"Sangria?" the waitress asked.
Mark responded with an eager head nod. It was only 2:30 pm and he was already on his third glass. The others at the table all responded to the Catalan waitress in a similar manner. There were eight of them, all teachers from the Mid-Atlantic part of the US. They were there on a chaperone training tour -- learning all the ins and outs of how to be responsible chaperones for teenagers travelling abroad on spring and summer breaks. Of course, drinking all the sangria Barcelona had to offer was not an official part of the training, but teachers tend to make the worst students. Mark had signed up to take a group of students to Costa Rica the following spring, which would be his first trip abroad as a chaperone. About half of the other teachers were also first timers, while a few were experienced chaperones cashing in some rewards points and providing some teacher-to-teacher wisdom beyond what the official training staff had to offer.
Bridgette, like Mark, was a first-time chaperone. She would be taking a group of talented art students on a Renaissance tour of Italy and France the following summer. She certainly looked the part when the group met at the airport earlier in the weekend -- long blonde hair, braided into two sections, a cute nose ring, and overalls over top of a tight white t shirt. She was quite the sight, and Mark took almost immediate notice.
He introduced himself as they waited for their official trainer to pick the group up from the airport. After a red-eye across the Atlantic, he was not feeling very confident, but figured they were all in the same situation anyway. They made small talk about their teaching positions, lamenting the effort it took to plan for a 3-day absence and arrange for substitute coverage for their classes. Soon enough their trainer had arrived and the whole group of eight boarded a way-too-large tour bus and departed for the El Poblenou section of the city where they would be staying for the next several days.
On board the bus, the trainer was eager to play get-to-know-you games, the ones that Mark and his colleagues so disliked (but also used with their own students early in the year as everyone settled in). Each teacher was asked to share their name, where they were from, and what trip they would be taking their students on. After everyone had shared, the trainer then asked each them to share their "theme song" for the trip. Mark racked his brain for something (he hated being put on the spot like this). He paid little attention to those that shared before him as he tried to come up with something that would make him seem interesting but struggling to do so. Ultimately, he settled on "Barcelona," the Ed Sheeran tune about a dreamy escape full of dancing and Sangria.
The trainer groaned and muttered "oooooo how original, think all day on that one?"
Marks cheeks flushed red with embarrassment while the trainer giggled and moved on to the next teacher, which happened to be Bridgette. She pondered out loud for a moment, commenting on her New Jersey roots before settling on "I'm on Fire" by Bruce Springsteen. Mark's cheeks suddenly weren't red with embarrassment anymore, but flushed with a feeling of desire. He knew that song from memory and wondered if anyone else knew just how sexual it was.
The bus pulled over in front of a three-star hotel just as the last teacher was sharing their theme song. The group eagerly got off the bus and brought their bags into the hotel lobby, only to learn that they wouldn't be checking in. They were only there to drop their bags, freshen up, change their clothes if they wanted to do, and then hit the ground for their first training session. The trainer mentioned something about the importance of simulating the trip experience, as we would likely have packed itineraries the first day of our trips to fight of the desire to sleep and thus avoid being too jet lagged.
The hotel concierge ushered the group to what looked like a closet-sized conference room and instructed us to freshen up, change, and leave our belongings there before scurrying away to other matters. The group looked around in disbelief at one another. How were they supposed to freshen up and change in such a small space in the short amount of time they had been given before needing to get back on the bus.
Bridgette was the first to break the tension in the group by casually dropping her luggage and unbuttoning one strap of her overalls.
"What?" she challenged, "We're all adults, let's just do this quickly and get back to the bus. I hear the market we are going to serves awesome Sangria."
While everyone was a little uncomfortable at changing in this cramped room with people who were complete strangers only 20 hours ago, they followed Bridgette's lead and quickly changed into new clothes and applied some deodorant, all without much fan fair. As the group exited the room, Mark couldn't help but notice that Bridgette had never rebuttoned one of her overall straps and he could see that she was now braless underneath her pale blue tank top.
