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Chapter Three, Stuck in a Moment ©Carrie Miller 2013
And all the roads that lead you there are winding
And all the lights that light the way are blinding
There are many things that I
Would like to say to you but I don’t know how
The next day seemed to go on and on in anticipation of when she would meet up with James. She had never felt like this about anyone. The only thing that came close was the “long term” (six month) high school boyfriend she had her junior year. They had been together long enough to think they were in love. After she gave him her virginity she was sure it was love, but then he broke up with her about a month later, and she never found out why. She had been literally heart-broken.
But this guy was different. It wasn’t high school love based on hormones, popularity, and sitting next to each other in the most boring class imaginable. This was based on something really deep and uncommon. In a strange way, she felt like she had known him her entire life and without him there was something missing. She wasn’t even worried he might not feel the same way. She knew they had an amazing connection. Of course, she had heard of love at first sight, but never really thought she would experience it.
It was finally 6 p.m She left the hostel and walked down the cobblestone street with her hands sweaty and shaking and her heart beating at an alarming rate. As she walked, her confidence betrayed her. What if he’s not there? What if he forgot or found something better to do? As she rounded the corner, Nicole saw the little pub next to the bicycle store, right where he said it would be.
Her heart fluttered. She immediately spotted him sitting at the bar with a bottle of wine and two empty glasses.
They talked and ate appetizers for about an hour. It was as if she were living in a dream, with the Scottish accents whirling around her but lost in the eyes and conversation of her Australian surfer.
From the time she sat down, James excitedly told her about an amazing opportunity he and a friend had. He said ever since he met up with his friend and heard about it all he could think about was telling her.
His friend, Auston, was someone he had grown up with in Australia. They had come to Scotland together about 5 months ago. Auston was hired on as a photographer for the tourism bureau and James had tagged along knowing he would end up traveling around while Auston would stay in Scotland, mostly Edinburg.
The exciting news was Auston had won a photography contest and he was going to Africa to take surfing pictures.
“And guess who will be the surfer in those pictures?” James asked grinning ear to ear.
“Hmmmmm, I don’t know, probably some world famous surfer.” Nicole teased.
“That is what you would think, huh? Nope, it’s me! I get to go to Africa. And SURF!”
James explained that Auston had submitted a picture of James surfing a monster of a wave to Sports Photo Magazine for a contest and had won a grant to take more pictures on location off the coast of Africa. The contest had been to submit photos and explain what your dream photo expedition would be. Auston’s dream was
to travel to Africa and photograph his best friend James surfing.
James said that because Auston was also as surfer he had an unbelievable talent for capturing the essence of the ride. James had always known Auston had talent but with a million photographers to compete with, it was a long shot that Auston would ever catch this kind of break.
Nicole saw James brimming with pride when he talked about his friend. It was almost like Auston was a brother to him.
“So you are going to Africa! What an amazing opportunity. I am so happy for you.” Nicole told him after he finished his story. She was thrilled for him and his friend.
He paused for a minute and looked straight into her eyes. “Have you been to Africa?” She felt her heart start to pound out of her chest. Was he going to ask her to come with him? She had considered crossing over to Morocco when she was on the southern tip of Spain, but Africa seemed too big to conquer on her European trip.
His eyes never left hers, “Would you like to come with us?”
She smiled but no words could come out. She felt her heart begin to overflow, his eyes still locked on her, searching for her answer. When he found it in her eyes and her smile, he leaned in and kissed her.
“When do we leave?” she asked.
“A week from tomorrow.”
She felt impulsively romantic, like someone from a Hemingway novel and very grown up. It seemed so right and perfect, not at all like they had just met the day before and were now planning a trip together to another country.
They finished the bottle of wine. “I know we had a few appetizers,” he said, “But I’m getting really hungry.”
“Then order something else,” she said.
“What I would like to do is take you to dinner, you know, a date!” He winked.
“So first you invite me to travel to another country with you, and then you ask me out, I see how it is Mister,” she laughed. “But yes, I would love to go on a date with you!”
James asked for the check at the pub, paid quickly with one bill from his wallet, and told the waiter to keep the change. He grabbed her hand and lead her down the street.
