Authors: Rissa Brahm
“Why do you do this to yourself, Preeya? And to me?” Amanda gave Preeya a half smile with an
-familiar glower. Preeya’s longtime flight mate always covered for her, saving her ass more times than she could count.
“It was seriously the traffic this time.” She kissed Amanda’s cheek and whispered her thanks. “I need to grab a real coffee, though…rough night. Can I run?”
. “Go. Fast.”
Yeah, sometimes Preeya took advantage, but she’d pay Amanda back with her exhilarating company. Amanda had sought this job—glamour waitress of the skies—for some extra income for her family and extra adventure away from her family. Preeya
Amanda’s excitement. They were layover buddies, complementing each other perfectly. Compared to many FAs, Preeya was considered pretty tame, just wild enough for Amanda. And Amanda played the mother figure—she drew and kept her lines. Through Preeya, Amanda got to cross those lines without actually crossing them.
Preeya scurried away from the gate in search of the nearest
grande mocha with extra whip. She’d grab a muffin for Amanda, too—and one to fill the hole in her own
gut. God, she was glad to be anywhere but back in that room with Josh.
, she could breathe. In fact, a familiar
bumped the inner walls of her breastbone—she was glad to be back in her domain, an airport. She looked up at the vaulted ceilings, the skylights, the expansive windows running alongside the grand terminal of gates and shops and people. A gazillion hectic people. And as she weaved in and out of the variety of those travelers in her path—from her fellow lost souls, to determined
, and all the newbies and
in between—she felt at home. In an airport, she felt at home.
She laughed out loud. Maybe she’d become an FA not only to freak her dad the hell out and to secretly—and deplorably—run into Josh Bolte or whoever/whatever the hell he represented. Also, maybe, she had just known there was more to life, and the epitome of a vibrant life could be observed—if not found—in an airport. Any airport, really. Large hubs or small connector sites, the movement of walking, talking landmarks of time, to Preeya, was a thing to behold. An airport had a heartbeat, a vibration, a bravado bigger than her. Bigger than anyone.
And her craving for adventure, the new and different faces and stories and options. Infinite options. And time. Her
job had definitely given her options and the time to find the person, place, or thing that might sate the
blank spot inside her.
And now, maybe because of the Josh
call, the liberating
ceremony, and Dawn’s
analysis, something new stirred in her. A slight spark of exhilaration with a soft touch of hope. Between her eyes and at the base of her spine.
A nagging anxiety had lifted.
Everything had worked out despite the despicable and surreal past twelve hours. She had made it to
in time for her flight, Amanda had her task list covered, she’d make it to Amy’s wedding, no problem, and the
was behind her…
…and in front of her? The future ahead?
Her destination coffee spot.
Not quite what she’d meant, but just ahead was the sight and scent of Java Lava. Of course, the line was more than ten people deep. She sighed, but instead of cursing and checking the time again, she repeated the usual mantra,
go with it
. And with Seattle’s rare sun rays peeking down at her from the skylights,
the sky’s the
Yes, damn it, the sky is the
Her phone rang and startled her as she struggled to balance her drink while shoving her credit card back into her purse so she could free a hand to get her earbuds in before missing the call.
She didn’t have to look at her screen to know.
“Where the hell have you been?” Sisterly wrath emanated.
“Shouldn’t you know, Geej?”
Don’t be snarky, Preeya.
“Sorry…I’m a bitch and it’s a long story—”
my ass. You had me worried sick. You were supposed to be at my place by six last night. Just so happens that Rod stayed over and you’d have been on the sofa, but that’s not the point. So
cool, Pree—not cool at all. I mean, how many of my calls did you
“I guess I take it for granted that you know I’m safe, you know?”
“Bullshit. You know that other than pregnancies and deaths, I see only cloudy, blurry shit—nothing concrete. If you’ve just hung up with your evil bitch of an aunt…or, God forbid, you’re being raped, I can’t distinguish between the two other than knowing down to my bones that you’re in pain.”
“Geej, I’m sorr—”
“No, you let me finish! I sensed that you were more than distressed last night—for the entire night and through to this morning. So after I called the airline to be sure you landed, and that you were on the damn flight from Tampa in the first place, I almost called my dad.” Detective Donlow, Seattle PD. Like a father to Preeya, he would’ve been more than pissed, too, if Gigi had gotten him involved and it had been nothing serious. But a brief flicker of delight hit her heart while picturing Josh in handcuffs, arrested for possession.
That may have just been worth
Gigi’s rant brought Preeya back to the present. “You hear me? How selfish can you be, Preeya? Then I had a moronic thought to check your chat status online. And the stupid happy emoticon pulled me back from red alert. So fuck you—updating your online status and not texting me. And now, explain, goddamn it! Because ‘smiley face’ still didn’t match the vibe I was getting.”
Preeya’s shame and guilt sank to the pit of her stomach along with her heart. Yeah, in the ride from the airport with Josh, she’d posted a gleeful emoji to mark the unbelievable serendipity of it all.
She swallowed then cleared her throat in order to answer her furious friend, but the cracking embarrassment in her voice was unavoidable. “Josh.”
“Josh…Josh Bolte? Your first…
“The same.” Barely a whisper
“Enough of the clips of info, Pree, because seriously…I’m gonna flip out in a second.”
Preeya inhaled then blew out the details. “Carnal Knowledge is playing Seattle, apparently. I was in the airport’s cab line and he just swooped me up.”
“Josh Bolte flies commercial?”
Preeya snickered. That struck her yesterday, too—for a nanosecond. But in retrospect, wow, had it made perfect sense. The desperate asshole needing all the fawning
he could get. “Yeah, but that’s, like, the
part of the entire situation, believe it or not.”
