Authors: Molly Ringle
ireadiwrite Publishing Edition
Copyright © 2011 Molly Ringle
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission from the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
This ireadiwrite Publishing edition is published by arrangement with Molly Ringle, contact at [email protected]
ireadiwrite Publishing - www.ireadiwrite.com
First electronic edition published by ireadiwrite Publishing, a division of Central Avenue Marketing Ltd.
Published in Canada with international distribution.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
Cover Design: Michelle Halket
Cover Photography: © anouchka: iStockPhoto
For all who are now,
or ever have been
lovesick college freshmen.
miss you so much!”
Miriam’s tears and saliva soaked through my shirt, creating a wet patch on my neck. Bloody hell, now I’d be wearing mascara on my collar all the way to America.
“It’s all right.” I went back to puzzling out what I was forgetting. I just knew there was something. Passport? I pulled one hand out of our hug and slapped my coat pocket. No, there it was.
Heathrow’s other travelers threw us glances. Some people looked sympathetic; others smirked. Couldn’t blame them. I’m sure we looked ridiculous. “Come on, don’t cry,” I said.
“I can’t help it. The last three weeks have been some of the best in my life.”
“Yeah.” Was it my mobile I was forgetting? No, of course – it was already gone. It wasn’t going to work in America. My parents and I would get new ones over there.
“It’s not fair,” Miriam went on. “Having to be separated so soon.”
“I know.” Maybe it was that thing I’d read about the cougars. Oregon had cougars, not to mention rattlesnakes, earthquakes, and volcanoes. Really, what kind of developed country has cougars running loose? Still, I wasn’t likely to find cougars on a university campus, so what the hell was bothering me?
My gaze cut to my parents, who kept their distance and pretended they weren’t watching us. Dad looked at his watch, then at me. He raised his eyebrows, and scrunched his mouth into a regretful line.
Miriam lifted her face. Her eyes were red, making the gray irises look bluer than usual, and her eye makeup was smeared – all over my shirt. “I guess you have to catch your flight.”
“Yeah.” I made a smile of regret similar to my father’s. I touched the sparkly moth-shaped clip in her hair. She was always wearing stupid clips in the shape of bugs. “Better go.”
She nodded, and gulped down more mucus. I looked away and tried to remember if I had cleared out all the dirty magazines from the hollow space behind my wardrobe. Yeah, I had made sure of that. Wouldn’t want the people who moved into our house to find those.
Miriam took a shuddering breath. “I love you.”
All my muscles seized up. I stared at her for a second as if she had turned into a rattlesnake before my eyes. My mind screamed:
I stooped to grab my carry-on and took two steps backward. “Listen, babe, it’s been so much fun.”
She twisted her jumper sleeve in her hands. “You don’t have to answer. I know it’s not your usual thing with girls. Love, I mean. Any serious attachment. I just, I wanted to say it.” She bowed her head, staring at her shoes.
I cast a glance around in desperation. My parents held my gaze this time. Mum tipped her head toward the gate in a “Let’s go” signal.
“Look,” I said, “I can’t talk about this right now. Our flight…”
“I know.” Miriam took her Underground ticket from her jeans pocket, and acted very interested in reading it. She wiped her eyes. “Suppose I should catch my train back.”
I’m no idiot. I knew she was hoping I would sweep her into my embrace, give her a long movie-style goodbye kiss, and tell her I would never forget a single moment of my time with her. But that would be a lie. And while ordinarily I didn’t mind lying to help spread the rumor that I was charming, today my mind was short-circuiting.
Your last few minutes on English soil for who knows how long, mate. Any last words? Forgetting anything?
Nothing came to mind. Whatever I was forgetting, it wished to stay forgotten. I hoisted my luggage onto my shoulder, and advanced the two steps necessary to peck Miriam on the cheek. “Goodbye. Don’t be sad, all right?” With that bit of brilliant wisdom passed on to her, I turned and walked away.
My parents and I trudged through the gates and tunnels, endured the security check, and finally descended the ramp onto the plane. We shoved our luggage into the overhead compartments and dropped into our seats, Mum and Dad remarking in their usual start-of-holiday voices, “Well, this is it!” and, “Here we go!”
But this was not another holiday, as they well knew. We were flying off to a whole new existence: university for me, jobs for them. I was eighteen and had done plenty of traveling with them; they were in tourism and had dragged me to fifteen different countries already. But this was our first time living abroad.
