Imogen ran through Heathrow airport towards her gate just as the announcement overhead told her that it was the last boarding call for Air Canada flight 857 to Toronto. She made it to her gate just in time and the attendant giving her a patronizing look as she scurried up. She dug her ticket and passport out of her backpack and paused, catching her breath while the attendant checked her documents. When the attendant opened the door to the jetbridge, Imogen walked quickly towards the plane.
As she looked for her seat, she noticed that the plane was pretty full. Her seat mate would probably be disappointed when she sat down since they would no longer have an empty seat next to them.
As she approached her seat, she did a double take. No. It couldn't be. It was probably just another pretty girl with curly brown hair. There were hundreds of thousands of them in the world, Imogen had learned.
It wouldn't be the first time that Imogen had thought she'd seen her ex in a strange place. Whether it was across a restaurant in Toronto, turning a corner in Munich, on a ferry in Greece, in a crowded market in Istanbul, or in line for the London Eye, Imogen seemed to see Fiona wherever she went. That girl looked like everyone else in the world, Imogen told herself every time, refusing to entertain the idea that she reason she saw Fiona everywhere was that Fiona was always in the back of her mind.
The girl sitting in the seat adjacent to her own was staring out onto the tarmac, and as Imogen approached she became more and more convinced that it was Fiona. When she reached up to put her backpack in the overhead bin, the girl glanced over at her briefly, obviously not recognizing her, before turning her attention back out the window. It was definitely Fiona.
Holy shit, she was going to be sitting next to Fiona Coyne for the entire flight home. If she wasn't nearly broke, Imogen might have turned around and gotten off the plane.
She weighed her options.
Imogen was suddenly grateful she had dyed the top layers of her hair blonde and cut it short before her trip. Maybe if she didn't draw any attention to herself, Fiona wouldn't notice… Who was she kidding? She was going to spend eight hours on a plane next to her ex-girlfriend. Fiona was going to notice sooner or later. And the later she noticed, the more awkward it was going to be for Imogen to explain why she didn't say anything when she sat down. Then again, the longer she waited, the less time she would have to spend feeling awkward… but the more time she would have to spend feeling terrified that Fiona would figure it out.
Imogen had just opened her mouth to say hi to Fiona when the flight attendant came up behind her. "Miss Moreno?"
Imogen spun around, inwardly cursing the attendant. "Yes?"
"You forgot to take back your passport." The attendant gave her another condescending look as she handed the document out to Imogen. "You were lucky I noticed or you would have had a lot of trouble ahead of you at customs."
"Thanks," Imogen mumbled, embarrassed, as she took her passport back. She took a deep breath as she turned slowly back towards the seats, where Fiona was now staring at her with wide eyes. Imogen gave an awkward little wave as she sat down. "Hey, Fiona."
"Wow. Imogen, I… I didn't even recognize you." Fiona stammered, still looking shocked to see Imogen. "The hair is… actually amazing. You look great."
Imogen looked down at herself. She knew her short blonde hair was a huge change, but she also know her roots were now long enough to look sloppy. The clothes she had on might have been the nicest of the 5 outfits she had brought with her, but they were still well-worn. And she was exhausted, having averaged about 5 hours a night for the last half year. She knew she had looked better, but she smiled politely at Fiona's lie anyway, and let out an automatic "Thanks. You too."
It was only after she spoke that Imogen actually took the time to examine Fiona. The few years that had passed since they had last seen each other had been good to her. She was still as beautiful as ever – maybe more beautiful, even. Today, she was wearing her hair curly. Imogen wasn't sure whether that was the usual, anymore. Around the time they had broken up, Fiona had been wearing it straight about half the time and curly the other half. Personally, Imogen had always preferred the curls, but Fiona looked gorgeous either way. The most pronounced change was probably the stud that adorned her nose – small enough to be professional, but present enough to give her a hint of edge that really worked for Fiona.
"I like the nose ring," Imogen commented, approvingly. "It suits you."
Fiona reached up to touch the small gem. "Thanks."
There was an awkward pause when neither of them said anything. Imogen wasn't sure what to say, but she figured one of them ought to say something.
"So why were –" started Fiona.
"This doesn't –" Imogen spoke at the same time.
Fiona bit her lip and nodded at Imogen, signaling that she should go first.
"This doesn't have to be awkward," Imogen said, feeling a little bit like a jerk as she said it. "We dated for almost four years and lived together for two. We can do a few hours on a plane together, right? I mean, we'll probably sleep half of it, anyway. And there are movies. And I charged my iPod before I left the hostel… Sorry, I'm rambling. I'm just a little thrown off to see you here."
"Don't worry. It's not like I never ramble when I'm nervous," Fiona said sarcastically, trying to joke away the tension. "Not that I'm saying I make you nervous, cause why would I make you nervous? I shouldn't make you nervous. Just that I'm saying that when I'm nervous, I ramble. And now I'm rambling, so you probably can tell that I'm a little nervous."
Imogen laughed, feeling oddly more relaxed to know that they were both uncomfortable.
"But you're right," Fiona continued. "This doesn't have to be awkward. We'll have a conversation. You know, catch up a bit. And then we won't feel so weird about just going about our business for the rest of the flight. You've got your iPod and I've got some stuff to do."
"So…" Imogen started, unsure about where to start. She decided to start easy. "Why were you in England?"
"Would you believe if I told you I'm there for grad school?" Fiona said, smiling like she could hardly believe it, either. "I got into a two year Masters program in business in London. Crazy, right? Fiona Coyne, graduate student."
"Wow. That's great, Fiona!" Imogen said, genuinely happy for her ex. Fiona had had a hard time figuring out what she wanted to do with her life, so she was glad things were going well for her. "I'm not surprised, though. You were always smarter than you gave yourself credit for."
