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Authors: Christine Riccio

Again, but Better (9 page)

BOOK: Again, but Better
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12. Has He Heard?

“Hey!” Pilot greets us. Normal inflection. Good sign.

back casually. At least I try to. I think my eyes are a little too wide to really pull it off. He’s carrying a store-bought frozen dinner that he pops out of its cardboard box and throws into the microwave before dropping into the seat at the head of the table. Babe and I are seated on either side of him.

how’s it going?” Babe asks tentatively.

“Good, good! I got my internship confirmed this morning so that was good,” he answers normally.

“Me too!” I interject.

“Nice!” he adds with a grin/head-bob combo. He’s wearing a red-and-black plaid shirt with a black T-shirt layered underneath. I nod, relaxing slightly.

Babe smiles at me like
see, we’re fine
before turning back to him. “I’m trying to
plan a trip to Paris for this weekend! You want to come?”

Pilot glances at me and then back at Babe. “Uh, yeah, I’m down. Who else is going?”

“Shane and me and my friend Chad—so far!” The room’s slowly filling with the delicious smell of Italian food as the microwave defrosts Pilot’s meal.

Pies makes a Soprano-esque frown-approval face and nods his head. “Sign me up. Sounds like a party. We
can take the Eurostar train, right?”

I turn my attention back to my computer screen, a tiny relieved smile crawling up my face.

“Yes!” Babe beams. “Yes, we can. Great. I’m going to look up the things we can do and get everything planned, and it’s going to be so much fun. I’m so excited! It’s gonna be epic!” She gathers her things and
out of the kitchen.

The microwave beeps. Pilot gets
up to grab his lasagna and slides back into his chair. “So, we’re going to Paris,” he says casually, digging into his food.

I look up for a second to make eye contact. “Apparently.”

He nods, his lips quirked up to one side. I turn back to my computer. When Pilot finishes eating and leaves the kitchen, I blast Ke$ha and give in to a brief celebratory he-didn’t-see-the-posts-and-we’re-going-to-Paris
dance party.

13. Here Goes Nothing

1/19/11 11:05 p.m.

Tomorrow after class we go to Paris. What is my life now? I’m glad I’ve been hoarding my savings for years because I’m going to run out of summer work money faster than expected if I keep up this avid traveler thing.

Earlier today I Skyped with Mom. She mentioned that she and Dad are thinking about coming out to visit. I did my best to discourage
her without arousing suspicion or sounding mean.

I downloaded this game everyone’s talking about called Angry Birds on my iPod this morning. Super-frustrating, but addictive as hell. I wasted an hour where I could have been reading or writing, throwing birds at green pigs.

Tonight was Flat Three’s first official Shwednesday! I went out for the shawarma. It was even better the second time around.
Afterward, we all played a game of Rummy 500. Atticus gave me a run for my money.

Past Eurostar security, I find myself in an area that feels very much like an airport terminal: lots of tired people sitting around in chairs, a Caf
Nero, and a little restaurant. Babe and Chad already left on a 4:00 p.m. train because they get out of class earlier than me and Pilot. The two of us are set to
catch a 6:30 p.m. train, and we’re all going to meet at the hostel Babe booked for us.

I spot Pilot chilling in a seating area off to the right with a backpack at his feet. He’s dressed in an unbuttoned red-and-blue plaid button-up with a gray T-shirt underneath and jeans. His green jacket is tucked under one of his arms, and white headphones trail from his ears down to an iPod in his hand.

Nerves prickle my skin. I wonder if he feels weird about this. Not only are we going to Paris in a foursome, but we’ve broken off into twosomes to actually get there. Why couldn’t Babe wait these two hours and go with us? I roll my stuff toward the seating area.

“Hey,” I say brightly when I’m about two feet away.

Pilot hadn’t seen me, and he startles, yanking out his headphones.

I chuckle and
take the seat next to him. “What were you listening to?”

“Secret snobby hipster music,” he says without pause as he wraps his headphones and stuffs them away in a backpack. “You wouldn’t know it.”

“Are you embarrassed to tell me? Was it super-mainstream? Was it the Backstreet Boys?”

Pilot’s mouth falls open. “How’d you know?”

I blink in surprise. “Wait, really?”

“No.” He laughs.

I scrunch
up my face and extend my arms in a pushing motion, without actually pushing him. “This is me mentally pushing you over.”

The seats on the train are divided into sections of two. It’s going to be a two-and-half-hour ride, and we’re going to spend a lot of it under the English Channel.

