Saturday mornings in the summer were for sleeping in, not trips to the airport at six o’clock in the morning. They especially weren’t for Uber rides with a driver who refused to take a break from scarfing on his artery clogging breakfast sandwich to lend a helping hand.
What happened to chivalry?
Sure, the lines of grease dripping down the side of his double chin should’ve given me an indication that he didn’t care one way or another, but it’s about the principle.
After I managed to extract my last oversized piece of luggage from the trunk, I slammed it hard enough to rock the tiny car, and if lady luck was on my side, even knocked a bit of his sandwich out of his hand and onto his lap. It’d serve him right.
Outside of the airport, near the corner of the building, an older man ogled a teenage girl. All I could think about were the constant news headlines of girls being taken. I’d never forgive myself if this girl ended up as a headline in the Highsea Daily Newspaper. I could see it now: June 20, 2021, Teenage Jane Doe Found Dead in the Forest.
Highsea was never short on crime with the beach attracting tourists from around the world. Not to mention, the forest stretched for miles. It was the perfect place to make someone disappear.
Not this girl. Not today.
I raced to her before the man made his move. “Are you okay?”
She drew her dingy green bag to her chest with questioning eyes darting side to side at the both of us.
“You’re obviously scaring her. Please back away.” I knelt down. She smelled of spoiled milk and dirty clothes. “My name is Brooklyn Monti. I want to help you. What’s your name?”
“Bianca,” she whispered. “Bianca Hamilton.”
“That’s a pretty name. It’s nice to meet you, Bianca.” She pulled her legs closer to her chest along with her bag. I took the hint and backed away a few steps. “Are you here by yourself?”
She gave me a look while never uttering a word.
“Well, I’m by myself. Actually, I’m by myself often. My parents travel a lot, and I’m an only child. Are you an only child?”
She looked away.
“Can I tell you a secret?” I squatted down and sat Indian style across from Bianca. “I have Huntington’s Disease. It’s an inherited disease that will cause my brain to stop working. I was adopted when I was a baby, but I got it from my birth mom. She passed away. I never had the chance to meet her. I often imagine what she looked like, the sound of her laugh—all those little things. The only thing I know about my dad is his name is Britt Thornburg.”
“Tell me about it.”
“What will happen to you if your brain stops working?”
“I could die.”
“Are you scared?”
“Out of my mind,” I said.
“Yeah it does for me, but surely not for you. Why do you say that?”
“I ran away from home.”
“Why’d you do a thing like that?”
“My mom and dad are always gone too. I figured they wouldn’t miss me.”
“I’ll bet they’re worried out of their minds. Where are you from?”
“Goldgham.” She released her bag a bit and pulled on the strap of her backpack.
“That’s over four hundred miles away. I should call security and the police so we can get you back to your family.”
“Good, I want to go home. I thought I was making the right decision, but I was wrong. I haven’t eaten all week. I’ve been sleeping outside. Strange men keep coming up to me like that other guy. I’m scared.”
“How old are you?” I asked while I dialed security.
I spoke to a woman at the security desk inside the airport.
“They’re sending two security guards out here with us. No more weird guys, okay?”
“Hey, I have a couple of granola bars I grabbed on the way out this morning. Would you like them?”
Bianca grabbed the bars and tore into them within seconds. Clearly she wasn’t exaggerating about not eating.
The security guards appeared outside within moments as promised. I waved them over and explained the situation while speaking with the Goldgham Police Department. Turns out, they’d been searching for Bianca for weeks. I gave the detective our location and made sure she was in safe hands with the security guards before carrying on with my day.
“Bianca, I have a plane to catch, but I want to make sure you feel safe with the security guards before I go.” Luckily, one was a woman.
She reached out and grabbed my arm. “Thank you, Brooklyn. I hope your brain doesn’t stop working.”
“That’s the nicest thing anyone has said to me this week. Make the best out of your life, Bianca. It goes by so fast.”
