Authors: Kim Golden
Tags: #Fiction & Literature
THE MELANIE CHRONICLES
by Kim Golden
Copyright 2012 Kim Golden,
All rights reserved.
Published in eBook format by eBookIt.com
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the author. The only exception is by a reviewer, who may quote short excerpts in a review.
The Start of Something New
Melanie started. The woman sitting beside her grunted and muttered under her breath.
Hovering over her was the strawberry blonde flight attendant who'd griped at her for not being able to fit her backpack into the overhead compartment. Now the woman was flashing a smile so bright it was frightening.
"A passenger in first class wonders if you'd like to join him."
"Him?" Melanie rubbed her eyes and tried to hide the dopey smile spreading over her face. "Which passenger?" But she knew who it was.
"Mr. Ballantine, Ms. Jamison." Still the flight attendant wore the false smile of one always pleased to serve. "The seat beside his is available."
"I can't afford to pay for the upgrade." She could barely afford the Economy ticket she held. It had cost $600. "So you'll have to decline for me."
"Oh no, Ms. Jamison, he's already taken care of that."
They hadn't seen one another since just after Finals Week. That was the agreement: wait until they were in Edinburgh and away from everyone they knew, and see how they felt. During those three months, Melanie had avoided every urge to call him and concentrated on working and spending as much time as possible with her mother and her sister Susannah before for her year abroad.
Though her mother supported Melanie's decision to go to Edinburgh, she thought it was a long way to go to avoid an ex-boyfriend.
"Crossing the ocean isn't going to make John disappear," Diane said the night before Melanie's departure. "When you come back, you'll still have to deal with him in one way or another."
"I need to be away from him. He's everywhere I turn. And he's with someone else," Melanie reminded her mother as they packed the last of her suitcases. "I need to be around people who don't know anything about him or me. Besides, this is a once in a lifetime chance. I get to study in Scotland for a year and experience all of the history and culture."
But there was more to it than that.
Damian was a secret she kept buried deep inside her. He was the one who'd first put the idea of a year abroad in her mind. He'd already enrolled and was so positive about a year in Scotland that he'd made it sound like Nirvana compared to another year at the University of Philadelphia. During one of their study sessions in the Irish Reading Room, he'd handed her the Year Abroad program's glossy brochure. It was packed full of enticing photos of Edinburgh: the Castle against a moody sky, charming Georgian townhouses with jewel-toned front doors and shiny brass doorknobs, a mist gathering at the base of Arthur's Seat and the Crags. The more she saw, the more she knew she had to go. He must've seen the longing in her eyes, the desire to escape to a place where she could be anonymous for a while because he urged her to apply.
"You're an English major, you of all people should be in Edinburgh--think of all the great writers who've been inspired by it. You could be next!"
She didn't want to tell her best friend Maria about Damian yet. The thought of telling Maria tied her stomach in knots so tight and complicated she couldn't sleep. How did you tell one of your closest friends that the person who caught your fall was the same person she'd coveted for nearly two years? Even though Maria was dating someone else now she still mused about the day when Damian would come to his senses and ask her out.
Neither of them had told anyone.
Everything had happened so quickly: John dropped the bomb that he didn't know if he loved her anymore and left for Greece with Chloe a few days later, she'd seen the notice in the school newspaper about people dropping out of the international program, then Damian kissed her that night in the library and things had spiraled from there.
"I need this, Mom," she'd said with such fierce conviction that she even startled herself. "I don't know what I really want. I just know that I can't be here right now."
"Fancy meeting you here," she said as she settled into the comfortable seat beside Damian. "I thought you weren't leaving until tomorrow."
"I didn't want to wait," he admitted with a sheepish smile. "Three months is long enough."
He turned to the stewardess and said, "Thanks for delivering her safely to me."
"Of course, Mr. Ballantine." She smiled brightly, hovering for a moment as if uncertain what to do. "Would you like more champagne?"
"D'you want champagne, Melanie?"
"Maybe later, thanks." She said it so easily, though she'd never had real champagne in her entire life. Was it so different from sparkling wine, she wondered? But just then she was too busy masking her giddiness at seeing Damian again to muse over the supposed benefits of champagne. Then he kissed her, lightly first as though he were testing the waters, then again and with more verve.
Once the stewardess was gone, he shifted in his seat and grinned at Melanie. "I missed you--I even came by that bookstore where you were working looking for you one Saturday."
He nodded. "But you weren't there. I asked one of the girls at the Information desk if you were around, but they said you had the entire weekend off."
"That must have been the weekend I went to Virginia Beach with Karen."
"Ah, so I can blame her for depriving me of your company."
"We had a deal."
"Mmm. Not a very good one. We should've just spent the summer together," Damian said and then stroked her hair. His touch sent a whirlwind of electricity through her.
