I know how to make a man want.
I do it so well that it gained me a stalker. I’m not afraid of him, but of men like him. So living an orderly and private life keeps my anxiety at bay and my family out of the tabloids.
Devon shows me how freeing chaos can be. He refuses to accept the face I show the world. But Devon also holds me at arms length… And when he reveals the darkest places inside of him, I can’t help wondering if he wants me at all.
“Here you go, Miss Strand.” The ticket agent makes a big circle around the seat number on my boarding pass, closing the folio and handing it across the counter. “We’ll be calling for first-class passengers in just a few minutes. It’s very nice to see you again. Enjoy your flight to Houston.”
I nod, mouthing a polite “thank you”, finding it hard to push the air out of my lungs to form words. I take the ticket, hoping that the woman doesn’t realize how much my hands shake shoving it into my purse and pulling the zipper closed.
The agent hasn’t been rude. It’s the exact opposite. She’s been cordial, professional, and hasn’t made an enormous deal out of who I am or whom I may know. The dedication and level of service provided is what I’ve come to expect in any other situation. But I won’t fly this airline at this time of day again on any day of the week that she might be working and would recognize me.
I avoid everyone’s gaze, pushing a blue and white baseball cap over my curled dark hair and shrinking under the collar of the blue chambray dress that I’m should remain unwrinkled from traveling and still be cute enough to wear this afternoon.
The terminal is crowded for a Friday, but there are two seats in a row left. I sit in the one at the end, thankful it doesn’t put me elbow to elbow with anyone.
Breathing deeply, the oxygen tingles all the way to my trembling fingertips. My pre-flight anxiety is giving me the shakes. I’ve been fighting back those colorful stars and black haze that have threaten to eclipse my vision since stepping out of the cab at the departure curb.
It’s been over three years since the shooting at Kingsbrier. The airport employee in Houston who’d stalked me, taking my personal things and discarded cups from the trash, is still in jail. I don’t fear him. I’m afraid of the people like him, lurking in the shadows, who aren’t safely locked behind bars.
My new travel procedures are ingrained. I stopped taking the same early flight and now I bounce between airlines, uncaring which loyalty program gives more bonus miles. More often than not, I alter my plans at the last minute. Sometimes I need the security of Lily Anne & Rodger Newhouse’s home for days.
This process is about changing up the routine so that no one anticipates my schedule. Similar to a run in my hose before taking a turn on the catwalk, it clashes with my need for predictably and for things to run smoothly. However, designers are responsible for wardrobe malfunctions. I’m simply the vessel wearing the costume du jour. I enjoy modeling and looking like a walking piece of art after a childhood of second-hand clothing and broken dreams.
I never consider it a problem when things go wrong with my career. Challenges in my personal life are terrifying because—just when I’d been confident happily ever after was on my horizon—things went dreadfully wrong.
These hours in bustling terminals and in the air throw off the cadence of my life. I like calendars with orderly square boxes and digital agendas that can be color-coded. These give me a sense of control over my life that I never had being bounced from one foster home to the next as a child. My adoptive parents have that same steady familiarity.
I tuck my purse onto my lap, clutching it like a teddy bear. The contents are sparse. The less I carry the better. No one can take something without me being alerted to its absence right away. When the plane lands I won’t stand in baggage claim with the rest of the travelers. There are separate, and sometimes exact duplicate, sets of clothing at my loft apartment in New York and Newgate, my parents’ home. My home.
For the rest? Express overnight mail carries guarantees that the airlines don’t.
The first thing that my momma, Miss Lily-Anne, will say to me after telling me how much she loves and missed me is that my packages arrived. Included in the stack on my bed for this trip is the gown I need for the NEWHOUSE charity ball tomorrow night that’s being sponsored by Kingsbrier Holdings and Walsh Security and a gift for Adam and Temple’s engagement party tonight.
If I can make it through the four-hour flight from New York to Houston I know the eager anticipation to see my soon-to-be married friends will replace any pre-flight jitters or concern over public speaking.
As if it knows why I’ve skipped a meal, my stomach rolls, making a less than discrete and sexy sound for someone who is best known for modeling lingerie. Slightly embarrassed, my tongue peeks out between my lips, and I pray no one will comment. I go to reach for my travel mug before realizing it’s gone.
A light sweat breaks out under my collar. I know it was in my hand when I did the standard series of double checks before leaving: punching the keyless entry code to lock the loft door, getting in and then out of the cab when arriving at the departure gate. Those repetitive actions stop the panic attacks over flying from becoming worse.
I love that cup. It was a Christmas gift from Brier. My sister-in-law had personalized the tumbler with a picture collage of me with my nieces. In large swirling script letters “We love you, Auntie” is inscribed. It’s so special to me that I use it every time I travel as a reminder that my newfound family is always with me. Above all, this mug isn’t disposable, unlike the paper cups found in the stalker’s trunk.
