Anna and the french kiss, p.16
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       Anna and the French Kiss, p.16
 

         Part #1 of Anna and the French Kiss series by Stephanie Perkins
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  “Yes, great, I get it. Ha ha. Stupid me.”

  “What? It’s just a Christmas song.” He grins and continues a bit louder. “‘Batmobile lost a wheel, on the M1 motorway, hey!’”

  “Wait.” I frown. “What?”

  “What what?”

  “You’re singing it wrong.”

  “No, I’m not.” He pauses. “How do you sing it?”

  I pat my coat, double-checking for my passport. Phew. Still there. “It’s ‘Jingle bells, Batman smells, Robin laid an egg’—”

  St. Clair snorts. “Laid an egg? Robin didn’t lay an egg—”

  “‘Batmobile lost a wheel, and the Joker got away.’”

  He stares at me for a moment, and then says with perfect conviction, “No.”

  “Yes. I mean, seriously, what’s up with the motorway thing?”

  “M1 motorway. Connects London to Leeds.”

  I smirk. “Batman is American. He doesn’t take the M1 motorway.”

  “When he’s on holiday he does.”

  “Who says Batman has time to vacation?”

  “Why are we arguing about Batman?” He leans forward. “You’re derailing us from the real topic. The fact that you, Anna Oliphant, slept in today.”

  “Thanks.”

  “You.” He prods my leg with a finger. “Slept in.”

  I focus on the guy’s laptop again. “Yeah. You mentioned that.”

  He flashes a crooked smile and shrugs, that full-bodied movement that turns him from English to French. “Hey, we made it, didn’t we? No harm done.”

  I yank out a book from my backpack, Your Movie Sucks, a collection of Roger Ebert’s favorite reviews of bad movies. A visual cue for him to leave me alone. St. Clair takes the hint. He slumps and taps his feet on the ugly blue carpeting.

  I feel guilty for being so harsh. If it weren’t for him, I would’ve missed the flight. St. Clair’s fingers absentmindedly drum his stomach. His dark hair is extra messy this morning. I’m sure he didn’t get up that much earlier than me, but, as usual, the bed-head is more attractive on him. With a painful twinge, I recall those other mornings together. Thanksgiving. Which we still haven’t talked about.

  A bored woman calls out rows for boarding, first in French and then in English. I decide to play nice and put away my book. “Where are we sitting?”

  He inspects his boarding pass. “Forty-five G. Still have your passport?”

  I feel my coat once more. “Got it.”

  “Good.” And then his hand is inside my pocket. My heart spazzes, but he doesn’t notice. He pulls out my passport and flicks it open.

  WAIT. WHY DOES HE HAVE MY PASSPORT?

  His eyebrows shoot up. I try to snatch it back, but he holds it out of my reach. “Why are your eyes crossed?” He laughs. “Have you had some kind of ocular surgery I don’t know about?”

  “Give it back!” Another grab and miss, and I change tactics and lunge for his coat instead. I snag his passport.

  “NO!”

  I open it up, and it’s . . . baby St. Clair. “Dude. How old is this picture?”

  He slings my passport at me and snatches his back. “I was in middle school.”

  Before I can reply, our section is announced. We hold our passports against our chests and enter the line.The bored flight attendant slides his ticket through a machine that rips it, and he moves forward. I hand mine over. “Zis iz boarding rows forty through fifty. Plizz sit until I call your row.” She hands back my ticket, and her lacquered nails click against the paper.

  “What? I’m in forty-five—”

  But I’m not. There, printed in bold ink, is my row. Twenty-three. I forgot we wouldn’t be sitting together, which is dumb, because it’s not like we made our reservations together. It’s a coincidence we’re on the same flight. St. Clair waits for me down the walkway. I shrug helplessly and hold up the boarding pass. “Row twenty-three.”

  His expression is surprised. He forgot, too.

  Someone growls at me in French. A businessman with immaculate black hair is trying to hand his ticket to the flight attendant. I mutter my apologies and step aside. St. Clair’s shoulders sag. He waves goodbye and disappears around the corner.

  Why can’t we sit together? What’s the point of seat reservations, anyway? The bored woman calls my section next, and I think terrible thoughts about her as she slides my ticket through her machine. At least I have a window seat. The middle and aisle are occupied with more businessmen. I’m reaching for my book again—it’s going to be a long flight—when a polite English accent speaks to the man beside me.

