Read Again, but Better Online

Authors: Christine Riccio

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9. Maybe We Can See the World Together

I’m twitchy with a fifty-fifty blend of anxiety and excitement as I head to the kitchen for breakfast. I have my book bag with me as usual, but today it’s stuffed to the breaking point with my clothes and toiletries for Rome. I’m leaving Sawyer here because there won’t be any internet at our inn. I’ll have my dinky block phone, and Horcrux Nine. As I’m
climbing the stairs to leave for class, Pilot comes into view, heading toward the kitchen.

“Rome for the weekend, French Watermelon!” he yells without pausing to look back. I jog up the steps, beaming.

As promised, Professor Blackstairs’s class begins with another postcard.

January 14, 2011

Mom and Dad,

I haven’t told you this yet, but after class today, I’m interviewing for a job at a
magazine! It’s only an internship, but an internship can lead to a paid job. I know you think my obsession with reading and stories is silly, but I don’t agree. I know you want me to let
this go, but I can’t. I hope you give me the chance to prove you wrong. I think I can do this.

XO,

Shane

I slip the London Eye postcard into my bag next to the London Bridge from Wednesday. Class is wonderful
again. We talk about writing suspense, and then we take the last hour to tackle a suspenseful short story of our own. I write about a nanny who’s attacked unsuspectedly by her employer.

When we’re dismissed, I run off to catch the Tube to Covent Garden for my interview. My legs nervously jiggle up and down as I watch the stops blur through the windows.

I’m a couple minutes early when I step
up to the tall white building matching the address for
Packed!
The first level is a coffee shop, which makes things a little confusing. I wander around the side of the structure until I find another door. This one is outfitted with a buzzer and a little silver plaque above it that reads
PACKED! FOR TRAVEL!
It’s on the second floor. I reach up and press the button.

“Hello?” a voice asks through
the speaker.

“Hi. I’m Shane Primaveri. Here for an interview?”

A loud buzz makes me jump back a foot. The door in front of me unlatches. I pull it open and ascend the stairs. At the top of the steps is a white door with a frosted circular window decorated with the
Packed! For Travel!
logo.

I let loose a practically inaudible
whoa
as I step inside the office. A smile itches at my lips. The room
is shiny, white, and modern. The walls are lined with gorgeous poster-sized photographs of cities all around the world. My eyes quickly locate New York among them. A pang of pride runs through me. I bring my attention to the half-moon silvery-white receptionist desk before me. A pale, tiny, twenty-something woman with freckles and a strawberry-blond bob looks up at me.

“Hello!” She has a heavy
Irish accent.

“Hi! I’m Shane Primaveri. I’m here for an interview with Wendy.” I shuffle my feet together.

The receptionist introduces herself as Tracey. I take a seat in a modern-looking silver chair adjacent to the door while Tracey goes to fetch Wendy. I watch as she scurries across the floor to the opposite wall and carefully opens a glass door to what must be Wendy’s office. The center
of the open space is littered with silver desks, big high-def computer monitors, and youngish employees. Tracey turns toward me, and I quickly drop my gaze back to my lap.

“Shane?”

I look up again to find a tall woman with long, straight, dark hair and golden-brown skin. She’s wearing high-waisted black slacks and an orange blazer. She looks like a model.

“Hi!” I jump out of my seat as the
woman extends her arm for a handshake.

“Hi, I’m Wendy! I run things around here. Great to meet you. Let’s talk!”

I follow Wendy into her office. She has an enormous, sleek glass desk. I timidly seat myself in one of the two silver chairs in front of it. A whole corner of the desk is covered with tiny trinket versions of iconic landmarks: a pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, the Colosseum, the Statue
of Liberty, the London Eye.

“Give me a little rundown about you, Shane. We’re excited to hopefully have you interning here these next few months.”

I press my hands against my knees, forcing them into stillness. “Um, well, I, I’m studying abroad, and I’m doing the writing program. I love reading, writing, telling stories. I’d love to work as a writer someday. And I have some interest in photography
 … Um, I have a blog! I post my pieces there sometimes, and I’m turning it into a study-abroad blog for these next few months.”

“That’s great!” She smiles at me. It makes me feel better. I grin back. “Well, here at
Packed!
we’re currently working on expanding our online repertoire. I don’t know if you’ve checked out our website—”

“I have! I love it!”

She laughs. “Then you’ve seen our city guides.”

I have. They have travel guides for cities all over the world, the best
places to stay, the best tourist spots to hit, where to eat, where to go out. It’s great.

