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Love & Other Lessons
Author: Susan Fanetti

Chapter One


Cora Takes a Leap

 

 

A rush of French in a soft but assuredly masculine voice filled the cabin. With a soft groan, Cora Harlowe lifted her forehead from the seat back in front of her. She’d never flown anything but economy in her life, but the middle seat of the middle, five-seat section in international economy was a particularly inventive circle of hell. At a tick over five-nine, with legs of a length more appropriate to a WNBA star, Cora was now prepared to give up her own family in exchange for the chance to uncrease her knees.

And the passenger in the seat in front of her was clearly one of this circle’s demons. He’d had his seat back reclined the entire flight. When he’d first leaned back, Cora had, with all the politeness her very polite family had inculcated in her from the womb, asked him if he’d at least bring it up halfway.

He and his stupid red backward baseball cap had flipped her off.

So Cora had spent a passive-aggressive hour unsuccessfully trying to make him regret that response. After that, she’d sat sullenly and entertained herself imagining all the terrible things that might happen to him in Paris, starting with a bad batch of escargot and eventually arriving at an elaborate scenario involving Interpol and a black site prison.

Finally, she’d realized that the top of the intruding seat back could support her head if she tried to sleep curled forward. Apparently, that had worked somewhat. She hadn’t realized she’d fallen asleep, but she must have dropped away for a little while; daylight was easing into the cabin as her fellow cattle pushed up the window shades.

Whatever the captain—or had it been a flight attendant? Whatever. Whatever had been spoken over the intercom, apparently the speaker had started out with the English version, because now it was quiet. Fending off a subtle zing of panic—for the past few days, Cora had been basically drunk on adrenaline of one sort or another—she tried to orient herself and figure out what the captain had said.

Her phone was in her backpack, trapped under the seat in front of her, so she couldn’t check the time. The TV screen on the back of the offending seat before her was off—she wouldn’t have been able to see it anyway—but the screen in front of elderly gentleman snoring beside her showed the flight map, with their plane very near Charles de Gaulle airport. The flight attendants were bustling along the aisle, collecting trash and asking passengers to raise their seats.

Ergo, that must have been the ‘final descent’ notice. Cora watched the attendant for their section approaching her row and nearly cheered aloud when Red Cap Guy put his seat back up at long last. She still couldn’t move, but at least her knees were no longer being slowly shattered.

Thus relieved, she took a beat to feel this moment. Paris. She was about to put her feet on Parisian soil. Since she was six years old and had read all the Madeline books, she’d wanted to visit Paris.

Of course, she’d expected to have planned this trip, prepared for it. Like buying cute clothes and spending more time on Duolingo buffing up her four years of high school French and two years of college French. Recently, she’d imagined a Parisian honeymoon.

Instead, on the day she’d found out she’d been laid off from her job as a university admissions counselor, she’d come home early, woebegone printer-paper box of belongings in her arms, and found her boyfriend—who’d been making noises like he might become a fiancé—making a whole lot of very different noises in their bedroom. With their downstairs neighbor.

That was five days ago.

Now she was in a plane touching down on the outskirts of Paris, her knees aching, her neck stiff, and her hair still smelling like the chemicals used in her new ‘oil slick’ coloring adventure, undertaken on the spur of the moment in the last hours before she’d headed to the St. Louis airport.

She wasn’t sure she’d had a clear thought in five days, but she’d been in perpetual motion.

And all that motion had landed her in Paris, on a one-way ticket.

Not one person in her life knew she’d left.

 

 

Charles de Gaulle Airport was a snarled nightmare. Getting through customs and the bag claim took forever, but that wasn’t the worst of it. She’d simply inserted herself into the drove of lemmings and let it carry her through. But Cora was fairly certain she’d circled the entire airport at least three times, passing innumerable doors to the outside, before she finally discovered the taxi rank. Where there was another line.

While she waited for her turn for a taxi, Cora screwed up her courage and checked her messages. Her phone had begun blowing up the second she’d taken it off airplane mode—texts and calls from her mother, both sisters, and her best friend, Zara. Even Brandon, her shiny new ex, had texted.

In the airport, she’d swiped all those alerts away without opening a single one.

It had been only about twenty-four hours since she’d spoken to anyone in her life, but it looked like they were already panicking.

Wait till they found out where she was.

There were a lot of messages, so she decided to take them in chronological order. Texts first.

Zara’s first message was just a check-in, from about an hour before Cora had gone into the salon for her bold new hair color. Five texts followed, with increasing intensity, the last one being an all caps IF I DON’T HEAR FROM YOU BY THE TIME I WAKE UP, I’M CALLING IN THE TROOPS.

Here in Paris, it was just past noon, which made it … 5am-ish in St. Louis? Cora texted back: Sorry. I’m fine. I’ll text again soon and let you know what’s up, but it’s all good, promise. xoxoxo

Cora’s older sister, Myra, texted three times. The first was, Can you make your tortellini salad for tonight? Which reminded Cora that there had been a family barbeque last night. Which she’d totally spaced about. And which also explained why so many people were so very interested so very quickly in her whereabouts. The texts from younger sister, Ruth—their parents thought old-fashioned names would set them apart, which was true, though probably not in the way they’d intended—and their mother corroborated Cora’s guess. She’d flaked on a family gathering and freaked the whole clan out.

Brandon’s text was, Are you okay? Your mom called freaking out. I know you’re upset, but you didn’t do anything stupid, right? Like kill yourself or something?

Cora stared at that one for a long time. Yes, Brandon, she answered in her mind. I killed myself over your cheating ass. I’m reading this message from the beyond.

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