When Hannah and her boyfriend, Simon, set out to Amsterdam, they’re confident that they’ll make it to his sister’s wedding in time. However, unbeknownst to them, their train is scheduled to divide in the middle of the night. And when it does, half of it continues the route to Amsterdam. And the other half—the one with Hannah in it—heads three hundred miles away, to Paris.
Left without her belongings or hope of reuniting with Simon, Hannah has no choice but to spend the day in Paris before the next train out. Worse than being stranded in a foreign city alone? Being stuck with Léo, the handsome but infuriating Frenchman who blames Hannah for his own unwanted delay. The series of mishaps that sends them traipsing through the City of Light is only further proof that Hannah’s day has gone from bad to worse. But as she takes in the glorious sights of the city—and spends more time with Léo—Hannah discovers that the unexpected detour might actually be leading her to the life she was always meant to live . . .
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|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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I sprinted up the steps at Venezia Santa Lucia station with minutes to spare before our train left without us, battling to keep up with Si, who was already several meters ahead and currently flinging himself through the glass doors of the station entrance.
"Come on, Hannah!" he yelled, disappearing out of sight.
I groaned under my breath, zigzagging through a group of about a hundred and fifty tourists who had decided that this was the perfect place to start fumbling about with maps.
"Sorry," I said, pushing past them, my breath ragged, my heart pounding in my chest. Missing the train was not an option; it would absolutely not be worth the fallout if we did.
I accelerated up the last few steps with beads of sweat trickling down my back, soaking through my flimsy cotton camisole and pooling at the waistband of my jeans, which I now bitterly regretted wearing given the thirty-degree heat. I'd thought I was being clever: it would be freezing on a train in the middle of the night, surely, and so I'd dressed accordingly, which wasn't ideal now, with the July sun beating down on my head.
I followed Si inside, struggling to keep pace, his blond hair bobbing in and out of view. My suitcase, clearly not designed for high-speed maneuvers, kept either tipping over onto its side or slamming painfully into my ankle. It was as though everything lovely about Venice had disappeared the second I ran through the doors of the station. I couldn't hear water taxis honking to each other anymore or take photos of the reflection of the sun setting over the Grand Canal. Instead there was incessant chattering and too-loud announcements in frenzied Italian and the wails of hot, tired children. It was disappointing that my lasting impression of beautiful Venice might now be tainted by this chaotic, fluorescent-lit concrete block of a station.
"You're slowing down!" shouted Si over his shoulder.
He waited for me to catch up and then grabbed my hand, pulling me after him. I must have looked ridiculous, my cardigan flying out behind me like a superhero's cape while my boyfriend propelled me unceremoniously across the concourse. My feet had never moved so fast as we weaved through the crowds, swerving the scarily long queues for the ticket machines because Si had had the good sense to print ours out before we'd left London.
"Right. Which platform?" he said breathlessly, dropping his bag and stopping so suddenly that I tripped over the back of his shoe and almost went flying past him. Really, part of me felt like calling the whole thing off and admitting defeat. We could spend another night in Venice, have a lazy dinner, a late-night stroll through the romantic backstreets of Cannaregio, the one area we hadn't properly had time to explore. If Si's sister, Catherine, hadn't been getting married in Amsterdam the following afternoon, that was. She'd never forgive us if we turned up late or-worse-not at all.
I wedged my hands on my hips, panting, watching Si's face as he concentrated on scanning the departures board, mumbling under his breath: "Roma Termini, Milano Centrale, Verona Porta Nuova." I was surprised by his excellent pronunciation of Italian place names, a talent I'd had no idea he possessed.
"Amsterdam, Platform 5," he said, flashing me a look and taking my hand. "Come on, Hannah. I think we can make it."
We started to run, racing past a place called Relax and Caffé, the name of which must surely have been ironic. Following Si's lead, I swung through the crowds, swerving to avoid the dangerously stealthy wheels of the mini-suitcases that kept creeping up on us at every turn.
"We're almost there," he yelled, pointing at something up ahead.
Our train, decorated patriotically in the three colors of the Italian flag, hovered on its rails, sleek and still, its doors open, as if to taunt us: you could make it, but will you? Si reached across me, yanked the handle of my suitcase out of my clenched fist and sprinted ahead with both bags held aloft. Gasping for air, and despite now having an excruciating stitch, I leaned forward like a sprinter about to cross the finish line.
A whistle blew.
"Fuck," shouted Si. "Wait!" he yelled to a guard.
We charged toward the nearest carriage. Si threw our bags inside, shoving me up the steps after them. I swung round to check he was behind me, wincing as the doors slammed into him and then bounced open again as he forced his way through before they shut for good. Almost immediately the train began to move, juddering at first, then accelerating smoothly, slipping out of the shadows of the station.
