Home > Just One Day (Just One Day #1)(5)

Just One Day (Just One Day #1)(5)
Gayle Forman

Our train passes another oncoming train with a startling whoomp. I jump in my seat. After two seconds, the train is speeding past us. But I have the weirdest sensation that Willem is on it. Which is impossible. He would’ve had to fast-forward to another station to get that train.

But that’s not to say he’s on this train.

I look at my watch. It’s been twenty minutes since he went to the café car. Our train had not yet left the platform. He might’ve gotten off with those girls even before we departed. Or at this last station. Maybe that’s what they were saying. Why don’t you ditch that boring American girl and hang out with us?

He is not on this train.

The certainty hits me with that same whoomp as the oncoming train. He changed his mind. About Paris. About me.

Taking me to Paris was an impulse buy, like all those useless gadgets grocery stores put at the checkout aisle so you’re out the door before you realize what a piece of crap you just bought.

But then another thought hits me: What if this is all some sort of master plan? Find the most naïve American you can and lure her onto a train, then ditch her and send in the . . . I don’t know . . . the thugs to nab her? Mom DVR’d a segment about something just like this on 20/20. What if that’s why he was looking at me last night, that’s why he sought me out earlier today on the train from Stratford-upon-Avon? Could he have chosen easier prey? I’ve seen enough of those Animal Planet nature shows to know that the lions always go for the weakest gazelles.

And yet, as unrealistic as this possibility is, on a certain level, there’s a nugget of cold comfort in it. The world makes sense again. That at least would explain why I am on this train.

Something lands on my head, soft and crackly, but in my panic, it makes me jump.

And there’s another one. I pick up the projectile, a packet of Walker’s salt-and-vinegar crisps.

I look up. Willem has the guilty grin of a bank robber, not to mention loot spilling out of his hands: a candy bar, three cups of assorted hot beverages, a bottle of orange juice under one armpit, a can of Coke under the other. “Sorry about the wait. The café is at the other end of the train, and they wouldn’t open it until the train left St. Pancras, and there was already a queue. Then I wasn’t sure if you liked coffee or tea, so I got you both. But then I remembered your Coke from earlier, so I went back for that. And then on the way back, I stumbled onto a very cranky Belgian and spilled coffee all over myself, so I had to detour to the loo, but I think I just made things worse.” He plunks down two of the small cardboard cups and the can of soda on the tray table in front of me. He gestures to the front of his jeans, which now have a huge wet splodge down the front of them.

I am not the sort of person to laugh at fart jokes or gross-out humor. When Jonathan Spalicki let one rip in physiology last year and Mrs. Huberman had to let the hysterical class out early, she actually thanked me for being the only one to exhibit any self-control.

So it’s not like me to lose it. Over a wet spot.

And yet, when I open my mouth to inform Willem that I actually don’t like soda, that the Coke before was for Melanie’s hangover, what comes out is a yelp. And once I hear my own laughter, it sets off fireworks. I’m laughing so hard, I am gasping for air. The panicked tears that were threatening to spill out of my eyes now have a safe excuse to stream down my face.

Willem rolls his eyes and gives his jeans a yeah-yeah look. He grabs some of the napkins from the tray. “I didn’t think it was so bad.” He dabs at his jeans. “Does coffee leave a stain?”

This sends me into further paroxysms of laughter. Willem offers a wry, patient smile. He is big enough to accept the joke at his expense.

“I’m. Sorry.” I gasp. “Not. Laughing. At. Your. Pants.”

Pants! In her tutorial of British English versus American English, Ms. Foley had informed us that the English call underwear pants and pants trousers, and we should be mindful of announcing anything to do with pants to avoid any embarrassing misunderstandings. She went pink as she explained it.

I am doubled over now. When I manage to sit upright, I see one of the French girls coming back down the aisle. As she edges behind Willem, she rests a hand on his arm; it lingers there for a second. Then she says something in French, before slipping into her seat.

Willem doesn’t even look at her. Instead, he turns back to me. His dark eyes dangle question marks.

“I thought you got off the train.” The admission just slips out on the champagne bubbles of my relief.

Oh, my God. Did I actually say that? The giggles shock right out of me. I’m afraid to look at him. Because if he didn’t want to leave me on the train before, I’ve remedied that now.

I feel the give of the seat as Willem sits down, and when I gather up the courage to peer over at him, I’m surprised to find that he doesn’t look shocked or disgusted. He just has that amused private smile on his face.

He begins to unpack the junk food and pulls a bent baguette out of his backpack. After he’s laid everything out over the trays, he looks right at me. “And why would I get off the train?” he asks at last, his voice light and teasing.

I could make up a lie. Because he forgot something. Or because he realized he needed to get back to Holland after all, and there wasn’t time to tell me. Something ridiculous but less incriminating. But I don’t.

“Because you changed your mind.” I await his disgust, his shock, his pity, but he still looks amused, maybe a little intrigued now too. And I feel this unexpected rush, like I just took a hit of some drug, my own personal truth serum. So I tell him the rest. “But then for a brief minute, I thought maybe this was all some sort of scam and you were going to sell me into sex slavery or something.”