Maybe he was right. Maybe if they'd spent the summer together the part of her brain still inhabited by John would've been cleansed. And there would have been no need for subterfuge.
"These seats fold out into beds. Did you know that?"
She shook her head no. This was her first time on an overseas flight. She'd been saving money since her senior year of high school to afford a trip to Europe. She'd assumed she'd use the money next summer when she'd planned on treating herself to a summer train-hiking across the Continent. Once she and John had begun dating, she'd always imagined him beside her. Where was he now? Was he still in Greece, or was he in Philadelphia again moving back into his room at the fraternity house?
Don't think about him, she reminded herself. He's the past.
"What happens when we get to Edinburgh?" she asked.
Damian shrugged. "What do you want to happen?" He was holding her hand, massaging her skin with the soft pad of his thumb.
"I don't know. I just want to be alone with you," she said. Admitting this to him lightened her. All summer the feelings she had for him had cohabited uneasily with those she still harbored for John. Thinking of one inevitably led to thoughts of the other.
"Are you still going to stay at that hostel the first few nights?"
She nodded. "I may as well. I don't have access to my student rooms until next week."
"Stay with me then. I've got a room at the Caledonian until my flat is ready."
She grinned. "Are you sure?"
"'Course I am," he said with a perfect Scottish brogue.
The lights dimmed. Melanie turned away and looked out the window. The sky was already inky black. Somewhere below them were land and the Atlantic, and for a moment she wondered just where they were--off the coast of Newfoundland, over Greenland...? She might've gone on wondering, but Damian interrupted her thoughts. He kissed her neck, ran his hand along the curve of her waist and made her body come alive again.
Damian enchanted the front desk clerk but this didn't surprise Melanie. Nearly everyone who met him fell for his easy smiles and the smooth way he had of putting everyone at ease. He knew everyone who worked there, addressing the concierge by name and asking after the man's family. Even the front desk clerk knew him. Before they'd made their way to the desk, the staff present all greeted him with, "Welcome back, Mr. Ballantine" and Melanie wondered briefly how often he'd come there and who with.
She looked around, taking in the immaculate marble floor, the richly hued wood details and thick damask curtains. In a cabinet by the elevator were souvenirs of the hotel's past: a black and white photograph of a debonair Sean Connery in his younger James Bond days, programs from an official visit by the King of Norway, a personal note written by the Prince of Wales. She nearly expected someone from the pages of
to breeze past her, some statuesque titled beauty with a name like Hermione Rhys-Jones that'd barely notice Melanie and would stalk over to Damian and plant lingering kisses on both cheeks. But so far the only other guests checking in were two elderly women, both in mud-colored tweed suits and sturdy looking pumps with thick heels. One of the bellhops was loading their luggage onto a trolley. From the looks of it, they'd planned a long stay. And the bellhop, a young man no older than Melanie and Damian, already looked exhausted by the weight of their bags.
In the elevator, Damian handed her a plastic card with their room number printed on it. She slid it into her jeans pocket.
"How many times have you stayed here?" she asked casually.
He shrugged. "A few. Now that my dad has decided to rediscover his Scottish roots, we're here a few times a year. We always stay here and then travel north to visit our cousins."
"Am I the only girl you've brought here?"
"No. Is that a problem?"
"No, no. I sort of expected it," she said, but a part of her was disappointed. She knew they'd sleep together here and she didn't want to be in the same bed with him that he'd shared with other girls. She was tired of being haunted by the ghosts of ex-girlfriends. That had been a thorn in her relationship with John: traces of his exes were always around them, no matter what.
"It's not the same room, if that's what you're thinking." He reached for her hand. "My parents always arrange suites. I didn't want that. We've got a nice room on the fourth floor."
The elevator slid to a halt. The doors opened slowly, and they exited. Hand in hand, they walked along the carpeted hallway, the floorboards squeaking beneath their feet. There was something eerie about the hall. Perhaps it was the quiet. She almost felt as though the hotel were deserted for there were no sounds from the other rooms. Was anyone watching them through the peepholes? The hush made her feel as though the hotel was holding its breath, waiting to catch them off guard and startle them with a haughty laugh or a whispered jibe.
She gripped his hand a little tighter.
One night when she and Damian had been studying for their final on
A Midsummer Night's Dream
, he launched across the table and kissed her long and hard. White flames shot through her like liquid fire, burning away the icy core that had formed in her. Maybe it was the play's fairies and their shenanigans that had triggered what had blossomed into weeks of kisses stolen in the library stacks, of quickies on the tables of the library's private study rooms. The subterfuge was exciting and nerve-wracking. How could she want him so much when she still loved John? She couldn't look at John without feeling the sour burn of rejection coursing through her. But when Damian was around he made her forget John, at least for a while.
They'd been so furtive.
After the first time they'd had sex, they'd agreed it was best to keep this to themselves.