The Chance It Could Happen

Four minutes changes everything. Lia Green, 17, misses her flight at JFK airport, is late to her father's second wedding in London with never-met stepmother. Lia meets the perfect girl. Jaimey is British, sits in her row. A long night on the plane passes in a blink, but the two lose track in arrival chaos. Can fate bring them together again?

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2. 1. Airports are torture chambers

Airports are torture chambers if you're claustrophobic.
        It's not just the looming threat of the ride ahead -- Being stuffed into seats like sardines and then catapulted through the air in a giant metal tube, with no one but yourself to keep you comforted -- but also the terminals themselves, the press of people, the blur and spin of the place, a dancing, dizzying hum, all motion and noise, all frenzy and clamour, and the whole thing sealed off by glass windows like some kind of monstrous ant farm with no escape.
        This is just one of the many things I'm trying not to think about as I stand helplessly before the ticket counter, the smell of deep fried food, the crying babies, and the clamour of people talking behind me, it just creating my anxiety to launch. The light outside is starting to disappear and my plane is now somewhere over the Atlantic, and I can feel something inside of me unraveling, like the slow release of air from a balloon. But even this unraveling does nothing for my anxiety building.
        Part of it is the impending flight, part of it is the airport itself, but mostly -- mostly -- it's the realization that I'll now be late for the wedding I didn't even want to go to in the first place, and something about this miserable little twist of fate, makes me want to cry.
        The gate attendants have gathered on the opposite of the counter to frown at me with looks of great impatience, it made me uncomfortable but I stood my ground. The screen behind them has begun to be switched to announce the next flight from JFK to Heathrow, which doesn't leave for more than three more hours, and it's quickly becoming obvious that I am the only thing standing between them and the end of their shift.
        "I'm sorry, Miss," one of them says, snapping me out of the thoughts I was going through, the suppressed sigh evident in her voice. "There's nothing we can do except try to get you on the next flight."
        I nod glumly. I've spend the past few weeks wishing this exact thing might happen, and here it is, happening, and all I can think is how I'm going to get blamed for this, that I'm going to be late to my father's wedding, and that he's going to be furious.
        Being four minutes late to your flight seems just a little too convenient, maybe a tad suspicious, and I'm not at all sure that my parents -- either of them -- will understand that it wasn't my fault. In fact, I suspect this might fall onto the very short list of thing's they'd actually agree upon.
        It had been my own idea to skip the rehearsal dinner and arrive in London the morning of the wedding instead. I haven't seen my father in more than a year, and I wasn't sure I could sit in a room with all the important people in his life -- his friends and colleagues, the little world he's built around himself an ocean away -- while they toasted to his heath, happiness, and the start of his new life. If it had been up to me, I wouldn't even be going to the wedding itself, but that had turned out to be nonnegotiable.
        "He's still your dad," Mom kept reminding me as if I'd forget one day. Some days, I wish I would. "If you don't go, you'll regret it later. I know it's hard to imagine when you're seventeen, but trust me. One day you will."
        I wasn't so sure.
        The flight attendant is now working the keyboard of her computer with a kind of ferocious intensity, punching at the keys, as if they were the resemblance of all that angers her, all the while snapping her gum. "You're in luck." she says, raising her hand with a little flourish, obviously happy to be done with this. "I can get you on the ten twenty-four. Seat eighteen-A. By the window."
        My breath catches in my throat. By the window. The words repeat in my head. Squished between the wall and someone on your right, squeezing the life out of you with no escape. I take a dee breath and nod a little bit.
        I'm almost afraid to ask the question, but I muster up my courage and ask anyway, "What time does it get in?"
        "Nine fifty-four," The attendant says, obviously annoyed. "Tomorrow morning."
        I picture the delicate calligraphy on the thick ivory wedding invitation, which has been sitting on my dresser for god knows how long, not cared for one bit. Right now, I'm grateful it was in plane sight for me to see every morning to remember the ceremony will begin tomorrow at noon. Which means that if everything goes according to schedule -- the flight and then customs, the taxis and the traffic, the timing all perfectly choreographed -- I'll still have a chance to make it on time. But just barely.
        "Boarding will start from this gate at nine forty-five." the attendant says, handing over the papers, which are all neatly bound in a little jacket. "Have a wonderful flight." She's says a little too cheerfully. I think it's because she finally got done with me and can go home without a care in the world.
        I edge my way toward the windows and surveys the rows of drab gray chairs, most of them occupied and the rest sprouting yellow stuffing at their seams like well-loved teddy bears. I prop my backpack on top of my carry-on suitcase and digs for my cell phone, then scrolls through the contacts for my dad's number. He's listed simply as "The Professor," a label I bestowed on him about a year and a half ago, shortly after it was announced that he wouldn't be returning to Connecticut and the word dad had become an unpleasant reminder each time I opened my phone.
        My heart quickens now as it begins to ring; though he still fairly often calls, I always get a knot in my stomach calling him. I've only called him myself a handful of times. It's nearly midnight there, and when he finally picks up, his voice is thick, slowed by sleep or alcohol or maybe both. Especially since the rehearsal party was undoubtedly filled with alcohol.
        "Lia?"
