The Layover

The Layover

by Lacie Waldon

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Overview

The Unhoneymooners meets The Hating Game in this breezy debut romantic comedy about life—and love—30,000 feet above the ground.

After ten years as a flight attendant, Ava Greene is poised to hang up her wings and finally put down roots. She's got one trip left before she bids her old life farewell, and she plans to enjoy every second of it. But then she discovers that former pilot Jack Stone—the absurdly gorgeous, ridiculously cocky man she's held a secret grudge against for years—is on her flight. And he has the nerve to flirt with her, as if he doesn't remember the role he played in the most humiliating night of her life. Good thing she never has to see him again after they land....

But when their plane encounters mechanical problems, what should have been a quick stop at the Belize airport suddenly becomes a weekend layover. Getting stuck on a three-hour flight with her nemesis was bad enough. Being stranded with him at a luxury resort in paradise? Even with the sultry breeze and white sand to distract her, it will take all the rum punch in the country to drown out his larger-than-life presence.

Yet the more time Ava spends with him under the hot Caribbean sun, the more she begins to second-guess everything she thought she knew about him...and everything she thought she wanted from her life. And all too soon, she might have to choose between keeping her feet on the ground and her head in the clouds....


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593328255
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/15/2021
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 11,583
Product dimensions: 5.47(w) x 8.17(h) x 0.68(d)

About the Author

Lacie Waldon is a writer with her head in the clouds—literally. A flight attendant based in Washington, D.C., Waldon spends her days writing from the jump seat and searching the world for new stories. The Layover is her debut novel.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1
 