Fiona blushed. "Yeah, well, I've still got 6 months left, but I finally found something I love. And I'm doing pretty well. I doubt Fiona Coyne will be the next big name in business, but…" She laughed self-deprecatingly.
"It wouldn't surprise me," Imogen said honestly. "How are you liking London?"
"It's fantastic. I'm loving it," Fiona replied with genuine happiness. "Although, I haven't seen as much of England as I would have liked because apparently to do well in school, you actually have to study."
"That is what they say," teased Imogen. "I hope you're not studying too hard, though. Gotta have some fun."
"Don't worry, I manage," Fiona smiled. "Apparently all scholastic endeavours in the UK occur in the pub."
Imogen figured she must have looked shocked because Fiona was quick to elaborate. "Water or soda only for me! Don't worry! I haven't had a drink in two and a half years. I just meant that my social life isn't hurting."
Imogen felt her stomach sink. It had been two and a half years since they had broken up, and the entire time they had been together, Fiona had stayed sober. That meant that Fiona started drinking again after they split up. She wanted to ask, but it wasn't her place anymore.
Too late, Fiona seemed to realize what she had said, and Imogen could see her mentally kicking herself. "Great, and now I've said more than I probably should have… Look, it's not your fault, Imogen. It wasn't you."
"Really, Fiona?" Imogen asked, upset. "Because it sounds like you just told me that we broke up and you started drinking again."
"No," Fiona stated calmly. "I said that I hadn't had a drink in two and a half years. After we broke up, I was really screwed up. One night I was alone and missed you and the apartment was so empty. I bought some champagne and I sat down in our bedroom and I drank three glasses. Then I freaked out. I threw up, tossed the rest of the bottle, and called my therapist. It was the last time I had any alcohol. It was a close call, but I handled it. And I've forgiven myself for it. I hope you can, too?"
She could feel Fiona's eyes on her as they taxied down the runway. "Of course, Fiona. I'm just… Even though we're not… I still care about you and I don't want –"
"I know," Fiona interrupted. "I wasn't exactly planning on telling you. But I'm fine. I promise. Totally sober."
Imogen nodded, but still felt awful. She looked away.
She had been worried about Fiona when she moved out. She had made all their mutual friends promise they wouldn't let her start drinking again. It hurt to find out that she had, but she was proud that Fiona was strong enough to stop herself.
Imogen looked over at Fiona, who was now staring straight ahead at the back of the seat in front of her and was gripping the armrests so hard her knuckles were white.
"I'd forgotten you were afraid of flying," Imogen commented as they gained speed.
"I'll be fine once we're level in the air," Fiona said, closing her eyes sucking in a deep breath. "Well, until we land. Or unless there's turbulence."
Imogen thought about how she used to handle this when they were together – flying to New York to see Fiona's family or to Saskatchewan to see Imogen's mom's family. She had always held Fiona's hand and tried her hardest to distract the other girl whatever way she could – singing, bad jokes, silly faces, kisses. That last one had resulted in a few raised eyebrows from their fellow passengers and one or two dirty looks from flight attendants, but had been effective.
She looked down at Fiona's hand, grasped around the armrest between them. Her instinct was to reach out and cover it with her own, but she stopped herself before she could do something so stupid. She crossed her arms and decided to distract Fiona the best way she could now.
"Fiones, look at me," she said. When Fiona's eyes opened and met hers, she held her gaze. "It'll be okay. Just concentrate on me and I'm going to talk to you, okay?"
Fiona swallowed and nodded, focusing intently on Imogen.
Imogen searched for something appropriate to say, but nothing seemed right, so she just started talking about her trip. "I'm just going back to Toronto after 7 months of backpacking through Europe – you remember I always wanted to go after graduation? So I did. I was supposed to go with Mel – you remember Mel? Anyway, her boyfriend proposed and she bailed on me, so I ended up going by myself, which was kind of scary, but I got to do whatever I wanted, so it was actually probably a good thing.
"And I met up with people at hostels and stuff, so I wasn't alone the whole time. There was this group of three Aussies that I kept running into, so we just started traveling together until they wanted to do Poland and I felt like Greece was calling. Let's see… I started in Germany, then the Czech Republic, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, Turkey, Italy, France, then up to Ireland and London.
"Remember how Nonna was always telling us we should go to Italy because my family there would take care of us and fatten us up? Well she was not lying! Basically the entire village offered to feed and house me. I met so many cousins and aunts and uncles that I couldn't even give you a number. And I also got to see where Nonna grew up and where my grandparents lived before they moved here. So that was pretty special.
"Anyway, I saw so many amazing things everywhere I went and I met so many great people, but I'm kind of looking forward to going home. Although I'm not really sure what the plan is now. I got my degree in design and did those co-op placements, so I guess try to use my connections and find a job? Maybe I'll do some consulting. Maybe I'll stay in TO or maybe I'll move somewhere else. I've been without a plan for months and months, so it's going to be weird to get into a routine again. Plus, I kind of just want to go back travelling. I definitely have the bug now. Maybe I can find a job that will pay me to do it."
Throughout her story, Imogen could see Fiona concentrating hard on her. Imogen wasn't sure how much of what she was saying was getting through, but Fiona didn't look as panicked as she did before, so it must have been working a little. "I think we're leveled out, more or less. You okay?"
Fiona nodded again and swallowed, breaking eye contact with Imogen to look around and ensure they were, in fact, leveled out before she relaxed into her seat. "Thanks, Imogen. You were always good at calming me down. It's dumb, but you don't know how many times I've wished you were with me on airplanes. I… usually just close my eyes and think of all the things I wish I could tell people before I die. Which can be a good exercise under other circumstances, but not so much when you're actually afraid you're going to die."
Imogen allowed herself to laugh. "You never were a good flier. Nice to see some things haven't changed."
"Hey!" Fiona protested.
