Setting: Modern Willabeth. On an airplane.
Author's Note: Reviews are loved.
A Year On An Airplane
Chapter 1: Sending Postcards...
"Would you mind terribly if we switched? I can do without the window seat."
The softest, deepest voice. Thick British accent. Elizabeth took a moment to finish the last few sentences of her chapter before looking up from the pages of Pride and Prejudice. She thought fleetingly that the voice sounded familiar, although with the noise of the other passengers on the plane she couldn't be sure.
When at last she glanced at the man who had spoken, fully intent on telling him he could bloody well find someone else to cheat out of their aisle seat, she paused. He was familiar, indeed; tall, a well-cut blazer over the same worn out Oxford t-shirt she'd seen hundreds of times, a battered leather messenger bag slung over one shoulder, also recognizable, and she'd know his dark, wavy curls anywhere.
He had been rummaging for something in the bottom of his bag, but the moment she spoke his head snapped up and he turned curious eyes on her. Then he smiled. The same warm smile she hadn't seen in three years, the same smile she missed at night when her fiancé left her alone in the sprawling L.A. apartment, the smile that was burned into her memory along with the day she'd left him in New York, with a half-arse explanation and a promise that it wasn't because of him their relationship was over. Only then there had been a sadness behind the smile, but he'd still wished her luck and urged her to call if she needed him.
She hadn't called. She'd kept his cell number, a talisman against anything that could possibly go wrong, reassuring to know he'd be there if things didn't turn out as well as she'd planned. She hadn't realized until this moment how stupid she'd been to think she could have still reached him; his number had probably changed ages ago.
"Still looking for your Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth?"
His eyes were bright, teasing. He'd always tormented her about the dog-eared copy of Pride and Prejudice, and she remembered him laughing without fail every time she tried to compare him to Mr. Darcy. But…didn't he know? God, she didn't want to bring it up. Hadn't she hurt him enough already?
But clearly he didn't know, or it had slipped his mind, because he shot her a wink and went back to rifling through his bag. She heard the distinct sound of a pill bottle rattling, and Will, looking triumphant, drew it out from his bag along with a bottle of water. She watched him, trying to seem as if she wasn't watching at all, but he immediately caught her eye and quirked an expectant eyebrow. Ah, yes…he'd asked her to take the window seat.
She didn't mind moving for him, she'd still do anything for him, and as he swallowed a little white pill and a gulp of water she gathered up her carry-on bag and her purse and slid over into the next seat. Her left hand was resting on the back of the seat in front, bracing herself as she leaned down to slide her bags under her seat, and Will dropped to sit beside her as she straightened up again. She saw his gaze flicker to the diamond ring around her finger.
His eyes went dark, just for an instant, and his easy grin faded a bit.
"Congratulations," he offered after another short moment, and his voice was still light and comfortable. Perhaps she'd only imagined the shadow that had passed across his features. "Read it in Time magazine."
"Thank you," she returned, and although she tried to keep her voice steady and strong, the words came out with a soft waver and she turned her attention to the window and the tarmac below rather than looking at him. She felt sick with both guilt and regret, as she did every time she allowed her thoughts to wander to him. She hadn't really given him a chance. She hadn't been fair to him. Yet now…now he was behaving as if none of it had ever happened. Perhaps he'd forgiven her?
Well, at least someone had. She certainly hadn't been able to forgive herself.
She forced a smile and turned back to him as quickly as she could manage it, not wanting to raise suspicion about her happiness in the situation. It was really a wasted effort, she knew; she could appear as unhappy as she liked and still be clear of questioning, because Will had far too much tact to be intrusive.
"Richard what's-his-face…. Lacey, isn't it? That self-made millionaire's son. The one with the book?"
"Richard Lacey, yes," she confirmed, a bit puzzled at Will's good-natured indifference. If it had been her hearing of his engagement, if he'd done to her what she'd done to him, she knew she couldn't have had so much self control.
