"They won't kick us out for this, will they?" Adel muttered as she filled three champagne glasses with red wine before setting them in front of her mother's tombstone. Traditionally, for a proper Chinese grave visiting, there should be three tiny china cups with clear liquor, but they were in France and her uncle had probably nicked those glasses from the hotel.
"It's Chinese customs. I'll sue them for discrimination if they raise a fuss about it," Lee answered. He was busy arranging a plate of prosciutto and cold cuts. "Sorry, sis. Couldn't get hold of some roasted pork. Make do with some ham."
Her father stood off at the sidelines observing, hands in his pockets. He'd been silent all day and seemed more than a little awkward. Taken out of his office setting, Adel realized her father might be standoffish because he was so uncomfortable. She held up the bouquet of chrysanthemums. "Dad, can you hold this for me?"
Before he could take it from her, Lee snatched it out of her hands. He snapped, "We're supposed to stick the flowers into the ground before the tombstone. What's the use of him holding it?"
"Well, I was thinking I should dig a hole –"
He ignored her, ramming the stems into the ground by pure force. The yellow flowers dangled a bit lopsided, but they didn't tip over. Adel grimaced, chancing a glance back at her father. His lips were pressed in a thin line, but he still refused to acknowledge her uncle.
Lee straightened up. Adel clambered to her feet, moving to stand next to him. Together, the three of them stood in front of her mother's grave in silence.
The cemetery her mother was buried in was made up of grassy terraces lined with rows of plots and walled in by a low stone wall bordering an old chateau. Everything about it was quaint and quiet, gentle breezes ruffling the leafy trees nearby. It was a beautiful area to be laid rest for eternity and she resented the fact she couldn't even fault her mother's … ugh, lover for messing up the burial details.
However, when she noticed that the tombstone was listed with her mother's maiden name, Julia Lee, and not Julia Bradbury, resentment simmered inside her. Though her father's face remained stoic, she wondered if he was angry by the liberties the man had took. So what if her mother had run away? Her parents hadn't been divorced. The day she died, she had still been Mrs. Bradbury, wife to Edward Bradbury, mother to Adam and Adel.
"Hey, Julia. Adel's finally here to see you. Sorry it took so long …" Lee sent a look in her father's direction, which Edward ignored. "Couldn't get Adam to come though because your son apparently takes after you and can't be made to do something he doesn't want to, that stupid brat." He tucked his hands into his pockets, rocking back on his heels as he took a look around. "Well. At least we're here. You have nice scenery around you. Everything feels very … old. You can haunt places with like some ancient French version of Shakespeare or something, I guess. Annoy the nuns buried around you."
Adel rolled her eyes at her uncle's irreverence, but was comforted that he hadn't entirely changed since he'd found out about her mother's death.
He elbowed her in the side. "Say something to your mom."
Her nose wrinkled and Lee narrowed his eyes at her. Shuffling her feet from side to side, she cleared her throat awkwardly, "Hey … Mom." The word felt unwieldy rolling off her tongue after so many years. "How've you been?" She winced. "I mean, hope you're doing well down there. I mean, not down there. Hope you're doing well up in …" Was adultery a big enough sin to send someone to hell? Did someone need to rack up a case file of sins to rate going to hell?
She glanced over at her uncle, noting that his eyebrows had pulled down into a dark scowl and she knew that he knew what she was thinking.
"Anyway, we're all doing well," she continued. "Except for Adam. Adam's still stupid. But he's in New York, taking some summer courses at NYU to make up credits. He says he'll come see you one day by himself, but for now, he's …" Too busy? Avoiding this? She shrugged. "He'll come eventually. Yeah."
There was a long period of silence as they stood there, lost for words.
"How about you?" Lee taunted her father. "Don't you have anything to say?"
Her father straightened up. With a bitter smile, he retorted, "Sure." He faced the grave. "Julia. It's been a while. I want you to know that I still think you were a bitch for doing what you did."
Lee looked like he wanted to slug him.
"But I suppose I've also been equally messed up for not facing you for all these years," he continued. "I apologize for waiting so long to bring Adel to see you, but -" He broke off, jaw clenched tight. His eyes were red rimmed from fatigue, but his shoulders pulled back in a straight line. "You must be in a better place now. I hope that we will all be able to put the past behind us now."
Adel stepped closer to her dad while Lee turned away, digging in the bag for incense. With a flick of his Zippo lighter, he lit three sticks and stuffed them into the dirt. Curlicues of smoke drifted up over her mother's name.
Lee dipped his head in a curt nod. "Right. I'm done." He stood up, wiping his hands on his jeans. "Adel, pack up when you're finished." He turned to walk away.
Startled, she called out, "Wait, where are you going?"
He didn't turn back, flicking two fingers back at her. His head was low and his steps unhurried, but he kept walking away from them.
"Lee!" she yelled at his back. "What – what about showing me around Nice? Lunch? Dinner?"
There was no answer and her father caught her arm before she could run after her uncle and kick him or something. "He's not staying, Adel."
