What happened to Dallas Fort Worth, the first leg of my connecting flight to Austin?
I set my laptop on the chair beside me and head to the counter. “Ma’am . . . ”
“One moment.” She halts me, typing in something at her keyboard.
I breathe and count to ten.
She looks up. “Yes?”
“The screen’s wrong. Isn’t this the flight to Dallas?”
“Flight to Dallas?” She looks at me as if I’ve sprouted horns. “Oh no. The gate was changed.”
Shit. “Changed where?”
She types some stuff and gives me the new gate.
“And where’s that?” I ask, near hyperventilating.
“It’s boarding now, so you’re going to have to do a whole lot of running. You have to get to Concourse C. This is Concourse B.”
I’m only half-listening as she spits out directions. I don’t know how I do it, but within two seconds I’ve run back to my place, grabbed all my stuff and run a sprint that would’ve won me a medal somewhere.
I slide into the gate like a baserunner and see my plane still outside. I exhale in relief, but then I notice the doors are shut.
Like a dumbass, I try to pry open the door, even though there isn’t a handle.
“Miss . . . you can’t go in there. You’re too late.”
The woman at the podium points outside. The plane is already easing back.
“Oh no, no!” I groan. “Nobody told me the gate changed!”
The lady behind the podium looks at me like, Did you read the screen, dummy? “We changed it an hour ago. We made an announcement.”
I stomp around and circle angrily, shaking my head because I’m going to have to wait here for who knows how many hours, plus am I going to have to pay for another ticket? I’m not that rich right now considering I’ve got a useless Best Love Story Ever sitting in my laptop. I pace back and forth, thinking of my empty checking account.
“Please tell them to stooooop,” I beg.
“We can’t. I’m sorry.”
I’m turning around, glancing down at my carry-on items as a voice yells, “Hold the plane!”
A guy is charging toward the doors. I don’t realize I’m in the guy’s way until we’re stumbling in the aisle together, like a Twister game gone wrong.
“Sorry,” he apologizes, his hand snaking out to grab me. I shiver and don’t know if it’s a good thing or a bad, and my skin feels weirdly branded where he touched me as he steps toward the podium.
“Hey! Hold the plane?” he grits it out as a question, like, Didn’t you hear me the first time?
“Sorry—” She points at the moving aircraft as it taxies out of the gate.
“Fuck. It.” The guy steps back, as agitated as I was a second ago, and plunges a hand into his rumpled, sandy hair. He shakes his head side to side, his jaw working mercilessly. “Fuck. Me.”
Fuck. Everything? My sentiments exactly.
He drops his bag and kicks it, then throws a beaten leather jacket down atop it. Dragging a hand down his jaw, he bee-lines to the window and watches. He fists his hair in one hand, his knuckles white, shaking his head again as he comes back, grabs his carry-on and jacket, and drops them on one of the empty chairs.
He collapses in the chair next to it, crosses his arms, and sighs.
I feel a little sorry for him. I’m tempted to go and tell him I know just how he feels, but he seems more pissed off than normal, and I decide I’m irritated on my own without having to deal with someone else’s anger.
I take a page from his book though. I sit, my back to him, as I text my sister. I missed my flight!
The guy makes a phone call.
“Hey . . . I know you won’t like this but . . . tomorrow morning’s not looking good. Yeah. I missed my flight out of JFK.”
He sounds deeply peeved. I wonder who he’s talking to. If it’s a girlfriend, he sounds like he hates her.
Trying not to eavesdrop, I peer into my bag, and—didn’t I put my laptop there? I panic as I shuffle all my belongings inside.
It’s not there.
I spring to my feet and head to where I was standing only moments ago, retracing my steps in growing apprehension. It’s not anywhere. Where the fuck is my laptop?
I start hyperventilating—and this isn’t good. I have anxiety – which has been known to be crippling from time to time. I suppose it’s because I rarely go out of the house. Writer, solitary business, yada yada yada. So when I do go out, and anything does not go to plan, my lungs begin failing, my heart palpitating, my palms sweating.
Like . . . now.
I feel the familiar choking sensation of my windpipe closing, and my eyes begin to sting in frustration. God. No, not here, not now, please!
The guy hangs up and spots me. Everyone spots me, because I’m breathing like an animal in labor, about five seconds away from falling to the ground into fetal position, like a poked pill bug.
