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Gripping the armrests of her seat, Kim heard the thunder rolling. The rain sheeted down the window and beat against the body of the plane. The weather wasn't showing any signs of letting up. A crash was very likely.
She glanced around at the other passengers and saw the tension on their faces. Actually, a more accurate word would be fear. What would happen when the plane attempted to land? How many of them would panic? She noticed one peaceful woman holding a rosary of white beads to her lips in prayer. Hopefully she prayed for them to survive whatever might happen.
"Tori, we need to be prepared for a crash."
"We're going to die, aren't we?"
Kim saw the fear in Tori's eyes. "If the unexpected happens, we can survive. All you have to do is listen to me because this might save your life. Look carefully at that exit." Kim pointed to the one nearest their seats. "If we crash, smoke might blind our eyes, and it's good to know where the exits are. If there's a fire, there'll be smoke. Don't breathe the smoke if you can avoid it. Bend down to get under it. If we're crawling on the floor in the dark, it's important to know where the exit is."
Kim jumped at a loud crack of thunder.
"That scared me, too," Tori said.
Jillian walked by and Kim waved her hand. "Jillian, wait."
"Yes," Jillian said.
"I noticed we've been flying around the airport for a long time. What's the pilot going to do? Land in this thunderstorm? We have to be getting low on fuel."
Jillian nodded. "I think he'll get clearance to land soon."
"I wish they'd canceled the flight in the first place," Tori said, turning her silver ring around on her finger. "I'm scared of landing in a storm."
"Everything's going to be fine," Jillian said. "You'll be looking for a dress soon. And if you should want any help shopping, Kim is a great person to ask for advice."
"Hey, I just had an idea." Kim patted Tori's arm. "We can have a girls' night. I can help Jillian look for her wedding dress and we'll look for your dress, too."
"Okay, but only if you look for something to wear to my wedding." Jillian grinned. "Now I'd better get back to work."
"I can't wait to get off this plane," Tori said. "But I keep worrying we might crash. If we do, what'll happen to my dad? He's in a wheelchair and we're so close. I can't bear to think I might not see him again."
Kim couldn't imagine not seeing her loved ones again, but at this point, anything was possible. In her many flights, she'd always felt safer in the air than traveling in a car. Come on, Kim, she told herself, remember reading how more people die every year in automobile accidents than on planes? She nervously cracked her fingers, realizing this fact wasn't taking away her feelings of despair.
Could this be happening to her? She took a deep breath, trying to relax. She didn't need an asthma attack on top of everything else. Could Tori's fears about dying be real?
Jillian stood in front of the passenger compartment. "The pilot just informed me the thunderstorm hasn't stopped, but we have to land because we only have so much extra fuel. There's nothing to worry about. But because we're not landing under ideal conditions, I need to go over an emergency drill with you." She said firmly, "Remove shoes, eyeglasses and anything sharp from your pockets, please. We just want to be extra cautious in case of impact so none of these items will cause injuries."
Kim coughed before noticing Jillian's reassuring words didn't match her strained face. Suddenly, everything was clear to her. First, it was the freezing rain in Chicago, now a severe thunderstorm in New York. She gasped-this flight was doomed from the beginning.
She knew now what had caused her earlier uneasiness. Oh, dear God, she was going to die today. She wanted to go back home, be with her family, see her brothers and have her sister Laura bring her children. Her parents were in Florida and even though she wasn't especially close to them, she wanted to hear their voices. She shoved her hand into her purse and located her Advair Diskus. After opening it, she put the mouthpiece to her lips. She breathed in her dose of medication. She closed the inhaler before returning it to her purse.
After the passengers finished removing their items, Jillian instructed, "Fasten your seat belts and put your head on your arms."
Tori's hands were shaking so much she couldn't fasten her belt. "Kim, I'm so scared."
Kim clicked the belt for her. "It's going to be okay."
"Thanks for caring about me."
Kim squeezed Tori's hand. "You remind me of my daughter Gaby. When we get out of here, I want you to meet her."
"If you make it and I don't, tell my boyfriend Ryan Stafford and my dad how much I love them."
"Do the same for me with my family." She loved Steve, Gaby and Jason. She might die and never see them again. Why hadn't she canceled this trip?
Kim made the sign of the cross. Lightning flashed so close to the window that she jumped. She grabbed one wrist with the other and, leaning over to tuck her head, coughed hard. With her head in her lap to brace for impact, she felt tightness in her chest. Oh no. Not an asthma attack now. She peeked to be sure Tori had her head down.
The plane descended gradually toward the runway. A violent burst of air hit the plane, and Kim was yanked back up hard. Her insides were jerked enough that she felt sick to her stomach.
"It feels like my guts were ripped out," Tori said.
The plane was falling like a rock, and she was going to die. Her whole life she'd been a control freak and always put her job ahead of her family. And now, in what was probably her final moment, she knew what was important to her. Her loved ones. Nothing else mattered any more.
Her chest tightened and her heart felt heavy. She prayed, Dear God, I don't want to die. I've been so selfish and want another chance. If You spare my life, I'll quit my job and be a better wife and mother.
The nose of the plane dived, plunging toward the hard runway. Purses and briefcases slid along the floor, and Kim winced when a briefcase slammed into her ankle. The doors of the overhead luggage compartments flapped open and luggage flew out, thumping against seats, walls and people.
Passengers screamed, "We're going to crash. We're going to die."
Someone shouted, "God help us!"
Terrible shrieking metallic noises cut the air.
Excerpted from Never the Same by Diane Craver Copyright © 2007 by Diane Craver. Excerpted by permission.
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