  “Pardon me, but I wonder if you wouldn’t mind switching seats.You see, that’s my girlfriend there, and she’s pregnant. And since she gets a bit ill on airplanes, I thought she might need someone to hold back her hair when . . . well . . .” St. Clair holds up the courtesy barf bag and shakes it around.The paper crinkles dramatically.

  The man sprints off the seat as my face flames. His pregnant girlfriend?

  “Thank you. I was in for ty-five G.” He slides into the vacated chair and waits for the man to disappear before speaking again. The guy on his other side stares at us in horror, but St. Clair doesn’t care. “They had me next to some horrible couple in matching Hawaiian shirts.There’s no reason to suffer this flight alone when we can suffer it together.”

  “That’s flattering, thanks.” But I laugh, and he looks pleased—until takeoff, when he claws the armrest and turns a color disturbingly similar to key lime pie. I distract him with a story about the time I broke my arm playing Peter Pan. It turned out there was more to flying than thinking happy thoughts and jumping out a window. St. Clair relaxes once we’re above the clouds.

  Time passes quickly for an eight-hour flight.

  We don’t talk about what waits on the other side of the ocean. Not his mother. Not Toph. Instead, we browse SkyMall. We play the if-you-had-to-buy-one-thing-off-each-page game. He laughs when I choose the hot-dog toaster, and I tease him about the fogless shower mirror and the world’s largest crossword puzzle.

  “At least they’re practical,” he says.

  “What are you gonna do with a giant crossword poster? ‘Oh, I’m sorry, Anna. I can’t go to the movies tonight. I’m working on two thousand across, Norwegian Birdcall.’”

  “At least I’m not buying a Large Plastic Rock for hiding ‘unsightly utility posts.’You realize you have no lawn?”

  “I could hide other stuff. Like . . . failed French tests. Or illegal moonshining equipment.” He doubles over with that wonderful boyish laughter, and I grin. “But what will you do with a motorized swimming-pool snack float?”

  “Use it in the bathtub.” He wipes a tear from his cheek. “Ooo, look! A Mount Rushmore garden statue. Just what you need, Anna. And only forty dollars! A bargain!”

  We get stumped on the page of golfing accessories, so we switch to drawing rude pictures of the other people on the plane, followed by rude pictures of Euro Disney Guy. St. Clair’s eyes glint as he sketches the man falling down the Panthéon’s spiral staircase.

  There’s a lot of blood. And Mickey Mouse ears.

  After a few hours, he grows sleepy. His head sinks against my shoulder. I don’t dare move.The sun is coming up, and the sky is pink and orange and makes me think of sherbet. I sniff his hair. Not out of weirdness. It’s just . . . there.

  He must have woken earlier than I thought, because it smells shower-fresh. Clean. Healthy. Mmm. I doze in and out of a peaceful dream, and the next thing I know, the captain’s voice is crackling over the airplane. We’re here.

  I’m home.

  chapter twenty-four

  I’m jittery. It’s like the animatronic band from Chuck E. Cheese is throwing a jamboree in my stomach. I’ve always hated Chuck E. Cheese. Why am I thinking about Chuck E. Cheese? I don’t know why I’m nervous. I’m just seeing my mom again. And Seany. And Bridge! Bridge said she’d come.

  St. Clair’s connecting flight to San Francisco doesn’t leave
for another three hours, so we board the train that runs between terminals, and he walks me to the arrivals area. We’ve been quiet since we got off the plane. I guess we’re tired. We reach the security checkpoint, and he can’t go any farther. Stupid TSA regulations. I wish I could introduce him to my family.The Chuck E. Cheese band kicks it up a notch, which is weird, because I’m not nervous about leaving him. I’ll see him again in two weeks.

  “All right, Banana. Suppose this is goodbye.” He grips the straps of his backpack, and I do the same.

  This is the moment we’re supposed to hug. For some reason, I can’t do it.

  “Tell your mom hi for me. I mean, I know I don’t know her. She just sounds really nice. And I hope she’s okay.”

  He smiles softly. “Thanks. I’ll tell her.”

  “Call me?”

  “Yeah, whatever.You’ll be so busy with Bridge and what’s-his-name that you’ll forget all about your English mate, St. Clair.”