“I believe it. And now I’m glad for
you got last night, standing me up for that dick wad. And making me worry.” Gigi blew out her remaining fury into the phone mic. “But, shit, tell me everything. I need to hear details.”
Preeya laughed then looked down at the coffee calling to her. Her own brand of drug, much needed, but she held off. “I felt like a total asshole, Geej. Just pathetic.”
“Hey, hindsight, love. I’m stuck in the game, too, right? How many times have I gone back to Rod?”
“Yeah. That’s pathetic, too.” Preeya smiled then broke down and took a sip of her mocha.
“Sorry. It is, though.”
Gigi huffed. “I guess, but screw off. Life’s complicated. Love’s fucking complicated.”
“Well, I know I’m
in love with Josh Bolte.”
Yes, okay…she had been. “Well, that infatuation’s now ironed into Sandpoint Way.”
“Nothing…just that I’m so over him and that pipe dream, Geej.”
“Good news. I always said he was a flaming asshole, like that stupid tattoo.” Gigi scoffed.
“It’s a flaming sun, Geej, not an
.” The fiery sun on his wrist aligned with the bright blue moon tat on hers. Together, a total eclipse.
I really should get the damn thing removed
. “But anyway, yes,
is an asshole, and I’m an ass for going with—whoa, whoa. Geej, hold on a sec.”
Preeya caught the monitor hovering above the coffee menu, the local morning news.
face, now with a new something added. Yes, an unmistakable glint of pride.
“Pree, you there?”
“Sorry, sorry. Yeah. It’s just…Ev. He’s on anchor desk, Channel 4 News.” Preeya pushed out a quick breath and shook her head. Production assistant reporting the news? In only a month? “Amazing. Maybe ending
opened more doors for him, after all? My Aunt Champa always said my flightiness was contagious. So now without
, he can focus and actually move up in his career, huh?”
Clean slate, Pree.
Again, sky’s the
“Listen, love, your fucking ‘flightiness’ isn’t contagious…your vibrant energy is. And yes, good for Evan, but you are going places, too. Places you can’t even imagine yet.”
“So…you do know something?”
“Damn it, Preeya.”
“Kidding. Just kidding.”
“All I know is that I know
. And that I love you and all your
, too. Your
family can project their bullshit on you all they want because they’re blind to your dynamic charisma, your brilliance, and your
heart. You are going far, my friend. I know it in my gut.”
“Yeah, hopefully to
Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
far, if I make it in time,” she said, ungluing her gaze from the TV and moving her ass back toward the gate through the terminal’s maze of people.
“But before you board, bitch, tell me about Josh already!”
“Well, the first thing you’d appreciate knowing”—she stole a few sips of coffee so she could be done with it before seeing Leena—“is that I officially have Josh Bolte and any and all representations of him and his type out of my system. Oh and…I got hit on by a lesbian. A pretty cool chick, too.”
Gigi gasped then giggled and said something that got swallowed up in an announcement that clobbered Preeya’s ears. “Preeya Patel, please. Preeya Patel to Gate S10. Preeya Patel to gate S10 now, please.”
“Shit.” She slammed the rest of the mocha in five hard gulps. “Geej, I gotta get on board before they leave me, then fire me.” The flight couldn’t really leave without her, but she couldn’t ignore how replaceable she was.
“You’re killin’ me, Pree. When you land, then. I mean,
“Gigi, I’ll call you. When I land.”
“Wait, Pree. You’re okay, though? Josh—he didn’t hurt you or anything? And you’re remembering your pill for God’s sake!”
No, she was horrible about taking her birth control, but it hadn’t turned out to matter, had it? “Geej, he didn’t hurt me—except for the pain in my throbbing, completely unsatiated clit. But, I’m fine and good…and covered. But I’ll call ya during my layover in Houston with more.”
Ben sat in a
corner until boarding. Only five more minutes or so. Then sleep.
Until then, he thought he’d
some more, that is, if sleep didn’t take him first. God, he was so tired. The hearing was an early one, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The review board, his
—or rather, former
—their attorney, and even Stanton, were all so draining. His lids felt so heavy, iron and
heavy. God, weren’t they supposed to be boarding now? A minute ago even? But he couldn’t fight the exhaustion, the gravity, not even for another…his head nodded, chin to chest—
A loudspeaker announcement rocked his eardrums. He gasped awake.
Preeya Patel please, to gate
His eyes open now, dry and wide, he refocused on the scene around him. By the window, his nameless soldier friend was on her phone, only twenty feet away. She paced then faced the window, frozen, her back to him. His heart still raced from the shock of the loudspeaker, but that and his new distraction on the phone had conquered his drowsy spell, at least.
The soldier, however mellow and calm she’d been while in line with him at
, seemed anything but right then. He couldn’t make out her words, but her gestures were animated, staccato and sharp. Her head shook back and forth then tipped up to the ceiling in what he imagined to be some kind of prayer or request for an
-body answer. When she wasn’t gesturing, she’d sigh, her shoulders lifting high then falling low. In total, he sensed a level of desperation in her that sent chills up his spine.
He shifted in the hard curve of the plastic chair.
Not your problem, Ben.
He looked down at his feet.
Avoidance is key, Ben.
His gaze shot up, following the sound. His soldier friend had thrown something at the window? She crouched down then stood up the next second, holding a gold ring between her thumb and forefinger. He immediately moved his hand to his chest, to his gold chain under his shirt which held his wedding band. No longer appropriate to wear on his hand, he kept it all that much closer to his heart. He watched the soldier slide her retrieved ring onto her left ring finger. She stepped closer to the window, hand soothing the glass—feeling for damage?—then she shoved her phone into her pants pocket and dragged her duffel to a chair a few rows away from him and sank into a seat. Good. She didn’t see him there.