DISCLAIMER: Characters of Popular belong to someone who is not me.
SHOUTOUT: Many thanks to Carla for taking a look and giving me some much-needed input. Eternal gratitude goes to Junebug for advice on all topics medical, grammatical & plot-ical.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
By Green Quarter
"Here's a hundred Euros." I hand Brooke a wad of bills after I return from the Bureau de Change.
"Thanks, Sugar Momma," she says sarcastically and puts the money in her pocket. She's been minding our stuff while I change money, sitting on the floor near her backpack in a not so heavily trafficked spot against a column at the Termini in Rome. This is by far one of the busiest train stations I've been in. It's immense. Pigeons are flying above us, lazily gliding from rafter to rafter as if they are flitting about the treetops. The bustle of people going places is a constant white noise in the background, along with the chimes that precede the announcements made over the public address system, first in Italian, then in English.
Our dealings over money have become the sticking point in this new, tentative alliance we have been building over the last week. It's not like we're ready to become contestants on the Amazing Race or anything, but at least we are amicable most of the time, and bordering on civil the remainder. But distributing the funds is always hard for me because I don't trust Brooke enough yet. I give her spending money every few days and keep the rest in my money belt, taking care of paying for meals and accommodation for the both of us. I know it is not an ideal solution to the problem; I don't want her to feel like she's in Kindergarten or something with her name and address pinned to her sweater, but I don't know what else to do. Part of me just wants to give her half and be done with it, but what would happen if she blows it all again and becomes stranded? She sure as hell wouldn't stick around once she had the cash, and how would she get in touch with me if she needed help? Not that I would look forward to bailing her out again.
"Last chance for gelato. You want?" Brooke asks me, gesturing towards the Gelateria a little further down the concourse.
Of course I want. I nod.
Brooke gets up, dusts off her rear end and moves off. "The usual?" she asks, over her shoulder.
"Yeah," I reply. "Wait. Here's some money."
She keeps walking, dismissing me with a wave of her hand.
If there is one thing that has bonded us through our travels in Italy, it is this. Sweet, delicious gelato. This rich, creamy, intensely flavorful Italian version of ice cream has done what our parents and friends could not accomplish in three years. It has made us forget our differences. When we eat gelato, there are entire ten-minute stretches of time when we are in complete harmony. We quickly discovered while still in Florence over a week ago that if relations between us were escalating to the point of physical harm, as they seemed to about every half hour in the beginning, we merely needed to turn to this heaven in a waxed paper cup to calm us into a more conciliatory mood. Enormous amounts of gelati were eaten in the last week. Enormous amounts.
Brooke returns with two small cups, tiny spoons sticking out from the top. She hands me mine and flops back down on her bag.
"What'd you get this time?" I ask.
"Lampone," Brooke says mysteriously.
And so begins our little gelato ritual. She holds out her cup and I take a taste, trying to figure out what her Italian flavor translates to in English.
"Raspberry," I say almost immediately. It tastes like the berries were picked this morning.
"Yup." Brooke looks at my cup. "I'll never understand why you go for the same flavor every time when there are a million different kinds of yummy gelati out there."
I hold out my cup and Brooke digs her spoon in. She never declines, even though I've chosen the same flavor since our second trip to the Gelateria. "Call me boring if you will, but at least I know what I'll be getting. I like it. You do too."
"I didn't mean it was boring, exactly. And I do like it. It's good to know that if I go out on a limb and get something I don't really like, at least I'll have one taste of your baci."
"Yes. It is the most perfect gelato flavor,"' I say smugly, as Brooke dips her spoon into my cup again. The raspberry is very good too, and my spoon finds its way back to her cup. "But I take issue with your saying 'one taste of my baci.' Remember liquirizia? You hogged almost my whole thing because you didn't know yours was licorice flavored."
"Well look who's had three bites of my raspberry so far. Licorice was the one misstep in my budding gelati-eating career. You're just lucky that there are so many good flavors. There's hardly any I don't like." Brooke glances at me, grinning, then continues eating. "Although it is hard to beat chocolate and hazelnut," she concedes contemplatively, "especially the way the Italians do it."
"How can you resist a flavor that is the Italian word for kisses?"
"I don't resist it. I get to have some of yours, remember?"
