His hug reminded me of Coco’s: firm grip, warm softness, not a lot of words in greeting.
“How was the flight?” he asked, guiding me along beside him with an arm around my shoulders.
My legs felt weak and wobbly. What I wouldn’t give for a hot shower.
“I had too much champagne and talked that poor guy’s ear off.” I lifted my chin, indicating the tall businessman walking a few paces ahead of us, already speaking to someone in clipped words on his phone.
I glanced at him, marveling again that I could come from such gentle, soft-spoken stock. It had been two years since he’d visited London, and before then I’d seen him at every major holiday. Grandpa didn’t ever gush over anything, but was steadfast in his quiet support of Lele and Coco.
“It’s good to see you,” I said. “I missed your face and suspenders.”
“How long are you here before your road trip?” Grandpa asked in response.
“I have the party tomorrow,” I told him, “and then we’re heading on the winery tour Sunday morning. But I’ll be back at the end of the trip to be at the house for a bit.”
“Famished,” I said. “But no booze.” I quickly retied my messy hair and then scrubbed my face with my hands. “Ugh, I’m such a mess.”
Grandpa looked over, and when our eyes met I could tell he saw only the best of me. “You look beautiful, Pippa girl.”
I could remember exactly one flight more awkward than that one.
It was the June after my freshman year in college, and about ten months after I’d met Will Sumner. He’d blown into Baltimore, the guy with the smile, swagger, and certainty that he and I were going to be partners in crime. For someone like me whose life had been, up to that point, quiet and sheltered, Will Sumner was the best kind of wrecking ball.
That summer, we went to Niagara Falls with his extended family and . . . let’s say we happened upon a VHS tape of some badly shot porn. There was no music, no faces, and it was all done by one stationary camera, but nonetheless we watched it over and over until we were blurry and desensitized, reciting the dirty talk in unison and shoveling Pringles into our mouths.
It was the first time I’d ever seen someone having real sex, and I thought it was fucking stellar . . . until Will’s pretty aunt Jessica panicked at the airport, unable to find her “home movie” in her carry-on.
I sat next to Aunt Jessica the entire flight, and it’s safe to say I did not play it very cool. At all. I was sweaty palms and monosyllables and constant awareness that I knew what she looked like naked. I knew what she looked like having sex. My sheltered brain could barely handle that kind of information.
Will was about as sympathetic as expected, pelting me with tiny balls of his napkins and peanuts across the aisle. “What’s got you all tied up, Jens?” he’d called. “You look like someone saw you naked.”
Pippa was a different kind of awkward entirely. She was the kind of awkward where pretty and engaging turns into smeary makeup and incessant rambling from the miracle of alcohol. The kind where you feign sleep for more than three hours when your brain is panic-scrolling through the list of ways the time on the plane might be better spent.
As we made the trek to baggage claim, the low hum of airport noise drifted over me. It was nearly as familiar as the sound of my heater switching on at night, or my own goddamn breathing. I could sense Pippa behind me, chatting idly with her grandfather. Her voice was nice—accent thick with the polish of London and the streets of Bristol. Her face was great, eyes bright and mischievous; they were actually what drew me in right away because they were such a startling blue, and so expressive. But I was afraid to make eye contact and begin the talking all over again. I’d felt her apology practically bubbling up as I nearly sprinted from the plane, and worried that if I gave her an opening, she would take it without question.
I rubbed my eyes and then spotted my suitcase sliding down onto the carousel. There was something almost comically intense about the message I felt I was receiving. Just when I began to consider whether I was looking for women in the wrong places, whether I was wrong about my type, whether I should be more adventurous in dating, the universe trapped me on a flight with a woman who was gorgeous, eccentric, and completely insane.
So let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Jens. Stick with what you know.
Maybe Softball Emily wasn’t so bad after all.
My driver stood with a placard bearing my name, and I nodded, wordlessly following her out of the airport. The car was dark and cool, and I immediately pulled my phone back out, letting my brain slip into that familiar space where work lived and breathed.
I would call Jacob on Monday to set up a time to review the Petersen Pharma files.
I should email Eleanor in HR about getting someone to replace Melissa in the San Francisco office.
I would need to get in early next week to tackle this inbox.
The car pulled up at the curb in front of my brownstone, and it felt like a gentle tug, unwinding me.
Fall was upon us, spiraling through the trees that canopied the streets, turning everything somehow brighter before it all dimmed for the interminable months of winter. The air outside was biting after the warmth of the car, and I met the driver at the back, handing her a hefty tip for getting us here so efficiently in Boston rush hour.
This London trip had been only a week, but it felt like an eternity. Mergers were one thing. International mergers were another. But international mergers gone wrong? Brutal. Endless paperwork. Endless depositions. Endless details to scrounge up and record. Endless travel.