She turned to him. "But I thought –"
"He's not even staying the night at the hotel."
Her throat was thick as she said, "We were supposed to come here and travel –"
"Lee doesn't want anything to do with me," her father stated matter-of-factly as if the only family she ever had wasn't breaking apart.
She ripped her arm out of his grasp. "Couldn't you talk to him? Don't you even care?"
He looked down at her mother's grave. "I can't force him to forgive me, Adel."
"So what does this mean? You two just won't ever talk or see each other again? Am I going to lose my uncle along with my mother?"
His eyes lifted up to hers. His lips parted and then snapped shut, shaking his head with a grim smile.
"I've learned that I can't force people to do anything they don't want to do," he murmured, grazing his fingers against the carved letters on the tombstone.
She was sick of this. Sick of people wallowing around her and nothing moving along and everything still a mess because stupid decisions years ago and she opened her mouth to lash out at him when he continued.
"I knew your mother was the one for me the first time I saw her," he said quietly as if to himself. "The way she smiled at me, her head cocked to one side, her fingers playing with the end of her ponytail – exactly like the way you do sometimes, Adeline." His lips tipped up in a bleak smile and something wrenched in her heart. "It was extraordinary. She could make me laugh and smile and everything just seemed more colorful, taste better with her beside me. Extraordinary, I thought." He inhaled a slow, even breath. "So that was love."
He shook his head, hands going to his hips.
She swallowed hard. "You were happy at one point. So that meant … that was good?"
He chuckled harshly. "You mean, wasn't it better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all?" His voice was low. "Whoever made that up must have been a masochist." He stared at her directly then, his eyes dark and weary. "If I could do things all over again, I'd rather I had never met Julia that first time. In fact, I would run in the complete opposite direction."
"Dad …" she started even as she recognized she had no words for this.
"Because while I'm certain she was the one for me …" His eyes glittered, "I was never the one for her."
She'd always thought that her father was a calm and composed man, almost to the point of unfeeling, but it was in that moment that she realized his mask of civility had nothing to do with being emotionless.
Adel slumped back against her bed in the hotel room. Her father was in the adjoining room, but as hard as she tried, she could hear nothing, not even the sound of television or footsteps shuffling around. It was as if she was all alone and not for the first time, she wished Tristan was here.
They haven't seen each other in person since he sent her off at the airport several months ago.
He'd contemplated coming to Beijing during his spring break to see her, but he had AP exams to study for and preparations for college to finalize and she didn't exactly have a break from school then to really hang out with him. She also didn't think his father would like it much either if his son kept flying all over the world just to see his girlfriend so in the end, they finally agreed to just see each other in the summer. He had said he would come to Nice with her after all.
Those had been some long, long months. They kept up a steady exchange of emails, phone calls, and Skype chats, but even then, sometimes, things got so busy, she felt some distance had settled in between them and she feared that one day, she was going to get a postcard with the equivalent of "It's been fun, but I can't deal with a long distance thing anymore. Friends?"
They still had their fights. Sometimes, he would get so quiet, she'd feel like she was having a one way conversation. Other times, she'd snapped and they'd argue until they were both sniping at each other for the rest of the call. Sometimes, they'd reach the point where she'd ask if he wanted to hang up and he would agree so fast, she'd be listening to the dial tone before she could get in another word.
But when they had their good days, things were amazing. They'd have hours long conversations, racking up their bills to terrifying figures. When they chatted by webcam, he'd persuade her to try to dance to the random Korean songs she'd forwarded him and he'd laugh his head off. Of course, she had to make him try in return. Nothing like utter humiliation to unite them.
She'd shipped him packages of more misspelled Sesame Street dolls – one Elmo, a pair of Bert and Ernie, and a strange pink Cookie Monster. He'd send her more dolls with ruby necklaces even though she had to tell him to hold off on them when some of the later ones started resembling Chucky and she couldn't sleep at night without turning them around to face the walls.
So he started sending her coasters instead. That was not funny.
She bought him How to Ride a Bicycle manuals.
Most of the days though, they did their own thing. They each had school to deal with, their own classmates and friends to hang out with, and their own college decisions to make.
Tristan got accepted to Cornell's School of Hotel Administration. He was really pleased and she was happy for him. Except Cornell was kind of in the middle of nowhere and the other New York colleges she'd applied to were all in the city – hours away. Her acceptance letters had trickled in slowly and when there was still no news from Cornell, she started to face the very real possibility that this long distance relationship might be longer than they'd expected.
So with that worry weighing down on her day and night, everything had culminated in the biggest fight they'd had in their period of separation the morning he'd called to inform her that he would not be able to go with her to Nice in the summer after all.
His voice was quiet, regretful. "I'm really sorry, Adel."
Her heart had already plummeted down to lodge itself in the pit of her stomach. "But why? You promised … I mean, you said that you could. Why are you changing your mind now?" She hated that her voice had come out in what was clearly a whine and she gritted her teeth. This was it. He was sick of her. He wanted to end things. He didn't want to fly all the way to France to go visit the cemetery with her when he could be somewhere else with a prettier girl, a nicer girl, someone who could make him laugh and be all affectionate and make him look at her with that look of his –
"I didn't change my mind," he said. "It's my dad. He won't let me go."
