Laila swung her legs impatiently as she waited in the terminal for Sterling's flight to arrive. She had realized, half way to the airport this morning, that she had left her cell phone charging on her nightstand. She considered getting off the Metro and going back to get it but knew that she would miss her flight. No matter, she thought. The only people who really called her were her parents and Sterling. They had his number as well and could reach her if there was an emergency.
Looking around, she was slightly wary of her surroundings. What little Spanish she knew, was already proving to be quite useless here in Barcelona, and with her light skin and hair she was already standing out. Nevertheless, she was excited to see the city with Sterling. All the Gaudi architecture, the beach (even if it was cold outside), the food. There were endless things to discover in Europe and she never turned down a chance to explore.
She heard a rough voice announce something over the PA system and she looked at the arrivals board, smiling to herself as Sterling's flight landed. The runways at this airport were short and no large commercial flights came in. All of the planes looked like they had been built in someone's back yard and people had actually been allowed to smoke on her flight. Thank goodness she hadn't forgotten her inhaler. Not that she could reach it very easily. The man sitting next to her had easily weighed over 300 pounds and took up as much of her seat as he did of his. His leg had been blocking her way to the seat in front of her and her purse and as much tapping and elbowing as she did, he was fast asleep by the time they took off from Charles de Gaul. Luckily it hadn't been a long flight and the man's snoring had only been sporadic.
Laila stood up from her seat as people started to exit the plane. She craned her neck to find her boyfriend's blonde head in the crowd but was too short to see over the few dozen people already in front of him. But as the crowd dispersed, she started frowning. She waited another couple of minutes and then watched as the flight crew left, finally left standing there all by herself, wondering what the hell she was supposed to do.
She checked her purse to make sure she had written down the right flight number. She and Sterling had discussed this so many times that she was sure she hadn't made a mistake. He had been nervous for her to fly on her own to a country where she didn't speak the language, but she had laughed at him, asking what could possibly go wrong. Well, something had definitely gone wrong and she had just spent two hours waiting in an airport for a boyfriend who never showed up.
Frustrated and a little scared, Laila walked to a payphone and pulled out some coins. She dropped them in and waited until she heard an electronic voice telling her something in Spanish she didn't understand. She put in more coins, just to be sure, and then dialed Sterling's number. It rang once, twice, and then went to voicemail.
"Hey, this is Sterling. Leave a message."
Laila sighed. "Hey, it's me. I'm at the airport and...um, you're not here. Obviously. So I don't know if you caught a later flight or an earlier one but I don't have my cell phone with me. I left it in Paris."
She tried to think of what she was going to do but wasn't quite sure. If Sterling was here, or on his way, she shouldn't try to get back to Paris tonight. She didn't even think there would be any more flights out and a train would take nearly 12 hours to get her there.
"I'm just going to go to the hotel," she finally decided. "Hopefully you're there, or you will be soon. Call me there as soon as you get this, okay? All right. I love you."
She placed the phone on the receiver and heard the change clinking inside the machine. Nothing was returned to her and she reached down and collected her duffel bag. Looking at the signs over her head, she made her way toward the picture of the taxi and stood in line, pushing her bag along as she moved up in the cue.
When it was finally her turn, she threw her bag into the backseat and climbed in behind it. The driver said something to her she didn't understand and she handed him her hotel confirmation and pointed to the address on the top. He rambled something else in a completely foreign tongue and stared at Laila in his rear view mirror. She stared back, knowing she looked like a dear in headlights.
"Um. Lo siento? No hablo Espagnol?"
The driver gave her a confused look and then raised his voice, talking a mile a minute. "Català! Català!" He screamed at her.
"I'm sorry. I don't speak that language either." Laila was worried this guy was going to kick her out of his car but he only threw up his hands in frustration and turned the key in the ignition. The windows were open and the music was turned up as loud as it would go. The taxi driver flew down the street at formula 5 speeds, the wind freezing Laila's face and hands as it poured through the open windows. She fought back tears and stuck her hands under her legs to keep them warm.
She was pretty sure the driver was taking her in circles around the city to run up the meter, but eventually he stopped on a busy street and pointed to the amount on his screen. Laila handed him some bills and dragged herself out of the car. He was pulling away just as she slammed the door behind her.
"What the hell was that?" She asked herself and watched as he sped off. At least he had brought her to the right place. Looking up, she saw that she was standing directly below the marquis of her hotel. At least she could put her stuff away and use a clean bathroom. She threw her duffel over her shoulder and walked up the stairs into the reception area.
