice all goofy.

I comply, trying to roll my eyes sarcastically and failing. “My favorite is ‘Hey Jude,’ I think, or ‘Yellow Submarine,’ or ‘Hello, Goodbye.’ Or, or … ‘Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da,’ I love that

He closes his eyes and nods with a closed-mouth smile. “Nice picks, nice picks.”

A pack of runners
past us on the trail. “Now you share yours,” I say expectantly.

“‘Helter Skelter,’ probably, or ‘I Am the Walrus,’ or ‘Octopus’s Garden,’ or ‘Eleanor Rigby’—they’ve got so many great ones.”

“How dare you have mocked me for saying I like the Beatles!”

He shrugs. “You look more like
a Taylor Swift kind of girl.”

“Um, excuse me,” I protest, “I am a Taylor Swift kind of girl, thank you very much. She’s marvelous.” I take a second to glare and dramatically toss my hair over my shoulder. “Music snob.”

He throws his head back with a laugh. Warm fuzzies bubble up inside me. I don’t know the science behind warm fuzzies and how they bubble, but they do.

7. Never Mind

I find Babe sitting on her bed, watching an animated movie on her computer. She looks up as the door closes behind me. Out the creeper window, I see Sahra on the couch in the kitchen, talking to her laptop.

“Hey!” Babe exclaims.

“Hey! Whatchya watching?”

!” She’s smiling ear to ear.

“Never saw that one.”

“You never saw
? It’s so cute!”

I drag a chair
up to Babe’s bed, so we can properly chat. “Did you know that Pilot has an album on iTunes?”

“What? I didn’t even know he made music!” She minimizes
and pulls iTunes up on her computer. I scoot over so I can look on.

“Is it under his name?” She starts typing in Pilot Penn.

“No, it’s under Swing Bearers.”

“Swing Bearers!” She giggles. “Ah! I love it.” She types it into the search
box and taps the enter key. We watch in suspense as the internet loads. An album called
Porcelain Trampoline
pops up, purchasable for $6.99.

“Oh my gosh, it’s real!” I laugh.

“Seven bucks? Heck yes!” Babe clicks the buy button.

We spend the next hour listening to the Swing Bearers while we sit on our computers. I like it. It has a relaxed, jazzy, vintage feel. When it
comes time to get ready
for the pub, I switch the music selection over to Britney Spears. Sahra comes back to the room, and we all get a little more dressed up. I change into my favorite skirt—a black high-waisted one with buttons—and a crop top with a blue-eyed tiger on it. Nothing too fancy, but more so than the jeans and blue New York T-shirt I was wearing on my walk with Pilot earlier.

The five of us sit around
a circular table in the Queen’s Head pub. I’m halfway through my first legal ordered-at-a-bar alcoholic drink: a glass of red wine. I dislike wine less than I dislike any other alcohol, so in the spirit of trying new things, I’ve decided to give it a chance. People say wine is an acquired taste, so I’m working on acquiring it.

Pilot, Atticus, and Babe are on their second Guinnesses, and Sahra’s
almost done with her glass of red wine. She’s telling us about her boyfriend, Val, and how much her family loves him. They took him with them last summer to Lebanon.

When the conversation dies down, Pilot suggests we play a drinking game called 21 that I’ve never heard of, but turns out to be amazing. We cackle our way through the entire game. Everyone gets to make all sorts of random rules that
correlate with the numbers between one and twenty-one. Babe creates a ridiculous one that has us all standing up and rotating to the chair on our right. Every round sends us moving around the table like we’re performing some weird, poorly choreographed dance, and every time we get up to rotate, we start laughing uncontrollably. My abs are sore when we finish.

“Have you guys used Skype to call
home yet?” Sahra asks, as we sober up from the game. “You can purchase minutes, and then use them to call the US, instead of spending a million dollars on your phone. It’s great. I’ve been talking to Val on it because the internet for video-chatting kinda sucks here.”

