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My tray table is in its upright and locked position, carry-on luggage safely tucked under the seat in front of me, and my seat belt is securely fastened; but my emotions (and my hair for that matter) are not.
I'm sitting here in my little seat feeling like a total mess — and, judging from the looks I've gotten from the woman sitting next to me — looking like a total slob, too. Crumbs from the long-ago digested cheese crackers have amassed on my chest, wrinkles abound from top to pants from sitting in the same position. Granted, seven hours of flying does not make for beauty queens.
"It's okay, Dear," the granny-type lady to my left says and pats my hand. She's pruny, tiny and so sweet I could cry.
"Do you think I made the right choice?" I ask her even though she knows nothing about my life, my upcoming months in the UK, my aunt sick back home, my father pacing until I call to say I've landed, my near-miss boys left stateside, my transcript waiting for good London grades.
Pruny Lady looks at me and tilts her head, seriously considering. A total What if God were one of us? moment. I suddenly think — maybe She would come in the form of an elderly plane passenger!
"You know, I do think you made the right decision," Pruny says. "Just keep your eyes open and you heart will fill up."
Prophecy or purely pointless drivel, who can tell. We land with a bounce and bump and I keep my fingers poised on the belt buckle until we've taxied to the gate. So far, out the tiny window, nothing looks that different.
Inside, however, it's another story.
I've been to Europe (albeit not in the jet-set way of most oh the Hadley Hall crew) — a two-week vacation in France before sophomore year at Hadley, and an entire summer in Berlin with my dad when I was eight years old, so it's not like I've been completely holed up in the land of Americana, but Heathrow is itself a blender of races, languages, and emotions. Accents, smells, green fluorescent lighting — it's all a bit much right after landing, but it's a thrill anyway — my thoughts are battling against each other — half longing for sleep and the comfort of known things, and half wanting to go exploring right away.
Before I can do either, I have to walk from the gate to customs which takes nearly fifteen minutes of weaving in and out of slow-trodding people. Stretching my legs is a welcome change. At passport control I'm sent to booth number twenty-two.
"The purpose of your visit?" The officer squints at me like I could be a spy carrying classified information.
"Pleasure?" It comes out as a question even though I don't mean it to.
He eyes my landing card. "You've listed an address in Berkshire ... Bracker's Common — as your place of temporary residence."
"Yeah, it's my friend's house. Wait — I mean my friend's parent's house." Coffee, coffee, coffee.
"But you're a student?" He asks this incredulously, like I've demonstrated such a lack of competence that he's amazed I'm capable of studying at all.
"Yes — at Hadley Hall," I say automatically like the name means ANYTHING to the random Heathrow guard.
"So why have you listed the London Academy of Drama and Music?" He says, suspiciously.
"Because that's where I'm studying here," I sigh. "For the term."
The passport man calls over one of his government cronies and they confer about something. I start to feel my palms sweat (tasty treats!) wondering if I've filled out the wrong form or if my student visa is somehow illegal and I'm going to be deported. It would be so easy to turn around now — to go back to Hadley and settle into my routine there. Then I remember my dad's advice just to go do something different — and how Mable told me to stop being so comfortable in my prep school world.
"I'm supposed to be here," I say.
Then, after all the questions, I'm suddenly stamped through and on my way to "baggage reclaim" where, yes, say it with me now — I get to reclaim my bags.
Or at least most of them; my dad's advice proved correct, and the bags he marked with an obtrusive Hadley crest slide out first. The ones I insisted were fine without such a noticeable tag are sadly stuck back in the netherworld of lost luggage (a word, by the way, invented by the English Bard himself, Shakespeare — never let it be said that I'm lacking in the area of trivial knowledge). So I stand with the last of the other Virgin Atlantic passengers, waiting at the carousel for my final duffel. At last, the machine coughs out my stuff and I pile it onto my little trolley. Lopsided, the thing is determined to wheel to the left, so I have to lean my (very tired) body into it to get it to follow the green line through customs and out to the international arrivals where I'm supposed to meet Arabella.
I can't wait to see her face; to link arms with her and have her guide me towards caffeine, and a comforting hug. In front of me, various exclamations of early hellos (in London it is nearly seven in the morning — back home it's about 2am — my mind and body are somewhere in between).
"So good to see you!" "Hi, how was your flight?" "Vanessa!" "Mrs. Robinson!" "Taxi?" Of course, none of these greetings are meant for me. With a silly smile plastered on my mouth, I scan the crowd for Arabella's face. Then I spot her chestnut hair, neatly coiffed. I go to tap her on the shoulder but when she turns around, it's a total stranger. Um, oops.
"Can I help you, Miss?" This from a creepy looking man.
"Nope — I'm all set," I say confidently so he'll piss off, which he does.
But I am totally alone. The semi-familiar faces from my fellow passengers disperse, heading home with their friends and family, touristy hotels, leaving me sitting on my trolley, wondering what to do next.
I could change money, get some coins and call Arabella's parents. I could wait for her here and assume she's just running late (no surprise there) or just collapse in a heap, let the fatigue really sink in — or jump on the next plane home and be in my own bed by afternoon. Before that thought grabs hold of me, someone's hand grabs hold of my arm.
