It was bad enough that the dress was a poufy plantation ball gown number, complete with a sash and apron in a disturbing shade of peach, but it also wouldn’t fit in Kate’s suitcase. Which meant she was going to have to carry it on the plane. Which she had explained to Lisa when they’d shopped for the bridesmaid gowns six months ago.
“But I love it!” Lisa had said, and had made Kate turn around one more time on the little pedestal in the bridal salon.
It was puzzling to Kate. Lisa was her cousin and her best friend. She was pretty and so very stylish. Kate had always wished she were as stylish as Lisa. She’d always admired the way Lisa went after things she wanted, her generosity and kindness, her fabulous sense of humor. But Kate did not care for the way Lisa tended to flip out at the first sign of pressure, or the way she’d latched on to a vision for her wedding that defied logic.
Lisa wanted a plantation wedding. In Seattle. And of course Lisa had bought a slinky mermaid wedding gown for herself. But for her sister Lori, and Kate, her maid of honor, she’d insisted on the peach monstrosities, with clunky platform shoes. Plus, she had the most appalling idea that Kate and Lori would wear their hair in French twists from which peach ribbons would cascade. “Like morning mist,” Lisa had said dreamily.
“Like morning puke,” Kate’s little sister Cassidy had bluntly countered.
Kate had complained to her mother, whose sister had given birth to Lisa and Lori. But Kate’s mother was only mildly sympathetic. “It’s Lisa’s wedding. If she wants that kind of dress, she can have it. When you get married, you can make her wear purple or something.”
As there was no prospect of that in sight for Kate, revenge purple didn’t seem like a real option.
“And besides, I happen to like peach,” her mother had added.
Kate hated the dress, but this morning, she hated it with a passion so strong she might have launched missiles, because she couldn’t even get the damn thing into the garment bag—the pink garment bag—for the flight from New York to Seattle. It was too poufy.
Kate glanced at the clock; she had an hour before a car arrived to whisk her off to the airport. She still had so many things to do. She was not the most organized person on the planet.
She was shoving another pair of shoes into her suitcase when her cell phone rang. “Hi, Mother,” she said, hurrying to turn down the TV blaring in the background. “Can’t talk long, a car is coming.”
“I was calling to see if your flight was on time.”
“Yep,” Kate said as she frantically sorted through her jewelry box. At least she thought the flight was on time—she hadn’t gotten any alerts on her phone. “Why?”
“I’m worried about that storm.”
“Storm? What storm?” Kate turned around to her TV. The weatherman was gesturing to a big swath of purple across the middle of the country. It was nowhere near New York. “Are you talking about that?” Kate asked, pointing to a TV her mother couldn’t see. “That’s Kansas. Or Missouri. One of those corn states.”
“It’s a huge late-season snowstorm between you and us. Everything is shut down. It’s global warming, you know. Greenhouse emissions.”
Every inch of rain, every snowflake was now classified as global warming by Kate’s mother. Nevertheless, the storm was not in New York. “It’s okay,” Kate said impatiently. “They’ll just fly over or around it. Not to worry, Mom! I’m on my way!”
“I hope so. It would be devastating if the maid of honor didn’t make it. Lisa would explode and die, I think. And it seems like every time you fly home, something happens.”
“I have flown home once since I moved to New York, and there was a thirty-minute delay. That’s just part of flying these days.” Kate had moved to New York six months ago to take a job as an assistant editor at a big publishing house. It was a dream job for an English major. Kate had dreamed of being in publishing since high school, when she’d read A Clockwork Orange. Until that book, she hadn’t understood how lyrical and powerful storytelling could be, and after that book, she wanted to be a part of it. The pay for assistant editors sucked, but Kate loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it. And she loved New York. “Listen, I really have to go,” she said.
“We’ll see you at the airport. Have a safe flight, honey.”
Kate clicked off and threw her phone and charger in her purse. And then, through some miracle of physics, managed to shove the bridesmaid dress into the hanging bag, which ballooned to twice its size. Kate cursed Lisa once more, slung her tote bag over her shoulder, wrangled the unwieldy garment bag under her arm, and began to lug her suitcase down to the street from her third-floor walk-up.
Missy Weaten gave Joe a kiss on the cheek. “Call me when you get back to New York, okay?”
