Updated: Sep 28, 2022
I'm posting the first two chapters of my new (untitled) novel today. If you'd like to know more about this story, you can visit my last blog post here, or you can jump right in! Enjoy!
I was not a morning person.
This early in the fucking morning, I wasn’t sure I was a person at all.
“Did you pack everything?”
He was talking to me as if I was a person. As if I was supposed to answer.
“Probably,” I mumbled groggily, sitting up straighter in the seat. My cousin’s car was one dent short of junk. Actually, no. It was junk. It’s the kind of car a high schooler drives, except Dev’s almost thirty. He’s a frugal guy, but I don’t think that’s the most terrible thing about him. What’s terrible is this: waking me up at the ass-crack of dawn and then talking so much that I can’t even take a nap in the car.
I tried not to glare at him. He was doing me a huge favor, driving me to the airport. Anyone else would’ve just told me to take a cab, but the thought of paying for a cab—even when it’s not his money—was enough for Dev to insist on driving me.
“Can we stop for coffee?” I asked.
Dev glanced at his watch. “No,” he said. “You’ll miss your plane.”
“So what if I do?”
“Dadi spent like all her miles to get you a first class ticket, you ungrateful turd. You’re not missing that plane.”
I opened my mouth to respond, but before I could form a word, Dev put the volume up and “Jalebi Baby” blasted so loudly that the car vibrated. It jolted me fully awake, and if I was anybody else, I probably would have put the volume back down and snapped at him.
But Dev knew me. He knew me too well. Give an Indian a catchy Indian song, even a half Indian like me, and you’ll get… this. Even at six in the morning, we’ll sing and dance all the way to the airport. Which was exactly what we did.
At the airport, Dev had to put one foot on the bumper in order to pull out my luggage from the trunk. The suitcases had been smashed in there the night before by cousins a whole lot stronger than him. I wanted to help, but Dev saw a very attractive woman standing in front of the doors and his need to prove his masculinity ultimately overtook all sense.
“Dev,” I said, crossing my arms.
“Got this,” he grunted, giving it one last tug. Both of my large suitcases came tumbling out, one of them landing on his other foot. Dev’s scream was swallowed down into a weird tortured gasp when he realized that the attractive woman was watching him with her mouth hanging open, likely in shock.
“You’re hopeless, you know that?” I said, rolling my eyes.
“You don’t have to remind me,” he snapped, and helped me get the suitcases on a cart.
“Why are you like this, Dev? Every time there’s a pretty girl you become—”
“That’s not true,” Dev immediately said, cutting me off.
“Yeah, how about the time you walked into a glass door and sounded like a human gong? Why was that again? Oh yeah, there was an attractive woman there.”
“I see your point, but I’m not always like that,” Dev said defensively.
“That happened yesterday.”
“Not every day, though.”
I laughed. “Get a grip, dude.”
“Shut up,” Dev said with a smile, and pulled me in for a hug. I gave his bony body a little squeeze and pulled back to find him blinking fast.
“Dev, please don’t cry,” I said, feeling my own throat suddenly close up.
“I don’t cry,” he replied, but his eyes were already red. Every summer since I can remember, Dev and I have been almost inseparable. We’d spent the last two and a half months stealing sweets from his dad’s Indian sweet shop, dressing up on weekends to walk the streets of Jackson Heights like we were still the cool kids on the block, drinking more alcohol than should be allowed on a work night, and overall driving Dadi, our paternal grandmother, up the wall. For the few short weeks of the year that I spent in New York every year, my cousin Dev was my best friend.
“You’ll miss your flight,” he said, his voice thick.
I grabbed his wrist and checked his watch. He was right.
“I’ll call you when I land,” I said, giving him one final hug. “Drive safe, okay?”
“Have a safe flight, kiddo.”
As I wheeled my cart away, I caught him trying to approach the attractive woman. A police car pulled up behind him and ordered him to keep it moving over the speaker. I bit back a laugh as he dashed back to his car.
I hadn’t anticipated TSA’s determination to “randomly” select me for a search this early in the morning, but it didn’t surprise me either. It didn’t matter that my mom was white as a saltine cracker. She wasn’t here, and if she’s not here, all you get is me: the chick with the brown skin that still smells like a spice market from living with her Indian grandmother for a summer. So yeah, I was the perfect candidate for this “random” selection.