"I'm too nice," I sigh, in a highly dramatic and not serious way.
Brooke gazes at me for a moment but doesn't agree. She doesn't say anything, instead she looks away.
The lighthearted conversation dies, something that happens pretty frequently with us. Things will be proceeding nicely, we'll both be enjoying ourselves, and then Brooke will pull back as if she's remembering that she can't like me. I've been bending over backward trying to get along, but it's like Brooke won't let herself release her grip on her dislike of me. I've tried not to take it personally, but how much more personal can her intermittent veiled hostility get?
"Should we get going?" I say after we finish eating in silence. We are catching a high-speed train to Milan where we will transfer to a night train that will put us in Paris in the morning. I've let Brooke pick our next destination in another example of how I'm trying to make this work. I've radically altered my traveling style for Brooke. We've been staying in one place for longer than I'm accustomed to, taking day trips to outlying areas so we're not always moving around with our big backpacks. It actually has been good to slow down a little, I'm not as tired as I was when I was going at such a frantic pace, and I have the time to get to know a place a little better.
I stand up and heave my pack to my shoulders, then hold out my hand to help Brooke up. She stands and slings my daypack over her shoulder and we each pick up a strap of her backpack and start towards the platform, carrying her bag between us.
"What do you mean, you didn't reserve a couchette?" Brooke is pissed. Again.
"Just what I said. I reserved us two seats, not two sleeping berths." This is the way I usually do it, but I'm sensing that Brooke does not travel this way. "The couchettes are way too expensive, Brooke."
"So we're just going to be as uncomfortable as we can possibly be the whole time? Jesus, Sam, I know you'll go a long way to save a buck, but at the expense of your own comfort?"
"It's not that bad. Sometimes you'll get lucky and your compartment won't even be full," I say defensively. We are in the Milan train station, about to board our Paris train. The platform is a zoo, the train is going to be packed, and the likelihood of getting a compartment to ourselves is about zero. "I got us non-smoking seats," I offer in appeasement.
She rolls her eyes at me. "Let's go."
Hey, at least we have seats. The first time I did this I didn't know about needing to purchase a separate seat reservation along with my Eurail pass and spent the night sitting on my backpack in the corridor. It sucked.
I lead the way to our predictably full compartment, where four of the six seats are already occupied. Brooke and I are forced to take the two middle seats facing each other. Luckily there is still space in the overhead racks and I heave our packs up onto them. I settle down in my seat and avoid looking at Brooke. Maybe I should have asked her what she wanted before making a unilateral decision.
There is an old woman sitting next to Brooke in the window seat, and a man in a suit reading the Italian newspaper La Stampa on her other side. In the window seat next to me is a young guy, loud techno music leaking out of the headphones attached to his ears, and on my right is another man of indeterminate age. The leather jacket he's wearing is oddly out of place in the July heat.
Brooke strikes up a conversation with the woman on her right. It turns out that she is traveling with her grandson, techno boy, and their destination is a small town in Switzerland. Brooke speaks to her in schoolgirl French, bravely stumbling over vocabulary and grammar learned in a southern California classroom and the woman is pleased by her effort and patient with her.
I have seen this again and again since we've been traveling together. Brooke is like a magnet for cultural experience. She thinks nothing of asking a stranger on the street a question, talking to people in bars, searching out the places where the locals go. I took French for four years too, but while she blithely forges ahead with her badly accented French, I sit mutely, afraid of making an ass out of myself.
The train starts moving and I watch idly as we pull out of the station. At least this means that two seats will be free relatively soon. I pull out my guide book and start reading about Paris. Brooke and I have been pretty compatible with the sights we have wanted to see so far, and I doubt our agendas in Paris will be very dissimilar. I know she will want to visit a lot of the art museums; I'm looking forward to that. Having Brooke with me while touring the Vatican and about twenty other churches in Rome was a great learning experience. It was like having my own personal tour guide. She was a fountain of information and had details about artists at her fingertips, plus she put her information within the context of the historical period, which made it all so much more interesting. Brooke would make a wonderful teacher. She must have done a shitload of reading while she recuperated.