        "I missed my flight." I say adopting the clipped tone that comes so naturally when talking to my father these days, a side effect of my general disapproval of him.
        "What?" His voice is thick, and obviously angry. I probably woke him up, I'd be angry too.
        I sigh and repeats myself, "I missed my flight."
        In the background, I can hear Charlotte murmuring, and something flares up inside of me, a quick rise of anger. Despite the sugary e-mails the woman has been sending her ever since Dad proposed -- filled with wedding plans and photos of their trip to Paris and pleas for me to get involved, all signed with an overzealous "xxoo" (As if one x and one o weren't sufficient)-- It's been exactly one year and ninety-six days since I decided that I hated her. It will take much more than an invitation to be a bridesmaid, to a wedding I don't even want to attend, to cancel this out.
        "Well," Dad says, "did you get another one?"
        "Yeah but it doesn't get in until ten-o-clock."
        "Tomorrow?"
        "No, tonight." I say "I'll be traveling by comet."
        Dad ignores this. "That's too late. It's too close to the ceremony. I won't be able to pick you up," He says, Good, it's not like I wanted you to anyways. I think to myself and then I hear muffled sound as he covers the phone to whisper to Charlotte. "We can probably send Aunt Marilyn to get you."
        "Who is Aunt Marilyn?" I say unable to hide the slight disgust in my voice.
        "Charlotte's aunt." He says ignoring my disgust.
        "I'm seventeen," I remind him. "I'm pretty sure I can handle getting a taxi to the church."
        "I don't know," Dad says. "It's your first time in London...." He trails off, then clears his throat. "Do you think your mom would be okay with it?"
        "I'm here. Mom's not. I guess she caught the first wedding." I say the anger thick in my voice, making my words sound like daggers.
        There's silence of the other end of the phone.
        "It's fine, Dad. I'll meet you at the church tomorrow. Hopefully I won't be too late."
        "Okay," he says softly. "I can't wait to--"
        I shut the phone ending the call not bearing to hear those words. I can imagine him finishing the sentence next to Charlotte.
        It isn't until after I've hung up that I realize I didn't even ask how the rehearsal dinner went. I'm not sure I really want to know.
        For a long moment, I just stand there like that, the phone still held tightly in my hand, trying not to think about all that awaits me on the other side of the ocean. The smell of butter from a nearby pretzel stand is making me slightly sick, and I'd like nothing more than to sit down, but the gate is choked with passengers who've spilled over from other areas of the terminal.
        It's Fourth of July weekend, and the weather mas on the TV screens show a swirling pattern of storms blotting out much of the Midwest. People are staking out their territory, laying claim to sections of the waiting area as id they plan to live there permanently. There are suitcases perched on empty chairs, families camped out around entire corners, greasy Mcdonald's bags strewn across the floor.
        As I pick my way over a sleeping man, I am keenly aware of the closeness of the ceiling and the press of the walls, the surging presence of the crowd all around her, and she has to reminder herself to breathe.
        When I spot an empty seat, I hurry in that direction, maneuvering my rolling suitcase through the sea of shoes and trying not to think about just how crushed the silly purple dress will be by the time I arrive tomorrow morning. The plan was to have a few hours to get ready at the hotel before the ceremony, but now I'll have to make a mad dash for the church. Of all my many worries at the moment, this doesn't rank particularly high on my list, but still, it's a little bit funny to imagine just how horrified Charlotte's friends will be; not having time to get your hair done undoubtedly qualifies as a major catastrophe in their books.
        I'm pretty sure that regret is too slight a word to describe my feelings about agreeing to be a bridesmaid, but I'd been worn down by Charlotte's incessant e-mails and Dad's endless pleas, not to mention Mom's surprising support of the idea.
        "I know he's not your favorite person in the world right now," she'd said, "and he's certainly not mine, either. But do you really want to be flipping through that wedding album one day, maybe with your own kids, and wishing you'd been a part of it?"
        I really don't think I'd mind, actually, but I could see where everyone was going with this, and it had just seemed easier to make them happy, even if it meant enduring the hairspray and the uncomfortable heels and the post-ceremony photo shoot. When the rest of the wedding party -- a collection of Charlotte's thirty-something friends -- had learned about the addition of an American teenager, I had been promptly welcomed with a flurry of exclamation points to the e-mail chain that was circulating among the group.
        And though I’d never met Charlotte before and had spent the last year and a half making sure it stayed that way, I now knew the woman’s preferences on a wide range of topics pertaining to the wedding—important issues-like strappy sandals vs. closed-toe heels; whether to include baby’s breath in the bouquets; and, worst and most scarring of all, lingerie preferences for the bridal shower or, as they called it, the hen party.
        It was staggering, really, the amount of e-mail a wedding could generate. I knew that some of the women were Charlotte’s colleagues at the university art gallery at Oxford, but it was a wonder that any of them had time for jobs of their own. I was scheduled to meet them at the hotel early tomorrow morning, but it now looks as if they’ll have to go about zipping their dresses and lining their eyes and curling their hair without me.
        Out the window, the sky is a dusky pink now, and the pinpricks of light that outline the planes are beginning to flicker to life. I can make out my reflection in the glass, all red hair and big eyes, somehow already looking as careworn and rumpled as if the journey were behind me. I wedge myself into a seat between an older man flapping his newspaper so hard I half expect it to up and fly away and a middle-aged woman with an embroidered cat on her turtleneck, knitting away at what could still turn out to be anything.