When the airport PA system called me by name, I knew that I was just minutes away from missing my flight. I threw the TSA agent one last nasty look before taking off, pushing past people to make it to my gate. My legs were protesting and my lungs were aching, but I had no choice. With new guests set to check in at my parents’ waterfront cabin later this afternoon, missing this flight was not an option.
I made it right before the doors closed.
“I’m here!” I said breathlessly, slapping my ticket down on the counter. The gate attendant let me through and I celebrated this victory for all of twenty seconds before I actually boarded the plane. I was the last one on the aircraft because of course I was. Everyone was staring at me when I boarded, and I can’t say that a single person looked pleased with me.
At least my seat was in the front of the plane right in the second row. I mentally thanked Dadi for getting me a first-class seat. I hadn’t asked her or anything, but I’d complained about my back hurting on my first night back in New York, and I guess that must’ve prompted her to do this. Grandmas are the best.
“Please take your seat, ma’am,” a flight attendant said as I stowed my backpack in the overhead compartment. I nodded and slid quickly into my seat. My seatmate was—well, legs. Long, long legs in black slacks, shiny black dress shoes, and a long dark windbreaker that was being used as a blanket to cover everything else. All I could make out was dark brown wavy hair on a head that was pressed up against the window of the plane. The windbreaker even covered their face.
The flight attendants went through their pre-flight safety demonstration and I settled back for a comfortable, uneventful flight. The plane started moving, taxiing away from the gate, and that was when “Jalebi Baby” suddenly started blasting loudly from the overhead compartment. My ringtone.
It’s okay. I’ll just ignore it. It’ll stop in a few seconds.
But it kept ringing. And ringing. And ringing.
“Someone shut that crap off,” a deep voice snarled from beside me. Without really thinking, I unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped to my feet, hitting my head on the overhead panel so hard that if the entire plane wasn’t already looking at me, now they definitely were.
I winced, quickly opening up the overhead compartment and grabbed my backpack. The same flight attendant asked me to take my seat again, with more urgency this time. I shoved the compartment closed and slid back into my seat, buckling up.
My phone was still ringing.
Ughhhhh. It took less than ten seconds to get my phone out to silence it and put it on airplane mode, but the damage was done. Every single person on this plane hated me.
“Fucking finally,” a voice muttered beside me.
Especially him. He hated me the most.
Stupidly, I turned my head to look at him—and immediately wished I hadn’t. Glaring back at me were the meanest pair of green eyes I had ever seen in my life. The windbreaker still covered the rest of his face, but I could tell from his burning eyes and wrinkled brow that he was scowling.
“Sorry,” I managed weakly. My seatmate didn’t reply. There was a rustle as he turned back toward the window and pulled his jacket up higher to cover his entire head. Jeez.
This was going to be a long flight.
I was not a meek person.
Embarrassing myself like this, though, had made me a little meek. All I wanted to do was slide onto the floor and crawl under my seat and hide. (Not that I’d fit.) If someone offered me the option to jump out of the plane 30,000 feet in the air, I probably would just to avoid everyone on board judging me for another second. Because that’s what they were doing.
Even the flight attendants. The ones that passed with the refreshment carts meant for economy class looked at me with their eyes narrowed, like they thought I must be bad news. I wasn’t going to cause any more trouble—I didn’t think I was going to, anyway. Not if I could help it.
When the first class flight attendant made her way over, I wished she’d skip me. I wasn’t sure if my tongue was going to move. I would probably just make a bigger fool of myself trying to talk.
“And what can I get you?” she asked the passengers in the first row. She passed them snack boxes filled with goodies, and I have to admit, I did want one pretty badly. My stomach growled at the thought of having some food in my belly. With each passing second, I debated whether it was worth ordering anything at all. I could always shake my head and she’d move on to another passenger.
“How about you? What can I get you to drink?” the flight attendant asked as she walked up to my aisle. She was looking directly at me.
The flight attendant’s eyes reminded me of my mom’s. A bright, kind, ocean blue. Her smile was even more reassuring.
“Coffee, please,” I said.
“You don’t want that,” a gruff voice interrupted.
I looked at my seatmate. He’d lowered his jacket a little, revealing his face.
Jesus fucking Christ.
It was the kind of face that artists worked their entire lives to sculpt. Smooth, hollow cheeks like a fucking runway model. A nose that anybody would kill for—straight, almost aristocratic. Startling jade-green eyes that didn’t look so intimidating now, brilliant and sparkling. The softest-looking full lips I’d ever seen on a man, not too big, but not small either. Just right. The Goldilocks of lips. He was… exquisite.
