Just One Day jod-1, Page 2Gayle Forman
As the hot day softens into twilight and I’m sucked deeper into the illusory world of Illyria, I feel like I’ve entered some weird otherworldly space, where anything can happen, where identities can be swapped like shoes. Where those thought dead are alive again. Where everyone gets their happily-ever-afters. I recognize it’s kind of corny, but the air is soft and warm, and the trees are lush and full, and the crickets are singing, and it seems like, for once, maybe it can happen.
All too soon, the play is ending. Sebastian and Viola are reunited. Viola comes clean to Orsino that she’s actually a girl, and of course he now wants to marry her. And Olivia realizes that Sebastian isn’t the person she thought she married—but she doesn’t care; she loves him anyway. The musicians are playing again as the clown gives the final soliloquy. And then the actors are out and bowing, each one doing something a little silly with his or her bow. One flips. One plays air guitar. When Sebastian bows, he scans the audience and stops dead on me. He smiles this funny little half smile, takes one of the prop coins out of his pocket, and flips it to me. It’s pretty dark, and the coin is small, but I catch it, and people clap for me too, it now seems.
With the coin in my hand, I clap. I clap until my hands sting. I clap as if doing so can prolong the evening, can transform Twelfth Night into Twenty-Fourth Night. I clap so that I can hold on to this feeling. I clap because I know what will happen when I stop. It’s the same thing that happens when I turn off a really good movie—one that I’ve lost myself to—which is that I’ll be thrown back to my own reality and something hollow will settle in my chest. Sometimes, I’ll watch a movie all over again just to recapture that feeling of being inside something real. Which, I know, doesn’t make any sense.
But there’s no restarting tonight. The crowd is dispersing; the actors drifting off. The only people left from the show are a couple of musicians passing around the donation hat. I reach into my wallet for a ten-pound note.
Melanie and I stand together in silence. “Whoa,” she says.
“Yeah. Whoa,” I say back.
“That was pretty cool. And I hate Shakespeare.”
“And was it me, or was that hot guy from the line earlier, the one who played Sebastian, was he totally checking us out?”
Us? But he threw me the coin. Or had I just been the one to catch it? Why wouldn’t it have been Melanie with her blond hair and her camisole top that he’d been checking out? Mel 2.0, as she calls herself, so much more appealing than Allyson 1.0.
“I couldn’t tell,” I say.
“And he threw the coin at us! Nice catch, by the way. Maybe we should go find them. Go hang out with them or something.”
“Yeah, but those guys are still here.” She gestures to the money collectors. “We could ask where they hang out.”
I shake my head. “I doubt they want to hang out with stupid American teenagers.”
“We’re not stupid, and most of them didn’t seem that much older than teenagers themselves.”
“No. And besides, Ms. Foley might check in on us. We should get back to the room.”
Melanie rolls her eyes. “Why do you always do this?”
“Say no to everything. It’s like you’re averse to adventure.”
“I don’t always say no.”
“Nine times out of ten. We’re about to start college. Let’s live a little.”
“I live just plenty,” I snap. “And besides, it never bothered you before.”
Melanie and I have been best friends since her family moved two houses down from ours the summer before second grade. Since then, we’ve done everything together: we lost our teeth at the same time, we got our periods at the same time, even our boyfriends came in tandem. I started going out with Evan a few weeks after she started going out with Alex (who was Evan’s best friend), though she and Alex broke up in January and Evan and I made it until April.
We’ve spent so much time together, we almost have a secret language of inside jokes and looks. We’ve fought plenty, of course. We’re both only children, so sometimes we’re like sisters. We once even broke a lamp in a tussle. But it’s never been like this. I’m not even sure what this is, only that since we got on the tour, being with Melanie makes me feel like I’m losing a race I didn’t even know I’d entered.
“I came out here tonight,” I say, my voice brittle and defensive. “I lied to Ms. Foley so we could come.”
“Right? And we’ve had so much fun! So why don’t we keep it going?”
