I grabbed my toothbrush and headed for the communal bathroom down the hall. I used my elbow to push open the door, and then immediately wished I hadn’t. Someone must have had even more to drink than I’d had the night before because the bathroom smelled atrocious. No wonder I’d seen that Canadian girl brushing her teeth back in our room.

I took a deep breath, and ran into the bathroom just long enough to wet my toothbrush, and then I bolted back to the hallway.

I leaned against the wall with a groan and set to brushing. For what must have been the hundredth time, I assured myself that Hunt had only blown me off because I’d been sick. This hadn’t occurred to me when I was pressed against him because, well . . . my mind had had a singular focus then. But when I got into my room, I realized how ridiculous it was to think he would kiss me after seeing me lose the contents of my stomach in the middle of the street. Not exactly sexy.

That was the reason. It had to be. It was the only one that made sense, really.

I did another speed run into the bathroom to wash out my mouth, and then went to grab my things.

Maybe it was time to suck it up and start staying in a hotel. I’d chosen hostels not because of the cheaper price, but to meet people (and to piss off my father as much as possible). And sure . . . both tactics had worked out well. I met some fellow travelers, some of whom I’d become intimately acquainted with, and my dad had blown a gasket, saying I was going to end up sold as a sex slave or bleeding in an alley.

That was Dad. Never one to sugarcoat his feelings.

But without being able to see his red, angry face in person, the hostel was proving not worth the trouble.

I’d look into some hotels this afternoon.

I stepped outside, savoring the fresh air. I made myself look away from the spot where Hunt and I had stood that morning and rounded the corner straight into the beauty of Budapest. The Paris of the east, that’s what people called it. It was a gorgeous mix of old and new, nature and architecture. The sight was almost enough to dull the headache forming just over my right eye. Either it was a hangover coming on or that bathroom had been filled with biohazardous materials.

Whatever the reason . . . I needed a pick-me-up. Bad. And coffee just wasn’t going to be enough.


I walked a few blocks to the nearest Internet café, and paid cash for fifteen minutes on the computer. I didn’t bother checking my e-mail. The only person who ever wrote was Dad’s secretary. He didn’t even care enough to write me himself, so I didn’t bother caring enough to answer. I logged on to Facebook, and had one new message.

Bliss Edwards

Keeeeeelllseeeeey. Where are you? I haven’t heard from you since you landed in the Ukraine. I don’t mean to go all mommy on you, but how am I supposed to live vicariously through you if I don’t even know you’re actually still living?! (Should I have tagged skank or whore onto the end of that? Would it have made it less mom-like?) Anyway, I need you to talk me out of a panic attack of epic proportions. I leave for Philly on Saturday. I’ve already sent most of my stuff up ahead of me. Can you believe it? ME. LIVING WITH A GUY. I keep waiting for pigs to fly . . . or you know, for the universe to implode. Or maybe I’m going to wake up and still be in my government class, and this was all just the product of the most boring lecture in the history of the universe. Seriously, though. Write me back, whore. (See how I did that?) I need you to give me something else to think about! I know you’ve got stories.

I hit reply.

Kelsey Summers

Oh, I do have stories. I think we’ve somehow managed to switch lives because I’m currently suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous awkward.

Prepare yourself . . . what I’m about to tell you involves bodily fluids, one horrifying make out session, and the most mortifying/depressing moment of my life.

As I relayed the story of last night, it was almost worse reliving it for Bliss than it was experiencing it the first time around. I was wholly unaccustomed to this kind of embarrassment. When you came from a family of piranhas like I did, you didn’t get into mortifying situations. And if you did, you made damn sure no one witnessed it. I’d perfected the art of the bribe at the tender age of seven by following Daddy’s example. And let’s just say I got all my acting skills from Mom. Starting with breakfast every morning, she got drunk faster than a pint of beer on St. Patrick’s Day, but she always managed to hide it well around guests.

Laughing about the humiliation and rejection of last night made it feel like it was farther in the past than it was. And even though it was just words on a screen, I could picture Bliss’s face as she was reading. I could imagine her reassuring me that she’d been through worse and telling me stories.

It made me feel less alone.

I had hoped maybe Bliss would be online, so that she could tell me more about her move, but as I stared at the screen waiting for a response, my time ran out. I could have bought more time, but one thing I’d learned—contact with friends back home made me feel better for a little while, but twice as worse afterward.

Of course . . . I could go home now.

Nothing was keeping me here. Well, nothing except for the fact that home was a prison. My life was all mapped out for me there. Charity functions and internships and dates with pompous ass-rich guys my mother picked out. I could argue with my father all I wanted, but he always managed to get his way by one method or another. But here . . . I had freedom. I had choice.

If I wanted to sleep with a different guy every night, I could. If I wanted to get messy drunk every night, I could. If I wanted to hop on the next train leaving the station with no thought to where it was heading or when it would get there, I could.

I wanted to make every choice—the good and the bad. I wanted to fill myself up with decisions and consequences, pleasure and pain, so that maybe when I returned to the States . . . maybe I’d have enough life in me to survive living in my own home.