I'm feeling restless. It's getting stuffy in here and I need some air. I get up and leave the compartment, sliding the door closed behind me. I move to the window in the corridor and pull it down, immediately feeling better with the cool breeze in my face. I rest my arms on the window and listen to the rhythmic clacking of the wheels against the track and watch as the train curves around a bend. I can see light coming from the windows of the cars in front of this one, and a waxing moon hanging brightly above in a darkened sky. We are traversing the Alps, and are frequently passing through long tunnels blasted through a mountain's worth of sheer rock.
I hear the door slide behind me and turn to see Brooke poking her head through.
"Sam, we're going to play cards. Do you want to play? We need a fourth."
I probably should, but I really don't feel like it. I'm not feeling particularly sociable right now. Maybe I'm moody today but I don't relish the thought of making nice with people I don't know and will never see again. "I was just going to have a smoke, you'd better find someone else."
She scrutinizes me for a second, then nods and shuts the door.
I walk down the corridor into the next car, which happens to be a smoking car. I take up my usual position by the window and light up.
I return to the compartment about an hour later, lingering in the smoking car because I inexplicably feel like being alone. Brooke is reading my guidebook. She's sitting in the window seat where the old woman had been, and the businessman in the suit has moved to the window seat opposite her. My daypack is on the seat beside her, and she's thrown her sweater on the far seat, effectively claiming the whole bench for us. Leather jacket guy is sleeping in his same seat. I sit down next to her.
"Hi. I tried to get you the window seat, but he moved too fast," Brooke says apologetically.
"That's alright. I snooze, I lose. The Swiss people are gone?"
"Yeah, at the last stop."
I gesture to the guide book. "Anything interesting?"
She nods. "Paris is going to be expensive."
"But worth it. Who knows when we'll be back?"
"Are you thinking hostel or hotel?"
"I don't know, what do you want to do?" If I was by myself in a pricey place like Paris I would go to a hostel, no question. But I'm willing to defer to Brooke's wishes as long as we can afford it.
"Well, there is this place out in Montmartre that has double rooms at about the same price as a hostel." She points to a listing in the guide book.
I glance at it, noting that it was the one I had read about and was going to suggest as a compromise. "Sounds good."
There is a knock on the compartment door and it is thrown open by the conductor and a border patrol agent. Brooke gets out her documents from a side pocket in her pack and I pull my money belt out from behind the waistband of my pants. It feels good to remove that extra inch from my waist, the thing gets so sweaty and gross it's nice to air it out once in a while. I remove my Eurail pass and passport and show them to the men, as do Brooke and the other occupants of our compartment.
I shove my passport and train pass into my back pocket when they finish inspecting them, and leave my money belt outside my pants but pull my shirt over it. I can't be bothered to tuck everything away again right now; I'll fix it later.
Brooke is talking to the businessman. He was their fourth for cards and they are being social with each other. He offers her an apple, and then one to me as an afterthought. We both take them, and I offer him some grapes I bought in Rome that are looking a little bedraggled. He declines.
Soon the only thing heard in our compartment is the regular sound of the train gliding on the tracks. The businessman falls asleep; we are the only ones awake now. I can see Brooke getting sleepy, her head falling forward then snapping back as she tries to fight it. I get up and sit in the middle seat across from her, so there are three of us on one side and only her on the other. "Brooke, why don't you stretch out and sleep?"
"I can't. I can only sleep on my side and I can't if I don't have support for my head. Because of my shoulder."
Oh god. I'm such an asshole. Of course that's why she needed a sleeping berth. "How about my sleeping bag? You could use that."
"No. It's too much trouble."
"It is not. Don't be a martyr," it comes out more harshly than I intended.
"I'm not," she glares at me. "If I leave it in the bag it will be too hard and if I take it out it'll be too squishy."
"Well how about some clothes or my daypack? Or you could rest your head in my lap " Why did I say that? "If you want," I finish lamely.
"Your lap would probably be the most comfortable if you wouldn't mind," Brooke replies. "But don't go getting any ideas that this is going to make me indebted to you or anything."
"I won't." I say and get up. She moves over and I turn off the compartment light before sitting in the window seat. Brooke lays down on her side facing the upholstery, her head resting on my thigh, her face inches from my hipbone. Her legs are scrunched up a little and her butt is kind of hanging off the bench. "Are you comfortable?"
"As much as I can be," she grunts.