Upon boarding the bus, the group's trainer instructed them to sit in pairs. "Your partner will be your buddy. You never go anywhere without your buddy. If you go to a café for coffee, you take you your buddy. If you stop to exchange currency, you need to take your buddy. If you need to use the bathroom, you take your buddy."
She clearly took her job very seriously and was set on providing us with an immersive experience. The only problem was that "buddys" were supposed to be same gender and your roommate at the hotel. However, there were three guys and five girls in their group. Two of the women quickly paired up, not wanting to risk having some unknown man attached to their hip for the next three days. Two of the men did likewise as they had apparently formed a bond over their mutual interest in Bob Seger.
That left three guys and Bridgette. Having been piqued by Bridgette's bohemian look and interest in Springsteen, Mark didn't give the other guys a chance to vie for the position of her buddy. He plopped down in the seat next to her with a casual smile, dropping a sly "what's up, buddy?" as he settled into his seat.
The pair continued their earlier small talk as the bus made its way through the crowded city streets. There was often unavoidable contact between them as the driver took sharp corners, trying to navigate the tight turns of the city on the way to Passiege de Gracia. On one particularly sharp turn, Bridgette was caught unawares and her hand fell on Mark's upper thigh. He blushed a little bit and she quickly pulled back and sat up straight, blood rushing to her cheeks as well.
Mark gave her a smirk and joked "you know, my school has very strict rules on teachers fraternizing with one another."
Bridgette's cheeks continued to blush as she quickly defended herself, saying "I swear, it was the driver, I was caught off guard."
Mark saved her embarrassment with a quick slight of his hand onto her bare knee, exclaiming "damn driver!"
Bridgette laughed with her whole body, and Mark took quick notice of the way her chest jostled up and down with each giggle.
Finally the bus driver reached their destination of the famed Passiege de Gracia the most expensive street in all of Barcelona and maybe even Spain. The trainer was quick to announce that this was not their intended venue, merely a place to park and meet up with another group of trainees from the West Coast of the US who were staying at a different hotel. The group got off the bus and followed their trainer across the busy street to the center of Placa de Catalunya where the other group was waiting for us.
The other group's trainer took the lead and explained that the group would be taking a guided tour of the Gothic Quarter in about 2 hours, and that they should plan to meet back here in an hour and a half. In the meantime, the groups were free to roam down the Passiege de Gracia and venture out for lunch and some shopping. Not really knowing how much leeway they had, the original group of teachers stuck together and didn't venture very far, taking care never to leave their buddy behind.
After they had strolled down a few side streets, Bridgette suggested that they stop for some lunch and just people watch until it was time to meet the other group back up the street at Placa de Catalunya. They settled on a small café with plenty of outside seating, where they enjoyed some tapas. One of the more veteran teachers took charge, ordering plates of this and that with a confidence that the rookie teachers marveled at. Soon the sangria and conversation were flowing. The group started with small talk about their careers and home lives before Bridgette abruptly changed the conversation to everyone's theme song, taking a small jab at Mark's entirely unoriginal choice.
Maybe it was the sangria, but Mark took it in stride and countered with his own comment on Bridgette's choice: "Well at least I didn't pick a song all about my desire for someone who I can't have!"
Her face blushed even more so than after a glass of sangria. Sensing her embarrassment, Mark quickly jabbed her arm with a playful "aww I'm just trying to get everyone to forget about my Ed Sheeran obsession."
The playful conversation continued with less embarrassment for both and soon it was time to return to their meeting spot for the walking tour.
At this point, everyone in both groups had been awake for almost an entire day, unless the bumpy, upright "sleep" one gets on a red-eye can be counted as legitimate sleep. The thought of a walking tour in the Spanish sun gave everyone pause, but their local tour guide spoke with such vigor and enthusiasm that the group quickly shrugged off any weariness. By the time the tour had ended the group was buzzing, hoping to continue this high through dinner and into the night. But by the time they were seated for dinner in the basement of a restaurant not far from their hotel, everyone was zonked. No one even ordered Sangria, and the conversation was dull at best.