"You okay?" asked Si, wiping sweat off his forehead with the palm of his hand.
"Think so," I said breathlessly, rubbing at my right side.
I pulled off my cardigan, tying it around my waist and then leaning back, too exhausted to care that the nozzle of a fire extinguisher was pressing into my spine. When I held my arms out in front of me I noticed, in the golden light sifting through the windows, how tanned they were after a few days in the Venetian sun. How my usually dark brown hairs looked as though they'd been brushed with blond. We were flanked by the lagoon on both sides now; private water taxis were going full-throttle out on the water, back and forth from the airport, probably. They cost a fortune, those things, and so, needless to say, I'd spent the entire trip observing them enviously from the heaving queue for the water-bus.
Si bent down, unzipped his bag and plunged his arm inside, producing our tickets with a flourish. "At least one of us is organized," he said, chuckling to himself. "Seriously, Hannah. What would you do without me, eh?"
"Pretty sure I'd manage," I mumbled under my breath. I wasn't in the mood for his jokey comments about how useless I was.
He heard me and cocked his head, looking skeptical. "Not if the last hour is anything to go by."
Anyone would think I'd meant to leave my purse on the counter of the cute little gift shop near our hotel. I hadn't realized I'd lost it until I'd gone to pay for the water-bus tickets and then, of course, we'd had to run back for it, darting through the crowds, avoiding the throngs of tourists meandering at a snail's pace along the cobbled passages. The pretty, dark-haired local girl had retrieved it from under the counter, presenting it to me with a beaming smile. By the time we'd legged it back to the bus stop, the queue had quadrupled in size. I'd suggested we pool our last few euros and jump in a private taxi, but Si had point-blank refused, citing outrageous prices. Considering the amount of money he must have spent on the trip already, it had seemed like an odd place to draw the line.
He stood up and ruffled my hair. "We made it, that's the main thing," he said.
I nodded, picking up my suitcase, struggling to elongate the handle and then catching my finger on it in the process. I winced, sucking it to dull the pain. Si, who hadn't noticed, slammed the heel of his hand against a button, opening the doors through to the next carriage. I followed him like a lemming, stepping on someone's toes every other second and subsequently apologizing profusely.
"Here we go," Si said chirpily, stopping outside the first-class couchette he'd booked us as a treat.
I waited while he slid open the door.
"Oh," he said.
I peeped over his shoulder. A family was already inside, a couple and a young boy, their stuff spread out everywhere, a pile of colorful plastic toys in disarray on the floor.
"Excuse me, but this is actually our couchette," said Si, showing the man our tickets and dropping his bag territorially onto the floor. "See? Couchette 4, Coach H. Perhaps yours is farther down?"
The man turned to say something in French to the woman, who was sitting on the top bunk with her legs swinging off the edge. She had one of those sleek, shiny, perfectly symmetrical bobs that stopped just above her chin and I instinctively touched my own curls, which had gone wild and frizzy in the heat. We waited, both of us standing awkwardly to attention. I felt bad about the little boy, who was now hiding shyly behind his dad's legs, but it wasn't like they'd be without a cabin altogether, they were just in the wrong one.
After much shuffling of documents and hissed exchanges too fast for me to understand, the man showed Si a piece of paper. The two of us peered at it: their ticket looked identical to ours, the 19:20 Venice to Amsterdam, Coach H, Cabin 4.
"For God's sake," hissed Si.
There had obviously been a double booking. And they had a kid, so of course they should stay where they were. I had begun to suspect, though, that Si hated to lose at anything. A year together wasn't that long in the scheme of things and there was still lots to discover about each other, especially now we shared a flat.
"We'll find the train manager, then, shall we?" said Si, standing his ground.
"As you wish," said the Frenchman, shrugging dismissively.
I backed down the corridor. "Come on, Si. Let's leave it."
Eventually Si gave up and followed me, making a beeline for the first staff member we saw. He wanted to make an official complaint, he told her. She explained (much to his annoyance) that nothing could be done on board, that we'd have to go to the ticket office once we arrived in Amsterdam. Despite him having another rant at a steward with a drinks trolley along the way, we ended up in a cramped, rock-hard pair of seats a couple of carriages farther up in standard class. Si was fuming but pretending not to be.
