Chapter 2

My bags were packed and ready by half past four in the evening. Since everything fitted in one suitcase, the smaller one, I put one suitcase in another so I would be travelling with just one bag that would go in as check-in baggage.

I shut my laptop and packed it off in my laptop bag – that would go in as cabin baggage with me.

When I walked over to my cupboard and looked in my jewelry box for my favorite pearl stud earrings that looked stunningly real, the little yellow ring box in the corner caught my eye.

It was a promise ring; a painful reminder of the promise Nikhil had made that someday he’d make me his wife. He’d obviously made that promise to get into my pants.

I opened the box and pulled out the delicate ring. It brought back the memory of the day he had made that promise. I closed my eyes and tried to relive that moment. It was so easy to believe him, he had made me so happy that day. The idea of starting a family was beautiful, something I always wanted. But now when I thought of it, I wasn’t sure I wanted a family with him.

I slipped the ring onto the ring finger on my left hand, and stared at it. A silver band with one tiny diamond.

I felt a tightness in my chest. An uneasy emptiness filled me.

I wondered if he gave a promise ring to all the women he fucked. The thought made me cringe.

Just when the first tear in two hours trickled down my cheek, I heard the front door open. Mom was home.

I wiped my tear-stained cheek with my sleeve and fished out the pearl studs. Wearing them, I went to the bathroom, washed my face, took a deep breath and walked into the living room.

Mom was seated on the couch, checking something on her mobile phone. I stopped and watched her for a minute. She looked beautiful and young, if she hadn’t given birth to me she would have probably been married and soaring high in her career. She had given up so much for me, she had been so selfless.

She deserved a good life, a lover, maybe even marriage. At forty, she looked young enough to be my sister. There was this one time in college when a senior of mine, who I thought was a total hunk, asked for my mom’s phone number the day after he spotted us together at a restaurant. When I revealed to him that she was my mom, he sure was surprised to know but wanted her number anyway.

Repercussions of having a hot and gorgeous mom.

Of course, I didn’t give him her number. She was my mother for God’s sake.

I took a deep breath and hoped my face would give nothing away. Stretching my neck from side to side, I squared my shoulders and walked to sit next to mom.

She put her phone aside, looked at me and shot a bright smile. “Are you done packing?”

“Yes. I’m not carrying much. Everything fitted in one bag. All ready to go. I should be at the airport at least three hours before the scheduled departure time, so I’ll leave at eight.”

“Okay, I’ll go with you.”

“That won’t be necessary. I’ll be fine mom, I’ll take the cab. How was your day in college?”

“The same. This is your first international flight isn’t it, aren’t you excited?”

“Yeah, it’s a work trip, so I’m not really all that excited.”

She turned and looked at the empty wine goblet that I hadn’t cleared off the coffee table yet. “Then you must be unhappy about something.” She looked at me meticulously. “What’s the matter?”

“Have you ever thought of me as a burden?” The words spurted out unexpectedly.

Her expression changed to that of an unpleasant surprise at my abrupt question. She knocked her flat shoes off and turned to sit in a comfortable position, folding her legs beneath her.

“Where is this coming from? Did someone say something?”

I could feel my eyes burn with tears that were trying to find their escape. “Am I a burden mom?” I blinked rapidly to suck my tears back in.

She took my hands in hers. “You are a blessing.”

I put my head down. “You are so brave mom. I would’ve broken if I were you.” When I lifted my head, my cheeks were tearstained. “Your life has been all about me. You’ve barely lived for yourself.”

She reached out and wiped my tears. “What is wrong with you today? You’re acting a little mad.”

“Not mad. I’m just feeling a little upset. Why did you decide to have me? You could’ve continued a normal life without me.”

Mom looked confused. “Are you saying I’ve lived an abnormal life so far? God, you are my child. You are a product of my love baby, you are a part of me,” she said, holding my face in her hands.

“But you were only seventeen.”

“You’re saying I should’ve aborted you?”

I nodded clumsily.

Mom let out a soft laugh of dismissal and slipped her hands away. “I wanted to see what a cross breed would look like. Just curious. Turns out, cross breeds are extremely beautiful creatures.”

I sniffed and scoffed. “Don’t call me a cross breed, I’m not a dog.” I pressed my cheek against a pillow on the couch and smiled. “It’s just my eyes and hair that aren’t quite Indian. Every other bit of me is like you.”