I don’t know what city I’m in. The alarm on my phone is blaring the Rocky song, lighting up the room just enough for me to see the shadowed outlines of walls and corners. I blink, trying to orient myself. There’s no strip of hallway light coming from under the door. The sheets are silky, not worn-down cotton slept on by millions of bodies. They’re probably not even white. This can’t be a hotel.
Someone groans beside me, and my stomach sinks with realization. I’m at home, where I promised not to use my Rocky alarm anymore. Alexander says it gets into his dreams. I grab for the phone, but it’s 3:30 in the morning—too early for coordination. It crashes to the floor, an electronic trumpet encouraging me to jab at the air with curled fists. Staying beneath the covers, I dip my head over the side of the bed and silence the noise before easing myself back up.
I should go, but instead I peek across the king-sized bed toward Alexander. I just want to see his face, to make sure I haven’t managed to annoy him before I leave for three days. But the blackout curtains make it impossible. I can’t even spot his outline through the darkness.
With a sigh, I slip my legs toward the edge of the bed. The chilled air outside the duvet hits one foot, and I steel myself for full-body contact with the icy conditions Alexander requires to sleep. An arm shoots around my waist, dragging me into a cocoon of hot skin and muscles. I exhale my relief and melt into him.
“I’m sorry about Rocky,” I whisper.
“It’s okay.” Alexander’s voice is husky with sleep. He presses a kiss against my bare shoulder. “In my dream, I ducked at exactly the right moment. Then I came back up with a right hook that sent the other guy flying. Knocked him clean out.”
“Of course you did.” A smile tugs at my mouth. Even in his dreams, Alexander triumphs. Some people might call this arrogance, but I recognize it as the confidence it is. There’s a reason the other lawyers at his firm refer to him as the go-to guy. Alexander is reliable. He’s unflappable. These are the qualities I appreciate most about him. “I wouldn’t have expected anything less.”
“His face was blurry,” he says, “but I’m hoping it was a predictive dream about McMurphy. I’m up against him in court today, and to say I despise that man would be an understatement.”
“It was definitely him. I’d recognize that stupid face anywhere.”
“You were in my dream?”
“Oh, yes.” I wriggle deeper into his embrace. “Right there on the sidelines, cheering you on.”
“You’re such an odd little duckling.” Alexander laughs softly against the back of my head. His voice turns serious. “But he really does have a stupid face, doesn’t he?”
“The stupidest.”
He sighs and presses another kiss against the back of my neck. “I’ll miss you while you’re gone.”
“It’s only a few days.” The reminder of work makes my leg twitch. It’s probably been three minutes since my alarm went off. Maybe even four.
“Still.”
“I know.” I get it. I do. Nobody likes being left behind. It’s only a few days, but it’s the dinners we’ll eat separately. The nights we’ll go to bed without each other. Large bodies of water will separate us. “I’ll miss you, too.”
“It’s the last time, though.” There’s no question in his words. It’s a fact that’s been decided, was agreed to this weekend, the moment I accepted his proposal. “We should celebrate when you get back. An engagement dinner. You land late on Thursday, right? Let’s do it Friday. We can toast to the end of one chapter and the beginning of another.”
“Yes.” It’s a lovely idea. Perfect, actually. What better thing to toast to than the ending of a nine-year career and the start of a marriage destined to last much longer? “Let’s do it.”
“I’ll make a reservation,” Alexander says, loosening his hold. “And you’d better go. You’re way behind on the schedule.”
I smile at his words. Of course Alexander would realize the value of the moments I’ve lost. He runs his entire life with the precision I reserve for work mornings. It’s one of the things that most attracted me to him in the beginning. That and the set of his shoulders, so firm and self-assured. I can’t believe he’s going to be my husband. I, Ava Greene, am getting married. It’s hands down the most permanent thing I’ve ever committed to.
“I love you.” I press a kiss to his forearm and scramble out of the bed. “See you soon!”
I grab my phone and check it as I ease the door shut behind me: 3:34. Sure enough, I’ve already used four of my twenty-five minutes allotted to getting out of the house. On tiptoe, I sprint down the moonlit hallway. Chicago’s December wind howls against the windowed walls of the tenth-story condo, making me feel like I’m at risk of being swept away. It’s the perfect start to a trip, like I’ve already taken off and am coasting through the clouds.
Security lights outside provide the kitchen with enough light that I don’t have to flip the switch on the wall. I beeline it toward the kettle I brought with me when I moved in. It looks ridiculously out of place next to Alexander’s restaurant-grade espresso machine. No more so than me, though, racing past the black marble countertops in my bra and panties.
Alexander would be appalled if he could see me flitting around like a half-naked pixie in the moonlight. He’s chastised me more than once about my tendency to go in search of coffee before putting on clothes. He has such concern about these nameless neighbors and their ability to spy on us. As if, out of all the people in our city, we are the show they want to see.
There’s very little chance of being caught by him now, though. Even if he can’t get back to sleep, I know he’ll stay in bed and try. Alexander gets into bed at 10:30 and rises at 5:30, because Alexander believes in consistency. He’s never said it aloud, but I know my moving in has been much harder on him than he expected. It’s difficult to adapt to someone’s presence when every time you start to get used to them, they disappear.
With a flick of my finger, I start the kettle. I filled it with water last night to save precious seconds this morning. My other hand reaches for my food bag. The movements happen without thought; this is a routine I’ve performed a thousand times.
