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Excerpt for Time's Zone by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Time’s Zone

Benjamin Meredith

Time’s Zone

Published by Benjamin Meredith at Smashwords

Copyright 2018 Benjamin Meredith



Smashwords Edition, License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your favorite ebook retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

To the cute British girl and all those who made it possible.

Table of Contents

Introduction

The Beginning

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

The End


Introduction

It was obvious we were running late, and this wasn’t a plane I could miss. Why did I book a flight that was leaving at seven forty in the morning? I wouldn’t have time now. I don’t remember talking to her much—or even wanting to. Sadness had taken its icy grip of my emotions, and I believed that everything that needed to be said had been. The actions and passion that needed to be demonstrated was shown through the prior twelve days, and instinctively I knew this wasn’t a real goodbye.

We boarded our last train with the silence of understanding now overshadowing the experiences that’d recently made us laugh together. Royal Albert was a tiny London station filled with the silent thoughts of all those who’d come before. Its electrified tracks were held above the ground by thick, concrete columns. Elbowed beams with glass panes for ceilings stood to our backs as we waited, offering travelers protection from the rain as they waited for their red carriage. The only person accompanying us that early morning was the ticket inspector. Quietly, he’d mutter the names of stops into a microphone on the inside of the train. Stepping onto the platform, I could feel my once upbeat emotions give way to the sinking feeling of desperation.

That ride from the hotel to the airport was quite possibly the quickest I’ve taken in life. I’ve been zero-to-sixty in four seconds—but the memory of her head on my shoulder as we boarded that final train ride is something I’ll yearn for in all the years to come. It was almost as if the world knew what was happening. We’d experienced beautiful, blue skies for the entirety of the two weeks, but finally the grey skies and rainy temperament London knew so well were catching up with us. As we’d walked to the station, the bottom of my suitcase bore a dark-green color from where the tears of the clouds dampened its velvet-like binding. All that was heard as we ascended to the platform was the clickety-clack of my suitcase’s wheels as they met friction from the metal stairs.

So soft and thoughtful was this morning that I remember feeling nothing but everything at the same time. To be with her was ideal, but separation was what’s real. This place was a location both lost and caught up in time: The elegant architecture and the classy trains were enough to realize her majesty’s timeless royalty. But there was something missing—something the city seemed to once pride itself on but had now forgotten. It was a truth known to humanity hidden behind the haughty acts of humans.

To see her face in the fleeting reflection of the train window; and then to watch as those beautiful green eyes caught mine would become the tone of all to come and all that’d been for the past several months. We were tempered through different cultures but formed from the same human principles. Mirror pictures of selves tested through months of video screens and phone calls—that was us.

“Ben, it’s time to get up,” I heard as I woke to a quiet British voice telling me the time. I’d been dreaming about an existence I’d created with her, but rubbed my eyes and stretched as I recognized reality was setting in.

“I can’t believe this is happening today… I’m not ready for this,” I remember sighing.

I’d pulled myself from the warmth of the puffy bedcovers and walked over to the curtains to peak outside the hotel’s window. I couldn’t help but watch how the fog seemed to condense on the window’s warm face, then transform into small droplets of water that ran down its glassy exterior. The glass had seen autumn, winter, spring, summer—and still, it was unchanging.

“Look, it’ll all be fine. Just get dressed and let’s get going. You’ve got to be there a little before seven, yeah?” she questioned, trying to get me moving.

“Yeah, I was hoping a little earlier. But it’s fine if we’re a little late.”

I checked the time on the dimly lit screen of my phone, and slowly walked over to the bathroom to change as I sent my family a short text.

“I’m up and we’re headed to the airport. It’s time for this American to come home.”

The Beginning

If it wasn’t American, it wasn’t right: That’s what I’d seen at least. Only six hundred individuals—most of whom only spoke English (and some might argue a different type of English)—made up my hometown of Loretto, Kentucky. Her world was fifteen thousand times larger. To be counted among those six hundred was almost a privilege—a small-town badge of honor. Driving to the convenience shop wasn’t possible without hearing the name “Ben” called at least once. And everyone knew the car.

The pearl-white Mitsubishi 3000gt stood for the pride and joy I strutted around town with. In the driver’s seat of that car, I was invincible—I was in control of life. I was the epitome of a want-to-be badass, only stopped short by my respectful voice and kind words and nerdy mind. In my cutoff t-shirt and pair of blue jeans I’d strut my stuff; maybe even occasionally wear a baseball cap. My messy brown hair would flop around as the six-foot-tall person it covered threw hay bales onto an old Chevy truck in the heat of summer. And that was as deep as life was as far as I could tell. I could be brought down by neither the elements nor the situation—until she happened. She spoke as if she knew everything and I carried myself as if I was everything—and she didn’t, and I wasn’t.

The friendliness and well-to-do people I’d known my entire life was something I’d later realize I’d taken for granted. With thirteen million people, her world wasn’t as defined in character. Her people didn’t greet strangers, nor did they extend common courtesy. Variations in language and culture didn’t make up my country world as they so-well specified hers. Was underage drinking, “mudding”, shooting guns, and driving tractors and trucks not something everyone else did? The way to kick back and relax was to grab a six-pack of Bud Light and stargaze on a warm country night, right? Rejuvenation wasn’t supposed to come through an expensive rendezvous at a cocktail bar twenty stories above an even-more luxurious city.