She smiled and looked away.

“You’ve never spoken a word about my father. I don’t know where he is from, I don’t know what his name is. When will you tell me?”

She looked at me, her eyes carrying a pain that broke my heart. “You don’t need to know baby. He never was and never will be a part of our lives.”

“Hmm,” I said, another tear rolling down my cheek.

She brushed the tear off my cheek with her thumb and looked at me questioningly. “What happened? You don’t seem to be yourself today. Did someone say something nasty to you?”

I curled up into the corner of the couch, pressing the knees of my folded legs to my chest. “I’ve seen you sacrifice so much for me. I want to give you a good life mom, I want to provide you with all that you should’ve enjoyed had I not been in the picture. I want to give you the best.”

She straightened and lifted her chin a trifle. “I know what you are going through.”

“You do?”

“Of course! You are confused about your career, about life and you should be. Everyone is at your age. It’s very normal my child. I think you should get back to writing. You should do it full time.”

My brows rose. “Really?”

“Yes. Don’t you know you’re gifted, you should explore? I don’t know why you stopped writing. You gave up too easily. At your age, my language wasn’t half as good as yours, not just language, the things you observe and write about, it’s phenomenal.”

“I enjoy writing mom, but if I can’t turn it into a profession I feel it’s a waste of time. The rejection letters put me off. Every single agent turned me down. My stories must really suck.”

Mom narrowed her eyes at me. “No, the agents must really suck. Tell me, what do you want to write for?”

I shook my head. “I didn’t get you?”

“It is a straightforward question. What is it that makes you want to write? What draws you to it?”

“The process of writing itself is so fulfilling. But it’s time consuming. I cannot handle work and writing.”

“You want to write for money?”

“Well, yes. Why else would I spend days and weeks and months writing? We need the money, don’t we?”

She let out a deep breath and shook her head as if disappointed. “That’s what’s wrong. You need to change your purpose of writing.”

I squinted my eyes at her, puzzled. “Change my purpose?”

She moved back and leaned into a pillow that was at her corner of our cozy little couch. “When I was pregnant with you, your grandparents wanted me to get married to save themselves from societal embarrassment, you know how old timers think right?”

I nodded, trying to figure out the direction of our conversation.

“No one would marry a pregnant seventeen-year-old girl and that was a good thing. I didn’t want to bring you up in an environment where you’d not be celebrated wholeheartedly.”

I moved closer to mom and squeezed her hand. “Aw! You are such a wonderful mother.”

“I was scared, no doubt. But I was determined to raise you by myself. I was stubborn for the right reasons. I never thought of you as a mistake. I went with my gut feeling, followed my heart. I wanted to prove to the world that love alone was enough to raise a child.”

I smiled. “And you did well mom.”

“Hell yes I did, look how you turned out to be.”

I rolled my eyes and let out a soft giggle through my tears.

“My point here is, if I would sulk and brood about my situation and give up after the numerous job rejections I had faced, I would never progress and things would have ended up in a disaster. I was willing to do any kind of job for the money. I didn’t expect or ask for a single penny from anyone because I didn’t want to deal with the taunts that would come with it. When no one gave me a job, my only determination to still strive for a job and not give up was you. I was seventeen, I didn’t have a college degree and my baby bump was beginning to show. It was tough. But when your reason is strong, the facts don’t count. Finally, I got a job, and that’s how I began my life afresh, with new hopes and new goals.”

I could now understand what she was trying to get to.

She leaned ahead, rubbed my shoulder and continued to speak. “Remember how you’d get so excited to show me what you wrote. Every time you finished a story, you’d pester me to read it and tell you how it was and when you grew older you wrote a story about that friend of yours.”

“Naomi,” I said as I recollected.

The memory of her made me bitter, making the hair on my arms stand up. She had died from drowning in the sea at the age of twelve after which I wrote a story in remembrance of her. Her death had shocked me, I didn’t want to let go of her yet and so I wrote about her, trying hard to keep her alive.

“Everyone was touched with what you wrote. Reading that made people feel her presence, as if she was still around, singing and dancing the way she always did. I distinctly remember Fr. Jacob reading it out at her first death anniversary service at church. You managed to bring a smile to everyone’s face. You kept her alive through your words.”

