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The Trouble with Flying

Rachel Morgan

  The Trouble with Flying

  By Rachel Morgan

  Copyright © 2014 Rachel Morgan

  Cover and interior design by Morgan Media


  Sarah doesn’t talk to strangers, but the cute guy sitting next to her on the plane might have to be the exception. Hours of random conversation later, Sarah thinks Aiden could be her happily ever after. The problem is, he’s gone now—and she has no idea how to find him.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, places, characters, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or, if real, used fictitiously. The author makes no claims to, but instead acknowledges, the trademarked status and trademark owners of the word marks, products, and/or brands mentioned in this work of fiction.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means without prior written permission from the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews. For more information please contact the author.

  Mobi ISBN 978-0-9922339-1-4

  Epub ISBN 978-0-9922339-2-1

  Print ISBN 978-0-9922339-3-8

  For all the shy people.

  I don’t make friends on aeroplanes. I know there are people who like to strike up a conversation with the complete stranger sitting next to them, but that’s not me. It’s not that I’m an unfriendly person. It’s more the fact that the conversation centre of my brain seems to seize up in the presence of strangers, and I can’t for the life of me figure out what to say. And even if the other person is happy to simply babble on while I pretend to be interested, I’d rather be doing something else. Like reading. Or watching a movie. Or trying to figure out how to stop crying.

  Yes. Crying. Because if being shy and awkward isn’t enough, today I’m adding red eyes, tears, and suppressed sobs to the embarrassing mix.

  I stare out the oval window at the patches of reflected light on the wet runway and silently ask God to leave the seat next to me empty. I can’t deal with a chatty neighbour right now. I’d rather watch the black sky and incessant rain until we reach cruising altitude. Then I’ll close my eyes and let sleep take the pain away.

  Oh, STOP IT. It’s not like someone died.

  I wiggle around a bit in my seat and sniff, trying to listen to my inner pep-talk voice. Think of the good things, I tell myself. I’m on my way home. I’m leaving behind the dreary, wet weather for a sunny, summer climate. That, at least, should make me happy. But thinking about home leads to thoughts of who I’m flying towards, and that only makes my stomach twist further.

  I hear the sound of a bag being dumped onto the seat at the end of my row. There are only three seats between the window and the aisle—mine and two others—so there’s a fifty-fifty chance this person is about to plonk him or herself down right next to me.

  I angle myself more towards the window and swipe my fingers beneath my eyes. I start the furious tear-banishing blinking. Stop crying, stop crying, stop crying. All I need now is for someone to see my blotchy, wet face and start asking me what’s wrong.

  Someone settles into a seat. I don’t feel movement right beside me, though, so it must be the aisle seat. Fantastic. I send up a quick thank-you prayer and remind God that it would be spectacularly awesome if He could keep the seat next to me empty.

  A tickle inside my left nostril alerts me to the fact that my nose is dribbling. I sniff, but it doesn’t help. Crap, where are my tissues? I lean forward and reach down by my feet for my handbag. Brown strands of hair fall in front of my face and block my vision, but if I can just get the zip open and feel past my purse to the tissues—

  No. Too late. Now it’s trickling down my lip and I’m digging around in the bag and I can’t feel the stupid tissues and a drop of tear snot just landed on my hand and yuck! I haul the ridiculous handbag—I told Jules I didn’t need something so big—onto my lap with one hand while holding the back of my other hand to my nose. And there the tissues are. Right next to my purse. Practically mocking me. I rip one from the packet and jam it against my nose to stop the tear-snot flood.

  And that’s when I catch a glimpse of the guy sitting in the aisle seat. A quick sideways glimpse, but enough to tell me he’s cute. Excellent cheekbones, a strong jawline, and perfectly messy dark brown hair. Terrific. My nose is dripping snot in front of a cute guy. Not that I should care that he’s cute, or that he’s a guy, because it’s not like I’m going to talk to him, and it’s not like I’m even available—am I? I don’t actually know. And thinking about that makes me want to cry all over again—but STILL. I don’t want to look blotchy and snotty in front of a cute guy.