"When I tried to order a plane ticket anyway, the credit card company informed him about the charge and he went and cancelled it." Tristan sounded hoarse, as if he'd been angry and frustrated for days, something that wasn't like him.
"Why won't your dad let you come?" she asked.
He went quiet. Then he sighed. "It doesn't matter. I just wanted to tell you now so you wouldn't get your hopes up and –"
"Too late," she said flatly.
"I'm really sorry. I really wanted to come –"
"Why won't your dad let you come?" she repeated.
He sighed again and the long pause was fraught with tension they'd never had between them before. Her heart thudded against her ribs. Was he just trying to use his father as an excuse? He doesn't want to come. He doesn't want to see her.
To her horror, she could feel her eyes prickling with angry tears. Hurt, she choked out, "It's fine. I get it. You don't have to come. I didn't ask you to anyway. You just said you would – it's fine. I didn't want to make you travel all the way just to accompany me to see some grave –"
"Your mother's grave," he said sharply. "Adel, it's important."
"Not to you," she snapped. A tear spilled down her cheek and she swiped it away with the back of her hand, wanting to punch herself for being so weak. Since when had crying become her default?
His words came out slowly, evenly as if he was forcing them through clenched teeth. "What's that supposed to mean?"
"Nothing. I just said you don't have to worry about it. I'll be just fine." She didn't say it, but the words 'without you' seemed to ring out clearly anyway.
"You say that like you think I'm purposely ditching you," his voice was low and intense with suppressed fury.
She didn't answer him.
A disbelieving scoff escaped him. "That's exactly what you think." Realization dawned in his tone and he laughed bitterly. "That's really how you see me, isn't it?"
She swallowed, praying that her nose wasn't stuffed up and that she didn't sound like she was crying. "I don't know," she said. "Why don't you just tell me the real reason why you can't come?"
He exploded in a loud rush of words, "I just did! God, you think I'm lying to you?"
"That your dad suddenly decided to not let you travel over the summer? That your dad is so against your travel plans, he'd go cancel your reservations? All for no apparent reason?" she hissed back at him.
"Can't you just accept that my father is just not willing to let me fly to France this summer?" he snapped.
"Is it because of money for the ticket because I can buy you –"
"It's not about the money," he cut her off, disgust evident in his tone.
"Then what? He thinks it won't be safe? Did he watch that movie Taken or something? He thinks you'd be kidnapped and sold into the sex trade industry? Well, I guess you are sort of pretty –"
"Adel." His voice was tight with irritation.
"Then what? He let you go to Beijing last summer. Why not France? My father will be here. My uncle will be here. I'll be here – or did you not tell your father that you wanted to visit me? Did you not tell him that you have a girlfriend somewhere far, far away and you just wanted to see her briefly during our summer breaks? Or did you not tell anyone that you have a girlfriend?"
"Adel, do you even hear what you're saying? You sound ridiculous," he bit out. He let out a loud exhale. "You're throwing a tantrum at the wrong person."
She snarled, "What? You want me to call up your father and yell at him for you?"
"Is that what you want to do?" he retorted. "Because if all you want to do is take your anger out on someone, then yes, I'd rather it be him than me. At least he deserves it."
"Is that all you have to say?"
"What else do you want? I already apologized, but you don't seem to believe that I'm being sincere." He sounded as icy and distant as when they'd first met. "You don't seem to believe much of me for that matter anyway."
She was so angry, she was having trouble getting her thoughts straight and she feared that she was one step away from being reduced to yelling out a string of curses. She sucked in a deep breath and tried to speak calmly, "Despite the fact that you seem to always think you're so much more mature and that I'm being childish, I am not throwing a tantrum."
He snorted which only fueled her ire.
"I am not sobbing here, begging you to come see me." Even though she suspected that she really did sound desperate and she hated herself and hated him even more for that. "I am not angry because you suddenly changed your mind –" At this, he started to protest again, but she raised her voice to barrel over his words. "I am disappointed, yes, but I can understand it since you never promised me anything for certain."
It was completely silent on his end and she wondered what he was thinking, if he was feeling guilty.
"What I'm angry about is that you still haven't given me a real reason why your father is so against you coming," she continued in a steely voice. "If you can't tell me why, then you should know that the only reason I'm coming up with now is that you don't want to come and you're using your father as an excuse."
"That's definitely not it," he insisted.
"Then why?" she spat out. She could do the calm speech for only so long.
He sighed again. It was starting to really get on her nerves. He spoke in a soft pleading murmur, "Adel, I'm really sorry. My dad wants me to go with him on business trips in the summer so that I can learn more about the company."
Her hurt feelings were soothed a little, but something still didn't feel quite right. "You should have just told me that from the beginning. I would have understood," she said.
"I'm sorry," he said quietly.