“I wonder what she would be like if she was alive today. She didn’t deserve to die that young.”

“She most certainly did not deserve that. Your story made everyone’s hair stand on end. That’s the power you possess, don’t you see? When you were younger, you wrote with your heart. Now, you think too much, your plots are not from experiences, you strain too much to make the language unnaturally perfect. You need to switch to writing with your heart, and not your overburdened and extremely cautious brain.”

A warm smile spread across my lips. “I’ll miss you mom. I’ll call you every day, okay?”

She casually dismissed what I said with a wave of her hand. “I’ll be fine. You have a good time and be safe.”

She turned and reached for her purse. Pulling out an envelope, she looked at me and said. “I want you to get back to writing full time Jessica.” She handed the envelope to me. “This is for you.”

I took it and opened it right away. The contents of the envelope left me speechless. I counted the notes quickly.

“Two thousand dollars?”

“It’s my gift to you. I want you to enjoy your trip, you deserve the best. You’ve never demanded anything your whole life, you’ve been quite a cooperative child, I must give you that. I’m lucky that way,” she said with a wink.

“This is a lot of money mom. I c-can’t.”

She put her hand on my knee. “You need it. I know you don’t have a job anymore.”

Oh no! She knew? How did she…

I couldn’t keep the shock out of my voice. “How did you find out?”

“I am your mother. I am designed to know everything without you telling me.”

Did that mean she knew about Nikhil too? No, that could not be.

I didn’t know how to explain it to her. I didn’t know if it would make her mad. “I-I was going to tell you. I just thought that… your PhD thesis and stuff… I didn’t want to disturb you…”

She cut me short. “It’s alright my child. I know you didn’t like your job anyway. I don’t care what your reason to quit your job is. I have great faith in you, I want you to be a very successful person. I personally think you have great potential. Never think otherwise, alright? Enjoy the break, come back and set yourself on fire. I’ll always have your back.”

Which meant she didn’t know. Phew!

“How did you find out? Who told you I quit my job?”

“You paid for your flight ticket from the HDFC bank account. If you remember, that’s our joint account. I get a text message each time there’s a transaction.”

How did I not think about that before paying for the tickets? I wanted to punch myself for being so careless.

“Mom, I can’t accept this money, it’s too much. I should be the one giving you money, and here I am, without a job. I feel so bad. Did I do the right thing quitting my job?”

“You did the right thing. Don’t think so low of yourself. Take the money and have a good time. I want to see you happy when you’re back.

Everything’s going to be just fine,” she said reassuringly.

I pursed my lips and looked into her eyes, my own filled with uncertainty.

She shook her head before speaking. “I know something is not right. I don’t know what it is, but I know it’s going to be okay. Do you want to tell me what it is?”

I shook my head.

“Whatever it is, it’ll pass. You go enjoy your trip, you really need the break. And if you want to talk about it, whatever it is, I’m here for you.”

I leaned in and hugged my mom as tight as I could. I couldn’t keep myself from crying like a little girl. Her warmth provided solace, but I wasn’t sure if everything would turn out fine.

After a minute, she held me at arm’s length and studied my expression. “You’re a strong woman Jessica. These tears don’t suit you. Want to eat some Chinese before you leave?”

I nodded enthusiastically. “Yes.”

“I’ll hit the shower, you order the food.” She stood up, stretched her arms a little and walked to her bedroom. “And please order Chicken Manchow soup, my palate’s craving it,” she called out from her room.

“Okay!”

Now that I didn’t have to find a job immediately, I felt relieved. Mom’s reaction to the whole going to America thing was pretty unexpected, in a good way. That did make things easier for me temporarily, but what was I going to do about the emptiness within me?

Dinner with mom cheered me up. We laughed and shared about the things that happened during the day. I told her about my chat with Mrs. Rita from earlier today. Any time spent with mom was fun, there was always so much to learn from her experiences as a professor. She was forever enveloped in this positive aura that made the worst thing seem insignificant.

Glancing at the clock, I saw it was nearing seven forty-five. I collected the empty plates from the dining table. “I need to hurry. The taxi will be here in fifteen minutes.”

“Leave the plates, I’ll do them later. Go dress up,” mom said.