  I turn back to the window because I’m going to have to blow my nose now, and I hate doing that in front of other people. Such revolting noises. I take a deep breath and go for it, cringing at how loud it sounds. I grab another tissue and finish cleaning up my face, then find an empty side pocket on my handbag to stuff the wadded tissues into. Gross. I wish I’d stocked up on waterless hand sanitiser after I finished my last bottle.

  I drop my handbag onto the floor and straighten. From the corner of my eye, I take a peek at the cute guy, half expecting to find him giving me a disgusted look. I needn’t have worried. He’s holding the two halves of the seatbelt in his hands and staring at them as if he’s never seen a contraption like it before. He pushes the two metal pieces together, and a satisfied half-smile appears on his face when the buckle remains fastened. Weird. Perhaps this guy is a little … slow. Hopefully that means he won’t be interested in chatting.

  More passengers squeeze along the aisles; tired parents try to get overexcited children to sit down; businessmen remove their laptops before sliding their bags into the overhead storage compartments. I pull my book from the seat pocket in front of me. I put it there as soon as I found my seat earlier so I’d be ready to act as if I’m reading the moment someone sits down next to me. I open up to the last page I read and try to focus on the story—a sweet, predictable romance meant to distract me from my own messy love life—but the cute guy in the aisle seat keeps shifting around, and I can’t help wondering what’s wrong with him.

  I take another peek. He certainly doesn’t look comfortable. Wiggling, tapping his fingers on the armrests, his knees bouncing up and down.

  “It’s my first time,” he says, looking over at me before I can look away. “In a plane, I mean. Never flown anywhere before. So, yeah. A little nervous.”

  “Your first time flying?” I repeat. I’ve just broken my own rule—don’t perpetuate conversation with strangers if you can help it—but I’m so surprised he’s never flown anywhere before that I guess the words just popped out.

  “Yeah. Strange, I know. Twenty-three years on this planet and I’ve never left the ground. Well, there was that giant swing at Adrenalin Quarry—” his fingers drum the armrests repeatedly “—but I guess that doesn’t count since the swing itself was still attached to the ground. Certainly felt like flying, though, and flying isn’t something I’ve ever been keen on doing.”

  He takes a deep breath while I try to figure out if I should tell him that flying in a plane doesn’t really feel like actual flying—not the way whooshing through the air on a high swing feels—or if I should make an excuse to get back to the safety of my book.

  “I’m sorry, I don’t usually ramble on like this,” he continues. “Must be the nerves. I’m still not entirely convinced this giant metal contraption is going to stay up in the air.” He lets out a nervous laugh.

  I need to pick up my book and put some headphones on before I say something monumentally stupid. Like last week on the Tube when the foreign guy sitting next to me asked, ‘Is that the new Stephen
King?’ I showed him the bright pink cover of my book and said, ‘No, it’s a Melissa Carly novel. She’s a romance writer,’ and wondered where on earth he’d got the idea it might be by Stephen King. How was I supposed to know the guy was actually referring to a flier on the seat beside me advertising an album by some rock star named Stevie Keene?

  So embarrassing.

  Anyway, not only is First-Time-Flying Guy cute, but he has the kind of British accent that makes me feel all swoony. And swoony feelings only aid in sending my conversation skills into freeze mode. So I find it rather surprising when my mouth opens and coherent words come out of it: “There must have been a really good reason for you to get on this plane, then.”

  “Family reunion,” he says. “I was forced.”

  I smile in response. It would probably be polite of me to ask him something about his family reunion. Something like … like … Okay, conversation centre is shutting down. And it’s not like he asked me a question, so I don’t have to respond, do I? I can safely return to my book. I look down at my lap, then think of one thing I could say. One thing I should say, even though I don’t want to. I look over at him. “Um, since it’s your first time flying, do you want to sit by the window?”