His lips move in slow motion. I can’t hear anything because my heartbeat is a drum in my ears. But I think it’s, “What’s up your butt?”
“I . . . ” I fight for words. “I lost my laptop. Did you see it?”
I glance at his bags, desperate for any sign of my laptop.
My laptop is my life.
My work, my stories, my life.
I close my eyes, and it helps. I calm down. My heartbeat slows.
“I didn’t steal your laptop.”
I open my eyes and scowl at him.
“I’m not accusing you!” I cry, exasperated. “I’m just asking—” I clutch my stomach. Oh god, I may have written the story in weeks, when I was with Trevor, but I spent four months tweaking it—and now it’s all gone. I’ve never been good about backing my stuff up. And in that laptop are all the starts of other books, my whole life. Poof. Gone.
Dormant Bitch Muse has left the building.
He has his arms crossed, and is stroking his chin, like he’s trying to understand me, but I’m speaking gibberish. “Well, what are you trying to say?”
“You don’t understand.” I tap on the podium frantically until the busy attendant looks up. “Please, can you ask if I left a laptop over at Gate 2? It’ll take me ages to get there and I want to be sure no one steals it by the time I—”
“You think whoever found it will return it to you?”
I pause at the sardonic laughter in the voice behind me. I whirl around and glare. “I . . . yes.”
“Whoa. You’re not from around here, are you?”
I scan him from head to toe. Despite being intent on crushing my hopes, the guy is pretty darn gorgeous. A little disheveled looking. His hair standing this way and that. His gray t-shirt hugging muscles that would make any woman’s knees weak.
But gorgeous does not equal all-knowing. There are plenty of good Samaritans in the world. And I shall prove it, right now.
“No. I’m not from here. Thus the airport,” I snap, pulling my eyes away from his gorgeous muscles. I focus on the attendant. “Please.”
She holds up a finger and picks up a phone. She converses briefly with someone on the other end, then hangs up. “I’m sorry. No laptop at Gate 2.”
It takes all my restraint to keep from lunging over the podium and grabbing her lapels. “Please. Can you make an announcement or something? I’ll offer a reward. I need that laptop back!”
Suddenly, the palpitations become a squeezing in my chest. I gasp as my breath becomes shallow and fast. My windpipe constricts on me. My vision bends.
The floor under my feet waves, bringing me to my knees, and my hands scrabble around, grasping at a whole lot of nothing. Nausea rolls over me, and when I raise my headlights blink back at me, blurrier as the darkness starts coming.
That’s it. I’m dying. I’m dying, and now Leia and Ben will never have their happy ending. I guess it serves them right for being assholes, but still. I gasp “help” when I feel a woman’s hand on my shoulders and smell her rosy perfume.
“Are you all right? This girl needs help!”
“She’s with me,” a familiar voice says. Someone hands me a paper bag, and the voice says, “Breathe.”
I start breathing into the bag, and my throat begins to open up again. My pulse rate slows.
I try to stand, my mind ragged as I hold onto the first thing I can grab. It’s a solid, hard arm and once I’m assured that I’m standing on my own, I let go but sway. The hand comes back. I gasp again because even in my state, the touch causes my body to immediately contract.
I glance up at the guy—that same guy who missed his flight, whose lips are now curling in a devilish grin.
“You all right?”
How can some stranger make it all better, make me feel as if I’m safe?
I try to step back, but he tightens his hold as I nod nervously.
I continue nodding faster, his eyes trekking my face in assessment as he drags his hand over my back, as if making sure I’m okay. I’m definitely okay, but affected, affected by this guy in ways that confound me.
“You can let go now.”
He raises one eyebrow at me. “Your body doesn’t want me to.” He glances pointedly at my fingers, digging into his bicep.
“I . . . ah . . . ” I try to pry them free, and when I hear a slow chuckle, I jerk my face back.
“What’s so funny?”
I tilt my chin up as the guy studies me. He’s ridiculously close, and I can smell him. He smells yummy and exciting, comforting and like danger all at once.
“You can’t help it, can you?” he asks, running a hand down my arm, watching as my flesh pebbles.
I snatch back my arm. “You’re a dick.”
“A dick who just saved you from kissing airport tile.” When I just gape at him, he says, “You’re welcome.”
Total dick, with a cherry on top.