"Thought so," he returned with a shrug, and twisted the cap from the pill bottle again. She watched with narrowed eyes for a moment, wondering what the hell he was doing, and when his fingers plunged into the bottle for another of the little chalky white pills she promptly snatched the whole bottle away before he could get at a second one. Her fingers brushed his, just for a second; his hands were cold and damp with sweat.
"For God's sake, Will, stop!" she admonished in a low whisper. Concern and worry, emotions she hadn't spared on anyone in quite a while, promptly tied her stomach in knots. Was it her fault? Had news of her engagement driven him to it? "What are these?"
Not giving him time to answer, she dropped her eyes to the label and scanned it quickly. Prescription motion sickness pills, with the label suggesting one every four hours. She felt the color rising in her cheeks, and couldn't quite manage to wrench her eyes back up to meet his.
She remembered now, and felt ridiculous to have flattered herself with thinking the pills were because of her. He didn't fly very well, he never had, and he'd swallow pills worse than any junkie when he was confined to an airplane. He didn't like the window seat, either. She'd forgotten small details like those, it had been so long since she'd last spoken to him.
"May I have them back now, Mother?" he inquired almost innocently, although she caught the mocking laughter behind his tone. "With any luck--"
"--you'll be out before takeoff," she finished for him, having heard the phrase so many times over the course of their relationship that now she couldn't understand how she'd ever forgotten it. She dragged her eyes up to meet his at last. "And no, you may not have them back. I'm not carrying you off of another airplane, William Turner."
She hardly knew what she was doing, or when or how it had happened. It felt the same. It felt exactly the same to be in his company now as it had all those months ago. She didn't have to think before she spoke, or worry about offending him, or keep her tone measured. They had been lovers, true enough, but before that they had been friends. And during their relationship he had been her very best friend.
He had caught her off guard. Appeared out of nowhere and interrupted what was supposed to be a routine and boring international flight. She didn't think she minded so much that she was trapped at the window.
So many things were coming back to her now, memories she'd pushed away, that everything was beginning to run together. The one that stuck out the most, however, was the one she'd just used to bait Will. She could recall three sleeping pills chased with a glass of red wine, the flight leaving early and arriving far ahead of schedule, the nice Australian man who had offered to bring their carry-on bags, and Will barely-conscious with one arm draped heavily around her shoulders as she coaxed him into walking.
She couldn't help it; she laughed aloud at the memory, laughed outright at Will, and didn't have the slightest fear of an explosion of temper. She could never laugh at Richard. She could never be easy with him like she'd been with Will. Immediately, she felt guilty for comparing the two; Richard was a wonderful man, and their marriage would be perfect. Her father approved, Richard's family approved, New York and European society approved….
"Oh, come off it," Will promptly shot back, although he was chuckling as well, a deep reassuring sound that immediately pulled her back to the present moment. "I only leaned on your arm a bit."
He shot her a conspiratorial wink and made a grab for the bottle, but she plunged the pills into her bag almost without thinking. Another sharp stab of guilt twisted her stomach, and this time it had nothing to do with her fiancé. What had she done? What had she been thinking then? Will was absolutely…. No way out now; she had a ring on her finger. She had been so sure of herself. And there had been reasons, so many important reasons. Important three years ago, perhaps. Still important?
It wasn't fair. Will couldn't just show up out of nowhere and turn her confidence into doubt.
She loved Richard. She would never have accepted his proposal if she didn't love him.
Repeating those two declarations over and over again in the back of her mind, she turned her attention back to Will. He had his bag pulled into his lap, tucking plane tickets and claim tickets and receipts into a black leather-bound planner. He seemed a bit uncomfortable now, slightly nervous.
She checked her watch and held her tongue; five minutes until their scheduled takeoff, she was fairly certain he couldn't feel the effects of his pills, and she'd kept a second one from him. With good reason, too; he'd be fine with the recommended dose, if he kept himself calm and distracted.