Imogen gave her an incredibly incredulous look, which was completely justified given what had just transpired.
"Okay, fine. I'm a bad flier, but I have other good qualities!" Fiona insisted.
"I never said you didn't, Miss Touchy," Imogen said as she rolled her eyes.
"Sorry. The adrenaline and stress hormones aren't quite gone yet," Fiona apologized sincerely. "So… it sounds like you had an amazing time in Europe. I'm so jealous. I think I'm going to try to travel when I'm done my masters, but it sort of depends how things pan out."
"I hope you get to. It was pretty life-changing for me."
"So how is your nonna, anyway? Tell her I say hi when you see her? I miss her crazy stories of the old country and her Sunday night dinners."
"I do, too. She passed away two years ago."
"Oh, Im, I didn't know. I'm so sorry. I know how close you were to her."
"Thanks, Fi. It's okay. She was old, she had a good life, and she wasn't sick. I only hope I'm as lucky."
Her nonna's death had been particularly tough on Imogen. She had been raised mainly by her eccentric Italian grandmother while her parents worked. She was even named after her – Imogen Alessandra Moreno. They had shared a connection that went beyond the name, though, and even when Imogen moved in with Fiona, her nonna insisted the two of them come for full Italian Sunday dinner every week.
She had lost her grandmother only months after moving out of their apartment, and Imogen hadn't known quite how to deal with losing so many people she loved in such a short time. When her nonna died, Imogen had almost called Fiona to tell her, but she managed to talk herself out of it every time. It wasn't something she regretted now, but Fiona had been such an important part of her life that it just seemed like the type of thing she should know already. I was bizarre to Imogen that she didn't.
"How's your family?" Imogen asked because it seemed like a logical transition.
"Good," Fiona replied. "Dad's stationed in Madrid, which is kind of nice because we're a lot closer together and it's easier to see him. I've seen mom quite a bit, too, even though she's still mainly based in New York. For now. She's been talking about retiring to be with dad."
"And Declan?" Imogen asked about Fiona's twin. She had never quite known where she stood with Declan while she and Fiona were dating, but she suspected she was in his bad books now.
"Declan's actually back in Toronto."
The surprise Imogen felt must have been evident on her face because Fiona laughed and said, "I know. Who would have thought? It's actually mostly why I'm going there over break instead of Madrid."
"Wow... What brought him back to the T dot?" Imogen wondered.
"A job, officially." Fiona stressed the last word, making it obvious that wasn't the entire story. "But honestly, I don't think it hurt that Holly J was moving back."
"I thought they were broken up?" Imogen asked confused. "Did they get back together?"
"Not exactly… I hear it from both sides, so it's sometimes hard to keep it all straight. As far as I know, they're still just friends… with benefits, but neither of them is seeing anyone else and they spend all their free time together. So they're basically together, just… not. I'd play matchmaker, but we both know how good my track record is for that…"
"Sounds complicated," commented Imogen, ignoring Fiona's matchmaker comment even though it was ridiculously true.
"Isn't it always?" asked Fiona with a small bitter smile that made Imogen avert her eyes.
Fiona had been her first serious relationship. Well, actually, Fiona had been her only serious relationship. She had dated here and there since their break up. Not a lot. Mostly one-offs. But a few people had warranted multiple dates. One guy even managed to make it 3 months before she left for Europe. Although, if she was honest, he probably wouldn't have if she had been staying in Toronto.
There was an awkward silence and Imogen wondered if Fiona was contemplating her own romantic history. She wanted to ask if Fiona was seeing anyone, but at the same time, she really really didn't want to know if she was. She suppressed the surge of jealousy she felt at the thought. It wasn't any of her business anymore, anyway.
Imogen and Fiona dated through senior year, but decided not to discuss their university prospects until they had each made a decision on their own. Imogen insisted that their academic futures not be affected by one another. So when they both independently decided to stay in Toronto for school, they were excited. Fiona went to Ryerson for a business management degree and Imogen went to OCAD for design. They each decided to live in residence so that they could immerse themselves in the experience. And when it came time to decide what to do about living for their second year, they decided to live together. It only made sense since it would save them money and they spent most of their time together, anyway.
"Do you still talk to anyone from Degrassi?" Imogen asked, changing the subject.
"Yeah," Fiona answered. "Holly J, obviously. Anya. Eli. Adam. Occasionally Marisol. Marisol actually visited me a few months ago. I mean… I don't talk to them all the time, but when I do, it's like nothing's changed. You know?"
Imogen nodded, even though she didn't really know. Aside from Maya, she had only really kept in touch with people from Degrassi because of Fiona. It wasn't that she didn't like them, it was just that she didn't really feel the need to make the effort to keep them in her life after her breakup with Fiona. They felt like they were more Fiona's friends than hers, anyway. Sure, she sometimes would get a FaceRange message from Eli or Adam, but that was pretty much it. She had met her people in university and she'd never really looked back. Especially post-Fiona.
Imogen did notice that there was one name notably missing from Fiona's list and Imogen wondered whether it was because she didn't talk to him anymore or if she was afraid to bring him up in front of Imogen, considering how Imogen felt about him. Michael Colby Dallas had always been a somewhat contentious topic for them – one of the few things they fought about.
No matter how hard Imogen tried to like him for Fiona, she just couldn't. The guy was an ass and why he and Fiona were friends, Imogen could never understand. He never exactly warmed to her, either, and while they would occasionally see eye to eye where Fiona was concerned, they rarely agreed on anything else.
"Earth to Imogen?" Fiona was looking at her expectantly. Crap. She obviously missed a question.
"Sorry, I just spaced for a second. I'm a little tired. We were out late last night. What were you saying?"
"Nothing important," Fiona smiled, looking a little sad. "Do you want to rest? I'll just get my articles and, uh, stop bugging you."