We are quiet for a little while. Brooke closes her eyes but I don't think she's asleep yet. It feels nice to have her this close to me. I resist the impulse to run my fingers through her hair. Since we started traveling together I've had this growing feeling of affection for her, even when she's being moody and bitchy. Not that I would ever tell her. I do still feel guilty about the whole sleeping berth thing.
"If I knew some of the reasons why you need specific things, like a sleeping berth for instance, I could make better decisions."
She doesn't say anything. If she had her own money she wouldn't be forced to have me making these decisions for her at all. I feel miserable. I am compelled to say more.
"I'm really sorry. I'm sorry that I don't know anything about the accident. I'm sorry I don't know more about the things that are hurting you now. I'm sorry that I didn't visit you in the hospital. I just couldn't. But I have no idea why I couldn't. You don't know how hard I've tried to remember what happened that night. I would give anything to remember."
I wait for her to say something, but she doesn't. She is listening, though. In the semi-darkness I can see that her eyes are open and as far as I can tell she is deeply absorbed by the beige material of my money belt that is peeking out the bottom of my shirt.
"Do you remember things from that night?" I ask.
After a minute, "I remember everything," she says.
I can't believe it. She goes through the trauma of being hit by a moving vehicle and can remember, but all I do is witness it happening to her and I can't.
"Can you please tell me what happened? I can't take not knowing anymore, Brooke. I feel like I'm incomplete."
She closes her eyes. It takes so long for her to answer I think that she has fallen asleep, but then I hear her quiet reply.
"I'm sorry, Sam. I can't do that."
Her rejection hurts more than I thought, although I was half expecting it. Tears come to my eyes and I whisper thickly, "Would you mind telling me why?"
"I just can't. I'm sorry."
The conversation is over. After awhile I feel Brooke relax against me and her breathing becomes heavy and regular. I'm not the least bit tired, although it has to be at least two in the morning. I look out the window at the dark shadows rushing by which at this hour constitute scenery, and when we pass under streetlights I momentarily see my face reflected back at me. I come to a decision. In the morning I will give Brooke half of the money for her to do with what she pleases. It's not doing her any good forcing her to stay with me. We'll both be better off going our separate ways.
I hear the click of the compartment door sliding home and I'm instantly awake. I look blearily around the compartment in the dim light of early morning coming through the window. I am alone. I remember the businessman leaving sometime around three. I was still awake and we said a polite goodbye to each other. I must have fallen asleep shortly after that. The guy in the leather jacket who could sleep through anything is gone, and so is Brooke. Maybe she stepped out to get some air. I stand up and stretch, noticing that we are traveling through an industrial area. My first glimpse of France in daylight is huge lots of tractor trailer containers and heavy equipment. Pretty.
Something feels different to me. I stand there in the middle of the train compartment and think. All of a sudden my hands go to my waist. My heart plummets to my feet. My money belt is gone. The thing that has been my constant companion, that I so carefully safeguarded and took everywhere with me, which contained all my money, my emergency phone numbers, my passport, my Eurail pass and all the things necessary for traveling, is gone.
And Brooke is gone too.
Okay. Just calm down for a second.
I force myself to take a few deep breaths. I close my eyes and just stop and think. I am alone on a train with no money and no proof of identity. Wait. No, I had some money in my pockets. I thrust my hands deep in my pockets and come up with about forty-five Euros and change. At least that is something. Then I remember the border check last night and I slap my rear with both hands. The reassuring feeling of some impediment between my hand and my butt fills me with relief and from my back pocket I draw out my passport with my Eurail pass folded around it. I could cry I'm so happy.
I sit down because I realize I may fall down if I don't. Brooke has left and taken all of my money with her. How could she do this to me? Suddenly I'm filled with such rage that if she were standing in front of me I don't think I could stop my hands from grabbing her around the neck and choking the life out of her. I tried to be nice, I didn't have to give her anything. And this is how she repays me.
All right, I can't think about her now. I need to figure out what to do. My pack! Is still here, thank god. Looking up at the overhead rack I see that Brooke's pack is still here too. She wouldn't have left without her stuff, would she? Now I'm confused.
The compartment door slides open and Brooke bursts in awkwardly carrying two cups of steaming coffee. "Sam! I was just talking to this guy in the dining car and he said we could " She stops talking at the look on my face, I guess. "What? What is it? What's wrong?"
