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The Trouble with Flying, Page 2

Rachel Morgan

  “What I mean,” I say, “is that I can’t talk to strangers. I freak out. My mind goes blank and I don’t know what to say.”

  “Ah, so that’s why you looked so scared earlier when I asked you to talk to me.”

  “Well, honestly, yes.” A hint of heat warms my cheeks again. “Talking to people I don’t know is one of my Big Fears in Life.”

  “You don’t seem to be having a problem right now.”

  Except for the blushing part, which I never seem to be able to control. “I guess you don’t really count as a stranger anymore, since I managed to talk you through a near panic attack just now.” And it probably helped that you freaked out in the first place instead of acting cool and confident, I add silently.

  “Yes. There was the near panic attack. But you don’t even know my name, so in that regard I’m still a stranger.”

  “True.” I stare at him, waiting.

  He holds his hand out. “I’m Aiden.”

  I wipe my hand quickly against my jeans—in case of clamminess—and grasp his. It’s warm, and his handshake is firm. “Sarah,” I tell him.

  “There,” he says. “Now I definitely don’t count as a stranger anymore.”

  The tear-snot hand. He’s shaking the tear-snot hand. I cringe inside but manage to stop myself from snatching my hand away. I let go of him and wrap my fingers around my book. My safety blanket. I smile at Aiden—and my mind goes blank again.


  I look down and fumble to open the pages of my book. Where was I? I was on page … page …

  “Don’t you use a bookmark?” Aiden asks.

  I stop my fumbling and raise my eyes to his. He starts laughing. It’s an easy, comfortable sound. He must have forgotten he’s inside a flying metal tube. “What?” I ask.

  “Your face,” he says. “I can tell exactly what you’re thinking.”

  I close the book and cross my arms. “And what exactly am I thinking?”

  His laughter gives way to a grin. “‘Why is he still talking to me?’”

  I open my mouth, but no words come out. Yes, that’s pretty much what I was thinking.

  “I’m sorry,” he says, “but I’m viewing this as something of a challenge. You can’t tell me that you never have conversations with strangers and not expect me to try and keep you talking for the whole flight.”

  I raise my eyebrows. Did he say whole flight? Because that is definitely not happening.

  “So tell me, Sarah. Why are you so afraid of talking to new people?”

  “Why are you so afraid of flying?” I ask, finding my voice.

  He hesitates for a beat, the smile lines disappearing from around his eyes, then says, “I have a paralysing fear of heights.”

  “Well, clearly I have a paralysing fear of new people.”

  “Why?” he asks, looking as though he’d genuinely like to know the answer.

  “What is this, a therapy session?” I demand. “I don’t know why! I guess that’s just the way God made me.” Why am I shouting? What is wrong with me?

  “Well, if I were you, and if God were real, I’d ask him what he was thinking.”

  “God is real, and perhaps He made me this way so that I wouldn’t annoy strangers who don’t want to hear what I have to say.”

  He pretends to look wounded. “You don’t want to hear what I have to say?”

  “No.” I wave my book in his face. “I’d rather find out what happens to Jacinda and Max.” Wrong. I’d rather listen to Aiden’s delicious accent for the next several hours. But the thought of having to engage intelligently is too terrifying for me to indulge in that fantasy.

  “That frivolous stuff?” He gestures to the hot pink cover of my book. “You’ve probably predicted the entire storyline already.”

  “That’s not the point. I still like to read to the end to make sure I’m right. And to answer your question, no. I don’t use bookmarks. I remember the last page I was on.”

  “That seems like a waste of brain space.”

  “Maybe for you. I, on the other hand, have plenty of brain space.”

  He watches me, and I get the feeling he’s trying not to laugh. He looks at his watch. “Ten minutes in,” he says. “You’re doing well. Only six hours and thirty-five minutes left.”

  “No.” I hold up a hand. “That’s not happening.”

  “It’s already happening, Sarah.” He takes the book off my lap and stuffs it into the pocket in front of him.