"Then … I can come visit you," she suggested, trying to get rid of that sense of uneasiness between them. "Wherever you go with your dad, I can come see you."
She could hear hesitation on his end and her heart wrenched. Something was definitely not right. She hurried to add, "I know you'd be busy, but I mean, you can spare time for dinner or lunch, right?" She'd meant to sound teasing, but it seemed to come across as pathetic to her ears. Suddenly, she knew what she sounded like. A clingy girlfriend desperately holding onto a boy who no longer cared. To be reduced to someone so pitiful …
She hoped that even in the worst of times, her father had never acted like this for her mother.
"Adel …" he began. "My dad … I can't say for sure where we'll be. Things get pretty hectic and we'll be in and out a lot of places and –"
One more chance. "So you don't think it's a good idea for me to come see you?" she asked, trying to sound flippant.
"I … just don't think it'd be –"
"Never mind," she interrupted. "It's fine. I get it. Both of us have busy summers. Figuring out the details would be a hassle. It's okay."
"Adel." He sounded regretful.
This is it, she thought. This is the moment that marks the ending of it all. This is how it feels. Like sand slipping through fingers.
"I got to go. I have – I have plans with a friend," she lied.
"Adel ..." Frustration was clear in his voice.
"Bye," she finished.
She hung up, holding the phone away from her as she cut off the tinny sound of his voice.
The rest of the week, she picked up his calls whenever he phoned her, but they continued to have stilted conversations that only lasted ten minutes or so. She stopped calling him.
She felt like everything was unraveling around her and she forced herself to just study more, working through homework and compositions, and going for jogs and walks around the nearby park. If she was early enough, she'd watch the elderly go through their tai chi routines, slow brushes of their arms through the air. Even and balanced. Unlike her life at the moment. Future college unknown. Relationship with Tristan breaking down. Relationship with Dad still cold. Relationship with Lee and Adam nonexistent.
Two weeks later, she received an email from him:
To: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)
From: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)
Subject: no subject
Can't stand this anymore. I feel like you're drawing further away from me with each day and I don't know what to do anymore.
So the truth. The truth is the reason why Dad won't let me go is because he doesn't exactly approve of me seeing you at the moment. Even though I've denied it, Dad kinda thinks you're to be blamed for when I got sent to the hospital after that crazy guy took us from the party.
He also didn't like it when your father made you break off our engagement deal with the lawyers. Your father may not have wanted to see anything left from your mother, but my dad did. Your father didn't want anything from your mother since it was from the time before your mother decided to leave him. I understand since it was only going to remind him of painful memories.
For my father, he wanted this precisely because it represented what used to be. It was from a time before my mother's cancer, when she was still healthy and happy, with dreams for her children and the future, before she got depressed and gave up. He was looking forward to seeing what my mom could have possibly wanted to give us and wanted us to be reminded of how my mother used to be. He thinks by us breaking the contract and then getting back together, your father had been selfish and had wasted everyone's time.
He also said that we're too young to deal with this long distance relationship. He'd actually expected that we would have ended things already by this time so when I brought up the idea of visiting you in France, he was surprised that we were still together. He still doesn't think we're going to last.
So yeah, those are his major reasons why he refused to let me go with you to France.
I didn't want to tell you because I knew it would only hurt you and I didn't want you to feel like you're to be blamed for anything. But with the way our phone call went and how we've been these past few weeks, I guess I can't keep this away from you without also hurting you. I just wish there was some way I could handle this better.
I'm sorry, Adel. I really am. Just know this: despite what our fathers think, we are good together. Even though we're miles apart, you're still the one I can talk to, tease, joke, laugh with, and just be myself so naturally, without pretenses. Yes, sometimes we fight and we say things that really cut each other down (we should probably work on that?), but I like to think that's also because we've never been able to hold back from each other.
Just please don't jump to conclusions and think the worst of me again. That really pissed me off. Especially when I'm so obviously crazy about you.
Don't give up on us yet. I know Dad. He doesn't hold grudges for long and he'll come around soon. I know he will.
A heady rush of mixed relief and heartache walloped her in her chest as she read his email through, over and over again. The worst thing was that he was right. His email did hurt her and the thought of Tristan's dad not liking her – ouch. But Tristan had that irritating way of being sweet in the end so even after rereading his email, she ... it was very confusing.
She started several drafts in response until she finally settled with:
To: Tristan Harland (t .harland at fpmail .net)
From: Adeline Bradbury (bigbird at fpmail .net)
Subject: no subject
I'm sorry too.
You should have just told me.
You're right. I'm upset that your dad doesn't like me and I worry about him pressuring you, but … yeah, he seems like a good father and he obviously cares about you a lot. I don't know what to say or what to do, but I just hope everything works out in the end.
Because I'm ridiculously crazy about you, too.
He called her half an hour after she sent her reply. The first words out of his mouth were: "I composed an epic essay for you and you send back … what, an inch?"
"An inch?" she laughed. "I'm sorry. I didn't know we were measuring our emails now. I'll use a bigger font next time."