"We'll be fine out here," he said, attempting to ram his bag into the overhead luggage rack and then kicking it under our seats when it finally dawned on him that it wasn't going to fit. I moved my knees to let him past. I'd given him the window seat because I'd been on a train journey with him once before and remembered that he'd moaned continually about people knocking into his shoulder "all the time." Also, I knew that once he got settled he'd be out like a light; it would be nicer for him to lean up against the glass. The only thing was, I was now stuck on this thing for the next fifteen hours and couldn't even daydream out the window, or pass the time by taking fuzzy photos of the view. I slid my fingers up and down the strap of the camera that had been almost permanently slung around my neck for the last few days, wondering whether I'd have time to shoot half a roll in Amsterdam before the wedding.
"Sorry about this, Han," said Si, looking sheepish. "What a fuck-up." He took my hand, stroking the skin between my thumb and forefinger. "This was supposed to be a special treat. You only turn thirty once, don't you?"
I swiveled my knees to face him, holding his face in my hands. "It's fine, Si. Honestly. I'm having a lovely time."
"But I had our schedule all mapped out," he went on. "Tripadvisor raved about the first-class couchettes, called them cozy and romantic. I'd have booked us a flight, otherwise."
"It is romantic," I insisted. "And going without a bed for the night just adds to the adventure."
"Adventure wasn't exactly what I had in mind," he said, propping his elbow on the window ledge and pinching the top of his nose with his thumb and finger. I could tell it was killing him that things hadn't gone exactly to plan. Welcome to my world, I thought.
"Try to relax," I said to him, fanning myself with my hand, already too hot.
"There's no air-conditioning on this thing, I see?" said Si, wiping his upper lip on the shoulder of his T-shirt.
"There wouldn't have been in the couchette, either, then, probably," I reasoned, getting out my book and deciding it was best to leave him to stew for a bit.
I was halfway through Gone Girl, which my friend Ellie had lent to me because allegedly I was the only person she knew who hadn't read it. The female protagonist's psychotic tendencies notwithstanding, I thought there was something very appealing about the idea of dropping out of your current life and reinventing yourself as somebody else altogether. I supposed that, in a much smaller way, I'd changed myself, too, when I'd met Si. Had become a more contained, more settled version of myself. The sort of girlfriend I thought he deserved and that I'd always suspected I had the potential to be, when I met the right person. And after what I'd found in Venice, it looked as though it was working. I bit my lip, unable to stop myself from smiling as I tried to get comfortable, resting my head on Si's shoulder.
"I need the loo," he whispered into my ear after a while, stroking my thigh. "Sorry, sweetheart."
I sat up, stifling a yawn. "What time is it?"
Si looked at his watch. "Ten past ten."
A little over twelve hours to go, then. A full workday and then another half. My neck ached and I desperately wanted to stretch out my entire body, to fall asleep on my back with my legs flung out like a starfish. When I stood to let him pass, I felt unsteady on my feet.
"Back in a sec," he said, setting off down the aisle. I watched him go, marveling at the fact that even under these circumstances, he managed to look all groomed and neat in his emerald-green polo shirt and straight-cut indigo jeans. His hair was the same natural honey-blond at thirty-three as it had been at five, apparently, which annoyingly meant he still looked very young. He'd been asked for ID in Marks & Spencer recently, for example, something that hadn't happened to me for over a decade. To make matters worse, the week before we'd come away, I'd been brushing my hair one morning, pinning my choppy fringe to the side, just for a change, and it had been right there: my first gray strand. How could it be, when I was literally only just out of my twenties? I'd immediately started having dark thoughts about my impending death (which seemed closer than ever now) and about how I hadn't achieved half the things I wanted to achieve. I couldn't even blame my genes: Mum was fifty-seven and I'd never seen any gray scattered through her fine, dark blond hair. And I had no idea whether my dad had gone gray or not. His hair was dark like mine and he was olive-skinned, too. He was also short and stocky, like I thought I was, so perhaps I'd blame him for the gray. Why not, since he wasn't around to prove me wrong?
I sat back down, looking or signs of life out of the window, anything that might tell me where we were. As we’d rattled on, I’d lost track of which country we were in, as though the train could be taking me anywhere and I would just let it. Outside, only the occasional light appeared on the horizon, like splashes of yellow paint on a black canvas. I could see the chatty American boys across the aisle reflected in the glass; they were asleep now, slumped on a parent each, their eyes closed, but not completely, so that you could still see a glimmer of white between the lids. I wondered whether that would be Si and me in a few years’ time: the two of us travelling across Europe with a couple of kids in tow. Breaking up fights over sweets and who’d had longer on the Nintendo console.
Si’s phone buzzed. It wasn’t like him to go anywhere without his prized possession, a copper gold iPhone that was pretty much welded to his hand. After feeling around on the floor with my foot, I found it in the gap between our seats. A message preview sat at the top of the screen and I half-glanced at it, assuming it was his sister, who had been messaging him constantly in the run-up to the wedding. I put it on his tray table.