“So, we’re working on expanding that series and adding some more exotic places. We’re also always looking to add new series and points of view. Maybe as a final project here, you could even do a piece for us? We can work together on
A Guide to Studying Abroad in London
? I think study abroad guides could bring in a whole new demographic.”

I choke on air for a second. Me? Do a piece? For their real-life magazine? It’s a struggle not to gasp. “I … I’d love that. That sounds amazing!”

“Good!” She smiles at me again. “Have you done much traveling?”

“Um, not yet. Well, I traveled here, but I want to travel more. I’m actually
going to Rome this weekend,” I blurt excitedly.

“Fantastic! You’re going to love it!” She shrugs enthusiastically, while still managing to look sophisticated. “We’re a laid-back group here. We all love traveling, so if you ever want any recommendations or tips, don’t hesitate to talk to us. While you’re here, I hope you learn a lot! Tracey will be your go-to gal for questions, and she’ll introduce
you to the staff on your first day. We’re looking forward to having you.”

“Thank you so much!”

She stands and shakes my hand again. That was it? I’m going to work at a travel magazine!

10. Rome Ma-Ma

Our seats end up being scattered throughout the plane. Babe’s in the window seat directly behind me. Sahra’s a couple of rows up. Pilot’s a few rows back, across the way in a middle seat. There’s a drunk couple sitting next to me who keep trying to pull me into their conversation. I laugh feebly at their jokes and then go back to reading
Shadow Kiss
or staring out the window.
Every so often, I sit on my foot and twist around to check on everyone. Babe isn’t a constant reader, but she’s currently working on
I Am Number Four
because the movie’s coming out soon. I should give her a list of book recommendations for when she finishes. Maybe I can convert her to constant reader-hood. Pilot’s ordering a bloody mary because drinks are complimentary on this flight (as has been
made glaringly obvious by the couple in my row). I can’t quite see anything other than the tip of Sahra’s head. She’s probably reading an intellectual book. I spotted something nonfiction sticking out of her bag earlier.

s

It takes us less than two hours to get to Rome. As we stride through the airport, I’m struck over and over again with jolts of excitement as I read the signs around us. They’re
in Italian, and I know what they all mean! It’s probably annoying, but I can’t help reading them out loud every few seconds and translating them.


Uscita!
That means exit!”


Cibo,
that’s food, guys!”


Farmacia,
that’s a pharmacy!”

It’s obnoxious, but since everyone’s equally excited, I’m tolerated without complaints. We pass through customs in a daze of enthusiasm. They add a Rome stamp to
my barely used passport. I smile at it before stuffing it back into the purse inside my book bag.

On the way to the inn, our taxi drives right past the Colosseum.
The Colosseum!
We just casually pass it on the road. It’s all lit up from the inside with gold light. Not two minutes later, the cab driver tells us we’ve arrived.

We file out onto a narrow cobblestone street. Old-fashioned buildings
line both sides of the road. We shuffle up to number 42—the address of our inn. The numbers are carved into a gray stone mounted next to a giant arched wooden door—the kind of door you see on castles in movies.

We glance around at each other with hesitant expressions.

“This is it, right?” I ask Babe.

“This is it.” She reaches out toward a small, dark doorbell to the left, dwarfed by the size
of the door. It makes a buzzing noise, and after a few moments, the door opens to reveal a tiny Italian man.

The inside is quaint, cozy. The man introduces himself as Paolo, the innkeeper. He gives us a map of Rome (which Pilot immediately takes from him) and a set of two keys (which Babe takes): one for our room and one for the castle door outside. They’re big, decorative iron ones straight
out of a fairy tale.

The normal-sized door to our room clicks open as Babe twists the proper ancient key in the lock. We take quick stock. There are two twin beds with bright red comforters and one queen. It’s spacious and full of color. We’re all ravenous, so we drop our stuff. I fish my purse out of my bag and leave everything else behind.

Outside I can see the Colosseum in the distance, glowing
in a haze of yellow. That’s our heading. The four of us waltz through tiny brick alleyways, around endless colorful Fiats. All the architecture has an ancient feel to it, like these structures were built into the landscape of the city.

The area around the Colosseum is gloriously empty. We gaze at it from
atop a hill inlaid with a set of long, curving steps that lead down to the ground. I can’t
believe this is real. I can’t believe it’s been standing for thousands of years. We can’t go in till tomorrow when it’s actually open, but Babe and I take out our cameras, and we all have a mini photoshoot outside the deserted piece of history.

We end up at a trattoria nearby that’s still abuzz with customers. Babe requests a jug of red wine for the table.

“Italy is famous for its wine!” she
explains. “Getting a jug for the table is a must.”

