Without a clue about what’s always been
The sun crept through the curtains and illuminated the old, dusty room. Shafts of light caught the dancing bits of dirt, the specks spinning and scattering across the worn, wooden floor. Clark lay in bed, his breathing still and steady. He rolled over; a crunching, crackling noise disturbing his sleep and bringing him to life. He reached behind, pulling at the foreign object and bringing it to his red and tired eyes. He opened them, focusing on the crumpled piece of paper and took in the words.
You’re my oldest friend, and in some ways I feel bad about not saying goodbye. But we don’t do that, so you’ll just have to get over it because the time has come for me to leave. By the time you read this, I’ll be long gone (or more than likely waiting for a boat), but I want you to know I’ll always be here for you.
We’re travelers, and this is what travelers do. We travel, damn it!
You’ve done your share, but I have more to do. It’s time for you to go home and get a real job and pay back your dad (ha, yeah, like that’ll ever happen). Anyway, I know you’ll be pissed right now (and hungover. You were so drunk last night, lightweight), but get over it. Oh, and keep searching for that special something. You’ll find it one day, brother, trust me.
Your best mate,
Clark rubbed his eyes, although the fault lay with the text: too small, making it hard to fully comprehend the haggard handwriting, a sure sign it was Sam’s. He tossed the paper behind him and fell to his pillow, staring at the ceiling and trying to focus. His skin was tight and heavy as memories of the previous night spilled forward.
He groaned with the realization of being back on his own. It never used to bother him, but that was so long ago. Sam had become his constant, his partner-in-crime. Now he was alone in a small island town in Thailand, and the idea of getting out of bed and facing the severe heat made him shudder. Grabbing the pillow, he pushed it to his face. The white, dirty fabric impeded his breathing as the smell of stale sweat and beer made him feel light and lifeless. He knew the world was still there, but for a few seconds it was just him in a vacuum of space. No worries and no means to get up. A simple idea of staying wrapped up forever and letting his life sort itself out in the hopefully distant future.
Knowing he couldn’t hide, he rolled over, and, misjudging the size of the bed, fell to the floor, his head pounding as his knees hit wood. Another groan, this one echoing a few seconds longer, worked its way out. He stumbled to his feet and fell toward the small wooden table. Above it rested a mirror, his pale reflection filling it.
He fumbled around the so-called table for inspiration. Leaflets of color shone back, each one with a story to tell and the potential to take his mind off the loneliness. Among them, a bright green piece of paper with trees and blue sky filling its long, slender form caught his attention.
‘A meandering walk up the hillside with breathtaking views of the ocean below,’ stated the leaflet.
He looked back at the mirror, angry at the stranger pretending to be him, and exhaled hard. He needed to forget, to move forward and sober up. A walk, he thought, should help. A walk to an inspirational view, he decided, was not only a great idea, but the only one on offer.
The final hundred-yard-dash was frantic and vigorous. Adrenaline flowed through her legs, but her lungs struggled with the hot, humid air. Bella watched the final few passengers disappear onto the bus, the realization sinking in that she was about to miss the trip. Luckily, Alex paced a few steps in front, his long strides driving forward with purpose and reaching the doors with seconds to spare.
She reached the old and worn bus and flung her tired body up the steep and suspect-looking steps. Deep breaths flowed through her as she watched Alex prop himself up against the driver’s booth, motioning two fingers from left to right. She could see the driver’s face, all angered and scowling, but hard to decipher confusion from hate.
“Two tickets,” she heard Alex say, his voice low and slow. “Please?”
The driver snatched the money from his hand and motioned for them both to move down the aisle. She moved close to Alex, scurrying behind in a bid for his large, slender frame to protect her from the old man’s glare. “What did you say to him?” she asked in a hushed tone.
“Nothing. I asked for two tickets and he just looked at me. I mean, come on, what else would I want from him other than tickets?”
She prepared a reply but the ground beneath her began to move. Falling into Alex she clung, pulling on his shirt and moving closer to his sweat-filled back. “Typical. No more seats together. I hate sitting on my own,” she said, pouting.
