Amanda was the first person to get to the airport that Friday. She'd done it on purpose - come hours earlier than anyone else - so she could look around the different shops and what they were selling at duty-free prices. She found that throwing away money for useless little items or food always made her feel better for some reason. Perhaps it was a habit instilled in her by Lisa. They hadn't spoken since the incident at the strip club, though they had texted a little. Amanda sat alone at a round table and sipped at a polystyrene cup of coffee. She was dressed more casually today - she felt she needed a change from the regular shirt and trousers look. She wore casual bootleg jeans, black ankle boots, a loose grey v-neck sweater, a thin beige overcoat, black leather gloves and a grey beanie on her head. One case of her necessary belongings rested beside her, next to the table. Coming early had also given Amanda more time for her to think about the journey ahead - something she hated doing, but did far too often nonetheless. Amanda leaned back in her seat and lifted the mug to her lips, the coffee no longer piping hot as she drank it. Her face crumpled and she put down the cup. She took out her cellphone - the vibrations of which she had been ignoring for all the time she had been at the airport - and scrolled through the messages.
Amanda scoffed a little and gave Han a call.
"Amanda?" Han spoke, picking up the call in an instant, a split second, "Where the hell are you?"
Amanda laughed on the inside, though she kept her voice reserved, "I'm at the airport. Where are you?"
"Driving to the goddamn airport!" Han retorted, "I've been calling you all morning, searching the compound. The whole organisation is searching all over Philly for you!"
"And yet they didn't think to take a glance in the airport?" Amanda asked him, "Seems excessive. They could have tracked my phone."
Han sighed, "Well, I'm glad you're alright. We're close to the airport. Just stay put?"
"Of course. Call off the search. I've been here for ages," Amanda laughed.
"You did this on purpose," Han pointed out.
"Did not," Amanda replied.
"You did, and you know it."
"Did not, slander and calumny."
"You'll find any excuse to cause a fuss for Briar."
"Aww, she sent out the search?" Amanda kissed her teeth, "Didn't know she cared so much."
"Be glad you're leaving the country, she'd've had your head for this."
"Oh, I know she would have tried to," Amanda scoffed, "Now quit driving and talking to me, you're going have an accident and subsequently have a reason to blame me for it."
Han dropped the call as instantaneously as he had picked it up.
Amanda looked at her cold coffee, idly. It took her a moment to realise she was smiling. It felt somehow wrong, so she stopped. Dann had always hated Han, for reasons Amanda didn't quite know, as she was told of this bitter rivalry long after Dann's death. There was a sliver of longing in her still, for Dann - and so there was also a loyalty to him that she couldn't quite get rid of, despite the fact that Dann had been dead for quite some time. Not to say that she hadn't engaged in any physical relationships - she'd had many and only regretted a few - but none of these relationships were about committment. They were simply there to fulfill a need or a want. Stress release, Amanda would call it. Perhaps in her mind, she couldn't fathom anymore meaningful relationships. Perhaps she was scared to find that she could love another. She didn't know. And, she decided, it wouldn't matter for much longer anyway, since she was going to England.
"Oi, oi," someone said, approaching Amanda. She looked up and found a narrow, bleak-looking woman standing over her, hands in pockets and elbows swaying where they stuck out in a rhythmic fashion. The woman was smiling, but it was by no means sweet. There was a dark menace about her.
Amanda blinked, stowing her phone away and checking her pockets of her wallet without actually meaning to, "Can I help you?" she asked the woman.
The woman scoffed, itching the back of her head - one side of which was completely shaved clean, they other abundant with cascades of brunette curls, "A British accent in this American mess, how refreshing," she said, smiling and holding an empty chair at Amanda's table, "This seat taken?"
Amanda gestured for her to sit and the woman sat. "Haven't seen you before," Amanda replied.
The woman put her hands together - Amanda noticing the colourful tattoos painted on the woman's arms creeping to her wrists, hidden beneath her dark sleeves - and she furrowed a brow at Amanda, "That something worth mentioning?" she asked.
"Considering I don't usually meet people I'm not told about..."
"Nobody strange ever give you a polite hello?" smiled the woman, a glint of silver shining from inside her mouth.
Amanda scoffed, "Not unless they want to sleep with me. And I reckon you're not here for that," Amanda smiled, "Who are you?"
"Jeez, you must be fun everywhere," the woman commented, "You've got to be Amanda Cross. Han told me about you."
Amanda gave the woman an observant, wary look - wondering what kind of response she would receive, "You're not his ex, are you?"
The woman guffawed, banging her fist on the table, "Nah. Never in the next million fucking years would I even pretend to be Han Schmitz's ex."
"Well, thank God," Amanda replied, "I don't think I could have sat at table with a woman so tainted."
"Name's Aria Miller," said the woman, putting her hand forward.
Amanda continued to narrow her eyes - taking in the woman's clearly Indo-Aryan features - and shook her head, "No, it's not."
"Well, just Miller to most," the woman shrugged and took her hand away, "I don't work with your organisation but the English Division has hired me to equip you and wonderboy with some tools you might need. I'll be flying with you to London, you'll get a briefing from the bigwigs - for which I won't be present - but then you'll be handed to me so I can give you your supplies. Then you'll be on your way to Bradley. Pretty, quiet place," Miller yawned, open-mouthed and unashamed, and then winked, "but don't think that London is the last you'll be seeing of me."
Amanda paused and stared at Miller for a very long time. Amanda focused on a mark on the table before she said, "I'm going to ask you again: who are you?"
"Miller," Miller replied, that menacing smile pulling higher, "I'm hired help."
