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"Excuse me. You're in my seat."
Anne brushed her long blond hair out of her blue eyes and squinted at the man standing next to her. His hair was dark, with the kind of deep side part used to disguise the early stages of baldness, and his charcoal gray suit, light blue shirt, and red tie were all slightly rumpled. Still, he looked vaguely familiar.
"I always book 2A." He gave her a condescending look.
"Oh, sorry. I guess you're right. I'm supposed to be in 2B. I'll move," she said, picking up the letter she'd been writing and grabbing her bag.
"Forget it." He sighed loudly, dropping his briefcase onto the aisle seat. "Just stay I'll take B."
"Whatever." She rolled her eyes and focused again on her letter, making sure she hunched over it so he couldn't peek. She was in no mood to be messed with by some balding old fart. It was because of old people like him (namely her parents) that she was on this stupid plane in the first place. Did they really think that buying her a first-class ticket would lessen the pain of being dragged away from everything she knew and loved? Like the group of close friends she'd had since childhood, her hard-earned status as captain of the dive team, and Justin, the love of her life whomshe'd been dating for the last year and a half? Did they really think they could buy her off with an oversized seat, hot towels, and a choice of six movies?
The plane pushed away from the gate and the flight attendants asked everyone to direct their attention to the safety demonstration on the video screens. But Anne refused to lookthere was no way some stupid video could save her from a crash. Thanks to her mom's affair with the senior partner at her law firm, and the bitter divorce that immediately followed her dad's walking in on them, Anne's life as she knew it was completely crashing down around her, and there was nothing she could do to save it.
"Sir, you need to turn off your cell phone immediately."
Anne looked up to see an attendant with her hands placed firmly on her navy-clad hips. She was scowling at Mr. 2B. "Sir, don't make me say it twice."
"Excuse me," he said, putting his hand over the mouthpiece and glaring. "Do you know who I am?"
"Yes, Mr. O'Rourke, I've seen your show. And if you don't turn off your phone right this minute, we will return to the gate so you can disembark and continue your call while we fly to Los Angeles without you." She reached up and smoothed her blond French twist.
Anne watched him snap his phone shut and mumble something under his breath as the attendant walked away Oh my God, no wonder he looks familiar. It was Bob O'Rourke from that news show on FOX. And she was sitting in his favorite seat, and she'd even rolled her eyes at him! But he was kind of a jerk, so she didn't feel too bad about it.
The plane began its runway roll, quickly gaining speed. This was the moment when Anne would normally reach over and hold her dad's hand until the wheels lifted off the tarmac and retreated into the belly. She looked over at Bob O'Rourke, glasses perched on the end of his nose, scowling at a stack of papers in his hand,and she knew better than to even try. She was on her own now, in more ways than one.
She closed the window shade, fearing she might cry if she glimpsed the diminishing East Coast landscape, then reread her letter. But halfway through, her throat grew hot and tight and her eyes started to sting, so she quickly scribbled at the bottom, telling Justin how much she loved and missed him. Then she folded the letter into a perfect rectangle, stuffed it into an envelope, and shoved it deep inside her purse.
She was just drifting off to sleep when that same attendant came by and asked if they'd like anything to drink. And after listening to the very important Bob O'Rourke grill her about the available wines and their grape origins, Anne was feeling so bad for her she said, "Um, I'll just have a bottle of water. I don't need a glass or anything." Then, determined to ignore the famous jerk beside her, she put on her headphones, extended her footrest, and turned on her in-seat video unit.
On channel 3 they were showing that movie Blue Crush, but Anne flipped right past it. No way was she gonna watch a bunch of sun-struck surfer girls talk about the beach and "killer" waves. She'd be forced to live among people like that soon enough, and she was in no rush to get there.
She was down to just a five-hour cushion between her beloved old life and her dreaded new one, and she was determined to make the most of it. The only surfing she planned on doing was channel surfing.
She thought about her last phone call with her dad, and how he sounded so excited when he told her about the house he'd bought. "It's in a private gated community called Laguna Cove, and we're right on a cliff overlooking our very own beach."
"We have our own beach?" she'd asked.
"Well, we have to share it with the neighbors." He laughed.
"Is there a pool?" Anne remembered asking.
"No, honey, there's not. But I think you're really gonna like it here if you just give it a chance."
Easy for him to say, since he's never home much anyway, always away on location, or busy schmoozing with fellow movie execs. And how could she possibly like a place with no pool? Diving was her passion! She'd spent the last three years at her private school earning a reputation as a skilled and fearless competitor. And then, right when she finally makes captain, they yank her and send her to some stupid California beach town that's probably filled with pot-smoking hippie surfers named after flowers. She wasn't being negative, she told herself, just realistic.