The fridge is perfectly organized except for the little piles of food I’ve left. I set them up yesterday, balancing the baggies of cherries and grapes on rolling string cheeses in a way that would inform even the most casual of observers I’m not destined to be an architect. There’s another pile of individually bagged meals in the freezer that I lay across the top of the bag. Since they’re frozen, they can function as ice packs until I eat enough food to make room for a bag of ice from the plane. I zip up my large black mesh adult lunch box, grab the coffee, pour too much of it into the French press, and race to the guest bathroom.
It’s the one place in this condo I’ve taken over as my own. The official reason is I don’t want to wake Alexander up on mornings like today. Secretly, though, I like having a spot where I can leave things on the counter and don’t have to worry about the hand towels hanging at exactly the same length. It’s not that I don’t appreciate Alexander’s neatness. I do. In fact, I love how organized he is. His home—our home—is exactly the kind of perfectly ordered place I’ve spent my whole life dreaming of living in.
Yet for some reason, since being here, I seem to have discovered some tiny, deviant side of me that relishes this small area of relief from all the perfection. It’s a disconcerting blip, contrary to who I want to be, and it embarrasses me enough that I’ve made every effort to hide it from Alexander. “Whatever you do,” I told him early on, “don’t open this door. I keep all my lady tools in there. You don’t want to see how the sausage is made, do you?” He cringed and has left a wide berth since.
The bathroom fills with light, and my gaze is drawn to the sparkle of my new engagement ring. For a moment, I allow myself a break in routine to study this thing that is suddenly mine. It’s massive, likely several carats. When Alexander got down on one knee Saturday night and opened the small velvet box, I had a terrible temptation to laugh at the glittering disco ball inside; it’s such a departure from the small turquoise stone I asked for. Now that I’ve had a few days to get used to it, though, I can see that it’s right. It’s exactly what I need: a sharp, heavy rock to weigh me to the ground. After a lifetime of floating, I’m grateful to have found an anchor.
Alexander has always been clear about the fact that he didn’t want his future partner to travel for a living, just like I’ve told him from the beginning I’m ready to move on from flying. Everyone knows you don’t confess to a man you’ve just met—an attractive man whose lips you can’t stop staring at, no less—that you want to get married, but I did. I broke all the rules, gazing up at him and earnestly confessing my desire to settle down. Life on the road was what I grew up with, my parents’ ideal. My dream has always been to stay still.
In the corner of one of the drawers Alexander allotted me, I have a list I wrote when I was thirteen. Written across the top are the words Ava’s Adult Aspirations (the latter word triumphantly discovered through a thesaurus search of goals). It’s only two things, and I’ve long since memorized it, but I still pull it out sometimes to read it aloud, just to remind myself. It says:
1) Stay in one place.
2) Have real friends. Friends who don’t travel. (They won’t give up on you if you don’t give them a reason to. Just show up to the things that are important to them. Be dependable.)
If I had to give myself a progress report on achieving those goals, it wouldn’t look good. I work a different three-day trip every week. The fact that those days change from month to month makes people feel like I’m constantly disappearing on them. I did have two good, perfectly sedentary friends until Meredith, the more sensitive of two, started referring to me as “Houdini” in a passive-aggressive way I’ve chosen to interpret as amusing. Now, due to too many magic acts on my part, I’m probably down to one.
That will all be behind me soon, though. It’s time to trade the life I never aspired to for the one I’ve always wanted. Reluctantly, I slip the ring off my finger and place it reverentially in the corner of the counter. I’ve heard married women complain about chipping their diamonds in the cramped, metal galleys where we pour the passengers’ drinks. I don’t want to have to explain to Alexander that I’ve allowed that to happen to this horrifyingly expensive symbol of our future.
The moment the drawer closes, I jerk back into action. It’s 3:47, only eight minutes before I need to hear the door click into place behind me. I wash my face and dab on mascara, noting the grayish hue to my hazel eyes. It’s strange. They tend to turn green when I’m particularly happy or excited, and clearly I’m both. In addition to my new engagement, I’ve scored a much-coveted layover in Belize tomorrow night. International trips usually get snagged by the really senior flight attendants.
I braid my long dark hair down the side of my face like I do for every trip, but the strands slip out of place, costing me extra seconds I don’t have. It’s the water in Alexander’s shower. He’s put a filter on it that makes it and everything it touches feel like silk. It’s considered a luxury, I know, but I can’t seem to find it in myself to appreciate it. What, after all, is people’s aversion to a bit of grit? Who doesn’t want to feel the world on their skin?
I leave the braid loose, hoping the escaping wisps will look intentional, and secure it with a brown hair tie. It’s time for my favorite part of my routine. In the guest room, my uniform is perfectly laid out: Dress spread across the bed. Each thigh-high stocking above its matching shoe. Earrings and mandatory watch next to the sleeve.
In less than a minute, I’m suited up. Every time I do this, I imagine I’m Superman in a phone booth. With the blink of an eye, I’m transformed from a civilian to a professional. Ava Greene, SuperStewardess!
Almost as quickly as it arrives, the feeling sinks into a pit in my stomach.
I can’t believe this is the last trip I’ll ever work.