  “No!” he says a little too quickly. “I mean, no, thank you. I’m fine right here. I, um, don’t need to see how high we’ll be going.”

  “Oh, it’s really not so bad. Once we get up there, we’ll be so high you can’t even see the ground properly.”

  He blinks. He stares at me with gorgeous blue-green eyes that say, You are so not helping.

  “And, um, it’s night time anyway, so you won’t be able to see the ground at all. Just the lights.”

  More staring.

  Crap. I’m so bad at this.

  With my face burning, I look down, pretending to be fascinated by a small hole in the fabric of my seat. I think I can pretty much guarantee First-Time-Flying Guy won’t be speaking to me again. I run my finger over the hole, then shake my head and turn back to my book. I find my place on the page and try to get back into the story. The main character has finally realised she’s in love with the guy she grew up next door to, but she’s convinced, of course, that he’ll only ever see her as a friend. She’s in the process of planning a makeover for herself in the hopes of getting him to notice her. I’m predicting it’ll somehow backfire.

  Despite the fact that it’s hardly an award-winning novel, I find myself sucked into the cheesy story. The rumbling of the aeroplane’s engine helps to lull me into that faraway book world I lose myself in so often, and I’m barely aware of the overhead compartments slamming shut and the flight attendants doing their seatbelt and in-case-of-emergency demonstrations. I’m pulled back to the present when, with a small lurch, the plane begins moving.

  “Please say something,” First-Time-Flying Guy blurts out.

  Startled, the only word that pops out of my mouth is “What?” I lower my book and look at him, but he’s staring straight ahead, his fingers tapping a speedy rhythm on the armrests.

  “Talk. Anything. Distract me.”

  “Um …” Talk? Seriously? He might as well ask me to fly the plane myself.

  At that moment, I become aware of the fact that the seat right next to me is empty. And since the plane is about to take off, I’m guessing it’s going to stay that way for this flight. THANK YOU! Except … now there’s no buffer between me and the guy who seems intent on making me talk. Hmm. I really need to be more specific with my prayers.

  “I need a distraction,” he says, his eyes pleading with mine. “From the flying thing. I know it’s irrational. Completely irrational. I mean, I’m a scientist. I trust science. And flying an aeroplane is based on science. But being in one … in the sky …” He shakes his head. “I know it’s a stupid fear. I know I’m more likely to die in a car accident. But no matter how many times I try to convince myself that flying is perfectly safe these days, my stupid brain keeps reminding me that every now and then things do go wrong. And people do die. And that this could very well be my moment. To die.”

  Sheesh. I thought my brain was messed up for being unable to form intelligible sentences in front of strangers, but at least my brain doesn’t keep telling me I’m going to die.

  The silence stretches out between us like soft toffee. “I’m sorry,” he says eventually. “Did I scare you? Are you also afraid of flying?”

  I shake my head. Don’t. Freak. Out. Just talk! “No, I’m fine. Flying’s not too bad. Really. The worst part is taking off. Or maybe landing. But everything in between is fine. I promise.”

  Yes! I spoke more than ten words without stumbling over any of them, and this time I may have actually helped this guy instead of freaking him out further.

  “Whoa, okay, we’re speeding up.” His hands stop their tapping and squeeze the armrests.

  Right, so maybe I didn’t help that much.

  “So I’m expecting my ears to start hurting when we take off,” he continues, “because of the changing pressure. My sister told me to chew gum, and I know I definitely packed some, but of course I left it in my bag up there, so I guess it’s too late for that.” He forces his head back against the headrest and closes his eyes. “You idiot, just shut up.”

  I can’t help smiling. I think he’s forgotten he’s talking out loud. “Where are you going?” I ask, raising my voice as the rumbling beneath us grows louder. “I mean, on the other side of Dubai. Obviously we’re all going there first, or we wouldn’t be on this plane.”

  He opens his eyes and twists his head to look at me. “What makes you think I’m not staying in Dubai? Maybe I have a wife and two children there.”