"Just don't use Comic Sans."
"Aw, why not?"
"Seriously. I might have to send you to spam."
"Not even if I throw in a bunch of winking emoticons and hearts?"
"I less than three none of this madness."
"As long as you less than three me," she quipped.
There was a pause and then he agreed in a low voice that made her heart swell up. "I less than three everything about you."
Adel woke up slowly, groggily sitting up and swiping her hand across her eyes. She swung her legs over the bed and stumbled over to the bathroom, splashing water on her face and brushing her teeth. The sun shone through the drapes, a cheerful buttery yellow. It was going to be a beautiful day, perfect for touring Nice.
She changed into a pair of jeans and a crewneck indigo striped T-shirt before crossing the room and knocking on the connecting door to her father's room. The door opened as she was yanking her hair up into a ponytail.
Her dad stood in the doorway, already dressed in a button down shirt and grey slacks, but his eyes looked tired.
"Hi. Good morning," she greeted him, dropping her arms down from her hair.
"Good morning," he echoed.
They stared at each other for a long awkward moment.
"Um, so what are the plans for today?" she asked.
"Plans?" He looked confused.
She smoothed her hands down the sides of her jeans. "Yeah … I mean, do you want to get breakfast here at the hotel and then go out or do you want to eat outside or …"
He appeared uncomfortable. "I thought … I got something through room service already."
"Oh …" She shifted on her feet. "That's okay. I'm not so hungry in the morning so maybe we could walk around and then we could grab brunch a bit later somewhere?"
He cleared his throat. "I have a phone conference later in the afternoon and I need to catch up on some paperwork."
"Ah," she said. "I see."
She realized that they were studying each other, both of them hovering by the doorway, technically still in their own separate rooms. "So …"
He sighed. "I'm sorry, Adel. I should have known you would want to do some tourist things in Nice besides visiting your mother's grave. I just didn't think you'd want me to accompany you since …"
Since we never really spent much time together in the past before. She waved her hand. "No, it's okay, I understand if you're busy. I can take a look around the area by myself and maybe shop a bit."
"I really am sorry." And he was, she could see that in his eyes. He rummaged through his pockets, pulling out his wallet. "Here, take some extra money. Do you still have your credit card?"
"It's okay, dad," she said, but he crammed some bills into her hands.
He looked torn, unsure of what to do next, and she reassured him, "It's really okay. Everything's fine." I know you're trying.
His eyes crinkled in a rueful smile and he nodded. "Thanks for understanding, Adeline. You're … you're a good daughter."
She knew they both wanted to cringe from the sudden emotional turn the conversation was taking, but instead of backing up quickly and slamming the door, she drew in a deep breath and lurched forward, slipping her arms around her father.
He stiffened, taking a step back, but after giving him a second to process, his hand came up to pat her on her back. It felt robotic, but still, he was trying.
"Thanks, Dad. Have a good day. Remember to eat lunch and try to get some rest. You are sort of on vacation. Try not to work so hard." She pulled back. "I'll see you later tonight."
"Yeah," he smiled. "We'll have dinner together."
Adel jabbed at the down button for the elevator, trying not to feel too much like a loser before she embarked on the loneliest tour of Nice ever. She couldn't imagine how she was going to summarize her trip for Tristan without making it sound completely sad. She would have to try to sound cheerful, which he'd probably see right through and then he'd probably try to hide his pity, but she'd see right through that. Excellent fun.
The elevator doors slid open. It was crammed full of people and she automatically stepped back, but an elderly lady in the front beckoned her forward, gesturing at the space next to her. Adel offered a smile back and stepped forward, murmuring, "Excuse me. Thank you." Squeezing into the space, she sidled along the wall behind a loud couple wearing matching fanny packs before she turned around to face the doors. The lobby button was already lit. Adel kept her eyes up, studying the floor numbers to avoid meeting other people's eyes.
The elevator dinged on the next floor. A couple of people got off while a few more stepped in, wheeling luggage behind them. She was pressed back further into the car. Even crammed in a packed elevator, she felt pathetically alone. She imagined Tristan hanging out at home with all their friends, Will pestering everyone, Sammy in some quiet corner with Vincent, Caine snarking at Danielle, Carrie fluttering around with Jack in the background - Adel curled her arms around her body with a sigh.
On the next floor, which advertised the pool and spa, a bunch of people got off and as everyone shifted in the car, she felt someone graze the back of her hand. She pressed closer to the wall, making room for people behind her to get off.
The doors closed. She had never minded being alone before. She'd spent days walking around her home in Beijing by herself, browsing the markets by herself, eating by herself, but now, after meeting Tristan and the rest of his friends, she couldn't help but think how much better things would be if they were here with her. The most random things would remind her of them - the other day, when she'd dropped her chapstick and it rolled under the bed, she had to retrieve it, dragging out a disgusting clump of dust along with it. That had brought to mind something Sammy had once told her about during their late night chats in the darkness of their dorm room, something about how she and her brother searched for dust bunnies when they were kids to keep as pets which was really kind of sad, but made both of them crack up in hysterics.