I was in love with the way things seemed to work—or at least disillusioned by the idea that I was. The simplicity and dullness found living in the middle of nowhere seemed to be characterized by exactly the opposite. Anything and everything was possible. I could walk out my door and fire off a shotgun without fearing the cops might show up. And if that wasn’t enough, I could relax by hopping on the sporty four-wheeler I’d rebuilt and ride it for miles-and-miles down curvy county roads. Following the same laws as people who lived in the city didn’t seem necessary. In my eyes, I was a rebel in hers.

Life was simple and kind where I was raised, and I incorrectly guessed that I was stuck in a time and place unaffected by the world around it: God’s country, they called it. The beautiful green hills and unleveled yellow-and-brown fields remained a constant as the sun rose and fell each passing day. In the winter, corn stalks stuck out of the white wonderland, and in the summer the same stalks prevented you from seeing around the single-lane curve. Loretto was and is a world of its own, and Kentucky was nothing more than a place stood still and solid through any rain wind or snow. My world was slow paced and five hours behind. Here, those that could did and those who wanted took. Politeness and humbleness were merely corrections for an education neither begun nor nurtured.

I remember that time and that place—I even lived with it now. I’d just gotten back and was trying to adapt back to Kentucky. I’d been in college for two weeks now. It was an early August morning, and I still wasn’t used to class at eight and then another at four. Wow, it was hot to be morning. Waking up to eighty-degree weather wasn’t my idea of fun. I’d parked in the stadium lot and made my way to the bus that’d drive around campus. “Cardinal Shuttle” it was called.

It wasn’t easy getting used to a routine I’d lived four years over at this point. I’d wanted to go to school in California or Michigan—not two miles down the road. Cheap college was an easy sell though. It’d thrown off my plans and so had my trip. I even skipped classes early on.

I’d put in earbuds and found my seat, patiently waiting for other students to get on. We’d just made it to the stop for the library when I saw her. Her bright-red hair is what I remember catching my attention. She smiled nicely at the bus driver before taking a seat across from me. It didn’t help. I felt odd and began to feel like that time was with me all along. All I could remember was the past, and I missed my stop before realizing what I’d done. In my mind in the blink of an eye—everything.

Several months earlier, I’d come home just as any other. I had lots of homework—no real intention of being able to finish it all—and the need to complete paperwork for college was still boiling on the back burner. As the day dragged on, I went into the late hours following my routine. I had a red notebook in my lap to scribble math problems in as I lay on my grandma’s fold-out bed in the basement. The calculus book that sat on the nightstand was unopened, unlike the web browser on my laptop. Instead of surfing the web for fun, I headed to the browser and typed two simple words that would forever become a giant joke between us: Pen Pal.

The number of results was amazing. There were websites everywhere advertising “millions of users”, or “over one hundred countries represented.” Millions of people touched with the same curiosity I’d been struck with? Instead of perusing through random sites one-by-one, I clicked on the first result: Pen Pal World.

“Nice title,” I thought. “Can’t go wrong with that.”

I started scrolling through the site and realized that this was nothing more than a sort-of social media page. It was possible to search through people of a specific country, age, and/or gender. At the bottom of the green-and-blue backgrounded page was a notice that read, “Please do not use this website with the intention of meeting or taking money from anyone.” Oh, the irony!

“You’re doing what?” my brother Nicholas asked me after finding out I’d started talking to pen pals.

“I mean why not, you know? It could be cool,” I’d answered.

“Is this your way of getting girls? Because I’m sure for a couple bucks you could get one here a lot cheaper.”

“I’ve talked to guys and girls, smart ass.”

“Hey, I’m just saying. I’m sure there’re easier ways now that you’re eighteen,” he’d countered sarcastically.

“Well, if I ever find anyone interesting enough, I’ll let you know.”

But they were all interesting. The people I read about had the same interests as the people around me. Art, music, school subjects, movies—all of it the same. People liked what people like. There weren’t stand out lines in “About Me” sections that stereotypically screamed, “I’m from Russia!” or, “Greetings from Japan!” In each of these small descriptions was a desire to learn and to share; to be understood and to understand; and above all the desire to do well in life and find meaning through goals and dreams.

I didn’t have much luck attracting attention the first few days. (After all, who talks to someone who doesn’t have a picture of themselves on their page? That’s a reason for suspicion, is it not?) I hadn’t fully talked myself into pen palling, so I wasn’t all that disappointed when I only had one or two people try to reach me. A young man from China and a teenage girl from Norway made up the luck I had. What I did decide to do however, was reach out to others. Some people responded—and the conversations went well—but there was still an oddity to each conversation.

It was enjoyable learning about different cultures (be it a Norwegian girl or some Chinese boy), but the connection wasn’t there. As a visual learner, I needed pictures and places and names—tangible things that could prove there was a world other than my own. I wasn’t gaining much talking to a girl from Russia who was just like any other teenager; responding with a short text and displaying no desire to carry on a meaningful conversation.

“Hey, you gave it your best shot. Just try harder tomorrow with the girls at school,” Nicholas teased me one morning. (The joke being that Saint Xavier—my school—is a male-only school.)

A week after I’d joined, I was just about to drop the website and was failing to log on but every few days. However, one day after an unusually long day at school, I decided to search for pen pals from the United Kingdom. Why not face the reality that the most similar friends an ocean away would be from Great Britain? I began scrolling through the list and soon came to the picture of the most attractive red-headed girl. Absolutely stunning she was. The color of her hair was that of an autumn’s day whose colors all combined to one; and could perfectly be compared with the red-and-orange flowers put out by any quaint pub. Her smile reminded me of home, and in her eyes I sensed love in disguise.