  “Give that back.” My heart starts pounding at double speed. I reach across the empty seat to retrieve my safety blanket.

  “Sarah, please.” He touches my arm, and as the floor shudders slightly beneath our feet, I see the uneasiness in his eyes. He isn’t making me talk simply to force me out of my comfort zone. He’s making me talk to distract himself from the flight.

  I realise I’m being ridiculous. After one last glance at the book I don’t really want to read anyway, I pull my arm back slowly. I can do this. After all, Aiden already knows about my stupid fear, so if I blank in the middle of a conversation, he won’t think any worse of me than he already does.

  “Okay,” I say slowly. “Um ...” Don’t be weird, don’t be weird, just be normal.

  From the corner of my eye, I see the Fasten Seatbelt light blink off. Before I know it, I’m unclipping the straps across my lap. “I need to go to the toilet,” I blurt out, even though I went just before we boarded.

  “Really? You need to go right now?” Aiden doesn’t move his legs. “We just took off.”

  “Do you want me to pee on the seat?” I demand.

  He narrows his eyes. “You don’t need to pee.”

  “Fine, if you won’t let me past, then I’ll have to climb over you.” I raise my leg, but he moves both of his aside before I’m forced to embarrass myself by straddling him.

  “You know you can’t hide in the bathroom for the entire flight, right?” he says loudly enough for the passengers across the aisle to give us an odd look.

  I hurry away from him in the direction of the nearest toilet.

  “Don’t be long,” he calls after me. “You have about three minutes before I have another panic attack.”

  “Liar,” I mutter. The panic attack was probably fake. He’s probably been on a plane a hundred times before and this is his way of getting unsuspecting girls to fawn all over him.

  I pull open the door of the first toilet I reach and squeeze myself into the tiny space. I shut the door and take a deep breath as I lean against it. “Don’t be weird, don’t be weird, just be normal,” I quietly instruct myself.

  This isn’t the first time I’ve locked myself into a small room to give myself a few moments to remember that new people aren’t actually that scary and that I need to stop being so ridiculously shy. There was the day I started high school, and the day I started university, and the night before my first date with Matt …

  Okay. Now is not the time to be thinking about Matt.

  I push myself away from the door and stare at the mirror. Yuck. Aeroplane bathrooms officially have the worst lighting ever. Even a supermodel would feel ugly in here. I rub my hands over my face before leaning a little closer to my reflection. It could be the horrific lighting in here, but the brown eyes that peer back at me look a little red-rimmed. I guess I shed a lot more tears earlier than I planned to. My hair is flat, the glowing tan I worked so hard on before leaving South Africa has faded, and I’ve got no makeup on. Bottom line? Even if Aiden was a freak who faked panic attacks to pick up girls on aeroplanes—which I’m pretty sure he’s not—he’d have no reason to choose me.

  Still, I’m the one he was unfortunate enough to sit next to, so if he needs me to distract him from the chasm of space between us and the ground, I’ll do it. It’ll be good for me.

  I push back the sleeves of my hoodie—green with the words BOOK FREAK across the front—and wash my hands. After drying them, I try to fluff my hair up a bit so it looks less flat. All I manage to do is charge
my head with static electricity.

  Great. Now I look like a cartoon character who stuck her finger in an electrical socket.

  After carefully smoothing my hair down, I head back to my seat. Every row I pass is full. Makes sense. We’re only ten days from Christmas; everyone’s flying around the world at this time of year.

  I squeeze past Aiden’s legs and slide into my seat as he says, “You’re just in time. I could feel the heart palpitations getting ready to attack me.”

  I roll my eyes. “You can tell your heart palpitations to save their energy for when the turbulence comes. Then they’ll have something to get excited about.”

  Aiden’s eyes widen ever so slightly.

  “Um, I mean, turbulence isn’t that bad.” I tug my sleeves down over my hands—one of my nervous habits—as I look around, hoping the plane will provide me with inspiration. “Why do you think this seat is empty?” I say, gesturing to the open spot between us.

  He raises an eyebrow. “Um, because no one booked it?”