  My ears start to heat up. You see? I tell myself. This is why you should keep quiet.

  “I’m kidding,” he says. “South Africa. Half my family lives there, which is why I’m being forced to cross continents for this reunion thing.” His eyes slide past me to the window as the vibration beneath our feet increases and our seats start to rattle. “And as much as I appreciate you trying to distract me, I’m fully aware of the fact that we are going way, way too fast right now and—oh bloody heck we’re in the air!” The plane tilts back as the wheels leave the ground and we begin our ascent. First-Time-Flying Guy presses his head back against the seat once more and squeezes his eyes shut. “Please don’t explode, please don’t explode, please don’t explode.”

  “It’s not going to explode!” I say.

  Pain begins to build inside my ears along with the stuffed-with-cotton-wool feeling. I open my mouth and move my jaw around, causing my ears to pop. No chewing gum for me. I’ve never liked the texture. Makes me feel like I’m eating a super squishy toy.

  “Oh dear God, I can see the lights. They’re getting smaller.” His eyes are glued to my window, despite the fact that he said he didn’t want to know how high we’d be going. “Is it supposed to rattle this much? And bugger, my ears are hurting.”

  “Make yourself yawn,” I tell him.

  “What? I can’t make myself yawn.”

  “Yes you can. Or move your jaw around. With your mouth open.”

  Frowning, he obeys my instruction. Then he winds up yawning for real. And then his eyes slide back to the window, and the panicked expression is on his face once more.

  I twist in my seat so I’m facing him and try to cover the window with my back. “South Africa,” I say loudly. “I’m going there too. That’s where I’m from. I was in England on holiday. Visiting my older sister. She moved there two years ago. She’s awesome. Really fun. She makes me laugh all the time.”

  Oh my goodness, can you pick something just a little less random to talk about? And maybe try sounding less like a robot reciting facts?

  “That’s … cool,” First-Time-Flying Guy says.

  “And … um … so, I’m really looking forward to feeling the sun on my skin again. I’ve been wrapped up like a burrito for way too long. I mean, how do you guys survive the entirety of winter? Three weeks was
enough for me. I don’t know how I’d survive any more of this rain and wind and paralyzing iciness.”

  Wow. Are you really talking about the weather?

  He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly as the plane starts to feel more horizontal. No more rattling. Just flying. Smooth flying. He peers over my shoulder once more, then leans back in his seat. “Okay,” he says quietly, probably to himself. “We’re in the air. I can do this.”

  “Yes, you can,” I say, then feel like slapping myself. He wasn’t asking for my opinion. He wasn’t even talking to me anymore.

  “So … I should probably apologise,” he adds. I look up, but his eyes refuse to meet mine.

  “What? Why?” I can’t remember him doing anything wrong.

  “For that whole … panicking thing. We haven’t exploded yet, so I’m starting to realise my over-the-top reaction wasn’t exactly necessary. And I can’t really remember what I said to you while it was happening, so I hope it wasn’t too embarrassing.”

  I shake my head. “Don’t worry, it wasn’t. Not as embarrassing as my weather rambling.”

  “Oh really?” He raises both eyebrows. “I must have missed that while I was contemplating the plane making a nosedive towards the ground.”

  “Well, now that I know what was actually going through your mind, I kinda wish you were listening to my silly rambling.”

  Oh my fuzzy beanie. I’m having a conversation. A normal conversation. With someone I don’t know. I look down at the closed book in my lap as I try to hide the idiotic smile stretching my lips.

  “What?” he asks. I guess I didn’t hide it very well.

  “I just … don’t normally do this.” Whoa, okay, I think that’s where I was supposed to say, ‘Nothing.’

  “Do what?” he asks. “Talk about the weather?”

  It’s officially blurt-it-all-out time. “Talk to strangers.”

  “Of course,” he says, keeping a straight face. “Because talking to strangers is the height of dangerous. At least, that’s what our mothers always told us.”