"You're not bugging me," Imogen insisted, although she was slightly irritated. It was typical Fiona to twist the situation like that so that it was her fault.
"Sorry," Fiona apologized again, looking away. "That's not what I meant. I just… I'd like to get my course readings over with before we get to Toronto."
Imogen could tell that Fiona was sincere in her apology, but was lying about the readings. She still knew her well enough to tell that Fiona was trying to make her comfortable. Truthfully, she was grateful. She was a little overwhelmed. It had taken her a long time to get over the hurt that ending her relationship with Fiona had caused. And now it was all flooding back to her.
"Okay," Imogen said simply, reaching for her iPod, putting in her headphones, and scrolling through her songs until she found something that suited her mood.
She watched, while trying not to seem like she was watching, as Fiona dug through her oversized purse until she found a folder full of papers. There was a time when Imogen had loved this girl with her whole heart, and as she watched Fiona flip through her pages, Imogen felt her heart swell with something she could only identify as longing. She supposed that part of her would always love Fiona.
Fiona glanced over at her and Imogen quickly looked away. She could feel Fiona's eyes on her as she pretended to adjust her iPod, and she wondered what Fiona was thinking. She wondered whether Fiona would always love her, too.
Imogen would be lying if she said she had never thought about what she would do if she saw Fiona again. She had fantasized about exactly what she would do and what she would say – what she'd be wearing, who she'd be with, how she would act. There were multiple scenarios she had thought through at different stages after their breakup. Sometimes Imogen would be with someone new and Fiona would be jealous. Sometimes Imogen would apologize for everything she had done that lead to their breakup; sometimes Fiona would do the same. Sometimes they met at a club and there was no talking at all, just their bodies moving together, fueled by the pent-up frustrations of everything that had been left unsaid. But none of the fantasy scenarios played out like this.
She hazarded another glance at Fiona, who now seemed engrossed in her reading. How had they ended up like this? Fiona was the only person in the world who had ever truly known Imogen. And Imogen had been eager to learn everything she could about Fiona Coyne. And now she hardly knew her at all.
Except she still did, Imogen reconsidered as she watched Fiona tuck her hair behind her ear and bite her lip in concentration. The action that was still so familiar to Imogen that she almost felt like she was back three years ago, in their apartment, watching Fiona study for midterms. Except that she wasn't able to lean over and kiss her and suggest that Fiona take a short, well-earned study break.
It was all so weird.
Imogen took a deep breath and took in her surroundings for the first time since she saw Fiona sitting next to her. Across the aisle was an older couple, each reading their own books but holding hands. In front of them was a small boy, who was squirming around in his seat. He turned around and saw her watching and stuck out his tongue. She stuck hers out back and he quickly sat back down. She smiled and she almost turned to tell Fiona, but stopped herself. It was stupid how easily she could see herself falling back into old habits.
A song by Shrew Box came on her shuffle and Imogen wondered what the odds were. Shrew Box was Maya's band. Imogen had kept supporting her fellow WhisperHugger after the band inevitably split. She knew WhisperHug was never destined for the big-time, but Maya might be. She was currently taking a break from her cello studies at Glenn Gould to play with Shrew Box on their North American tour. They were getting quite a bit of radio playtime in Canada and they were trying to break into the US market. Their songs were pretty catchy and Imogen wouldn't be surprised if they made it big.
She and Fiona had gone to every single one of Shrew Box's concerts for their whole first year as a band. The two of them would wear matching T-shirts and man the merch table almost every time. After they broke up, Imogen would find out whether Fiona would be there before she went to any concerts and she would make up excuses not to go if Fiona was. But by then, Shrew Box had a big enough following that she didn't think Maya minded. She hadn't seen them play in a year, but when she heard their single on the radio before she left for Europe, she had beamed with pride.
She turned to ask Fiona what she thought of Shrew Box's success, but stopped when she saw that Fiona had fallen asleep, her head against the plane window and her mouth open. Imogen stifled a laugh. It was pretty hilarious and totally adorable. If only Fiona could see how she looked right now. Imogen looked down at her iPod and back at Fiona. The temptation to take a picture was too strong to resist.
She smiled again at the shot on her iPod before digging a book out of her backpack and leaning back. She only got through a few pages before her mind started to wander.
After they broke up, Imogen had moved in with her friend Mel and Fiona kept their apartment. Imogen spent six weeks hiding from the world, only leaving her room for food and school. Her designs – the few she was actually able to finish during that time – were awful. Her marks tanked. She stopped calling her friends back and even Mel couldn't get her to go out with them. Even though the breakup had been basically mutual, it still killed her. When her nonna died soon after, she thought she would never be happy again.
Slowly, though, Imogen began to rebuild her life. She hadn't been sure what it looked like without Fiona. Her ex had been such an important fixture in her last four years that she didn't really know how to live without her. It was part of the reason they had split up in the first place – to find out who they were without each other.
Imogen threw herself into her school work, joined an improv club, and started taking cooking classes. She cut her hair short. She got contact lenses. She made new friends. She partied – a lot. She drank, she smoked, she danced. She fooled around with boys and girls and even slept with one or two. She made a few mistakes. But she didn't regret any of it. It was what she needed to do to get over Fiona.
She was snapped out of her thoughts when Fiona's head landed on her shoulder. The sleeping had shifted in her seat and was now snuggled up to Imogen's side. It was the first time they had touched in two and a half years, but the jolt of energy that travelled from where they touched to the pit of her stomach and all her extremities felt the same as it always had.
She wondered vaguely whether Fiona usually did this to total strangers on planes, but she knew she couldn't possibly. It was probably some subconscious knowledge that it was Imogen next to her that allowed her to be so relaxed.
As she looked down at Fiona, unsure exactly of what to do, she couldn't help but think of all the times they had been in this same position before. Fiona had always been a cuddler. Imogen couldn't help but press her mouth to Fiona's head, giving her a small kiss and inhaling the smell of her hair, which was at once familiar and unfamiliar. She lay her head on Fiona's and closed her eyes.