  “Every other row I passed is full. I’ve never flown at this time of year and had an empty seat next to me. I’m sure someone must have booked it.”

  “Maybe it was a businessman who finished a meeting late,” Aiden suggests, “and then got stuck in rush-hour traffic and couldn’t get to the airport on time.”

  “Maybe. That sounds a little boring, though.”

  Aiden raises an eyebrow. “Okay. Perhaps the businessman decided to take a taxi instead of the Tube because he had a big suitcase with him, but the taxi broke down.”

  “And as he stood on the side of the road trying to hail another taxi, he was abducted by aliens who took him to a parallel dimension.”

  Aiden’s eyebrows climb a little higher. “Or maybe he managed to make it to the airport just in time, but as he was running, he tripped over an old lady’s walking stick, knocked himself unconscious on the floor, and didn’t hear the airport announcer person calling his name.”

  “And no one stopped to help him because a sneaky alien security guard dragged him into a private corridor to start experimenting on him.”

  Aiden shakes his head and laughs. “Why do there have to be aliens in this story?”

  “Because that makes it more interesting. Why does the main character have to be a man?”

  “Okay, it was a businesswoman. She got to the airport early, so she went to one of the restaurants to get dinner. She met a good-looking guy, started chatting, and didn’t realise how fast the time went by—”

  “Because her watch stopped working due to her latent supernatural ability that began to reveal itself a few days ago.” I lean a little closer as my mind races ahead, filling in fantastical details. “And it wasn’t a coincidence that the good-looking guy met her at the restaurant. He was waiting for her so he could tell her about the secret organisation of superheroes her father was a part of before he died. And now that her abilities are revealing themselves, she’s been invited to join the organisation. So that’s where she went instead of getting on the plane.”

  Aiden stares blankly at me for several seconds, then shrugs. “Okay, we can go with that. It’s far more exciting than any of my theories.”

  I give him a shy smile as heat crawls up my neck. Most people I know roll their eyes at me when I start making up stories, so it’s a nice change to have someone call them ‘exciting’—even if what he’s thinking may be entirely different.

  Just as the silence between us starts to reach awkward point, Aiden says, “So, you’re a sci-fi and fantasy fan? I thought at first you were more into the romantic chick stuff.” He gestures towards the seat pocket in front of him where the top of my pink book is sticking out.

  “Oh, no, not really. That’s my sister’s book. I took two of my own books with me, but I finished them faster than I thought I would. They were both paranormal-type stories.”

  “Do you think all that stuff is real?” Aiden asks. “Parallel dimensions and supernatural abilities and all that.”

  I narrow my eyes. Is he making fun of me?

  “What? It’s a genuine question,” he says. “You believe in God, so maybe you believe in all things fantastical.”

  “And you don’t.”

  He shrugs. “I’m a scientist. I don’t need an entity I can’t see, hear, or touch if science and logic can explain everything for me.”

  “Not everything,” I say as I twist my sleeves around my fingers. “And life isn’t always about things you can see or hear or touch. Sometimes it’s more than that.”

  Aiden leans across the empty seat and lowers his voice. “Like the feeling of security that settles over you when your guardian angel is nearby, brandishing a flaming, supernatural sword and fighting off the demons that threaten to steal your soul.”

  I stick my tongue out and push him back into his seat.

  Laughing, he says, “You see? You’re not the only one who can make up fantasy stories.”

  “Not all fantasy stories are made up,” I tell him. “And maybe the one you just joked about is truer than you think it is.”

  He spreads his arms out, palm up. “Show me the angel with the flaming sword, and I’ll be happy to believe. Until then, I’ll stick with my science.”

  “Science doesn’t rule out a higher being,” I argue, aware somewhere at the back of my mind that I’m in the middle of an intelligent conversation with someone I barely know and I haven’t blanked yet! “I’m a scientist too, and learning about all the intricate workings of the universe and its inhabitants only makes me believe in God even more.”