The streetlights were dim, they rounded a corner and she stopped in her tracks at an extraordinary view.
Edinburg castle all lit up at night. It was the kind of castle little girls imagine being princesses in. It was on the top of a hill but right in the middle of the city. Massive and beautiful, built of ancient stones. After a few minutes of staring at the castle in awe, she turned to him and noticed him staring at her. He’d obviously seen this castle before. “It’s like a postcard,” she said.
“Beautiful,” he agreed although he hadn’t taken his eyes off of her. “A perfect moment.” And he kissed her again.
She was living a fairytale. The restaurant he picked was only a few blocks away and still within the view of the castle. They were seated on the patio. It was a cool May evening, but there were heat lamps to keep them warm. As she sat there staring into James’ eyes, she wished she could bottle up that moment and keep it forever. She always wanted to remember exactly how she felt. The thrill of excitement and new love. The smell of the summer Jasmine in bloom. It was almost too perfect.
There was a piano bar inside, and as their dinner began, the sounds went from classic and romantic, to jazzy and fun, as the night awoke. But even with the castle in front of them, she couldn’t take her eyes off of him.
It was a French Restaurant, “Cocu.” They drank bottles of wine and sampled delicate hor’derves. He had obviously spent a lot of time in upscale dining, because he knew exactly how to order and in French. She didn’t mind him ordering for her. She liked old traditions. They had a truly European dinner which lasted hours.
When the check came, James quickly reached for his wallet, but then had a sudden look of panic as he stood up. “My wallet?! It’s gone.”
As their lovely evening came crashing to a halt, Nicole suddenly realized she was quite drunk. She tried to comfort him about his wallet which had obviously been stolen. He felt stupid because he had allowed himself to be pickpocketed but mostly because he didn’t have any money to pay for dinner.
“Don’t worry — we’ll…I’ll…ummm, here.” She shoved her credit card towards him. Use this. Don’t… worry.” She slurred.
He stared at the floor. “I feel like such an idiot. I don’t even have any cash to take the bus back home. It’s only 2 Euro, I’m so sorry.”
Nicole checked her bag but knew she wouldn’t find any cash there.
“We’ll get an… ATM while you, ummmm, walk me to my hoshtel, no big deal.” She tried to sound coherent.
They finally left their spot on the patio and began to walk down the street. The lights and sounds of the night whirled around her and she clasped James to avoid toppling over. He laughed as he caught her. “Whooa, that was a close one. We’d better get you back to your hostel.”
“But, I… your money..” she tried to tell him.
They quickly stopped at an ATM, but between being drunk and trying to figure out the foreign system, she had to have him take over the withdrawal. He took out $20, Euro apologizing profusely, and promising to make it up to her.
“It’s not… just don’t worry,” she said and tried to kiss him on his nose, but missed, and almost toppled over again.
The walk back was a haze. He walked her to the door, but they wouldn’t let him in. She didn’t want to say good-bye, but also knew she was going to either throw up or pass out any minute. He kissed her and she stumbled to her room.
She woke up to a pounding, awful noise, and a disgusting taste in her mouth. She was laying fully clothed in her bottom bunk on top of her sleeping bag. The light was screaming in through the break in the curtains, and since she shared the room with some other random travelers, she realized the noise was one of them playing the bongos.
“Are you seriously gonna play that thing this early in the morning,” she muttered as she got up and staggered to the bathroom down the hall. The girl just looked at her. Probably didn’t speak English. She made it to the “wash closet” in time to vomit in the sink; pinkish grey disgusting matter. Nicole rinsed out her mouth and headed back to her room. Even with the room spinning and her head pounding, she couldn’t help but smile when she thought of her date with James. James. When would she see him again? Had he said? She didn’t even know where his friend’s flat was or either of their last names. She was beginning to panic but she knew that he knew where she was and he would probably be by soon with coffee and a bagel and maybe even some flowers or something sweet like that. She’d better take a shower.