Then I read her description of herself. I was awed even further. This girl was into math and science, as well as learning new things. She studied French and Russian it said; and I was captured by her eagerness to talk to others. She said that she’d had pen pals before and was open to gaining more. But I sensed there was something deeper reading the line, “I’d even be cool with talking to people from the U.K.”

It was almost as if she was looking for something she wasn’t to find in the life that surrounded her. She was any nerdy guy’s dream—gorgeous AND intelligent. Based on her short description, it was apparent she had it all going for her. Surely, she had to have some significant other who’d be upset with an American telling his girlfriend that she had the most interesting life.

But that didn’t discourage me. After all, I was just looking for something more—not really a significant other or soul mate to connect with. So, with a touch of faith, I sent her a long-winded email about what it was like to be from the sticks of America.

“Hi! Sorry to interrupt without any type of introduction…” And I waited.

Chapter One

One thing the website allowed users to do was see when last the other person had been available. So curiously enough (in a non-stalking way, I might add), I was looking to see when she’d last been on the site, and if she’d gotten my email. I was a little disheartened finding that she’d been available but hadn’t responded. But then again, who wants to talk to an arrogant American bent on believing that they’re from the best country in the world?

Although letdown, I figured that instead of letting another pen pal slip from my grasp, I’d try again. Maybe it was possible I’d incorrectly entered the email address or that she had problems on her own end. This time I sent her a message directly on the website. It was funny though, because this was the first pen pal who I tried contacting more than once. Sensing there was something special hidden behind the captivating face and the descriptive biography, I tried once more.

“Hi! Sorry to message you without any kind of introduction, but I’ve gotta say that’s awesome—a pretty girl with a passion for science and math (nerds across the world must be hyperventilating at their computers after reading that one) … Well, I hope this was interesting to read!”

I checked back the morning after, and to my surprise she’d responded. It wasn’t anything special; just that she’d gotten my message and was excited to get a new pen pal (especially from the southern bit of America, she added). Still, I was excited she wanted to talk to me. After she suggested we chat with Facebook instead of the website, conversation took flight.

“So, I’m kind-of a rookie at this whole pen pal deal, and I was hoping you’d walk me through it,” I remember starting.

“What’s new about it? Talking is talking,” she laughed, “unless you Americans do something different.”

“Well, I guess not,” I’d said through unsure and clenched teeth. I wasn’t comfortable with witty banter yet and figured I’d get to know her first.

It was so uplifting talking to this girl. She wrote out her thoughts in a way that made me feel she cared about what was being said; and her innocence was felt in the most basic form of communication. Whether it was a voice memo of her doing her Southern “Mary Lou” accent for me—or telling me that Americans incorrectly pronounce the word “Aluminum”—she had all my attention.

My phone was constantly on me, whether I was traveling to Nashville for the end of spring break or sitting around friends doing homework. It became so bad that my friends knew there was something different about me. I wasn’t fully present to the world surrounding me or the one surrounding them. There was a small part of me missing to them.

“… and to find velocity you have to integrate…,” my buddy George was trying to explain.

I’d glanced up to see the slick cow lick in his messy black hair, and noticed he’d worn his standard puke-green shirt and tie that day. He’d noticed my inattentiveness and had grown tired. We’d been in the school library for an hour.

“Ben, are you listening?”

“Of course, Georgy,” I’d replied as I slapped him on the shoulder. “You do math and you get an answer.”

After letting out an intentional sigh, he took the iPad from my hands and sent her a message: “Ben is a very busy man and doesn’t have time for shenanigans.”

“She’ll love that,” I laughed. But my attention was elsewhere anyways.

She’d grown up the epitome of a child prodigy. From a humble childhood, she grew to be the person I’d come to know on some random website. Her secondary schooling was on par with the school I’d grown up around; and the neighborhood she was raised in saw alcoholism, drug addiction, and teenage pregnancies. She’d seen it all and for that, the wisdom she had wasn’t the result of past failures and mistakes as from which mine had come. Able to take a list of eighty vocab words and have them memorized to use the next day, I’d teased her about being a French and Russian savant.

She came from a family of seven and she (like I) was the oldest in her family. Being stubborn was in both our characters—and her desire to be right and her will to win was something I admired and could relate to. I was envious of the success she’d built for herself, but at the same time found comfort knowing that this was the type of thing I would and could be doing had I been in her shoes.

The first time I had the courage to send her a voice note (a voicemail of sorts), I realized how much fun I was having. I was taking a picture from a “trustworthy” internet source and trying to put a voice to it. Slowly, we were taking the dreamy idea of one another and forming a tangible figure which we could almost reach out and grasp. I had a sense about divinity as we all do, but all I could show for it was a picture of her family or a video of her talking. God was it hard to wholly grasp something that instinctive. The first sound she had of me was of me doing my British accent, and I butchered it completely.

“So, as you can see—you and I share one similarity in the way that we talk. I wanted it to be a surprise…but my parents are British too!” I one day told her.

I sent it to her not knowing what to think. I was nervous and excited all at the same time, and knowing that she could immediately listen to it only further scared me. I was sitting on the front porch, and the only support system I had now was the black-lab mutt licking my face. Her attempted American accent allowed me assurance, and I could tell from the cute laugh that I’d been missing out on something special for quite some time.

