The Trouble with Flying, Page 3Rachel Morgan
“I might. In fact, if you were there, I definitely would. Just to see your reaction.”
My fingers still on the headphone cord as I meet Aiden’s gaze. I imagine the two of us sitting in a cinema together. In the semi-darkness. Our eyes locked the way they seem to be locked right now.
Whoa. I blink and look down. I plug my headphones in. I should not be thinking about Aiden in that way. Not when I have Matt.
But do I have Matt?
Honestly … I have no idea.
Stop thinking about Matt! He doesn’t deserve to have any more thoughts or tears wasted on him.
“Good choice,” Aiden says, and for a crazy second I think my inner pep-talk voice spoke out loud. Then I realise he’s looking at the movie I selected. “Don’t start it yet. I’ll find the same one. We can critique it together.” His fingers move quickly across his screen. He puts the headphones on, positioning them so that one ear is covered and one is free. “Ready?” he asks.
The image of Matt splinters into hundreds of pieces that drift away on an imaginary breeze. I smile at Aiden. “Yes.”
I’m not a film critic. I like to sit back and let the soundtrack wash over me and the story weave its way through my imagination. I like to lose myself for an hour or two. Aiden, however, can’t shut up. He has a comment about everything, from the special effects to the actors chosen for the various roles to the fact that the ‘science’ makes little or no sense. It could be that I’m still somewhat mesmerised by his accent, but I find that I don’t mind the interruptions.
Three hours later, after stopping the movie to order drinks, then dinner, and then pausing at least twenty times to argue about some detail or other, we finally finish. The cabin lights are dimmed, and most passengers are either sleeping or plugged into their screens. I slide my feet out of my shoes and reach for the aeroplane blanket I shoved under my chair earlier. I pull my knees up onto the seat and wrap the blanket around them.
“Okay, so that wasn’t exactly an Oscar winner,” I say. I take a sip of Chardonnay from my plastic wine glass before replacing it on the tray table between Aiden and me. “I’m glad I didn’t pay to watch it in a cinema.”
“Thank goodness I was here to give you a detailed commentary and dissection,” Aiden says. “You might have fallen asleep other—”
Our smooth flight shifts abruptly to a bumpy one as turbulence rocks the plane.
Aiden swears loudly and grips the armrests of his chair. “What the hell was that?”
“Um, that would be turbulence.”
“Turbulence? That felt like an aeroplane-sized pothole.”
Another shudder ripples through the plane, stronger this time.
“Holy hell,” Aiden gasps as I grab both our drinks before they start dancing towards the edge of the tray table. “So when you told me that everything in between taking off and landing is fine, you were lying.”
“Not intentionally.” I hold the drinks up as my seat bounces around. “I just … forgot about the turbulence part. And technically I think ‘holy hell’ might be an oxymoron. Since, you know, hell is bad. Not holy.”
“Well, at least you know for next time.”
“Sarah!” He gives me the we’re-all-gonna-die look.
“Hey, it’s okay, this is normal.” I tip back the last of my wine so I can put the glass down and place my hand over his. “Turbulence happens. The plane shakes around a bit, sometimes the seatbelt light comes back on, and then it passes and we all get on with sleeping or watching a movie or whatever. Just pretend you’re on some kind of carnival ride instead of in a plane.”
“Uh huh,” Aiden says, but his eyes are squeezed shut and I can tell he doesn’t believe me.
With one final shudder that knocks my glass over and sends the remaining ice block skittering across the tray table, the turbulence passes. I wait a few moments to make sure it’s really gone, then say, “See? That wasn’t so bad. They didn’t even ask us to put our seatbelts on.”
Aiden stares straight ahead, his breathing a little heavier than normal. I realise my hand is covering his. Crumbs, when did I do that? I barely know this guy and now I’m holding his hand? I lift the offending hand away from his and hide it in my lap. I’m still holding his drink, so I put that down too. I scoop the runaway ice block back into my glass and notice that Aiden still hasn’t said anything. I look up, but he’s watching the aisle. The tops of his ears are red.
