The next day, I couldn’t sit still while waiting for the rest of the tour group in the International terminal of Cleveland Hopkins Airport. As I paced, I wondered for the hundredth time how to handle things when I saw Brad. I still wasn’t sure how I felt about him.
On the long lonely flight from Los Angeles, I had tried to reassure myself that my prayers would be answered and all the feelings would come rushing back when I saw him. But that started me worrying about the possibility that our physical relationship would progress even further than it already had. Some witness to fellow travelers that would be.
One by one the others arrived in the waiting area, and each time I let out the breath I’d been unconsciously holding, relieved it wasn’t Brad.
Professor Eberhardt greeted me in German. I awkwardly formed a reply, amazed at how rusty new language skills had become after only three months of summer break.
Tom, Owen and Josh arrived next, chattering about the final, controversial play in the previous day’s Indians game. I nodded slightly in response to their greetings. I didn’t know them well, except as Brad’s friends.
Zoey Richardson sauntered up. “Talbert not here yet?”
“Figures,” Josh said. “That dude would be late for his own funeral.”
I brightened at this comment. Maybe he’ll miss the plane!
No such luck. I spotted Brad a moment later, his broad shoulders unmistakable even at a distance. His eyes lit up when he saw me. He broke into a little jog and slouched down to give me a tight hug, whispering how much he missed me.
“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I lied, wishing it were true.
Brad maneuvered me toward a row of seats. “This okay for you, babe?”
I suppressed a frown. Moments after we started officially dating, he started to call me that. Always babe. Did he even know my name? But of course, I never said anything about it.
As we sat down, Brad kept one arm around me and peppered me with kisses. My body immediately began responding. I had to find another way to spend the twenty minutes before our flight boarded.
I got up and stretched. “I’m going to kill time before the flight race-walking up and down the shopping concourse until the final boarding call,” I explained. “If I wear myself out now, it will be easier to sleep on the plane.”
“Oooh, I love window shopping,” said Zoey, the only other female in the tour group. “Think I’ll join you, Giselle. That okay?”
“Sure, it’ll give us a chance to get to know each other.”
All I knew about Zoey was that she liked to drink and flirt. The letters on her sweatshirt proclaimed her membership in the Delta Kappa Thetas, reputed to be one of Elk River’s most hedonistic sororities. As we walked, Zoey kept up a one-sided conversation, consisting largely of “hot or not” judgments on every thing and every person we saw.
“By the way,” Zoey said as we relaxed into massage chairs on display at a high-tech gadget store, “It’s like, so cute that you and Brad are on this trip together. How did someone like you manage to land a hunk like him anyway? I swear, every Delta has been after him for ages. If you weren’t so nice, I just might have to hate you.”
“Yeah, well …” What could I say to that?
“How’d you meet him anyway?”
“Remember that Pirates marathon they had in Warner Hall last semester?”
“He sat next to me that night, cracking me up with his imitation of Jack Sparrow. I’m a sucker for a good sense of humor.”
“And guys like Brad are suckers for a girl who laughs at his jokes,” Zoey looked pointedly at me, “whether she’s hot or not. Just kidding! I’m taking notes here … go on.”
“Well, there’s not really more to tell. We started hanging out, and after a few weeks, he asked me if I wanted to be his girlfriend.”
“Who’d turn down an offer like that! Was he already signed up for this trip when you met?”
“No – he actually surprised me right after I said yes, saying it was a good thing I did because he signed up for the trip too. ‘Think how romantic it will be,’ he said. ‘You thought it was going to be the best three weeks of your life before–I can guarantee it will be now!’”
“All those looks and a romantic too. Sorry chickie, but it’s getting harder not to hate you. How’d you get so lucky? Speaking of lucky – look at this magazine. How’d what’s-her-name end up with Johnny Depp?”
I counted my blessings when Zoey continued her chatter about celebrity gossip.
When the time came to board the plane, I chose a seat between Dr. Eberhardt and Zoey. For good measure, I slapped on the free headphones and buried my nose in a romance novel between naps. Brad was a few seats away with his buddies and didn’t seem to care or notice me one way or the other. To my surprise, his lack of attention stung a bit. But what did I expect? After all, wasn’t I doing my best to avoid him?
On the train from the Munich airport to the city center, Brad turned full attention back to me, helping with my bags, and leading me to a pair of seats a few rows away from the rest of the group.
“Can we talk?” he said. “Your last few emails sounded so cold, with all those big words and all. I felt like you were talking down to me. And now that we’re together, you seem farther away than ever. I wanted to give you some space on the plane, but now you’re really starting to scare me, babe. Are we okay?” He placed his hand over mine on the seat back in front of us.
I bit my lip and looked away while I tried to sort out my welter of emotions. Did I want to break up or just put on the brakes?
“What’s going on, babe?” Brad urged.
“Could you not call me babe?” At least that was a place to start.
“Why? Aren’t you still my babe?”
“It’s just, you never say my name. It makes me feel anonymous, like you could be talking to anyone.”
“Okay, Giselle. I’m sorry about that.” He put his hand on my leg, a little too high for comfort.
I moved his hand to my knee.
He winked. “Gotcha. I’ll save that for when we’re alone later.”
“Brad, no. The time apart let me think. I want to slow down that kind of stuff. It was too much.”
“I thought you were having fun. I never made you do anything you didn’t want to, did I?”
“Not exactly, but we were getting close. Can’t we cool off a little?”
“You’re hard to resist, but I’ll try.” He put his arm around me and I relaxed into him, hoping to enjoy the rest of the trip. He kissed my hair and adjusted the position of his arm, which caused his hand to brush across my breast.
The touch startled and angered me. I gasped, pushed his arm off of me and sprang to my feet.
“What did I do wrong?” Brad asked. He seemed confused. Could it have been an accident?
“Um, nothing. I just need to talk to Zoey for a minute,” I lied.
“What was that all about?” Zoey whispered.
Zoey raised an eyebrow. “Sure looked like something to me.”
“I’d rather not talk about it.”
“Aw, c’mon. Give me the scoop. You know it’ll do you good to vent about him a little. That’s what always helps me when I’m mad at a guy.”
Before I could answer, Dr. Eberhardt stood in the aisle, gripping an overhead rail for balance. His baritone voice boomed over the click-clack of the train. “We will be getting off at the next stop, the München Hauptbahnhof, Grand Central Station to you non-German speakers on the trip. Please gather all your bags now so we can get off quickly and not risk getting separated.”
Further serious conversation with Zoey or Brad for that matter became impossible as we gathered our luggage and navigated through the crowded train. When I asked Brad to hand me the small rolling suitcase still on the luggage rack above the seats we had shared, his fraternity brothers gave him a hard time about being whipped. He turned beet red.