The flight attendant reappeared with a bottle of water for Anne and a glass of red wine for the jerk in 2B, who was currently missing in action. "I'll just set this here for when he returns," she said.
But by the time they came by with the meals, he still wasn't back.
"Do you know what happened to the person that was sitting here?" Anne asked the male attendant with a deep tan and tightly cropped, bleached blond hair. "I think his name was Bob O'Rourke?"
"He moved to 5C. Looks like you're on your own. Do you need more wine?" he asked, motioning toward the untouched glass.
"Um, no. Maybe in a little while."
Then, the second he was gone, Anne craned her head around and peered down the aisle at 5C. Sure enough, there was Bob O'Rourke, napkin tucked into his collar, smug nose buried deep into his wineglass. Carefully picking up the wine next to her, she placed it on her own tray. Then she looked around nervously, to see if anyone noticed, but nobody seemed to care. Besides, the attendant guy thought it was hers, so it may as well be.
She lifted the glass to her nose and inhaled just like that O'Rourke guy did. Though she wasn't exactly sure what she wassupposed to be sniffing for. Was it to see if it's rancid? And what did rancid wine smell like anyway?
She lowered the glass to her lips and sipped cautiously. Sometimes she and her friends drank beer and once, last New Year's, champagne, but this wasn't too bad.
So she took another sip.
And no one seemed to notice she was still four years away from her twenty-first birthday.
Maybe flying first class wasn't so bad after all.
"Miss, Miss. Excuse me, we've landed."
"What?" Anne opened her eyes to find the blond attendant with the French twist kneeling next to her. "Are you feeling all right?" she asked, eyes narrowed with concern.
"Um, yeah. How much longer?"
"What? Oh my God! Okay, just let me get my stuff," Anne said, running her fingers through her tangled, messed-up hair and searching the seat-back pocket for her bottle of water. The inside of her mouth felt like the Mojave Desert.
"Are you sure you're okay?" the attendant asked again.
"Yeah, really I'm fine," Anne assured her, even though she felt the exact opposite of fine with her throbbing head and stinging eyes. And where is that damn water bottle?
"Well, we're laying over and our van is waiting, so you really need to hurry." She stood and ran her hands over her tight blue skirt.
"Okay, okay, I'm ready. Do you know where baggage claim is?" Anne asked.
"You can follow us."
Anne stumbled behind the flight crew, listening to their laughteras they made fun of Bob O'Rourke. And even though she had no idea what their lives might really be like, at that exact moment she would have traded places with any one of them, no questions asked. Because at this point just about anyone's life looked better than what she was in for.
Okay, maybe on the surface, moving to Laguna Beach, into a big house with a private beach, didn't sound so bad, but it was all relative to what she was leaving behind.
She shifted her purse to the other shoulder and mentally scolded herself for drinking too much, passing out, and generally wasting the past five hours on the plane. And now she didn't even have time to freshen up, since she knew her dad would be waiting at baggage claim. And even though she didn't have time to look in a mirror, she was willing to bet she wasn't exactly at her best right now.
The blond attendant stopped and turned while the rest of the group continued ahead. "You can take that escalator right over there all the way down to the baggage carousels. Have fun!" she said, turning and rushing to catch up with the rest of the crew.
Anne used the thirty-second escalator ride for some quick damage control. Breath mint? Check. Stila lip gloss? Check. Designer sunglasses? Check. Red wine stains on brand-new vintage-wash two-hundred-dollar jeans? Triple check. Ridiculously expensive wrinkled-up white T-shirt with drool stain dripping down the front? You bet.
God, what she really needed was a toothbrush, a shower, and a decent meal to soak up all the alcohol. But since she hadn't seen her dad for the month he spent getting the house ready, she was banking on the fact that he'd be so excited to see her that he wouldn't notice how she'd boozed it up in first class.
And speaking of Dad, where the hell was he? At six foot three, with a lean build and a head of thick silver hair, it's not like hewas hard to miss. But after scanning the crowd she didn't see him anywhere.
Oh, please, don't let him be late, she thought, heading over to the baggage carousel and retrieving her cell phone from the bottom of her purse. But when she flipped it open and tried to turn it on, nothing happened. Oh, great. She'd used up her entire battery on the limo ride from her house in Connecticut to the JFK Airport. About thirty seconds were spent saying good-bye to her mom. The rest was saying good-bye to her friends and, of course, Justin.
She sat there with her two oversized bags and wondered what the hell she was supposed to do now. She didn't even know where she lived.
LAGUNA COVE. Copyright © 2006 by Alyson Noël. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.