Dressed in a loose yellow t-shirt and skinny jeans that were torn by accident and not on purpose, I was out of my bedroom in ten minutes. A myriad of emotions coursed through me. I worried about being away from mom for two months but she had a good amount of work to do to keep her busy so I knew she’d be okay. What concerned me most were my hasty decisions, I blindly did what Rachel had asked me to do without giving any of it a second thought.

After mom and I said our goodbyes to each other, the taxi driver put my luggage in the boot and closed the car door after I slipped into the back seat. I couldn’t hold back my tears. Mom must’ve thought I was nuts. She hadn’t seen me cry this silly in years.

“You take care of yourself and have a great time. Call me when you are in Newark,” she said, fighting back her own tears.

Wiping my face as the engine roared to life, I nodded as I rolled down the window. “Take care mom. I’ll miss you.”

“I’ll miss you too my baby. Have a good time! And don’t worry about a thing… everything’s going to be alright,” she said, running her fingers through my hair one last time.

Soon I was in the midst of the bustle of heavy traffic, the incessant blaring of horns was just another thing for the residents of Mumbai. My thoughts quickly drifted to my relationship with Nikhil - my ex-boyfriend and ex-manager. I now wished none of it had ever happened. Would he have continued to cheat on me had I not caught him fucking that chubby big boob girl red-handed? How long had I been played with?

I drew in a labored breath, the direction of my thoughts made me feel weak. I knew I was susceptible to drowning in a sea of self-pity and grief if I didn’t obliterate my thoughts immediately.

I retrieved my headphones from my handbag and plugged them into my mobile phone to listen to the radio. As if on cue, the words sung by Gloria Gaynor sparked a new energy in me. It felt like she was singing it to tell me that…

I will survive!

I was stuck in traffic for the next twenty minutes. There had always been a bottleneck at a junction about a kilometer and a half away from where I lived. After we crossed that junction, the traffic eased out a little. Good thing I left early, Mumbai traffic had always been unpredictable. I was at the airport by eight forty-five.

It took me about an hour to go through the immigration, customs and security procedures. Security and immigration went on smoothly, the staff at the desks were exceptionally well organized and quick.

As I headed toward the departure gate mentioned on my boarding pass, I chose to walk alongside the travelator for the sake of a little exercise. The Chinese food I had gobbled earlier hadn’t digested yet, I probably should have eaten a smaller quantity.

Couldn’t help it though, I loved Indian Chinese.

The walk to the boarding lounge was a rather long one. I observed a whole lot of people - kids throwing tantrums while being dragged around by their parents, a group of youngsters in pajamas wandering about with an oversized travel neck pillow in one hand and their mobile phones in another, obscenely dressed girls who probably planned to hit some crazy ass pub as soon as they arrived wherever they were going to, boys with hairstyles I never knew existed and couples smooching to kill time. It was insane to see so many people from different countries and cultures brought together under one roof for the same purpose - Travel!

There was this one couple that particularly caught my attention; they were probably eighty or older. Both were seated on wheelchairs, helped by two young girls in blue body-hugging skirt suits with silver colored silk neck scarves.

As the couple was being assisted to their departure gate by the two women, they held hands, forcing the women to push their wheelchairs one beside the other. The wrinkled hands of the elderly couple holding each other evinced the strength and depth of their love.

It was heartwarming to watch it. What they shared was enviable.

How lucky were the people who found a love that strong. I wondered if such luck would ever knock the door of my destiny.

For the next two hours, I busied myself with my laptop, typing down my emotions into a word document. In spite of being amidst thousands of people, I felt alone. Alone and scared. I didn’t know what my future had in store for me, layers of anxiety and fear clouded my mind.

Before I knew it, the boarding gates were opened and people lined up to board the plane. I could not believe I was about to board the plane to Newark, but the excitement just wasn’t there. I closed my eyes and did what I hardly ever did. I prayed.

Dear God, let all this make me stronger. Give me the strength to get over him and what he’s done to me. I do not want to be weak. Give me the strength to vanquish all negative feelings. Help me.

It was amazing how a silent prayer could fill you with a feeling of assurance and tranquility.

