16 DAYS REMAINING
I plotted murder in the Vancouver airport while waiting at gate D78 for my flight to London.
Based on the expressions of the people around me, I wasn’t the only one thinking of how to do someone in. Our flight was delayed and everyone was irritated and restless. The couple at the end of the row were fighting about which one of them had forgotten to lock the bedroom window before they left. Then there were at least a half-dozen people wanting to take out the toddler wearing the SpongeBob T-shirt, who vacillated between shrieking at a decibel normally used to torture dogs and running around slamming into everyone with his grimy hands.
The old guy across from me snarled, baring his yellowed teeth, every time the kid whirled in his direction. You’d think that would freak the toddler out, but it didn’t seem to make any impact. Maybe the little boy got his ability to ignore unpleasant things from his mom. She stared down at an issue of People magazine, her lips moving as she read, completely ignoring the fact that people in the gate area wanted to club her kid with their roller bags. The only way you knew it was her child was that when he would slam into her, she’d hold out a limp plastic baggie filled with rainbow-colored gummy worms and then drop one into his clutching hand. She was like an apathetic mama bird.
I tilted my head to the side to crack the tension in my neck. I wished I could block things out that well. Instead I found myself continually looking over at Connor. My back teeth clenched, tight enough to crack. Miriam was perched on his lap. I told myself to stop staring, but my attention kept being pulled back. He slid his hand under her shirt and rubbed her back in tight circles. I knew that move. He’d done that to me.
Before he’d dumped me.
Miriam ruffled his hair. He couldn’t stand it when I’d done that. He’d push my hand away or duck out of my reach. Connor had gone deaf after a bout of chicken pox as a kid and had cochlear implants so he could hear. He wore his hair a bit shaggy because he didn’t like to draw attention to the processor behind his ears. I’d found it fascinating. Not just because it’s a pretty cool piece of tech, but also because I wanted to know how he felt going from a silent world to being able to hear. But he didn’t like to talk about it, or for me to touch his hair.
Apparently, he didn’t have the same hang-up with Miriam. I reminded myself that I didn’t care. Connor meant nothing to me now. I swallowed hard.
Toddler SpongeBob slammed into me. His sticky fingers, streaked red and blue from the candy, clutched my jeans. He stared up at me with his watery eyes and then, without looking away, slowly lowered his drooling, slobbery mouth to my knee and bit me.
“Hey!” I shoved him hard without thinking. He teetered for a moment and then fell onto his giant padded diaper butt, letting out a cry. I glanced around guiltily, shame landing on my chest with a thud. His mother didn’t even look over. The old man gave me a thumbs-up gesture. Great—?that’s me, Kim, the kind of person who beats up preschoolers when she’s not stalking her ex-boyfriend. I crouched down to help the kid up, but he pushed me away and returned to running wildly up and down the aisle.
I peered down at my phone, wishing I could call my best friend, Emily. She always knew how to cheer me up. She was spending the entire summer working at a camp on the far side of Vancouver Island. She didn’t have any cell service or WiFi, so there was going to be no quick “everything will be fine” text or call. Granted, if I’d been able to reach her earlier in the summer, I might not even have been in this situation at all. Communicating old school—?by letters—?might be vintage and nostalgic, but it does you no good when you have an emotional disaster that needs immediate BFF interaction.
We’d been friends since elementary school and this was the longest I’d ever gone without talking to her. So far, my summer was proof positive that I shouldn’t be allowed to handle things on my own. I fished the last card she’d sent me out of my bag. Inside she’d scribbled, “I know you can do this! Your trip’s going to be amazing!!” Emily never met an exclamation point that she didn’t like. Despite the positive punctuation, I was pretty sure she was wrong on both counts. I felt far from capable, and although the flight hadn’t even left, I already hated everything about this trip.
I took a deep breath, counting in for three and then letting it whoosh out. I can do this. I wasn’t going to let Emily and my parents down.
A few rows over, Miriam laughed, tossing her head back as if Connor had just told the best joke of all time. She playfully punched him in the chest with her tiny little hand. Everything about her was miniaturized. She told everyone she was five feet tall, but she was four eleven at best. She looked ridiculous when she stood next to Connor. He could have put her into his backpack and carried her around like a Chihuahua.
I had to admit Miriam was pretty, other than being freakishly petite. She had long dark hair that could have starred in a shampoo commercial. Her only flaw was that she wore too much eyeliner. She was addicted to the cat’s-eye look, accentuating the slant of her eyes. She had a flair for drama; she always made huge gestures, sweeping her arms around, flicking her hair over a shoulder, or talking loudly as if she was constantly trying to make sure everyone could hear her. She was in the theater crowd, so maybe she couldn’t help herself.
I never would have guessed Connor would date someone like her: showy. I thought he’d enjoyed that we didn’t always have to be talking, but if we did, it was about important stuff: Philosophy. Science. Politics. We met once at the coffee shop in the morning before work and split up the Globe and Mail, silently passing the newspaper sections back and forth. He was the only other person I knew besides me who liked to read an actual paper. I’d caught our reflection in the window and thought we looked like adults. Like people who lived in New York or Toronto, with important jobs, a fancy high-rise apartment with lots of glass and chrome, and a membership to the local art museum.
Miriam had no volume control, but she wasn’t stupid. I didn’t know her well—?she hung with the drama crowd—?but I wouldn’t have thought Connor was her type. I would have seen her liking a guy with an earring and some kind of social justice agenda. She wasn’t in the hard sciences but still took a bunch of AP courses. She’d written some paper on Shakespeare that won a national award for English geeks. No wonder I wanted to kill her.
I sighed. I didn’t want to kill her, I wanted to be her. Miriam hadn’t stolen Connor. Someone can’t steal what you don’t have. He didn’t dump me because he’d fallen for her. What had happened between us was complicated. More complicated than I