God truly had no mercy. Why else would such a beautiful man be placed right next to me? On a five-hour flight? Fuck me.
“Ma’am?” The flight attendant pulled me out of my trance. Fuck, had I been staring? I’d been staring.
“I—not coffee?” I said, chancing a quick glance at my seatmate again. Ugh. So beautiful.
“No,” he answered. “If you want caffeine, get soda.”
I suddenly realized that I would need alcohol for this. There was no way I was going to make it through this flight with this man next to me without some liquid courage—even if this particular man did hate my guts already.
“Okay. Don’t judge, but I’d like a screwdriver,” I said, my cheeks burning.
The flight attendant nodded, and I heard my seatmate say, “Good choice,” but he didn’t order one for himself. He asked for cranberry juice, requesting a whole carton. And a cup of ice. I didn’t know you could do that, ask for an entire carton of something. The flight attendant obliged with no complaint, and then she brought me my screwdriver a moment later. She gave me two snack boxes and I began to put one on my seatmate’s tray table.
He put up a hand, stopping me.
“Keep it. I’m sick of those,” he said, taking a deep gulp of his juice.
I put the box down on my tray, chewing on my bottom lip. I had questions about the whole coffee thing, but my seatmate had made it pretty clear that conversation wasn’t something that particularly interested him. Not with me, anyway.
“Just ask,” he said a moment later.
“Ask what?” I quickly responded. God, was I that easy to read?
He took a couple more gulps of his cranberry juice before answering.
“Whatever it is you’re working up to ask me.”
“I’m not working up to asking anything,” I mumbled defensively.
He raised an eyebrow, not buying a word.
“Fine,” I said, sighing. “What’s wrong with the coffee?”
He stared at me for a moment. It was almost unnerving, the way he observed me. Like I was the village idiot hitching my first plane ride to a hillbilly convention or something.
“The tanks are disgusting,” he finally said.
“The tanks,” I repeated, confused.
“The tanks where the water’s stored on the plane are disgusting,” he explained. “They’re rarely cleaned. And that’s what’s used to make the coffee.”
“Gross,” I said, and then narrowed my eyes. “But how do you know that?”
He sighed and lowered his jacket further, revealing a uniform of a white button-down shirt with a black patch with three gold stripes on each shoulder. A black tie, a gold-colored wing pin, and a matching gold name tag completed the look. His name was Ezra Fisk, and he was an airline pilot.
What in the actual fuck?
“Oh,” was all I could manage to say.
“Before you ask, no, I will not be answering any questions about how planes work or what clouds are made of. I’m tired, so please just drink more alcohol—it’s free—and enjoy your flight.”
Then he downed the last of his cranberry juice, crunched up the carton, pulled the jacket back up over his eyes and went back to sleep.
Obnoxious. Rude. Not worth thinking about.
I switched my attention to the snack boxes instead. They were loaded with goodies. I tore open chips, protein bars, chocolate, popcorn, and jerky. When the flight attendant returned to collect the trash, I’d almost finished my first box. I swiped the empty carton and cup from my seatmate’s table and dumped my snack wrappers in the garbage bag she held open.
“Another?” She gestured to my nearly empty cup.
“Please,” I practically begged.
A minute later, I was downing the last of my first screwdriver and then gulping down half of my second. Jesus. I needed to get wasted on this flight.
So I did.
An hour later, with my belly and bladder both aching, I made my way to the lavatory to relieve myself. As I was washing my hands, the PA system made a staticky sound.
“Good morning, folks. This is your captain speaking. We’ll be flying through an air pocket ahead. Please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”
What the hell was an air pocket?
I dried my hands and just as I was opening the door, the airplane shook violently, causing me to smack my head. God, I was drunk as hell.
“Ouch,” I gasped. I stumbled into the aisle, and again, a flight attendant ordered me to return to my seat. She informed me that it was unsafe to be out of my seat. No shit, lady.
I reached my row but just before I could take my seat, the plane jerked to the right. I was going to fall into the aisle.
But I didn’t.
A big hand grabbed me by the arm and yanked me back. I landed in my seat, my heart hammering in my chest. I looked at my savior, a pathetic “thanks” sitting on my tongue. Before I could say it, his expression changed, looking at me like I was an idiot again.
“Put your seatbelt on,” Ezra Fisk ordered, looking bewildered.
Jesus, I was an idiot. I quickly buckled up.