Despite her hangover and the fact that she showered in her flip flops while trying not to touch the mildewy walls, she sang as the warmish water brought her back to life. She had done a lot of partying during her travels and had plenty of experience with hangovers. Bacon, eggs, toast and coffee and she’d be good as new. But food was the last thing on her mind. As she worked the shampoo into her hair she relived the previous night in her mind. She rinsed and toweled dry as fast as she could. She couldn’t wait to see him. She was going to Africa. With him! And even if it weren’t for Africa, she knew she was in love.
Nicole quickly found a pair of skinny jeans, a long charcoal tank that opened in the back, and her chevron teal and cream wool sweater she had bought from a little old lady in Ireland.
She made her way to the coffee shop in the front of the hostel. She would get some coffee and wait for him. It had a large window, and if he came to the front of the hostel from any direction, there is no way she could miss him. Plus he would probably look for her in the cafe.
She ordered a black Americano from the college age girl with spikey pink hair at the counter. She pulled her money belt out, thinking for the umteenth time how she couldn’t wait to burn it when she got home. She had been wearing it under her clothes for 10 months and it was pretty disgusting. She unzipped it and realized with confusion that her credit card was missing. Her passport was there. Her driver’s license was there, but her credit card was gone. She racked her brain for when she had used it last.
It didn’t take long to remember the restaurant fiasco and trip to the ATM. She canceled her coffee order and headed out the door. She walked across the street and down to the corner to the ATM they had been at the night before. What was she expecting to see? Her card sticking out of the machine?
She thought about how she had to convince him to let her take some money out so he could catch the bus back to his friend’s flat. The poor guy felt so dumb after the restaurant ordeal, but she truly didn’t care. She had never really cared about money, and she hoped he didn’t think she did.
He must have also been drunk, just not as obviously as she had been. She was sure he had more wine than she had, although she hadn’t actually paid any attention. “When he finds out he lost my ATM card he is going to be humiliated,” she thought to herself. He must have left her card in the ATM before he walked her to the hostel. It was as much her fault as his. Or maybe he accidently stuck it in his pocket. She hoped so. That would be a lot easier to deal with.
Well, it didn’t matter. No one could use it without her ID, they were very strict about that overseas, if you had an international credit card. And they couldn’t use it on the ATM unless they had the pin number.
She walked back to the coffee shop and decided to continue waiting for him there. They would figure it out together when he came to see her. She wonder when he would come. She couldn’t wait to see him and was only slightly embarrassed about being so drunk the night before. He was the one who kept ordering the wine.
It felt like hours had gone by and she was getting really hungry. She had no money without her card and really wished he would come soon.
One hour turned into two, which turned into three. Where could he be? She didn’t want to leave in case she missed him. She could see the front door to the hostel where he had dropped her off the night before. Her stomach gargled loudly. She lay her head down at the table but there wasn’t much room because of the keyboard and computer. “Might as well check my email,” she thought. The cafe had free internet for people staying at the hostel. She hadn’t been in much communication with anyone back home. The most she had really done on the computer was check her bank balance. She decided to do that first. She was curious how much the dinner had cost. Not because she cared, but because she wondered how much he had been planning on spending. $150 Euros – like $300! Wow. Funny how you could spend so much on dinner and still be so hungry the next day.
But, something was wrong. Her bank account balance said $0. That wasn’t right. She had thousands of dollars in there. Enough for the rest of her trip and the plane ticket home, plus much more. She looked at the computer screen in horror. She was supposed to have a little over $45,000 in there, but the balance said $0. She could see the dinner payment, and the $20 withdrawal, but after that it said $45,816 was transferred.
She had been robbed. But how could they have used her ATM card without the pin number? Someone must have been looking over their shoulder while they were using the card. No, that wasn’t right. She remembered no one was there. After they got the money out, he had kissed her right there in the ATM nook. They had kissed for a long time, and no one had been around.
She had given him the pin number. But he couldn’t.. he wouldn’t.. No. This was not happening. No. No. No!!
She put her head down on the table and cried. Not for the money – for him. He had lied to her. It was all a show, a con. Her mother had warned her about guys like this. How could she have been so stupid? He liked her. He made her believe she was special. She was beautiful. She kept her head on the table and cried for a long time. What was she going to do? She was in a foreign country with no money. She had already paid for the hostel for a few more nights but what about after that? How would she get home? How would she eat?