The bus shook to life, violent bumps sending her stumbling forward. She was about to give up on the hope of sitting together when an old woman got to her feet, motioning for them to sit down. Wrinkles engulfed the old face, each bump and mound suggesting a story behind it. Bella offered her palm, both in gratitude and assistance to move along the volatile bus.
“Thank you so much,” Bella said, as the old woman sat in the seat behind and join a man with large headphones absorbing half his head. “At least we get to sit next to each other. Even if this bus does look older than the both of us,” she continued, this time to Alex.
“I know, right? This is bad, even for Thailand’s standards.”
She searched the vehicle and watched the other people wave their hands in a bid to cool down. She knew it was pointless; the humid conditions would become victorious no matter how hard a hand was flung from side to side. She looked back at Alex, his black hair resting messily on top of his head. His skin was much darker than usual. She’d grown familiar with his pale complexion, but the new dark features made him seem exotic and intriguing. She followed it down to his neck, focusing on the distinct line where white met dark. She was comfortable around him, but he seemed somewhat foreign. A new Alex, one she didn’t fully know. “So, where are we going again?” she asked, snapping her mind back.
“It’s this walk up the hillside, and if the leaflet’s anything to go by, the view will be amazing.”
“Very romantic,” she said. “It’s a shame it’s with you really, isn’t it? Wasn’t the plan to find some exotic strangers to do things like this with?”
He smiled, although it seemed forced.
“Well, I guess you’ll have to do” she mocked, waiting for his reply. Instead, he turned toward the window, his suspicious look shining back through the window’s glare.
“Hey, you okay?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
“You sure? Because you’re being quiet again. Just like last night.”
“Nope, I’m fine. Just hot, I guess. It’s, like, what? A hundred degrees in here?”
She sensed he was hiding something, just as she had the night before. His focus remained outside, and his silence was haunting. Breaks in conversation were never his strong point. A period any longer than a few seconds would send him stumbling for words to fill the awkward moment. The last few days had seen these gaps become more constant, his love of chatter seeming to vanish.
Pushing the mystery of his solitude to one side, she leaned back in her chair and thought about the potentially breathtaking view awaiting her. Sitting on the plane from America nearly six months earlier, she had fantasized about romantic trips with strangers and first kisses with heaven-like settings as the backdrop. Most of her first-times were bland and uneventful, although she was always proud of her very first, a stumbling affair of clumsy arms and lips on a lonesome boat as her friends swam just meters away.
She didn’t know back then her love life was at its peak, that anti-climatic moments would become the only consistent thing to follow. Entire relationships were built up over weeks of hope and lust, only for them to crash to a sudden end and bring nothing but pain. The only constant she ever knew were her tears and Alex. He was always there, to hold her as the pain and trauma dripped down her cheeks and into a glass of half-empty vodka.
With hope for something new
A loud noise shook her awake, fear sending her scrambling out of bed in search of an answer. She spun full circle, still nothing adding clarity, and then noticed the empty bed beside her, the same bed Alex should have been in. She spun again, continuing her search before stopping at the bathroom door, the puzzle quickly piecing together. “Alex, what’s up? Are you ok?” she said, storming through the opening as Alex hung over the toilet.
He raised his face out of the bowl with small, stuttered movements. “I don’t feel so good. I think it was that curry I had last night.”
She went over, not sure whether to grab his arm or not. “Yeah, maybe squid curry wasn’t the best choice.”
She cupped her hand around his shoulder. “Do you need anything? Some water or food, maybe?”
“No food!” he snapped, grabbing his mouth and placing his head back over the toilet.
“Okay, no food. Got it. Well, I’ll get you some water and help you back into bed.”
“No, I’ll be fine,” he said, coughing. “You have that walk to go on.”
“I’m not going on that. How can I leave you here looking…well, I can’t leave you on your own, okay?”
“I’ll be fine, and what are you going to do, exactly? All I’ll do is sleep and throw my lungs up. Do you really need to be here for that?”
Different considerations spun through her mind. The idea of staying in the hot, small apartment all day was dreadful. Playing nurse and helping him to the toilet offered no joy, but leaving him to fester on his own didn’t feel right. She played tennis with the two options, caught between a rock and the sick bowl. “Okay, fine, I might not be able to help, but isn’t this what friends are for? I may be wrong, but aren’t we supposed to be there in times of need?”