Flying through an air pocket was clearly code for turbulence-that-will-make-you-want-to-shit-yourself. It fucking sucked. The turbulence was bad. Like really, really bad. Every single summer for as long as I could remember, I’d flown from Washington to New York and back again, but never, not once, had I experienced this kind of turbulence. It was fucking terrifying.
I gripped both armrests, and my first instinct was to pray. It’s funny, a lot of people only start praying when they think they’re gonna die. I was one of those people.
I thought I was gonna die.
“We’re not going to die.”
I squeezed my eyes shut as I prayed in my head, but the sound of Ezra Fisk’s deep, rough voice had me whipping my head to my left, my eyes shooting open. He looked calm, completely unbothered.
The plane dipped, and I felt that awful feeling in my stomach that you’re only supposed to feel on theme park rides when you fall. I’ve always hated those rides.
“We are so going to die,” I whined.
He laughed. What a dick.
“Seriously, relax. There’s a one in eleven million chance of dying in a plane crash,” he said. When I didn’t answer, he added, “The odds are one in five hundred when crossing the road.”
I guess that put things into perspective.
“And there’s been just under three hundred turbulence-related plane crashes recorded. Ever. Like in entire aviation history. And out of those three hundred or so crashes, there were only three fatalities. Two were seatbelt-related. And you’re wearing yours.”
He reached over and tapped the buckle of my seatbelt. I froze.
“You’ll be fine,” he said, his tone almost gentle.
I felt the color return to my cheeks. I hated that I was blushing.
Get a grip, Lex.
“Next time consider taking an overnight flight,” he said, his tone still casual, completely composed. His attitude about the whole thing, like it was no big deal at all that the plane was shaking like a baby rattle, was actually doing a lot to help calm my nerves.
“Why’s that?” I asked.
“Less atmospheric heating,” he said, as if I was supposed to understand what that meant. The confused and semi-drunk expression on my face prompted him to lean in a little closer, like he was sharing a secret. “Look at it this way: during the day, the sun heats the Earth’s surface, but it’s uneven. That uneven warmth in the air causes wind. At night, it’s much cooler, so nighttime flights are just statistically better for turbulence. Less winds, less turbulence. Get it?”
I nodded. “That makes sense, I guess.”
“But that doesn’t mean there’s never any turbulence at night,” he quickly clarified.
“You’re saying there are less winds at night, not that there are no winds,” I said, trying not to sound too insulted. “I’ve obviously experienced winds at night, so I know they, like, exist. I’m not a complete idiot.”
“I’m not saying you’re an idiot,” he said, sounding mildly amused. “I just don’t want you calling up the airline to complain that one of their pilots lied to you.”
“I wouldn’t snitch on you,” I grumbled.
“Why wouldn’t you?” he asked, looking away. He lifted the window screen, momentarily blinding me, and stared out at the clouds. I tried not to gawk at him, at how the sunlight illuminated all his features, making him look almost angelic. God, he was… pretty.
“Why would I?”
“I’ve been an asshole this whole flight,” he muttered.
Well, that was certainly true. But he did look sorry about it, and he was trying to help me overcome my sudden fear of turbulence, so I figured it didn’t cost me anything to be nice to him.
“You said you were tired,” I pointed out. “I think anyone would get kind of grumpy if ‘Jalebi Baby’ started blasting loudly while they were trying to get some rest.”
“It doesn’t really excuse my behavior, though,” he said, turning his head back to look at me. The sunlight was in his eyes, making the jade look ten shades lighter—and more beautiful. “I’m sorry for the way I acted.”
When he cracked a grin a moment later, my heart—shattered. He was even more gorgeous when he smiled. Ugh, I hated this. I’m a twenty-four-year-old med school dropout and former Miss Washington Teen USA finalist, not a prepubescent girl. I don’t swoon over guys—I eat them for breakfast. I’m supposed to be the scary one. I’m supposed to be the one fawned over. I’m the beauty queen, for fuck’s sake.
“Feel that?” he asked abruptly.
Stupidly, I looked over my shoulder. “Feel what?”
“Nothing. Absolutely nothing.”
He was right. No more turbulence.
“It’s over,” I said, sighing in relief. “We’re not dead.”
“I told you—”
“Ugh, so you’re one of those.”
“‘Those?’” he repeated, puzzled.
“The ‘I told you so’ crowd. The worst human beings on this planet rub things in people’s faces, you know.”
“I wasn’t rubbing anything in your face. I was just going to say that I told you we weren’t going to die,” he said.