I closed my laptop and remained seated, deciding to be the last passenger to board the flight. With one leg folded up to my chest, I sat lazily, watching passengers as they produced their boarding pass to the ground hostess who let them in after wishing them a pleasant journey. Some responded with a thank you while others didn’t even bother to smile back as a gesture of courtesy.

As I waited patiently for the mile-long line of passengers to get in, a little American girl approached me and said, “Hello, can I please take a picture with you?”

The excitement gushing in her big brown eyes as she looked at me expectantly was palpable. She must’ve been about eleven years old. Dressed in a white t-shirt, pink pullover and pink pajamas which had little white teddys printed on them, she looked ready for a cozy slumber. Her curly blonde hair looked adorable. The little smattering of freckles on the light skin of her nose and cheeks made her look like a doll.

“What is your name sweetie?” I smiled.

“Kaylen,” she said, blushing.

“You want a picture with me?”

She nodded enthusiastically. “Yes. On my mom’s cell phone if you don’t mind.” She held out a smart-phone.

“Do you know who I am?” I asked to figure out the reason behind her request.

“Yes. You are a model. You’re on the America’s next top model show, I’ve seen you on TV. My mom watches it sometimes.”

Wow! I was flattered. This little girl had just made my day.

I didn’t want to shatter the little girl’s excitement by telling her I wasn’t a model. After clicking a couple of selfies, some with flying kisses and others with duck faces, she hugged and kissed me.

“You are so beautiful,” she said with clear amazement in her voice. “I love your blue eyes and curly brown hair.”

I kissed her on both her cheeks and said, “I’m just a little less beautiful than you. I wish I had brown eyes like yours. And your hair, it’s so much curlier than mine.”

“My mom was a model before she had me. You think I can be a model too?”

“You can be whatever you want to be sweetie.”

I watched her run back to her mother who watched us from the next boarding lounge area. I smiled and waved at both of them as I joined the line to board the flight – which thankfully consisted of just two passengers now.

I was allotted the aisle seat - which I thought was good to stretch my legs in case of a cramp. Sitting in the same place for sixteen hours wasn’t going to be easy if I was given any other seat.

There was an inscrutable looking middle aged Chinese lady sitting with poise next to my aisle seat. She wore a Chinese collared red satin blouse with an intricate yellow dragon print on it and a pair of black trousers. Too dressed for a sixteen-hour journey, I thought. I smiled when I settled beside her, but I wasn’t looking to crack a conversation.

Turns out her intentions were different.

After the flight took off and the plane was stable mid-air, she unbuckled her seat belt and turned sideways to face me. “Travelling abroad for the first time?”

Was it written on my face?

I nodded with a faint smile. “Yes.”

She had straight black hair that was neatly tied in a low pony and her skin was clear and glowing. The beauty spot right in the middle of her left cheek could not be missed. The few strands of grey hair above her ears and the wrinkles around her eyes were the only clues to her age.

She offered her hand. “My name is Shu Wang.”

“I’m Jessica,” I said, smiling thinly as I shook her tiny soft hand.

“You are a very beautiful young lady.” Her smile reached her eyes as she spoke in a heavy Chinese accent.

“Thank you.”

She was the second stranger to say that in one night. Must be my messy hair and the loose t-shirt, I always looked better when I was a mess. She regarded me carefully for a moment. “Don’t beat yourself up for what happened. Let it go. You weren’t in love with him anyway.”

My eyes grew wide with surprise. I gazed at her, perplexed.

Her lips curved into a mysterious smile. “The boy wasn’t worth it. Let it go. You found out at the right time.”

“How did you know?” My voice was more of a strained whisper.

“Your thoughts are pretty loud. I’ve been watching you for an hour.”

I squinted my eyes at her.

She continued to shock me. “The boy used you for sex and you thought he loved you. What happened had to happen.”

I turned my face to suck in a deep breath, ran my fingers through my hair and turned back to her. “I’m sorry. I don’t understand. How do you know all this?”

“I am a psychic,” she said coolly and shrugged her shoulders before tilting her head in my direction. “I don’t practice it for a living, but I noticed how stressed you were so I thought you needed to know a few things and since we might never cross paths again…”

“What do I need to know?” I tried to keep my voice low through my growing impatience.

She let out a soft laugh. “You are so full of anxiety.”

“Shouldn’t I be?”