His head flopped over the bowl again, raising slightly and showcasing a line of drool hanging from his chin. “Yeah, for the most part, and I do appreciate it. I’m serious, though. I want you to go and have a good time and get some pictures so at least I kind of get to experience it. With a bit of luck, I’ll be better when you come back and we can have some dinner.”
The whole situation felt like a trick, and although his decision seemed like the right one, at least for her, the feeling of regretting it later or becoming branded with the tag traitor loomed. “Fine. I’ll go, but do nothing but sleep and drink water. I expect you to be feeling better later on, and I promise I won’t be late. I’ll go on this stupid walk, which was your idea in the first place, by the way, and come straight home.”
“Sounds like a plan,” he said before returning his head to the toilet and making sounds Bella would spend the rest of the morning trying to forget.
She hoped she had time to take a gentle walk through the small Thai town and arrive at the bus with minutes to spare. Leaving the apartment and looking at her watch pushed the idea out the window and replaced it with sprinting the final fifty meters and lunging toward the bus as the doors began stuttering shut.
Climbing the steps was difficult, more so than she anticipated, and the disapproving scowl greeting her was enough to make her reconsider her plans and return home. “One ticket please?” she asked carefully, edging her eyes around the old booth in a bid to avoid the driver’s glare.
The old man said nothing, his tanned, leather face showing no mercy and demanding respect from anyone entering his world. He looked her up and down, Bella feeling his judgment taking place as if entering his bus was a privilege, despite the rusty scrapheap seeming older than her grandfather. “One ticket?” she repeated, this time offering a shaking finger as a guide.
He cranked a handle and released a flurry of noise before snapping at her palm and taking a handful of money. She let out a high squeak laugh and edged down the aisle, the driver disappearing behind his seat to start the ancient engine.
It kicked into life, the heavy vibrations causing Bella’s legs to wobble and buckle. She stumbled forward, lunging for the first pole available, and clung tight, dragging herself into a seat, missing it slightly, and climbing up in a bid to retain some dignity. She took a deep breath and straightened her back, her posture suddenly a conscious effort.
“You okay there?” asked the man sat next to her, taking off his large headphones.
Bella could feel the red in her cheeks getting darker. It began more pink, largely due to the sudden exercise, but she knew a deep maroon now filled them. “Fine, thanks. Just one of those mornings.”
The stranger pouted his lips and faced the seat in front, the sun catching and showcasing his blue eyes. “I know what you mean. I woke up this morning and my best friend had left.”
“Really? I’d kill Alex if he did that—he’s the reason I’m on my own by the way—he didn’t leave, though, he’s just sick, but being on your own is never good. In fact, I think it’s the first time I’ve been on my own so far,” she said with her last bit of breath, reminding herself to pause and inhale in future.
“Is that your boyfriend?”
“The guy who’s sick…Alex?”
“Oh, no. He’s just a friend. Well, not just any friend, my best friend. But still—”
Bella became lost in his smile, forgetting exactly how to act in the presence of a new man.
“I suppose we can look after each other, what, with both of us being alone and all. I’m Clark.”
“Bella,” she said, holding out her hand. “I like your accent, by the way. English, right?” she continued, embarrassed by her lack of composure.
“That’s right, and you’re American, but if you’re from Canada, I apologize because I’ve got that wrong in the past.”
Her anxieties began to ease as he looked at her. His blue eyes, along with his accent, provided enough reason to listen and forget about her morning so far. Memories of other English boys in her life bundled their way forward. The foreign exchange student she had kissed at sixteen, the barman in the student union offering no affection whatsoever, and the professor she decided was flirtatious, despite him calling her Emma on several occasions. Each one took her back to fantasies of her youth, listening to The Smiths and imagining one day becoming a wife to a rock star who’d dedicate songs to her and whisk her around the globe.
“I’m a big fan of the accent. I’m sure you get it a lot, though. All my friends back home are obsessed,” she said, hoping her small talk was improving
“So you’re obsessed, are you?”