Imogen must have fallen asleep, because the next thing she knew, she was being jostled awake when Fiona moved her head.
"Mmm... Hey Immy," Fiona mumbled as she woke up, seemingly unconcerned that she was cuddled up to Imogen. Fiona leaned towards her, but just before their lips met, she pulled back in a hurry. "Oh my god! I'm sorry! I just… I didn't… I thought I was dreaming... Oh my god, this is so embarrassing. I'm so sorry, Imogen."
Imogen felt a strange sense of disappointment along with relief when Fiona pulled away.
"Hey, Fiona, don't worry about it," she assured Fiona, who looked as if she wanted to throw herself off the plane – her fear of heights be damned.
Fiona still looked mortified, so Imogen nudged her with her shoulder and gave her a smile. "Really, it's fine, Fiones. Honestly, I probably would have thought this was a dream, too."
Fiona studied her and took a deep breath. "Im, I've thought so much about what I would say to you if I ever saw you again, and –"
Fiona was interrupted by an announcement. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We may be experiencing some turbulence shortly, so I will be turning on the seatbelt sign. Please return to your seats and ensure your seat belts are securely fastened until the seatbelt sign is turned off. Thank you."
As the announcement was repeated in French, Fiona looked at Imogen with terror in her eyes.
"Fi, it'll be fine. We probably won't even feel–" Before Imogen could finish her sentence, the plane dropped and shook. Even Imogen felt her heart leap in her chest and she was a pretty calm flier. Fiona looked like she was have a heart attack on the spot.
Imogen reached for Fiona's hand, unable to stop herself this time. Fiona squeezed it tight and closed her eyes. As she squeezed her hand back, Imogen wondered what Fiona did when she was flying alone. Maybe she had finally started taking those anti-anxiety meds her doctor had suggested for flying.
The plane dropped again, shaking everyone inside, and Imogen began to fear that she would never regain feeling in her right hand. So she started talking again, since it seemed to help during take-off.
"Fi, look at me?" When Fiona looked up, Imogen saw slightly less panic in her eyes. But Imogen lost her train of thought entirely. She struggled to find something to talk about that might not embarrass them both. "Um, hey Fiona, have you… been keeping track of Shrew Box?"
Fiona nodded almost imperceptibly, so Imogen continued.
"Because before I left for Europe they were kind of a big deal in Canada and last I heard they're starting to climb the charts in the US, too. Can you believe it? Do you remember all the shows we used to go to? Do you remember their first show? At TRANZAC? There were like 20 people there, maybe. And you and I were late because someone insisted on making out on the couch right up until we were supposed to leave instead of getting ready." Well, so much for not embarrassing them both, Imogen thought as she continued. "But even though we got in halfway through their first set, Maya was so happy to see us. And then she dedicated a song to the old members of WhisperHug because Zig and Adam were there, too. And, god, they were horrible."
Fiona laughed, and Imogen knew she was doing an okay job distracting her from the shaking of the plane.
"They were! You know they were. I mean, they didn't get very good until they swapped their old drummer out for Kyle. But I didn't care if they were horrible and you have no ear for music – "
"Hey!" Fiona interjected indignantly. Imogen could tell she was no longer consciously focused on the turbulence, but her hand was still in a death grip. "My ear is perfectly fine, thank you! I liked Shrew Box before they were famous."
"Okay, fine, Miss Hipster," Imogen laughed at her before revising her statement. "I didn't care if they were horrible and you have such an amazing ear for music that you could see how fantastic they were bound to be –"
"Better," said Fiona, loosening her grip somewhat on Imogen's hand.
"—so we offered to be their groupies and we got into all their shows for free in exchange for manning the merch booth. I still wear that black t-shirt with the box of shrews on it to bed. Actually, I brought it with me to Europe. It's my favourite."
"Really?" Fiona asked, sounding more surprised than Imogen would have expected. "Me, too. I love that shirt. And you're welcome, by the way. I'm pretty sure I bought us those shirts before their show at The Phoenix."
"Did you?" Imogen asked, trying to remember. It was entirely possible, and in fact probable, that Fiona had bought her the shirt. But that show had been in June and she and Fiona had split up in July and Imogen was a little fuzzy on some of the details of their last month together, having tried her best to block it out. "Well, thank you, Miss Coyne, for my favourite shirt."
"You're very welcome, Miss Moreno," Fiona smiled and Imogen could feel herself falling back into the flirtatious bantering that they had been so adept at for so long. Just as Imogen was opening her mouth to respond, there was an announcement.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking. We have passed through the zone of turbulence, so I will now be turning off the seatbelt sign. However, just a reminder to have your seatbelt securely fastened when you are seated. Thank you."
Fiona looked surprised, like she had almost forgotten why Imogen was distracting her in the first place, but she didn't let go of her hand.
Neither did Imogen.
Maybe they could pretend that neither of them remembered why they had started holding hands in the first place.
"So…" Fiona started somewhat uncertainly. "Do you have any pictures from your trip?"
"Do you even know me at all?" Imogen teased, although after so long it might have actually been a fair question. "Of course I do! Do you want to see some? I transferred my favourites to my iPod."
Fiona nodded. "If that's okay?"
"Of course! I feel like an over-zealous parent showing off my kids when I'm showing people my pictures, though, so promise me you'll tell me if you get bored or if I'm too excited."
Fiona leaned her head on the edge of the seat and grinned at Imogen. "I promise."
Reluctantly, Imogen let go of Fiona's hand to unlock her iPod.
"Oh my god, is that me?" Fiona let out a squeal.
Imogen could feel the blush moving up her face as she quickly changed the picture. She had forgotten that that was the first thing that would pop up.
