Read an Excerpt
Wait for Me
By Mary Kay McComas
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1994 Mary Kay McComas
All rights reserved.
She couldn't help but notice his pain. The emptiness in his dark eyes was heartrending. They were red rimmed, too, though she suspected it was not from shedding tears as much as from a constant battle to keep them at bay.
The flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles wasn't long, but because she was pressed between a very large woman on her left and a grieving man on her right, the trip was taking on interminable dimensions.
Not that she was complaining, mind you. She had only to look at the poor sad man in the window seat, who appeared to be rather tall, to know that he was far more cramped than she. It was just that ... well, she was afraid that her right leg had gone to sleep.
She tried to shift her position and bumped the lady's elbow, jarring the book in her pudgy hand. The woman sighed, loudly.
The tiny bit of circulation she'd restored to her leg made it begin to tingle with life. She tensed and relaxed her leg muscles, but it didn't help. Soon the tingling was like an electric shock, giving her leg a life of its own. It shook like a dog's at a fire hydrant.
The man looked at her leg, then raised his sorrowful gaze to her face.
"Sorry," she muttered.
He was a handsome man in spite of his unhappiness. Thick dark hair. Stalwart features. A strong jaw. She wondered briefly what he might look like when he was happy—if he was ever happy.
He went back to staring out the window.
Holly sighed quietly. There didn't seem to be enough air to get a full breath. She sighed again. It was better the second time. But the plane was getting hotter and stuffier by the minute. Or maybe she was bored and needed to think about something else.
She did a quick mental scan of her Christmas list and then composed another index of to-dos while she was in Los Angeles.
No, she decided, a few minutes later, she wasn't bored. It was definitely getting stuffy. If she could reach the little air nozzle above her ...
Slowly she raised the arm that the woman wasn't lying on. She couldn't reach the nozzle without sitting up straight—and that would disturb both of her traveling companions. Discouraged, she lowered her arm and hit the man square in the chest.
His look was one of surprise. As if he'd just that moment realized she was there.
He went back to staring out the window.
How long had they been in the air? she wondered. An hour? Two hours? She tried to sneak a peek out the man's window, to see if they were circling the airport. She moved into his peripheral field of vision, and he turned his head to look at her. Their noses bumped.
"Sorry," she said, grimacing. When her need to know overwhelmed her reluctance to disturb him, she blurted out, "What time is it?"
He looked at his watch. He frowned, tapped the crystal several times, then muttered a curse.
"My watch stopped," he said, turning back to the window.
"Is this the longest flight from San Francisco to L.A. you've ever been on, or what? I feel like I've been here for days," she said to no one particular, simply needing to speak.
The woman beside her turned a page in her book. The man shifted his legs uncomfortably and tried to ignore her.
"You must feel like you've been here for weeks," she said, and when he looked at her, she added, "You look real uncomfortable, wadded up in your seat that way. Time always seems a lot slower when you're uncomfortable ... and when you're in a hurry."
"What makes you think I'm in a hurry?" He was watching her the way he might a bug he couldn't reach with his shoe or swat at with a newspaper.
"If you weren't in a hurry, you'd have booked your flight earlier and gotten a better seat—on the aisle or in first class," she said, noting the fine cloth and superior fit of his suit. Then, despite her best intentions, she said, "I hope it's nothing too serious. I hope everything turns out for the best."
"You hope what's not too serious?"
"The unhappiness you're going to face in L.A."
He scowled at her as if she were just another California nut dressed in human's clothing, and turned back to the window.
She sat silently, pinched between her mute travel mates, until the flight attendant stopped her cart beside them. She wasn't thirsty, but she ordered and paid for a little bottle of Jack Daniels and refused the ice. The flight attendant moved on.
Holly stared mindlessly at the tiny bottle and empty cup for several minutes before she twisted the top off and poured the brown liquid smoothly into the plastic cup. She handed it to the man.
A soft nudge to his leg drew his attention to her gift. His gaze lifted to her face, shifted over the seat to see that the attendant had passed by without his notice, then returned to the woman beside him.
Her eyes were golden brown, he observed, taking the cup from her fingers spontaneously. Nice hands, long and well groomed. But her eyes ... Why hadn't he noticed before how rich they were? How they seemed to look straight into him?
And the cup? One whiff told him it was whiskey. It triggered a deep, familiar reflex in his brain, telling him it would dull his pain a bit. Like a trusting patient, frightened and reckless in his need for relief, he gulped the potion down.
"Thanks," he said, the whiskey still hot and burning in his throat, the calm reassurance in her eyes intensifying the warmth in his belly. He handed the cup back to her, noting the Jack Daniels label on the bottle. His brand. "Let me pay you."