“Are you listening to yourself? That’s literally an ‘I told you so.’”
“You’re set on hating me, aren’t you?” He shook his head. “I guess I deserve it, so I don’t blame you.”
“I don’t hate you, dude.”
“You don’t like me either, dude,” he shot back.
“You helped me feel better, so I am indebted to you, dude.”
“You can be indebted to someone and still hate them, dude.” Valid point, but also, not true at all in this case.
“Can you please stop saying ‘dude?’”
“You started it… dude.”
We were both trying to keep a straight face at this point. The corners of his mouth twitched. My throat burned. I needed to laugh, but I wasn’t going to. Not until he did.
“D-Dude,” I choked out. That did it.
He laughed, and I mean laughed. Threw his head back, clutched his stomach, and closed his eyes. I didn’t last two seconds before I burst out laughing, too.
“God, I needed that,” he said after a minute, still smiling.
“It wasn’t even that funny,” I said, but I was grinning too.
“I think that’s what made it so funny, actually,” he said. “The fact that it wasn’t even funny.”
I was about to respond when the PA system crackled to life and the captain announced the forecast, thanked us for flying with their airline, and said that we were twenty minutes from landing.
“Cabin crew, prepare for landing, please,” was the last thing he said before signing off.
“Do you know him?” I asked, glancing at Ezra. He was leaning back, looking out the window again. He turned to me, meeting my gaze, and shook his head.
“There are thousands of pilots that work for this airline,” he said. “It’s pretty common for me to fly with people I’ve never met before. Besides, it’d be highly unlikely for me to run into these pilots. We’re on completely different schedules. They’re short-haul pilots that mostly fly narrow-body planes for domestic flights. I fly wide-bodies for long-haul international flights. Most of us can fly both, but it’s a matter of preference.”
“Is that why you’re so tired?” I asked. “Because you had a long flight?”
“Right before boarding this flight, I’d just gotten off a ten hour transatlantic flight. Of course, that’s just the flying part. We check in hours ahead of time for briefing. I think I’ve officially been up,” he checked his watch, “twenty-one hours now.”
“I’m sorry you have to deal with that.”
“I’m not,” he said. “I love my career.”
He said that so matter-of-factly, like there was no question about it. He loved being a pilot. If my dad had him for a kid rather than me, he’d probably be over the moon. My dropping out of med school had somehow become Baba’s biggest disappointment in life. Wandering aimlessly through life with no ambition or stable career plan in sight was not Baba’s idea of success—which was life’s ultimate goal, of course. I didn’t want success, didn’t want that kind of pressure, but I don’t think my dad will ever understand that.
“I can respect that,” I told Ezra. “I sometimes wish I had everything figured out, but I also really, really love not knowing what I’ll be doing six months from now.”
“What do you do now?” he asked, curious. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“Oh, I don’t mind at all,” I said, waving him off. “I’m a geoduck harvester. I just love those weird little guys.”
“I’m sorry, gooey—what?”
“Gooey-duck,” I said slowly. “Spelled G-E-O-D-U-C-K.”
Ezra’s eyes bulged, finally realizing what I was talking about. I don’t know why I lied. Maybe for exactly that reaction?
“Geoduck?” he repeated, pronouncing it perfectly this time. “You mean those—the uh, penis-looking sea dwellers?”
“They’re clams, you pervert,” I said, laughing. “Don’t you know a delicacy when you see one?”
“I don’t think I’d eat that,” he said, making a face.
“Suit yourself,” I said, impossibly amused. “More for me.”
The runway came into view through the window. As the plane safely landed, I felt immense relief from having survived that turbulence earlier, but I was also kind of sad. My time with Ezra Fisk, hot pilot extraordinaire, was just about over. He didn’t seem to really care, of course. He probably met thousands of people every year, so I was just another face to him.
The plane came to a stop at the gate and almost immediately, everyone began scrambling to get their carry-on luggage out of the overhead compartments. I got to my feet, gripping my backpack in my hands. I looked back expectantly at Ezra, but he had made no effort to get up.
“I have to stay back and thank the captain,” he said. “I hope you had a comfortable flight. Besides the turbulence, it wasn’t too bad, right?”
“Yeah, not too bad at all,” I agreed.
“Good luck with your, uh, harvesting. It was nice meeting you.”
“It was nice meeting you too, dude.”
“Later, dude,” he said, laughing.
I grinned, taking one last look at him and his disarming green eyes, and then I made my way to the exit to go off and live my fake geoduck-harvesting life.
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