“I guess I should do that,” I pipe in. “I still haven’t actually spoken to my parents since I got here. I’ve never used Skype
before, but I’ve heard legends,” I add dramatically. “It can’t be too difficult, right?”

“How have you never used Skype?” Pilot says in disbelief.

Babe laughs. “It’s super-easy—my parents can do it. We have a Skype date tomorrow afternoon, to talk about the Rome trip.”

“Yeah, you’ll be fine. It’s self-explanatory,” Sahra adds with a smile.

I smile back happily (Sahra smiles are rare) and take
another small sip of my wine. I try not to wince as the sourness coats my tongue.

“I Skyped with my parents earlier,” Atticus says. “Which reminds me, did you get to Skype your girlfriend, Pilot? Sorry I was on the phone for so long.” Time slows.

I blink.

Um. What.

What does he mean,
? What does
he mean,
What does he mean, girlfriend
? My stomach does five hundred backflips
as I turn my head to gauge Pilot’s reaction. He’s mid-gulp of Guinness. I try to meet his eyes, but he focuses on Atticus.

“I, uh, no. It’s okay, no worries,” he says before looking down into his drink.

I catch Babe’s eye, and her expression of shock mirrors what I’d imagine my own face looks like right now. My eyes whip to Sahra—composed, as usual.

Babe speaks first. “You have a girlfriend?”
she exclaims, voicing my thundering thoughts aloud.

My mouth feels dry. I think I’m slowly sinking down through the floor. I’ve hit an iceberg.

“Yeah, you didn’t know?” Atticus says, sounding excited to reveal something we all didn’t know first.

Pilot looks up at Babe. “Yeah, but we’ve only been dating for three months,” he adds dismissively. His eyes bounce around the table and stop on mine.
I hold his gaze for a split second before looking away.

Only three months.

“Oh,” Babe says, like that explains something.

“Yeah, I asked her if she’d be up for putting things on hold … while I went abroad because I wanted to travel, and so we wouldn’t have to worry
about the long-distance thing, but she didn’t like that idea.” He chuckles nervously. “Do any of you have a boyfriend? I mean,
I know you do, Sahra.”

“Nope,” Babe answers cheerily.

“Single,” Atticus sings.

Pilot’s gaze falls on me.

I’m underwater. I stare at him for a moment before he repeats himself directly to me. “Do you?”

. I clear my throat. “Um, no. I, I’ve never, um, dated someone that I, um, I liked enough to keep dating,” I say softly.

I can practically hear my cousins snickering:
You’ve never
dated anyone.
A flush burns its way up my neck.

Pilot’s expression lights up. “Same!”

Babe nods her head at him in vigorous agreement. My armpits feel hot.

“I never really felt like I wanted a relationship, er, and then I met Amy, and we started dating and now, um, she’s the first real relationship I’ve had,” he continues.

Inhale. Exhale.

“So you’re going to stay together long distance, then?”
Babe asks.

He frowns for a moment. “I don’t know, really. We’ll see what happens.”

We’ll see what happens?

There’s the lifeboat. I clamber onto it and try to breathe normally again while Pilot brings up my idea for a Flat Three card night tomorrow. I don’t comment. Babe proclaims her excitement. Sahra might join us, but doesn’t sound too enthused. Atticus might be able to join us after theater.

1/13/11 2:00 a.m.

He has a girlfriend. Of course he does. How could he not? My stomach’s a churning pit of steaming embarrassment. And guilt! He has a girlfriend?!?!?

I keep replaying the conversation from the pub and feeling like an idiot.

What have we been doing, then? It’s only been three days, but I feel like we’ve been taking walks and flirting forever. It felt like we were kind of, sort
of, dating. I built up all these hopes. Now they’re all withering around in pieces on the floor of the pub.


It seems like he’s not serious about this girlfriend. Why have a girlfriend long distance if you’re not serious about her? You definitely don’t ask a girl you’re in love with if you can put your relationship on hold for four months while you’re in another country.
You don’t introduce the idea of your girlfriend to people with the phrase “we’ve only been dating for three months” if you’re in love. You don’t say, “I don’t know, we’ll see what happens” in response to a question about staying together long distance if you’re in love. You don’t, you just don’t. You don’t. You don’t. You don’t. You just don’t. You don’t.

