“I know,” Emma grinned. “Am I dreaming? Pinch me.”
Jessie pinched Emma’s arm.
“No,” Emma said. “We’re really going. To New York. For the summer.”
“I know,” Jessie said.
“That top looks great,” Emma said, leaning back. “I’m glad you bought it. We have to make a good impression right from the start.”
“On who?” Jessie asked, not for the first time.
“On New York!”
“I think you’re overestimating New York’s interest in us,” Jessie said, smiling.
“You never know. And you can’t be too careful. Who knows, we might meet two boys at the airport.”
“I think Taylor’s put me off boys for life,” Jessie said.
“Give over!” Emma said, squeezing her best friend’s arm. “Yes, Taylor’s an idiot and you’re better off without him, but you just have to put that behind you. New York boys will be way hotter than Taylor, I promise you.”
Boys or no boys, Jessie was thrilled with the outfit of J Brand jeans and a Marc Jacobs top that Emma had insisted she buy. She felt different. She was trying to think of herself as “New York Jess”. New York Jess wouldn’t have fallen for Taylor. New York Jess wouldn’t be running away from her broken heart. But at least New York Jess had a fabulous pair of jeans. Every cloud has a silver lining.
As the flight attendant walked down the aisle, checking everyone had their seatbelts fastened, Jessie felt butterflies rise in her stomach. She’d been winding Emma up all day, but she couldn’t believe they were getting to spend the summer in New York either. She’d been dreaming about it for so long and now it was going to happen. And it was going to be better than she’d imagined because Emma was going to be with her. She smiled at Emma who was bouncing up and down in her seat with excitement. They were going to have an amazing time. And whatever happened, at least there was no risk of bumping into Taylor.
She still couldn’t believe she’d been so stupid. She’d fallen for the oldest trick in the book. She’d liked Taylor Hutchinson for ages. She’d seen him the first day of her new school after her parents had split up and she’d moved to Manchester with her mum. Taylor was so… God, it sounded ridiculous because she should have had more sense… but he was so dangerous-looking. Like he didn’t care about anyone else, about what anyone thought. He was all floppy hair and brooding eyes, but she’d thought he was different inside because he’d been the first person to smile at her.
She knew why now, of course – he just wanted to get into her pants – but at the time, her first day in a new school when she was feeling possibly more insecure than she ever had in her life before, he’d smiled and she’d thought that underneath the hair and the glare he turned on the teacher as soon as he entered the room, he wasn’t as bad as he wanted people to think. She really couldn’t believe it. She’d thought he was good and sweet inside. But it turned out his insides were just as hard and mean as his outsides. Why did people say you couldn’t judge a book by its cover? In Jessie’s experience you totally could.
Emma grabbed Jessie’s hand as the engine started to make that weird squealing noise. This was the part where Jessie realised how completely ridiculous flying was. They really expected this great, huge hunk of metal to just lift up into the sky? Apparently they did.
Emma fell asleep not long after take-off, but Jessie was too excited to sleep. Too excited and, if she was honest with herself, too nervous. She knew her mum would have changed, she could hear it on the phone. She was all “New York”. All parties and bars and weekends in the Hamptons. And, for all Jessie knew, all loved up with the director of her play. Actually she had no idea if anything was really going on between her mother and Jack, but she’d always suspected his interest was more than professional. He’d taken her mum and her play to Broadway; he couldn’t have done that out of the goodness of his heart, could he?
And then there was Ben, who her mum and her mum’s play had also taken to New York. Jessie hadn’t really mentioned Ben to Emma. Not lately anyway. She’d tried not to even think about him, but here he was, popping into her head as her eyes stared, unfocussed, at some crappy Jennifer Aniston rom-com on the screen in the back of the seat in front. He’d stood in the rehearsal studio staring at Jessie in the mirror whilst reciting the lines for his leading role. And she’d stared back and felt her stomach do a little hiccup of excitement. If Emma was right and Jessie needed a new boy to help her get over Taylor, maybe Ben was the one.
“Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please ensure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position. Make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you or in the overhead bins. Please turn off all electronic devices until we are safely parked at the gate. Thank you.” Jessie and Emma waited respectfully for the announcement to end before grabbing each other’s hands and squealing.
“I can’t believe we’re about to land in NEW YORK!” Emma squeaked.
“Me neither,” Jessie said. “Oh my god, Em!”
They stared at each other and then Emma, her face serious, said, “I know.”
