I See London, I See France Excerpt
I See London, I See France (July 2017)
Excerpt: Chapter 1
The Basics: London, the capital of England, is the perfect gateway city for your European adventure. You can fly there directly from pretty much anywhere in America, it’s a five-hour time difference from the East Coast plus the Brits speak English. Um, most of the time. They snog instead of kiss, wear knickers instead of underwear, and spend pounds instead of dollars, so you might not always understand what they’re bloody (bloody = curse word!) talking about.
I am going to Europe. EUROPE. I am leaving the country. I have never left the country, and now I’m going to at least five countries.
If we make it to the gate.
“Run, Leela, run! Come on! Hurry!” I yell as the two of us charge through the airport. “They just called final boarding!”
“Wait!” she calls back. “I lost a sandal!”
I turn to see her hopping on one foot. Her bright blue purse is overflowing with a black leather wallet, Vogue, People, EW, Newsweek, hand sanitizer, a small sketch pad, pencils, her iPhone, and an open metallic makeup bag the size of a microwave. She’s also holding a white plastic bag stuffed with chips, a vitaminwater, and a sandwich.
“I dropped the napkins!” she says. “I have to go back for the napkins!”
“Forget the napkins,” I order. “We don’t have time for napkins. Put your foot back in your shoe and keep moving! I’ll take your food, let’s go!”
I grab her bag along with mine and keep running. Instead of a purse, I’m wearing a small black backpack that’s keeping everything in place. My passport. My wallet. My guidebook. Four paperbacks—One Day, The Paris Wife, Daughter of Smoke and Bone, and My Brilliant Friend—that all take place in cities I’m planning to visit. Now that it’s summer vacation, I can finally read whatever I want.
When we get to the gate there is only one person in front of us.
The board says:
Departs: 5:00 p.m.
“We made it!” I say, panting. “I can’t believe it.”
Our first almost-delay was when my mother nearly had a panic attack when Leela’s parents picked me up to take us to the airport. She’d come to the driveway to say good-bye, but as I was getting into the car, I saw her eyes glaze over and she seemed very far away. “Mom?” I said, freezing in my spot. “Are you okay?”
“Just a bit light-headed,” she answered, retreating toward the house. “Don’t worry about me. Go. Have a safe flight.”
I felt slightly sick as I watched her close the front door behind her. I wondered: Can I really do this? Can I really leave?
“Everything okay?” Leela’s dad asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s go.”
So we went.
Traffic was miserable, costing us an extra ten minutes. Then security pulled Leela over to examine her massive makeup bag to make sure she wasn’t breaking any kind of liquids rule.
“Why do you need so many lipsticks?” I asked her.
“That’s a ridiculous question.”
“Then why didn’t you pack them in your suitcase?”
“Most of them are in my suitcase. But I couldn’t pack all of them in there. I was worried they would melt.”
The final straw was my fault. I insisted on stopping at our terminal’s Fresh Market to get sandwiches. That way we’ll be able to eat as soon as we get on the plane, be done before takeoff and can go straight to sleep. But the line inched forward and we almost missed boarding.
Yet we made it. We lost the napkins, kept the lipsticks, and we made it. Now, we’re here at the gate. Electricity and excitement rush up my spine—I’m seriously, no joke, actually doing this. I am traveling around Europe with my best friend for four and a half weeks. Holy crap.
“Boarding pass and passport, please,” the flight attendant says when it’s our turn.
“Here you go,” I say, and hand over my paperwork.
“Have a good flight, Sydney,” the flight attendant tells me, and hands back my stuff. She turns to Leela.
“Damn,” Leela says. “My boarding pass was with the napkins.”
Tip: Are you taking a late-night flight? Sleep on the plane! That way you’ll be well rested when you land and ready to hit the ground running. Otherwise you’re totally going to be a hot mess by noon.
Somehow we make it. We spot the pile of napkins and the boarding pass and thirty minutes later, we’re in the air. I take a final bite of my Fresh Market sandwich. “Bathroom, then sleep,” I say.
“Perfect,” Leela says, still chewing. “I’ll watch our stuff.”
Her stuff is already overflowing from her seatback pocket and covering both her floor area and mine.
As I make my way toward the back, I can’t believe I actually left. I haven’t been on a plane since I was ten, over nine years ago. I feel free, like a balloon floating through the sky.
The plane rocks to the left.
Free. And slightly untethered.
I push away any feelings of uneasiness. The next four and a half weeks are going to be amazing. Incredible. Amazingly incredible.
I smile at the passengers as I pass them. Hello, little boy! Hello, little girl. Hello, too-skinny mom. Hello, extremely sweaty dad. Hello, cute guy.
At first, I don’t recognize him.
Then I think: His shaggy brown hair, pink cheeks, and lazy smile look familiar.
Then I realize. MATT. IT’S MATT. Leela’s ex-boyfriend MATT.
I have never met Matt in person, since Leela met him in Montreal at McGill University, but I recognize him from her Facebook, Snapchat, and Instagram. Selfies of the two of them on the top of a mountain (#climbedit #MontRoyal), pulling all-nighters at the library (#needcoffee), and sharing a plate of french fries, gravy, and cheese curds (#myfirstpoutine).
Leela introduced us via FaceTime, too.
He’s definitely as cute in real life as he was on the phone.
He’s watching something on his iPad. I make a U-turn, go back to our row, and sink into my aisle seat.
