It’s ridiculous, really. It’s just Ben. Beatrice knows him, she loves him, it’s going to be fine- but she can’t shake the nerves that have been bubbling up inside her, more and more, the closer she gets to Wellington, to seeing him again. She barely slept last night, just tossed and turned, impatient to be gone.
Meg thinks she’s being silly, thinks the rules will be forgotten as soon as they arrive. Ben won’t be able to resist at least kissing Bea hello, and then he’ll get punished, and that will be the end of it. Beatrice will be right there, in the flat, and there will be nothing else for it. The flatmates will have to let them be together. They’ll find another way to matchmake Peter and Balthazar.
Bea leans back against the passenger seat of Meg’s car, clicking her phone open to look at the lockscreen. Herself and Ben and Hero, sprawled in the grass on a summer day in Auckland, all beaming and laughing together. She runs her finger along the screen near Ben’s smiling face, thinking how, after this photo, she had rolled over and into his arms, laughing all along.
Her finger slips, and the picture disappears, leaving behind the black screen where she enters her code to unlock the phone.
She sighs, looking out the window as rolling green hills and blue sky rush past. Bea loves road-tripping through the New Zealand countryside. It reminds her of being small, counting sheep with her dad and bouncing up and down with glee, knowing she’d soon get to play with cousin Hero in Auckland for the rest of the summer, and it was all just a car ride away. This trip is in the opposite direction, back to Wellington. The ride that usually went with tears and tantrums and sulking, leaving her friends behind. Everything is backwards now.
When she went home after summers with her cousins, Beatrice had forgotten them absurdly quickly. She’d been a kid, distracted and busy with school and her year-round friends. Summer was temporary, easily forgotten. She missed Hero and Leo and Peter, sure, but she wasn’t a lonely kid. Life was still full of light and fun and football practice, and summer would come again.
Being left behind in Auckland was a new experience for Bea, and it came with a different kind of loneliness.
Thinking about her lockscreen picture, Bea can still feel the sensation of Ben’s warm body against hers, shaking with laugher but holding her steady, too. The absence of that warmth is a ghost that follows Beatrice wherever she goes, except when she’s on Skype with him. It’s a silence that’s very hard to break, when the person you most want to talk to is just out of your reach.
She thinks of last night, Skyping with Ben for the last time before Wellington, trying to combat the emptiness of her room with the sound of his breathing, the whisper of his voice. Bea remembers drifting off with Ben’s voice still in her ears, falling asleep just like they would if they were actually in the same room. This morning, her laptop had died with the Skype window still open.
“I’m wasting my time in Auckland,” Beatrice had told Ben, last night. “It’s like I’ve hit a rut— I want my life to start already, but I’m afraid to really let it. Meg’s right. I need to start the trip now. And anyway, I’m sick of being stuck here, without you.”
It’s true, and Bea feels it every second of the car ride, in every song that she and Meg sing along to on the radio. In every moment that she watches the clouds go by, and every second of the amazing conversation they have with their new friend Kitso Harper, when they pick him up by lucky chance, hitchhiking back to town.
“Oh, so you’re the one who’s dating Ben,” Kit says in his easy, offhanded way. “He talks a lot about you. What brings you to Wellington?” He laughs, but his tone says, man, good luck.
Beatrice beams. So, Ben talks about her enough that Kit knows who she is. Kit thinks the rules are funny, something to roll his eyes at, something that won’t last. It's fine.
“Just visiting,” she says. “How about you?”
“It’s too quiet without you around,” she remembers telling Ben, in one of those first Skype calls after he moved away. The noise in the car fills her head and her heart. She’s nineteen years old and laughing on a road trip with her friends, and she’s going to see her boyfriend, and it’s good.
Bea can feel her loneliness and worry getting smaller and smaller, like a sad little town in the rearview mirror.
She texts him: Almost there.