Release Date: May 4, 2018
Cover Design: Book by Design
Photographer: Dave Kelley
Models: Alanna Rae Cañez & Cory M. Kuehn
One bad decision changed my life irrevocably. One night shattered it completely.
I stare at the sunrise above the ocean through the tiny plane window next to me. The beautiful orange, red, and golden glow gives me a sense of peace I haven’t felt in a long time. I watch as the sun slowly bathes the world in its warmth, greeting a new day, a new beginning—seemingly giving me a chance to start anew.
While I watch as in the distance a new day breaks, I muse about what lies before me. I have never been afraid of jumping into the unknown—be it studying abroad by myself, traveling the world, or falling in love. But that was the old me—the young, carefree person who’s never been touched by darkness.
Being from a small town in south-east France, moving to the city or even a foreign country is something everyone fantasized about. I’ve lived in London for years, but the dream has been to live in America, the country my mother left behind as a twenty-five-year-old orphan. I just wish the circumstances of why I’m finally moving weren’t so dire.
Leaving Europe behind is freeing, yet scary nonetheless.
The last month has passed by in a blur. Once I realized I couldn’t stay where I was, I reached out to one of my teachers from an exchange year I spent in Chicago who I kept in touch with. It’s been a whirlwind and for once luck was on my side; he had a friend, who’s a high school principal in a Philadelphia suburb, one who was in dire need of an English teacher. Apparently, the previous teacher suddenly moved away due to a family emergency. While it’s sad for her, for me it couldn’t have been more perfect. And after a two-hour Skype interview with Mr. Harris, I accepted the job offer. I left Europe within three weeks.
The sudden descent of the plane brings be me back to the present. Judging from the seat belt sign blinking on, I guess we’re about to land. Finally. While I love flying, I’m ready to be back on solid ground and out of this flying tin can.
Half an hour later, we safely touch down at the international airport in Philadelphia. Going through customs takes forever, like always.
Most of my stuff fits into two suitcases. Everything with emotional value is in them, along with my clothes and important documents. Everything else, I’ve left behind. They don’t matter since the things killing me not to have with me aren’t earthly possessions anyway.
Another lucky break has been finding an apartment which comes furnished. Mr. Harris has been amazing with accommodating me. Not just with finding me a place to stay, but also having the previous English teacher give me her lesson plans for the first couple of months.
Seeing my two cases come around the belt, I move to the front to grab them. Rolling them back to the cart, I heave them onto it, trying to keep the stupid thing from moving away from me. I really wish they’d have a lock on the wheels to make sure they stay immobile.
When I finally manage to get myself organized with my luggage, I’m breathing heavily. Wow, I guess I should start exercising. One day soon, I tell myself my ever-present lie.
I move toward the exit and walk into the sweltering Pennsylvania summer heat. Fucking hell, why did no one tell me the humidity here is this crazy? One step outside and I’m sweating already.
I am looking around for a cab when I hear my name being called, “Alex!”
Startled, I look around, trying to figure out who yelled my name. I’m shocked to see my old professor stand before me with a cheeky grin on his face.
“What are you doing here, Tom?”
Chuckling, he replies, “I was in the area. You know Luna has family out here, so we thought we’d come out to celebrate Labor Day with them.”
I have to snort at this. It’s rather pathetic how bad of a liar he still is. They came out here so that I wouldn’t arrive and be alone my first weekend; the smirk he can’t hide shows this clear as day. I guess it’s their good fortune they have family in Philly and we can all pretend this is why they’re here.
Makes it easier.
“Of course, you do. How is the wife anyway? How come she isn’t part of this welcome committee?”
I smile at the thought of Luna. While Tom is your stereotypical professor with elbow patches and glasses, his wife is the complete opposite. I guess the best way to describe her is free-spirited. Or a hippie. I’m pretty sure she used to have dreads at some point in her past.
They’re both teachers at the University of Illinois. Tom is the head of the education department, while Luna is the head of Women’s Studies. Quite the pair, but it seems to work perfectly. Luna always used to tell me Tom’s the calm to her hurricane.
I am extremely lucky to have met them, no doubt about it. Luna and I developed a friendship during one of her classes that went beyond the classroom. She ended up inviting me to holidays and weekend excursions. I know, it sounds weird, but when you are alone in a different country you welcome a setting that reminds you of your family. Plus, turkey for Thanksgiving at their place was a lot better than eating alone in my dorm room.
“She’s well. She had a meeting with her publisher in New York today. You know for her new book coming out soon?” At my nod, he continues, “Also, she told me to tell you, she’s insisting you come with us to the party tomorrow.” Lifting a hand, he halts any protests he knows are coming. “Don’t even start, you know she’ll just come and force you to join us anyway.”
