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London whips by in a blur.
We go to Westminster Abbey, and fail to see the changing of the guard. We fly the London Eye once, the world opening up at its apogee as if offered to us by Satan on a silver platter. Camden town brings us cute clothes, Oxford—a day trip—brings me a somewhat novel desire to go to graduate school.
We sleep in our hostel, on a raver’s floor, on trains and buses. We don’t speak for a day—not for any particular reason, only because it had become tiring and unnecessary. We twine our fingers hourly, even then.
Today is our last day in London. It’s our last day together, for a small eternity, at least. We flew the Eye again, earlier, and the whole flight felt less a temptation and more an extended goodbye to my friend, who I love, and this city, which I have also come to.
We tumble through the streets and circles and alleys, still dizzy from the Eye’s height or something else. We end up in Leicester square, curled on a bench in the gardens. These are old gardens. Old buildings. Old homes.
“Let’s stay another night.”
Katie looks at me, hugs me close, closer. She speaks softly: “Come on.”
“I thought that was our, y’know.” I stop for a beat and consider. “Our goodbye.”
“No.” She runs her fingers down my face. “No. No. No.” With a timing possible only in movies and life, the phone in my purse starts to hum distantly.
“Your grandmother is very sick.”
These are the first words out of my mother’s mouth. Then: “How is your trip? You haven’t called.” She enunciates every syllable, taking care to draw out the guilt.
“I’m sorry. How’s she doing?”
“Well, she is very. Sick.”
I can’t think of anything to say to that, so I don’t say anything. The decision fills up space thickly. Gnawing.
“You know, it would mean a lot if you would come here.”
“I am coming there.”
“Why don’t you cut your trip just. A little. Short.”
I feel like her accent has become heavier. It’s pulling her words down. They drop on the ground at my feet.
You can’t say, I’m very sorry. I planned this before. Because that asks, before what? Before her mother fell sick. Before she started dying. Something she hadn’t planned for, hadn’t ever really let herself believe could happen.
“Okay? You’ll come now? When? In a week? In a month?”
“I’ll come soon.”
“Can I call the airline for you? I’m worried you won’t do it.”
“No, I can call them.”
“I would rather I called them.”
“Mom, it’s okay, I can do this one thing.”
“But will you? I know you can. Will you? What about when I am sick? When I am dying? Will you be there? You’ll probably be out with your friends.”
She spits the word out like it’s a curse.
“I’ll call them tomorrow.”
“Call them tonight.”
“I can’t leave tonight. I’ll call them tomorrow. Please?”
“Why can’t you just help your mother? Why can’t you just be here?”
Katie holds me for the next two hours, stroking my hair as I try to cry so my mother won’t hear it.
As my mother justly demolishes my self-worth, I begin to study the geography of Katie. Cheek bones tucked just under her eyes, pushing them up, making them twinkle in the city light. Ink blue eyes, one faintly greener, lightly dusted by her bangs; above them, her forehead occasionally crinkles into little peaks and valleys with worry when our eyes meet. Black hair, cut short to her ears but silky, reflective, rippling light like tiny, still rivers.
She is symmetrical, save for her eye colors, her freckles, a slight scar on her neck, and perhaps a few other slight imperfections I decide to catalog in their entirety.
Her lips are large, large enough to be a prominent feature, and soft enough, insistent enough, to draw out every inch of breath.
Her neck is long and pale, speckled with little freckles of varying sizes and rolling into firm shoulders and strong arms. Her forearms are thinner, covered in soft hair, and ending in long, strong fingers, separated by delicate and surprisingly complex wrists.
Her fingernails are trimmed close. She giggles when I ask if she was planning on getting laid. “Maaaaybe….”
The landscape of her body continues to open up—breasts peaked with pink nipples, a gently rounded stomach, that area just above her hips where the f-holes would land, were she a violin. Her hips, the back of her knees, soft thighs. Her cunt is wild and full and not unlike her heart in that way and she tastes like angel food cake soaked in strawberries.
We touch. She has her own geography lesson, not without some new roads and mountains of her own to learn. We touch together, move together, laugh together, deliciously.
Traveling with someone, you worry—I worry—about what they’re bringing with them. How they’re going to change your trip, your self, you. If you’ll still speak to them afterwards.
Katie, I knew already. Being with Katie is not unlike being in the center of a thunderstorm. In a dinghy. Or perhaps you get to bring your own boat, and at the time, I brought a dinghy. Since then, I’ve brought better. We’re better friends now, if that’s possible. She’s still slightly terrifying, and she has always knocked me a little bit off center, and my relationship with her is one of the deepest and strongest I have known.
We are still speaking.
“I can’t come with you.”
I smile faintly. “I wish I could just follow you home.”
“You know,” she begins, “Back in New York, you were whining about how it isn’t really home, and you just want to belong somewhere—”
She laughs. This is playful. This is play.
“I know.” This is also a departure. An act of parting. “I wouldn’t let you even if you could.”
“Really?” There’s hurt there.
“It’s not that I wouldn’t want you there! God, it’s not that at all.
“You heard my mom on the phone.” She nods. “She’d take everything out on you.”
She looks down thoughtfully. So instead, you’ll go without a shield. She doesn’t have to say it.
K looks up, smiling faintly.
“And besides,” she winks, “They’d never let us share a bed.”