“Well, I’m American in case you were wondering,” –Pausing now to either capture my attention or find the confidence to state her next line— “Mary Lou, I just can’t seem to find a pen,” she replied in her best southern-belle voice.

“That wasn’t all too bad,” I’d assured her. “I think you have it down.”

Her voice was fast paced and smooth—almost as if she only had five seconds to tell me something. And she was determined to use those seconds to the best of her ability. There was something different about this tone though. It had no blunt choppiness or, “I’m better than you” arrogance. The accent was stereotypical in no way, and it was as if someone had taken the candidness in her “would-be” voice and replaced it with innocence. Through no glib but gleefulness this girl had traded in the image I stereotypically formed of her (a Queen Mary figure destined to rule with authority) for that of the sweetest princess bearing empathy yet confidence.

After hearing one another’s voices and seeing one another’s faces, unwritten rules began to form. The British royalty admired her would-be prince; and the cocky American teen called her his little woman. It was in this idea not communicated that both of us depended. The relationship that began to form was that of best friends jealous of one another’s partners.

After all, four thousand miles is by no means a walk in the neighborhood (or even in the park surrounding the neighborhood). For some reason, we were destined to be burdened with this secular hindrance—but by some means we’d broken through the modern paradigm of what love could be. There in the many hours of texts and phone calls, we made the silent declaration that the opportunity of our lives was upon us.

“You know, I really would love to get to meet you one day,” she’d randomly hinted early on.

“Yeah—I can’t say I feel any other way,” I’d sadly laughed through a smile on Skype.

“I think we could actually be best friends, you know?”

“Aren’t we already?” I grinned.

“I guess it depends on your definition of a friend,” she’d thought aloud.

It’s odd to imagine any situation one isn’t familiar with; and falling in love with an image or sound on the internet isn’t something most of society is willing to accept—even I had my doubts. It’s easy to be attracted to or even fantasize about an image, but to embrace that image and its importance in one’s life is a bit odd to most. The teenage boy a few months earlier would’ve scoffed at the idea. Somehow, it managed to happen.

“You’re still talking to her?” Nicholas asked me one morning as he noted the phone in my hand.

“Well yeah, I mean…she’s just cool, okay?” I offered as my best explanation.

“So, why are you texting her so early?” he further questioned.

“Umm… maybe because London is five hours ahead of us?” I reasoned.

“Oh yeah.”

Waking up for school at six became rolling out of bed at nine for summer. April transitioned into May, and I graduated high school with the memory that the only person I cared about sharing that moment with wasn’t there. Something more was needed. We were human beings and questioning fate. (And how else was I meant to get Nicholas off my case?)

I was determined to act on the dream and accepted that I was responsible for its completion; but I couldn’t have carried it out without her. I was losing track of the future and forgetting the past. Being with her solely through a web connection was enough to come to this conclusion. And with that rational, I reasoned that the physical interaction must’ve been something greater. With the British voice on my mind and the desire to reach out and touch her growing stronger with each passing day, I made the life-changing choice that I was going to see her.

Chapter Two

It’d been almost four years since I’d been on a plane; and at that I’d never traveled alone. The most I’d ever driven was to Nashville from Louisville—and that trip included other friends and only lasted three hours. To make this journey, I’d be going alone. As to how many eighteen-year-old’s can attest to that type of trip I don’t know, but I’m sure the statistic isn’t that large.

As with any dream, I began to work. I started to figure out what was needed to take the small-town boy and fly him halfway across the world to England. The first thing I needed would be the passport. I’d never seen myself as needing one anytime soon, but I’d been wrong all along.

More importantly however, I’d need to pay for such an adventure. And the trip wasn’t cheap by teenage standards. Any college student is shy spending a couple hundred dollars—much less thousands. Staying two weeks in a London hostel would cost around a thousand dollars. The transatlantic flight would cost just as much. Then there was the money spent on souvenirs, food and travel.

“Benjamin, do you have any plans for paying for such a trip?” my dad questioned one afternoon while watching TV. He’d overheard the conversation my mom and I were having, and now looked over to the kitchen to where we were standing.

“Well, I’ll get two jobs if I have to—but I’m really set on going. I don’t know how, but I’ll find a way to make it work,” I softly said while sipping my water.

The ice inside the glass had melted, and the air around it began to form cold droplets that ran down the side. I felt my father’s sternness elevate, and the tension in the room could’ve been cut with a knife.

“Do you realize how expensive it is? You know how much money you’ll be spending? And on top of that, you don’t even know if her family is real. How do you know you won’t show up and no one will be there waiting?” my dad interrogated, his only concern on green Benjamins. “I don’t mean to get you down, but I don’t think you should go.”

“Well, I know she will. I mean, we’ve been talking for three months now—so I think I’d know if I was about to be stood up. And I’m going to make it work. Simple as that.”

And just as promised, I did make it work. Not only did I pick up more hours at my current job, but I also picked up a full-time job working at a summer child care program. I was putting in ninety hours a week (adding the time spent driving to and from work). As I stared into the cup of caffeine needed to get me through the day each morning, I was reminded as to why I was doing it. Something about that shimmering, fleeting face told me to keep moving. In total, I managed to make two times the money I’d need for the trip. With each passing day that summer, the dream that’d been built the months prior was becoming more-and-more a realistic dimension, and less-and-less a mere fantasy.

The months began to heat up likewise the conversations. It became obvious that what was difficult now was neither the lack of sleep nor the long work weeks: It was keeping the relationship going. After three months, the thousands of texts and hours of video calls were cut short from talking all-day to talking on-and-off for three-to-four hours.