Brooke did not steal my money. I'm sure of it now. The blood rushes to my face for thinking that she would do something like that to me. I'm suffused with guilt for thinking she could, and also relief that she hasn't. But it doesn't change the fact that we now have virtually no money. But maybe
"Brooke, please tell me you have my money belt." Maybe she's just holding it for me, my heart swings wildly towards hope.
"Your No, Sam, I don't," Brooke frowns in confusion, then realization crosses her features and she says, "Oh no."
"Yes." I say flatly.
"Oh my god."
"All the money. I still have my passport and my Eurail pass."
"Well that's something, at least. That man in the leather jacket, it had to be him. He was still in here when I went to get coffee."
He was? Maybe he's still on the train.
"This is all my fault," Brooke continues wretchedly. "I shouldn't have left you here alone. I even saw that your money belt was all twisted around and showing but you were sleeping and he was sleeping and I thought I would only be gone a minute. I'm so sorry, Sam!"
The train is slowing down. We're pulling into a station and I'm thinking that if I have any chance to get my money back it's slipping away as she is speaking. "It's okay, it's not your fault. It's totally mine," I answer. "But he may still be on the train, wait here I'm going to see if I can find him."
"But Sam, what if he has a weapon? He could be dangerous."
"What do you want me to do? He has our money! I have to get it back and this is the only way," I'm beyond frustrated and just want to start looking for the creep.
"I'm coming with you. No, we should split up. You go one way and I'll go the other," Brooke says quickly and starts for the door.
"No." I put a hand on her arm to stay her. "I'll go; you stay here with our stuff." I don't want Brooke mixed up in this. It's my stupid fault this happened.
"I'm helping," Brooke asserts. "You can't stop me. Now let's go, we're wasting time."
The train has just about stopped. We split up in the passage way, I go towards the front of the train, Brooke, the back. I glance into all the other compartments as I rush by but I'm almost positive he'll be getting off at this stop. My movements are hampered by slow moving people with baggage who are clogging the corridor as they prepare to disembark. I realize that I'm never going to find him this way.
I jump off the train at the nearest exit and scan the platform. The stop is a small station on the outskirts of Paris and it is jammed with commuters who are waiting for a fast train to take them into the city. Every other person I see is wearing a leather jacket. My other problem is that I can't clearly recall what the guy looks like. He was so unnoticeable that all I remember is the damn jacket. I look around for anyone who is walking quickly or furtively but it's impossible. I move about the platform and look into the faces of the people milling around, searching their Gallic features for a familiar nose or the lank sandy colored hair (I think) of the man who took my money. It's hopeless.
I turn around when I hear the All Aboard and fight against the tide of bodies, trying to get to one of the train doors. They all seem to be crowded with people getting on the train so I continue down the platform to find a less crowded entry.
"Sam, what are you doing? Get back on the train!"
I stop and look up. Without realizing it I've walked past the car where Brooke and I have spent the night. She's back in our compartment and has her head out the window, a train conductor standing next to her.
"I'm making a report," Brooke says. "I couldn't find him," she adds apologetically.
"Neither could I," I reply. "I'm trying to get back on the train."
The conductor says in heavily accented English, "You must hurry, mademoiselle, the train is about to go."
Just then I hear the doors automatically close.
"It's too late," the conductor says.
"Can't you get them to open the doors?" Brooke asks frantically.
I run over to the nearest door and pound on it. Nothing happens.
If this were the movies this would be that dramatic scene where the door magically opens as the train begins to move and I run alongside while Brooke holds out her arm for me to grab onto. I would put on a final burst of speed and pull myself up with her help just as the train gathers momentum, collapsing in her arms, breathing heavily, grateful to have made it.
But this is not the movies and the door does not open. I go back to the window where Brooke is leaning out, watching me. I walk alongside the train as it begins to move. "This train terminates at Gare du Nord. Wait for me there. I'll be on the next train. Okay?"
Brooke nods, her hands gripping the window ledge hard. She looks worried.
"Don't worry, Brooke. I'll be there soon. Everything will be fine," I say with more conviction than I'm feeling. I start to jog as the train picks up speed. The conductor is still standing beside her and I direct my next words to him. "Will you help her get our bags off the train? She has a bad shoulder."