Helping Bianca filled my heart. God knows I wish I could’ve helped my friend, Veronica. She ran away during our sophomore year of high school. She met the guy online. Her Prince Charming turned out to be a married man with three children. He took her life. The news rocked all of us, and it stuck with me over the years. I should have told her parents where she was going instead of keeping secrets. We were so naïve, just like Bianca. I will never again turn my back on helping a young girl or a woman.
Save one, love one.
I entered the air conditioned terminal, which mimicked leaving the sweltering Southern heat for an Alaskan winter, and was startled by a sharp chime from my cell. I’d set up a special ringtone to alert me whenever our event company, Three Angels, had new account inquiries. This particular job was for a multi-million dollar firm in Santa Bay that would pay a hundred thousand dollars to plan an event for the announcement of their company’s expansion. My partners, Tammy and Lorraine, were going to hit the roof.
I hurried to the counter ahead of a huge group traveling together in matching t-shirts and passed my bags and documents to the TSA agent. “They’re your problem now.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” he laughed. “This is what I do.”
I gave my chest a little pat where my heart beat for his kindness and followed the signs to undergo the scan and search. I took my shoes off and placed them inside a small bin. The TSA agent waved his wand around me but he got a little too familiar while patting me down.
“Hey.” I smacked his hand.
“You know I could have you hauled off for assault of a public servant.”
“I’ve got two bee stings up here. It doesn’t take all that.”
“Get out of here, and word of advice.” He waved his wand. “Don’t try that with anyone else. You’re lucky I’m nice.”
“Practice what you preach.” I stuck my AirPods in and cranked up the volume to listen to my daily affirmations about allowing love to flow freely through me and how I deserved the utmost happiness.
The glorious smell of coffee beans and fresh pastries pulled me toward the food court.
Just what the doctor ordered.
A young twentyish man with spiked hair pushed out coffee orders like a machine. He mixed the cups before customers could finish spouting their orders. It’s almost as if he had the menu emblazoned in his mind. He made my spicy pumpkin coffee within seconds and topped it off with a thoughtful design from the frothed milk.
“That’ll be ten dollars.”
“One second.” I searched through my bulky bag for my wallet. The line had already grown by four people. The nerves jumped in my shoulder hard enough to knock the bag off my arm onto the floor. I hated being vulnerable in public. All those eyes staring at me—judging me, wondering what the hell was wrong with me. I scrambled to gather my runaway tampons. Before I knew it, tears stung the rims of my eyes. I didn’t have the guts to look up. I felt foolish crawling around the dingy airport floor.
The young man slammed my cup down and screamed. “Do you see the line behind you? I don’t have all day, lady.”
“Hey, buddy, show the lady some respect. Be patient.” A baritone voice boomed with a sexy Persian accent that sent chills throughout my body. “I see I’m not the only one having a hell of a morning.”
A pair of mint green Nike shoes stood before me. My gaze crawled up his legs. He was a bronze hottie with a tapered haircut. He resembled the kind of man who appeared on the cover of romance novels with thick eyebrows and green eyes. He shoved a twenty dollar bill at the barista to pay for both our orders.
Mr. Hottie had huge muscles in places I’d never seen before. His five o’clock shadow looked more like six o’clock. A long scar ran down the right side of his cheek. Strangely, it complimented him. He even smelled like he’d cleaned his house before coming to the airport. The scent roused my OCD, which made a smile spread over my face from ear to ear.
“I appreciate your kindness. I’m going to pay you when I find my wallet in all this mess.”
He dangled a pair of my red silk panties from his finger. “Sexy.”
“Wow, how immature. You don’t even know me.” I snatched my unmentionables away from him and stuffed them inside my bag along with my other runaway items. “Thanks for your help.” I held out a crisp ten dollar bill. But he refused it.
He followed close behind as I walked away from the kiosk with the little dignity I had left.
“Consider your coffee a gift and an apology for my immaturity.”
Our hands touched when he passed me the coffee. I nearly dropped it. People often talk about sparks, but this was the first time I’d experienced it. I thanked him again before taking a seat in the area marked D12.