“Um, are you okay?” I ask. Still he refuses to look at me. “Okay, so, I hope you’re not embarrassed or anything. I mean, turbulence is scary if you don’t know what to expect. I’m the real freak here, remember? The one who’s scared of social interaction with perfectly harmless people.” I laugh to let him know I’m joking. Trying to lighten the mood.
“It is embarrassing, though,” he says quietly, his gaze still focused on the aisle. “That kid over there didn’t even put her iPad down.”
“Well, you know, she’s probably too engrossed in catapulting birds at pigs or something. If she were even remotely aware of her surroundings, I’m sure she would have been scared too.”
Aiden gives me a small smile. “I doubt it. But thanks anyway. And thanks for saving my wine. When you start off with such a tiny drink, it would suck to lose half of it.”
I laugh. “It would. We should start a petition for larger aeroplane cups.”
“Yes. Right after I figure out where my blanket is. Where’d you get yours from?”
“It was on my chair when I got here.”
“Which means I’m probably sitting on mine.” Aiden reaches beneath his butt—don’t think about his butt!—and pulls out an aeroplane pillow.
“How did you not know you were sitting on that?” I ask.
“Is this what they call a pillow?”
“I’m afraid it is.”
“Ridiculous. How is anyone supposed to get a good night’s sleep on this pincushion? I should have bought one of those blow-up pillows that wrap around your neck.”
“Are you planning to sleep now?” I try to keep the disappointment out of my voice. I’m tired, but—as insane as it is for me to admit this—I’d rather stay awake and talk to Aiden.
“After that turbulence?” Aiden shakes his head as he pulls his blanket out from beneath him. “Not a chance. However,” he adds, “if I’m about to die, perhaps it would be better if I didn’t know it was coming.”
“We’re not about to die.”
Aiden drapes his blanket over his legs and pulls it up to his lap. It’s exactly what most people do when they’re flying overnight, but somehow it looks cuter on him. Like he’s all ready for bed now. “If we were about to die, though,” he says, “what’s one thing you wouldn’t miss?”
“Hmm.” I wrap my arms around my knees and pull them closer. “Going back to varsity. I’m not too excited about that.”
“Which one are you at?”
I give him a sideways look. “Not the one you’re thinking of.”
“How do you know which one I’m thinking of?”
“Because people from other countries only ever know about one South African university.”
He hesitates before saying, “Okay. Guilty as charged. I only know the Cape Town one.”
“So you don’t go there?”
“Nope.” The prospect of travelling across the country to study at a massive university with thousands of people I don’t know was just a little too terrifying for me. I opted for the small campus an hour away from home and the tiny garden flat in my mom’s old school friend’s back garden. And it didn’t hurt that Matt had already chosen to go there …
Get out of my head, Matt!
I blink and find Aiden watching me. “What?”
“Just waiting to see if you’ll carry on talking if I don’t ask you anything else.”
The dreaded blush creeps up my neck again. “Okay, you see? This is the problem. I want to keep talking to you, but any time i
t’s my turn to bring up a new topic of conversation, my brain can’t seem to pick anything.”
“So ask me a question.”
Right. That’s the normal thing to do. You get to know people by asking them questions. If I could stop being so self-conscious, maybe I’d remember that. “Um … tell me three random things about yourself.”
“That’s not exactly a question.”
“I know. But right now my brain is stuck at ‘What don’t you like to eat’ and ‘How many siblings do you have,’ both of which are super boring. So I’m trusting you’ll come up with something more interesting than that.”
Aiden puts both hands behind his head and stares at the seat in front of him. “Uh, okay. One, the best Christmas present I ever got was a pair of rollerblades. I spent every day after school going up and down the road outside our house until my mom confiscated them so I’d do my homework. Two, I wanted to be a magician when I was growing up. And three, I think happily ever afters are a myth.” He twists his head to look at me. “And in answer to your boring questions, I don’t eat fish and I have one older sister. Your turn.”