Unfortunately, that also means that if anyone finds it, they’ll know in an instant who the travel thermos belongs to. They’ll recognize me for who I am and the identical blonde, cherub-cheeked little girls as the twin daughters of Drew Newhouse, who plays professional football.
My heart races, praying that the person who picked up my cup puts it on eBay and doesn’t keep it. Then I could buy it back—no matter the cost. I’ll forgo filling the tumbler and never buy a coffee after getting through the TSA checkpoint again if my family is safe.
I want to run back to the front of the line at the ticket counter. It’s only a few paces away, but panic has me glued to the hard seat. I’m not even sure that I’ll be able to move when the plane begins boarding.
Tears prick the back of my eyes and I pinch the bridge of my nose while squeezing them shut. When I’ve composed myself enough to reopen them, a man stands holding the tumbler as if cradling a bottle of fine wine.
“I believe this belongs to you,” he says with the slightest smirk. I’d had to look up to catch it. He’s tall and slim, broadening in the shoulders, but in no way bulky. The fit of his blue v-neck around his biceps hints at the lithe physique hidden underneath. The light hair on his forearms is strawberry-blonde and the short cropped hair on his head is a shade or two darker.
Air leaves my lungs in a whoosh, making me feel flushed as it passes my lips. My gut flips over in an altogether different nervous direction than it had when realizing the travel mug was missing.
Relief floods me as I touch the cup and words of appreciation that a simple thank you won’t cover tumble out of my mouth.
“You’re welcome, Miss Newhouse,” he remarks, seemingly unfazed, as if I’m no more famous than he is, and he begins to walk away. A black suit bag is slung over his back. “Just thought it might be important to you.”
The man doesn’t even want a selfie together, or my autograph. The unusual feeling of being let down given the circumstances is short lived. I’m not stupid enough to believe that because he hadn’t kept the cup that he wasn’t a danger to me. Only a naive woman would leave her cup unattended in any circumstance and he’d had his hands on my beverage. There’s no way I’ll drink it now.
Trying to remain casual, I quickly pad to the ladies room, pour my favorite flavored coffee into the drain, and dry the mug before tucking it inside my bag. I take note of the items inside, ensuring the essentials are there; my cell, ID, a single credit card in case the few hundred dollars in the wristlet doesn’t cover unexpected expenses, and the boarding pass.
I let out a sigh of relief hearing the flight number being called to board over the noise of the faucets and flushing.
Flying is actually the easy part. I don’t fear it. The seats are little cubes. The pilot, like a designer, is in charge of the next few hours of our lives. My phobias are directly linked to things that I should be able to control.
On the plane, I find the aisle seat, securely buckling in, before putting the papers the flight attendant used to direct me into the cabin back in my bag. I pull my cup back out to admire it, placing it on the folding tray and smiling at the pictures of Lily and Roseanne.
The flight attendant stops to ask if I want a refill. I hesitate. Losing things makes me nervous. Those few minutes out of sight were far better than being informed by the police that someone had stolen garbage simply because I’d touched it. Yet, it’s when I glance toward the cockpit where passengers are boarding the plane and see the red-headed man that I’m able to agree to let the cup out of my sight. Perhaps his presence is a reminder that there are good hearted people out there.
I pull the strap on the seatbelt tighter around my waist, sitting back and trying my best to relax, until the flight attendant returns with the insulated cup, cream, and sugar on a petite white tray. Finally taking a sip my body relaxes and melts into the seat cushion.
The tall man has already passed by, his red head cocked to one side because the plane’s ceiling is so low. After takeoff, while the aisles are still clear, I peek back to see that he’s in a similar spot to my own in the first row of the next cabin. I’m glad for airlines with assigned seating and that this man was smart enough to request a front-row seat where he’d have more leg room.
He happens to look up from his magazine and cocks his chin, acknowledging me. My face warms with embarrassment wanting to hear him speak to me one more time. I must’ve sounded like an idiot stumbling over my words. Perhaps we’ll bump into one another leaving the terminal. I’ll be more communicative. He’ll say, “Have a nice day, Miss Newhouse”.
That’s the moment I realize he hadn’t called me by my stage name. Very few people are privy to the legal change from Strand to Newhouse. It’s kept a closely guarded secret.
The flight attendant closes the cabin partition. The red fabric is a warning sign to remind me not to trust people I encounter in airports.
Copyright ©2019 Jody Kaye
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a creation of the Author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, establishments, event or locales is coincidental... That's right, I made it all up!
This excerpt is taken from an uncorrected proof of the book. Mistakes are possible... In other words, I'm human too.
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