She realized it wasn’t. “Well…no…obviously not—”
“I’m joking. I like your accent, too. I’m no expert, but I’d say the Midwest, right?”
“Wow, yeah. Dayton, Ohio…any chance you’ve heard of it?”
“Nope, afraid not.”
“Yeah, didn’t think so.” She noticed his dimples, a pair each side of his mouth, creating gentle wrinkles rising up his cheeks.
She considered her next move, when a sudden jump from the bus sent her hand brushing his knee. She was aware of the attraction she had for him and hated how her heart always became victorious over her head. At the same time, she missed the pounding chest that only a new romance could bring. She didn’t know what would happen, but suspected the afternoon would bring hot flashes, stumbling chatter, and things she would no doubt later regret.
Without eyes that see
The old bus took an hour to bounce its way to the foot of the hillside, each bend emphasizing its frailty. The gentle rush of air poured through the windows but offered nothing to ease the stifling conditions. The hot, wet air clung to the people trapped inside, the waving of hats and pieces of paper unable to control the constant flow of sweat forming on their foreheads.
The rusted house of metal slid into the car park and vibrated to a heavy, eventual stop. The doors began to open, stuttering along the way, and presented an escape into a world of fresh air and life. Everyone seemed eager to take up the offer as the aisle became full of bodies. Bella and Alex were among the crowd, the flow of feet carrying them into the heavenly opening.
“Thank god that’s over,” said Bella, taking in deep breaths of humid air. “That was too much. This better be worth it, Mister.” She turned to Alex as he searched his back pocket. “Which way are we going?”
He dragged out a map, the paper crumpled and torn at the edges. “I thought we could go along this route,” he said, pointing to a red line. “And are you telling me this isn’t worth it?”
She followed his arm as it guided her around the area away from the bus. Green trees climbed high into the sky as blue tints from above crept through the branches. A suggestion of paradise stood hidden behind them and hinted at the potential awaiting her up the slope. Golden beams of light snuck through the gaps and lit up the dusty air; small bits of everything dancing with each other, bumping and grinding and making the air seem alive. “Yeah, I suppose this is good,” she said, giving Alex a wink.
The gentle slope took an hour to conquer as Bella kept pace with Alex’s long legs. The moist air clung to the back of her throat. Each intake of hot oxygen became harder to swallow, as if the air around her was turning into soup, the consistency getting thicker the higher up the sloping road they went. She clung to the thought of the magical sight ahead, despite the difficult conditions doing its best to distract her.
“How much longer?” she said. “It seems like we’ve been walking for hours…and where is everyone? Why are we the only people walking up here? Are we lost?”
Alex continued in his stride. “Nearly there, I think.”
“Don’t you think it’s strange we’re the only people up here? There were loads of people on the bus. Where have they all gone?”
Bella came to a halt, sweat dripping from her neck and down her back. Uncomfortable and irritated, she folded her arms, Alex’s lack of conversation proving to be the final straw. “Okay what’s wrong with you? You’re being quiet again, just like last night, and if there’s one thing you’re good at, it’s never shutting up. I mean, seriously, when are you ever okay with silence?”
With a swift twist, he faced her while continuing to push up the hill. “I’m fine. I just want to get to the top.”
“No, you’re lying. There’s something wrong and you’re not telling me.”Stopping and closing the gap between them, he sighed. “Why does something have to be wrong? Can’t a guy enjoy the silence?”
“You can’t, no. Are you forgetting I’m your best friend? It was the same last night. You just sat there eating your Pad Thai and said nothing. You left me to do all the small talk. I hate small talk.” His motionless face gave nothing away. It was stern and serious, one she’d gotten to know well over the last four years. One she’d met at a party in her freshman year. One she’d kept close ever since.
“Look, there’s nothing wrong, so just leave it.”
She continued her stare, waiting for his stance to crack. It stood firm, the idea of him hiding something churning her stomach.
“Anyway, I think we’re at the top…see,” he said pointing toward an opening in the trees ahead.
