Author:CJ Markusfeld

It was Carter.

“Have you lost your mind?” he whispered furiously. “The whole room saw you come out here, including staff. How long do you think before they come to investigate?” Michael lounged against the restaurant wall, flushed and smirking. Sophie struggled to do up her jeans, letting out a small shriek of horror when Carter slapped Michael across the face.

“You’re a pig, Nariovsky,” he said. “She’s had too much to drink and she’s just a kid. She deserves better than a quick fuck against a wall.” Michael’s face went from fury to shame as Carter spoke. His glance flickered to Sophie, then Carter shoved him toward the restaurant. “Get out of here.”

Once Michael vanished, she turned on Carter. “I can’t believe you did that! You had no right …”

He gently covered her mouth with his big hand. “Stop. Before you say another word, answer me. Did he force you? Because if he forced you, I’ll kill him.”

Sophie pushed his hand away. “No! It just came over us … it happened so fast. He wasn’t hurting me, Carter, honest.”

“Then I’m sorry,” he said. “But I won’t see you taken advantage of by anyone, even my best friend.” Sophie stared at him. “Now take my arm and smile. Everyone will think the three of us came out here together to smoke or talk. You and Michael stay away from one another for the rest of the night. Maybe the rest of the year.”

The next day, Sophie had a headache and a guilty conscience for deceiving her boyfriend. She blamed the wine, but deep inside she knew she was lying to herself, had been lying to herself for some time. The attraction between them was out in the open, and she had no idea how to undo it.

Michael seemed uncomfortable about the whole thing, refusing to speak of the incident and acting uncharacteristically awkward in her presence through Germany and into Scandinavia. Sophie felt stung and confused. As they travelled into Finland, she got her answer.

On an early travel day in in December, Sophie turned in her seat to answer a shouted question from the back in the coach. She couldn’t miss seeing Michael and Mirielle Desmarais sloppily kissing one another a few rows back. Sophie turned around without answering the question. Beside her, Ana looked back to see what had happened.

“Didn’t you know?” she whispered. “They’ve been together since Morocco.” That hit Sophie even harder. Morocco had been weeks ago, before Barcelona. Humiliated, she shrank down in her seat in numb silence, wrapped in her friend’s arms.

Christmas break couldn’t come fast enough for Sophie. Miserable, she avoided Michael and snubbed his constant attempts to rekindle their friendship. Instead, she focused on their upcoming two-week visit to the Soviet Republic. In their last Finnish city, she half-listened to the staff member droning on with the usual daily report.

“We leave for the Soviet Republic in three days. Due to visa issues, Michael Nariovsky-Trent won’t join us. He’ll travel out of Finland to start Christmas early with his extended family in Orlisia, and will reconvene with us in Japan in the new year.” This didn’t surprise Sophie. The Soviet Republic didn’t grant visas to Orlisians, even ones with dual US citizenship. What came next, however, shocked her.

“Michael is taking Mirielle home with him to Orlisia to meet the family.” The room filled with good-natured catcalls. “So make sure to wish them both a good holiday in the next few days.”

After a successful tour of Asia, the class crossed the Pacific and landed in Ecuador in March. In Quito, the staff organized a party to welcome them back to the western hemisphere, with dinner and an evening of traditional dancing and music. As the students headed to the dance floor, Sophie’s phone buzzed in her pocket. She left the music behind and found a quiet hallway to chat with her mom.

After she hung up, Sophie caught movement out of the corner of her eye and froze in fear. How many times had they been warned not to leave the larger group without telling someone? She turned slowly to see who was there.

It was Kyle Clark, one of the Canadian students. Sophie started to tell him he’d nearly given her a heart attack, except he wasn’t paying attention. Mirielle was kneeling between Kyle’s legs, her head moving purposefully. Mortified, Sophie shrank into the shadows and looked away, wishing she could be anywhere else but here. After what felt like an eternity, they finished. Seconds later, footsteps sounded behind her, and she heard Ana’s voice.

“There you are! I was getting worried. What have you been…” She stopped when she saw Kyle and Mirielle hastily pulling themselves together. “Oh.” Her eyes darted between Sophie’s frozen face and her classmates’ guilty expressions.

Mirielle stepped forward. “This isn’t what it looked like.”

“I thought it was exactly what it looked like,” Kyle objected. “Didn’t you already tell Michael that you’re with me now?”

“Sophie,” Mirielle pleaded. “Please don’t tell him.”

Sophie said nothing. Ana took her arm and pulled her away from the awkward tableau in the hallway.

The class was abuzz about Mirielle’s shocking defection from Michael to Kyle when they arrived in Ushuaia, Argentina, two weeks later. Theirs would be one of the last ships to visit the Antarctic before the winter closed in and the dangers of pack ice became too great.

Sophie stepped out of the hotel, then heard footsteps follow her out into the mist. She let out a shaky sigh. Staying away from him was becoming more and more difficult.

“Sophie, wait. Please.” For the first time in months, she didn’t walk away. She waited until he caught up, then they walked down to the harbor, stopping to lean against a railing overlooking Beagle Channel. Foghorns sounded on the water. Finally, she looked at him out of the corner of her eye.

“You knew,” Michael said. “Mirielle said you knew, that you saw them together.”