Fiona lunged over to grab the iPod and scroll back to the incriminating picture.
"Imogen Moreno, did you take a picture of me while I was sleeping? You're a huge creeper!" Fiona's tone was teasing, but Imogen was embarrassed.
"I – you just looked so adorable. I had to!" Imogen tried to explain, knowing full-well that nothing she said was going to sound like a good enough reason.
"Uh huh?" Fiona was laughing at her on the inside. Imogen could see it in her eyes.
"Do you want to see my pictures or not?" Imogen snapped, suddenly irritated although she couldn't pin-point why.
That snapped Fiona out of her smugness. "I do. I'm sorry."
As she apologized, Fiona's hesitantly stretched out her arm until her hand was close to Imogen's, but not touching. She was giving Imogen control.
When Imogen threaded their fingers together as casually as possible, Fiona smiled but didn't comment on it. "But you're still kind of a creeper."
"Oh hush, you!" Imogen stuck her tongue out before starting her pictures at the beginning. "So this is me getting dropped off at Pearson, and this is Albert, my seat-mate on the way to Germany. He was going to visit his 90-year old sister in Munich. Isn't that amazing?"
Fiona nodded and smiled and asked appropriate questions. She laughed at Imogen's stories and stopped Imogen for explanations when she needed them. She ooh-ed and ahh-ed over the beautiful buildings and scenery, and she teased Imogen whenever an embarrassing anecdote came up.
It wasn't until they were looking at Imogen's pictures of the London Eye from the night before that Fiona let go of her hand.
"Oh my god, when was this?" Fiona asked, grabbing the iPod from Imogen.
"Last night. Carly and Mindy – those two girls I met in Athens and then ran into again at my hostel in London – and I decided to go. Why?" Imogen was confused at Fiona's sudden change in energy level.
"No way!" Fiona exclaimed as she zoomed in on the cabin next to Imogen's. "Look! That's me!"
"What?" Imogen asked, not quite comprehending.
"Since it was my last night for a while, me and a few of my classmates thought we'd go since we'd never been before. Well, no. That would be a lie. My friends decided to drag me, because we both know that I would never voluntarily go on something like that. "
While Fiona pointed out the different people in her group, Imogen smiled as she remembered one time that Fiona had very voluntarily gone on a Ferris wheel.
"Woah, that's so weird," Imogen agreed when Fiona had finished identifying her friends. "The strangest part is that I totally thought I saw you last night when we were in line. I guess this time it was actually you."
"This time?" Fiona inquired, curiously.
Since Imogen was already doing and saying things on this flight that she probably shouldn't be, she figured she might as well tell the truth. It wasn't going to get her into any more trouble than cuddling her ex, kissing her forehead or holding her hand. But it was still kind of embarrassing, so she looked at her lap as she confessed, "I see you everywhere, Fiona. No matter what I'm doing or who I'm with, I see you there, in the crowd, out of the corner of my eye. I guess last night it was just actually you."
Fiona studied her, contemplating something. "I see you everywhere, too. But I must admit that you never have short blonde hair, so it was probably never actually you."
"Well, this is a fairly recent look," Imogen revealed. "Before this, it was pink."
That made Fiona laugh. "I can totally picture it! Please tell me you put it up in those pigtail buns?"
"Sometimes. I looked a bit like a lollipop. Or a Sailor Scout," Imogen giggled. "But I could get away with it as a student of the arts."
"Any other major changes I should be aware of? You know, for next time I think I see you out of the corner of my eye."
"Nope. Mostly just the hair. And the extra holes in my ears, but you probably didn't notice those. And I got a tattoo, but you probably wouldn't see it."
"You got a tattoo?" Fiona was shocked. "But you hate needles!"
"There may have been some liquid courage involved. And Mel and Elena came with me to hold my hands."
"What is it? Where is it?" Fiona looked as though she was still trying to wrap her head around the idea of Imogen with ink.
"It's just a little bee. On my shoulder blade. For Nonna. You know, because – "
"She always called you her Immy-bee." Fiona finished her sentence. "Wow, Imogen, that's so perfect for you. Can I see it?"
"Uh, right now?" Imogen asked.
"I mean, you don't need to show it to me. I just thought I'd ask."
"No, no! It's okay. Just… hang on." Imogen turned around so she was facing the older couple across the aisle. She struggled to pull down the neck of her shirt to expose her tattoo, but she couldn't seem to bend her arm the way that was required.
"May I?" Fiona asked from behind her, hesitantly placing her hand on Imogen's collar, her fingers touching her neck.
Imogen managed to sputter out a noise resembling a "yeah." She swallowed hard at the feeling of Fiona's fingers moving across her skin, exposing her shoulder blade and the bumblebee that now lived there.
"Wow, Im," Fiona said, tracing the tattoo with her finger. "It's really nice. Your nonna would have liked it, I think."
Imogen was having a hard time breathing; it was almost like she had forgotten how.
She was over Fiona – or at least she had thought she was – and yet somehow she was sitting here, reacting to Fiona's smiles and flirting and touches like they were in high school again. It was overwhelming.
"I've gotta go!" Imogen yelped as Fiona's thumb brushed over her spine and sent sparks through her body. "To the bathroom. I've gotta go to the bathroom."
Imogen barely heard Fiona's response because she was already halfway down the aisle.
In the bathroom, Imogen took deep, calming breaths. She looked at herself in the tiny airplane mirror and wondered out loud what she should do. All she wanted to do was fall back into Fiona, but it was a dangerous thought.
The reasons they had broken up hadn't exactly been cut and dry. They had been messy and complicated. Just like anything else in life, Imogen supposed. She wasn't exactly sure who initiated it, but the one thing she was sure of was that she had been the one to leave.