I shake my head.
She shuffles through her bag and pulls out her phone, scrolls through her texts. “Hamlet just let out too. Craig says that Todd’s taken the gang to a pub called the Dirty Duck. I like the sound of that. Come out with us. It’ll be a blast.”
The thing is, I did go out with Melanie and everyone from the tour once, about a week into the trip. By this time, they’d already gone out a couple times. And even though Melanie had known these guys only a week—the same amount of time I’d known them—she had all these inside jokes with them, jokes I didn’t understand. I’d sat there around the crowded table, nursing a drink, feeling like the unlucky kid who had to start a new school midway into the year.
I look at my watch, which has slid all the way down my wrist. I slide it back up, so it covers the ugly red birthmark right on my pulse. “It’s almost eleven, and we have to be up early tomorrow for our train. So if you don’t mind, I’m going to take my adventure-averse self back to the room.” With the huffiness in my voice, I sound just like my mom.
“Fine. I’ll walk you back and then go to the pub.”
“And what if Ms. Foley checks in on us?”
Melanie laughs. “Tell her I had heatstroke. And it’s not hot anymore.” She starts to walk up the slope back toward the bridge. “What? Are you waiting for something?”
I look back down toward the water, the barges, now emptying out from the evening rush. Trash collectors are out in force. The day is ending; it’s not coming back.
“No, I’m not.”
Our train to London is at eight fifteen—Melanie’s idea, so we will have maximum shopping time. But when the alarm clock starts beeping at six, Melanie pulls the pillow over her head.
“Let’s get a later train,” she moans.
“No. It’s already all arranged. You can sleep on the train. Anyway, you promised to be downstairs at six thirty to say good-bye to everyone.” And I promised to say good-bye to Ms. Foley.
I drag Melanie out of bed and shove her under the hotel’s weak excuse for a shower. I brew her some instant coffee and quickly talk to my mom, who stayed up until one in the morning Pennsylvania time to call. At six thirty, we trudge downstairs. Ms. Foley, in her jeans and Teen Tours! polo shirt as usual, shakes Melanie’s hand. Then she embraces me in a bony hug, slips me her business card, and says I shouldn’t hesitate to call if I need anything while in London. Her next tour starts on Sunday, and she’ll be there too until it begins. Then she tells me she’s arranged a seven-thirty taxi to take me and Melanie to the train station, asks once again if we’re being met in London (yes, we are), tells me yet again that I’m a good girl, and warns me against pickpockets on the Tube.
I let Melanie go back to bed for another half hour, which means she skips her usual primp time, and at seven thirty I load us into the waiting taxi. When our train arrives, I drag our bags onto it and find a pair of empty seats. Melanie slumps into the one next to the window. “Wake me when we get to London.”
I stare at her for a second, but she’s already snuggled up against the window, shutting her eyes. I sigh and stow her shoulder bag under her feet and put my cardigan down on the seat next to hers to discourage any thieves or lecherous old men. Then I make my way to the café car. I missed the hotel’s breakfast, and now my stomach is growling and my temples are starting to throb with the beginnings of a hunger headache.
though Europe is the land of trains, we haven’t taken any on the tour, only airplanes for the long distances and buses to get us everywhere in between. As I walk through the cars, the automatic doors open with a satisfying whoosh, and the train rocks gently under my feet. Outside, the green countryside whizzes by.
In the café car, I examine the sad offerings and wind up ordering a cheese sandwich and tea and the salt and vinegar crisps I’ve become addicted to. I get a can of Coke for Melanie. I put the meal in one of those cardboard carriers and am about to go back to my seat when one of the tables right next to the window opens up. I hesitate for a second. I should get back to Melanie. Then again, she’s asleep; she doesn’t care, so I sit at the table and stare out the window. The countryside seems so fundamentally English, all green and tidy and divvied up with hedges, the fluffy sheep like clouds mirroring the ever-present ones in the sky.
“That’s a very confused breakfast.”
