Tempt (Take It Off)(2)

By: Cambria Hebert

Clearly, my family is a bunch of whackos.

Even still, I love my family and my heart still ached over my grandmother’s passing, so here I was. The suitcase rolling along behind me tipped, and my bags toppled to the floor. With a great sigh, I stopped and turned, righting the one on wheels and then bending over to pick up the one I had balanced on top.

I slid it over and unzipped it, peering inside at the bubble-wrapped urn. Nothing appeared to be broken. “Sorry, Kiki,” I murmured, using the name I called her since I could speak, and then zipped it closed. Deciding not to take any more chances with the smaller bag, I carried on, rolling the bigger one behind and carrying the other in my free hand. I also had a messenger-style purse strapped across my shoulder and it banged against my thigh with every step.

I made my way through the rapidly moving crowds, toward the gate I was told would have my ticket. Why I couldn’t get an electronic one like everyone else in the modern age I would never understand.

As I approached the gate, I couldn’t help but be distracted by a man leaning against one of the nearby walls. He was reading a newspaper, holding it up in front of his face so all I could see were the two long-fingered hands holding the paper and his body from the waist down.

He wore a pair of beat-up jeans, really beat up. Like, with holes and hanging strings. The denim was faded in some spots and the fabric seemed thin and likely soft to the touch. His T-shirt looked as well worn as his jeans, except it didn’t have any holes in it. All I could see of it was gray and just the front hem was tucked into his waistband, exposing a tan leather belt.

The way he leaned against the wall, kind of slouching with one foot out farther than the other, drew attention to his shoes. The boots were the same color as his belt and they appeared sturdy and not nearly as used as his clothes.

I couldn’t tell you why I was so drawn to him. That was all I could see. He just looked like some regular (albeit lazy) guy waiting around for his plane to arrive. Although, he was reading the New York Times, which made me snort. He didn’t really look like the kind of guy that would stand around reading that paper.

I snorted to myself again. He probably had a Penthouse just inside the paper and was really reading that.

My gate was off to my right and I turned, eyeing the counter and noting that there weren’t as many people in this section of the airport as the other parts I’d just walked through. The woman behind the counter had perfectly combed hair slicked up into a bun on the back of her head. She was dressed in a navy blazer with the airline’s name on the breast, and she sported a polite look on her face. When I stopped at the counter, I parked my bags next to me and flipped the top of my messenger bag open to reach inside for my wallet and ID.

“My name is Ava Malone. I was told my ticket to Puerto Rico would be here waiting for me.”

The woman took my ID and looked at it and then handed it back to me. Her manicured fingers flew over the keyboard behind the counter and then she paused and looked up. “You’re plane is already here.”

Alarm spiked through me. “Am I late? I thought I was an hour early. As soon as I get my ticket, I’ll go board. Will they hold the plane for me?”

She gave me an odd sort of look. “I’m sure it will wait, seeing as how you are the only passenger.”

Confusion made me speechless. I felt my face scrunch up in an odd sort of way as her words replayed through my head. “I don’t understand,” I said slowly. “I can’t be the only person flying to Puerto Rico today.”

She shook her head. “Definitely not. But you are the only one who had a private plane come and fetch her.”

A private plane? To fetch me?

“You must have the wrong person,” I said, holding up my ID again. “You should check again. I should just have a ticket here. For one of the commercial flights.”

“You’re Ava Malone, correct?”

I glanced at my ID just to be sure. That’s what it said, right there beside my horribly embarrassing photo. “Appears that’s me,” I muttered.

She smiled. “Your pilot is around here somewhere,” she said, craning her neck to look around. Her eyes settled on someone across the room and she smiled. “He’s right over there.”

I turned, following her gaze. There next to the guy with ratty jeans was an older gentleman in a suit, holding a briefcase. I lifted my hand to wave at him. He got this puzzled look on his face and then waved uncertainly.

“Are you sure?” I said, feeling my cheeks heat with embarrassment as I glanced back at the woman.

I turned back around to glance again. The gentleman with the suit was gone. My eyes darted around, looking for him, but once again were drawn to the guy with the newspaper. He must have felt my stare because his head shot up and I saw his eyes peek over the top.

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