Stepping forward, a new world opened up. The dark, intriguing surroundings disappeared, replaced with bright and vivid colors instead. Crossing the invisible barrier was like stepping into a new life, the dark greens turning to lively reds and yellows and every hue of blue imaginable. The light and pale sky mixed with the sea, the horizon difficult to spot in a haze of complementing shades. It crawled forward, white touches dotting the landscape before turning into a bright flow of sand below. It reached high up the slope, disappearing beneath her feet as the steep cliff hid the rest of the spectacle. She turned to Alex. “Wow, this is amazing.”
He said nothing and fell to the ground, propping his head up with his arm and staring out to sea. She stepped toward him, looking down as the gentle hum of the breeze became the only sound. She turned her attention back to the conversation. Her anger and annoyance had been interrupted by the beautiful setting, but she needed to investigate his mood further. Yet she knew if she did, the amazing moment would be lost and their trip would turn into a poisonous argument. Giving up, she fell to the ground in a heavy pile and rested her head on his hip.
“I’m sorry,” he said, breaking the silence. “I know I’ve been a bit weird these last few days. It’s just…well.”
She waited for more words to follow, but silence took over again. “Yes?”
“It’s kind of hard to say, because…It’s a big deal. At least, it’s a big deal to me anyway, and…well…I was planning on saying something last night, but it just didn’t seem right. I mean, the restaurant was small and dark, and not in the good way either, but—”
“Alex, what the hell is wrong with you?”
“I’m getting there, okay…I just wanted to say that I…love you and, well, yeah…that’s it.” he said, his stumbling speech coming to an abrupt stop.
Confused as to what was happening, Bella waited for more. Realizing it wasn’t going to come, she spoke. “Yeah, I love you too. You’re my best friend. I kind of thought it was a given—”
“No, I mean I love you. As in, more than friends.”
His words crept from nowhere. She moved to answer, but a vacant sound was the only thing waiting. She tried again. Nothing. Her mind was lost, as though every word she had ever learned vanished from her memory. It was liken to a toddler scrambling and juggling with sounds in the hope of a word forming. “More than friends?”
“As in love. Like the kind of love I have for pancakes?”
“No, like the kind of love you have for someone you, well, love. As in boyfriend and girlfriend, husband and wife. You know, that sort of thing.”
“Right, just checking.” She was desperate for an answer; sure something existed in the depths of her mind. She thought backward, and then even further, but still nothing presented itself. A stutter formed in her throat, words unable to come out, knowing the next few minutes could end their friendship. “Okay, this is strange. We’re best friends. All we’ve ever been is friends, so where the hell has this come from? When did this become…whatever the hell this is?”
“I wanted to say something a while back —”
“Rome. I’ve been meaning to say something since Rome. At least that’s when I thought about maybe saying something?”
“Rome?” she said, her voice becoming strained now. “That was two months ago! You’ve been waking up in the bed next to me for two months not saying anything?”
His eyes continued to dance, focusing on anything but her. “Not exactly, no.”
“Well, I’ve kind of always felt like this. Since the day I met you.”
His words struck once more, each breath struggling its way up Bella’s throat. “We met four years ago, Alex. Are you trying to say you’ve loved me for four years and said nothing?”
“It took a few months for me to fall in love with you, but yeah, pretty much.”
Jumping to her feet, she took three steps back, looking down at him, his puppy dog face seeming to plead with her to feel the same. A maze of questions and worry and confusion bounded inside her. “This is crazy. In fact, no. This is stupid. You don’t love me. We’re friends. Best friends, in fact, so there’s no way you love me. Not like that.”
“Don’t tell me how I feel. It’s all I’ve been able to think about for years, so trust me, this is real.”
“Why now? Why not two months ago in Rome? Or last year at graduation? Or, here’s a thought, four years ago at the party when we first met?”
“It’s not that easy. You think I like this? Come on, this is you we’re talking about. You go from one relationship to the next, and guess who’s there to fix things? What did you want me to do? Tell you when you had a boyfriend, or as you cried on my shoulder?”
She moved to respond, but the stutter in her throat formed once more. For a second, she hated him. “Fine, what do we do about this? We can’t just become a couple, can we? What do you want me to say?”
“I don’t know, how about yes.”