“Are you following me?”
“No, I’m in the right place. I have a layover in Pinemoor. Are you in the right place?”
“Yeah, I guess we’re on the same flight.”
Mr. Chatty Hottie sat across from me while I nervously guzzled my coffee. Every few seconds, I glanced up to see him still watching me with curious eyes. I wondered if he was trying to figure out why my arm spazzed out. But deep down inside, I hoped he didn’t see it. I tucked my hair behind my ears. I’d straightened it the night before and brushed it down with a middle part.
My mother had drilled into me over the years, “A woman should never leave home without putting effort into her appearance.” However, I’d gone against everything she’d taught me when I’d dressed in a baggy sweat suit for my flight. Fortunately, I’d put myself together in a manner that complimented my five-foot-five frame even though I had on very little makeup. Men often gave me a second look, but this guy’s persistence was new to me. I hugged my waist with my free hand to avoid eye contact altogether.
“I’d like to start over. My name’s Kai Rahimi.” He stuck out his hand.
“I don’t know if I should talk to a man who’d show my underwear to a group of complete strangers.”
“Oh, come on. I apologized and I bought you a cup of coffee. I was stupid. Please forgive me.” He held his hands up in prayer style. “You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen. It’d be a shame if I never got your name.”
“Whatever.” I gave in and shook his hand. “My name’s Brooklyn Monti.”
“Brooklyn? I like that.” He gulped his coffee without breaking his gaze.
“Why do you keep staring at me? Are you thinking about my underwear again?”
“No. But now that you mentioned it, I am imagining you modeling them for me.” He sucked his teeth. “Oh boy, it’s a sight to see. Your butt in that string and lace would drive any man insane.”
I covered my eyes and peeked through my fingers.
“I see you checking me out. I don’t blame you. I look good.”
“You’re so conceited.”
“I sure am. You should be too. Look at you—beautiful hair, gorgeous brown eyes, and full lips with a nice figure.”
“Loosen up a bit.” He set his cup on a table next to his chair and moved beside me to place a hand on my shoulder. “There you go—slouch, relax.”
“I don’t know how to slouch. My mom spent years knocking me straight whenever I slouched.” I bent forward and laughed as if I’d told the joke of the decade.
He clumsily put his arm around my shoulders. Perhaps the scent of bleach piqued my interest, or maybe it was his sexy muscles, but whatever the case, I didn’t smack him.
“I’m on my way to train a bunch of stockbrokers in Bay Valley. What about you?”
“I’m going to my college homecoming. I haven’t seen my friends in over a decade since we graduated, except for my best friend, Iris. I consider her to be more like a sister. She flew ahead last night.” I drummed the side of my coffee cup causing the spicy pumpkin scent to infiltrate my senses. “I’m not ready to see them, but Iris twisted my arm. Now, here I am.”
“A weekend catching up with old friends is a good thing—or at least it is in my world.”
The nerves in my hand started to dance. I clasped them together. Kai gently pulled them apart.
“Want to hear a funny story?”
It fascinated me how he calmed my nerves faster than any anxiety medicine ever had.
“I embarrassed myself like hell this morning.” He propped his elbow on the back of the chair. “Earlier, one of the wheels on my luggage got stuck on a piece of paper. Before I knew it, I face-planted on top of my bags. Two immature teens recorded the entire ordeal. I tried to snatch one of their phones, but I guess he was a pretty good basketball player because he faked me out so bad I almost twisted my knee. Now, I have a bad feeling that the video will go viral any moment.”
My laughter shot out like a machine gun.
“You know what? I think you’ve got a wild side buried deep down inside.”
“Is that your thing—wild women? Typical.”
“Actually, my thing is a woman with intelligence, but my heart beats for a woman with a personality.”
“Good for you.”
Kai never stopped talking. Usually, I’d avoid people like him. But his personality slowly coaxed out the sexy and playful side of myself I usually kept under lock and key.