Suddenly she sat up straight. It was time to pull it together. She could sit there and cry for an hour or she could figure something out. There was a new coffee lady working now that it was afternoon.
“Excuse me, I am very embarrassed, but I was waiting for someone, and they aren’t coming.” She choked on the tears as the words came out. “I was wondering if you could possibly help me? I am just, I am very hungry, and I have no money.”
“What do you want me to do about it? I can’t give you free food. I would get fired.”
“Ok, sorry.” She walked away shoulders slumped. She needed to call the bank. After 10 minutes of figuring
out country codes and talking to an automated service, she finally reached a real person. The money had been transferred to an untraceable account in Switzerland. “Well, I did not authorize such a transfer. Shouldn’t there be some security against fraud?”
An inquiry would be made, but whoever transferred the money had both her transfer password and her pin code. It would be impossible to prove that it wasn’t her transferring the money to the account. She was told by the apathetic women in the claims department that if it had been the bank’s fault she would receive a complete refund in 90 days. Finally the woman added, with a somewhat more personal tone, but still lacking in compassion, “Honey, I hear about this all the time. You let a guy know enough about your personal life to figure out your password, and it’s not too hard for him to watch you put your pin code in. That is why we suggest passwords with lots of extra numbers and characters, and that you change it every 6 months.”
Nicole hung up the payphone and slowly headed back into the hostel. She went and laid down on her bed. The group of girls she had snubbed that morning were gone, and she was alone in the room. She laid down on her bed and cried herself back to sleep.
Later that night she heard the group come in again. She pretended to be asleep but watched them from under her pillow that was on top of her head. They were getting dressed up and ready to go out and party.
They were carefree, like she had felt only the day before. They spent way too long putting makeup on and doing each other’s hair. Everything they talked about seemed trivial. Fashion, makeup, hair, traveling, guys they had met, music. Everything was meaningless.
After they left, she decided to look through their bags for food. It wasn’t as if she were going to rob them. She was just looking for some crackers or something.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Nicole looked up and saw one of the sorority girls staring her down. “Alice,” she yelled, “This chick is going through your backpack.”
Nicole didn’t know what to do. “I am so sorry, I wasn’t.. I was just.. ” she stammered.
A minute later the man who ran the hostel was there to kick her out. “Lassy, we can’t have ya stealin’ in here, get your bag and be gone.”
“Please, can you just listen for a minute? I was looking for food. I was robbed and have no money and haven’t eaten since last night.”
“Oh yeah, well, everyone has a story, Lass.”
And just like that. She and her backpack were on the street. No money. No food. No place to sleep. All she could do was collect call home for help. It was the worst part of the entire ordeal, even worse than that jerk stealing from her. She had to suck up her pride and run back to Mommy and Daddy for help. They wired her money and paid for a plane ticket home.
She sat on the sidewalk in front of the Western Union store and cried as she waited for the money to be ready. People passed right by her and took no notice of the 19 year old girl crying on the sidewalk.
Why can’t you ask me what is wrong! she screamed silently. She was rejected, deceived and alone.
The next day after finding a new hostel to sleep in, she caught the bus back to London. She had a plane to catch in 48 hours.
The bus came and she sat in the back alone. The tragic return journey was quiet. She stared at the chairs she and James had sat in on the trip up. Where there had been excitement and anticipation, now there was resentment and bitterness. It wasn’t just her attitude, she was a changed person. She had grown up. She had seen the world. And she had experienced real life.
Her whole life before Edinburg was a fairy tale, running around Europe with this silly 19 – year old innocence pretending to be an adult. Well, she got her wish. She had seen the world, she saw how people really were. And now, what would be next? She needed to get home, but what would she do next with her life? She felt empty without any goals or hopes. She knew there was something in her life that she needed, but she could not figure out what it was.
Something was missing in her. Something was broken. And maybe it had always been that way, but it took James for her to see it. Maybe all that trip planning had been her way of avoiding the brokenness. And now she was overcome with feelings she knew she had always had, but had pushed to the side. She felt empty, tired and hopeless. She needed something to make it better. A pill, a drink, something.