        'Three more hours', I think, hugging my backpack, then I realize there’s no point in counting down the minutes to something you’re dreading; it would be far more accurate to say two more days. Two more days and I’ll be back home again. Two more days and I can pretend this never happened. Two more days and I’ll have survived the weekend I’ve been dreading for what feels like years.
         I readjust the backpack on my lap, realizing a moment too late that I didn’t zip it up all the way, and a few of my things tumble to the floor. I reach for the lip gloss first, then the gossip magazines, but when I go to pick up the heavy black book that my father gave me, the girl across the aisle reaches it first.

         She glances briefly at the cover before handing it back, and I catch a flicker of recognition in her eyes. It takes me a second to understand that she must think I'm the kind of person who reads Dickens in the airport, and I very nearly tells her that I'm not; in fact, I have had the book for ages and has never cracked it open. But instead, I smile in acknowledgment, then turns quite deliberately toward the windows, just in case she might be thinking about striking up a conversation.
        'I don't know her so why do I feel like I have to protect myself against what she thinks?' I ask myself in a sudden moment of bwilderment. I shake the thought and continue to stare out the windows.
          I don’t feel like talking right now, not even to someone as cute as she is. I don’t feel like being here at all, actually. The day ahead of me is like something living and breathing, something that’s barreling toward me at an alarming rate, and it seems only a matter of time before it will knock me flat on my back. The dread I feel at the idea of getting on the plane—not to mention getting to London—is something physical; it makes me fidget in my seat, sending my leg bobbing and my fingers twitching.

