From the Memoirs of Cody Martin…
It all started on the ship.
Looking back on the whole incident now, it really seems implausible….but then, a lot of things my brother and I went through back when we were kids seem implausible, especially when London was involved.
I remember how it began so clearly. It was a perfectly ordinary day. A number of us were in the science lab working on our chemistry assignments. As usual, my lab partner was my shipboard sweetheart Bailey. I think we had just celebrated the two month anniversary of our first date at that point. Those were good times…but I digress.
While Bailey and I were working on our project, my twin brother Zack was making a royal mess of things with his lab partner, my roommate, Woody. Really not the best pair to be working together on a science assignment. I don't know what they did, Bailey and I had been too wrapped up with each other to notice them until things got out of control.
But I remember when we heard their shouting and turned to look. I can still picture the panic on Zack's face very clearly, as he ran back and forth with a beaker full of smoking, bubbling chemicals in his hand. Whatever those two had mixed together, the resulting liquid was obviously unstable, and it didn't take a scientific genius to see that it looked like it was going to explode.
We all started yelling for Zack to get rid of the dangerous liquid, but he wasn't sure how to dispose of it. Neither was I. Finally, I grabbed the beaker from his hand and in desperation I hurled it out an open porthole. Unfortunately, this porthole didn't open out to the sea, it opened to the exterior deck. And as the container sailed through air and out of the room…I'll never forget what I heard.
London's voice calling out, "What the--?"
And then the explosion.
I spent the next six hours camped at London's bedside in the ship's infirmary. My brother and other friends had spent a lot of time there as well, but they had to leave eventually. I couldn't. Guilt wouldn't allow me to. It was my fault that London was there and I wasn't going to leave her side until she woke up. Bailey stayed with me all that time and Mr. Moseby tried to as well, although the duties of his job finally forced him to leave. We promised him that we'd come get him the moment London was awake.
It wasn't as if the doctors had said London was in dire shape. There'd been a complete examination and we'd been assured that she was unhurt. X-rays, blood tests…everything indicated that she was perfectly fine. She just wasn't conscious. The theory was that it was some sort of shock and that she'd wake up soon.
Of course, I was aware that the longer it took for her to wake up, the more likely it was that she was suffering from more than mere shock.
So when London finally opened her eyes, gazed over at me and softly said my name…the relief I felt was indescribable. She seemed a little groggy, but otherwise okay. After talking to her a few moments, Bailey dutifully went off to fetch Mr. Moseby, leaving me alone with London.
"I'm so sorry," I told her, as I explained what had happened. She listened so calmly, not upset in the least. In fact the look on her face was…contemplative. That's not a look I was used to seeing from her.
"Honestly Cody," she said when I finished my apology. "There's no need for your self-recrimination. The events that unfolded were simply due to chance. Perfectly understandable."
I'm sure my jaw dropped when she said that. London stared at my shocked expression with that contemplative look for a bit, and then she blinked and smiled brightly, looking more like her old self.
"Wow," she said. "I sounded all smarterer. Yay me!" Then she clapped her hands excitedly.
A moment later, Bailey returned with Mr. Moseby and our teacher, Miss Tutweiller as well. London was cheerful and eager to get out of the infirmary. I dismissed the odd exchange we'd had as unimportant. Perhaps I'd just imagined the whole thing. I was tired and stressed out, after all.
Everything seemed normal after that…at first. London acted the same as she always had before. But in hindsight, I can pinpoint where the changes started. One day when Miss Tutweiller handed back our graded homework assignments she complimented London for her improved efforts. Similar compliments went on for two weeks, but then were replaced with odd glances from our teacher. Finally Miss Tutweiller asked London to stay and talk to her after class. As it happened, I had accidentally left one of my textbooks in class that day. When I went back to retrieve it I overheard their conversation.
"London," the teacher said. "I've been trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but there's no way I can believe you wrote this assignment."
"And why would that be?" she replied calmly.
"It's far too advanced for you to have written." Tutweiller's tone was more than a little exasperated. "It's far too advanced for me to have written. There are parts of it I can't even understand."
