|15| - "I'm too busy babysitting your moping boyfriend."
The arrivals hall at Gatwick was bustling with people greeting loved ones who'd returned home for Christmas. As I stepped through the doors and allowed my eyes to scan the crowds, I noticed couples kissing, families embracing and children bouncing with excitement.
When my eyes locked onto a familiar pair, a smile spread across my lips, despite the feelings of anxiety deep within me. I started across the hall, tugging my heavy suitcase behind me, and was met halfway with an enveloping hug and a kiss to my cheek.
"God, I've missed you. It's so good to see you again."
I smiled and pulled back from the hug. "I've missed you, too."
"Now, please don't hate me for ruining our date, but I've invited a couple of friends to join us later."
We headed towards the car park, my mind adjusting to the fact that this time I was in England for several weeks—not several days.
"Who?" I asked.
"Jack and Louisa."
It was a sign of my good mood that I smiled at that, rather than expressing any annoyance at the situation.
"Jack wanted to see you and I thought it'd be nice for the four of us to meet up. After you and I have caught up properly, of course. Is that okay?"
I sighed. "Jess, you know how I feel about this. Of course it's fine for Jack to join us later, as long as nothing has changed."
She didn't reply, and the beep of her unlocking the car doors cut into the silence. Through a joint effort, we lifted my case into the boot and then sank into our seats, shutting our doors and fastening our seatbelts—all without uttering a word. I could tell something had changed, but Jess concentrated on navigating her way out of the airport complex before dropping the bombshell.
"Alex and I broke up."
"Please don't freak out," she begged, glancing across at me. "I really need one of us to remain calm about this because I'm freaking out."
I took a deep breath and trained my eyes on the road ahead. The things I realised I'd missed about England weren't the ones I'd expected to miss. Driving on the left-side of the road, the colour of the signs, the familiar place names, the English radio and the well-known supermarkets. They were only little things, but those little things made me feel at home.
"How long?" I asked.
"It'll be two weeks tomorrow."
"Look, let's just focus on something different for the drive. I'll tell you everything, but I don't want to get upset when I'm responsible for transporting you back safely."
We drove in awkward silence from then on, making small-talk to avoid the topic of Alex. It seemed ineffective, really; we were both clearly still thinking about it. With the break-up so fresh, it surprised me that she'd invited Jack; Jess wasn't the type to move on so quickly, especially when I suspected Jack might be part of the reason for their separation.
When we arrived at Costa and I stepped out of the car, the rush of chilly air hit me hard and I shivered. Briefly, I wondered whether we'd be lucky enough to have a white Christmas.
The coffee shop was toasty, festive songs ringing out from the speakers as groups of friends huddled together over steaming drinks. The atmosphere was happy, but the conversation between Jess and me was far from it.