“They say Yank girls’ll flop onto their backs when they hear an English accent,” one of my mates had said.
“We can hope.” I had modestly refrained from adding that I’d already had pretty good luck with the American girls I had met, in England or elsewhere.
“Suppose it doesn’t hurt that he’s a pretty, pretty boy,” one of my girl friends had said, ruffling my hair.
I smiled, thinking of my mates. Maybe that was it: was I going to miss my friends, even if I wasn’t planning to miss Miriam?
Nah. They were a good lot, but we weren’t close enough to be mutually crying over my departure. Besides, we’d keep in touch online, sharing our adventures about university, and saying hello now and then. They’d still be my friends. Wouldn’t they? Even though Mum and Dad had sold our old house in London and bought a new one in Oregon, I
still go back and see my mates. Someday. Right?
Another tremor of alarm quivered inside me, as if this nagging feeling had something to do with America and Mum and Dad.
“You’ll miss that girl, then,” said Dad, as the plane rolled forward.
The question irritated me, but it deserved an honest answer. Couldn’t that be what was bothering me, though I wanted to deny it? I gave it the proper consideration, then said, in all truth, “No. I won’t.”
“Oh, that’s nice.”
“Not trying to be nice, just honest.” I sounded more defensive than I meant to. “We were only dating a few weeks. She knew I had to leave all along. I didn’t get attached and she shouldn’t have done, either.”
Dad shook his head and plucked a magazine from the seat pocket in front of him. “Just another girl cursing the day she met you, eh?” He made it sound like a compliment, which is likely how he meant it. I suspected he had been quite the ladies’ man in his youth. Girls were always telling me how handsome he was.
I offered him a dry smile. “No girl has ever regretted meeting me.”
Mum uttered a snort. “Oh, God.” She rolled her eyes.
Dad winked at me, smacked my arm with the magazine, then unrolled it and started reading it.
I looked out the window again and watched Heathrow speed by faster and faster. We lifted and began to soar. City buildings and railways shrank to thin lines, and gave way to green countryside and gray villages. Blue summer sky filled my window, wearing an edge of brown London haze. There it went, sliding away beneath me: my home country. An invisible chain connecting me to the land seemed to snap and go trailing away.
The panic-arrow hit its mark and I knew what I had forgotten.
I had forgotten to be nervous about moving to another country and starting uni there. I had forgotten to work out how I would live on dining hall food, endure a roommate I had never spoken to in my life, go to classes, study, write essays, pass exams, and generally survive in America a hundred miles from my parents, when all I had ever done was live in England with them.
Well, now I was remembering. Too late. I pressed my sweaty palms to my knees, felt their clamminess through the denim, and longed to be riding the Tube to some frivolous destination with one of my mates. Or even with Miriam.
needed to run the numbers again, I thought, after a few hundred miles of quiet panic. Nibbling the airline snack mix, gazing at clouds over the North Atlantic, I recited the stats in my head.
20,000 students attended the University of Oregon at any given time. About 10,700 of them were female. Already good: more women than men, which meant a bigger pool for me, and less competition. Assuming as many as half were totally undesirable (which seemed a high number), that still left 5,350 potential dates for me. Assuming that of those, another half wouldn’t have me due to reasons like having a boyfriend, being a lesbian, or planning to become a nun, I was still left with 2,675 possibilities. Since about one-fifth of the students at U of O were grad students and might think me too young for them, I could, just to be safe, knock that number down by one-fifth. That left 2,140 young women who would live in my immediate vicinity, women who were desirable, available, and willing. I had to feel better when I thought of that. Right?
Today my response was sluggish. 2,140? When would I have time to study? Or sleep? What if my roommate hated me and wouldn’t clear out when I brought girls back to our room? What if the girl’s roommate was the same?
Worse yet, what if the girls simply didn’t like me? Yes, I brought a London accent to the table, but maybe among college girls in Oregon, that was considered boring, and French or Swedish accents were all the rage. Maybe my understated urban wardrobe of gray, white, and black (and blue jeans) would look dull in the colorful States. Did they all wear plaid flannel shirts and strange-hued skateboarding shoes in the Northwest, or was grunge over? I’d neglected to look this stuff up.
