Jessica is running her finger along the spines of the travel books on the shelf at the bookstore. “Hong Kong,” she reads. “We are not going to Hong Kong.”
“Indonesia. Not there, either.”
“Italy.” She smiles, and starts lifting books off the shelf and loading them into my arms.
“We don’t need all the books on Italy,” I say and she gives me what I like to call the Teenage Look, and she picks each book up, one at a time, and leafs through it.
“Not enough pictures,” she says of one losing contestant, and puts it back on the shelf. “And this one is all in black-and-white.” It goes back on the shelf, too. So does the one with type that’s too small. Actual content is not particularly high on Jessica’s list of criteria.
Finally she winnows it down to two glossy books with lots of photos. “These,” she says.
“That’s fine,” I say. “It’ll get us started. So I guess we can go home and start reading up on things we may want to do.” I squelch the panicky feeling that says Seriously you are so fucked. You’re going to try to get on a train to Rome and end up in Kazakhstan because Jess’ll distract you at the crucial moment, and then when you try to get the hell out of Kazakhstan, she’ll be all “You’re going too fast!” and bursting into tears and then the police will arrest you because you have insane eyes and look like that leftist terrorist, the one from the Red Brigade. And then when you start to panic, Jess’ll be no fucking help whatsoever because she has no sense of self-preservation at all. AT ALL. And then you’re going to have to explain to her father why you need him to wire eighty thousand dollars to bribe your way out of a Thai prison. No, I don’t know how I got from Kazakhstan to Thailand.
Jess has not moved from her spot. She is still running her finger along the spines of the travel books. “New Hampshire. We know someone in New Hampshire.”
“Linda moved to North Carolina.”
“I forgot. New Jersey.” Then, a smile of triumph: “New York!” She slants me a glance, daring me to object, but I am still trying to figure out the best way to dodge the Royal Thai Police with a cognitively impaired fourteen-year-old in tow, so I don’t say anything. She picks two New York City travel books from the shelves, also glossy and full of photos and says, “Okay, that is everything,” and trots off toward the cashier.
I follow her, wondering if I’ll ever see Kansas again.