An older man with a friendly smile greeted her and she did her best to smile back.
"Hola," she said hesitantly. "Tengo una, um...reservationa," she knew that wasn't a word. "Sterling Pierce?"
"Of course," the man said and Laila smiled, thrilled that he spoke English. "Could I just see your ID please?"
Laila dug through her purse and pulled out her passport. She heard the door open behind her and glanced over her shoulder eagerly, hoping it was her boyfriend walking in behind her. But it wasn't. A couple in their mid-thirties came barging in, speaking in loud English and glaring at each other.
"Did you need to tip him that much?" The lady berated her husband.
"Five Euros. Five Euros," the man said, holding up his hand and wiggling his five fingers.
"It's his job to drive a taxi. You don't tip the bank teller or the bus driver, do you?"
The man rolled his eyes and Laila turned back around. The receptionist was giving her a strange look. "I'm sorry miss, but your name isn't on the reservation."
"Oh, I know. It's under my boyfriend...my fiancé's name." Hell, fiancé sounded better than boyfriend at the moment. It was more serious, more permanent, and might win her some points.
"Is he with you?"
Laila shook her head. "No," she answered quietly. "I don't know where he is."
"Well, I can't let you into his room if your name isn't on the reservation."
Laila looked around and felt herself starting to cry again. "Can I get my own room, then?"
The man gave her an apologetic look. "I'm sorry miss, but we're sold out tonight. We're a small hotel and there is a festival in town…"
"What am I supposed to do then?" She demanded, not wanting to sound rude, just wanting him to understand her desperation.
"There's a payphone just behind you. You can have him call me and approve you as a guest in the room."
Laila nodded but felt completely defeated. She kicked her duffel bag over to the pay phone and pulled out the last of her change, shoving it in and dialing Sterling's number. It went straight to voicemail this time.
"Shoot," she said, wiping tears from her eyes. "Hey, it's me again. They won't let me into the hotel because my name isn't on the reservation. So you'll need to call, or just get here, so they know it's okay if I wait in the room. Where are you? Please call as soon as you can."
Laila hung up and kicked her bag back to the reception desk. The couple were now checking in, the woman asking her husband to make sure there was a window in their bedroom. Laila waited patiently behind them, staring at the ground, wondering what in the world she was going to do and seriously starting to worry about Sterling.
The man at the reception desk looked at her expectantly but she shook her head. "I can't reach him," she said and glanced at a small bench that was tucked into one corner of the lobby.
The woman looked back at her from the elevator and frowned, her husband tugging at her arm as he balanced all of their bags. Laila looked away.
"Do you mind if I just wait here and maybe he'll call?"
"Of course," the man smiled at her. "Would you like some coffee? Tea?"
Laila shook her head. "No. I'm fine."
"Let me know if you change your mind."
Feeling her hands shake, she nodded and slumped over to the bench. It wasn't comfortable. It was hard and felt as if it were about to break under her weight. But she sat down and propped her legs on top of her bag, pulling out her book which she had finished on the flight down. It hadn't been terrible. She could read it again.
Laila had read through the first chapter when she heard screaming coming from the elevator. She looked up, not at all surprised to find the couple from earlier nearly running each other down as they tried to exit the lift.
"You're still here?" The wife asked, looking at Laila with a certain amount of pity and confusion.
The couple stared at Laila with wide eyes as if they expected her to do something. They were an odd pair, she thought. The wife had subtle blonde highlights in her dark brown hair and had stuffed herself into a purple track suit which looked to be about four sizes too small. Her accessories were expensive, from her diamond earrings to her Chanel bag. The rock on her finger could blind someone if caught in the right light and she would have looked quite put together had her clothes not been too small. But her husband was a different story. His black jeans were baggy and his brown loafers had seen much better days. His leather jacket had flannel patches on the elbows and the collar was popped around his double chin. His black hair was receding and there was a tan line on his face and scalp from his sunglasses.
"We couldn't help but overhear your conversation earlier," the woman admitted with a guilty smile. "Have you spoken to your fiancé?"
Laila shook her head and tried not to feel sorry for herself.
"You want to join us for dinner?" The husband asked suddenly and the wife looked as if she was about to burst with joy.
"That's just what I was thinking! Please, you have to join us. You shouldn't just be sitting here all by yourself waiting for some guy to call."
"Thank you but I don't want to leave and then miss..."
"Nonsense!" The husband decreed. "You have to eat. So put your bags behind the front desk and come with us. We insist."