Chapter 2
The sun is still buried in sleep, and Layla Day’s call-in radio show, In Love with Layla, is playing through the car speakers. It’s a rerun of her dedications from callers who want to send a song to their significant others, recycled for the listening pleasure of us misfits of the world who have gotten up too early or are coming home too late. I take a sip of coffee from my travel mug as I coast into the employee parking lot, my eyes narrowing at the two cars lurking near the front. Their engines are idling, headlights on in an aggressive show of intent.
They’re determined to sit there until someone comes out and frees up a closer spot. If I were being uncharitable, I’d call them lazy. In fairness, though, a spot at the back will add an extra twenty-minute trudge through icy wind to the front of the lot before the even longer walk through the hourly parking garage to get inside the airport. It’s not the worst strategy to invest a few minutes crossing your fingers. Normally I’d leave them to fight it out between themselves, but today I, too, want a good spot right up front. Every time I’ve ever scored one, I’ve ended up having an amazing trip.
I inch slowly forward, scanning for empty spaces the lurkers might’ve overlooked. On the radio, Layla Day cuts off a rambling ode to teen-dream Ashley from the self-proclaimed love of her life, a boy whose voice cracks at the end of his words as he claims to have held onto Ashley’s heart for all of three weeks. “My Heart Will Go On” swells from the radio in honor of their grand romance.
Up ahead on my left, a parked car rumbles to life, its brake lights flaring red. Adrenaline hits my bloodstream like a shot. My fingers tighten against the padded steering wheel. This can’t be happening, but it is. I, Ava Greene, am experiencing an airport miracle.
Since I didn’t see anyone walk up to the parked car, I can only conclude some kindhearted employee has been just sitting there, braving the cold Chicago night while waiting for me to arrive so they could gift me with their primo parking spot. It’s a going-away present. A sign. I whoop with glee and hit the gas, flicking on my blinker just as one of the lurkers rounds the corner.
The parked car begins to back out and, to my shock, the lurker inches closer, turning on a blinker of their own. I squint in disbelief. They saw my signaled claim. There’s no way they could’ve missed it. It might still be dark out, but that would only make the light of my turn signal more prominent. This is Wild West behavior. The parking lot equivalent of a duel. Any other day, I wouldn’t think twice. I’d duck my head and drive away. A parking space is hardly worth pistol play.
It’s not any day, though. It’s the last day I’ll ever park in the airport’s employee parking lot. It’s the first day of the last trip I’ll ever work. I need the luck this spot promises. If this trip isn’t amazing, I’ll end nine years of flying with a whimper. There’s something terribly depressing about the idea of entering such a significant era of my life with regret and leaving it the same way.
The lurker hits their gas again, sliding forward another few feet. It puts them in shining distance of one of the streetlights that line the lot. I lean forward, squinting through the windshield. My brow furrows in response to the face behind the wheel. It’s Jack Stone, one of our own—not even, as I’d assumed, of TSA’s evil ilk. I grunt my disgust.
He should be ashamed of himself. As a fellow flight attendant, he’s meant to be one of the helpers of the airport. We’re the ones who sneak sodas off the plane and pass them to the janitors. We save our DoubleTree cookies to give to the Ops agents. We do not rev our engines at other drivers like leather-clad hooligans playing a one-sided game of chicken.
I can only take this as further proof of what I’ve always known: Jack Stone might have given up his seat in the cockpit when he parted ways with the Air Force, but he’s still a pilot at heart. In fact, he’s probably not even here of his own volition. I bet they kicked him out for exactly this kind of lawless behavior.
Everyone else might think he’s so charming, but Jack’s superior officers must’ve seen beyond his perfect packaging, just like I have. I didn’t give in the last time he tried to pull one over on me, and I won’t this time either. This is my parking space. My grip on the steering wheel tightens.
The parked car inches farther into the streetlight’s glow. My foot presses against the gas pedal, straining with impatience. Jack’s eyes lock on mine. White teeth flash from his smile. Tumbleweeds skitter across the parking lot as the soundtrack from an old Western whistles through my head.