He started to squirm in his seat, reaching into his breast pocket for his wallet. Her hand covered his through the cloth. His gaze lifted to hers. His heart pounded against his hand.
She shook her head once and removed her hand. Without words, she told him that to repay her act of kindness would be a huge insult. He wasn't in the mood and he didn't have the energy to insult anyone, much less this strange woman with the heart-shaped face and the earth-colored eyes, as warm and wise as the land itself.
He nodded his thanks once more, then turned back to the window.
Holly sat for long moments wondering why she'd bought the man a drink. She was glad she had, but ... well, she hadn't thought about it. She'd just done it mindlessly, the way she would scratch an itch on the end of her nose.
It was strange indeed, but she wasn't one to over-analyze things. There didn't seem to be much point in it when everything in her life was strange to one degree or another anyway.
While the engines hummed, her thoughts grew heavy, and she was warm in the close quarters. She became drowsy and closed her eyes.
"My father's dying," the man said out of the blue. Holly opened her eyes. She turned her head to look at him. He was still facing the window. "Heart attack. It's not his first."
Instinctively Holly curled her fingers over the hand on his leg. It jerked away, then quickly returned to snatch her hand into a tight grasp.
It was an odd moment. They didn't speak, and he didn't look away from the window. There was a tension between them, the kind any two strangers holding hands would experience. But underneath the tension something special happened. Something as basic as being human. Something often overlooked and trampled upon in the normal hustle and bustle of life.
Suffering met with compassion.
The Fasten Seat Belt light blinked on and still they sat, needing and comforting without words. It wasn't until the plane began its descent that he loosened his hold and let her hand slip away.
He looked at her then, feeling self-conscious and stupid. He was heartsick about his father, but it wasn't as if his dad's impending death hadn't been expected. On every visit over the past year, his father had been weaker and more frail. The reality of losing him was painful, certainly, but to turn to a complete stranger for sympathy? It was very out of character for him.
"Do you live in L.A., or are you visiting?" he asked, hiding behind a little small talk.
"Visiting. For the holiday."
"That's right. Thanksgiving. I forgot," he said. "You have family here?"
She laughed. It was a soft, joyous noise that made him smile.
"I have family everywhere, all over the place."
"That must be nice. I'm an only child."
"Then losing your father is especially terrible for you. I'm sorry."
"Thanks. And ... thanks for before too," he said, looking all around the cabin, but not at her.
He caught himself. Why not look at her? He turned his head and did exactly that. She was easy to look at. She had a nice face. Not beautiful, but very nice, with smooth, creamy skin and almond-shaped eyes that tilted upward a bit. She was wearing one of those simple floral-print dresses that reminded him of another time, a more graceful era in history. Her hair was almost as dark as his own, though the overhead light showed red highlights in the deep hues of mahogany. And then there was her mouth.
Her mouth was especially nice. It looked soft and warm and giving ... a lot like the woman herself, now that he thought about it. Those three words could have been stamped on her forehead. She wasn't a heart stopper, but there was a softness and warmth about her, a nurturing quality like a young mother's.
"Do you have children?" she asked, jarring him a bit, as if she'd taken her question from his thoughts.
"Family is a good thing to have. Children could be a comfort to you now."
"You think so?"
"No. Not really. I don't have anything against children, but I don't think they'd make you feel any better about losing your father. I don't think anything could."
"Then why did you say that children could be a comfort to me now?"
"Because they could be. I mean, it is possible. People say they are. But I don't have any, so I don't know. I just don't think it's likely."
"Uh-huh." He didn't know what else to say.
"Are you married, at least?" she asked, worried about him.
"You're not?" She was amazed and it showed. It made him smile a little.
"Never even come close," he said to add to the effect. Truth be known, it amazed him. He wanted a wife and children, but it was always a someday thing, something that would happen when he got the signal—maybe if he were struck by lightning. He was nearly forty years old and still looking forward to someday. "It's a condition my relatives are eager to remedy, but I'm ... still waiting."
She nodded her understanding. She had impatient relatives, and she was waiting too. The waiting was the hardest to bear.
His thoughts gravitated back to his father and getting to the hospital as quickly as possible. He glanced at his watch and made an impatient gesture as he recalled that time had stopped for him, minutes after he'd boarded the plane. Damn. And he'd just had the battery changed.
The plane touched down.
"I hate this part," she said, speaking loudly to be heard over the brakes and reverse thrusters. "There's so many more things for this plane to run into down here."
He smiled, amused, and almost as naturally as she'd come to his aid, he came to hers, squeezing her hand as it clutched the armrest between them. The effect, however, wasn't quite the same.