That voice. After listening to it for four acts last night, I recognize it immediately.
I look up, and he’s right there, grinning a sort of lazy half smile that makes him seem like he just this second woke up.
“How is it confused?” I ask. I should be surprised, but somehow, I’m not. I do have to bite my lip to keep from grinning.
But he doesn’t answer. He goes to the counter and orders a coffee. Then he gestures with his head toward my table. I nod.
“In so many ways,” he says, sitting down opposite me. “It is like a jet-lagged expatriate.”
I look down at my sandwich, my tea, my chips. “This is a jet-lagged expatriate? How do you get that from this?”
He blows on his coffee. “Easy. For one, it’s not even nine in the morning. So tea makes sense. But sandwich and crisps. Those are lunch foods. I won’t even mention the Coke.” He taps the can. “See, the timing is all mixed up. Your breakfast has jet lag.”
I have to laugh at that. “The doughnuts looked disgusting.” I gesture toward the counter.
“Definitely. That’s why I bring my own breakfast.” He reaches into his bag and starts unwrapping something from a wrinkled piece of waxed paper.
“Wait, that looks suspiciously like a sandwich too,” I say.
“It’s not, really. It’s bread and hagelslag.”
“Hach-el-slach.” He opens the sandwich for me to see. Inside is butter and some kind of chocolate sprinkles.
“You’re calling my breakfast confused? You’re eating dessert for breakfast.”
“In Holland, this is breakfast. Very typical. That or uitsmijter, which is basically fried egg with ham.”
“That won’t be on the test, will it? Because I can’t even begin to try to say that.”
“Out. Smy. Ter. We can practice that later. But that brings me to my second point. Your breakfast is like an expatriate. And, go ahead, eat. I can talk while you eat.”
“Thank you. I’m glad you can multitask,” I say. Then I laugh. And it’s all just the weirdest thing, because this is just happening, so naturally. I think I am actually flirting, over breakfast. About breakfast. “What do you even mean, an expatriate?”
“Someone who lives outside of their native country. You know, you have a sandwich. Very American. And the tea, very English. But then you have the crisps, or chips, or whatever you want to call them, and they can go either way, but you’re having salt and vinegar, which is very English, but you’re eating them for breakfast, and that seems American. And Coke for breakfast. Coke and chips, is that what you eat for breakfast in America?”
“How do you even know I’m from America?” I challenge.
“Aside from the fact that you were in a tour group of Americans and you speak with an American accent?” He takes a bite of his hagu-whatever sandwich and drinks more of his coffee.
I bite my lip to keep from grinning again. “Right. Aside from that.”
“Those were the only clues, really. You actually don’t look so American.”
“Really?” I pop open my crisps, and a sharp tang of artificial vinegar wafts through the air. I offer him one. He declines it and takes another bite of his sandwich. “What looks American?”
He shrugs. “Blond,” he says. “Big . . .” He mimes boobs. “Soft features.” He waves his hands in front of his face. “Pretty. Like your friend.”
“And I don’t look that way?” I don’t know why I bother to ask this. I know what I look like. Dark hair. Dark eyes. Sharp features. No curves, not much in the boob department. A little of the fizz goes out of my step. Was all this just buttering me up so he could hit on Melanie?
“No.” He peers at me with those eyes of his. They’d looked so dark yesterday, but now that I’m up close, I can see that they have all kinds of colors in them—gray, brown, even gold dancing in the darkness. “You know who you look like? Louise Brooks.”
I stare at him blankly.
“You don’t know her? The silent film star?”
I shake my head. I never did get into silent films.
“She was a huge star in the nineteen twenties. American. Amazing actress.”
“And not blond.” I mean for it to come out as a joke, but it doesn’t.
He takes another bite of his sandwich. A tiny chocolate sprinkle sticks to the corner of his mouth. “We have lots of blondes in Holland. I see blond when I look in a mirror. Louise Brooks was dark. She had these incredible sad eyes and very defined features and the same hair like you.” He touches his own hair, as tousled as it was last night. “You look so much like her. I should just call you Louise.”