“It really is nothing,” she’d say. “I’ll just have to make you stay up late for me when you come here, isn’t it?” she’d grin over Skype.

“I’ll owe you way more than that,” I debated, thinking of any special gift I could get her.

“I don’t know Ben, you’ve known me for three months, and you’re already coming all this way to see me.”

“Yeah, but anyone with a little passion can do that.”

To make the relationship work required a lot of effort, the majority of which came from her sacrifice. Those two months became a demonstration of love; this idea that its innate quality was effortless while to have it required much effort. This thought became critical as we began to argue about the worth of what we were doing.

“I don’t stay up every night just so you can tell me that I should be sleeping,” she’d argue after I’d had a long day at work(s). “If I stay up this late to talk to you, I’d obviously like to talk to you rather than you tell me it’s late and you understand if I want to go to bed.”

“Look, I’m just trying to be nice. I don’t care what you do. Go to bed; stay up and talk to me; do whatever you want,” I’d retort.

“Well maybe you should care, because I’m the one staying up this late just to talk to you.”

We’d both sacrificed sleep and had spent a lot time waiting for each other to be free. I even remember going to my CPR training (for the daycare job) halfway asleep. I’d woken at one that morning after going to bed at twelve the night before, so I could chat with her before she headed off to work.

“What if some kid needs CPR and you’ve just completely messed up? Like instead of three chest pumps you give them four and they die?” she morbidly kidded.

“Well… I mean, I guess that’s on you.”

“Hey, don’t blame me for your own inaction mate. You’re the one up right now.”

“And I wouldn’t want it any other way,” I grinned sleepily.

As a server, I was more focused on texting letters into a phone screen than on mindlessly tapping orders onto a computer. Two weeks before the trip, and I noticed I was completely dissociating myself from real life. Instead, I was busy partaking in that of another’s. I was just beginning to live my life—both with and for her—but was growing concerned over another detail.

“So yeah, how long did it take you to get your passport?” I remember asking her a week-and-a-half before leaving.

“Well, mine was delivered about a week or so after the interview I had to go to.”

“Hmm…,” I thought. “Well, I don’t have mine in the mail, and it’s been like a month. I wonder where it’s at.”

“Ben—I swear to God—if you can’t come simply because you don’t have a passport, I’ll come to you and put you in a suitcase and take you back with me.”

“Would you really?” I jokingly asked. “You can’t even drive and have never flown before, so that would be quite a sight.”

I’d gone about the process the right way and had given myself enough time to get the thin booklet and be on my way a week later. However, as summer came to an end I was still passport-less. I was running out of time it seemed. At first, I wasn’t all that concerned—considering I’d procrastinated and understood it was only meant to arrive two weeks before the trip anyways.

Seven days before the trip, and slowly I let the anxiety eat away at me. I’d call the Passport Agency again and again to check on the status of my application and found that my passport was “being processed”, and that, “the Agency took note of my dates of travel and was aware I was supposed to be leaving in less than a week.”

“Hi, I’m calling about the status of my passport application,” I must’ve mentioned at least fifty times on the phone.

“Yes, what’s the name?” the operator would respond back. “Can I have your date of birth please?”

This conversation took place for two days before I received my answer. All the waiting and banging of my head on the kitchen counter—all over pieces of paper. Suddenly, all the hopes were crushed with one email from the National Passport Agency (five days before the trip). I remember my heart racing; the adrenaline now pumping and the tears that began to flow as I read the line "However, the identification you presented is insufficient for passport purposes."

I don’t remember why I’d woken up early, but for some reason I had and the email in my inbox wasn’t the start my day was looking for. I felt as if I’d drank thirty cups of coffee—but didn’t have an ounce of caffeine in my body. Needles and pins pierced my numb skin as I tried to reason in bed that dark morning. How the hell was this possible? I’d submitted the application in the correct time frame, ordered overnight shipping, and had already paid for a room and a flight. I immediately confided in her because I knew she was awake (the one time that her being five hours ahead was beneficial) and remember the line "I will say a prayer this one time".

“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” I said through teary eyes, now glazed over by the realization that this could be the end. “I got the email and I just don’t know how I’m supposed to fix this.”

“Okay—we’ve figured out everything so far. So, we can do this. Is there anything else the email said? Like it’s not a definite you can’t come, is it?” she attempted. She was just as upset as I, and the heart that sank in my chest was now sinking in hers as well.

“Well, it says that I could get these other things, but I don’t know if there’s enough time.”

“Then you can find a way to get them, right?”

“I don’t know…Possibly,” I all but tried.

Upset, I woke up my mom and told her about the email I’d just received. She reassuringly told me how I was to overnight the Agency the information they needed. Twenty minutes later, I was in the car driving to McDonald’s to figure out what to do. Living in the middle of nowhere, I hadn’t grown up with high-speed internet.

Arriving at the building, I found that a state ID card would be “sufficient identification” and was obtainable by simply purchasing at the circuit clerk (as I later found out was a fancy way of saying “place you get your driver’s license”). The Passport Agency failed to accept my learner’s driving permit, and there was no way to get a full license in just a few days.

I could get the ID made that day, and the challenge then became to get the Passport people the piece of plastic I’d just created. I drove over a hundred miles from place to place to make sure the ID would be there (in New Hampshire) overnight. I almost ran through the metal detector at the circuit clerk, prompting the security guard to make me try again. A large glass window was all that stood between me and a nice lady who asked about my upcoming trip. I remember telling her about my problem as I posed for the picture.

