Read an Excerpt
December 22, 2005
"Laura?" I ask into the phone, disoriented, voice sandy with sleep.
"Yeah," I murmur, my head sinking, pushing the receiver deeper into the pillow.
"He's here," she repeats. "In Croton."
Her words register and my eyes fly open. I sit up.
"Awake now?" she asks.
"Yes." I look over to my bedside table, tilting up straighter to see over the stack of books. The glowing numbers on the clock read 4:43 a.m. "How "
"Mick's been throwing up some kind of stomach flu slash candy cane binge with the baby-sitter. I look out the bathroom window and his mother's house is lit up like Disney World, called the sheriff's office and they confirmed it. He's here. He's here, Kate."
I fling off the duvet. "I'm coming." Dropping the cordless into its metallic stand, I swing both feet to the smooth wood floor of my bedroom.
He's here there. Jake Sharpe. Of course it's not three P.M. on a Saturday. Of course you reappear in the middle of the night like some nocturnal blood-leech.
Adrenaline surges. I grab yoga pants from the chair, pull them up under my nightslip, and tug the little black cardigan from the doorknob. Throwing open the closet doors, I stand on tiptoe, fingernails catching the edge of my suitcase handle just enough to avalanche it off the shelf, business trip toiletries raining on my head and rolling across the hardwood. I scramble to retrieve the miniature bottles, an anxiety-dream sweat dampening the silk of my slip. Only I'm awake. And Laura's flare finally hovers in the night sky over the snowy hills of our hometown.
Indignation fuels the whipping open of drawers, fistfuls of underwear, T-shirts, and pajamas filling the case, my mind moving ahead to the important items skinny jeans, date sweater, dangly earrings the heels that knock me up to five-nine. The two zipper toggles collide and I shove my brass travel lock through the holes.
Rolling down the hall I push my feet into my sneakers, yank my trench from its hook, open the front door to the cricket quiet of my suburban street, and reach into my pocket for the keys shit, my purse. I whirl in the dark apartment, spotting it hiding on the kitchen table among the boxes of unwritten Christmas cards, rolls of wrapping paper, and my laptop. No. I don't need my laptop. Just bring the binder to read on the plane. Then I might start the report. Then I might need my laptop. Just bring the laptop. I try to unclip it from the docking station, but my fingers fumble. I flick the light switch on, startled by the jarring brightness. But, oh, this is good, yes, okay, good, light helps. Okay, reality check. I take in my reflection in the kitchen window, face creased from sleep, eyes puffed from deprivation of same, brown hair tangled from passing out in forgotten ponytail holder.
This is insane.
I flick the light back off, swing the front door shut, stalk back to the bedroom, flop on top of the bed, and pull the still-warm duvet over me like a taco. Letting the keys drop from my grip, I will the adrenaline away, will back the peaceful dead-to-the-world repose I was beneath just moments ago.
Sleep, Kate. Go back...to sleep. You've been working nonstop the conference, the meetings, the forty-two-hour round-trip to Argentina. This bed was all you could think of. Aren't you comfortable? And relaxed? Living your life? Sleeping in your bed? Isn't it nice to be an adult...who can get into her own bed...in her own apartment...and go to sleep...on her own timing. My pulse deepens. And not be reduced to some stupid...knee-jerk...adolescent...obsessive... lunatic behavior...just because Jake's finally shown up finally shown up
I sit up. Breathless.
And within minutes find myself flying along Route 26, counting off the exits to the Charleston airport.
I pull the suitcase from the backseat and lock the Prius with a double beep, glancing up once again at the LONG-TERM PARKING sign. I ignore the implications. This is a swing through, that's all. An eight-hundred-mile swing through.
The sky still black behind me, I pass between the sliding glass doors into a brick-walled trough of canned air and canned music. The lone ticket agent, wearing three-step eyes and impressively pronounced lipstick for predawn, smiles in greeting. "Checking in?" she asks. I blink at the crimson foil poinsettia pinned to her uniform. "Checking in?" she repeats.
"Yes?" I answer uncertainly.
She looks at me inquisitively as I look at her inquisitively. "Are you sure?"
"Yes. Yes. I'm going to Croton Falls, Vermont. Burlington is closest, but I'll take whatever you have." I drop my purse on the counter and rest my messenger bag heavy with my laptop between my ankles.