“Why? Why is it so crazy to think we can work? We’re best friends, you said it yourself. We get along and we’re comfortable around each other and know each other better than anyone. Don’t you think it’s the perfect foundation for something more?”
“It’s not that easy, is it?”
“Because it’s scary, for one, and what about when things don’t work out? You’re my rock, and I’m completely useless at this sort of thing. It’s a terrible idea and I think you know that.”
His pleading face faded back to the serious look from before. She knew he’d given up, that she’d won, yet she was unsure whether it was a victory she wanted.
“Okay, that’s fine. I said what I needed to say and now we can move on. It’s over.”
“No, it’s fine. Let’s just leave it.”
And the agony of the situation took over, and she knew her best friend was gone. Things would never be the same again and the memory of this very moment, this very paradise, would forever linger.
The bright white beach hung far below Clark’s feet, his body hanging over the railing and straining to see where the sand and forest met. With a heavy sigh, he pushed back and let sky once again take over. The montage of blues filled the horizon, wisps of white dancing between them.
His hope of taking his mind off of his predicament screamed to a halt as each lonely step brought more confusion. He remembered times of being alone in the past, many times, times when he was happy and at ease with his own company. It angered him to think about such thoughts and compare them to his current state. Why couldn’t he be happy? Why was he not comfortable with his own mind anymore?
Sam’s arrival those many months ago had created a team. He had grown up comfortable on his own, yet now he longed for companionship, not knowing whether being lonesome would ever feel the same again. He would soon return to England, back to his old life and the potential of something new. It was coming, and each day brought it ever closer.
The previous night, in the dark, small restaurant, they had spoken about what would happen next. The tiny table bulged with empty bottles and glasses, Clark on trial as Sam ranted about his desire to move on. He resisted, although looking back, he wasn’t too sure why.
Despite what was said, Clark never thought Sam would leave. Frayed, distant memories of the night before toyed with him, the hazy view of them returning back to the apartment, Clark lying in bed as Sam stood above him saying goodnight.
Clark smiled for the first time all day, amused at the irony of the situation and sense of humor of his best friend.
With temptation and fear
The bus, crammed to capacity, was full of faces dripping with sweat. Bella knew she should feel uncomfortable, that the heat was doing unthinkable things to her hair and certain parts of her shirt, but all of her attention was on Clark and his stories of the past. She had met him an hour ago and already knew about his journeys around Europe, America, Australia, and a whole host of countries she’d never heard of. Each of his new stories helped her relax and find a new ease in telling her own traveling tales.
“It just seems a little strange, that’s all,” she said, playing with a curl of long brown hair. “Why would he leave like that? I’d be so angry if Alex ever did that to me.”
“I know it sounds strange, but it’s how we are. I should have seen it last night, really. He can be a real piece of work sometimes.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, we both hate goodbyes, always have. When I came away, I didn’t want anyone at the airport with me. I figured it’d be too hard and just wanted to get on with things—”
“Wait, so your parents didn’t go with you?”
“Nope, didn’t let them. They were pretty pissed, I can tell you that much. Anyway, I didn’t want Sam to come, either, but we were out the night before, having some farewell drinks, and I said to him: Can’t we say goodnight instead of goodbye?”
She had no idea how this was relevant, but was happy to sit and listen regardless. “Okay?”
“Last night, we went out for dinner in this dark, crappy little restaurant—“
“Yeah, I was meaning to say, I think I was there.”
“Oh, I know.”
“You do?” she said, stroking the back of her neck.
“Yeah, I remember you. I never forget a pretty face.” His blue eyes were on her, Bella blushing and gripping her neck tighter.
“Anyway, as you probably noticed, we were rather drunk. Sam mentioned about learning to fly and leaving Thailand, but I didn’t feel like talking about it. I can’t remember too much after that, but I do remember going to bed and hearing him say goodnight. He never says goodnight, I should have known then what he was planning.”
Still blushing, she motioned to reply but was flung into the seat in front as the bus screeched to a stop. The window was suddenly caked in dust, the journey apparently coming to an end in a less-than-dignified manner.
“You okay?” asked Clark, offering his hand.