Laila felt her stomach rumble and couldn't deny that she was in fact starving. She certainly hadn't learned any Spanish or Catalan sitting on this bench but somehow got the feeling that an evening with these two wouldn't be as easy as finding a McDonalds and attempting to place an order. Then again, a good meal might make her feel better. This couple would certainly take her mind off things.
"Okay. Thanks," Laila said with a forced smile and glanced at the nice old man behind the front desk. He seemed like better company than this crazy couple but sitting on this uncomfortable bench was starting to take its toll on her backside and her nerves.
"Good!" the woman squealed and stuck her hand out for Laila. "I'm Danielle and this is my husband, Phil. We're from Boise."
It was awkward making this introduction, Laila thought. But, then again, anything with this couple as bound to be awkward. "I'm Laila. I'm from San Francisco."
The couple smiled down at her as she sat perfectly still on the bench. Finally, she willed herself to stand up and she smiled at them as she dragged her bag over to the front desk. The man was kind and promised to look after it for her and to let Sterling know she was okay if he called.
Laila walked behind Danielle and Phil from Boise as they marched off toward the restaurant. Phil was convinced he knew where it was. Danielle was certain he was taking them in the wrong direction. Laila would have settled for anything as long as it was hot and edible. After 20 minutes of walking in circles, Phil finally found the small cafe they had been searching for. He smiled triumphantly at his wife who didn't reward him with anything but a scowl and the silent treatment. Laila smiled politely at him.
Phil spoke to the hostess in broken Spanish, which she seemed to understand, and they were quickly shown a table and given English menus. Laila opened hers and started to read but all she could think about was Sterling. She didn't know why he hadn't called and had started to imagine horrible things. What if he had been hurt? In a car accident perhaps. What if his taxi had been hit by a truck on the way to the airport? What if he had taken the Underground and his train had derailed? What if he had been kidnapped and was being held ransom?
She blinked her eyes at her own ridiculous imagination and tried to focus.
"I want to leave," she heard Danielle say.
"Why? We just got here." Her husband replied and Laila looked up at them. The couple wasn't looking at each other, rather they both had their eyes focused on their menus.
"I don't see anything I like," Danielle answered.
"I don't see anything."
Their faces were straight, both concentrating on the menus in front of them. Laila continued to stare.
"You never see anything you like," Phil told his wife.
"It's not my fault you take me to places where you know I won't like the food."
"It's not my fault you don't like anything."
"You know, sometimes I think you do this just because you know it bothers me."
"That's exactly why I do it."
Their voices had no emotion at all, no influx to speak of. What the hell was going on? It was like Laila was watching some super awkward sitcom instead of actually sitting at a table with these two. Real people didn't act like this, did they?
"I remember when you used to care about me," Danielle said, her eyes not leaving the menu.
"I remember when we used to have sex."
Laila took a sharp breath and hid her face behind her menu. No. McDonalds definitely would have been better than this.
"Laila," she heard Danielle say her name and she shuttered. "Do you know what you're having?"
She had to think quickly so she scanned the appetizers and made her choice. "The tomatoes and mozzarella."
"And?" Danielle was looking at her, waiting for more.
"And a glass of wine?"
Her companion frowned but then looked down at her menu.
"I'm going to start with the cured meats, then have the Paella."
Laila nodded politely.
"I thought you didn't see anything you liked," Phil said, almost under his breath.
Danielle shot him a glare that could kill but then smiled at Laila. "Tell me about your fiancé. How long have you two been together?"
"Me and Sterling?" Laila didn't know if talking about herself would be a good thing or a bad thing with these two. "I guess about three years."
"And where did you meet?"
"High school. Our senior year. I transferred to this school in Massachusetts…"
"Phil and I were high school sweethearts," Danielle interrupted her and reached up to rub the back of her husband's neck. He grinned at her and Laila could see that at least a part of him still cared about her. Danielle smiled back and leaned over to kiss him quickly on the lips.
"Yeah, she joined the cheerleading squad my senior year and I was barely able to play football all season long," Phil reminisced.
"It was love at first sight," Danielle sighed and Laila smiled.
Phil nodded and then turned his attention to Laila. "So when is the wedding?"
"Oh, we haven't set a date yet."
They both gave her curious looks.
"Why not?" Danielle finally asked. "Don't you love him?"
Laila's eyes went wide. She was slightly offended. "Of course I love him. But we are waiting until after we graduate which won't be for another 18 months."
Danielle frowned and opened her mouth to say something but Phil beat her to it. "I think it's a great idea that you are waiting."