I sigh, he’s right. There is no way I’ll get out of this one. “Fine.”
“Great. Now get in here and give me a hug. I haven’t seen you in ages! Skype just isn’t the same.” Without waiting for me to move, Tom steps forward and hugs me hard.
“I’m so sorry, girl,” he whispers.
My arms involuntary squeeze him tight. “I’m all right,” I lie.
I move out of his embrace and clear my throat. I don’t do well with emotions. I was never one of those people who can show them easily to begin with, and the last few years only made it worse.
“Welp, shall we go then, driver,” I joke to defuse the emotionally laden situation.
“Yes, ma’am,” he says with a laugh. “Let’s go. My car is this way.” He points straight ahead.
We walk across the street toward a black Jeep Grand Cherokee. Whistling through my teeth, I tease him, “Damn. An SUV. Do you hate our planet that much?”
“Be nice. It’s what they gave us when we arrived. Not even joking, it was the last one left. Luna wasn’t impressed either. She already gave me shit for two hours afterward. Please, spare me.”
“All right, all right, all right,” I give my best Matthew McConaughey impression, causing Tom to laugh out loud, drawing the eye of the people around us.
“Your impersonation skills have not gotten any better over the years.”
I place my hand over my heart in mock hurt. “Hey! Are you saying my practicing was all for naught?”
“Pretty much. I’m surprised you aren’t talking like some posh snob from England anyway. That’s pretty impressive.” The laughter leaving me at his comment is something I haven’t done in months. I’ve lived in England for six years, so it’s not such a stretch to imagine I’d end up with an accent. “Yeah, I worked hard to avoid sounding like a Brit. My mom spent too much time teaching me one accent to lose it.”
After we load my luggage into the trunk, I move to the passenger door, while admiring the interior.
“You know,” I say while getting comfortable, “while I hate the amount of gas this car uses and the deteriorating effect it has on the environment, it’s a really nice one. I love this leather interior—it’s comfortable.”
“That reminds me, have you figured out what you’ll do about a car? You know this is America, not London.” He smirks at me. “You can’t rely on public transport to go anywhere unless you live in the city.”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m aware. I don’t even know how far the apartment is from work, but I have a feeling I’ll need to drag my ass out of bed tomorrow and go lease one.” I sigh, already dreading the experience.
“How about I come with you. The party isn’t until three anyway. We’ll go to a dealership in the area in the morning. How does that sound?”
“Actually, it sounds amazing. Thank you. I was not looking forward to it. I hate car shopping. So, I appreciate the help.” I smile at Tom gratefully. “Even though I will say it wasn’t necessary; I’m grateful you came out this weekend.”
“We’re family, girl. Luna thinks of you as a little sister, especially after what you did for us—for Luna. We’ll never forget it and will never be able to repay you.”
I avert my eyes, looking out the window while trying to blink back the tears. “I did what anyone would have done. All I did was drive Luna to the hospital and sit with her while we waited for you.”
“Alex,” he says with a heavy sigh and places a hand on my arm. “You did a lot more than just sit with her. If not for you, she’d have been alone, sitting on a cold and empty hospital bed mourning the baby we’d just lost, waiting for me to get there. You were her lifeline, telling her funny stories of your brother and all the shenanigans you two got up to. You were there when she needed someone the most.”
I look at him, my chest filling with emotions I’m unused to. It was a mixture of gratitude, love, and… belonging. “Then I’m glad I was there to give her some comfort during a horrible time.” I try to smile, but I know I fail miserably since I can feel my lip wobbling.
“Me too, honey. Me too. And you know, we’re here in case you need to talk about—”
“I don’t,” I interrupt abruptly, my tone sharp. I don’t ever want to talk about what happened. The past is going to stay buried deep in the abyss of my consciousness. “I’m fine. I don’t need to talk about anything. Let the past stay where it belongs.”
He looks at me for a moment. And by the way he’s rolling his lip between his teeth, and the intensity in his eyes, I can tell he’s trying to see behind my mask. I’m not sure what he sees, but thankfully he lets it go.
Shaking his head, he straightens in his seat and turns the ignition. “Can you program your new address into the GPS? I don’t want to end up getting lost in the hills of suburbia.”
Looking at the gadget in front of me, I decide to give it the good ol’ try. I’m sure it can’t be that difficult. “Sure, let’s do this.”
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About the Author
Kira Berger is a child of the world with a severe case of wanderlust. She’s lived in both North America and Europe. Currently, she’s living in London and enjoys everything the diverse city has to offer.
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