Once home (after two hours on the phone listening to call waiting; combined with the hopes and prayers from London), I heard what I needed to hear. The representative told me she’d personally see to it that my passport got to me by Friday (two days before leaving)—an almost impossible task.

Just as promised, the passport came in the mail fifty-two hours before my flight, with the red word “URGENT” embroidering the United States Postal Service envelope it was placed in. I was returning home from my grandmother’s house across the hill, and ironically had met the delivery truck as the driver placed the envelope in the mailbox.

I remember tearing open the seal of the white envelope and taking the blue book from its package to admire it. With the fear of not being able to meet her still on my mind, I took a deep breath; reminding myself that I’d be going. Through clouds of uncertainty and connections of faith alike, I’d be there. Passport in hand, now it was time to take control of my emotional state. I’d flown up my gravel driveway to run inside and happily shout, “I guess it’s time to pack!”

How do you begin describing the fear that accompanies flying halfway across the world to meet someone who’s nothing more than a voice from memory and an image on a screen? We were both stuck in a dream; an inescapable haze that both fogged our reality and teased our thirst for more to see. We couldn’t see the foundation on which we were standing, but nonetheless knew something was there. Then it became time.

“What if she turns out to be some old man who just wants you because you’re pretty?” my youngest brother Luke kidded as he buckled his seatbelt in our Town and Country minivan. To bid me goodbye at the airport was my family, who’d come along to see me one last time in case something happened. (As my family had so lovingly put it.)

“In that case, he’s footing the bill for this trip and everything else—because the pretty face in the videos promised me more than that,” I laughed back.

“If you don’t come back, can I have your room and hockey sticks?” Nicholas then asked.

“If I don’t come back, feel free to have whatever you like. And always remember you two: You both have a lot of work to do before you’re better than me at hockey.”

“Yeah, okay,” he’d grinned. I knew I was going to miss my two younger jokesters.

I’d made sure to pre-check everything and took extra caution to lock the backpack containing my passport and all the cash I’d exchange once there. In the car, my family made small talk and tried preparing me for going through different airports. We’d been visiting with my grandmother earlier that day, and when it came time to leave I felt small pockets of air bubbling in my stomach. I wasn’t lightheaded, but I remember feeling nervous and excited all at the same time. We’d left the house at three o' clock on the dot and arrived at Louisville airport two hours early. Once there, my dad parked the car as the rest of us went to check my bags.

He’d dropped us off at a set of automated doors that immediately led to the baggage check in, and the area was empty as I searched for other flyers. All that stood between me and this exploration was a line of podiums that had cutouts for weighing suitcases. The man behind the baggage check-in helped as I scanned my passport on an electronic reader. Once finished, my mom aided with last minute advice.

“Okay, you’re going to go through security, then go to Terminal A. Once you get to your gate, you’ll wait for them to board the flight.”

She now pointed to a screen that hung from the ceiling and listed all of the departing flights— “You’ll find your flights on the boards in each airport, and they’ll tell you the gate number to board your flight. There should be directions to get to the gates in every airport. Simple enough?”

“Yeah, I hope so. If I can’t do that then I’m pretty sure I’ll have a difficult time getting to London from Ireland and Atlanta.”

I had a three-hour layover in Atlanta, and then a four-hour layover in Ireland. It was nerve-wracking, and I figured that once I was on the first plane I’d begin to worry about the reality of it all. The first flight would give me enough time to plan for the rest of the journey.

“Let us know when you touchdown. Oh,”—she began as if she’d forgotten something— “you don’t have to recheck your bags, so once you’re there you’re free to find the next gate and wait.”

I hugged my family goodbye and headed towards security. A large Pegasus representing the city of Louisville and its famed Kentucky Derby now flew above me, and I couldn’t help but glance above the winged horse to the domed windows it flew below. The sun was shining, and a few clouds aimlessly wondered the skies. I also noted the interstate that sat outside the airport fences, whose cars moved speedily en route to their destination. Had it been any normal day, I too would’ve traveled the same road to reach many of my usual destinations. But today wasn’t a day I could use a car to get where I was going. It was time for me to take my spot in the sky.

Unfortunately, I failed to consider the size of the airport and had an hour and a half to wait at my gate. I’d been the only person in the check-in line, and security had only taken five minutes. Waiting in line to step into the body scanner as TSA agents in their dark-blue uniforms directed passengers through, I believe all the doubts began to set in. Will she/he think I'm funny? Are we compatible? Will she/he like me? Is this going to be okay?

And through it all she was there, telling me the worry was unnecessary. As I exited security and walked down a moving walkway to find my gate, I noticed a young couple sitting near the boarding gate. A boy in a baseball cap and jeans spoke to a younger-looking girl who wore a cute t-shirt and shorts. The two seemed my age, and I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on their conversation.

“Are you ready to go home?” the girl asked with a Southern-belle accent.

“Yeah,” the boy responded.

To where they were going I didn’t know, but it was obvious they were making the journey together. And that’s all that mattered in the end. She sat with her legs neatly folded beneath her as she lay her head on the boy’s shoulder. It didn’t look like anything out of a romantic movie; it was true and kind and caring.

Now looking out the windows to watch as the planes fused into the clouds, I couldn’t help but feel she wasn’t that far away. As the Louisville flight attendant began to board the flight, I eagerly stepped into my next adventure. I waved a gracious hand to the face of comfort and openly greeted the unknown as I boarded the first flight to The Peach State.

