People lingered outside pubs, pints in their hands as they chatted or watched a game on the televisions just inside. We drove past more people sitting together at sidewalk cafés, or jogging into coffee shops to get their Saturday fix. I imagined the life Pippa and I might have here, if that’s what she wanted: meeting friends at the corner pub or stopping by the neighborhood market for groceries for dinner.
I knew it was dangerous to start going down the path of fantasy, but I couldn’t really help it. I hadn’t seen her in nearly a month—hadn’t spoken to her in that long, either. If it felt this shitty now, imagine how it would be to never speak to her again.
As a wave of nausea hit me, the taxi stopped in front of a narrow brick building. I paid the driver, retrieved my bag, and climbed out. Staring up to the windows on the third floor, it occurred to me that if all went well, I could sleep with her in my arms tonight.
I checked the address again and verified the flat number before I began climbing the stairs.
She might not be here.
And it would be fine.
I’d wait at the café on the corner, or take the Tube to Hyde Park and walk around for a few hours.
I knocked on the door to her flat, and my heart vaulted up into my throat at the sound of heavy footsteps.
I thought I’d been prepared for anything. I was wrong.
The man at Pippa’s door looked at me with wide blue eyes. Dark curly hair hung in braids over his shoulders, and a ribbon of smoke spiraled from the cigarette in his hand.
He blew out a long curl of thick smoke before picking a bit of tobacco off his lip. “Who?”
“Are you . . . Mark?” I said again, quieter this time. “Or—is Pippa? Is she here? I think this is her flat.” I looked down to the paper in my hand to double check.
“Nah, mate,” he said. “Don’t know Pippa, or Mark. Just moved in m’self. Bird that lived here moved out a week ago.”
I nodded numbly and thanked him, turning back down the hall.
I took the stairs slowly, one at a time.
I don’t know why I was surprised that I didn’t know this. It’s not like we’d been in touch. But it had only been a few weeks since she’d left. She must have moved out . . . immediately.
Reaching for my phone, I found her contact picture again and pressed it.
My stomach was in knots as it rang once, and then once again, finally connecting to a series of knocks and muffled sounds, as if someone had dropped the phone on the other end. The steady thump of music pulsed through the line and into my ear.
“Cheers!” someone shouted into the receiver, and I narrowed my eyes, trying to identify her voice in a sea of many others.
“Oi? I can’t really hear you. Speak up, yeah?”
“Pippa, this is Jensen. Are you home? I just got—”
“Jensen! Long time, mate! And home? Nah, not till later. How are you?”
“Listen, I’ll try and ring you tomorrow. I can’t hear a thing!”
I paused, staring blindly at the road ahead of me as the line went dead. “Sure, of course.”
As if things couldn’t get worse, I quickly realized that I’d been so hopeful I’d see Pippa and that things would work out that it hadn’t occurred to me to book any sort of hotel in case that didn’t happen.
I found a taxi on the street outside her flat and the driver waited while I booked a room using my phone. After she dropped me off, I had dinner by myself in a small pub on the corner, and the entire time, I refused to acknowledge the possibility that I had made a huge, presumptuous mistake.
She’ll call in the morning, I told myself.
But she didn’t call in the morning, even though I checked continually while working a bit at the London office, under the pretense of visiting to straighten things out. She didn’t call in the afternoon, either, and when I called again that night it went straight to a generic voice mail greeting. I left her a message and kept my ringer on, near the bed, just in case she called.
I tried the next morning—voice mail—and again—leaving another message. I didn’t have her email address, and Ruby hadn’t yet answered my email asking for help contacting Pippa. By my third night there, it was time to admit defeat.
With my single bag repacked, I checked out of the hotel and took a cab to the airport.
My flight was easy enough to book, and knowing I would probably have as much scotch as I could stomach and then sleep the rest of the way home, I used as many miles as it took and booked a first-class return ticket, straight to Boston.
I found an isolated seat in the corner of the lounge in the terminal, careful to keep my eyes down and my earbuds in, not wanting to talk to anyone. Hanna texted during my second scotch and soda but I ignored it, unwilling to admit to her that I had taken a leap of faith, and had crashed and burned spectacularly.
I knew she would be proud of me for trying, and would do whatever she could to cheer me up, but for now I wanted to wallow. Either Pippa had never wanted more, or she had but I’d been too thick to see it at the time.
They announced my flight over the speaker in the lounge, and I emptied my glass, grabbing my duffel before making my way out to the gate.
The usual crowd had begun to gather around the podium as they awaited their zone, and I joined the line, halfheartedly returning the agent’s smile as I scanned my ticket and then proceeded down the jetway.
Footsteps shuffled in front of me and I moved on autopilot as I made my way onto the plane and down the aisle, stopping at my designated row.