Skin touched skin, and subcutaneous nerve endings sizzled with excitement and pleasure. He tried patting her hand, but each touch sent a spasm of sensation up his arm. It was easier, more soothing, simply to submit and enjoy and wonder at the phenomenon.
She smiled at him tenuously. She wasn't sure which made her more nervous, the intimacy of his touch or land travel at air speed.
The plane began to taxi toward the terminal, and the moment was deliberately dismissed during the business of unfastening seat belts and wrestling carry-on luggage from under the seats in front of them.
The plane stopped, and as they waited on the edge of their seats to file out, she turned to him on impulse and said, "It was nice talking to you. My name is Holly Loftin."
"Oliver Carey," he said, smiling, liking her as much as he'd liked any complete stranger in a very long time. "Have a good Thanksgiving with your family."
The Carey name was familiar to her, but ... well, it would have been too much of a coincidence. Surely there were many Careys not related to the Carey Foundation—tons of Careys. The Careys she was thinking of would never fly coach, no matter how desperate they were. They'd have private planes.
"Thanks," she said, dismissing the notion entirely. Then, because she felt as if she ought to say something positive and nothing about his father's ailment would have been, she added, "God bless you," thinking it would pretty much cover everything she wished for him.
He hadn't thought about God in ages, he realized. Not really. He followed her as she followed the fat woman into the aisle. Why hadn't she said, "God bless your father"? or "Good luck with your father"? Or "I hope your father doesn't die this time"?
In Oliver's book, "God bless you" was a phrase worn tissue-thin in airports and on street corners, at social functions and at work, by overly enthusiastic born-again religious extremists. It had become as overused, impersonal, meaningless, and tiresome as "Have a nice day."
But when Holly Loftin said it, it became special and sincere, and it was sticking in his mind, playing over and over. And for no reason he knew, he took heart in it.
He stayed several steps behind her into the terminal, and though he was more concerned with getting to the main entrance than to the car rental or baggage claim area, he did notice that she didn't turn off in either of those directions either.
She was some distance ahead of him when it started. A rumbling from behind, as if a caravan of Mack trucks were barreling down the terminal toward him. The floor vibrated beneath his feet, harder and harder until it made his teeth rattle. He stepped to the wall to steady himself. It was shaking too. As many times as he'd experienced the tiny and not so tiny shifts of the San Andreas fault, it was always frightening and never predictable in its severity.
How long would it last? Should he run for an exit or stay where he was? Was he safe, or would he be buried under several tons of airport rubble? Before he could come to any decisions, the earthquake was over.
He was starting to look at the people around him when he glanced in Holly's direction. Whatever drew his attention to the ceiling above her would remain a mystery forever, but the crack and the widening gap, the specks of falling plaster, and Holly's bent head directly below, shot him into action.
"Holly!" he shouted, running toward her, bumping into several other dazed people when they stepped into his path. "Get out of the way. Holly! Move!"
At the sound of her name, she looked around in a haze of confusion and residual fear. By the time she saw him and realized that he was coming at her, he was upon her. He grabbed her, and she instinctively resisted his attack. They tripped over each other's feet and fell, rolling and sprawling on the terminal floor as the ceiling came crashing in a few feet away.
Arms and legs entangled, they helped each other sit up. Through a cloud of plaster dust, Holly stared up at the enormous black cavity in the ceiling, then down at the pile of debris where she had been standing.
"That would've hurt," she said, speaking aloud the first coherent thought to enter her mind.
The understatement caught Oliver's fancy. He started to laugh, and once began, it was like a faucet for all his pent-up emotions. Grief. Sorrow. Fear. Relief. He laughed harder.
It was contagious. She grinned as she watched him, then chuckled, and before she knew it, she was giggling uncontrollably with tears in her eyes.
Tourists walked wide of them, staring, setting off new fits of chuckles. Every look at the hole in the ceiling was a fresh source of amusement. And trying to stand on fear-jellied knees was hilarious—not to mention brushing white plaster powder off each other's noses.
"Are you sure you're all right?" Oliver asked when he could stand and speak at the same time.
"Don't I look all right?" she asked, still chuckling as she tried to brush herself clean. "I feel great."
Airport personnel had arrived to inquire likewise and to begin cleaning up the mess.
"You're not hurt? Bruised? That was a hard fall we took."
"As falls go, it was the best I've ever taken," she said, straightening. Her expression sobered as she looked at him. "You saved my life."
"No." He knew what was coming.
"Yes you did. I owe you my life."
Excerpted from Wait for Me by Mary Kay McComas. Copyright © 1994 Mary Kay McComas. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.