The parked car swings out, and I don’t stop to consider how new my own car is, or that it’s a gift from Alexander I’ve been trying to figure out how to return, or even that it’s powerful beyond my experience and way too expensive for me to ever replace. I slam on the gas and rip the steering wheel to the left. I’ve lost my mind. My stomach drops as I veer toward the line of cars. They get larger as I get closer, looming like walls as I slide in between them. I exhale a lungful of breath I hadn’t realized I’ve been holding.
I won!
My elation is brief. Sanity floods through, drowning it out, and my head drops to the steering wheel. Half the world hasn’t even woken up yet, and I’ve already attempted to incur my own vehicular manslaughter charges. But at least I won’t have to see Jack Stone ever again.
As if he instinctively understands my desire for him to disappear, Jack’s car is idling behind mine as I get out. It’s dirt brown, pleasantly old and oddly shaped, the kind of vehicle that looks like it’s seen more than its share of the world. I feel a pang of loss for my cheerful old VW Bug that got replaced without my permission in Alexander’s attempt to pamper me. There are people in the world who live by the adage that new is better. To me, it’s the things that have lasted that are the most valuable. The things that have proven they can be counted on.
Ignoring Jack, I turn toward the trunk, sending my airline-issued trench coat flying up at the bottom so cold air bites at my stocking-clad legs. Rather than drive away, Jack rolls down his window. Perfect. Now, thanks to my deep-rooted need to restore order, I’ll have to apologize for almost running him over. This innate need to smooth the waters is a quality I despise in myself.
“Nice driving, Danica Patrick. Practicing for Daytona?” Jack grins at me from the driver’s seat. His eyes are startlingly light against his tanned skin and the darkness of his hair, which looks like he’s been riding around with the window down. Maybe he has. Maybe when a person has no soul, they’re incapable of feeling the cold.
“If you’re asking for lessons, I’m going to have to turn you down. All potential driving students must have a basic understanding of turn signals.” As far as apologies go, it probably doesn’t rate as one of my best.
“Did I misunderstand?” Jack’s effort at innocence is as convincing as a wolf playing puppy. “I assumed you were gesturing for me to take the spot.”
“Right. Because I spotted a strong, able-bodied man and grew immediately concerned he might have to walk too far in his warm pants and comfortable shoes.”
“Actually, you couldn’t have spotted my body.” His smile widens. “But it’s flattering to discover you’ve noticed it before.”
A flush of irritation heats my skin. The very idea that he’d think he could include me among the endless members of the Jack Stone fan club makes me want to get right back in my car and steal another parking spot from him.
“You should probably get going.” I wave one hand toward the back of the lot. “It’s going to be a long walk from your parking spot back there.”
I spin on my heel, indicating the end of the conversation. Any warmth the trunk might have held has escaped, leaving me to paw around inside a chilly cavern. I listen for the sound of his car pulling away as I pull my roller bag out and hang the food bag on its hook before balancing a tote on top of the heap. Sadly Jack’s car continues to idle behind me.
“You’re not really this mad about a parking space, are you?”
“What?” I tense before turning slowly back toward him.
Jack has his arm draped over the door of the car like it’s a balmy eighty degrees outside. He’s the wolf again, playing puppy. Or maybe he’s not. Does he even remember me? Without knowing, I can’t answer his question. There’s no way I’m telling him our short conversation from two years ago has replayed in my mind a million times, the opening stanza to the song of my greatest heartbreak—not if his part in it ranked so low on his list of sins that he’s already forgotten it happened. He’d think I was pathetic.
Still, what are the chances that, after all my efforts to avoid working with him and to dodge him in the lounge, Jack Stone would end up in front of me on my last trip? If I have something to say, the universe is clearly providing the opportunity. But there’s really no point, is there? Jack is who he is, just like I am who I am—which, I’d do well to remember, is not someone who fights for parking spots and flings verbal barbs.
If this is an opportunity to get closure, maybe it’s not supposed to come in the form of confrontation. Maybe it’s better found in moving forward.
Unfortunately, that goal feels a little out of my benevolence range for such an early hour of the morning. Apathy might be a little more achievable. I don’t care because I’m over it. All of this is about to be in my rearview mirror anyway.
“For the record,” Jack says, alleviating my struggle to respond, “I was just joking. I never intended to take that spot.”
