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Authors: Christine Riccio

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BOOK: Again, but Better
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6. Nothing’s Standing in My Way

Last night we bought plane tickets to Rome! Two more nights until we go to Italy!

We all start class today. None of my flatmates are in class with me, so as I settle into my seat, I feel like a bit of a loner again, but then the professor struts in. The first thing he does is distribute postcards, one to each student.

“So, as you know, this isn’t going to
be our normal meeting day. Starting next week, class is Monday and Friday,” he begins. “We’re going to be delving into creative writing prompts every class, and to warm you up, get your juices flowing, each class you’re going to get a postcard. Write to someone back in America about your experiences here. It’s simple, easy, and effectively gets you putting words to paper. You have ten minutes. Take
out a pen and go.”

I gaze at the 4
6 shot of the London Bridge on my postcard, flip it over to the blank side, and start writing. I want it to look nice, so I break out the cursive writing I haven’t used since elementary school.

January 12, 2011

Mom and Dad,

I’m still having trouble wrapping my head around the fact that I’m in London. Yesterday, I rode on
a ferry under the bridge on the front
of this postcard. I’m in my first college-level writing class, and I’m pretty sure I already love it. The professor’s last name is Blackstairs, which reminds me of a book series I love, and he says we’re going to be doing creative writing prompts every class. I could play with creative writing prompts all day, so I’m overjoyed right now.

Love you guys,


Soon after I’ve finished, Professor
Blackstairs stands. “Time. Great. You feeling good? Postcards away, laptops out. Let’s jump into the fun stuff.”

I slip the postcard into my book bag. It was nice to write those words on paper, even if I can’t actually send them out. The professor hands us all strips of paper, each printed with the first sentence of a well-known book. When he drops mine onto the desk, I snatch it up.

is no lake at Camp Green Lake.

I chuckle softly, excitement blooming in my belly as a new story starts to lace itself together in my head.

“Write me a short story with this as your opening sentence,” he says. “You have an hour—starting now.”

I yank out Sawyer, open a blank document, and let my ideas spill onto the page. My fingers jet across the keys as I spin a story from the point of a view
of a sassy young girl about a camp on the moon where her parents met. I beam at my screen for the next fifty-nine minutes. When time’s up, Professor Blackstairs starts an in-depth discussion about the importance of an opening sentence. We go through loads of examples. The three hours fly by. It’s honestly the most fun I’ve ever had in a college class.

Babe is in our room Skyping with her parents
when I return at three, so I head into the kitchen to put the finishing touches on my Camp Green Lake story and work on a blog post about yesterday’s trip to Greenwich. The kitchen is more social than our room anyway, and I’m trying to put myself out there.

Sahra stops in at about 3:30 to grab a drink before heading back out to get groceries. Atticus storms in at 3:45, stuffs a microwavable meal
down his throat, and runs out, sputtering about being late for his internship interview. It’s about 4:00 p.m. now, and I’m staring at my Gmail.

My parents emailed asking for more details about my first few days here. I heave a shaky breath and type up a brief update, describing my new flatmates. I link them to my first two blog posts: “American Moves to London: The First Eight Hours” and the
most recent, “What’s Greenwich?” And press send. I yank Horcrux Nine from my bag.

1/12/11 4:04 p.m.

I think I’m going to organize a Flat Three card night. It feels like a good, outgoing step forward toward long-term friendship. That sounds pathetic, but this is where we’re at right now. Last night, there was some tentative talk of us all going out to a pub tonight after our first day of class,
since we’re legally allowed to drink here. Maybe tomorrow we can stay in and have a card night. Friday morning, we have class again, and afterward Pilot, Babe, Sahra, and I head to the airport for Rome! INSANITY.

I startle as the door opens, quickly shutting my notebook and dropping the pen to the table. Pilot strides into the kitchen with a long, thin sandwich. My heart runs around like a puppy
when there’s a visitor at the door.
Please be cool, heart.

“Hey!” He takes the seat across from me and unwraps his food. “You writing?”

“I was.” I push Horcrux Nine to the side.

“Wow, with a real live pen and everything!” He hops up to grab a glass of water. “What are you working on?”