But at the same time, she also knew she was resilient. She could be a strong woman, she didn’t need to need anyone. She wished she could forget. Returning to innocence was impossible. Laying her head against the window and clutching her pillow, she promised herself she would not cry about this again.
Nicole tiptoed through shadows in a wide valley. She was looking for something but hiding at the same time. Her confusion was as deep as the clarity she needed to stay hidden. She didn’t know where she was and couldn’t remember what she was looking for.
One word ran through her head over and over, “Lost.” She fumbled through the tall grass but couldn’t see beyond the sticky reeds surrounding her. There were dark shadows but no trees or clouds casting them. Was it early morning or dusk? It must be either about to get dark or the sun was about to rise, though she didn’t know from where. The eeriness of the unnatural lighting and lack of sun scared her to the point of thinking she might be going crazy.
Where were those shadows being cast from? Suddenly she remembered what she was looking for. The path. There was a path, or there had once been one, but the grass was so tall that it was impossible to find. The shadows were distracting.
How did she get here? Where was she going? Where was the path and what does it lead to? She walked on and on for an extraordinary amount of time, although it was impossible to track with no sun or change in the light. Time didn’t seem to exist. It was just her and this place. And nothing. No sounds, no wind. Not even heat or cold. Nothing changed except that she kept searching. She could be going in circles for all she knew. There was no way to tell which direction she had just come from, no signs behind her left in the strange tall grass that sprang back exactly as it was after she passed through it..
She had a terrifying thought; had she been wandering through this strange valley her whole life? She had memories of other places, of family, and friends but were they even real? She had no proof that any other place existed outside of where she was except for vague memories. She looked down at her clothing: a simple white cotton dress and sandals, but no tags or brands identifying either. All of her memories could have easily been dreams. Or maybe she was dreaming now.
There was nothing to do but keep walking. She knew she had to find a path. Whether she had been looking for it her entire life or not, she somehow knew it was there and she must find it.
It felt as if she had been walking forever. There were mountains in the far off distance, but they never came any closer, even though she had been walking for hours and hours. She was tired, thirsty and hungry, but most of all she had to find the path or she would be lost forever.
After what seemed like an eternity, she saw something in the distance. She began to run, to sprint towards the dozens of strange white specks woven among the grass. Something different, a change gave her a glimmer of hope. As she got closer, she could finally tell that it was a heard of sheep.
And then she saw the shepherd who was leading them. Any fear she once had, disappeared the moment she saw the shepherd. She knew he was good. She knew he would help her find the path. She approached him and he smiled. “I have been waiting for you,” she heard him say in a strong yet gentle voice.
“Sir, will you show me to the path?”
“Follow me, I will lead you towards life.” He grasped her hand. She was overcome by a sense of warmth, love, and compassion. She did not know what to say to him but realized as they walked he was creating a path in the grass. It was as if it bowed down before him. She hadn’t been looking for a path, she had been looking for him! He was the path. They kept walking hand in hand, and even though she had walked as long as she could remember, with her hand in his, she felt peace and rest and her heart was overcome with joy.
She awoke with a start. What an amazing dream! No, no she thought. The dream had brought with it a kind of relief her tired soul yearned for. It needed to be real, it felt so real. She began to cry. Moments ago she had everything she ever wanted, and now she had nothing. And it wasn’t even real, it was just a dream. It was only a dream, it was only a dream, she kept repeating to herself as if it had been a nightmare.
She was a wreck with everything she had gone through, and now this dream. It was just a dream, she told herself again, stop being so emotional! She did her best to keep her mind clear for the rest of the trip.
When the bus stopped she was ready to find a pub to have dinner in. She needed to find something new to think about. She wished she could go for a run to clear her head. Or maybe she could just have a few drinks and stop thinking about all of it completely. That seemed like a fantastic idea.
The English are fun. It is said they drink faster than any other nationality because their pubs close the earliest. Nicole had no problem keeping up with the Englishmen. She could hold her own in a guzzling competition. If there was one thing she learned while in Europe, it was how to drink.