Louise. I like that.
“No, not Louise. Lulu. That was her nickname.”
Lulu. I like that even better.
He reaches out his hand. “Hi, Lulu, I’m Willem.”
His hand is warm, and his grasp is firm. “Nice to meet you, Willem. Though I could call you Sebastian if we’re taking on new identities.”
When he laughs, little crinkles flower along his eyes. “No. I prefer Willem. Sebastian’s kind of, what’s the word . . . passive, when you think about it. He gets married to Olivia, who really wants to be with his sister. That happens a lot with Shakespeare. The women go after what they want; the men wind up suckered into things.”
“I don’t know. I was glad when everyone got their happy ending last night.”
“Oh, it’s a nice fairy tale, but that’s what it is. A fairy tale. But I figure Shakespeare owes his comedy characters those happy endings because he is so cruel in his tragedies. I mean, Hamlet. Or Romeo and Juliet. It’s almost sadistic.” He shakes his head. “Sebastian’s okay, he’s just not really in charge of his own destiny so much. Shakespeare gives that privilege to Viola.”
“So you’re in charge of your own destiny?” I ask. And again, I hear myself and can hardly believe it. When I was little, I used to go to the local ice-skating rink. In my mind, I always felt like I could twirl and jump, but when I got out onto the ice, I could barely keep my blades straight. When I got older, that’s how it was with people: In my mind, I am bold and forthright, but what comes out always seems to be so meek and polite. Even with Evan, my boyfriend for junior and most of senior year, I never quite managed to be that skating, twirling, leaping person I suspected I could be. But today, apparently, I can skate.
“Oh, not at all. I go where the wind blows me.” He pauses to consider that. “Maybe there’s a good reason I play Sebastian.”
“So where is the wind blowing you?” I ask, hoping he’s staying in London.
“From London, I catch another train back to Holland. Last night was the end of the season for me.”
I deflate. “Oh.”
“You haven’t eaten your sandwich. Be warned, they put butter on the cheese sandwiches here. The fake kind, I think.”
“I know.” I pull off the sad wilted tomatoes and smear off some of the excess butter/margarine with my napkin.
“It would be better with mayonnaise,” Willem tells me.
; “Only if there was turkey on it.”
“No, cheese and mayonnaise is very good.”
“That sounds foul.”
“Only if you’ve never had the proper sort of mayonnaise. I’ve heard the kind they have in America is not the proper sort.”
I laugh so hard that tea comes spurting out my nose.
“What?” Willem asks. “What?”
“The proper sort of mayonnaise,” I say in between gasps of laughter. “It makes me think that there’s, like, a bad-girl mayonnaise who’s slutty and steals, and a good-girl mayonnaise, who is proper and crosses her legs, and my problem is that I’ve never been introduced to the right one.”
“That is exactly correct,” he says. And then he starts laughing too.
We are both cracking up when Melanie trudges into the café car, carrying her stuff, plus my sweater. “I couldn’t find you,” she says sullenly.
“You said to wake you in London.” I look out the window then. The pretty English countryside has given way to the ugly gray outskirts of the city.
Melanie looks over at Willem, and her eyes widen. “You’re not shipwrecked after all,” she says to him.
“No,” he says, but he’s looking at me. “Don’t be mad at Lulu. It’s my fault. I kept her here.”
“Yes, short for Louise. It’s my new alter ego, Mel.” I look at her, my eyes imploring her not to give me away. I’m liking being Lulu. I’m not ready to give her up just yet.
Melanie rubs her eyes, like maybe she’s still sleeping. Then she shrugs and slumps into the seat next to Willem. “Fine. Be whoever you want. I’d like to be someone with a new head.”
“She’s new to this hangover thing,” I tell Willem.
“Shut up,” Melanie snaps.
“What, you want me say that ‘it’s old hat for you’?”