Finding my seat in the tight jet, I was overjoyed to find I had a window seat. The fuselage of the plane was illuminated with small-white LED’s; and the leather-blue seat trapped my body as I awkwardly shifted over the passenger in the aisle seat. The orange seatbelt light flashed on above, and the plane slowly pulled away from the gate. We began to roll towards the runway, and excitedly I propped open the small window blind. The plastic mask was designed to shield the passengers from the sun—but that was a minor complication in an already exciting scenario.

The plane made a final turn onto the runway and stopped to warm up its engines. I could hear the whirl of the turbines growl louder, and noticed we were gaining speed. I felt the nose of the plane tilt upwards and realized we were no longer on the ground. Higher and higher we soared, until the destinations I’d driven to became small dots. The sun was shining, and the sky was vacant; below us was this layer of clouds. Halfway through the flight, I forgot about the view and began to plan for the next few hours.

It began to get tricky once I arrived. Knowing how to go about checking-in bags and grab different boarding passes in a certain time frame? To me, that might as well have been another language. I remember dropping the phone and running from help desk to help desk until finally I reached my gate. Atlanta in the United States to Dublin in Ireland. It was that easy, right? Just hop on a plane and fly across the Atlantic to a culture different than my own. I’d been eating dinner when I heard the call for my plane to board. Taking a deep breath, I showed my passport to the boarding inspector who scanned my boarding pass. Anxiously and excitedly, I stepped onto the Boeing 767 as the final call to Europe was made.

Even though the staff did their best to comfort the hundreds of passengers with regular meals and drinks, the plane was still a bit uncomfortable. It seemed to be tilted upwards, as if I had to sit inclined at ten degrees. There were documentaries and music and TV shows and news on the small screen in front of me, but as we ascended six miles over the coastline, I decided that I’d beat jet lag and fall asleep. After all, it was dark outside. That way, I’d have the entire day to spend doing things in London.

It was gorgeous though: I couldn’t help but look out and notice the millions of lights that dotted the Atlantic seaboard. For so much darkness, there were so many lights; all of them trying to block out the darkness. I was surprised to read that it was minus twenty degrees Fahrenheit outside; and was even more awed that in only a few hours we’d flown a thousand-or-so miles away from Louisville. Now the plane soared over the Canadian coastline, and soon a plummet from the sky would result in drowning.

I was drifting in and out of sleep, and the final thing I remember before waking up in Ireland was the fashionable flight attendant asking, “Sir, what would you like to drink?”

A lighthearted voice over the intercom had woken me, and slowly I realized that the pilot was greeting his passengers. At the same time, I’d heard the light chime of the seat belt sign as the light flickered on above.

“Alright folks, soon we’ll be landing. We’ve got about twenty minutes before we land, at which point we do ask you to refasten your seatbelts and stow away your belongings. It’s about twenty degrees outside here in Dublin, and the current time is 9:43 A.M. We do also ask that you please turn off and stow away your electronic devices, and we hope that you’ve enjoyed flying with us.”

It was exciting to step off the plane in the modern airport. Looking out the windows, I could see the inwards and outwards slopes of the building—just a small tease of the European architecture I was about to see. Walking from one part of the airport to the next, signs overhead were painted in green Gaelic text, and the line to explain why you wanted to enter the EU was beginning to back up. A serious-looking man, whose glasses stood perched on his large nose, asked me why I was coming to Europe; and I held my tongue as I tried not to tell him I was crazy.

I was in Dublin's airport with a backpack on my person and trainers on my feet; all the while wearing a T-shirt and athletic shorts. I was epitomizing American style for all the Europeans who noticed me and stood out as an artless character in an already awkward world. From Ireland, it was a short hop across the islands and what would become a home far away from my house. The fifty-minute flight had me gasping for air the entire time.

Being so similar, the nerves were starting to rear their ugly faces; and the British princess was having to cope with the fact that within an hour she’d see this mystery man. The excitement was coming way too quickly, and how was it not meant to?

I could tell we were in London as the vast fields became houses stacked on top of one another. I also saw the famous red buses that seemed to move about the maze of manors in a slow manner. The tiny red figures caught my eye as the grinning sun bounced off their sides; and now left me looking out at the hundreds of thousands of buildings. For some reason, I couldn’t find the famous suspension bridge or the clock—but knew they were close. I landed in London City Airport feeling so surreal, and immediately noticed how chilly it seemed (as I’d just come from the smoldering heat and humidity of the South). It was as if I was in a weird dream misconstrued from a would-be love story that some Hollywood mogul might dream of capitalizing on.

No one in London seemed to drive and (as could be expected from any big city) the public transport system was amazing. Shortly before the trip, we’d tried to find a spot to link up; but panicked, we decided to play it by ear. Grabbing my heavy suitcase from the baggage claim, it was obvious from the towering buildings and the fast-paced life of the people around me that I was no longer in Kentucky. Knowing their intended direction, people hurriedly grabbed their bags from this odd waiting room that doubled as the airport’s baggage claim. The luggage was thrown about randomly, and passengers rudely shuffled past one another to claim their own.

To make it easier on her, we’d finally chosen to link up at the airport’s train station. I wasn’t ready for the complexity and systematics; and looking up pictures of what I could expect did me no good. Exiting the airport’s automatic glass doors, I walked through an empty metal doorway whose jungle-green headboard read “Welcome to Docklands Light Railway”.