“You bet,” Joe said, and half fell, half stood from her car at the train station. Bleary-eyed, he watched her as she drove away. He wondered what exactly had happened last night between them. He was fairly certain nothing had, given his high state of inebriation several hours ago, but then again, he was Joe Firretti. He was a red-blooded man, and when opportunity presented itself—even when Missy Weaten presented herself—sometimes, things happened.
He noticed an elderly couple staring at him. He gave them a half smile, ran his fingers through his hair, then straightened his suit coat. He pulled his bag behind him into the train station.
He was not really the type to get wasted the way he had last night. But his pals from work had taken him out for a spectacular send-off. He was on his way to a new job, a fantastic job. A job that came along once in a lifetime. Joe knew it. The financial firm where he worked knew it. The financial firm in Seattle that had extended the very generous offer of employment knew it. Joe would be heading up the technology side of a major international bank.
He had not intended to leave quite this soon for Seattle, but then the bank’s head honcho had flown in from Switzerland, and they’d told Joe it was imperative that he meet the CEO while he was available. So Joe had moved his departure up a week. He’d put a deposit down on an apartment and had arranged to have his things picked up and moved to Seattle the next week.
He stepped up to the ticket machine, rubbed his face with his hands, and glanced at his watch. He had three hours before his plane left, plenty of time to get to Newark and get through security.
He bought his ticket, made his way down to the train, and climbed on board. He wished he’d eaten something. Last night had been a whirl of bars and restaurants and blonde women and no food that he recalled. He hoped he hadn’t said anything to Missy to make her think that after two years of her coming on to him, he’d changed his mind. Just to make sure, he’d email her later and thank her for the send-off, then move on.
He was moving on; yes, he was. That’s what Joe wanted. He was almost 99 percent sure that’s what he wanted. He knew he wanted a bigger opportunity, something great. He knew he wanted to advance in his career. He wanted…something. Something. Joe wasn’t quite sure what it was, but he felt as close to “it” as he ever had.
At Newark, he made his way into the airport in the middle of a great blob of humanity. Jesus, it was crowded. He maneuvered his way up to the airline kiosk, past grandmas with their belly bags, past crying babies and little kids who ran without looking, past harried business travelers like him.
When he reached the kiosk, he punched the screen as he had a thousand times before, going quickly through the required entries. Something pink was in his peripheral vision, darting in and out, in and out. He glanced at the kiosk directly to his right and saw a woman with shoulder-length blonde hair, an enormous suitcase, and an even larger pink garment bag. At least he thought it was a garment bag. It was hard to make out; it was bloated and huge and reminded him of a life raft.
She was trying to hold on to all of it as she used one finger to jab at the screen.
Joe pulled out his license and held it up to the airline attendant. She handed him his boarding pass. “The flight is delayed about an hour,” she said. “Gate 12.”
“No, come on,” Joe whined. “Not today. I had a late night last night, and the last thing I want is to be hanging out in a crowded airport with all of them,” he said, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. He smiled at the attendant.
She did not return his smile. “It’s better than listening to people complain about it all day, trust me. A big storm is cutting across the country. A lot of flights have been canceled. Honestly? You’ll be lucky to get out.”
“Great,” Joe muttered. He sighed, took the boarding pass, and moved away from the kiosk. He inadvertently stepped on the giant pink raft when he did.
“Hey!” the woman said.
“Sorry,” Joe muttered, and shimmied around her, the pink raft, and the blue bag that looked as if it could hold a small house.
After an interminable wait in the security line, Joe fit his belt back through the loops of his pants, returned his shoes to his feet, and wandered through the terminal, looking for a coffee shop. He ordered a cup of joe, black and thick. He downed it, then collapsed into a chair at the gate. He leaned back, intending to doze, when something knocked against the back of his head. He sat up with a start and turned around, just in time to see that pink raft go sailing by. What had gotten him was the woman’s tote bag, draped over her shoulder.
Joe stood up and went in search of a calmer place to nap before his plane left.
He found a place, but his nap was a fitful one, due to all the announcements of cancellations and delays. Still, Joe felt a little better when he woke later and stretched out his legs and his arms above his head. He squinted at his gate; they were boarding. Hallelujah—he’d get out of this pit after all. He sauntered to the boarding line, maneuvering once again through even more clumps of people. It almost seemed as if they were being pumped into the airport in groups of twos and threes.