"Of course," he says stiffly.
"Be careful, Sam. Be safe," Brooke calls to me. She's frowning, an expression of concern, maybe.
"See you soon," I gasp, at this point I'm running flat out. I slow down as the train pulls away with enormous speed, watching Brooke as she leans out the window as far as she safely can. Our eyes lock for as long as we are in each other's sight, then she is gone, and I am alone on the platform among hundreds of people, breathing hard and bent over from exertion.
The desire for a cigarette overwhelms me as I straighten and walk back to the station, intent on finding a timetable that will tell me when the next train leaves. This has to be the shittiest day of my life and it's not even seven AM.
"You have reached the McQueen residence. No one is able to take your call, please leave a message and we'll get back to you. Thanks."
It's a bit strange to hear Brooke's voice in my ear when she's standing not three feet in front of me, silently regarding me through a transparent sheet of plexiglass as I prepare to leave a message in a Parisian public phone box. "Hi, it's Sam. There's been a little mishap here in Europe. Don't worry, both Brooke and I are fine, but we were robbed on an overnight train and we don't have any money. We've tried both your cells and now you guys aren't at home either. I'm getting a little bit worried. I guess we'll try your work numbers next. Um, bye."
I come out of the phone box in front of the American Express office on the Champs Elysees and give Brooke the news. She hands me her list of phone numbers. "I have my dad's office number but not your mom's," she says apologetically.
"Let's try it," I sigh.
Our luck has been unbelievably bad since we had met up again. When I arrived at Gare du Nord a few hours after we were separated, I practically leapt off the train and searched the station for Brooke. I had found her sitting on a bench near the huge arrivals board reading my guidebook, our bags neatly stacked next to her.
A feeling of relief washed over me when I saw her, and I rushed over only to stop before I reached her. She looked up and smiled with relief too, rising from the bench and coming toward me, but she also hesitated as she approached. Halting a safe distance in front of me, she reached out and grasped my shoulder, saying "I'm glad you're here."
I grabbed her around the waist and hugged her, unable to stop myself. She was stiff for a few moments, her arms awkwardly at her sides before she relaxed and hugged me back. I know she probably wasn't cool with my show of affection but I couldn't help it. Even though we were both less than minty fresh from our night on the train she smelled so good to me and I closed my eyes and inhaled surreptitiously, hoping she wouldn't notice.
When the hug ended Brooke stood back and held my gaze for a minute. "Are you okay?" she asked me. After I nodded, she immediately launched into telling me our plan of action. First, she said, we needed to report the theft to the police, then we could go to the American Express office to see about getting the uncashed traveler's checks replaced, then we should call our parents. This was all perfectly reasonable, and we set out to make it happen, but the reality didn't match with the hypothetical.
Filling out a police report took hours, but we eventually got it done. Next was an expensive cab ride, with money we couldn't afford to spend, to the American Express office. Unfortunately, we wouldn't be getting any money from Amex because a receipt for the checks was needed, and I didn't have it because it was safely tucked away in my money belt. None of this would be such a problem if we could get a hold of Brooke's dad, who would surely replace the money so we could at least finish the trip, but getting in touch with either parent was proving more difficult than it should. After using a cell phone with programmed numbers at home for so long, I could barely remember my mom's phone number, much less Mike's office. Swiftly calculating the time difference, I realized that it was very early in Los Angeles right now, but Mike was usually at work by 7AM to keep tabs on the east coast markets. I hoped whoever picked up there would accept a transatlantic collect call from a non-blood relative. Maybe Brooke should be doing this.
"Brooke, you want to try this time? I'm sure your dad would like to speak to you."
Brooke takes my place in the phone booth and places the call. She looks so serious, staring at the strange-looking phone with its instructions written in French. I have this urge to start hopping around making monkey faces at her so she'll laugh, which I stifle. Our situation is dire, but it would be so much worse if we weren't together. I get an inkling of how Brooke must have felt when her money was running out.
She's talking to someone now but I can't hear a thing. She stops talking, then looks up at me, raising one finger in a "just one second" gesture. Someone comes back on the line and her eyes are cast downward again as she starts talking. She's not smiling. Long after the time when she should be smiling she's not smiling. She rings off much sooner than she would if she was speaking to her dad, giving him the latest from our madcap adventures in Europe.