I fiddle with my fingers. “Um, well, nothing really. It’s kinda like a journal, I guess.”

“Ah, nice, that
sounds like something an author would do.” He comes back into view and sits across from me. “Have you started writing your book yet?” He smiles.

I blink in surprise, before huffing a laugh. “My book?”

“I hear authors write those,” he adds, as he picks up his sandwich.

I laugh again. “One of my goals this semester is actually to start my”—I raise air quotes—“‘great American novel,’ but it’s
a pretty daunting task, so we’ll see.”

“Really? That’s awesome,” he says enthusiastically. “I read some of your stuff last night.” I go still, shock zipping through me as he takes another bite of sandwich.

That was so fast. What does he think of my stuff? I can’t believe he sat down and read stuff that I wrote. What does he mean, he read my stuff? He read my stuff!
He read my stuff!

I squeak. Is it chill to ask which story he read?

He swallows. “Yeah! Don’t sound so surprised.” There’s laughter in his voice. “How could I possibly resist hitting up Your stuff was funny. I really enjoyed it.”

I feel like running in circles.

“Really?” I say again.
Shane, you
said really.

“The post about your first day here, pointing out all the random differences
like the walk–don’t walk signs, that was great! And then I read that one about the hermit people from that random island going to McDonald’s for the first time. That was hilarious.” He grins.

I’m biting my lip while he’s talking, like a young adult book clich
, but it’s the only way to keep my smile level under control. Chill. I’m chill. He read my “The First 8 Hours” post and a short story I
wrote over the holiday break. I really liked both of those!

“Thanks!” I spurt.

“We still all going to a pub later for dinner and drinks?” he asks.

“Um, yeah, I think everyone’s still down.”

“Nice! Looks like Flat Three is hitting the town tonight, then.”

I bob my head up and down, “Yup!”

I want to ask him about a card night. A few moments pass while Pilot eats his sandwich, and I open my
computer, trying to gather the courage to ask him if he likes to play cards. Why am I afraid to ask him?

“Do you like to play cards?” I ask quickly.

Pilot’s eyes light up. “Do I like to play cards?” he says, smiling. “Does a bear shit in the woods?”

I grin and pull my eyebrows together. “Why do people say that when they can just say yes, which is so much faster and less confusing?”

“You play
cards?” He smirks.

“Yeah, they’re only my favorite—I was thinking about going out and finding a deck so we could have a cards night, maybe tomorrow with everyone?”

“I’m in. You want help finding that deck?” he asks.

I blink. “Do you … want to go find one?”

I stride down the sidewalk with Pilot. This is our second walk in three days. Is this a second date? I think this boy likes me. I think
he’s feeling what I’m feeling, and I can barely contain the urge to skip down the road.

It’s still light out as we make our way down fancy-white-sophisticated-buildings lane. I like how the sidewalk on this street is never too crowded like in New York. And when I say never, I of course mean, in the last three days, it hasn’t been too crowded.

“Okay, so possible suspects in this card case. I’m
thinking either Tesco, Waitrose, or Sainsbury, that other grocery store I haven’t seen, but people have talked about. I don’t know where they’ll be if they’re not in a grocery store, so hopefully they’re in a grocery store. Maybe some sort of convenient store?” I’m babbling. I look at Pilot. He’s smiling to himself. “Sorry, I’m really excited about cards…”

“We’re going to find cards,” he replies
confidently. “Let’s go to a different area, though, so we get to explore more of the city.”

“Okay.” I shrug and tuck my hair behind my ears.

“How about we go through Hyde Park? It’s right down the street.” He points down the road toward a large gated area.

I raise my eyebrows. “Whoa, off the beaten track. We might get lost.” That was meant to sound daunting and sarcastic, but it sounded happy.
This excessive smiling has my vocal inflections all over the place.

“Don’t worry, I’ll Magellan us back if we get lost.”

I smile at him. “Don’t worry, I’m not worried.”

“Good.” He smiles back.