"Can I see your I.D.?" I flip open my wallet and slide the plastic over.
She looks down at the card with a frown. "Solutions for Sustainability?"
"Sorry." I trade her my office badge for my license.
"Actually I don't have one, but I need to get on the first flight. What do you have?"
She taps the keyboard, and I watch her stare intently at the obscured screen, all the possible routes back to him. "Well, let's see, there is one seat left on the commuter to Atlanta, then a two-hour layover, which would get you into LaGuardia by three and then another layover..."
"Is that really the earliest I can get there?" I lift my wheelie onto the metal scale.
She tears the outdated baggage tag from the handle. "Two days before Christmas yes."
"Right. Great. Thank you."
"If the weather cooperates you should be in Burlington by six P.M." Almost twelve hours from now. Rock on.
I take my ticket, with its two layovers and one leg in cargo, and make my way to the gate, wishing for a Starbucks, but settling for a man selling the bare basics from a brown Formica cart.
Slinging my messenger bag into the overhead bin I take my seat in row thirteen with a bruised banana and large black coffee. I nestle against the plastic wallpaper and let my hair down from its makeshift topknot, my lids drooping shut, blocking out the sensation of everyone settling in around me.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the captain has informed us we may be hitting some turbulence, so we will be turning the seat belt sign back on. Please make sure that they are fastened." I reflexively open my eyes to double-check that I'm still buckled in beneath my neglected binder on Argentina's revised pollution regulations. My gaze locks with the headline of my seatmate's US Weekly. "First photos ever! Jake Sharpe and Eden Millay spotted ring shopping in St. Bart's. Is it WEDDING BELLS?" We hit an air pocket and the plane drops, my stomach lurching.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we're now beginning our descent." Twisting the opening of my bag toward me with my foot to keep it level, I pray those aren't prescient words.
I peer out the window for some visual landmark to orient me a landing strip, the distant lights of Burlington, but the blackness seems thick and impermeable. Then the clouds clear the full moon, the snow-covered fields suddenly gleaming as if lit by a flashbulb. I rub my eyes as the wheels touch down.
A chapped-cheeked luggage handler emerges through the plastic flaps from the tarmac, pulling the laden metal cart behind him, trailing tread marks of sleet on the tile. He deposits its contents before us, and immediately there's a flurry of grabbing hands, the snapping of handles extending, as my fellow passengers take what's theirs and go. I stare for a moment in disbelief at the empty steel trolly. Shit. "Sir?" I make a beeline to where the man is checking off arriving flights on a clipboard. "Is that all the bags?"
"Sorry, ma'am, there're baggage delays coming out of New York. If yours isn't there, check with Velma at the desk. She can help you fill out a report."
I drop my head. "Thank you."
As Velma and I fill out the forms she repeatedly promises with a big smile that they will bring my little rolling bag to my door the minute it arrives in Burlington, the minute. Only, she concludes brusquely, as she taps the layers of forms neatly back together on the countertop, it's Christmas and she can't make any promises. I nod, heaving my bags back onto my shoulder, the realization sinking in that I'm going to be trying to make someone regret his entire existence in yoga pants. I walk to the sliding glass doors and ohfuckohfuckohfuck run through the snowdrifts in my sneakers to the few waiting taxis, their mufflers steaming. I slam the door shut behind me with a rusty squeak. "Hi, I'm going to Croton Falls, please."
"Croton!" the driver coughs, resting the cigarette on his lip to shift the car into drive. "My cousin's in Fayville with the Christmas traffic, that could be an hour, easy."
"I know." I let my bags slide off my shoulder onto the torn vinyl seat. "I'll pay your return fare." I re-count the fold of twenties from the LaGuardia ATM. "Please?"
"Suit yourself." He grumbles our destination to his dispatcher on the CB duct taped to the dashboard.
"And, sir?" I flap the clammy Lycra hems away from my bare ankles. "Would you mind rolling up the window?"
He flicks the glowing butt onto the road as he reaches for the circular end of the handle. "Didn't think it was gonna be snowing?"
I huddle against the maroon vinyl, tucking my legs up under me in an effort to warm the damp fabric. "I didn't think it was going to be December."
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