We all order copious amounts of Italian food—I get ravioli, and it’s exquisite. Sahra raises a glass to Rome, and we clink ours against it. We chat for hours, making our way through the entire jug. I can feel the alcohol as we mosey back to the room together, joking and laughing at everything. My chest is hot and fuzzy as I slip into my bed at
the inn.

I wake with a jolt, taking a few deep breaths before remembering where I am. My mouth feels dry. My eyes zip to the tiny black digital clock on the night table. It’s only 7:30 a.m. I shuffle to the bathroom and decide to start getting ready because we planned to get up at 8:00 a.m. My lips are chapped, so I head back to my area of the floor and look for my purse, aka the keeper of the
Chapstick.

I don’t see it on the floor, so I kneel on the ground and start rummaging through my book bag. My hand flails through clothes and toiletries without skimming over anything that even vaguely resembles my cross-body. Fear sizzles up my chest.

No, no, no, no. My passport’s in that purse. My block phone’s in that purse. All my money’s in that purse … I had it at the restaurant. I had
it on the back of my chair. Did I leave it?

My three travel mates are still asleep. I snatch my book bag off the floor and run to the bathroom to get changed. I have to get to the restaurant. I need to find my purse.

What an idiot. I’m such an idiot!

I emerge from the bathroom two minutes later, and position myself
in front of the full-length mirror outside it to frantically throw on some makeup.

“Shane … why are you running around?”

I freeze and look down to my left, eye pencil held aloft. Pilot’s propped up on his bed, squinting at me with sleepy eyes. His brown hair’s all mussed up.

My answer comes out in a hushed rush of words. “I can’t find my purse. It has my passport. I think I left it at the restaurant, so I have to go back and get it.”

As I say it out loud, a string of frantic
images run through my mind: me detained at the airport, me stuck in Rome by myself, my flatmates heading back to London without me, me on the phone with my parents, my parents having to make all the calls to get me out of this, finding out there is no premed program in London, my father disowning me—

Pilot’s voice snaps me back. “Okay, I’ll come with you,” he returns simply.

I bob my chin up
and down a zillion times. “Okay, okay, thank you.”

He heads past me into the bathroom with his own bag. Ten minutes later, we’re ready to go. It’s almost 8:00 a.m. Babe and Sahra stir as we head for the door.

“Hey,” Babe croaks, sitting up abruptly.

“Hey.” I speed through an explanation. “I lost my purse—I think I left it at the restaurant, so we’re gonna go see if we can get it back.”

“Wait,
we can get dressed…”

“No it’s fine,” I start, but Pilot jumps in.

“We’ll go, and we can meet you at the Colosseum. I have my phone, so just let me know when you’re heading over.”

I nod in agreement and shoot Pilot a grateful look. I can’t sit and wait for them to get ready while my purse, laden with passport and money, is indisposed.

“Okay,” Babe mutters. She rises and heads toward the bathroom.

I turn for the door, feeling naked without my cross-body. How did I leave the restaurant like this? It feels so wrong!

This is your fault, wine.

Pilot and I walk in silence toward the restaurant. I’m so strung out about the purse that I barely appreciate the fact that Pilot volunteered to come
with me—and not regular me: silent, sweaty, slightly angry, panicky me. She’s no fun.
What was I thinking
letting him come?

As the trattoria comes into view, I speed up, power walking until I’m face-to-face with its closed door. My eyes lock on the tiny paper in the window displaying the hours. It’s closed. I didn’t even think about the fact that it’s 8:00 a.m. It doesn’t open till 3:00 p.m.

I whirl around, throwing my hands up in the air. “It’s closed!” I yelp hopelessly.

Pilot comes up next to
me to read what the sign says.

“Pies, it’s closed,” I repeat. I pace a few feet away from the door and pivot, turning back. “It’s closed, and I have no money and no passport and no purse, and we’re in a foreign country, and it might not even be in there, and it’s closed!” My palms seize the sides of my head, and I focus my eyes on the ground.

What now? I have to stay here and wait for someone
to open the restaurant so I can get my purse. It’s too important.

I shouldn’t have had that wine. Why did I leave London? I haven’t even started my internship! If I’ve lost my passport, I’ve already blown everything to pieces. I didn’t think this through. This whole experience hinges on my parents never having to look further into this program. What was I thinking taking a risk like leaving the
country!

I feel a cool hand close around my forearm and look up.

“Hey.” Pilot gently pulls my arm away from my face. “Shane, you’re spinning in circles. Maybe sit down for a sec.”