Why wasn’t this on Facebook?

How do
I act around him now? As if everything’s fine? As if everything’s the same? Are they going to break up?

He said, “We’ll see what happens.” Like, what the actual fudge? *Metaphorically rips hair out.*

In other, less depressing news, I’m prepping to use Skype for the first time.

8. I Want to Be the Rainstorm, Not the House of Cards

It’s Thursday, and it’s pouring. I can hear the rain pummeling the Karlston. I’ve set myself up in the kitchen with Sawyer and a bagel. In my email, I find a letter with the name and address of the place I’m going be interning: a travel magazine called
Packed! For Travel!
I have to interview with them before things are definite. My interview
is scheduled for tomorrow afternoon, a few hours before we catch the plane for Rome.

I’ve been conditioned to think of creative jobs like mystical beings. Finding one would be like finding a unicorn. When I filled out the Common App for college three years ago, both of my parents were in the room, hovering over my shoulder. When I scrolled down to creative writing and added it as my major, Dad
jolted behind me. I knew it wasn’t what they were expecting.

What are you doing?” Dad yelped.

I’m choosing a major.”

Honey, we’ve known for years you want to be a doctor.” Mom smiled encouragingly.

Well, I’ve been thinking—”

No.” Dad tried to end the discussion.

What about journalism?” I moved the cursor to select it.

Where is this coming from? You’ve got straight A’s in all your
math and AP science classes; you’re going to be a great doctor,” Mom pushed.

Yeah, just, I took that creative writing elective last year and it was so fun. It got me thinking, maybe—”

There is no maybe. We talked about how that class was just for fun. I’m not going to drop fifty thousand dollars a year for you to graduate with no job prospects. What are you tryin’ to pull here?” Dad said.

I’m not trying to pull anything—”

Look at me,” Dad commanded. I twisted to look him in the eye. “Do you trust me? Do you trust your dad?” I felt my lips start to quiver. I smashed them into a line, gave him a quick nod. “We know what’s best for you.”

I get where they were coming from, but—
Packed! For Travel!
is a real-life, well-known magazine that can lead to a real-life job prospect.

I spend
the morning in the kitchen, alternating between researching
and reading book three in the Vampire Academy series:
Shadow Kiss
. When I break midday and head out into the hall, it’s full of music. Guitar. I tread lightly down the corridor and stop outside my room.

Across the way, Pilot’s door is wide open. He’s sitting inside on a navy-blue twin bed, fiddling with a shiny tan guitar. There’s
a big map of the UK pinned up on the wall behind him. It takes a few moments for him to register that I’m watching. When he does, he stops playing.

“Hey,” he starts.

“Hey.” I hesitate a moment before crossing the hall to lean against his doorframe.
Be outgoing and act normal
. “You were able to bring your guitar here with you?” I say softly.

“Oh yeah, of course! I can’t go four months without
playing. I carried it on the plane.”

I feel myself smile. “Does she have a name?”

“What, my guitar?”

“No, your bed,” I quip.

He looks at me nervously and I feel my cheeks redden, oh my god.
Oh god.

“Yes, your guitar!” I add quickly.

“Hmm.” He considers for a moment. “She doesn’t have a name, but now that you mention it, maybe she deserves a name.”

“She deserves a name,” I agree. “My computer
is Sawyer.”

He laughs. “As in Tom?”

“As in James Ford, the con man with a heart of gold, who changed his name to Sawyer, as in Tom Sawyer.”

Pilot narrows his eyes in confusion.

“It’s a

“Ohhh,” he says, understanding dawning. “I never watched that show.”

I put on my best snob voice. “It’s only one of the greatest shows of all time.”

He purses his lips. “I’ll add it to the Netflix

“So, your guitar?” I prompt.

“So, my guitar.” He rests it on his lap so it’s facing upward, and runs a hand reverently along the edges. “I’m thinking she feels like a Lucy.”