We walk in content silence as we make our way down the block and cross the street to Hyde Park. I don’t almost die this time, so things are already going smoother than they did on our last walk. There’s
a large opening in the tall black gates that surround the park where we enter. It’s a nice day, so oodles of dog owners are out and about. Some people are reading on blankets and under trees. We start down a paved trail in the grass.

I glance over at Pilot. “So, now you’ve read some of my stuff,” I start.

“Yeah?” He grins. His hands are stuffed in the pockets of his jacket. I’ve got one hand
in the pocket of the white zip-up I threw on and another clings to the leather of my cross-body purse.

“When do I get to hear your music?” I ask.

He snorts, but his eyes get bright like eyes do when you talk about something you’re passionate about.

“Oh, man.” He looks at the sky. “Well, my first album is on iTunes.”

“What?” I smack his arm in disbelief with my purse hand. He shoots me a dramatic

“Oh crap, sorry!” My voice gets pitchy as I try not to laugh. I heave a steadying breath. “Sorry, what I meant to say was: Is your album actually on iTunes? And why didn’t you mention this before?”

He’s got this chill-modest-cool-guy half smile on. “Yes, it’s actually on iTunes, and it’s not that hard to get your album on iTunes.”

“Pies, that’s so cool! Can I find it under your name or—how
do I search you?”

“It’s under my band name.”

“What! You have a band? You’ve left out so many details of your music life!”

“It’s just me and my friend Ted, so it’s not like a full band.”

“What’s your band name?”

“We’re the Swing Bearers,” he shares with a giant grin.

A short laugh bursts out of me. “Wow, I love that. It’s almost as cool as my blog. I mean, not quite as witty, but it’s got
a nice ring to it.”

He snorts. “Okay, calm down, French Watermelon. We can’t all be on your level.” The phrase
French Watermelon
sounds extra ridiculous when he says it.

“I’m gonna download your album when we get back.”

He presses his lips together. “I’ll excitedly await your review.”

“Am I allowed to share with the roomies?”

He shakes his head, smiling. “Go for it.”

“This is so exciting!”
I don’t exactly skip, but my feet do a weird jumpy-dance thing.

I take stock of our surroundings. I haven’t been looking around enough. We’re approaching an opening back out into the city streets.

“You think we go this way, then?” I ask.

Pilot stops and puts his index finger to his forehead. “Card senses are tingling … that way.”

I roll my eyes.

We walk a little way down the street before
coming up on a Starbucks. The familiarity of it amidst the
culture shock
of the last twenty-four hours actually brings me up short. I stop walking to admire it from across the street. Pilot backtracks a few steps and comes up on my right.

“Starbucks!” I point across the way. “Doesn’t Starbucks feel like an old friend now?”

He shrugs slightly with his hands still in his pockets. “Have you been
since we got here?” he asks.

“No, not yet.”

“Shall we go give her a visit?” He smirks.

I snort. “A visit?”

“I mean, is she your friend or not? I don’t want walk in on a random stranger,” he answers with mock sincerity.

I scoff, “That was a stretch.”

“Uh, actually I think that was pretty witty,” he responds, using the male version of a valley-girl voice, his words all drawn out and over the
top. I make weird smothered-laughter noises.

I take the steps two at a time into the Starbucks, coming to a stop at the end of the line. We shuffle along in silence for a few minutes, waiting to place our orders. I bounce on my toes, excited for my usual drink. When I reach the register, my mouth flops open. The barista is a tall woman in her forties with a knot of red hair—it’s the rude airplane

“Hi, darling! I see you’re making friends!” She glances from me to Pilot, back to me, and winks. I shake my head, flabbergasted.
Dear lord, woman, please don’t say anything else

“What would you like?” she asks.

“I … um, a green tea latte, please,” I tell her.

“Oh, we don’t have those,” she replies.

“Oh … weird. Okay, can I have a tall pumpkin spice latte, please?”

“A what?”

“A pumpkin
spice latte.”

“We don’t have pumpkin spice lattes.” She smiles.

“Okay, I guess I’ll have a tall cinnamon dolce latte, please.”

She shakes her head, bemused. “Never heard of that either.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“No, we don’t have cinnamon … dolce lattes.”

BOOK: Again, but Better
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