“Honey, I’m sorry about our argument last night, but honestly, I can’t understand why you would want to visit your father. That town is a truly awful place. You’re much safer here. Plus, all your friends are here, and Brayden. Your future is here.” My mother droned on as she packed the last of her belongings into her bag before leaving for her trip. This was the same speech she had given me last night, but nothing was going to change my mind now. I aimlessly nodded my head. I knew arguing with her was useless, she would never listen. This was something I had learned long ago. I hadn’t even bothered to tell her about the break up with Brayden, never mind the cheating scandal. She saw stars in his eyes, he would always be the perfect boyfriend for me; at least in her opinion, and I knew better than to argue.
“I love you, be safe. I’ll call you as soon as I land.” She kissed the top of my forehead and was out the door before I could so much as mutter an I love you back. She never was the type for emotional goodbyes. My mind flashed back to the day she left my father. I remember her coming home from work, storming into the kitchen and screaming at my father. It was the only time in my life I’d ever heard her yell that way. That was up until she yelled at me yesterday. I remember my four-year-old self sitting at the top of the staircase, clinging to the rails. My head tucked so carefully between my knees, my hands over my ears as I tried to drown out the sound. They didn’t know I was there, but I had been waiting for someone to come tuck me into bed. It was the next morning that suddenly my mom was rushing me out of bed early in the morning, a single suitcase in her hand. “Come Malia, we’re leaving’, she had whispered in my ear. I remember looking back towards the house as she hurried us out to the car, “Don’t worry, we have all that we need”, she assured me, and I had no choice but to believe her.
Dad wasn’t in the picture for a few years after that, but I remember all those nights I heard mom crying and yelling on the phone in her room. She tried to hide it from me, but I couldn’t help my eavesdropping. I knew she was hurting, but I never understood why. Then one day it was like she was a new person, all the hurting had stopped. Suddenly, dad was calling me every month, even visiting occasionally, and that became my new normal.
As soon as mom was out of the driveway, I felt a sly smile cross my face. Was I really doing this? I was giddy with excitement as I rushed up to my room and pulled my suitcase out from under my bed. I had never broken any of my mother’s rules, never gone against anything she had asked of me, and honestly, it felt thrilling. The adrenaline rushed through my body as I quickly threw the rest of my necessities into the suitcase and zipped it up. I grabbed the plane ticket off the nightstand table and raced outside. This is right, you’re going home. I heard a voice whisper in my head and nothing had ever felt more true.
… Several Hours Later …
As soon as my plane landed, I headed straight towards the bar in the airport. I needed to sit down, I could feel my stomach twisting and turning from the flight. “I’ll have a peach bellini” I said to the bartender as I sat down. I tried to hide the shock on my face when he just nodded his head and proceeded to make the drink. I couldn’t believe he’d actually believed I was of legal drinking age, but I wasn’t going to argue about it. I began to sip the drink, hoping the alcohol would calm my nerves. Getting off the plane, I felt my stomach settle. I have never been good on flights. I remember when my mom and I first left Florida I threw up in her purse, a memory she would never let me live down. When my stomach finally felt calm, I stood from the bar stool and began heading towards the exit. I had to collect my luggage and make my way to my dad's house. No matter how nervous I am, I can’t spend the whole summer sitting in the airport.
I felt a hard body suddenly slam into mine and I stumbled backwards, losing my balance. “f**k, I’m so sorry” A deep voice groaned and a strong arm wrapped around my waist, stabilizing me before I fell on my ass. At his touch I felt the sparks shoot through my spine and I gasped, looking up to meet his darkening blue eyes. His eyes went wide as they met mine, searching my face as if he was committing it to memory. We stayed frozen like that for a moment, then I quickly snapped away from his gaze and stepped back out of his hold on my waist. He dropped his arms and shook his head, the air around us clearing. I watched as his dark brown hair hung across his eyes. He raised his hand to push it away from his face and I couldn’t help but admire him as he moved. My eyes lingered down his body, trailing over the jeans that fit him just right and imagining the chiseled chest I was sure I’d find below his hoodie.