“Wait.” I hold my hand up. “Why are happily ever afters a myth?”
He shrugs. “They just are. Now you tell me your random three things.”
I want to prod further, find out why exactly he doesn’t believe this ‘myth.’ But I’m too scared to push in case this is an off-limits topic for him. If that were the case, though, he wouldn’t have brought it up, would he?
“Um, right.” I chicken out. “My three things are … One, I’m addicted to zoo biscuits. Two, I used to act out stories to my friends using Barbie dolls as the main characters. And three, my older sister is a talented photographer, my younger sister is an amazing artist, and I don’t have a creative bone in my body.”
“You don’t?” Aiden looks pointedly at the empty seat between us. “I think the businesswoman who missed her flight because she discovered her supernatural abilities and was invited to join a secret organisation of superheroes would disagree.”
I shake my head. “That’s not the same thing. Silly stories don’t count. You should see what my sisters can do. Julia’s won awards with her photographs, and Sophie’s art is so incredible she has thousands of fans on Facebook, some of whom buy her work from her. She’s only fifteen! And here I am, the unremarkable middle daughter whom no one ever remembers.”
On the other side of the empty seat, Aiden’s eyes widen.
Oh wow. Crap. I did NOT just say all of that out loud!
“So … turns out this might be a therapy session after all,” Aiden says.
“No, no, no, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said any of that. My sisters are awesome and I love them and … I’m just sad about my holiday ending and because I don’t know when I’ll see Julia again.” And because in less than twenty-four hours I may have to face Matt.
“You know, we’ve still got a couple of hours left of this flight,” Aiden says, “so if you need to talk about—”
“No. Seriously. There’s nothing to talk about. Forget what I said. The depressing parts, I mean. You can remember the rest of it. If you want. The happy stuff. The zoo biscuits and the Barbie dolls.”
Ugh, I need to shut up.
Aiden twists in his seat so he’s facing me, then leans his head against the seat. A half-smile lingers on his lips. “You intrigue me.”
After what seems like an eternity, I manage a strangled giggle. “I—what? No I don’t.”
“No. A girl with blue and purple streaks in her hair and weirdly shaped scars on her hands who hints that she may have been brought up on a pirate ship is intriguing. A girl who swears you to secrecy before telling you that her brilliant scientist parents are trying to prove time travel exists and she’s on her way to witness them testing their very own time machine on a human for the first time is intriguing.”
Aiden smiles, revealing that cute dimple of his again. “You have insane stories like that going on in your head all the time. That’s pretty intriguing.”
“Or just weird.”
“I like weird.
“Well … I … like …” Guys with messy hair, cute dimples, and charming British accents.
DO NOT SAY THAT OUT LOUD!
“I guess I like weird too,” I mumble.
“And you like biscuits from the zoo—whatever those may be.”
“What? No, okay, zoo biscuits are not biscuits you get at the zoo. They’re vanilla biscuits with a brightly coloured layer of hard icing on top of them and a white icing animal on top of that.”
“They’re not. My mom tells me my teeth are going to fall out every time she sees me eating them.” I shrug. “I try to restrict my zoo biscuit intake. It’s tough, though.”
“You see?” Aiden says, his eyes twinkling. “Intriguing.”
I groan. “I think I need to get you a dictionary for Christmas.”
“Oh, we’re exchanging Christmas presents now, are we? I was under the impression our relationship was going to last one flight—two, if we’re on the same plane from Dubai to Durban—and then I’d never see you again. But if you want to get me a Christmas present—” a sexy grin slides onto his face “—we may have to arrange a secret rendezvous on Christmas Eve.”
My breath catches somewhere between my lungs and my mouth as my brain processes Aiden’s words. He’s also going to Durban? What if I bump into him? What if he really does want to arrange a secret rendezvous? Would I say yes?
“Sarah? That was a joke.”