She blinked with a mild shake of her head. “It isn’t worth it. Your time for enormous decisions is here, you’ve done well with the first.”

“The first?”

“Yes. This journey,” she said with arched brows. “Unconventional situations will pose themselves before you. Be an opportunist, do not harbor doubts on the nature of the opportunities. Detach emotions. None of it will be easy.”

My anxiety was replaced with edgy curiosity and my expression made that pretty clear.

She waited a beat for some kind of response. When I said nothing, she continued to speak. “Choices. Decisions. These can change your fate. The opportunities will be bizarre, grab them.”

For some strange reason, this woman reminded me of the Chinese waitress from the movie Freaky Friday. “Should I be worried?”

She tipped her head back and closed her eyes. After a moment that felt like forever, she opened her eyes, then turned to look at me, her gaze unnervingly icy. “Do not commit.”

“I didn’t get you.”

“Do not commit to an emotional relationship.” There was a note of warning in her manner.

“Never?”

“Not now.”

My brows furrowed with confusion. “Could you kindly be a little elaborate? I don’t understand. Is there something dangerous ahead?”

Her icy calm disposition never wavered. “Don’t shift focus. Everything is happening for a reason.”

“Don’t shift focus from what?”

“I do not wish to speak more than this. Your choices will pave your destiny. After all, you are the master of your own destiny. Good luck young lady.” She reclined her seat to as far as it went and within moments she was asleep.

I couldn’t eat the meal offered by the airhostess. The strange conversation with the lady sleeping next to me had left me disconcerted. I put my thoughts into my laptop for the next few hours until fatigue took over every fiber of my body causing dizziness. I succumbed to deep undisturbed sleep for the second half of the journey, soaking in the much-needed pleasure of darkness filled with nothing.

Just before descent, an announcement made by the captain forced me out of unconsciousness. My body ached and my legs felt a little numb from sitting in the same position for long hours. I felt tired, gassy and had a throbbing head-ache.

An airhostess came to me. “Kindly fasten your seatbelt ma’am. We are about to land.”

I straightened my reclined seat, sat upright and fastened my seatbelt. I couldn’t wait to get off the plane so I could stretch and walk about to resolve the discomfort caused by my muscle cramps.

Shu Wang was wide awake and thumbing through a magazine when I looked at her from the side of my eye. There was not an iota of discomfort on her face; she looked just like she did sixteen hours ago. I, on the other hand, had groggy eyes and swollen lips.

“Did you sleep well?” she asked without turning to look at me.

“Yes, I did. I need some exercise though, my body hurts,” I said as I circled my shoulders forward and backward to reduce the stiffness.

The captain spoke through the speakers again. “Ladies and gentlemen, our journey has almost reached its end. We have just been cleared to land at the Newark Airport. Please make sure your seat belt is securely fastened and your seat is in the upright position. The flight attendants are currently passing around the cabin to make a final compliance check. Thank you.”

I shot a sidelong glance at the well poised Psychic. “When you said do not commit to a relationship, did you mean there is a possible danger of some sort?”

I just had to ask her that question.

She closed the magazine and turned. “Is writing journals something you like?”

I scrunched my nose. “No. Not journals, I write stories. It’s just something I’m good at, or at least I think I am. How did you know?”

“I saw you type into your laptop at the airport, you seemed pretty focused while doing it. Focus more on what you enjoy doing. This particular stage in your life might be a good time for career, give it priority.”

She hadn’t answered my question. “By an emotional relationship, did you mean dating?”

“Yes. That’s exactly what I meant young lady.”

“So, you’re saying I should focus on my career now. Is that why I shouldn’t commit to a man?”

“My intuitions aren’t a hundred percent correct at all times. Just enjoy the surprises life throws at you. You’ll sense things, you just have to be wise enough to act sensibly. Do what you want, do what you must. I don’t want to spoil it for you. But temptation does await, be wise.”

I thought fortune tellers and psychics gave precise predictions, who knew they’d leave you completely confused. Pondering on the ambiguous nature of her remarks drove me nuts. I might as well just try and forget the entire weird conversation I had with her and concentrate on my growling stomach instead.