I noticed the coffee shop I’d offered to her as the place to meet to my right and took a concrete set of steps to reach the small platform. Egyptian-blue beams held up the glass that made up the cylindrical station, and I couldn’t catch sight of my British wonder. Dismayed, I began to worry; thinking that this might be the story that so tragically plagues some. While I was looking at the steel tracks, she’d sent me a text telling me not to worry. Apparently, she’d been at the airport for over an hour now. As I later assumed, she’d been looking at herself in the mirror, finalizing her look. Sitting there waiting, I sent her a simple text.

“So, I’ve made it to the platform. Where to now?”

Just as I’d glanced up from my phone, I saw a figure running towards me.

Chapter Three

I don’t remember how she ended up in my arms, because in that moment I was star struck in what was. I felt her soft arms wrap around me as I said with the shakiest voice, “So, is this the part of the movie where she realizes he’s a fifty-year-old man and slowly walks away?”

Her short-lived laugh quickly faded to silence as we remained in the same hold. There we stood for what seemed minutes, finally satisfied to know it was the dream we thought it would be. As I slowly came back, I realized how gorgeous she was. The photos and videos she’d sent me didn’t come close to the beauty of the person held in my arms. She had the prettiest emerald eyes, and I remember the small yellow ring that seemed to encircle both pupils. But what caught my glance was the mirror I found in the deepest part of her pupils.

In her eyes was also the slightest disguise—a bunch of unknowing lies that’d ultimately lead to our timely demise. As we stood there, I felt something beneath my fingertips. Its smooth feel told me she’d worked for this day. The hue of red I saw in her hair reminded me of the most peaceful autumn’s day; as the leaves begin to fall and beauty’s what you saw. Fiery red hair for a fitting attitude.

Not only was it beautiful, but also was it everywhere. Her hair fell all the way to her waist, and the pretty curls she’d put in it implied she had no desire for this day to be a waste. The floral skirt she’d chosen to wear danced with her every move; only held still by the black tights underneath. The pink jumper she wore told me I wasn’t the only one feeling a bit chilled, and the black purse at her side complimented the black boots that covered most of her shins. Everything about the girl in front of me spoke of elegance and was a reminder of her humble but exceptional class. It could’ve been quite a memory to have kissed her, but neither of our personalities were that daring.

She was soft and sweet, and I felt like she was now my responsibility. A few moments passed, and we began to pull away from one another. I wanted her in bed in that moment. Not the type of bed for one-night stands, but the kind you wake up at eighty or ninety together in. She was the first to speak.

“Ben, it’s actually illegal for us to be up here, so we’ve got to go back downstairs,” she started laughing.

“Illegal? What’re you talking about?” I questioned curiously.

“You don’t have your Oyster, and you’ve not tapped in, so you could just get on the train and ride it without paying.”

“Illegal? That sounds like a bargain to me,” I grinned.

Noticing the elevator at our backs, I motioned to it with my head as we waited for the dark room to reach our floor.

“Elevators make me so nervous,” she confessed—only after I’d jumped on it.

Making our way towards the terminal doors from where I’d just come, she took a small, blue plastic card from her purse as she explained.

“Take this. This is your Oyster card and will be how we travel by train or bus, yeah? You’ve first got to ‘tap-in’ where you begin your journey,”—now taking my hand and tapping the card to a rectangular stand (which I later learned was the card reader)— “and tap out as we arrive at our destination.”

As she did so, I noticed that the circle on top of the yellow reader changed from orange to green, indicating that the card had been accepted. We now moved back—taking the stairs this time—to the platform, and eagerly awaited our first train.

I remember the kind-of weird tone the first few minutes seemed to take on. We were both silent sitting there, trying to take in the person each of us had fallen in love with. In those first few hours, I think we were both trying to wrap our minds around the recent idea that this was happening. Closed off was in our natures but openness in our hearts; and for this I think we’ll never be apart.

Black screens electrified with orange letters hung from the roof of the opened platform and were the instructions passengers needed to know how long it’d be before their train arrived. I could hear the whine and whirl of the train as it approached and was surprised when a small, boxy car stopped in front of us. The side of the candy-red train was painted in light and dark blue stripes.

It was the silence. Not the silence that takes the form of awkwardness from meeting a new person, but the silence one experiences when pondering some deep thought. We were both thinking about the current situation and the person we were trying not to touch. Holding our tongues, we both tried not to say anything uncomfortable.

As the train took off, it almost knocked me down as I stood standing. I laughed at myself, hoping that embarrassing moments weren’t something that would become a habit on this trip. We took a seat in one of the coupled seats that faced many others and sat my suitcase to the side. Baby-blue poles that passengers could hold on to extended from the floor of the train to the ceiling; and looking out the windows I realized how large London was.

The buildings that seemed to reach the skies were everywhere, and the city was growing larger each minute as characterized by the cranes that stuck out from every few buildings. Windows made up every inch of many constructed buildings, and the steel seemed to bend London towards a more modern future. As we rode along the screeching tracks, I noticed a weird sense of spectrum. In one still was the archaic but awing outline of gothic architecture; and in the next, modern glass. Old and new alike, my first impressions of London included a place confused by time.

Pointing to a series of buildings that had bank names on them, she told me, “That’s Canary Wharf. That’s the district where all the business people go. And that white dome with poles sticking out of it is the O2 Arena.”

Taking note of the financial borough, I couldn’t help but wonder how the entire space was used only for trading stocks.

“That’s too funny. That little ‘district’ is basically the size of Louisville,” I told her.


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