"What the —"
"Miss Bukowski, welcome," says a tweedy man dressed as a chauffer circa 1940, cap, gloves, jackets, the works.
"Hi?" I say (note to self: stop speaking in questions — it's annoying and way too teenage girly insecure — I may as well just walk around with my hands tucked into my sleeves a la every teenage girl on tv who tries to look coy).
"Miss Piece arrived earlier and has gone ahead," the man says. "I'm Lundgren Shrum — the driver."
"Oh — right. I kind of remember Arabella mentioning you. Thanks." Lundgren pushes the trolley for me and walks me to the parking garage where I wait for him to pick me up.
I wonder if he's going to drive me in a limo — or a regular car — instead, Lundgren Shrum (will everyone I meet have interesting-bizzaro names?) pulls up in an antique Volvo. It's purple, kind of like the car in Pretty in Pink (minus Ducky).
"Your cases are in the boot," he says.
"Sorry — the trunk," Lundgren explains and opens the door for me. At least I can sit in the front and not feel totally Hiltoned-out by riding in the back. Inside, the car is outfitted with modern amenities — a phone, a GPS (just where does Lundgren drive to that he needs one of those?), and custom fabric seats in burgundy and purple stripes.
We leave the airport environs and Lundgren gestures for me to open the glove compartment.
"I thought you could use a little something," he says when I've unlatched the small door and revealed a silver thermos shaped like a large bullet.
I pause for a second, unsure what to say. "I don't really drink."
He laughs. "It's not liquor — it's espresso."
"Oh — right. Thanks — I am so in need of that right now."
"Sugar's in the small pot just there."
We speed along the M4 (the motorway) as I sip my highly charged drink and then, despite wanting to look around at the billboards, the row houses, the funny shaped street lights, I nod off. Screw the fun of driving — I could so get used to having my own chauffeur.CHAPTER 2
"Here we are," Lundren says, "At Bracker's Common." I wake up from my freakish dream in which I am trying to find Jacob in some huge body of water but Lindsay Parrish (the pariah and piranha) is holding me back, while Arabella sings "Midnight Train to Georgia" and I have an illegible note from Charlie saying he's waiting for me on the Vineyard. Man, even my dreams are exhausting.
I shake off my nap and rub my eyes, then do a double-take. "Whoa." Bracker's UnCommon. Not eloquent, but an honest reaction to what I see in front of me.
Marked by two large, marble dolphins on either side, the driveway curves through flat still-green fields. We drive under a canopy of umbrella pines, the kind I remember from Winnie the Pooh books. To the left, a lake that shimmers with morning sunshine, the steam rising from it. To the right, sculpted topiary, formal gardens. Oh my god, I'm in Dangerous Liasons or one of those English historical movies where everyone skulks around and has nothing to do all day but write love letters and carry parasols. Sign me up. It's all so beautiful and historic — except for the security cameras.
"I'll take you to the front of the house and bring your bags round the back," Lundgren says.
"Thanks — and thanks for getting me at the airport. Sorry I feel asleep."
Outside, the cold air feels good — a refreshing wake up call to the amazing sights and wealth around me. It's so weird to suddenly have another side of Arabella, to know where she grew up, to fit her into the context of this place. I can't imagine what her parents are like — possibly they sit on thrones and wait for their servants to fetch them arcane items like wigs and dusting powder. And — just think — they're supposed to be my local parents while I'm here. An enormous (and by enormous I mean seriously bigger than waist-high) Russian Wolf Hound bolts from the bushes and over to where I am, nearly knocking me over.
"Don't worry — that's just Mouse," says the woman at the massive entryway to the house. "She won't bite." She motions for me to come in and I walk with Mouse following me up four shallow stone steps.
"I'm Love," I say and shake the woman's hand.
"I'm Shalimar de Montesse," she says. "Better known as Monti — or, as you might know me — Arabella's Mum." The handshake turns into a huge hug and Monti welcomes me into the museum-like front room. "Of course you can show yourself around later," she says and flails her hands to a hallway to the left, a flight of ridiculously large stairs to the right. "Up that way's the billiards room and guest suites, Arabella's loft is that way — library's to the back. Let's just go to the kitchen and get you something to eat. You must be starved."
Monti is totally familiar to me — her eyes, in particular are breathtaking and it suddenly dawns on me that she's that Shalimar. Shalimar de Montesse — Monti — the Shalimar. As in that woman whose face is always done in Wharhol-type art (the pink and green cartoon sort of things), the woman who ran (still runs? Jogs?) with the Jerry Hall/Mick Jagger totally cool crowd from way back when. The woman who broke Bowie's heart (prior to his finding solace with Iman), who led Clapton astray, who revived the club scene in post-punk London. Who posed half-clad with a cheetah in those black and white photos. Just as I'm thinking this, Monti turns around from her position under a blue and white chandelier, looking like some glacial goddess in her pencil-cut jeans and bat-wing cream-colored sweater.
"Yes, I'm that Shalimar — formerly — now I go by Monti," she smirks. "Didn't Arabella say?" I'm unsure whether she means the name change or the fact that her mother's a major icon in the fashion-rock world.