I grabbed my bag and headed for the door.

Now for that coffee. Bliss and caffeine—the perfect one-two punch to put all thoughts of last night to rest.

It felt like cheating to go to the Starbucks up the block since I was in another country and all, but I couldn’t bring myself to care. I compromised by taking my drink to-go and finding a park to relax in. Near the center of a green space that covered a couple blocks, I found a fountain adorned with statues. I settled onto a park bench and let my eyes trace over the figures depicted—a man at the top of the fountain, barely clothed and rising out of the water, reminded me of Poseidon. Then below him were three women, soft and beautiful, lounging nearly naked above the water. The sky was a rich blue above them, and I made myself still in their image, soaking up the sun.

I sipped at my coffee and watched the people around me. There were a few other obvious tourists, but for the most part it was locals, and I listened to the way the complicated language rolled off their tongues with such ease. Maybe I would learn another language while I was here. That would be something more. Something better. But would it be enough?

I tried repeating a phrase that I heard an older woman say near me, but the words mashed together in my mouth. I didn’t try again for fear of what offensive thing I might say by accident.

When I was close to finishing my coffee, a group of kids raced past me, laughing. That sound, at least, was the same in every language. They were dressed in matching uniforms, a school group I guessed. The one in the front was around twelve, maybe thirteen, and the biggest of the lot. He held up a sketchbook over the fountain, and a few of the kids around him egged him on, in English. So, I guessed, they were from some kind of international school.

Another smaller boy came running up to the group then, his hair in disarray and his glasses askew on his face.

“Give it back!” he demanded.

The bigger kid pretended to fumble the sketch pad, catching it only a foot above the water.

“Give me a reason, Cricket.”

Without really thinking it through, I stood and walked in their direction. I pulled out my map of Budapest and stopped when I was close to the bigger kid. “Excuse me, do you speak English?”

I thought he was going to ignore me at first, too enamored with his bullying, but after a few seconds he turned, and like any pubescent little boy, his eyes went from my face to my chest in two seconds flat.

While he stared, I repeated, “English? Can you help me?”

He smiled back at the other boys and said, “Of course.”

I moved closer and tried not to be repulsed by the way his eyes stuck on me as I bent over the map.

“Can you tell me where I am?” I asked, dumb-blonde mode powered up to full. “I’m trying to get to this metro stop, and I just keep going in circles.”

While he leaned close to me, simultaneously searching the map and me, my eyes darted to the other boy. His eyes were on the sketchbook grasped in the bully’s free hand, and I could see him contemplating making a grab for it.

“Here,” I said, pushing the map completely into the kid’s hands. “I just can’t find it for the life of me.”

He struggled to open the map with the sketchbook still in his other hand, and I dove for my opportunity.

“Let me help.”

I snatched the sketchbook out of his hand before he could argue, and took in the sketch on the first page.

Immediately, it pulled a smile to my face.

It was a sketch of the fountain, the lines of the sculptures captured almost perfectly in highlights and shadows. I can only imagine what an average little boy’s drawing of half-naked statues would look like, but I was certain that it wouldn’t be like this. This was mature. Realistic. The boy had found a way to capture the reflection of the sun on the water too, giving it all a three-dimensional feel. It was fantastic, really. I never would have guessed that a kid his age could do this.

For the most part, the sketch focused on the fountain, and I could tell he’d put in a lot of time working on the details of the figures. But in the corner, he’d begun work on another part of the sketch. The lines of the park bench were drawn quickly without too much detail, and on the bench was a girl. It wasn’t as detailed as the fountain, not yet, but the face and the hair were finished enough for me to think that the girl might be me. The swoop of my sundress around my knees made me fairly certain.

“Is this yours?” I asked the bully.

He paused, torn between impressing me and his friends.

He glanced at two of the guys closest to him and then said, “No. No way.”

A small hand went up at the back of the group, and I was smiling before he even spoke.

“It’s mine!”

I took a step in that direction and the group of boys parted for me. In my heels, the boy had to crane his head backward to look at me, and his face was splotched red and white.

“You drew this?”

He hesitated, and for a moment looked like he wanted to run. But then he nodded.

“It’s wonderful!” The silence from the boys behind me was almost palpable, and a few of them shifted, trying to actually get a look at what was on the paper.


“Really. You’re very talented.” I pointed to the girl in the corner and said, “Is this me?”

Now he really looked like he was going to run. Or perhaps take a page out of my book and be sick on the street. I decided to put him out of his misery, and held the sketchbook out to him without requiring an answer.

“It’s beautiful. Keep drawing like that and you won’t be able to keep the girls away from you.”

Then . . . because I couldn’t resist, I swooped down and placed a kiss on his cheek.

His pink face exploded into hues of red and almost purple, and as I walked away the boys around him were cheering and asking to see the sketch. A quick glance over my shoulder revealed that the group had shifted to encircle the boy with the sketch pad, leaving the bully standing alone and dumbfounded, still holding my map.

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