A/N: Another short story! Yeah!
I wonder, who do you guys think are the real you? The one you’re acting like, or the one you feel you have hidden away inside of you?
Jessie Pitcher had never had a particularly daring life. She had gone directly from high school to college, where she had studied economics. Sure, in college she had gone to a party or two, but she had kind of just been standing at the edge of the party looking in, rather than really being a part of it. She had tried alcohol, but the only time she’d been really pissed a friend of hers had walked her to her dorm and put her to bed. Nothing had happened. She had been too scared, too smart, to try any kind of drugs or even just cigarettes, and when she left college four years later she’d been drunk once, missed a class twice and gone to a party eight times. None of it – the alcohol, the skipping classes, the parties – had been particularly thrilling experiences.
After college she had landed a job as an accountant. The money was good, and she was able to put a bit aside every month despite having to pay off her student’s loan. She got a pleasant two-bedroom apartment in the nicer part of the city, and was able to live of something besides pasta for a change. She never travelled. She never took any of the courses at the local night school she always wanted to try. She never… well, she never really did anything. Until the day she decided that she had to.
She was thirty-two by then, and had an absolutely ridiculous amount of vacation days saved up. Days she now took two weeks out of so she could go to China. She didn’t really know why she picked China, except it was as long away from where she currently was as possible, and because she knew that she was looking for something even if she didn’t know what she was looking for.
In the airplane, however, she realised how incredibly stupid she was being. Like going to China would make her a different person. Knowing herself she was probably just going to stay in her three-star hotel room for the entire trip. Maybe she’d go out to see the normal tourist stuff, but it was hardly going to be a trip changing her entire life perspective. She was an idiot.
And just as she thought this, a man, whom she guessed to be around the forty, sat down next to her and smiled.
Jessie cringed inwardly. This man… this man looked to be the exact kind of person, whom she wanted to be, but simply just wasn’t. He was tan, muscular and handsome, but what really caught Jessie’s attention was the easiness in his smile, the intense fascination in his eyes and the stubborn way he held his jaw. She was sure that he was the kind of person, who actually went out and had adventures instead of just watching them on the documentary, which aired every Tuesday night at eight.
“I’m Jared,” he introduced himself, and Jessie did her best to make her handshake firm and confident as she took his hand.
I’m Jessie, she almost said, before she stopped herself. This man didn’t know her. She could be anyone. For the remaining hours of this trip she could be daring, adventurous, glamorous. She could be exactly the kind of person she wanted to be, if only in the mind of this one man.
“I’m Isabella,” she introduced herself. “Just Isabella.”
“Pleasure to meet you, Just Isabella. Why are you going to China?”
Because I had to go somewhere, and China was as good as place as any, Jessie thought, but instead she just shrugged. “I just love to travel,” she said, ignoring the fact that she’d never even left the state. “And the last time I was there, I just loved it.”
The man lifted an eyebrow and for a second Jessie feared he had figured her out.
“You’ve been to China before?” he asked instead, sounding genuinely interested. Jessie tried to remember when the last time someone had been really interested in anything she said was, but she for the life of her just couldn’t.
“What’s your favourite part?” the man, Jared, asked.
Jessie hesitated. What would the favourite part of China be for the person, whom she was pretending to be?
“The culture,” she said, regretting it a moment later. What a boring answer! “No, actually, I believe it must be the sushi.”
“The sushi?” the man’s eyes were laughing, but not at her, and Jessie felt pleasantly warm.
“The sushi,” she repeated, wondering if it was any good. She’d never had any.
“Do you then perhaps have any good sushi restaurants you could recommend?”
Shit. “No, I’m sorry. I never travel to the same city twice. This is my first time in Shanghai.”
“That’s too bad.” The man hesitated. “Perhaps you would prefer your own company… go to sleep or something… if you do, please let me know, but I kind of like talking on my travelling. You mind telling me a bit about yourself?”
“Not at all,” Jessie said, knowing a perfect opportunity when she saw one. “I’m twenty-eight,” she told him. “I studied anthropology in college, and I’m currently working for an auction house up in Denver. I’m actually going to Shanghai to secure an old painting from the Han dynasty.”
The man looked impressed, and Jessie knew she had picked a good backstory. “It must be great to have a job that allows you to travel like that,” he said.
“It is. It’s like being paid to go on vacation.”
The man laughed. “I can imagine.”
“What about you then?” Jessie asking, feeling more confident than she had in… forever. It was astounding how liberating it could be to be someone else.
“I’m a blogger.”