“Yeah I’m fine, thanks,” she held her shoulder, trying to rub the pain away. “Let’s just get off this bus–“ she began before stepping out of her seat and into the aisle, a stray bag connecting with her head and sending her backward into the arms of Clark.
“Thanks…and sorry about that.“
She leaped off the bus, now rubbing her cheek, and was met by a rush of fresh air. She hadn’t realized how hot she was on the stifling bus, but the new sensation was a welcome relief.
An array of greens reached all around her, columns of sunlight creeping though gaps from above. A flutter danced beneath her skin and she wondered if her traveling dream was on the verge of coming true. “This is wonderful,” she said, spinning and taking in her surroundings. “So where are you taking me, Englishman?”
Clark squinted at the map, turning it from one angle to the other. “This one seems good,” he said, pointing at a red line. “It’s long, but apparently has the best views on the island.”
The conditions beneath the cover of trees were bearable, and Bella enjoyed the gentle stroll alongside a new and intriguing character. Another hour spun by; this time their conversation focussed on music, books, and movies. The constant and gentle hum of a million insects created the perfect backdrop and put an end to any uncomfortable breaks in conversation.
“Okay, Clark, why exactly did you come away in the first place? Two years of traveling is amazing, but what made you do it?”
He seemed to look to the sky in search of an answer, although she suspected he had one ready in waiting, having discussed the subject no doubt countless times before with girls seduced by his accent. “There wasn’t a plan as such. I just needed to get out and see the world. I’ve always felt like I’ve been missing something, but never knew what it was. I figured traveling might help, and I’m not saying I’ve found it, but I’m in a better place…at least I think I am.” He faced her now. “What about you? Why are you here?”
“Long story, I’m afraid.”
“We have time.”
Doubting there was ever enough time to share her story, she took a deep breath and prepared to delve deep into her past. “Fine, but I’m only telling you the short version. Basically I broke up with my boyfriend, again, cried on Alex’s shoulder, again, and this time he offered me a way out and asked me to come traveling. He was already coming away, so I suppose it made sense, and I surprised myself and said yes.”
The strides taken in the last five months amazed her. As she sat at the airport, about to begin her adventure, she looked back on her life. Years of unstable relationships had left her broken. She was tired and ready to start fresh, but didn’t know if traveling would help. She had hoped it would bring out a new side, yet was aware old Bella would cling on tight. Despite the mental struggles, journeying around foreign lands brought a new outlook. The old Bella was still there, but she was losing her grip more and more each day.
As she roamed her thoughts, a jolt of color snapped her back to the present. She walked into a setting that was more painting than real life, bright white beaches dropping far below and hanging beneath her feet. The sea kissed the white sand and reached out far to the horizon. It was impossible to tell where the blues of the sky and ocean met, small, wispy lines of white the only clue as to the separation between the two. Turning her face to the sky, she let the sun soothe her skin, and for the first time in hours, her heart-rate dropped. Deep breaths brought the smell of leaves, salt, and the natural perfume of flowers. It was magical, just like her fantasy, and then something foreign touched her skin and the dream took a step closer.
Tingles shot up her arm and the hairs on her neck stood firm. A chill tingled over her skin, despite sweat covering it, and she sensed what was about to happen. She lowered her chin; Clark stood inches away with waiting lips.
Here we go again, she thought. Spend five months growing and taking some actual adult steps, and then as soon as a British guy comes along, have it all fall apart. I mean, really, where the hell is this going? I’ll wake up tomorrow and he’ll be ready to move on to the next country. He’s spent two years traveling, for god’s sake, what am I expecting to happen? Fall head over heels in love, watch him leave, and then cry with ice cream in one hand and vodka in the other? What I should do is push him away. Put a stop to this kissing right now and plant my hand on his firm, tight chest, and say ‘NO.’
Then again, what if this time it’s different? I’ll never know without trying, and seriously, my luck has to change sometime, right? Maybe this is it, I’m overlooking heaven itself with a man not too far from my dream guy. Maybe this is the change I came away for. Maybe this time things will be different. Maybe… And her mind drifted away into the moment and the interlocking lips of an American girl and English boy.