"I'd be happy to explain it to you," she said, and then launched into a discussion of quantum physics that I could barely follow…and I had been doing a lot of reading up on the subject at that time. I think I let out a gasp of surprise as I listened, because London stopped speaking as she and Miss Tutweiller noticed that I was in the room. I apologized for interrupting and explained that I'd returned for my textbook, then I excused myself quickly.
I tired talking to London about what was going on later that evening, but she just smiled and told me not to worry about it.
"I'm perfectly fine," she assured me. "I'm simply exercising my intellectual potential to a far greater extent than I have in the past."
Before I could press the matter further, Bailey joined us. She and I were supposed to have dinner together that evening. London smiled warmly at the two of us and then said, in the friendliest tone imaginable:
"You two are such a lovely couple. It's too bad you won't be able to stay together in the long term."
Before either Bailey or I could get over our shock and respond, London had turned and left.
Bailey confronted London about what she had said later that evening. She told me all about it when she unexpectedly showed up at my door a little after midnight. The look on her face was…troubled, to put it mildly. We couldn't talk in my room as Woody was asleep and we didn't want to disturb him. So I escorted Bailey outside.
"What did she say?" I asked.
"That you and I didn't have a future together," Bailey answered. "She had so many reasons why we wouldn't work. And she was so…sure about it. So logical."
I was angry when I heard this. London had been one of my best friends for years, and she and Bailey had become good friends as well in their time as roommates. Why would she say these things? "How can she be so mean?" I asked.
"That's just it," Bailey answered in an upset tone. "She seemed anything but mean. The way she talked. The way she explained it all. It was like she was trying to be helpful."
Bailey nodded. "She told me that it would be best if you and I recognized that our relationship has a time limit and to enjoy our time together now instead of wondering about the future. She said…."
As Bailey proceeded to explain all that London had told her, I got a sick feeling in my stomach…because I found myself agreeing with London's arguments. What I felt for Bailey was real and wonderful, but we were both still teenagers. At the end of the school year I would be going back to Boston and she would be off to Kettlecorn. Yes, we could keep in touch, but the odds were that both of us would be going to different schools next year, and then on to different colleges. Long distance relationships were difficult enough for people who've established themselves in their careers, but for us…two kids who didn't know what we be doing with our lives yet…it would be impossible.
I didn't like facing that fact, but I knew it was the truth. And looking at Bailey, I knew she had reached the same conclusion.
"So we have a time limit," I said. "I guess there's nothing to do but make the most of it."
Bailey bit her lip nervously. "London had a suggestion about that too."
"She said that anytime I wanted, she'd leave our room so that I…could be alone with you."
My eyes went wide at that. "She didn't mean…" I began before trailing off. We both knew what London was suggesting.
As much I was concerned about London's strange behavior, Bailey and I didn't discuss our friend anymore that night. We were too busy discussing what we wanted to do about London's suggestion.
And what did we decide?
Well, London's arguments did make so much sense.
As it turned out the decision Bailey and I made had both positive and negative side effects.
On the positive side, the two of us were young and in love…and it turned out we were very sexually compatible. Despite being two virgins who didn't know what we were doing, our first time was fantastic. And we only got better with practice.
We ended up practicing a lot.
But on the negative side, we became so preoccupied with our new 'hobby' that we failed to notice how much London was changing. She was still friendly and pleasant, but a lot quieter and more serious than she ever was before. We became used to this, just as we became used to her getting straight A's in all her classes.
Even when her grade point average surpassed both Bailey's and my own, we still didn't question matters. We just accepted the idea that after years of not applying herself, London had finally started to take her education seriously. We also accepted her change in style. No longer did she fuss over her clothing or makeup. Not that she let her appearance get sloppy…she was as lovely as ever. It was just that she took to wearing practical outfits rather than her designer ensembles. And she always pulled her hair back into a simple ponytail rather than spend any time at hair stylist. My brother called this London's 'hot librarian' look.
And none of us questioned it.
To this day, I wonder if I had questioned it…if I hadn't been so focused on my fun with Bailey…
Maybe I could have saved London from some of the pain that followed.
To be continued…
author's note: This is an idea that came to me in the middle of the night...inspired by a literary classic. (Can anyone guess which one?) It should be concluded in the next chapter. Please review.