  Aiden looks at me sideways, narrows his eyes, and opens his mouth. Then he closes it without saying anything. He shifts around in his seat and watches me for several moments. “You remind me of one of my friends. He’s been trying to convince me to go with him to church for years.”

  “And you keep telling him the invisible entity doesn’t work for you.”

  “Pretty much.” He grins, and I notice a dimple in his left cheek. “So, what kind of scientist are you, Sarah?”

  I look down at my lap. “Oh, well, I’m not technically a scientist yet. I’ve done one year of a BSc, so I guess you could call me a scientist-in-training.”

  “Okay, what kind of scientist do you plan to be?”

  “Um …” I hate it when people ask me this, because I never have a proper answer. “I’m not sure yet. Sometimes I don’t know why I picked science.” And I don’t know why I said that. He doesn’t need to know that I can’t figure out what to do with my life.

  “Pick something else then,” Aiden says, as if changing degrees isn’t a big deal. “Something that induces such passion in you that you’ll even talk to strangers about it. Something that includes making up fantastical stories, if possible,” he adds with a grin.

  A faint smile crosses my lips. “Yeah, maybe.” Which is code for Not Happening. I’ve already had this conversation with someone in the past month, and it did not go well. Sticking with science is my safest option right now, especially since the only thing I feel any kind of passion for also happens to be something I suck at. “What about you?” I ask. “You can’t be a real scientist yet either; you don’t have wild hair and an uncontrollable beard.”

  “If that’s a prerequisite for being a scientist, then you’re going to have a problem.”

  “I know. I’ve been trying to grow a beard for months, but nothing will happen.” I stroke my chin.

  “And your hair is far too pretty to be considered wild.”

  Pretty? Oh my goodness, is he flirting with me? “You should have seen it just now in the bathroom,” I say before allowing myself to get embarrassed. “I definitely would have been classified as crazy scientist with all that static electricity whizzing across my head.”

  With a smile, Aiden says, “I bet you still looked cute.”

  Oookay. I’m not an expert in this area, but I’m almost certain he’s flirting with me. I grab a pamphlet from the seat pocket in front of me. “Have—have
you seen the menu?” I open it up and pretend to peruse it so I won’t have to look at Aiden. “The food’s actually pretty good on this airline. I had salmon on the way here.”

  “Mmm, lamb brochette,” Aiden says, leaning over to read my menu. “Looks good.”

  I focus on the words and instruct my brain to make sense of them. It’s difficult, though, with Aiden leaning so close I can smell his deodorant or cologne or whatever it is he’s wearing. Which makes me wonder what I smell like. Hopefully more like fruit—from Julia’s cherry something-or-other shampoo I used this morning—and less like the cheese muffin I snacked on while waiting at the airport.

  “How do you order food if you can’t talk to strangers?” Aiden asks. “Sign language? Pointing?”

  I roll my eyes. “I don’t have a problem ordering food. It’s not like I’m expected to have a detailed discussion with a waiter about the finer points of his life when all I need to say is, ‘I’ll have the smoked chicken salad, please.’”

  “Right. No sign language then.”


  He pulls away from me—finally—and I can breathe easily once more. “So what’s our entertainment line-up for the evening?” he asks as he touches the screen in front of him. “There must be at least one good movie on here.”

  “More than one.” I touch the menu of my own screen. “They often show new releases.” I navigate to the sci-fi movie I tried to get Julia to watch with me before I realised how much more expensive a movie ticket is in London than back home. “Does this mean I’m off the conversation-hook for the rest of the flight?”

  “Of course not. Who says you can’t talk during a movie?”

  “Oh no. You’re one of those?”

  “I am one of those.”

  “My best friend is like that.” I pull my headphones out of the seat pocket and unwind the cord. “It’s one thing when you’re on the couch at home, but when you’re in the cinema? Yeah, it gets embarrassing. Someone threw popcorn at us once.”

  “Brilliant. Free popcorn.” Aiden locates his headphones.

  “Ew, are you serious? Would you really eat popcorn when you don’t know whose hands have been all over it?”