Then she was reminded of Will's own personal brand of laughter, the way he would throw his head back with his eyes closed as he cackled and whooped, particularly after that time he'd informed her about how Tristan had once crawled underneath his bed to pick up the Big Bird keychain she'd given him and he had to drag him back out by his feet. Tristan's ears had gone bright red at the time and he'd practically lunged across the table to grab the boy in a headlock to get him to shut up.
For half an hour, Adel found herself sitting on the floor by her hotel bed, just clutching her tube of chapstick with a goofy grin and more embarrassingly, teary eyes.
Something brushed her hand again. She moved it away, watching the numbers on top of the door light up. She was going to have to find a nice place to get some lunch, maybe that -
A finger trailed along her pinky and her brows snapped together. Snatching her hand away, she folded her arms. Maybe that restaurant down the block. She can buy a magazine and flip through it while eating, maybe -
She felt a hand brush against her back and she shifted forward, but the car was too full for her to take a full step. Her brows knitted as she started to get annoyed.
The doors closed and the hand returned, fingers running down her spine. Her teeth snapped together, jaw tensing. This was no accident. Anger spiked through her veins as she cleared her throat loudly, shifting to dislodge the pervert.
This was shaping up to be the best vacation ever. She might as well be alone in a foreign city, caught in the middle between one brooding father and a sulking uncle who might not even be here anymore. Now she had to deal with what was probably some greasy European moustached trenchcoat wearing old man who got off on groping random tourists.
She had just breathed a sigh of relief, noting that the lobby was the next floor, when the hand returned and settled, a warm pressure on the small of her back.
Her teeth gnashed. She drummed her fingers along her arm once and craned her neck, pretending to stretch. Then she jerked her elbow back - hard - and it connected with a satisfying thump. An oof escaped from the Europerv behind her.
The doors slid open with a ding and she pressed forward behind the other people, ready to get off and away. A hand latched onto her wrist though and she stumbled back. Seriously? She whipped her head around, death glare in place, ready to knee the creep in the balls.
A few strands of blonde hair slipped down over those eyes. He was slightly doubled over, his other hand rubbing his stomach. His eyes crinkled as he gave her a rueful smile. "You couldn't just turn around, could you?"
All she could do was gape at him.
The smile faded. He straightened up, seeming somewhat nervous as he murmured, "Hi."
His fingers were still wrapped around her wrist as she turned around fully to stare at him. The warmth of his hand seared into her skin and her heart flopped over. How could she have been stupid enough to think that this touch was from some - some -
"I thought you were some Europerv," she blurted out, dismayed.
The tension seemed to melt out of him as he grinned that lopsided smirk of his. "Yeah, I think I got that unless you just enjoy elbowing people in the gut for fun."
"I didn't - you were the one who was touching me all creepily, sort of."
His eyebrows climbed even though the tips of ears turned red. "You could have turned around like a normal person."
"Well, you could have just said hi like a normal person!" She caught her breath, suddenly feeling very dizzy. "You - you said you weren't coming. How - why -"
Now, he looked sheepish. "Surprise?"
She had half a mind to just deck him for making her so upset and disappointed, but the other half of her just wanted to shove him against the wall and make out with him. He was really here, right in front of her.
He was here.
The pressure around her wrist tightened and she realized he was slowly reeling her in toward him. Thrill shot through her as she drew closer to him and her other hand came up to press against his chest. He reclined back against the wall and his hands wrapped around her waist, locking behind her back as she leaned against him. Guess it'd be hot make out session in the elevator after all. She had a feeling she had a stupid goofy grin on her face and she couldn't be bothered to do anything about it.
"I can't believe you're here," she said.
He sighed. "Dad's in Paris for some business. I went with him and made a very strong case for him to let me come see you."
"How'd you manage that?"
"I said, 'Let me go see my girlfriend or else I'd cry.'"
She burst into laughter, a heady rush of happiness bubbling up inside her. "He isn't upset with me anymore?"
"I told you he doesn't hold long grudges." His eyes crinkled in a crooked smile. "He's coming around."
"Why didn't you call me? I could have met you at the airport -"
"I wanted to surprise you," he said. His voice dropped into a low drawl as he leaned forward into her space, the collar of his shirt slipping to expose the tanned skin of his neck. "And I didn't quite trust you to not hire some man in a Big Bird suit to welcome me."
Her eyes widened as she smirked. "Wow. Come on, I thought we had agreed to work on our trust issues, Tristan."
He arched his brow at her. "Guess I'm still working on it."
They stared at each other, just smiling like the goofy lovesick teenagers they were, arms wrapped around each other. She studied him, trying to figure out if there was anything different about him. Perhaps his hair was cut a bit shorter than the last time they'd seen each other, but otherwise, he appeared to be the same. That came as a relief to her.
"I got a room already," he said, his thumb tracing circles upon her skin.
She gave him a look. "Are you implying something?"