"The parentals have taken Mac and gone on a spur of the moment trip to Costa Rica," she announces, a note of disbelief evident in her voice.
"Yeah. Glynnis said your mom found them some great deal so they just decided to take off for a week."
"Who the hell is Glynnis? And when the hell will they be back?"
"Glynnis is my dad's assistant. I told her the deal and she said she'll call the hotel and track them down, but it'll take awhile since it's one of those no-phones-no-TV-back-to-nature Central American safari kind of places. She said to call back tomorrow."
Great. Just, great. "They picked a fine time to start being spontaneous," I remark. "Well I have about forty Euros-"
"And I have nearly a hundred," Brooke jumps in. "We should be okay if we can get a hold of them tomorrow."
"But what if we can't? And with the time difference it might be after business hours before we get this all sorted out. And then it will be the weekend and we'll be stuck without money, food, and a place to stay in one of the most expensive cities in the world!" Our situation is definitely hitting me now, and I'm panicking. "I can't believe how stupid I am! How could I have slept through some guy pawing at me like that? What if he did something else and I don't even know? God, Brooke, I'm sorry I got you into this mess, I'm such an idiot. I can't believe-"
"SAM!" Brooke shouts at me, getting my attention and pulling me back from the cliff of hysteria. "This is not your fault. You are the victim here." She puts her hands on my shoulders and looks me in the eye. "Everything is going to be fine. We can make it a few days if we have to. After all, we have a free place to stay every night, we can do the picnic thing for breakfast lunch and dinner, and we'll put off the sight-seeing until we're flush again." She gives my shoulders a little shake. "So calm down, you're freaking me out."
"Sorry." I relax my shoulders and take a deep breath, but Brooke doesn't let go. The feel of her hands on me and her rational words have soothed me, and I want to hug her again, but I don't. I'm so glad she's here. "What do you mean we have a free place to stay every night?"
"The train, dummy," Brooke answers, her kind smile taking the sting out of her pejorative, not that it isn't true.
"Oh, yeah," I smile in return. Things don't look so bad right now. "So there's nothing we can do until tomorrow."
Brooke nods, her expression turning serious. "So what can we do to occupy ourselves, if we have about a million hours until we can get a night train somewhere and we can't spend any money?"
I look around. We are in the heart of Paris, our bags locked up at left luggage back at the train station, it's a bright sunny afternoon, and I'm with Brooke. Things could be worse. "See that old guy feeding the pigeons over there?" I nod to a grouping of benches where the birds are swarming around the man like something out of Hitchcock.
Brooke sees him and looks at me uncertainly.
"Let's go steal his bread," I say, my voice earnest and my expression grave. "Those pigeons are fat, they don't need it. And we might if we run out of money."
She looks at me dubiously. "You're not serious, are you?"
"I am. It's already stale. We can keep it until we really need it. Just in case. And that guy has a cane. We can totally outrun him," I can't believe I've kept a straight face for so long.
"Sam, I'm not going to steal that man's bread," Brooke states emphatically.
Her expression is priceless, like she's wondering if she packed a straitjacket in her luggage for me, and I can't do it anymore. I burst out with a huge guffaw right in her face. She's so surprised by it she just stands there agape. By now I'm a minute away from rolling around on the ground, laughing like a crazed hyena on nitrous.
"I can't believe you!" she yells, and hits me in the arm a few times, but she's smiling now. "You had me worried, I thought you were having a meltdown." She starts to giggle. "You are a complete nut. Plain and simple." My arm receives another blow from her fist, but it is more affectionate than anything.
I look at her and smile, I love that I made her laugh. "Come on." I grab her by the hand and pull her down the street. "Let's go hang in the Tuileries for awhile. If we're going to be bored and miserable, we might as well be somewhere pretty."
"Sam, I'm bored and miserable," Brooke stops her pacing and faces me. "And I'm cold!"
"Sorry Brooke." I look up from her copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy that she has loaned me. I'm sympathetic but there isn't anywhere else for us to go, really. It had been warm and sunny, the weather turned freakishly chilly once the sun went down. "The train will be leaving soon, can you think of a better place to wait than the platform?"