“I forgot my parents’ converter,” Leela says. “To plug stuff in.”
“Don’t worry about that. I bought one and definitely packed it. We can share.” I place my hand on her arm. “But brace yourself, my friend. Matt’s on the plane.”
Leela gasps. “My Matt?”
“No,” she finally says when she catches her breath. She drops the rest of her sandwich in her lap. Cheddar. Everywhere.
“Yes,” I repeat.
“Are you sure it’s him?”
“Ninety-nine percent sure.”
“Thirtyish. He’s wearing a McGill sweatshirt.”
She buries her face in her hands. “The jackass is on my airplane. What the hell is he doing on my airplane?”
“Technically the airplane is owned by Delta. Yet operated by Virgin Atlantic.”
She doesn’t laugh, even though it was super funny. Okay, maybe not super funny, but definitely a little funny. I would have laughed if she’d said it.
“He must be in our original seats,” she says. “Thank God I switched mine to be next to you. Thank God. Could you imagine if I had to sit next to him for the entire plane ride? I would die. DIE.”
“Can we not talk about dying when we’re on a plane over the ocean? Thank you.”
“He was supposed to cancel his ticket,” she continues. “I told him you were coming with me, and he said he’d go home and get a job in Toronto instead. So why is he here? On my plane? Why would he fly out of Baltimore? He doesn’t even live in Baltimore! I do!”
“Didn’t you buy the tickets to London together? He probably just kept his. Or maybe he likes the Orioles? I don’t know,” I say. I look out the small window by her head. All I see is blue. “Are you going to go back and yell at him?”
“Yes! No. I don’t want to see him. I don’t want to talk to him. He knows I’m on the plane. If he wants to see me, he can look for me. He’s an ass.” She jerks up. “Crap. Was he sitting with someone?”
“I don’t know,” I say. “I was so surprised to see him I ran right back here. I never made it to the bathroom.”
“Did he notice you?” she asks, worried. “I’m sure he’d recognize you too.”
“No, no. He was watching something. I don’t think he saw me.”
“Please, please, please go back and see if he’s sitting with anyone.”
“Yes. Please. I need to know.” She shakes her head. “No way he’s going to Europe by himself.”
“He might be,” I say. “Lots of people do.”
“No,” she says. “He’s not the solo traveler type. Oh God, I bet he’s with that chick Ava. She’s probably sitting right next to him. They’re probably feeding each other peanuts. Peanuts! I hate peanuts! Who actually eats the peanuts they give you on airplanes?”
“They don’t pass out peanuts anymore. Too many allergies. It’s a lawsuit waiting to happen.”
“Can you just pretend you’re going to the bathroom and check?”
“I actually do have to go to the bathroom. Still.”
“Perfect. Problem solved.” Leela’s face is desperate, pleading. Her brown eyes look crazed. Even her usual sleek brown hair is mussed, adding to an overall manic look.
I unbuckle my seat belt and stand up. We’re in row fourteen. The plane rumbles beneath my feet as I carefully maneuver my way to the back. Twenty-eight. Twenty-nine. Thirty.
I look up. And there he is. Still in the aisle seat. Still watching a movie. There’s an older man reading a James Patterson novel to the left of him.
Not Ava. Small miracle.
Matt looks up. Notices me staring. We lock eyes. I look away but it’s too late. Oops.
“Hey,” he says.
“Hello, Matthew,” I say. Crap. If he didn’t know who I was at first, I blew it as soon as I said his name. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do, so I keep moving, using the backs of people’s chairs to wipe off my now-sweaty palms. Luckily there’s no one in the bathroom, so I quickly step in and lock the door behind me.
On my way back, I pretend he doesn’t exist.
Leela is gripping her armrests like the plane is going down.
“He’s alone. And he saw me,” I say.
“What do I do?”
“I don’t know. Go talk to him?”
“He should come talk to me! He should apologize again! He cheated on me! He’s on my plane!” Her voice is a hysterical whisper.
“You’re right,” I say. “He should come talk to you.”
“He’d better,” she says.
I take a deep breath of stale airplane air and wiggle around, trying to get comfortable. It’s tough, since the seat seems to be designed for a preschooler.
Leela combs her fingers through her long dark hair. “Do I look okay? In case he comes back?”
“You look great,” I tell her.
“How’s my lipstick?”
“Still good,” I say.
“Thank you, Bite.”
I slip off my shoes and try to stretch out my socked toes. “What’s Bite?”
“This Canadian brand of lipstick I’m obsessed with. I’m applying for an internship there next summer. I love their branding.” Leela is studying marketing at McGill.
I’m studying English lit at the University of Maryland.
I turn to her, realizing the implication of what she just said. “You might stay in Canada next summer?”
“Maybe,” she says. “If I get the internship.”
I sink back into my seat, feeling something close to relief that I came on this trip. Leela and I need this month together. A friendship can’t survive on childhood memories alone. We have to create new experiences, or the friendship will shrivel up. Like the orchids my dad sent me for my birthday that I completely forgot to water.
She points to the screen above us. “Want to watch the movie?”
“I thought we were going to sleep?”
“I can’t sleep at a time like this! Also I have to pee. And there’s no way in hell I’m going to the bathroom.”
Tip: You might want to get CFAR (Cancel for Any Reason) insurance to prepare for the unexpected. If you don’t, you’re SOL if your boyfriend hooks up with some random girl and you want to get a refund. Sorry.