He looked startled, his ears turning red. "What? No! I mean, I came with my father's assistant for adult supervision so I got a room already and unpacked which is why I was just heading down to the lobby to get the concierge to ring your room. I didn't mean that I have a room to like get you inside and for – uh, nefarious purposes."
She burst out laughing. "Nefarious purposes."
"I see how this is," he muttered. "I fly all the way over to meet you in Nice and you laugh in my face."
"I missed you," she murmured, a grin still playing on her lips.
His face softened. "I missed you, too," he replied. "Even now, this aching feeling hasn't completely left me." He sighed, leaning his forehead against hers. "Though it could just be because you just cracked one of my ribs."
She rolled her eyes and he hugged her close, his breath ruffling her hair as he snorted a laugh. He was still grinning when she pulled back to kiss him.
Cours Saleya Market was lined by shops overhung by canopies providing shade from the sun. Colorful and lively, bright flowers exploded from stands amongst the seasonal fruit, cheese, bread, marinated olives, spices and herbs on display. A stall served socca, another tarte des blettes, while marzipan and fruits confits sat in crates in a tempting jumble of colors.
Browsing a stall of antiques, she stopped before a table of silver jewelry. A charm bracelet set with tiny red gems gleamed. She reached out for it just as a hand darted in, swiping it up. She turned around with an exasperated sigh. Shoving her eyeglasses down the bridge of her nose, she glowered over the frames. "Really?"
Tristan dangled the bracelet from his index finger. She couldn't see his eyes from behind his aviators, but she could see his eyebrows arch up. "What?"
She cleared her throat, perching her hip against the stall. "I believe I had my eye on that first."
"Oh. Did you now?" he said airily, examining the bracelet.
"Yes," she said. "I did."
"Funny how it's in my hand though," he drawled, swinging the bracelet around his finger right in front of her nose.
"Is this really how you shop? You make a habit of snatching stuff from other people?" she retorted.
"I find it makes things so much more interesting," he remarked. "If it makes you feel better, I'll let you steal it back from me after I pay." He leaned in, tapping one finger on the red gem of her necklace. "Since you do that so well."
His fingers grazed the skin of her collarbone and the warmth shot through her. Distracted, she grimaced belatedly as he leaned around her and handed the vendor some cash. "Tristan, come on!"
"What? It matches the necklace you have." He grinned. "Now should I put it in my pocket and let you fish it out or should you trip me, grab it and make me chase after you for a bit?"
"I'm not running around the market," she informed him, crossing her arms.
"Which means you want to stick your hand down my pocket, yes?" His hand started toward his jeans and she clamped a hand around his wrist, laughing.
He was chuckling too as he hooked an arm around her waist and tugged her in close. He pulled his arm back, loosening her hold until he could encircle his fingers around her wrist. Gently, he slipped the bracelet around her wrist and clasped it. "There," he murmured, his breath ruffling the escaped tendrils from her ponytail.
She leaned against his chest, wrapping her arms around him. "You've been buying me everything I try to pick up. At this rate, I'm just not going to touch anything else," she said sulkily.
He laughed. "I only bought a few snacks you were drooling over. Hardly everything."
"Not really a few when we're toting bags of food around," she muttered against his neck.
"Yeah … you do drool quite a bit," he sighed.
Her head dropped back to properly make a face at him and then she stepped away as best as she could even though he kept his arms around her. "Come on, let me buy everyone the souvenirs then so you can bring them back. And fair warning: if you try to pull out your wallet again and grab one more thing from me, I will kick you."
"What? No flipping me over your shoulder?"
"I could make that happen. Would you prefer landing in that cheese stall or the olive bin?"
"Be still, my heart," he said, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as they maneuvered out of the aisle next to the stall. She reached out to trail her fingers through some dangling wind chimes, their music carried off in the breeze. They were always going to argue and bicker like this, she realized, but she supposed that that was just their thing and she was completely fine with it.
Text message from Adam to Adel:
Got ur voicemail. What's this friend you want me to pick up? Call a taxi.
A friend I met in Wrenfield. He's going to NYU. Since u're in New York, I thought u could show him around.
Not a tour guide.
Did u forget how u abandoned me to deal with your engagement contract and didnt bother to tell me u found out that Mom had died years ago? Or how u didn't even bother to answer any of my calls or emails for months? U owe me.
Sorry u're illiterate. U still owe me, asshole.
Ok, sorry about the whole thing. U met Tristan, didn't u? Everybody happy. I'll pick up ur lil friend.
Text messagefrom Will to Adel:
Dude! Ur bro is sizzle sizzle hot! Thx!
np. he thinks u're pretty cute too.
Text message from Adam to Adel:
WTF. U didn't tell me the guy was planning on living with me.
The dorms aren't opened yet.
Ever heard of hotels?
Ever heard of sister-abandoning brothers?
Never gonna let that go, r u?
Adel, I can't take care of ur friend.
U have an extra rm, don't u?