They had been together since high school and Imogen was fairly sure she would be with Fiona forever. But towards the end of their third year of university, they started discussing what was next. Imogen still had two years left in her degree thanks to her co-op placements, but Fiona was graduating after one more year. Imogen wanted to travel the world and Fiona was thinking about starting her career – maybe in Toronto, but maybe in New York, where her mother's connections meant she had a better shot of getting a good job right away.
Of course, they had discussed these things before, but it had always been slightly abstract. Fiona wanted Imogen to graduate and then, since Imogen was thinking about doing freelance work anyway, she thought they could maybe move to New York if Fiona couldn't find any jobs in Toronto in the year Imogen needed to finish school. Imogen didn't want the next years of her life planned out so rigidly. As much as she loved Fiona, she needed some wiggle room in the plan. Then Fiona brought up marriage and couldn't understand why Imogen froze.
After that, Imogen started psyching herself out. They had been together for so long and through so many of their most defining years. Did they even really know who they were or what they wanted without each other? Fiona took the whole thing badly, assuming that Imogen's hesitations meant more than they did, and they started fighting. A lot.
Neither of them wanted to break up, but neither of them could come up with a way for them to stay together, either. Their lives were headed in separate directions and there wasn't any amount of love that could overcome that. The had cried. They had kissed. They had told each other they loved one another. And then Imogen left.
Someone knocked on the airplane washroom door and Imogen wondered whether it was different now. She had done her self-discovery. She had travelled. She was ready to settle down, more or less. That wasn't to say she didn't still want to do exciting things and go exciting places, but she was ready to have a home base. That being said, Fiona didn't even live in Canada anymore, so why was Imogen fantasizing about making her home base with her ex? And she didn't even know if Fiona was seriously interested or whether they just fell together so easily out of habit.
The knocking became more persistent, and Imogen left to go back to her seat, apologizing to the woman who was waiting outside the washroom.
When she returned to her seat, she found Fiona with her headphones in, reading her articles. Fiona glanced up and smiled cautiously before returning her attention to the papers in front of her.
"I'm sorry," Fiona said quietly after a minute, removing one earphone. "I didn't mean to freak you out."
"You didn't freak m –" Imogen began to protest before she was interrupted.
"Im, I know when you're lying. It's me, remember? I know. Anyway, I'm sorry."
"Don't be sorry," pleaded Imogen. She didn't need Fiona to be sorry. Because if Fiona was sorry, they were doing something wrong. And it didn't feel wrong.
"Okay," Fiona stared at her for a moment longer than required before returning to her article.
Imogen took a deep breath and braced herself. "I've really missed you, you know."
Fiona looked back up at her, resting her head on her hand. "I missed you, too. I almost called you, like, a thousand times."
"I did call you," Imogen admitted. "Once. Around when you would have graduated. The number was disconnected. I thought maybe you didn't want me to—"
"I moved back to New York the summer before I moved to England," Fiona interrupted before Imogen could voice her fear. "It didn't make sense to keep my Toronto number."
"Im, I never wanted –" Fiona started, but this time Imogen had to interrupt her. She didn't need another reminder of how the breakup was all her fault.
"No, let me finish, please?" Fiona begged, sitting up straight now and looking at Imogen head-on. "I never wanted to break up with you. You know that. But I don't regret it. That sounds wrong, maybe, but I don't think I'd be where I am today if we hadn't split up. And I like where I am today. I like who I am and what I'm doing and how my life is going. I just wish I didn't have to lose you to do it. It was a hell of a sacrifice. You were my best friend in addition to my girlfriend, and it hurt so much… But I just want to tell you – in case I never see you again – that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for pushing too hard – it's always been my biggest weakness when it comes to you."
"Thanks, Fi. That's nice to hear. I mean, not nice, but… you know what I mean."
Fiona nodded and settled back in her seat. "I know what you mean."
"I'm sorry, too, Fiones," Imogen whispered as she leaned her head on Fiona's shoulder for a second before asking, "Is this okay?"
Fiona just linked their arms, adjusting her posture so Imogen would be more comfortable before turning her attention back to her readings.
Imogen was half reading along with Fiona, half off in her own thoughts. She was mostly just reveling in being so close to Fiona again. Screw what it meant. Screw whatever came next.
The next thing she knew, she was being woken up by Fiona. At some point during her nap, the two of them had shifted so her head and shoulders were now in Fiona's lap and Imogen was lying across the seats, albeit, somewhat squished. One of Fiona's hands was stroking her hair while the other one was gently shaking her awake. "Immy, wake up. We're almost home."
Fiona's smile was… electrifying was the only word Imogen could think of that came close to describing it. She wanted to wake up to that smile forever.
Imogen felt conflicted. On the one hand, she hadn't been home in 7 months and she was beyond excited to see her family and her friends and to sleep in a familiar bed and move on with her life. On the other hand, she hadn't been home in two and a half years and she didn't ever want to leave.
She sat up rather groggily and stretched. Her neck was going to hate her later, but she couldn't bring herself to care.
As the captain announced the beginning of their descent, Imogen lazily reached out for Fiona's hand.
"I'm okay right now," Fiona assured her. "It's not until we're noticeably on an angle that I tend to freak out."
"I know," Imogen replied, giving her hand a quick squeeze, but not letting go. "How were your articles?"
"I wouldn't really know," Fiona smiled. "Got distracted. Also, that kid in the row ahead of us keeps sticking his tongue out at me."
Imogen laughed and looked over at the kid's seat. Sure enough, there he was, staring at them. When he noticed her looking at him, he stuck his tongue out. For the second time, she stuck hers right back. And just as he had before, he quickly turned in his seat.
"Im!" Fiona gasped, appalled. "He was just a kid!"
"So? Kids settle things the kid way. Good thing I'm so immature, eh?" Imogen grinned over at Fiona, who was rolling her eyes.
"You're so weird."