         The man beside me blows his nose loudly, then snaps his newspaper back to attention, and I really hope I'm not sitting next to him on my flight. Seven hours is a long time, too big a slice of your day to be left to chance. You would never be expected to take a road trip with someone you didn’t know, yet how many times have I flown to Chicago or Denver or Florida beside a complete stranger, elbow to elbow, side by side, as the two of them hurtled across the country together? That’s the thing about flying: You could talk to someone for hours and never even know his name, share your deepest secrets and then never see him again.
         As the man cranes his neck to read an article his arm brushes against mine, and I stand abruptly, swinging my backpack onto one shoulder. Around me, the gate area is still teeming with people, and I look longingly toward the windows, wishing I were outside right now. I’m not sure I can sit here for three more hours, but the idea of dragging my suitcase through the crowd is daunting. I edge it closer to my empty seat so that it might look reserved, then turns to the lady in the cat turtleneck.
         “Would you mind watching my bag for a minute?” I ask, and the woman holds her knitting needles very still and frowns up at me.
        “You’re not supposed to do that,” she says pointedly.
         “It’s just for a minute or two,” I explain, but the woman simply gives her head a little shake, as if she can’t bear to be implicated in whatever scenario is about to unfold.
        “I can watch it,” says the girl across the aisle, and I look at her—really looks at her—for the first time. Her dark hair is a bit long and there are crumbs down the front of her shirt, but there’s something striking about her, too. Maybe it’s the accent, which I’m pretty sure is British, or the twitch of her mouth as she tries to keep from smiling. But my heart dips unexpectedly when she looks at me, her eyes skipping from me back to the woman, whose lips are set in a thin line of disapproval.
         “It’s against the law,” the woman says under her breath, her eyes shifting over to where two bulky security guards are standing just outside the food court.
         I glance back at the girl, who offers me a sympathetic smile. “Never mind,” I say. “I’ll just take it. Thanks anyway.”

        I begin to gather my things, tucking the book under my arm and swinging my backpack up onto my other shoulder. The woman just barely pulls her feet back as I maneuver the suitcase past her. When I get to the end of the waiting area, the colorless carpeting gives way to the linoleum of the corridor, and my suitcase teeters precariously on the rubber ridge that separates the two. It rocks from one wheel to the other, and as I try to right it the book slips from under my arm. When I stoop to pick it up again, my sweatshirt flutters to the floor as well.
         'You’ve got to be kidding,' I think, blowing a strand of hair from my face. But by the time I gather everything and reaches for my suitcase again, it’s somehow no longer there. Spinning around, I'm stunned to see the girl standing beside me, her own bag slung over her shoulder. My eyes travel down to where she’s gripping the handle of my suitcase.
        “What’re you doing?” I ask, blinking at her.
        “You looked like you might need some help.”

         I just stare at her.

        “And this way it’s perfectly legal,” she adds with a grin.
         I raise my eyebrows and she straightens up a bit, looking somewhat less sure of herself. It occurs to me that perhaps she’s planning to steal my bag, but if that’s the case, it’s not a very well-planned heist; pretty much the only things in there are a pair of shoes and a dress. And I would be more than happy to lose those.
         I stand there for a long moment, wondering what I could have done to have secured myself a porter. But the crowds are surging around us and my backpack is heavy on my shoulder and the girl’s eyes are searching mine with something like loneliness, like the very last thing she wants is to be left behind right now. And that’s something I can understand, too, and so after a moment I nod in agreement, and she tips the suitcase forward onto its wheels, and we begin to walk.


 





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I really hope you all enjoy this story, I've worked really hard on it, and I would love your guys' criticism and suggestions !! All comments welcome (:

"And O There are days in this life worth life and worth death."
Charles Dickens - Our Mutual Friend

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