Pilot takes the window seat, and I plop down next to him after storing my roller bag above us. I fish my iPod
Touch out of my book bag before
stuffing it down by my feet. Right on time, the train pulls forward, and we’re on our way.

“Have you played that game everyone’s talking about, Angry Birds?” I ask as my iPod powers up.

“No, I’ve heard of it, though,” he says. Pilot shifts a bit so we can look at each other more easily when we talk.

“I just got it on my iPod and tried it the other day. It’s pretty
fun. Do you want to play?”


“Okay, we can switch off. I’ll go first so you can watch my technique,” I say.

He grins, leaning in to see the tiny screen in my hand. I’m only on level three. I don’t have much technique, but I play my round leaning slightly to the right so Pilot can watch. Our heads get close as we hunch over the little iPod. My heart gets excited. My hands get sweaty. When
I lose, I pass him the iPod so he can give it a go.

Soon, we’re completely lost, having an excellent time strategizing together about how best to take out our targets with the allotted amount of birds. Some levels go quickly, but others stump us for rounds and rounds of going back and forth between the two of us, and all the while, we’re sitting so close.

All the alarms go off in my brain when
I realize his shoulder’s leaning against mine. We’re touching shoulders!
Shoulders are touching.
This is something!
Must stay still. Can’t. Lose. Shoulder contact.

“Awww,” he croons sympathetically as my last bird dies. “You were so close. I got this.” He gently takes the iPod from my hands.
Yeah, sorry I missed that last pig, I’m a little busy trying to be a statue over here.

We’re on level twenty-seven now. I don’t know how long we’ve been doing this, but I can finally see out the window again. When Pilot loses the level, he takes notice of the change and suddenly sits up straight, breaking shoulder contact.

“Oh, man, we must be getting close!” He hands me back the iPod. My chest deflates a smidgen as his body heat leaves my arm.

“Yeah, that was fast,” I say, trying
to sound casual and not at all distracted by romantic shoulder-contact nostalgia as I turn off my iPod and repack it in my bag.

A Parisian taxi drops us off outside a building that looks kind of like a run-down diner. It’s decorated with faded signs proclaiming it to be our hostel, so we head through the door. The inside looks like a diner too. To the left is a cafeteria-looking area, and ahead
of us is a young girl in a red tank top standing behind a tall hostess-like desk, texting. To her left, Babe and a pale boy with dark hair are waiting for us on a bench.

“Hi!” Babe jumps up. “We’ve been down here for thirty minutes now. I figured you’d be arriving within the hour window, and since our phones are shoddy, I wanted to make sure we were here to meet you. We’ve just been hanging out,
so you haven’t missed anything. I got the keys for our room and your room.”

I bring my roller bag to a stop behind me. “We have two rooms?” I ask, confused.

“Well, they didn’t have four beds available in one room, so we’re in one room, and you guys have two beds in the other room. I figured this way we both have guys in the room with us, so we’d feel safer about the random strangers,” she says

I swallow hard. Pilot and I don’t comment. This is weird. I wonder if there really isn’t a room available with four beds, or if this is a ploy to give Babe and Chad time by themselves. She hands me and Pilot keys.

“Come on, let’s go drop your things off and get some food—oh!” She turns, remembering Chad, who’s still sitting quietly behind her on the bench. “This is Chad. Chad, this is
Shane and Pilot.”

Chad gets up. He’s a little shorter than Pilot—about five-nine with spiked-up dark hair, brown eyes, and a long straight nose. He stretches out his hand, so I shake it. “Yo, yo, nice to meet you,” he says.

I nod and smile.

“Nice to meet you, man,” Pilot says, taking Chad’s hand. I keep sneaking glances at Pilot to see how he’s gauging all this. He doesn’t look caught
off guard
or uncomfortable. He looks chill. I relax a little bit. If he’s not uncomfortable, I shouldn’t be uncomfortable. He’s the one with a girlfriend.

“You guys are on the sixth floor,” Babe explains as we follow her down a bland, gray corridor. We pass a shelf full of brochures and tourist maps. Pilot snatches a couple as we go by. The corridor leads to an elevator. We load in and press six. I stare
at the other buttons; they’re different from the usual elevator. The ground floor is labeled zero and then there’s a negative one floor … and a negative two floor.

“Guys, look, floor negative two!” I laugh stupidly.

Babe snorts. “Oh my gosh, I didn’t even see that.”