"And you love it." The teasing words left Imogen's mouth before she could think them over, but they didn't seem to faze Fiona, who just grumbled non-committedly.
The plane began to turn and Fiona's grip tightened. Feeling like an old pro at this by now, Imogen turned to Fiona and began to talk.
"Can we take a picture? Of the two of us? I realize I already have two creepy stalker pictures of you on my camera, but I'd really like one where you're conscious and conscious of the camera."
Fiona smiled a little nervously, but nodded. She leaned over and threw her arm around Imogen's waist, pressing their cheeks together as Imogen took the photo.
They examined it. Fiona was blinking and Imogen's hair was a mess. They readjusted and took another. The second one was perfect.
"No problem, Im," Fiona said, giving Imogen a little hug. "I'm really glad I ran into you."
"Me too." Just as Imogen spoke, the plane burst through the clouds. The city of Toronto was now visible out the windows and Imogen watched as Fiona tried to keep it together. "It's okay, Fiona. We will land in Toronto and you will see your brother and your friends and you won't have to worry about another plane for… however long you're here for."
Fiona nodded, trying to put on a brave face. Imogen felt the landing gear come out and heard the rush of the engines as the plane prepared to land.
Imogen wasn't sure what exactly made her to do it. It might have been the dimple that appeared when Fiona smiled at her nervously. It might have been the look in Fiona's eyes. It might have been the rush of memories or the comfort of how it felt to be with Fiona. It might have been an attempt to calm the other girl. But whatever it was, she found herself lifting her hand to hold Fiona's face and pull her in for a kiss.
Fiona kissed her back without hesitation and Imogen tangled her hands in Fiona's curls. For a moment, everything made sense. Imogen found herself lost in Fiona, whose kiss was familiar and brand new all at once. When they felt the jolt of the plane landing, they pulled apart, both somewhat embarrassed, but smiling.
Fiona's eyes flitted past Imogen and she stuck out her tongue. Imogen could only deduce it was at that kid, and she laughed.
Then there was silence. Awkward silence.
Imogen sighed softly and tried to think of a way to break the tension that had come over them. "So, uh, who's picking you up at the airport, Fi?"
"Declan, Holly J, and Mike," Fiona said, looking nervous, although whether it was from the mention of Mike's name, the kissing, or the landing, Imogen couldn't be sure. "Apparently I have to go to this amazing new Korean restaurant on Bloor with them immediately."
"That sounds nice," Imogen said honestly. Well except for Mike Dallas. But she didn't have to voice that. "Nobody's picking me up. My return is sort of a… surprise Christmas present for my family. Upside is that there's no stress and it'll be amazing to surprise them. Downside is that nobody's picking me up. I figured if you were in the same boat, we could split a cab."
"Do you want a ride?" Fiona offered immediately. "You could come for Korean with us? Or just the ride. No pressure."
Imogen seriously considered the offer, but declined. "I should really be going home. And it might be… complicated. With Mike and Declan and Holly J there. And I'm sure you missed them and want to see them without the awkward ex around."
Fiona studied her and seemed to understand what Imogen was really saying – it was too much.
"It's okay," she said. "Maybe another time? Just you and me? I'm in Toronto for another 4 weeks."
Imogen swallowed hard. She tried telling herself that agreeing to have dinner with Fiona wasn't agreeing to spend her life with her, but she couldn't quite convince herself that it wasn't. "But then you're going back to England."
"Yeah," Fiona sighed as they got up and prepared to disembark.
"And you hate flying."
They walked side by side, their hands brushing occasionally, but said nothing.
When they got to customs, Imogen was directed to one line and Fiona to another other because she was American.
"So I guess this is where we part," Imogen said, trying to smile but not quite succeeding.
"For now?" Fiona asked hesitantly but hopefully.
Imogen looked at the ground and then back up at Fiona. She leaned up on her toes because Fiona was wearing heels and kissed her cheek. "Until we meet again, Fiones."
"Take care of yourself, Im." Fiona smiled at her a bit sadly and walked over to her line.
Imogen stood in line, her body buzzing and her mind spinning. She willed herself not to look over at Fiona because she knew that if she did, that would be it. She would see Fiona standing there, just like she saw Fiona everywhere, and she wouldn't be able to help herself because it was actually Fiona and it felt so right.
Over and over she repeated to herself that she shouldn't look back. She had worked too hard to get over Fiona. What if everything went wrong again?
But Imogen looked. Of course she looked.
Fiona was digging through her purse, oblivious to the blonde staring at her from across customs.
Taking a deep breath, Imogen got out of line, walked over to where Fiona was standing and tapped her on the shoulder. When Fiona turned around, Imogen pulled her into a messy but deliberate kiss
"Give me your number," Imogen demanded when she pulled away.
"What?" Fiona said, somewhat dazed but beaming.
"Your new phone number, Fiona. I don't have it. And I want it."
"Okay," Fiona grinned. "Let me just find –"
"Wait!" Imogen interrupted and Fiona froze, hand halfway in her purse. "You don't have a girl waiting for you in London, do you? Because if you do, then I don't want you new num—"
Imogen couldn't even finish her sentence before Fiona kissed her to shut her up. "There's no one in London, Im. Or anywhere else."
"Good," Fiona met her eyes and smiled before writing her phone number on a scrap of paper she tore off from one of her articles. "So… here's my number. Call me, maybe?"
"You don't still love that song, do you?" Imogen whined at Fiona's off-key singing, pretending to be much more off-put than she actually was.
"Still listen to it every single day," Fiona deadpanned, and Imogen was afraid to find that she couldn't tell if Fiona was joking or not.
"Maybe I don't want your number after all," Imogen teased.
"Next!" yelled the customs officer, and Fiona picked up her bags before she leaned in to kiss Imogen. "Bye, Im. For now."
"For now," Imogen agreed, giving a little wave before she headed to the back of her line.