Three years ago she would have offered some kind of subtle comfort, taken his hand or drew him into a whispered conversation to hold his attention. She couldn't now. It wouldn't do any good to lead him on that way, and truly, she'd hurt him enough. Although she suspected that it would be herself she was leading on, and not him. He seemed to have accepted their circumstances quite well.
She tried for a moment to read again, since Will had fallen silent and didn't seem to have the slightest inclination to talk, but once she'd read the same passage six times without understanding she gave up. She watched him, instead. He wouldn't mind, she knew; if it was something he wanted to keep private, he would never bring it out in plain view with her sitting so close.
She even went so far as to lean against the armrest and crane her neck to get a better look. He shot her a little grin, good-natured and genuine, then continued to organize his planner.
First she saw a plane ticket; he had a connection to catch once their flight from Seattle/Tacoma International landed in Washington D.C. A connection to Heathrow in London; she had an identical ticket in her purse. Then she caught sight of a stack of receipts; Starbucks, Borders, innumerable others, all credit card charges. Then three identical claims receipts, as if he were shipping things internationally. Those were familiar as well; she had just sent a number of things from their apartment over to London, although Richard had likely picked everything up by now. That was the entire point of her going, to get everything straightened out in their new flat and take her place in London; Richard had been there for three weeks already, finalizing agreements and leaving her behind to wrap things up in L.A.
It didn't bother her, really. It wasn't the first time he'd traveled without her, and it likely wouldn't be the last. It didn't make any difference that she'd only heard from him twice since then.
"Were you living in Seattle?" she asked after a moment, breaking the surprisingly comfortable silence that had fallen between them. Judging from the receipts and plane tickets, she guessed that he was moving to London as well. She wondered fleetingly if it would make things complicated and uncomfortable, but almost immediately pushed the consideration away.
It still felt strange to be in his company again, closer than they'd been since that day three years ago in his New York apartment, but he wasn't awkward or cold toward her and in turn it put her at ease. But she'd always felt that way around him.
"For the past couple of years, yeah," he confirmed. "I've had a job offer in London, now." He'd answered willingly enough, so perhaps he wasn't so distracted by the plane's looming takeoff that he didn't want to hold a conversation.
She couldn't bring herself to ask what had made him relocate to the other side of the country, afraid his reason would be because of the things she'd said and how terribly she'd behaved toward him. Nor could she find the nerve to ask if he loved someone, or was engaged. She settled instead for a not-so-subtle inquiry, hoping he'd appease her curiosity without being prompted.
"Will you miss it?"
She expected him to launch into an explanation of his perfect girlfriend who would be waiting for him to visit, or perhaps who was waiting for him already in London, or to blame her for driving him across the country. She wasn't prepared for his reply at all.
"I'll miss the ferry boats."
She thought for a fleeting moment that he was joking. She had been too forward and he didn't want to discuss his personal life. But his words had been entirely sincere, and his eyes were serious although bright with his smile, and she'd known him too well and too long to be deceived. He was telling the truth, and she was damned if she could figure him out.
"I have a thing for ferry boats," he offered by way of explanation, and she realized a moment too late that he'd caught her puzzled expression. His ever-present smile had turned into more of a smirk, and now she knew for certain that she'd been played. Although what he was playing at, she couldn't work out. Ferry boat had to be code for something else.
"What about you?" he prompted, and slid down a bit deeper in his seat with a barely-stifled yawn. "Are you living in Seattle as well?"
"Los Angeles," she replied carefully, not wanting to bring up Richard and their impending marriage. As for why she didn't want it mentioned…well, she couldn't work that bit out. "I'm off to London now, too. I only came up to Seattle to say goodbye to a few close friends."
One close friend; Anamaria. And that was only to leave her Dalmatian puppy in safe hands; Richard refused to have animals in the new flat, and he'd certainly never been fond of Domino. It was all a bit unfair, really. And Will loved dogs, although she wasn't sure what that had to do with anything.
