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"I want to ride my bicycle, I want to ride my bike"

Sometimes failing at doing something might be a blessing in disguise. That's how it worked out for me anyway. "Bike". The word still scares me. I would love to see myself one day pedaling leisurely down the glorious St. Simons beach or through narrow and heart-warmingly picturesque streets of a quaint French town, "I got this" smile lighting up my face. But for now... For now all I can imagine when someone says "bike" is how I last fell off it on the cement and how much it hurt. And I can also see myself walking to work (which took me forty-five minutes every time, amidst the indescribably June heat of Southeast Georgia), back in 2004, which now seems like a gazillion light years ago. As a matter of fact, every time I drive down Frederica Road, this is what I see. How I met your father :). How sometimes, when you think you have failed at something, you might, you just might, run into the man of your dreams. If that sounds intriguing enough, this is the link to an extract from my first novel, My Journey to the Ocean. I hope you will like it!

I think Freddie Mercury wrote this song about me. I would have loved to be able to ride my bike. In fact, it looked like I didn’t have much of a choice but to ride my bike, but unfortunately, I couldn’t. Yes, my friends—I’m one of those few representatives of the Homo sapiens species that cannot ride a bike. My dad was a very impatient teacher. I fell off my bike a few times at the age of five or six, he announced that I was useless, I burst into tears and ran to cry on my mom’s shoulder. Naturally, my mom demanded that my dad let me be, and here I was—almost twenty-one, on the student program in the United States, not capable of getting to work. Who would think that there would be no public transportation here! Not even taxis!

I sighed with frustration as I watched the girls having the time of their lives at the idea that I’d have to spend forty-five minutes walking to work every day.

“Okay, Elena, it’s all good. I’ll teach you!” Exclaimed Diana. “Come on, get dressed! We’ll go outside, and you’ll be riding that bike in no time.”

I gave Diana a suspicious look.

“We start working in two days. Are you sure we have enough time?”

“Of course, you do!” Sonia couldn’t stop laughing. “I really can’t get over the fact that you can’t ride a bike! I mean, everybody can ride a bike, even little kids. Okay, okay, enough of those Ice Queen stares. You’ll learn in no time, you’ll see!”

The legendary Queen’s hit still stuck on replay in my head, I reluctantly dragged my feet outside into what seemed to have been a one-hundred-fifty-degree heat. I looked around and felt a bit relieved, since there was nobody around to witness my shame. As luck would have it, the moment I directed all my attention to Diana and started to listen to her instructions, we heard a car pull up.

“Who in the world is that?!” I heard myself mutter in frustration.

That was more of an exclamation than a question, but Diana didn’t waste her time to fill me in on the details.

“Milo and Chris. Milo is this gorgeous dude from Slovakia, but he’s very standoffish. He thinks he’s a Greek god or something. And Chris is one of the servers at the Beach Club. He was born in London, but he’s been living here since he was seven. So, in fact, he’s an American—”

“Diana!” I hissed. “Too much information for my poor brain. I don’t need to know his full bio. I’d prefer they were not here at all, because I—”

My furious monologue was interrupted by a very cheerful voice.

“Hello, girls! Hi, Diana! Is that your fourth friend that was left behind?”

“Yes, guys! This is Elena. She just arrived last night.”

I tried to squeeze out the politest smile I could. I don’t like being rude to people even if I’m annoyed with them for this or that reason. After all, it was not their fault that I couldn’t ride a bike.

“So, what are you girls up to?” I’d already forgotten the name of the guy who was talking, but he had a troublemaker-like white smile, red hair, and A LOT of freckles.

“I’m showing Elena how to ride a bike,” giggled Diana.

I pictured slowly killing Diana, perhaps suffocating her with a pillow for a more prolonged and excruciating death.

“You can’t ride a bike? Really?” The red-haired guy was the one laughing now.

At that point, I didn’t care much about being polite anymore. I wanted to murder him as well.

“He-he, that’s funny! She can’t ride a bike!” Snorted the guy from Slovakia.

I was officially in hell.

“Really,” I said. “In fact, we’ve got to get down to business. We don’t have much time to waste. If you excuse us, please,” I snarled and tried to get on the bike.

“Sure! It’s nice to meet you, Elena. See you around!”