No. I'm only renting a tiny ass studio off what lil savings I had brought w me from home and my pay from bartending. Surviving on tips mostly. Think peanutbutter and crackers. Where am I gonna store ur friend? The bathrm?
It'll only be a short while. Set out a futon on the floor. Or sleep together. He can pay u.
Pay me for what, sleeping together?
Text from Adel to Will:
Hey, u willing to pay my bro to sleep w him?
Sure! U his pimp?
Tht hard up for money, eh?
Adam's been having a tough time these days. Think of it as charity.
CAN DO! :D
Text from Adam to Adel:
Ur friend just handed me a wad of fifties. Did u say something? Now I feel bad. He can stay. I'm not gonna take his money.
Text from Adam to Adel:
Ur friend refused to take back his money. He stuffed it into the pockets of my jeans. My back pockets.
U prefer the front?
I mean I think ur friend just groped me a little.
U prefer a lot?
Not a joking matter. Ur friend is odd. He keeps staring at me.
Stop bothering me. Busy moving into dorms.
Yeah no clue how u got into Cornell. u sure Tristan didn't pull any strings for u?
Ur friend is really weird.
Oh i get it. did u pay this guy to freak me out? lame. u noe i don't scare easily.
Ok i don't know how much u paid this guy, but he's pretty intense.
Haha ur friend asked if I'd mind him sleeping in his boxers. U r so lame. Two can play this game.
Just told ur friend I wouldn't mind if he slept nude lol. U should see the look on his face.
Haha he ran to the bathrm.
U can't win against me, dumbass.
Ok …nvm u're getting ur money's worth. U win. Call him off now.
Mass text from Will to Adel, Tristan, Sammy, Vincent, Danielle, Caine, Jack, Carrie:
Friends! Have arrived safely in NYC! I know you miss me, but I'm having an AWESOME TIME w Adel's bro. Been spending my nights at the bar he's working at, my mornings touring the city w him when I can get him to wake up. Life is beautiful! Thinking I should just stay w him instead of the dorms lolol!
Text from Adel to Will:
Excellent idea! I've been worried about him being all alone. So glad you and Adam are becoming so close!
Text from Sammy to Will:
Yay! Haha, so glad you're having fun there. I do miss you a lot. Hopefully, we can meet up soon when I get settled in at the dorms. Heard the buses b/t NY and Boston aren't that expensive. :)
Text from Danielle to Will:
I'd love to swing by NY on one of my breaks. Shopping!
Text from Carrie to Will:
Aw, can't wait til I graduate, too. Miss all of you guys already! Adel's bro sounds super nice! :)
Text from Vincent to Will:
Sammy insisted I had to resp to ur crazy textbk of a txt. Done.
Text from Jack to Will:
Ur txts are fcking long.
Text from Caine to Will:
Text from Tristan to Adel:
Aren't you being a bit cruel to your brother?
What r u talking about? We love Will.
Uh huh. You know he's gonna traumatize him.
Kinda love you.
Kinda love you too.
Text from Adel to Lee:
Hey Lee. How's it going? Haven't heard from u in a while. I got into Cornell so I'm here now w Tristan. Tristan and I are still good. Let me know where u're at. If u do I'll send u ur playboy stash I found.
Congrats, kiddo. Gimme ur address so I can ship u stuff. Like new playboys to replace whatever old copies u dug up. Get rid of it before Tristan finds it and thinks ure weird.
Joke's on u. He already thinks I'm weird. Come on, can't even give me a lil hint where u at?
Beaches, bikinis, pina coladas. It's the life. Envy me.
Proud of u, adel. Keep it up.
Thanks Lee. I miss u.
Text from Adam to Adel:
I'm sorry, ok? Now can u please call off ur friend? I srsly haven't been getting any sleep. He wakes up freakishly early singing disney tunes even tho he stays up at the bar w me all night. Sitting in the corner. Just staring at me. Sucking on a straw. I'm going insane. Insane.
Fin. The end. Finally! Thanks for sticking with me and Through Me all this time. Thank you all for your reviews, your patience, and your dedication.
Even though I've been absolutely awful with my glacial slow updates, I've been pleasantly surprised by how some of you are still passionate about Tristan and Adel.
Been sitting on this last chapter for a while now. Not exactly sure why, but finally, I realized that it was getting ridiculous. It's been more than a year since I last posted and I really needed to finish this once and for all.
So … thanks for following Through Me and I hope you all have enjoyed this supremely lengthy time with Tristan, Adel, and the rest of the gang.
You're the best!
P.S. tltr stands for "too long to read". I had to actually look tltr up the first time I was hit with this; I had nearly the exact same text exchange as Adel and her brother. But enough here for now. For those interested, I'll probably explain more about the background story on my blog. Thanks again for reading!
To Aomame: Thank you so much! It's Adam! Seriously, my brain must have been exhausted then. Thank you so much for catching it so quickly. I hope I fixed it all.
© Copyright 05/31/2012 Maeven (FictionPress ID:349779). All rights reserved. Distribution of any kind is prohibited without the written consent of Maeven.