We were booted out of the warm, cozy waiting room at 11PM, our train leaves just after midnight. The criteria for picking our destination was only one thing: find a place where no one wants to go so we can get a compartment to ourselves. From the looks of the deserted platform, I think we succeeded. We picked a town called Caen, not to be confused with Cannes. There wasn't much written about it in the guidebook, but its location deep in the north of France guaranteed a long slow ride on a local train that would get us in around six in the morning. We could turn around and take a high speed train back to Paris in a couple of hours.
"Can I wear your sweatshirt?" Brooke asks me.
"Then I would be cold." Our only misstep had been not arriving back at the train station before the left luggage office closed. We had left our packs there, not wanting to lug our bags around the city, so we were without toiletries, fresh clothes, and my sleeping bag, which would have been nice to have right about now. My daypack was all we had, and Brooke hadn't thought to bring a sweater.
We wandered all over, but stuck mostly to the right bank. Exploring the wide avenues, the Place de la Concorde, strolling the Champs Elysees all the way up to the Arc de Triomphe was a terrific way to spend the day. The window shopping got pretty intense, with Brooke writing down addresses of some of the most exclusive boutiques in the city to return to when she makes her fortune, and me salivating at patisserie displays. We stumbled across a McDonald's right at the moment when our feet absolutely needed a rest and our hunger pangs could be ignored no longer. Brooke instantly wanted a Royale with Cheese, and I had Le Big Mac. We called each other Vincent and Jules for the rest of the day. We didn't argue once and I don't want to start now.
"Tell you what, why don't we share it?" I say, tossing the book aside and getting up, moving to stand close in front of her. I take her hands in mine, they are really cold, and put all four of them in the front pocket of my hoodie I hold onto her hands, trying to warm them with my own and with the fleece that surrounds them. I can hear my heart beating in my chest and wonder if she can hear it too. "Better?" I ask, looking up into her eyes.
She's looking at me very soberly. Maybe I've overstepped my boundaries here, but something is happening to me and I hope to Brooke as well. I think we've leapt beyond being just friends to something more intimate. It's crazy. I've been thinking about it all day, how this has been coming on since we started traveling together. I can hardly comprehend it myself, much less put it into words should she ask me to explain myself. All I know is that I want to be close to her, I want to forget all of the things that we've done to each other over the years and just bask in her nearness. I don't know what the feelings I've been having for her mean, I don't want to think about any of it right now. My biggest hope is that I don't say something that will screw it up, and that Brooke will keep her guard down long enough to let me in a little bit. She hasn't said anything, her hazel eyes intense in their regard, searching mine for an answer to some unspoken question.
"Are your shoulders cold?" I ask, pulling my hands out of the pocket and wrapping my arms around her. Her hands remain ensnared between us, wrapped up in my sweatshirt as I pull her close, burying my face in her hair and neck and sighing with contentment. But I can feel the tension in her, she's not as comfortable as I would like her to be.
Brooke clears her throat. "You sure you want to be this close to me? It's been awhile since I last had a shower."
I take a conspicuous sniff. "Is that what I smell?"
She nudges me in protest.
"I don't mind," I say. My hands slide down to rest at the small of her back, my arms encircling her and trapping her arms in a pretty intimate embrace. "Besides, you could say the same about me." My voice sounds muffled, coming from so close to her body.
"It's only my exceedingly good breeding which has prevented me thus far," she declares dryly.
I smirk in reply, even though she can't see it. "Are you warmer now?"
I feel her nod.
"That's good, but we have a little problem."
"Now my hands are cold," I say as I slide them under the hem of her shirt and rest them against the warm skin of her lower back.
Immediately Brooke tears her hands from the pocket of my sweatshirt and breaks out of my hold, stepping back away from me as if I just told her I had bubonic plague. She doesn't look at me as she retreats to where I had been sitting previously. She sits down and picks up the book she lent me, the book she has already read, and opens it to the page I marked and begins to read. Or pretends to read, anyway.
"I'm sorry," I offer, "was it something I said?"
She shakes her head, but doesn't look up, doesn't say anything.
Slowly, I take off my sweatshirt, experiencing goose bumps on my arms as my body registers the cool night air. I drop it in her lap as I walk off down the platform, giving her as much space as she could want before our train arrives.
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