  “Ha! So you are English!” I poke him in the stomach.

  He grabs my hand and we wrestle, laughing. “I claim . . . no . . . nationality.”

  I break free. “Whatever, I totally caught you. Ow!” A gray-haired man in sunglasses bumps his red plaid suitcase into my legs.

  “Hey, you! Apologize!” St. Clair says, but the guy is already too far away to hear.

  I rub my shins. “It’s okay, we’re in the way. I should go.”

  Time to hug again.Why can’t we do it? Finally, I step forward and put my arms around him. He’s stiff, and it’s awkward, especially with our backpacks in the way. I smell his hair again. Oh heavens.

  We pull apart. “Have fun at the show tonight,” he says.

  “I will. Have a good flight.”

  “Thanks.” He bites his thumbnail, and then I’m through security and riding down the escalator. I look back one last time. St. Clair jumps up and down, waving at me. I burst into laughter, and his face lights up. The escalator slides down.

  He’s lost from view.

  I swallow hard and turn around. And then—there they are. Mom has a gigantic smile, and Seany is jumping and waving, just like St. Clair.

  “For the last time, Bridgette said she was sorry.” Mom pays the grumpy woman in the airport parking deck’s tollbooth. “She had to practice for the show.”

  “Right. Because it’s not like we haven’t seen each other in four months.”

  “Bridge is a ROCK STAR,” Seany says from the backseat. His voice is filled with adoration.

  Uh-oh. Someone has a crush. “Oh, yeah?”

  “She says her band is gonna be on MTV someday, but not the lame one, one of the cool ones you can only get with a special cable package.”

  I turn around. My brother looks strangely smug. “And how do you know about special cable packages?”

  Seany swings his legs. One of his freckled kneecaps is covered with Star Wars Band-Aids. Like, seven or eight of them. “Duh. Bridge told me.”

  “Ah. I see.”

  “She also told me about praying mantises. How the girl mantis eats the boy mantis’s head. And she told me about Jack the Ripper and NASA, and she showed me how to make macaroni and cheese. The good kind, with the squishy cheese packet.”

  “Anything else?”

  “Lots of other things.” There is an edge to this. A threat.

  “Oh. Hey, I have something for you.” I unzip my backpack and pull out a plastic shell. It’s an original StarWars Sand Person. The purchase on eBay ate my entire meal fund one week, but it was worth it. He really wants this. I was saving it for later, but he clearly needs coaxing back to my side.

  I hold up the package.The angry little figurine glares into the backseat. “Merry early Christmas!”

  Seany crosses his arms. “I already have that one. Bridge got him for me.”

  “Sean! What did I say about thanking people? Tell your sister thank you. She must have gone through a lot of trouble to get that for you.”

  “It’s okay,” I mumble, placing the toy back in my bag. It’s amazing how small a resentful seven-year-old can make me feel.

  “He just missed you, that’s all. He’s talked about you nonstop. He just doesn’t know how to express it now that you’re here. Sean! Stop kicking the seat! What have I told you about kicking my seat while I’m driving?”

  Seany scowls. “Can we go to McDonald’s?”

  Mom looks at me. “Are you hungry? Did they feed you on the plane?”

  “I could eat.”

  We pull off the interstate and hit the drive-through. They aren’t serving lunch yet, and Seany throws a fit. We decide on hash browns. Mom and Seany get Cokes, and I order coffee. “You drink coffee now?” Mom hands it to me, surprised.

  I shrug. “Everyone at school drinks coffee.”

  “Well, I hope you’re still drinking milk, too.”

  “Like Sean’s drinking milk right now?”

  Mom grits her teeth. “It’s a special occasion. His big sister is home for Christmas.” She points to the Canadian flag on my backpack. “What’s that?”

  “My friend St. Clair bought it for me. So I wouldn’t feel out of place.”

  She raises her eyebrows as she pulls back onto the road. “Are there a lot of Canadians in Paris?”

  My face warms. “I just felt, you know, stupid for a while. Like one of those lame American tourists with the white sneakers and the cameras around their necks? So he bought it for me, so I wouldn’t feel . . . embarrassed. American.”

  “Being American is nothing to be ashamed of,” she snaps.

  “God, Mom, I know. I just meant—forget it.”