Sensing the lack of energy, their trainer quickly gave them their nightly debrief, including instructions for when and where to meet in the morning and what to bring along with them. She paid the group's tab (one of the many perks of such a trip) and ushered them back to the hotel where they could finally check in and get some much-needed rest.
When the group returned to the hotel, they learned that there had been a booking mistake on the hotel's part. They had simply assumed that a group of eight individuals would need four double rooms. They were terribly sorry about the mistake but could do nothing to fix it as they were completely booked. Someone in the group would have to share a room with someone from a different gender, or three guys would have to share two beds in an already cramped room. Mark, weary from the past two days of travel and walking through the city, was slow to comprehend what was happening. But Bridgette was alert to the situation and saved everyone from some awkward conversation about how to fix the situation by saying "Well, I'm not supposed to leave my buddy anyway, so I guess Mark can stay with me."
Mark gave no objections, has he was too tired to really counter with any other fix. He also felt a familiar flush in his cheeks at the thought of getting to room with this undoubtedly attractive near-stranger.
The trainer was hesitant but ultimately agreed to the change, imploring the hotel to update her if anything else opened up over the next few days. The teachers tiredly went off to their respective rooms, bags in tow. Since the hotel was fully-booked, the teachers were not in a block of rooms as the trainer had expected, but scattered about wherever they could be placed. Mark and Bridgette were the sole group on the ground floor. While they lacked any sort of view, they were spared the task of hauling themselves up the stairs, as the hotel had no elevator. While the day had been fraught with moments of tension between the two, both Mark and Bridgette quickly unpacked their necessities and went to bed without much conversation. They were both utterly exhausted.
The morning came too soon for both Mark and Bridgette, who were awoken by a courtesy call from the front desk, requested by their trainer for 6:30 am for all of the teachers in her group. Neither was keen to get out of bed and be the first one into the shower. Bridgette ultimately relented and scurried into the bathroom and turned on the shower. As she stepped into the small shower stall, she shrieked at the cold water coming from the shower head.
Mark, unaware of the water situation, rushed into the bathroom with the nightstand notepad ready to swat whatever godforsaken insect had spooked his roommate. It wasn't until he had opened the bathroom door that he remembered he was naked. It was too late -- the door had swung open and Mark was on full display. Bridgette let out another shriek, this time startled by Mark's nakedness as well as her own. He quickly covered what he could of himself with the notepad while backing out of the bathroom, cheeks fiery red with embarrassment.
Bridgette wrapped herself in a towel and followed Mark out of the bathroom demanding to know what the hell he was doing. "I thought there was a spider or something in the bathroom and I came to kill it. It happened to my college girlfriend all the time. Old habits die hard I guess" he explained.
She was unimpressed by this explanation, sarcastically nodding along, muttering "mmhmm...yea...sure." She retreated to the bathroom and turned on the shower, waiting this time before getting in.
At this point the sexual tension of the previous day had transformed into complete awkwardness. Mark was repeatedly apologetic for the morning mishap throughout the day, taking time to say "I'm really sorry" at every opportunity, to the point where Bridgette was now trying to avoid conversation altogether. That was made incredibly difficult by the "never leave your buddy" rule imposed yesterday. What's worse is that their trainer had arranged for them to take a trip outside the city into the mountains to see the monastery at Montserrat, where they would be competing in a scavenger hunt for a fifty-euro metro card. The drive from the city involved the similar sharp turns as the bus navigated through narrow mountain passes and switchbacks. The two were constantly bumping each other, prompting even more half-hearted apologies.
By the time they got to the monastery, Mark was quietly furious at himself. He messed up this morning, and had only made things worse since. He decided he would take one last shot at resolving the situation. After leaving the bus and getting their instructions for their scavenger hunt, Mark pulled Bridgette aside in an attempt to clear the air. "I'm really sorry about this morning, I should have knocked. And I'm sorry about all the sorry's I've said since. Can we just pretend like it never happened and get on with the hunt?"