I look at him, wondering if I’ve pushed too far. But he is smiling as he strokes his chin. “How would I do that?” he asks.

“I don’t know. You’d have to make me pass out or something. What’s that stuff they use? Chloroform? They put it on a handkerchief and put up against your nose, and you fall asleep.”

“I think that’s just in movies. Probably easier for me to drug your drink like your friend suspected.”

“But you got me three drinks, one of them unopened.” I hold up the can of Coke. “I don’t drink Coke, by the way.”

“My plan is foiled then.” He exaggerates a sigh. “Too bad. I could get good money for you on the black market.”

“How much do you think I’m worth?” I ask, amazed at how quickly fear has become fodder.

He looks me up and looks me down, appraising me. “Well, it would depend on various factors.”

“Like what?”

“Age. How old are you?”

“Eighteen.”

He nods. “Measurements?”

“Five feet four. One hundred and fifteen pounds. I don’t know metric.”

“Any unusual body parts or scars or false limbs?”

“Does that matter?”

“Fetishists. They pay extra.”

“No, no prosthetic limbs or anything.” But then I remember my birthmark, which is ugly, almost like a scar, so I usually keep it hidden under my watch. But there’s something oddly tempting about exposing it, exposing me. So I slide my watch down. “I do have this.”

He takes it in, nodding his head. Then casually asks, “And are you a virgin?”

“Would that make me more or less valuable?”

“It all depends on the market.”

“You seem to know a lot about this.”

“I grew up in Amsterdam,” he says, like this explains it.

“So what am I worth?”

“You didn’t answer all the questions.”‘

I have the strangest sensation then, like I’m holding the belt to a bathrobe and I can tie it tighter—or let it drop. “No, I’m not. A virgin.”

He nods, stares in a way that unsettles me.

“I’m sure Boris will be disappointed,” I add.

“Who’s Boris?”

“The thuggish Ukrainian who’s going to do the dirty work. You were just the bait.”

Now he laughs, tilting his long neck back. When he comes up for air, he says, “I usually work with Bulgarians.”

“You tease all you want, but there was a thing on TV about it. And it’s not like I know you.”

He pauses, looks straight at me, then says: “Twenty. One point nine meters. Seventy-five kilos, last time I checked. This,” he points to a zigzag scar on his foot. Then he looks me dead in the eye. “And no.”

It takes me a minute to realize that he’s answering the same four questions he asked me. When I do, I feel a flush start to creep up my neck.

“Also, we had breakfast together. Usually the people I have breakfast with, I know very well.”

Now the flush tidal-waves into a full-on blush. I try to think of something quippy to say back. But it’s hard to be witty when someone is looking at you like that.

“Did you really believe I would leave you on the train?” he asks.

The question is oddly jarring after all that hilarity about black-market sex slavery. I think about it. Did I really think he’d do that?

“I don’t know,” I answer. “Maybe I was just having a minor panic because doing something impulsive like this, it’s not me.”

“Are you sure about that?” he asks. “You’re here, after all.”

“I’m here,” I repeat. And I am. Here. On my way to Paris. With him. I look at him. He’s got that half smile, as if there’s something about me that’s endlessly amusing. And maybe it’s that, or the rocking of the train, or the fact that I’ll never see him again after the one day, or maybe once you open the trapdoor of honesty, there’s no going back. Or maybe it’s just because I want to. But I let the robe drop to the floor. “I thought you got off the train because I was having a hard time believing you’d be on the train in the first place. With me. Without some ulterior motive.”

And this is the truth. Because I may be only eighteen, but it already seems pretty obvious that the world is divided into two groups: the doers and the watchers. The people things happen to and the rest of us, who just sort of plod on with things. The Lulus and the Allysons.

It never occurred to me that by pretending to be Lulu, I might slip into that other column, even for just a day.

I turn to Willem, to see what he’ll say to this, but before he responds, the train plunges into darkness as we enter the Channel Tunnel. According to the factoids I read, in less than twenty minutes, we will be in Calais and then, an hour later, Paris. But right now, I have a feeling that this train is not just delivering me to Paris, but to someplace entirely new.

Four

Paris

Immediately, there are problems. The luggage storage place in the basement of the train station is shuttered; the workers who run the X-ray machines the bags have to pass through before they go into storage are on strike. As a result, all the automated lockers large enough for my bag are full. Willem says there’s another station that’s not so far from here we might try, but if the baggage handlers are on strike, we might have the same problem there too.

“I can just drag it behind me. Or toss it into the Seine.” I’m joking, though there is something appealing about abandoning all vestiges of Allyson.

“I have a friend who works in a nightclub not so far from here. . . .” He reaches into his backpack and pulls out a battered leather notebook. I’m about to make a joke about it being his little black book, but then I see all the names and numbers and email addresses scrawled in there, and he adds, “She does the books, so she’s usually there in the afternoons,” and I realize that it actually is a little black book.

After finding the number he’s after, he pulls out an ancient cell phone, presses the power key a few times. “No battery. Does yours work?”

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