“You can live of that?” Jessie asked incredulously, before she could stop herself, immediately looking at the man in horror. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “I didn’t mean…”
“It’s okay,” Jared laughed. “I’m used to it. Most people don’t consider it a job, but yeah, I’m a travel blogger. I’ve always loved travelling and I’m a decent photographer and with a couple of edb-courses and some writing classes it was actually pretty simple.”
“You never went to college?”
“Nope.” Jared didn’t seem particularly bothered with it. “I didn’t see the point back then. I figured I’d go once I’m feeling too old to spend all my time travelling though.”
Jessie smiled inwardly at the thought of a sixty-year-old Jared on the school bench.
“What are you going to study then?”
Jared shrugged. “Who knows? I don’t like planning too much.”
“I know what you mean,” Jessie said, having planned every detail of her life. She smiled at the man. ”I like to just take things as they come.”
They chatted for hours after that, and Jessie found to her increasing astoundment that when she was Isabella she was… fun. And witty, and intelligent and sassy. She was everything she had dreamed about being as Jessie, and the thought that Isabella was going to die the minute the plane landed was more than she could take.
”Perhaps we could meet up?” she asked. “Travelling is always better when you have someone to share it with.” I’m guessing.
Jared grinned at her. “Are you asking me out?”
Jessie might have blushed and stammered out a denial, before pretending to be asleep for the rest of the flight, but Isabella looked him straight in the eyes.
“I do,” she said. “Do you mind?”
“Being asked out by a pretty lady? I’d be crazy to mind.”
“Eight o’clock then? The day after tomorrow?”
“It’s a date.”
A date. She hadn’t had a date in eight months, but for once Jessie didn’t feel nervous. She was sure Isabella would be charming as a date.
For the rest of the trip there was an unquestionable undertone of flirtation, and Isabella was teasing, coquettish, sensual. But after the plane had landed it was Jessie, not Isabella, who saw Jared walk away with a parting wave. Jared, who seemed to really like Isabella, but had no idea whom Jessie was.
And all of a sudden it didn’t seem quite as fun anymore. It just seemed problematic and… insulting. To have to pretend to be someone else for someone, anyone, to like you.
But how could he like Jessie, when Jessie was so… boring? Why couldn’t she be as Isabella?
Perhaps she could, she thought pensively. Just because she wasn’t Isabella right now, didn’t mean she couldn’t become her. Jessie hesitated, just barely able to see Jared through the crowd.
What would Isabella do?
The answer seemed obvious, and before she realised what she was doing Jessie was pushing herself through the crowd, yelling our Jared’s name.
He turned around with a bemused expression, and Jessie did her confession before she had any chance to reconsider.
“I lied to you,” she said.
“You have a boyfriend?” Jared guessed.
“No, no, I’m free, I’m just.. I’m not me. I’m someone else.”
“Of course you’re you. Who else would you be.”
“I mean; I’m not me. I’m not Isabella. I’m Jessie.”
“I don’t work for an auction house. I’ve never travelled in my life. I’m not even twenty-eight. I’m a boring, old accountant with a boring, old life.”
For a second Jared could only stare at her in incomprehension.
“Why would you lie about something like that?”
“I just… I just hated being me. I just wanted to be someone else for a change. Someone… someone fun.”
“But you were fun.”
“No, Isabella was fun. Jessie… Jessie isn’t.”
“You do realise you’re still the same person, right? The job, the age, the travelling. All of that is just details. But you, name notwithstanding, was fun. And I liked you.”
Jared sighed. “I don’t know. I don’t like being lied to.”
“I ended up telling you the truth though,” Jessie argued.
A faint smile was her reward. “I guess. I just… well, I knew Isabella. Or at least I thought I did. I know nothing about Jessie though.”
“I thought all of that was just details. Besides… you could still get to know Jessie. I know I still am.”
Jared hesitated, and Jessie tried to make her face as open and honest as possible. No matter what he said now, she knew she was going to make some changes. From now on she would do at least one new thing every week. When she got home she’d take that class on Italian cooking she had always wanted. Even if he didn’t want her, she would still strive to figure out who she was.
But still… she liked Jared. He was fun. She’d had more fun with him in the last hours that she’d had with her last boyfriend in those ten months they were together. She just… liked him.
Then he grinned, and shook his head. “Hell, why not?” He gave her his hand. “I’m Jared,” he introduced himself.
“I’m Jessie,” Jessie answered, smiling.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I look forward to getting to know you.”
“Me too,” Jessie murmured, wondering what kind of person she was underneath all the fear. “Me too.”