  “Is this the English boy with the French father?”

  “What does that have anything to do with it?” I’m angry. I don’t like what she’s implying. “Besides, he’s American. He was born here? His mom lives in San Francisco. We sat next to each other on the plane.”

  We stop at a red light. Mom stares at me. “You like him.”

  “OH GOD, MOM.”

  “You do.You like this boy.”

  “He’s just a friend. He has a girlfriend.”

  “Anna has a boooy-friend,” Seany chants.

  “I do not!”

  “ANNA HAS A BOOOY-FRIEND!”

  I take a sip of coffee and choke. It’s disgusting. It’s sludge. No, it’s worse than sludge—at least sludge is organic. Seany is still taunting me. Mom reaches around and grabs his legs, which are kicking her seat again. She sees me making a face at my drink.

  “My, my. One semester in France, and suddenly we’re Miss Sophisticated.Your father will be thrilled.”

  Like it was my choice! Like I asked to go to Paris! And how dare she mention Dad.

  “ANNNN-A HAS A BOOOY-FRIEND!”

  We merge back onto the interstate. It’s rush hour, and the Atlanta traffic has stopped moving.The car behind ours shakes us with its thumping bass.The car in front sprays a cloud of exhaust straight into our vents.

  Two weeks. Only two more weeks.

  chapter twenty-five

  Sofia is dead. Because Mom only took her out three times since I left, now she’s stuck in some repair shop on Ponce de Leon Avenue. My car may be a hunk of red scrap metal, but she’s my hunk of red scrap metal. I paid for her with my own money, earned with the stench of theater popcorn in my hair and artificial butter on my arms. She’s named after my favorite director, Sofia Coppola. Sofia creates these atmospheric, impressionistic films with this quiet but impeccable style. She’s also one of only two American women to have been nominated for the Best Director Oscar, for Lost in Translation.

  She should have won.

  “Why don’t you carpool with your friends?” Mom asks, when I complain about driving her minivan to the Penny Dreadfuls show.

  “Because Bridge and Toph will already be there.They have to set up.” Captain Jack wheek wheek wheeks for guinea pig treats, so I pop an orange pellet into his cage and scratch the fuzz behind his ears.

  “Can’t Matt drive you?”


  I haven’t talked to him in months. I guess he’s going, but ugh, that means Cherrie Milliken is also going. No thanks. “I’m not calling Matt.”

  “Well, Anna. It’s Matt or the minivan. I’m not making the choice for you.”

  I choose my ex. We used to be good friends, so I’m sort of looking forward to seeing him again. And maybe Cherrie isn’t as bad as I remember. Except she is. She totally is. After only five minutes in her company, I cannot fathom how Bridge stands sitting with her at lunch every day. She turns to look at me in the backseat, and her hair swishes in a vitamin-enriched, shampoo-commercial curtain. “So. How are the guys in Paris?”

  I shrug. “Parisian.”

  “Ha ha.You’re funny.”

  Her lifeless laugh is one of her lesser attributes. What does Matt see in her?

  “No one special?” Matt smiles and glances at me through the rearview mirror. I’m not sure why, but I forgot that he has brown eyes. Why do they make some people look amazing and others completely average? It’s the same with brown hair. Statistically speaking, St. Clair and Matt are quite similar. Eyes: Brown. Hair: Brown. Race: Caucasian. There’s a significant difference in height, but still. It’s like comparing a gourmet truffle to a Mr. Goodbar.

  I think about the gourmet truffle. And his girlfriend. “Not exactly.”

  Cherrie pulls Matt into a story about something that happened in chorus, a conversation she knows I can’t contribute to. Mr. Goodbar fills me in on the who-is-who details, but my mind drifts away. Bridgette and Toph. Will Bridge look the same? Will Toph and I jump in where we left off?

  It’s really hitting me now. I’m about to see Toph.

  The last time we were together, we kissed. I can’t help but fantasize about our reunion. Toph picking me out of the crowd, being unable to pry his eyes from me, dedicating songs to me. Meeting him backstage. Kissing him in dark corners. I could be on the verge of an entire winter break spent making out with Toph. By the time we arrive at the club, my stomach is in knots, but in such a good way.

  Except when Matt opens my door, I realize we aren’t at a club. More like . . . a bowling alley. “Is this the right place?”

 
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