The flight attendant came to make sure they’d complied with instructions. Once she’d gone, Emma said, “Are you worried about seeing your mum?”
Emma knew how much it had hurt Jessie when Natalie had moved to New York, however much Jessie tried to hide it.
“I’m not exactly worried,” Jessie said. “I’m a bit nervous, you know? I haven’t seen her since Christmas, but she’s been fine on the phone and everything. It’ll be easier with you here too.”
It had taken Jessie a long time to understand that she wasn’t the priority in her mother’s life and once she had really got that – her mother moving to New York without Jessie had made it pretty clear – it had taken her even longer to accept it, but she thought she was pretty much there a year later.
As she’d promised, Natalie was waiting for them at Arrivals. Jessie was quite surprised to find that she felt pleased to see her and realised that maybe she’d even missed her a little bit. She just looked so… familiar. Although she also looked thinner. And glossier.
“Wow,” Emma whispered, as they approached. “She looks very ‘New York’.”
Jessie nodded, still staring at her mum, who was wearing loose black trousers and a (very) white shirt with flat diamante sandals and lots of silver bracelets. Her hair was lighter than it had been in England – almost blonde, in fact – and sunglasses were pushed up like a headband.
Jessie sucked her stomach in and hoped her unruly hair didn’t look as ridiculous as it felt.
“Darling!” Natalie said when they finally reached her. She pulled Jessie into a hug and squeezed. “It’s so good to see you.”
Jessie suddenly felt a little bit tearful so to stop herself from crying she focussed on her mum’s perfume. It was strange. It almost smelled like chocolate. It was kind of nice, but also a bit sickly and overwhelming.
Natalie pushed her away, still holding her with both hands on her upper arms, and smiled at Emma.
“Emma! How are you? You look lovely.”
As they walked outside and Emma started telling Natalie about the flight, Jessie realised her mum hadn’t told her that she looked lovely, just Emma. Her hair must be as bad as she feared. She pulled the bobble out and ran her hands through the tangles before putting it back in a low ponytail. She felt annoyed with herself. Why did she let her mum get to her? They hadn’t even been here five minutes and she was already acting so insecure.
“Just over here for the taxis, darling,” Natalie said, gesturing across the road to a row of yellow cabs with a queue of tourists lined up on the pavement alongside them.
“Yellow cabs!” Emma said, grabbing Jessie’s arm and Jessie grinned. New York. She really was in New York.
“Yes!” Natalie said as they crossed. “I was going to order a car service, but I thought you’d prefer the more authentic version. Since it’s your first time in New York.”
Natalie chattered while they waited for a taxi. About how much Jessie was going to love the apartment. About how she couldn’t wait to show them New York. About how much fun they were going to have, the three of them.
But Jessie felt restless. She wanted to get to Manhattan. She’d tried to see the skyline from the plane but she’d been on the wrong side. She wanted to see the Empire State Building. And the Chrysler Building – the shiny one from the Sex and the City titles. She wanted to see Times Square and the Statue of Liberty. She didn’t want to be standing in a queue. She could do that in England.
Eventually they were first in line and the three of them got in the back of a cab with a Yankee Stadium advert on the top.
“How long does it take?” Emma asked as the taxi pulled away from the kerb. Jessie had been about to ask the same thing.
“To the apartment?” Natalie asked. “About 40 minutes.”
For all of those forty minutes Jessie stared out of the window while butterflies darted and swooped in her stomach and Emma, who was sitting in the middle, brought Natalie up to date on pretty much all the news and gossip from the past year. Jessie chimed in occasionally, but she mostly just focussed on the journey and the destination. She couldn’t wait to get there, but she also wanted to remember this taxi ride. They passed apartment buildings behind wire baseball cages that made her think of Sesame Street and rows of small white houses like Ugly Betty’s. After a little while, Jessie knew she was getting closer. To Manhattan. The buildings were getting higher, the billboards were bigger and featured video rather than just posters, but most of all, she could feel it. She could feel it bubbling up inside her.
She worried that she was building it all up too much, but she somehow felt like New York was her destiny. She believed – she knew! – it was where she was supposed to be and she fully expected to feel it as soon as she got there. She desperately hoped she wouldn’t be disappointed. They went through a toll and then a tunnel and then she glimpsed the skyline in the distance. The Chrysler Building and the Empire State. Jessie pressed her face against the taxi window. New York. Where she was spending the summer. And where anything could happen. Anything at all.