“Yeah?” To my relief, I hit the note just right: casual, without an edge of accusation or disbelief.
“I hadn’t even touched the gas pedal when you went full Mad Max on me.”
The mental image almost makes me smile. “Whatever. You know what? Forget about it. I was probably overreacti—”
“Brake lights! And look at that: it’s a way better spot than yours.” Jack winks at me as he swings his car into a U-turn and races toward the front of the parking lot.
Just like that, apathy slips beyond my reach. I waste five scheduled seconds glaring after him.
The path from the lot leads me underground through the lower level of a parking garage, which is somehow colder than outside. My heels make clicking noises that echo off the cement walls. They say, Last time! Last time! I veer toward the moving walkways. Each week, two of the three are broken. Not the same two, obviously. That would make too much sense. I like to play a little game called Which Will It Be? Today I guess incorrectly. In a surprise twist, all three are out of order.
Once I’ve checked in on the phone behind the ticket counter, I glance at my watch and allow my mind to downshift from the rigidity of my schedule. I’ve got forty-six minutes until I have to be at the gate. As long as I leave a good buffer to get there promptly, the rest of the time is mine to do with as I please. I force my back to loosen and shoulders to relax.
Taking the long way toward the special security entrance for crew, I let the brightness and bustle of my surroundings seep into me. The airport is the only place in the world where it isn’t annoying when someone wanders into your path or bumps arms with you. Everyone has blinders on, homing in on the imaginary checklist in front of them. They’re trying to figure out what needs to be done next. They’re trying to remember anything they might’ve forgotten.
Every now and then, someone looks up, their eyes widening when they see me. Most are wondering if they have a question they might need to ask me; it’s rare to spot an airport employee who doesn’t have a line of people clamoring for their attention. Others scan the length of my body with appreciative eyes. It is an embarrassing but inarguable fact that I am more attractive when I’m in uniform.
It sounds ridiculous, I know; my dress is the color of a cartoon blueberry and is made of material so synthetic I suspect the real reason they’ve banned smoking on planes is from fear the crew would explode into blue fireballs if they ventured too close to anything lit. Facts are facts, though. Flight attendants fall into that category of careers TV and movies have decided to portray as sexy. Nurses. Cocktail waitresses. Lounge singers. In reality, I am a five-foot-tall twenty-eight-year-old who favors oversized T-shirts and often forgets to wash her face at night. But at work, I put on the issued heels and dress and suddenly have adult-length legs, pornographically large breasts, and the illusion of a waist.
In front of me, an old woman struggles with the bags that have been perched atop her roller. A businessman breaks free of his blinders and stops to adjust them for her. My heart swells. I’m thrilled to be finally settling down, but I can’t help feeling the tiniest bit sad. I am going to miss this place and the people in it so much.
The feeling intensifies when the TSA agent makes small talk as he scans me through. Even the sight of the line snaking out from the McDonald’s causes a hitch in my stomach. All of those people waiting for their frozen patties and spongy pancakes, with no idea the best breakfast in the world is ten feet away at LeeAnn Chin’s. It’s a secret I’m privy to because this is my domain. Only soon it won’t be. I’ll be eating my breakfast at a normal time, in a normal kitchen, with the man I love. A woman in line for McCoffee reluctantly shifts so I can get past her to go to LeeAnn’s.
For the first time ever, there’s someone already at the counter as I walk up. The secret’s out. I’m not even gone yet, and someone’s already taken my place.
I stand back, giving him space, but I can hear him asking what’s in the spring rolls. His voice sounds familiar, but when you’re in customer service, everyone begins to sound the same. No doubt See-Yun has heard these questions a thousand times. Anything breakfasty? Bacon? Sausage?
Behind the counter, she shakes her head and smiles. She doesn’t point out that there are several pans of food between them that an American might consider “breakfasty.” Nor does she state the very obvious fact that the spring rolls, egg rolls, and cream cheese wontons grouped together at the end will be fantastic, regardless of the time of day.