Bridgette was impressed with his humility and tried to ease the tension by joking "Well, I don't want to forget everything about this morning", gesturing with her index figure towards Mark's crotch.
He blushed and nearly choked on his breath. Somehow he had managed to go from sullen and mopey to horny in a matter of seconds. Did this beautiful woman really just give my cock a not so thinly veiled compliment? His head was a mess. Bridgette snapped him back to reality by tugging at his wrist that they needed to get going or they would have no shot at the metro card.
The pair rushed to catch up with the group as they entered the monastery, listening eagerly for factoids to complete the hunt. As the day went on, Mark and Bridgette were racking up the points by collecting facts. They went above and beyond the rest of the group by taking the funicular up the mountain away from the monastery, where they snapped a panoramic photo of the surrounding area that clinched the scavenger hunt for them.
They were the winners of the fifty euro metro card, valid through the end of their trip and for any travel on the metro system during the ample free time they had remaining. The bus ride back to the city was full of best practices from the trainer on how to keep students engaged during tours and other activities the teachers were likely to do with their own groups of students. But Mark was only half paying attention. He couldn't stop thinking about Bridgette's hand gesturing towards his crotch earlier in the day. Had that really happened? Was he just imagining things to make himself feel less awkward? His racing mind was only interrupted when Bridgette placed a hand on his thigh as she gazed out the window, taking in the beautiful sight of the Catalan mountains. The tension was back, and the awkwardness of the morning was a distant memory.
At dinner, the trainer continued providing advice on several aspects of student travel, but Bridgette and Mark were lost in conversation. They could have been eating dinner on the moon, millions of miles away from Barcelona or the US. They talked about anything and everything, like young lovers on a third date. They laughed as the spoke, lost in the moment with one another. The sangria flowed even more liberally than the day before in the market. Before long, both were feeling the effects. As dinner came to an end, the trainer mentioned that tonight was a good night to explore the city and "make the kinds of mistakes your students will make." That was all the group needed to hear, and they quickly set off in their pairs to wander to streets of Barcelona. Mark and Bridgette decided to make the most of their day's victory and take the metro from El Poblenou back downtown, where they could ride the funicular up to Montjuic and take in a near 360 degree view of the city.
They stood silently at the top of Montjuic, with the Mediterranean Sea in front of them and mountains behind them. There was electricity in the air. Bridgette fiddled with her braids. Mark thumbed his belt loops, pondering his next move. Both were jolted out of their stupor as a flash of lightning lit up the sky over the water. The lightning was followed by a sudden downpour of rain, soaking both of them to the skin. They hurriedly jumped on the funicular back down to the streets, where they searched for the nearest metro station to return them to their hotel. They giggled with nervous excitement as they moved through the city, down the stairs, and onto a waiting metro car. They huddled close together, their bodies cold from the soaking rain. But inside, Mark was on fire. He only wanted one thing, and resolved that Bridgette would be his.
When they returned to the hotel, they found the other members of the group waiting for them outside. They had decided to go out to a local bar for some live music and tapas, and wanted the pair to join them for some fun. Mark and Bridgette reluctantly obliged, not wanting to set off any alarm bells in their fellow teachers. Things had cooled necessarily between them as they tried to enjoy the company of the group. They both drank some more and took in the sweet sounds of the band. By the time the group decided to return to the hotel, it was 2:00 am. That 6:30 wakeup call loomed large in everyone's mind. Knowing that sleep was a rare and important commodity, Mark decided he would have to wait to make his move.
The next day was their lightest -- the morning was reserved for training in a nearby school classroom. There was plenty of coffee to keep the group awake and alert during the presentation, as the effects of the previous night were on full display in the form of red eyes and groggy speech. The group managed to make it through the training and eagerly rushed to a nearby café for some fresh air and carb-heavy food to soak up the leftover alcohol. After a quick bite to eat, along with some more coffee, Bridgette suggested the group go back downtown to walk La Rambla, the famous open-air market. "Mark and I will pay for the metro" she proclaimed.