Amanda smirked, looked away and shook her head, "Never thought they'd resort to smugglers and thugs."
"Oi," Miller objected, standing and shoving Amanda's shoulder immediately, "You gotta talk like that, do ya? Labels and names? Forgot where you came from, Mandy?"
"Don't call me that."
"I know your type," Miller smirked, shaking a forefinger at Amanda, "that accent... I've lived in London all my life, and I can tell..." she sat down and stared at Amanda, "Chelsea girl, yeah. With a north-west hint... Under all that American toning..."
Amanda glared at Miller, "Stop that," she murmured, dark-faced.
"After all these years, you couldn't quite brush off what you were, Mandy - what I am," Miller said, her smile shriking, but staying nonetheless, "London hoodrat."
"Stop that," Amanda repeated.
Amanda was almost relieved to hear Han's voice. She stood up far too eagerly and turned to see him approaching, hailing her from a distance with his hand raised in the air. Lisa was behind him, carrying two duffel bags. Elina and her step-mother, Gemma, followed after them along with - most shockingly - Talbot.
"Cavalry's arrived," Miller muttered, standing and putting her hands in her pockets.
Talbot was the first one to get to Amanda, "You silly child!" he scolded her, "We were looking all over for you! We thought perhaps you'd done something incredibly stupid!"
Amanda laughed, "Well, I'm here, aren't I?" she smiled at Talbot.
"Amanda," Han nodded at her.
"Hansel," Amanda nodded back, and then looked at Lisa, "Andy..."
"Don't worry about it," Lisa said, putting up a hand, "Already forgotten. Just glad to see you're alright."
Han gestured to Miller, "I see you've already met Ari," he said to Amanda.
"About that," Amanda replied, "When were you going to tell me about the living embodiment of the 90's?"
"Oh, ouch," Miller muttered sarcastically.
Han sighed, rolling his eyes, "I see you've made friends," he tried to move passed them, "Now, let's get a move on-"
"Woah, there, soldier," Miller said, blocking his path, "You gotta leave your baggage behind," she said, jutting her chin out at Han's family, "Say your goodbyes, then we can get going."
"Are you kidding?" Elina blurted out, "There's hours left-"
Miller gave Elina a look, that shark-toothed smirk making the young girl shudder, "I'm afraid I don't joke much, little girl. Give your daddy your hugs and kisses - he can't take you passed me."
Han sighed and took his family over to a corner to say his farewells to them.
Amanda looked at Talbot and asked him, "Got any advice for me?"
Talbot thought for a moment, before shaking his head - his white goatee waggling, "No," he said, "I'm sorry that I couldn't talk Briar and Xavi into letting you be."
Amanda shrugged, "We all take our turn, Doc," she said.
"That might be," Talbot smiled sadly, stroking Amanda's arm, "But I never thought in all my years that you'd take yours before me - despite your apparent recklessness."
"Come on, Doc!" Amanda laughed, "Not going to cry, are you?"
Talbot looked at his feet, "It's all an old man can afford when he sees the departure of his greatest success," he looked up and frowned at Amanda, "I'm sorry, Ms Cross. Really, I am."
Amanda shook her head and accepted a hug from Talbot, "You did what you could," Amanda murmured.
Talbot released her and wiped his eyes with the back of his wrinkled hands, "I would appreciate it if you'd return in-tact, Ms Cross. No unnecessary risks."
Amanda laughed, "You say that like I'm the one making the decisions," she looked over at Han.
"The old man the only one that's getting a hug?" Lisa asked.
Amanda pushed her playfully, "You're coming with us, aren't you?"
"Yeah," Lisa smiled, and leaned in to whisper, "I told Han you let me."
"Always getting me into trouble," Amanda muttered.
"Oh, you're in for it. The fucker threw a goddamn strop," Lisa told her.
"What? Why?" Amanda raised a brow, "What did you say?"
"Nothing..." Lisa said, moving passed her to stand next to Miller, "Just that you absolutely refused to live any longer if you went with Han alone."
"You threatened him with my suicide?"
"Blackmailed," Lisa corrected.
"Andy..." Amanda shook her head.
"What? I wanted to go with you!" Lisa protested, "All's fair."
Amanda laughed to herself.
Amanda froze, the perfect yet brittle annunciation of her name making her feel uneasy. She turned and nodded.
"Gemma," she said.
"I trust you'll keep an eye on Hansel," she said.
Amanda raised her brows, "You want me to keep an eye on him?"
"Of course," Amanda said, still feeling very uncomfortable. Gemma had a personality that was uncannily similar to Briar's, and it creeped Amanda out.
"So..." Elina said, "This is goodbye."
Amanda gave her a tight grin, "For now," she said, "I'll see you soon. Or try to."
"I'll text you," Elina told her, "You won't be all that gone if we still message each other."
Amanda smiled and scoffed a little, trying to hold her emotions back, "Yeah," she said, licking her upper-lip, "You're gonna kill it at prom."
Elina didn't say anything, she just looked down and smiled to herself.
"You better go!" Amanda insisted.
"I will," Elina assured her, "For you, if nothing else."
"We done?" Miller asked, "We'd better get a move on."
Elina threw her arms around Amanda and squeezed her, "I'll miss you," she said.
Amanda patted her on the back and messed the girl's hair up, "Yeah, I'll miss you too," Amanda murmured, "But... I have to go."
Elina nodded and let go, sucking her cheeks in.
Amanda picked up her suitcase and shook hands with Talbot one last time, before she followed Miller, Han and Lisa away from Elina, her step-mother and the doctor.