“Enjoying the view?” I felt my eyes go wide as I jumped back up to his face. Oh god, he knows I was totally just ogling over him. My cheeks felt as if they were on fire, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of his. I watched as they seemed to lighten to an ocean blue as he laughed and I couldn’t help but feel tingles rush through my body, already loving the sound of his laugh. “Do you speak?” He took a step closer to me as his laughter settled, his voice bringing me back to reality.
“I-I’m so sorry” I stuttered and he smiled, the butterflies from the plane suddenly returning to my stomach.
“No problem gorgeous, completely my fault." My jaw just about dropped on the floor. Did he just call me gorgeous? No, I must’ve heard wrong. There’s no way this Greek-god looking guy could be flirting with me. I shook my head and brought my palm up in front of my eyes. This situation could not be more humiliating. Only I was wrong, because just as suddenly as they'd begun, the butterflies in my stomach went wild. Before I knew what was happening, I was bent over and staring at the remnants of my breakfast on his shoes. Now, this could not be more humiliating. I quickly jumped up and backed away.
“I’m so sorry!” My hand shot up to cover my mouth but I was shocked to see a sparkle in his eyes as he burst out laughing. He threw his head back and held his hand over his stomach as he tried to contain his laughter. What the hell could he possibly think is funny about this? My cheeks burned hotter than ever and I was certain they were probably as red as a ripe tomato right now.
“It’s fine” he said between breaths as his laughter began to calm down. But I couldn’t escape my own horror, this couldn’t be happening. He stepped to the side slightly, kicking his feet against the ground to clear what he could from his shoes. “Seriously, relax. They’re just shoes. Are you okay?” He came back to reach out again and cupped my cheek with his hand. I wanted to back away, to turn and run in the other direction actually, but I couldn’t resist his eyes. Why is he being so nice to me?
I groaned and let my long blonde hair fall in front of my face. Maybe mom was right, maybe I should’ve just stayed in New York. None of this would’ve happened if I had just stayed put in my normal boring life.
“Come on, let’s get you some water. And maybe a toothbrush”. I looked up and felt my cheeks blush red again as he winked at me. My hand tingled as he wrapped it in his and pulled me back towards the spot at the bar I had only just left. Realization rushed through me as I noticed the bar tender eyeing us. He had just watched that whole thing, and I had to be grateful that the rest of the bar was empty. “Sit here," he instructed, and I quickly obliged, resting my elbows on the table and letting my head fall into my hands. I wanted nothing more than for this moment to be over.
“Here,” he said, returning to my side again. In front of me, he set down a glass of water as well as a toothbrush and a small container of toothpaste. My cheeks burned, he really wasn’t kidding.
“Thank you,” my voice was quiet, but he just nodded in reply, sitting on the stool beside mine. I grabbed the toothbrush and quickly scurried towards the bathroom. After brushing my teeth twice over, I splashed water on my face hoping to rub the redness out of my cheeks. I pushed my blonde hair back from my face, watching as it loosely fell down my shoulders and back. Come on Malia, compose yourself. You are a strong, independent woman. Go thank that man for his kindness, get your bag and get the hell out of here before you humiliate yourself more. I could practically hear my mother’s voice in my ear as I gave myself a pep talk. Then I pulled my hair to the side and headed out of the bathroom and back towards where he sat.
“Listen, thank you for being so nice, but I really have to get going,” I said as I approached him. He looked up from the drink he was now sipping.
“You’re leaving?” A look that seemed like panic crossed his face and I couldn’t help but take another step closer to him.
“Well yeah I mean this is an airport, I have to go get my bag,” I explained and I swear I saw him breathing a sigh of relief.
“Where are you staying?” He questioned, taking another drink from his glass, and I felt taken aback. Why did he want to know that? It really wasn’t any of his business, he was a stranger after all.
“Um with my dad?” I shuffled nervously on my feet. I had to get out of here.“Um thanks again,” I mumbled, then stepped away from him and was grateful when he didn’t follow. Yet, my heart continued to race. He was intense.