“‘In the Sky with Diamonds’?”

“‘In the Sky with Diamonds,’” he confirms with a half smile.

There’s a beat of silence. My heart rams nervously. “I listened to Porcelain Trampoline yesterday,” I blurt.

His eyes
light up. “And…”

And—why didn’t I prepare a beautifully thought-out review? I’m not quite sure what to say. I liked it, but I’m still upset about last night, and it’s making me wary of complimenting him.

“It was really good. I rated it four out of five stars.”

His grin stretches. “Four out of five? Why not five out of five?”

I stammer for a response. “Uh, with five out of five, there’s no
room to grow! Maybe next time will be five stars.”

He laughs. “It’s okay, I’m just kidding.”

I nod and focus on the guitar instead of his face. “Are you working on new stuff?”

“Yeah, like I said, hoping to put out that next album while I’m here.”

“Oh, yeah! So, the five-star album is already in the making. Has London inspired you?” I say teasingly.

He blows out a breath. “Actually, a lot
of family stuff,” he says more quietly. The way his demeanor changes throws me. Guarded. I shouldn’t have asked such a personal question. I falter for a second.
Change the subject

“You should start a YouTube channel so people can hear your music!”

He picks up the guitar, strums something, and stops. “I don’t know, maybe,”
he muses unconvincingly. “Anyway, new album’s almost done. I’m just adding
in little things here and there, and then sending it to Ted so he can make final tweaks.”

“You almost have two albums under your belt. That’s awesome…” I trail off as he starts to play again, and back away toward my own room, not wanting to impede on his guitar time.

“Shane,” he calls out, as I’m shoving my key into the lock. I pivot around.


He’s smiling now. “What time are we playing
cards tonight?” The fuzzies bubble again.

The Skype call I scheduled with my parents rolls around before I’m ready for it. At 4:00 p.m. I dial them, swallowing hard at the nervous lump in my throat. Seconds later, their pixelated faces swim up in front of me—nicely framed, I may add. My how-to-frame-a-photo lectures have paid off. We exchange hellos and basic pleasantries. My palms are sweating.

“So, how’s it going?” my mother probes excitedly. “How’s class? Are your roommates on the premed track? I was looking at that brochure today and it sounds like it’s gonna be tough—you should make some friends in your program.”

My parents have a
YU London Study Abroad—Premed Track
brochure that I forged last semester. I trekked down to the YU study abroad office, took a brochure for each track
offered in London, and put together a masterpiece.

“Guess what? I’m going to Rome this weekend!” I deflect.

Mom full-on gasps. “But you just got there.”

Dad’s brows knit together. “How much is that gonna cost?”

“Don’t worry, I’m using the money I’ve saved from working over breaks.”

Mom’s lips fall into a worried frown.

“And what happens when that runs out?” Dad asks bluntly.

Mom’s eyebrows
shoot up. “Sal!”

“Hey! I’m just lookin’ out for our daughter.”

“I’ll work over the summer. Dad, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”

He sighs. “Well, that’s great, I guess. Headed to the homeland, eh?” He smiles like he’s been to Italy.

“And you guys said learning Italian wouldn’t come in handy,” I add in a silly voice. Dad waves his hands dismissively.

Mom scoots her chair closer to
the desktop and leans in toward the camera. “Make sure you’re careful! You’re wearing the cross-body purse like we talked about, right?”

“How’s class? This travel won’t affect your studies?” Dad asks.

“Have you made friends in your program?” Mom smiles. “Are you sleeping well? Eating healthy?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, Ma, and everything’s going great! And yeah, um, one of my roommates is in my program
 … Sahra’s premed.”

Mom’s smile stretches. “Good! That’s great, Shane.” And then, just as quickly, it droops. “Oh my god, Shane, your nails!”

I quickly move my hands out of the shot. “Ma!”

“What did I tell you about leaving old nail polish on? It’s not professional. Let me see your nails again. They look terrible, Shane. Go out and get some nail polish remover.”