Within a matter of a few minutes, the plane had touched down and was taxiing toward the gate. The captain made a final announcement. “Welcome to the Newark airport. You can reset your watch to the local time that is seven thirty. It’s a bright sunny day today. The temperature is sixty-three point two Fahrenheit. Hope you’ll had a comfortable journey. Thank you for flying with United Airlines, we look forward to seeing you onboard again in the near future. Have a good day and a pleasant stay at Newark.”

Shu Wang stood and tried to reach for her bag that was too far behind in the overhead bin on the opposite side. When I noticed her struggle, I stood and helped her pull out her bag.

She bowed her head a bit. “Thank you, Jessica. Have a good day.”

“Ms. Wang, could I have your number or an email address in case I want to talk to you again?”

She looked at me for a moment. “If fate wishes, we will cross paths again. Good luck young lady.”

Such a clever way of refusing to hear from me again. I smiled and watched her move with the line of impatient passengers. Soon her petite frame was out of sight.

I was the last passenger to disembark from the plane. Since there were two hours to board the next flight and the flight was scheduled to leave on time, I decided to get done with the security and check in before getting refreshed and grabbing some coffee and a bite to eat

Soon I was at the check-in counter to collect my boarding pass.

The staff behind the desk, a well-groomed man in a black suit and blue tie smiled pleasantly at me. “Good morning. May I have your passport and the confirmation e-mail that you received on booking your ticket?”

I pulled them out of my handbag and handed them over to him. He typed into the computer and stared at it for a long moment.

Looking at me he said, “There seems to be a problem, you aren’t on the list of passengers for today’s flight.”

I squinted my groggy eyes at him then looked at the badge that bore his name. Joe Adam.

“Mr. Adam, you’ll have to check again. I had no problem booking the ticket online, you might’ve missed my name from the list.”

“Alright, one moment.” He obliged and checked again. Shaking his head, he said, “I’m sorry, you don’t seem to be on the list. There might have been a technical hiccup when you booked it online. Could you please take a seat? I’ll try and have this problem sorted out.”

I didn’t want to be kept waiting at the airport.

“Are you going to put me on another flight?”

“I’ll see what I can do. Please have a seat, I’ll discuss this with my manager and get back to you in a moment. I apologize for the inconvenience.” He gestured to the row of seats at the opposite end, facing him.

Instead of taking a seat, I headed to the coffee counter that was a few steps away and bought a cup of café latte. Taking a sip, I walked to stand behind the row of seats. My legs needed the blood flow.

When I was half done with the coffee, the staff, Joe Adam, returned to his desk and looked at me, making a hand gesture to call me over. In quick response to his gesture, I paced toward him and before I knew it I slammed into a man who happened to be walking just as fast as I was, but in a direction perpendicular to mine.

Thank God my coffee wasn’t scalding hot.

The coffee from my cup spilled on the sleeve of his very expensive looking suit. “I am so very sorry,” I blurted immediately.

My breath caught when my gaze met his and I could instantly feel my insides burn. To say he was smoking hot would be an understatement.

The intensity with which he looked at me was enthralling, I felt exposed. I couldn’t help but stare into his blue eyes which seemed deep and limitless, cutting right through me, heating the air between us.

“I’m so s-sorry,” I stuttered, unable to break our gaze.

His gaze hadn’t left mine either.

Then it occurred to me that a small crowd of staff had gathered around us. Two tough looking men in well-cut grey suits tried to soak the coffee out of his sleeve with their handkerchiefs, making me look like an irresponsible source of utter inconvenience. I pulled out a few tissues from my handbag, but just before I could help with the stain, he took off his jacket and handed it over to one of the two men who I figured weren’t the airport staff.

“I don’t need this,” he said to the guy who took his coat. The sound of his voice was deep and sexy as hell.

For a tension-filled moment, I felt he was mad at me for ruining his jacket. He returned his gaze to meet mine, his expression abstruse.

“I’m so sorry. I should’ve looked around. I’m really sorry,” I said, feeling awfully embarrassed.

“Don’t apologize. It was equally my mistake. Can I buy you some coffee?”

He made the American accent sound so sensual. The intensity of his gaze over me deepened. He had me tangled in the scorching force his gaze exuded, making me feel weak in my knees. I tried my best to keep my expression under control, but it was hard.

There was no way I was going to let him buy me coffee for a mistake I committed. His offer had embarrassed me further.