His hand slides away as he lowers himself onto the curb in front of the closed restaurant. I shake out my arms, trying to throw off the fidgety feeling crawling over my skin, and collapse next to him. My heels dance
up and down. We’re silent for a whole minute before Pilot speaks again.

“Hey,” he starts, “it’s stressful now, but think about it this way: However today goes, you’re going to have a great story for the blog.” He grins.

I shoot him an unamused look and shake my head. “I shouldn’t have trusted myself to leave the country.” I drop my head into my hands and ramble to the cobblestones, “I’m sorry.
You should go meet up with everyone else. I’m gonna wait here. I have to wait for them to open ’cause this is
too important; my passport’s in there—I’m sorry I made you come with me. You can go back. I just have to stay. My parents are gonna kill me if I … if all my stuff gets lost.” Stress curdles in my gut.

“Shane.”

I stare at the ground. “What?”

“You didn’t make me come with you. I volunteered.”

I snort, thinking of
The Hunger Games.
He nudges me lightly with his shoulder, and I lift my head.

“Your parents will understand.”

“You don’t know them.” After a few seconds, I continue, “My dad
grounded
me in high school for reading
The Da Vinci Code.

“What?” He chuckles. “Why?”

“Because we’re Catholic, and the church had a problem with it, blah blah blah.”

“Are you guys super-religious?”

“I mean, I’m not.” I pause for a second, curiosity rising. “Are you?”

“Nah, I mean, my family’s Jewish. I do Hanukkah.”

I nod, understanding. “So no awesome indie rock-themed bar mitzvah for you?”

He smirks. “Well…”

“Oh my god, you had an indie rock-themed bar mitzvah?” My mouth turns up in a tiny, closed-lipped smile.

“More punk rock.” He grins.

I snort, turning away to watch the restaurant
door. Off in the distance, I can make out the Colosseum. Pilot follows my gaze.

“So, if you could go back in time, would you want stop by there and watch a gladiator match?” he asks.

Trying to distract me.
I click my tongue. “I guess so,” I answer. “Would you?”

“Uh, obviously,” he answers in a silly voice.

I smother a smile, storyteller mode switching on. “What if you only had three points
you could choose to go back to? Would this be one of the three? And you can’t do things like kill Hitler; you can only sit in on events and stuff. Maybe you can put in your two cents at said events.”

Pilot frowns for a moment.

“That’s a tough one.” He stares into the distance. “I think first, I’d have to hit up one those epic concerts your favorite band used to put on back in the day.”

I smile.
“Taylor Swift or…?”

He makes a
pfft
half-laugh sound. “I’d have to check out the Beatles … and—I feel like I gotta think out these second two.”

“I think I’d want to be in the room when they wrote the Constitution.” I ponder. “Maybe dressed as a guy, so I could insert my two cents and they’d listen to me.”

Pilot shoots me a surprised grin. I return my attention back to the restaurant door. Silence
stretches for a few moments. My panicked twitchiness returns.

“So, I guess we should go meet Sahra and Babe,” Pilot says.

I turn to look him in the eyes. “Yeah, you go ahead. I’m going to stay here and wait.”

He tilts his head forward. “Shane, it doesn’t open till three.”

“Yeah, you go, and I’ll stay here.”

“You think I’m just going to leave you here huddled on the curb by yourself?”

I look
away from his face, feeling guilty. “Just go meet up with them. I’m fine!”

I wonder what the protocol actually is for losing your passport in a foreign country. Why wasn’t this in
So You’re Going to Study Abroad
?

“Let’s go grab some food, and then we’ll track down Sahra and Babe,” he suggests.

My eyebrows furrow again. I do my best to keep my voice level. “Pilot, I don’t have any money. I have
nothing; I have to stay and wait for my purse.”

His eyebrows descend as he responds with all seriousness, “Oh, is it meeting you out here?”

A breath huffs through my lips, and I fiddle with my numbers bracelet, spinning it around on my wrist. The idea of carrying the added guilt of ruining Rome for both me and Pilot is too much. Losing a passport is a trip ruiner.

“What does your bracelet mean?”
he asks.

“It’s a
Lost
thing. You’d have to watch it.” I dismiss his next distraction attempt and instantly feel shitty about it.

“I lost my wallet once—” he tries again.

I interrupt him. “This isn’t the same, Pies.”

“Excuse me, can I tell my insightful story?” He raises his eyebrows. I deflate, caving in on myself and staring at the ground.

“So, I was in Florida with my roommates, freshman
year spring break, and we took a cab to the beach.”

I’m distracted momentarily, imagining Pilot all shirtless on the beach. I raise my gaze and watch him talk.

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