I briefly caught the glimpse of his smile. Definitely the freckliest person I’d ever met in my life.

I should have been more patient and given my dad another chance. In that case, I wouldn’t have been dragging my sweaty old self down this beautiful but endless road on St. Simons Island, Georgia, in scorching heat. I felt like I was stuck in the desert and my face had just turned into a plump ripe tomato. And my knees looked like I’d been run over by a trash truck. I’d been trying to conquer this horrid contraption the majority of people refer to as “bike” for the last two days. I ended up falling over like a sack of potatoes right on the cement. It hurt. Oh, crap, it was hot! I tried to distract myself from a very attractive idea of fainting right there and then and looked around. The gorgeous antebellum building to my left looked exactly like Tara from Gone with the Wind. Or at least what I had always imagined it to look like. I stared at the grand mansion with magnificent Greek pillars and romantic balconies in utter admiration. I could bet there was a majestic ballroom inside, and the sunlight playfully reflected in crystal chandeliers. I had already pictured myself gracefully flying down the elaborate curved staircase. The orchestra had just started playing the first notes of my favorite waltz, and this elegant handsome gentleman was offering me his hand to help me down the steps—

“Need a ride?”

I quickly turned into the direction of the voice. I’d heard it somewhere before.

“I’m Chris. We met yesterday. You look like you’re very determined to get to work. Do you want a ride to the shuttle stop?”

I desperately tried to pull myself together and come back from my ballroom fantasy to the reality of a red-haired guy in his Ford Explorer.

“My mom instructed me to never accept rides from someone I don’t know,” I giggled, but still kept my distance from the car.

“Your mom is a very intelligent woman. But by the look on your face, it seems like you’re about to have a heat stroke. Plus, a serial killer wouldn’t be picking you up in broad daylight with so many people as witnesses.”

“All serial killers probably say that.” I shrugged.

“It’s air-conditioned in here.”

“Okay!” I jumped in the car and sighed with relief as the cold air brushed all over my body. “Thank you, I really appreciate it.”

“It’s no problem. You were very funny out there, but it looked like you wouldn’t last long. I had to turn around.”

His smile was contagious, and I had to laugh.

“Yeah, I was probably quite a sight. People don’t really walk in America. They either drive or jog.”

“Ha-ha! You nailed that one.” Apparently, Chris found my comment hilarious. He couldn’t stop laughing.

“I’m sorry. My face probably looks very red and ugly. It always happens to me when I work out or run.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about. You look beautiful.”

“Yeah, right.” I rolled my eyes and smiled.

“Quit fishing for compliments. So, do you have a boyfriend waiting for you at home?”

“I do, actually.” I started nodding proactively. “My fiancé. We’re getting married next summer.” I was already used to guys asking me questions like that. I just pretended I didn’t notice that they were flirting with me, and that way nobody would end up embarrassed.

“How come he’s not here?”

I wasn’t used to that.

“Well, it’s complicated.”

“How complicated?”

I stared at him in an attempt to pass the message along with just my eyes, without saying it out loud: “People don’t ask strangers questions like that. It’s impolite!” I have a very heavy stare. I inherited it from my dad, and typically it works wonders. Not that time.

“Was he too busy to come with you?”

“No. He just… he didn’t have money for the program. Plus, he doesn’t speak English…” Bummer. I sounded defensive. Everything I said was nothing but the truth. What I didn’t mention was Alex’s… what’s the right way to put it? Unwillingness to experience new things in life? No passion about seeing other countries and thinking outside the box? But I’d never mentioned it to anybody. Not even to my parents or my closest friends. I think I had never even admitted it to myself. And I definitely wasn’t going to provide an explanation to this guy I’d met the day before.

“I think you’re too young to get married. You need to enjoy life first, you know?”

Unbelievable! And now he was giving me The Look.

“Everybody says that! That’s just because they’ve never found their true love.”

“Maybe so.” Why was he smiling? He must have been enjoying his interrogation. I wanted to have at least a quarter of his confidence. “Looks like your shuttle. Hurry! You don’t want to miss it.” Chris pulled up in front of the shuttle stop. “I’ll see you later, Elena!”

“Okay. Thank you, Chris!” I quickly hopped out of the car and tried to avoid meeting his eyes.

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