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Genre: Young Adult
ALONG THE WAY
Three friends, thirty-three days, and five hundred miles walking the Camino de Santiago add up to one journey they’ll never forget.
Piper Rose, Dani Shapiro, and Alexandra ‘Tessa’ Louise De Mille Morrow share a history that goes back to their pre- school years in Chicago when their families were still intact. Now Piper lives in Evanston with her divorced dad, her estranged, unstable mother popping in and out of her life at random moments. Meanwhile, Dani’s been living in Santa Fe with a psychologist mom pregnant with her fiance’s IVF babies. The blueblood Tessa resides on prominent street in Boston and dreams of a romantic and well-heeled love story like that of her great-grandmother who went to France during World War II. Now that it’s the summer before college, these radically different friends decide to celebrate their history and their future by walking the legendary pilgrimage along the “Way of St. James,” from the French Pyrenees to the Spanish city of Santiago, not quite expecting their feet to feel like they’ve been put through a meat tenderizer or that cyclists racing the road will nearly run them over, then claim all the beds (and the hot showers) at the pilgrimage’s auberges. But there are plenty of highpoints too, like the beauty of the Pyrenees Mountains, the spree at a posh hotel in Pamplona, and the numerous ways in which each young woman must learn to believe in herself as well as in her friends. And who could forget or explain the miracles—or milagros—that have been happening on the Way of St. James for centuries? And yes, there is the promise of falling in love which, like the word for pilgrim in Spanish (peregrino which translates into ‘curious, strange’) introduces a dizzying, at times marvelous chaos into each young woman’s story, transforming their collective journey, one that takes them across the north of Spain, into the experience of a lifetime.
- File Size: 1528 KB
- Print Length: 293 pages
- Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1941311482
- Publisher: Luminis Books, Inc. (April 1, 2015)
- Publication Date: April 1, 2015
- Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
About the Author
At O’Hare I breathed in the citrusy smell of Dad’s cologne, and bent down for one more slobbery kiss from Dexter, wishing I could bottle his cinnamon-wet dog smell for the trip. “Come on, it’s time to get you checked in,” Dad said, hefting my nineteen pound rucksack out of the back seat.
I lingered in the front, my fingers deep in Dexter’s thick chow fur. “Just one more minute,” I said. Yes, I’d been training for this pilgrimage since March, but right now I couldn’t help second-guessing the decision to fly across the ocean to a country whose language I barely spoke (I’d studied German all through high school), then walk across Spain with Tessa and Dani.
“Piper—” Dad called again, depositing my rucksack at the curb.
I stepped out of the Volvo, met his blue-gray eyes.
“You know you want to do this,” he said. “How many miles have you logged walking?”
“At least two hundred,” I said.
“I’d say it’s time you put all that training to the test.”
Dexter stuck his lion’s head out the window, barked.
“Come on, Piper Girl,” Dad said, touching my shoulder, “you’ve been talking about this for months, and you’ve worked hard. Now, just relax.”
Dad’s horn-rimmed glasses were typically spotless as was his neatly ironed white shirt. “You think either one of us knows how?”
“Well, we certainly know how to have a good time,” he said.
“That’s debatable.” Dad’s idea of a good time was an hour in front of his favorite trio of Monet haystacks at the Art Institute, the latest biography of T.S. Eliot or Piet Mondrian, or a sweaty game of squash; and mine? Quick sex didn’t count, nor did double espresso, but running was high up on the list, and so was photography—I’d packed my Nikon and two lenses for the trip despite the weight it added to my pack.
I had to admit Dad was being stellar, not just about all of this pilgrimage stuff, but about re-bonding with the friends I’d met on Sally’s Playhouse when I was four, especially since the idea to get me onto the show had been another one of Rebecca’s spur-of-the-moment ideas, and thankfully not one that cost Dad financially or in terms of self-respect. As Rebecca, my delinquent mother, told it, on the day of the audition Dad had been buried in the stacks at the Regenstein Library when she saw an ad seeking ‘bright, cute children for a local TV program’ in the Chicago Tribune. She dressed me up in some Little House on the Prairie gingham, then took me into the city, determined to land me on Sally’s Playhouse and get a head start on my college fund.