What about the rest of me? Would that need a makeover before any girl would touch me? I kept my dark brown hair an inch on the longish side, so it could look fashionably tousled, the way that got me the highest number of compliments from females. But maybe I’d get interpreted as Eurotrash over there; perhaps crew-cuts or dreadlocks were preferred. I was nearly six feet tall, and basically in good shape – a little football on weekends and walking everywhere in London saw to that. But I couldn’t have competed against a super-muscled American jock, which perhaps I’d have to if I wanted to look like a man. And, fine, my face was “pretty” if you asked my female mates, but was it enough to be pretty? Wouldn’t “tough” or “studly” be better?
“Doing all right?”
The question came from Dad, and was directed toward Mum. I glanced over. She looked tired, her face pale against her dark hair. He massaged her leg.
“Such a big change, isn’t it,” she said. “Far away from everyone.”
He patted her thigh. “Bet we could lure your mum out for a visit. Get her a nice room at the resort. Show her she hasn’t lost her daughter in the wilds of America.”
Her smile disappeared. She glanced at me, then him, nervously, and leaned back in her seat, closing her eyes and pushing her hair back as if she wanted a nap. Dad’s face twitched in a brief cringe.
I went back to staring out the window. What in hell that was about, I couldn’t say. Did they feel they were about to lose me in the wilds of America? Bit stupid. I’d be equipped with a mobile phone, after all. But if they were half as stressed as me, I supposed I understood.
amber waves of grain, you name it; I saw it all as we soared across America. Trapped in the endless afternoon of east-to-west travels, unable to sleep, I stared out at the country I would have to start calling “home.” Oregon’s mountains loomed large as our plane descended. Even in late August, snow capped the peaks as if we were in Switzerland.
My mother, leaning over me to view the landscape, murmured, “So big. So easy to lose someone in all that.”
I glanced at her and thought of Dad’s comment about “the wilds of America.” Had I thought even once of how my own parents might feel about moving to a new country and breaking off their old ties? Likely not. They were polite, reserved people, and even I believed most of the time that they had no deep emotions. I leaned aside so my shoulder pressed Mum’s, and she smiled and squeezed my wrist. Good, perhaps she wouldn’t have a mid-life crisis right here on the plane.
In Portland we caught another flight, a small one my parents had arranged, which took us southeast to the mountain town of Sunriver. Mum and Dad had the connections to do things like book crop-duster-sized planes for us. They probably could have transferred anywhere: their employer was a resort company with holiday condos all over the world. They’d had an offer once to move to Australia, and had asked me what I thought. I had been about thirteen, and had said, more wisely that time, “I don’t know. Seems a bit far away.” (Not to mention crawling with deadly reptiles.) So we had stayed. But dangle American girls in front of me, and look out.
I felt a spurt of uncomfortable conscience. My liking for American girls was nearly a fetish, something I tried to hide. Ten months ago my parents had told me, “We’ve had an offer to move to Oregon next autumn, but we won’t go if you wouldn’t like it, us being so far away while you’re here at uni.”
I, after giving it about ten seconds of thought, had answered, “Why not bring me? I could go to uni over there.”
As our tiny plane descended into the mountains, I noted that while it hadn’t been the first time I had made decisions with my hormones instead of my brain, this decision may have been the most astoundingly irresponsible so far.
At the Sunriver airfield a rental car awaited us. A stout, bearded American man held the keys, and made sure before allowing us to have them that my father had driven on the right side of a road before. Dad, who had zoomed us all over the Alps in a rented Citroën, and up and down tiny Swedish streets in a Volvo, promised the fellow we would be all right. We packed our luggage into the Ford sedan and set off for our new house.
. I had loved the sound of it. When you spoke the name you could practically see the sunlight flashing off the mountain streams. (
, my mind helpfully added,
skinny-dipping in the river and sunbathing nude on the rocks.
) It had seemed a new and sparkling name full of promise, not like the stodgy old British place-names I lived among.
Indeed, the scenery was everything the brochures promised. The mountains, which I examined from the back seat with my head sticking out of the window, were stunning, the air clean, the sunlight glittering, the pine trees majestic. On the other hand, it was too bloody hot, which was why I had the window down in the first place. (Regardless of any pressure from females to change my appearance, one thing I’d definitely have to add to my wardrobe was more shorts.) Most of the ski slopes were dry and rocky, as it was August, but the chairlifts still operated, carrying sightseeing tourists to the tops of mountains and down again. The buildings we passed were wooden structures slapped together within the last fifty years, which looked as if the trees and hills were about to swallow them up.