He was among the first to board, thanks to his frequent flyer miles, and settled in to an aisle seat on the same aisle as an elderly woman who had her attention turned to the window. The flight attendant announced to those coming onboard that the flight was completely full and to quickly take their seats. Must be some storm, Joe thought absently, and flipped through the SkyMall magazine.
He was sure another person could not squeeze onto that plane when he saw the pink raft inch its way on board. He watched as the woman and a flight attendant worked to shove the raft into the tiny garment closet. It took both of them and a lot of discussion, but finally, they managed to get the raft in and get the door shut.
The woman was smiling when she stopped at Joe’s row. “I think that’s my seat,” she said, pointing to the middle seat.
What were the odds? “Sure,” Joe said, and stood up to allow her to pass.
Her big tote bag knocked into him as she shimmied into the row.
It seemed to take her an inordinate amount of time to get situated, trying her bag beneath the seat in front of her in various configurations, then finally using both boots to push it under.
And then she started to chat.
“Whew,” she said. “This is one crowded flight.”
He did not respond. It was his experience that the less he said, the less people tried to talk to him, as he really had no desire to make friends on every flight he took. He preferred to be left alone, to work or sleep or listen to music if he wanted.
But the chick sitting next to him, cute though she was with her bright green eyes and silky blonde hair, talked. She said, apparently to no one, that she didn’t like to fly, but that she had to get to a wedding. When that elicited no response, she asked Joe why he was on his way to Seattle.
“Job!” she said, and nodded as if she approved. “What sort of job?”
“Computers.” God, was there any way to cut this off without being a complete jerk? Joe realized he suddenly had a raging headache.
“You will love Seattle. I’m from there. It doesn’t rain as much as you think—it can be really nice.”
He hadn’t said one word about rain. “Okay.”
“It’s really beautiful.”
“Yeah… I’ve been a few times.”
“Oh. Okay.” She settled back, helping herself to the armrest between them.
“Gooooood afternoon, ladies and gentlemen,” said a voice over the intercom. “We’ve got some light turbulence ahead associated with this big blizzard that’s cutting across the country. We’re going to ask the flight attendants to remain in their seats until we feel it’s safe for them to be up and around. In the meantime, please stay in your seats with your seat belts fastened until we turn off the seat-belt sign.”
“But I’m starving. I wanted peanuts,” the woman next to him muttered.
The pilot said some other things that were lost on Joe because he had closed his eyes and was drifting off again. He apparently drifted hard, because he was only vaguely aware of takeoff. He didn’t know how long he dozed, but he was rudely awakened by a rather severe drop in altitude that caused everyone in the cabin to cry out.
“Folks, we’re heading into some turbulence. Please stay in your seats with your seat belts securely fastened,” the pilot said again, which was reiterated by the more urgent voice of the flight attendant.
Joe sat up and glanced to his left. The woman in the center seat had a mound of little peanut bags on her tray. She noticed him looking at them and picked one up. “You want one? They came by while you were snoring.”
“I was snoring?” he asked, mortified.
“A little.” She shook the peanut bag at him again. “You want?”
She shrugged and, with one hand, swiped the peanuts into her bag and lifted her tray table.
At the same moment, they hit another pocket of turbulence that made the plane shake. The woman grabbed the armrest, her eyes wide. “What the hell?”
“It’s just turbulence,” Joe said with the authority of a seasoned traveler, but he was wondering the same thing. That was a pretty big drop.
“Hey folks, I’ve got some news,” the pilot’s disembodied voice said above them. “What we’ve got here is the convergence of a Canadian cold front and a tropical storm coming up from the Atlantic that’s just creating havoc across the country. Unfortunately, this big late-season blizzard had some pretty impressive ice associated with it, and we have an instrument that’s acting a little wacky. We’re going to land in Dallas and have a look.”
“Oh no,” the woman muttered, her head bouncing back against the seat back. “No, no, no, no. I have to be in Seattle.”
No, Joe silently agreed.
“Don’t worry, we’re going to get you to Seattle,” the pilot said, apparently able to hear the hue and cry that was welling up in the cabin. “But we want to get you there safely.”
“I don’t care how you get me there,” she muttered. “Just get me there.”