"Thank you," Laila said.
"What?" Danielle shrieked. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"When did you two get married?" Laila asked, hoping to prevent another argument.
Danielle seemed to take the bait. She smiled and reached for Phil's hand which was lying on the table. He let her hold it. "We got married my senior year of high school. Phil was a freshman in college."
"It's been 14 years," Phil picked up her hand and kissed it.
"Wow, that's great. Congratulations," Laila said, trying to imagine where she and Sterling would be 14 years from now.
"Well, I had to tie her down before she went off to college and met someone else. My girl was a bit of a flirt," Phil teased his wife.
"It's true," Danielle told Laila as if she had been proud of it. "But he made an honest woman out of me."
Laila didn't quite know what to say so she remained silent. It was Phil who ruined the peace.
"Who knows what she would have done living in the dorms her freshman year." It was evident to Laila that he was only teasing but his wife didn't appear to find any humor in it.
"What does that mean?"
Phil quickly saw the error of his ways but chose to roll his eyes at his wife. Laila wanted to hide under the table because by the look on Danielle's face, it was clear she had snapped. She looked like a deranged poodle and Phil was clearly either immune to it or found some sort of sick pleasure in raising his wife's blood pressure.
"It doesn't mean anything."
"What do you think I would have done? Cheated on you? Like you cheated on me with your lab partner from Chemistry?"
Phil threw up his hands in frustration and Laila frowned in frustration. She had seen couples throw around those empty threats and accusations before, just to get a rise out of each other, but she had assumed people would grow out of that once they reached the age of 25.
Phil, however, surprised her. "That was 12 years ago! Get over it."
Laila wrinkled her nose. Looking at him now, seeing how he was with his wife, she couldn't imagine anyone wanting to sleep with Phil.
"You're just lucky she didn't give you herpes," Danielle spat at him.
And with that, things reached an entirely new level and Laila looked around nervously for their server. Other tables were staring at them, giving them disapproving looks as Danielle's voice grew louder and louder.
"Because herpes would have made you leave me? Is that it?" Phil demanded.
"Herpes is for life!"
"Yeah, well so is marriage!"
"I would take herpes over you any day of the year!" Danielle screamed and stood up from her chair. She glared at her husband as she stormed off. Phil stared her down with the same hateful expression until they both scowled and looked away.
Laila looked out the window, trying to pretend nothing was happening.
"She'll calm down in a minute," Phil informed her and Laila glanced at him quickly with a small smile.
A minute turned into 30 and Laila watched in horror as Phil went to retrieve his wife from the bathroom only to start yelling at her when she refused to open the door. A line had formed outside yet she refused to come out until he had apologized. He refused to apologize until she came out. Laila eventually decided to ask for her food to-go and her waiter, who spoke beautiful English, was more than happy to oblige.
She practically ran back to the hotel, ready to beg and plead for a room. But the man at the front desk was already waiting for her with a key.
The man nodded and smiled. "He wants you to call him as soon as you get to your room."
She breathed a sigh of relief and collected her bag and keycard. "Thank you," she said to him. "And, if that couple asks about me…"
"I haven't seen you since you left for dinner, miss." He promised with a grin.
"Thank you," Laila said again, and rushed up the stairs to her room. She didn't even bother to look around as she threw her things on the floor and dashed for the phone. She dialed Sterling's number and accepted the charges to the room.
"Hello? Laila?" Hearing his voice nearly made her cry again.
"Where are you?" She demanded. "Are you okay?"
"I'm still in London," she could hear the smile in Sterling's voice and knew that he must have been worried about her. "I just got home from the hospital."
"I broke my wrist playing soccer. I called to let you know that I wouldn't be able to make my flight but you never answered."
"I know, I left my phone in Paris. Are you all right?"
"I'm fine," Sterling laughed. "I just feel ridiculous with this stupid cast on. What about you?"
"I'm good now that I know you're not dead or kidnapped."
Sterling laughed again and Laila smiled.
"I'm sorry I ruined our trip," her boyfriend said.
"Don't say that. I don't think I like Barcelona much anyway."
"Yeah. I'll be on the first flight to London tomorrow morning."
"You're the best."
"I love you, Sterling."
"I love you too. I'll see you tomorrow."
Laila said goodbye and then hung up the phone. She quickly undressed and then set the alarm for 4:00 in the morning. There should be a six or seven o'clock flight, she imagined, and she would rather wait at the airport all day then risk running into Danielle and Phil again somewhere in the lobby or on the streets of Barcelona.