That drizzly afternoon nearly fourteen years ago, Tessa and Dani were there for the audition too. For god knows how long, the three of us compared toes and talked about Sally’s ginger poodle Roxy who growled at Max, the clown, and wound up biting a kid during the next season. Supposedly, the three of us fell asleep in a heap inside the playhouse right after the producer shouted, “Action!” Everyone laughed, except Sally who, despite her kid-friendly pigtails and sunny t-shirt, was actually a major bitch. Only blonde, blue-eyed Tessa got the part; Dani turned out to be camera shy and allergic to Sally’s perfume, and my buck teeth gave me an unfortunate overbite on TV. Even so, our mothers found us so adorable tumbling across the plush carpet and leaping over bean bags twice our size that they decided we had to stay in touch forever.
The story of our friendship started there. We’ve seen each other only once every year or so since we were six when Dani’s parents and then Tessa’s left Chicago. To this day, Tessa’s very proper mum and Dani’s intellectual one stayed in the picture. My own did not. Rebecca was the kind of mother who’d let me have Kool-Aid and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast and liked to fill the bathtub with candles, (once causing the terry cloth shower curtain to catch fire).
Then, nine years ago, she was caught skinny-dipping in the dean’s pool with one of Dad’s graduate students. Gossip on campus soared when she took off for the Ritz Carlton and checked into the Gold Coast Suite where she lived on Mimosas and raw oysters for a week and maxed out the credit card. Within the year, Rebecca and Dad divorced, and there wasn’t any question of who I was going to live with.
“You better get going, or you’ll have to sit in row forty,” Dad said, wrapping his arms around me.
“I’ll miss you.” I buried my face in his shirt, both of us aware this goodbye was the prelude to the bigger one in September when I left for NYU.
“Me, too. Now,” he said, hugging me close before letting me go, “you’ve got a plane to catch.”
After Dad’s battered red Volvo merged into traffic, Dexter’s lion face was the last thing I saw before a Mercedes SUV cut them off, I hoisted the rucksack onto my back and let the weight settle around my hips where I’d packed my extra lenses and enough shampoo to see my mane of hair through the month. From pretty much this moment forwards, the rucksack and I were going to be constant companions.
Inside I checked in, then stopped for a bagel and jam and a grande tea with extra honey, and did a little people watching. Pretty soon I was fiddling with various settings and photographing the scene beyond the café’s glass, intrigued by the way the travelers’ faces and bodies became a blur of color and movement.
Once I felt sure I’d gotten at least one good shot, I put away my Nikon and drained my cup. From the far end of the counter, a rangy guy with a morning after shadow (at four o’clock in the afternoon) tipped his latte in my direction and smiled.
After smiling back, I checked my watch, shrugged. It was time to go.
At the row of sinks in the Ladies Room, I stared at my face in the mirror. Sure, I’d inherited Rebecca’s ski slope straight nose and her good skin; I had Dad’s eyes, his wide smile, and all six feet of his height. Trouble was on me the combination just didn’t add up. Big surprise there, given the disaster that had been their marriage. Like my dirty blonde hair, which remained poker straight even in serious humidity, and the smattering of freckles along my nose, I was plain. Only my long legs and my name, which had its own story attached to it—I was actually named for the Pied Piper—set me apart.
It was one of those absurdly romantic stories (that have no chance in this world), and one I had a hard time believing, especially given what came later. “Your mother was browsing the seminary co-op,” Dad explained. “She wore her hair in one of those tight dancer’s knots, and her feet had that perfect turnout—”
Dad had always been a ballet fan, a serious liability since Rebecca was one of the principals in the Chicago City Ballet (and liked to grand jeté and elongée around the kitchen while Dad made dinner).
“May I help you?” Dad asked, approaching my then twenty-one-year-old mother who sat on the bookstore floor, legs outstretched, toes pointed. She’d pulled out volume after volume of fairy tales, absent-mindedly creasing the pages, a bookseller’s nightmare.
“I’m looking for a retelling of the Pied Piper of Hamlin,” she explained.
“You a student? A teaching assistant?” Dad asked, though to anyone else it would have been too obvious that she was neither.
“No, we’re staging the story for the ballet, and I want some background.”
And so it began, the love story-turned-god awful marriage that exploded after ten years and led to me and my name. Rebecca was a month shy of twenty-two when she married my thirty-five-year-old father (who, she said, was forty even before his hair began to gray). And really, the Pied Piper wasn’t like Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella where the prince ferries the princess off to live Happily Ever After in an air-conditioned castle with a state-of-the-art kitchen, a Jacuzzi, and hired help. The Pied Piper lured little children away, charming them with his lute. Only later, when I learned that the Pied Piper may have been a pseudonym for the Plague that wiped out millions, did the legacy of the story and its connection to my family click into place.