“Must be where they store the dead bodies,” Chad adds. Babe laughs enthusiastically at his non-joke.

I exchange a look with Pilot,
and his eyes go round with amusement. There’s a ding, and we file out into another dimly lit corridor, stopping outside a door labeled
. It swings open to reveal a large room with six beds: all singles, with white sheets, spaced about a foot apart. It looks like an old-fashioned infirmary. Everything glows a greenish-yellow under the outdated overhead lights—the same kind we used to have in
my elementary school classrooms. To the right of the door are a half a dozen blue lockers. It looks like gym class.

“Wow, cozy.” Pilot grins. He throws himself onto the bed nearest to the door, opens a map, and starts studying.

Babe and Chad linger near the door as I inspect the lockers.

“This is a little scary,” I start hesitantly. It doesn’t appear that anyone else is currently staying in
the room, but I see that two of the lockers have locks on them.

“You guys have more beds in here than us,” Chad says. “We only have four.”

“Oh boy, more strangers for us.” I chuckle nervously and test out a locker.

“Don’t worry, we’ll be fine,” Pilot says, dropping the map down onto his lap.

Pilot and I don’t have locks.

Babe reads my mind. “They have locks you can buy downstairs! I got one
for me and Chad to share. You guys can get one.”

“Cool, cool,” Pilot says, rolling off the bed. He hangs his backpack in one of the lockers, and I shove my carry-on into another.

After we sort out our lock situation, the four of us find a Chinese restaurant that’s still open and grab dinner. My chest feels tight as we head back to the hostel, and my pits are sweating up a storm.

We’re sharing
a room and bathroom with random strangers who could be ice-pick killers. And I’m going to be sleeping in a bed a foot away from Pilot. What do I do about makeup? Do I sleep with my makeup on? I’m not ready to be makeup-less around Pilot. I’ve never been without makeup, close up, around a boy I like. I’m going to have to take it off when I know it’s dark and he can’t see me, and run to the bathroom
in the morning to put it on before he wakes up.

Babe and Chad get off at the third floor, leaving Pilot and me alone in the elevator as we head up to six. When we get to our room, the lights are dimmer than before, and there are bodies asleep in two of the beds in the far left corner.

Pilot sighs and collapses onto his bed with a grin. “I’m gonna crash. I’m knackered.”

I snort. “
so wrong without an English accent.”

Quietly, I maneuver my suitcase out of the locker and roll myself to the other end of the room. There’s another door here, and it must lead to the bathroom. When I push it open, heavenly light blazes out into the sleeping area. I stumble in as quickly as possible and lock the door behind me.

It’s a restroom. There’s another door across from this door, which
suggests that you can enter from another room as well. Joy. I lock that door too before catching sight of myself in the mirror. My mass of blond hair looks matted and disheveled.

I strip down and switch out my boots for flip-flops before stepping into the shower with my travel soaps. It’s a tiny claustrophobic white rectangle. I imagine this is what it’d be like to stand vertically in a casket
lined with
white tile. I close the flimsy plastic curtain behind me and look for a shower dial. There’s only a button.
One button
. A giant, rounded silver dome amongst the tiles.
What the fudge?

I step as far out of the way of the showerhead as possible (not far at all; any oncoming water will be inescapable) and smash my hand against the button. Water sprays out of the showerhead right onto
my face. It’s warm, but nowhere near comfortable levels. I sigh, speeding through my cleaning ritual. About twenty seconds into wetting my hair, the water goes off.

And now I’m freezing.

“Are you kidding me?”

Oops, I didn’t mean to say that out loud. I smash my hand against the button again. More lukewarm water falls over me. I soap up my hair. Forty-five seconds later, the water turns off
again. Deadpan, I smack the button. What the heck is this shower that only turns on in forty-five-second spurts?

Five minutes later, I step out, seething, and pull on a tank top and sweatpants. Do I have to wear a bra? I bra up. I’m not ready to be walking around braless in a room alone with Pilot and two strangers. After brushing my teeth and taking several deep breaths, I exit the bathroom.

It looks like I had nothing to worry about. Pilot’s already asleep. He lies on his side, facing the door. I tiptoe over and slide into the bed next to his, shifting myself into a comfortable position, facing his back, when suddenly Pilot turns to look at me. I nervously yank the thin white blanket up to my neck.

“Night, Shane,” he murmurs sleepily.

“Night,” I whisper as he turns back toward the

BOOK: Again, but Better
12.1Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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