"No," I shake my head. "She kept ... pretty quiet about her — your — family."
Monti nods. "Doesn't surprise me in the least — Arabella's never tolerated hangers-on — you know — the ones who just want to be a step closer to the ridiculous world of RAF."
"RAF?" I quickly run through a list of possibilities — and decide that Monti probably doesn't mean the Royal Air Force.
"Rich and Famous, of which we are certainly a part — but choose not to be defined as such ..." she rambles on, her voice echoing in the cavernous hall, talking about how they've tried to raise the kids outside of the pubic eye (haven't we all?) and teach them that having parents with big names might open a door but won't keep it ajar, and so on.
"Forgive me blathering away," she says and for a second sounds slightly non-English. "You must be famished. Do come to the breakfast nook for a bite to eat." Casually she strolls me into "the nook" (nook=giant circular room off the kitchen with a rounded widow seat and an enormous antique table all set with food).
During breakfast (toast served on little sterling silver racks, personal jam and butter containers, smoked salmon and eggs — a girl could take up permanent residence here. Forget Corn Flakes) I expect the typical parental questions; age, academic standing, summer plans, likes, dislikes. Instead I have a barrage of brainy and cool ones:
Do you feel that you're defined by your origin?
Where haven't you traveled that you'd like to?
Do you believe in past lives or the circularity of life forms?
Have you ever really been in love?
Trying not to feel like I'm in Ethics class a la last term at Hadley Hall, I do my best to answer all of these. I figure that if Monti's cool enough to ask them, I should be mature and mod enough to tell her — except the last one I manage to breeze over, which probably means no, of course no. But then Angus Piece, Arabella's dad who shows up in the middle of my rant about wanting to go to India and makes me go back to the in love question. Which is not what I want to be discussing with my friend's parents, especially after fifteen minutes of sleep and upon first meeting. Angus Piece — surely he's not the Angus Piece, the playwright? The one we study at Hadley Hall?
"Come on, Love — dish it out," he says, his accent Scottish and thick so I have to go over practically everything he says twice to make sure he hasn't said something more banal like yum, salmon is good.
"I'm not sure," I say and sip my coffee, taking time to butter my toast.
"Fucking hell," Angus smiles. "Kids these days know shite about love."
Blush from me, smile from Monti. "Don't mind his filthy mouth," she says and stands up near Angus. Then she full-on makes out with him. Talk about breakfast entertainment. Pass the scones.
They look at me like nothing's happened so I just focus on the food. Angus points to me, "Let that be a lesson to you, girlie. When you find love, you'll know it — none of this 'I'm not sure crap'." Angus is tall and very dark-haired with the same eyes as Arabella and he smiles at me, instantly reminding me of how much I miss her. "Anyway, welcome, welcome. Our house, as they say — is yours. Just don't mind your manners."
And so begins my uncommon stay at Bracker's Common. Monti shows me to my gymnasium-sized room — a king-sized bed on the far wall, set between two floor to ceiling windows and covered with a fluffy cream duvet trimmed in deep blue silk. On the other wall is a dressing table set with various potions and lotions, all new ("The stupid fashion people still send me all that junk — as if I'm interested in Burberry or anything so insipid," Monti says — yet she lovingly arranges all the bottles in front of the beveled —edge mirror.) Then, way over to the left side of the room is a claw-foot tub. A huge one, set on a raised tiled platform. A silver tray that goes across the tub holds Kheil's shampoo and Joe Malone bath gels and soaps.
"You just draw the room divider like this," Monti shows me, pulling a faded blue sliding screen from one end of the wall. "And then bathe in peace ... or Piece ..." she laughs and points to herself. "No pun intended."
"Ha," I smile. "This is incredible. Really." It's like I'm in some funky Swedish castle — it's not ostentatious with gaudy golds — it's more farmhouse-chic, with an old fashioned washing basin.
Monti smiles as she looks around the room. "I hope you'll feel at home here, Love. Arabella has told us so much about you — and I know what a good friend she's found in you."
"When will she get here, do you think?" I ask and can't help but look longingly at that bed. It's the sort of bed that cries out to be shared, ahem, but anyway.
Monti frowns for the first time, but still is the essence of glamour. "That is a question I cannot answer. Obviously — we don't impose rules of her — that's just hierarchical bullshit — the concept of time. But — we do hope she exercises her choices and decides to make an appearance."
Excerpted from Love from London by Emily Franklin. Copyright © 2006 Emily Franklin. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted July 29, 2008
I didn't even read the whole thing!!! I skipped to all the parts where Love and Asher make out and when she tells Asher's sister they are together! The rest of the book was so boring that I never want to read another one of her books again! Don't get this book! It's a waste of money!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted March 19, 2007
This book isn't as great as the first two, the principles of love and piece,love, and happiness. those books i loved, highly recommend, and couldn't put down. this one is dull and i don't care very much for the story/characters. it's been a painful read, but i'll get through it so that i can read the next couple, which will hopefully be back in league with the first two, this little blip on the radar all, but forgottenWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 13, 2011
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Posted December 29, 2009
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