“Just order the Asian scramble,” I say to the man’s broad-shouldered back, referring to the scrambled eggs with the chunks of sausage, peppers, and onions mixed in. The words linger in the air, sharper than I’ve intended, likely still colored by my unfriendly encounter in the parking lot. I shake my head at myself and soften my tone, because I’m in uniform, and it’s my job to be kind, and it’s not this man’s fault I feel weirdly proprietary over a pan of eggs I had no part in making. “You won’t be disappointed.”
“Good morning, Ava.” See-Yun shifts her gaze toward me as the man turns around.
The smile I give her turns to a grimace as I register the strong jaw and ridiculously blue eyes. Is this man absolutely determined to ruin the first day of my last trip? Somehow Jack Stone has beaten me here. Probably because he didn’t care enough to stroll through the airport, soaking it all in. He took it for granted because he knows he’ll do this all again next week.
My back stiffens with annoyance. It’s obvious why I didn’t realize it was him standing in front of me. Jack is supposed to be wearing the male version of the blueberry trench coat I have on, not his own jacket. It’s made of canvas or something (that probably provides no actual warmth) with random straps and pockets on it. It’s one of those irritating articles of clothing that manages to look so not trendy that it’s actually trendy. I dislike it intensely.
“Hello again.” Jack’s expression is friendly, like he’s already forgotten our fight. “Aviana, right?”
“It’s Ava.” I mentally add poor listener below wrong jacket and parking anarchist on the list of things that annoy me about him. I mean, See-Yun just said my name, did she not?
“I’m Jack.”
Despite the fact that we’ve now had two previous encounters, I realize this is the first time we’ve properly introduced ourselves. His smile, I can now see, is crooked. It’s baffling. The guy is probably thirty years old. How is it possible he hasn’t figured out how to correctly use his face by now?
“Hello, Jack.” I tilt my head toward the pans of breakfast food behind the glass. “Time’s ticking. You know what they say: order or get off the pot.”
Jack looks unfazed, undoubtedly assuming this is just the way I interact with people. See-Yun, however—like any other person who knows me would—looks taken aback. To her, I’ve always been sunshine and early-morning chatter. But she’s not a terrible person. She’s given me no reason to dislike her.
“I’ve had the Asian scramble before,” Jack says. “It’s great, but so is the ham-and-cheese scramble. Have you tried that?”
I shake my head.
“You should,” he says.
“I’m not the one trying to decide what I want.” I say the words lightly, and he laughs like I’m joking, but I’m not. How hard is it to find something good and stick with it? Why do people like him always have to keep searching for something better? Maybe it’s a pilot thing. That would explain why Jack was so willing to aid and abet his slimy pilot buddy. They’re kindred souls, bonded in their quest to sample everything . . . and everyone.
I shake the thought away. This is not the moment for a trip through the thorns that line memory lane. It’s the last time I’ll ever go to LeeAnn’s in my uniform. It’s the last Asian scramble I’ll eat before a work trip. Jack already ruined my parking victory. I will not allow him to spoil my breakfast, too. Still, something must show on my face because Jack’s head tilts and his eyes scan my face.
“You okay?” He leans forward, voice low, and I notice the dark stubble indicating he hasn’t shaved this morning. Just further proof of his blatant disregard for the uniform policy.
“Actually,” I say, “I’m hungry. That would be the reason I’m standing in front of a counter full of food. And I do understand that this seems to be the most important decision you’ve ever made in your life, but maybe you can do us all a favor and just choose something.”
To his credit, Jack doesn’t flinch. He merely steps back and waves me forward.
“See-Yun,” he says, “the lady would like to place an order.”
My feet stay planted against the floor. “I can wait my turn.”
Jack’s head tilts. “Maybe it’s better for everyone if you just recognize your limitations?”
“There are only two egg options and a few sides. Surely even you can narrow it down, if you focus really hard.”
“But why limit myself?” Jack flashes another crooked smile at me before turning back to See-Yun. “Actually, I think I’m in the mood for a little of both. Can you give me half of the Asian scramble and half ham-and-cheese scramble?”
Unsurprisingly, See-Yun nods and loads more than a half portion of each into the Styrofoam container. Some women can’t ever seem to resist feeding handsome men.
“And I’ll add two of those spring rolls,” Jack says. “Maybe that’s exactly what breakfast has been missing.”
I roll my eyes and sigh. The need for variety? A desire for excess? Jack Stone is exactly as advertised. Once a pilot, always a pilot.

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