“That’s very kind of you to offer but I’m afraid I’ll have to pass. It’ll make me feel horrible. I’m so sorry, I really am. I ruined your suit. I feel terrible, I should’ve just…”

“It’s Okay.” His voice was soft and smooth.

His gaze travelled from my eyes to my neck, and then very slowly to my chest. I moved back a step, cringing inwardly.

His piercing blue eyes burned into me. They burned into me deeper than I could handle.

“You’ve stained your t-shirt too,” he said, lifting his gaze to meet my eyes. “Does that make you feel better?”

I looked down to check and noticed that a few drops of coffee had left a few stains on my t-shirt, just around my chest area. But it didn’t matter, my t-shirt was inexpensive and old.

I forced a smile through my growing embarrassment and furrowed my brows. “Hardly.”

A ghost of a smile curved his sensual mouth, deepening a dimple on his left cheek. I took a moment to drink in his features. His jaw was strong and firm, his cheekbones taut. Was he a person or a fantasy?

“I’m not used to airports. I apologize Miss…?” He looked into my eyes searchingly.

“Jessica,” I said immediately.

He ran a hand through his tousled dark hair, messing it further. “I’m sorry Miss Jessica. I’ll have to go now, it was nice meeting you.” The crisp rasp in his voice had the power to drive any woman insane.

I nodded, flashing a half-embarrassed smile. “It was nice dashing into you sounds more appropriate.”

One side of his mouth lifted into a semblance of a smile. He gave a curt nod and walked away, moving with fluid muscularity. The two men in grey suits followed him.

I let out a breath I didn’t realize I was holding. I bit my lower lip as my gaze followed him till he was lost in the crowd. I mentally kicked myself for refusing his offer for coffee, now I didn’t even know his name.

But God, he was so bloody hot and tempting!

If just speaking two sentences with him had such a gyrating effect on me, I wonder what it would be like to have sex with him. I snapped myself out of my open-mouthed state and turned to move toward Joe Adam, the staff who had waited patiently through my little accident.

“Everything alright Ms. Jessica?” Joe Adam asked politely.

After slamming into the most tempting man I’d seen in flesh and blood? I don’t think so.

“Yes. Just a little accident,” I said, smiling sheepishly.

“Accidents happen. I’m glad you’re ok. I spoke with my manager and we have the confusion sorted out. There was a problem with the website when you made the booking. We’ve put you on the next flight that leaves this evening. It departs at eight p.m.”

Oh no! That was exactly what I didn’t want.

“Eight p.m.? Well I booked this flight for a purpose. I have to be in Los Angeles on time or I won’t make it to the event.” I hoped some groveling could put me on an earlier flight. “Can’t you arrange for a different airline or something, there is no way I’m taking the evening flight, it beats the purpose of my travel. I have to go on the earliest flight.”

“We certainly cannot arrange for a different airline but I can have your money reimbursed. You’ll have to book a fresh ticket with another airline if it’s very urgent. I can guide you through it.”

I slouched and forced my eyes shut with frustration. My feet and calves ached, all I wanted was for this journey to end. This was disappointing. I was thoroughly exhausted from the previous flight and now my journey had gotten even longer. Since I didn’t want to spend money on a fresh ticket, I really had no option but to agree.

I looked back at him and said, “Fine. Put me on the next flight. I’ll just miss the event.”

“Thank you for cooperating Ms. Jessica and sorry for the inconvenience we’ve caused.”

“Not forgiven,” I muttered sternly.

Just then the phone on his desk rang and he took the call. I turned to move toward the row of seats. I had to make two calls, to mom and Rachel, so I pulled out my phone from my pocket and tried to connect to the airport Wi-Fi. It asked for a password which forced me to turn back around and walk toward Joe Adam again. Since he was still on that call, I had to wait a few seconds before he hung up.

“Could I have the password to the Wi-Fi please?”

“Yes Sure.” He told me the password and then said, “I have some good news for you. A passenger has just cancelled his ticket. You can board the nine forty-five a.m. flight now.”

My eyes lit up with relief and my lips curved into a thankful smile. “Well thank God for that.”

“Here’s your boarding pass,” he handed it over to me and smiled. “Have a pleasant journey.”

When I looked at the boarding pass, my eyes opened as wide as they could and my brows almost touched my hairline.

I was going to fly Business Class.

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