“Okay. I’ll pick some up.”

Dad interrupts. “You seeing any guys out there?”

I drop my head into my hands. “Dad,” I groan.

“Shane, really, your nails.”

I shove my hands under my thighs. “No! I’m not seeing any guys, gah! I’ve only been here for, like, three days. What’s going on there?”

Dad looks pointedly into the camera with his eyes all wide. “You know it’s okay for you to date people. I never said you can’t date!”
This is, like, the third time we’ve been through this spiel. Dad’s already worried I’m going to die alone. Either that or he’s worried I’m gay. I have to check Dad and Uncle Dan on homophobic crap all the time.

I roll my eyes. “Oh my god, Dad, I never thought you did.”

“You gotta stop sitting around with those books all the time!”

I close my eyes and suck in a cleansing breath.

Mom sighs.
“Are the classes harder or easier than YU?”

I shrug and wave my hands. “Um, yeah, they’re different. My teachers have accents and stuff.”

“What does that mean? Do accents make things harder—”

“Oh my god. Wait! I haven’t told you about the grocery store. You guys…” I jump into my Tesco story, and it’s extremely satisfying to see them react just as drastically as I did when I tell them about
the sauce selection. When the story concludes, I tell them I have to go.

Mom comes close to the camera again, “Okay, love you!
Be very careful! Be smart!

“Yeah, listen to your mother!”

I roll my eyes. “I always listen to my mother, and I’m always smart!”

“Do something about your nails!” Mom exclaims.

I hang up, sagging as a breath
out of me.

1/12/11 11:45 p.m.

Bad news: Hardcore
lying to my parents is already eating me up from the inside.

Good news: Card night was a giant hit!

I think I bonded with Sahra! Just when I thought she didn’t want to be friends, she offered to pick up dinner for card night. She was on the way out for her internship interview, and she turned around and said: “Hey, should I grab everyone shawarma for card night later?”

I had no idea what the
heck shawarma was, but I obviously said yes. Babe, Pilot, and I were all shawarma noobs before tonight.


Sahra carefully unloaded wrapped food items from a white paper bag and distributed them among us. Before I had even touched mine, Pilot had unwrapped his and taken a bite.

“It’s SO GOOD,” he told us through a mouthful. Babe agreed around her own mouthful
with a vigorous head bob.

“I know.” Sahra plopped down at the table with us.

I dropped my gaze to the wrap before me. There were pickles in it. I’m not a pickle fan, but it smelled great, like really well-marinated chicken, so I kneaded away the paper at snail speed before hesitantly taking a bite. And then another. Because it was delicious and full of new taste combos I’ve never had together
before. Pickles were made to be in shawarma.

“This is amazing!” I raised the wrap. “We should do this again next week.”

“Totally vote we make Flat Three shawarma a weekly thing!” Babe seconded.

Sahra laughed, looking pleased. “Shawarma Wednesdays?”

“Shwednesdays,” Pilot pronounced.

“I’m down.” Sahra smiled.

And so, tonight, Shwenesday was born.

We used my Beatles cards. I showed off a little
and shuffled the cards fancy. Leo and I once spent a whole day teaching
ourselves card tricks. His little brother Alfie was our official shuffle-off judge.

Babe was all impressed with me. “How did you do that?”

I told them I was a professional, and then proceeded to mess up my bridge, spewing cards across the table. Embarrassment hit me hard for half a second, but then I snorted, Pilot made
fun of me, and we all broke into laughter.

I taught everyone Rummy 500. Sahra put up a good fight. It came down to one hand in the end, but I won. Pilot’s girlfriend came up once. Out of the blue, Babe asked if Amy (that’s her) liked to play cards. Pilot said it wasn’t her thing. The question was followed by an extended moment of awkward silence. I started sweating, stood to grab a glass of water,
and my chair flipped backward, filling the void with the clash of metal on tile. I growled involuntarily, Babe and Pilot exploded into laughter again, and Atticus walked through the door just in time to join us for the next round. So, all in all, a good night.

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