A sinking feeling
I knew my luck had changed when I was upgraded to business class on my return journey. My curious gold-encrusted traveling companion made the long flight pass too quickly. He turned towards the transit lounge with the unforgettable words, "If you're ever passing through Vladivostok . . ." I waved him off, set my wheelie bag on the ground and, after five wound-licking, soul-searching weeks away, headed for home.
This was it. My moment to start again. I had dealt with what had been a hideous year and I'd put it behind me. OK, it was only September, but I had decided to return to the academic timetable. Anything to be able to punctuate what had been and now. New year. New start. New me. Tessa King was back. I smiled at everyone. Sharing the love and our good fortune at being alive. The Customs official eyed me warily and promptly took my bag apart. I didn't mind. Nothing was going to ruin my return. Having found nothing but festering clothes and gifts for my godchildren, he let me go. I was almost jogging by the time I reached the sliding glass doors. An expectant smile quivered at the side of my mouth, ready to burst forth the moment I saw my welcome-home party. The doors opened. I stepped through and yelled "Hi" at a woman I'd never met before.
"Sorry," I said. "You look just like my friend."
Francesca would have been mortally offended. The woman was older, shorter and wearing velour. I looked around me to check I was where I thought I was. I was. But she wasn't.
I must be mistaken. Francesca and I had made this plan on the day of my tearful departure. My greatest friend from university had promised to escape the clutches of domesticity to spend a lost afternoon drinking wine and catching up. It was only imagining this moment that had got me through the previous five weeks. I looked around again. Double-checking the faces of -people who averted their eyes, and the placard-holding drivers who didn't. My smile wouldn't accept there was no friendly face waiting for me and kept grinning at -people who didn't want to be grinned at. Maybe I was early? I checked my watch, knowing full well I wasn't. Eventually my smile accepted its fate and retracted. I sat down on my suitcase while all around me travelers ran into the open arms of their loved ones. I chose not to notice the many others who hurried on alone to the trains and buses. I only saw what I feared. I had gone to India hoping I could downward dog my way out of trouble and I was sure I had succeeded. A peppery heat prickled my eyes. Damn it, how many uddiyana bandhas would it take?
"Tessa, over here. Tessa!"
I stared at my phone, wondering whether I could be bothered to go through a month's worth of messages to get to the one Francesca may have left if she hadn't forgotten completely.
It was my name, but a man's voice, so I didn't register it.
"Tessa, you deaf old cow, it's Nick!"
I looked up. Francesca's husband, red-faced, was waving frantically at me. Nick and Francesca had been together since our first year at university. A staggering eighteen years. I knew him as well as I knew Fran and immediately my spirits rose.
"Welcome home. So sorry we're late, traffic. Anyway, you don't want to know about that. How are you? You look terrific."
We? Was Francesca here? Who was with the kids? And then I saw Caspar, my fifteen-year-old godson. The fact that I had a godson who was beginning to resemble a man was alarming, but he had arrived early to our party and I still marvel at Nick and Francesca's brave decision to keep the baby and make a go of it. These days Caspar reminds me of how far I have failed to come. He sloped towards me. We are very close, my godson and I. Throwing down my bag, I opened my arms wide. Not so long ago he would have run the length of the airport and buried himself under my neck. But he was about to turn sixteen; times were changing. I didn't realize then, how much.
"Hey, handsome, you are getting so big . . ." I saw the smile in his eyes, but nothing else in his body language changed. He was bristling with awareness. I know a defensive position when I see it. I'd been carrying myself around like that for months. I lowered my arms.
"You might like to know that my plane had a four-hour stopover in Dubai."
"United Arab Emirates." There was no register on Caspar's face. "The Middle East? Ever heard of it?"
"Yeah," mumbled Caspar.
"Caspar, don't mumble," said Nick.
"Well," I interrupted, not wanting there to be a teenage scene, "it's the shopping capital of the world. Tax-free. Very iPod friendly."
That got his attention. Caspar has wanted an iPod Nano since they came out. But Nick doesn't earn that sort of money and Francesca doesn't work. Which is where I, the fairy godmother, often come in. No wonder he loves me . . . I'd love me.
"Isn't it your birthday next weekend?"
"Well, let's just say I got so friendly with the sales assistant he gave me a photo of his kids. Who, by the way, live in a different country and only get to see their father every two years—just in case you were feeling a little hard done by today."
"I get enough of the Third World shit at home, thanks." Caspar sloped away. I turned to Nick with an open mouth. Sloping? Backchat? This wasn't my godson.
Nick shook his head, exhaled long and hard, then lowered his voice. "He's being a nightmare, I'm so sorry. Fran was desperate to come today, I mean desperate, but someone at school has swapped birthdays around, and she's got to bring Katie's party forward three weeks to tomorrow."Godmother, The. Copyright © by Carrie Adams. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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