Right. Of course. And there are more than three million other people in Durban, so bumping into him is unlikely. And a planned meeting wouldn’t be a good idea because I’d just have to say goodbye to him in a few weeks when he returns home.
And there’s Matt.
Aiden leans over to pat my arm. “Relax. I won’t force conversation on you any longer than I have to.” He checks his watch. “Only a couple more hours.”
“I’m also flying to Durban,” I blurt out.
“Oh, great.” His face lights up. He winks. “If you’re really unlucky, we’ll be on the same flight.”
As it turns out, luck has it in for me: Aiden and I are on the same flight to Durban. Our seats are far apart, but if Aiden has anything to do with it, he’ll figure out a way to fix that. Which means my conversation nightmare will continue for another eight hours and forty minutes. Only … it hasn’t been a nightmare at all. More like one of those odd dreams where you wake up feeling happy and you can’t figure out why because the vivid wisps of dream are already fading, but you know there was something amazing about it.
“Okay, we’ve got about two and a half hours to shop up a storm before we need to board the next flight,” I say to Aiden as we ride the final escalator up into Dubai International Airport’s duty-free shopping area. We join the throng of passengers pushing trolleys, pulling suitcases, and perusing electronics, scarves, nuts and a hundred other things for sale. Different accents and languages weave through the air around us, mingling with the overpowering scent of too many perfumes.
“Is it always this busy?” Aiden asks. His backpack is slung over his shoulder, and he’s pulling my wheeled carry-on suitcase behind him.
I tuck my handbag securely beneath my arm; this is a pickpocket’s paradise. “I think so. I’ve only been here once before—on the way to England—but it was just like this.”
We weave our way between a group of Americans and an Asian family and head towards an electronics stand. “This stuff doesn’t look that cheap,” Aiden says, eyeing the price next to the demo model of the latest Kindle.
“It isn’t. At least, not when I convert it to rands.” My hand hovers over a sleek new tablet, but I decide against touching it when I notice the multitude of fingerprints coverin
g the screen. I tuck my hands into the safety of my hoodie’s pocket. “What does work out to be cheaper, though, are some brands of chocolate. So I’ll probably be spending my remaining English money on that.”
“Good plan,” Aiden says. “I hear chocolate can solve just about any problem when you’re a girl.”
After sticking my tongue out at him, I pull him away from the overpriced gadgets. We wander through the shops, looking at jewellery, clothes, food, watches, cosmetics—at least, I examine the cosmetics while Aiden stands in a queue to pay for our stash of chocolates—shoes, books, cameras and more. By the time we reach the Häagen-Dazs stand, I’m overheating in my hoodie and tired of fighting the crowds.
“Is it a good time for ice cream?” I ask.
Aiden gives me a look that I think is supposed to say, Duh. “It’s always a good time for ice cream.”
“That can’t possibly be true.” We make our way towards the Häagen-Dazs counter. “Not when you live in one of the coldest places on earth.”
“Um, I should probably point out that there are far colder places than the UK. Like Alaska. And Russia.”
“Okay, look.” I rest my hip against the counter. “Having lived in a subtropical climate my entire life, England was the coldest place I’ve ever experienced. Not to mention grey, wet, and depressing. I have no idea why Julia wants to live there.”
“You should see it in summer.” Aiden leans a little closer to me. “It’s beautiful.”
Don’t stare, don’t stare. I clear my throat, then start digging in my handbag for my foreign money. “You got the chocolate,” I say without looking at him, “so this one’s on me. What flavour do you want?”
“Hmm. Surprise me,” Aiden says, then drags my suitcase to a table nearby and sits down.
I choose a classic flavour for myself—chocolate chip cookie dough—and go with something more exotic for Aiden—pineapple coconut. As I head back to the table, Aiden frowns at something in his hand. His cell phone. I slide into the chair opposite him and wonder if I should say something, but the frown vanishes from his face as he pushes the phone into his front jeans pocket.