It was her turn for a question now, but he didn't seem to be expecting anything more from her. His eyes were closed, and he was leaning back quite comfortably in his seat. She decided to give it a shot anyway, although she had to grope for something that wasn't too demanding and personal, despite wanting to know everything that had happened since last she saw him.
"You're still working in advertising?" she asked at last, latching on to the small detail he'd given her before, of a new job in London.
His reply was barely above a whisper, and his breathing had evened out a bit.
No answer at all this time. She'd lost him, and was more than a little disappointed over it. She shouldn't feel disappointed.
Stubbornly, she wrenched her eyes away from him and looked to her watch instead. Six o'clock, far too early to be dressed and on an airplane, and the flight was late, as usual. They were supposed to be in the air now.
She tried her book again, but still couldn't concentrate, although now it wasn't Will drawing her attention. This time it was a tiny, nagging worry in the back of her mind. She had a forty-five minute layover in Washington before her London flight. She couldn't miss it. But if they didn't get in the air soon….
The minutes stretched into a quarter-hour, then a half-hour, then they'd been sitting on the tarmac for exactly forty-five minutes and people were complaining and harassing the stewardesses. She didn't bother catching the reason for the delay; it didn't matter. She was far too occupied holding out hope that the engines would suddenly roar into life. There was always the chance that her London flight was delayed as well, and if they got moving in the next few moments she could still make it….
Then it had been a solid hour and she resigned herself to the unpleasant call she'd have to make, telling Richard she'd missed her connection. No use worrying over it anymore; she was too late to will the plane into moving.
It became a bit easier to relax after that, and she was finally able to focus on her book. She reached the end and started back at the beginning, keeping a steady pace until at last the captain came over the speakers in a garbled mumble and the seatbelt sign flicked on. She glanced at her watch again; a two hour delay, almost exactly.
Will was still unconscious beside her, looking as if he'd never move again, but she'd been on enough flights with him to know not to be alarmed. She was tempted to have a nap as well, once they were off the ground.
She could hear the engines now, and the plane jolted a tiny bit. Without thinking, drawing up a long-dead habit, she leaned across Will and fastened his seatbelt. She paused when her wrist pressed against his chest, and it was then that she realized what she had been doing, after she'd felt the rock-hard abs beneath his worn Oxford shirt.
It felt wrong, and it hurt, and she swallowed hard to stop the burning of tears in her throat. It was only coincidence that they'd ended up beside each other, that their seats had been together. A cruel, painful coincidence. But at the same time, it felt right; as much as it hurt, she felt a strange contentment as well.
She drew back from him and fastened her own seatbelt as the plane began to inch forward. He'd always hated that part the most, waiting to slowly gather speed with the mounting tension of the takeoff. She couldn't stop now; it was like an instinct. A sick, cruel, painful, tormenting instinct.
His head was turned away from her, toward the aisle, and she leaned over once more, this time sliding her hand under his cheek and gently turning his head back to face her. She traced his jaw with trembling fingers, brushed away a stray bit of hair from his eyes.
Sometimes he had answered, occasionally he had already been too deeply asleep to hear her, and this time he was somewhere in between. His eyelashes fluttered, as if he would open his eyes, and she fancied she heard a low growl deep in his throat.
"Will, we're taking off now," she tried again, hoping selfishly for a response. Any response at all. She was tired of being alone. He showed no further signs of having heard her, and she settled instead for raising the armrest between them and pulling his hand into her lap, lacing their fingers, and brushing his cheek with her thumb before settling back in her seat.
It felt right, damn it. She'd know then what she'd wanted. And she'd thought then that she knew what she needed. Two different things in her mind. But in truth?
Her thoughts raced as the plane gathered speed, and as it pulled up she turned to the window to watch the ground drop away. The swooping sensation in her stomach paired with the view outside brought a small smile to her lips, despite her erratic thoughts. Will had always hated the window seat, and she'd always loved it. Complete opposites.
That small realization didn't ease her confusion and uncertainty; if anything it made her thoughts more disordered, and caused her more disquiet than before. The plane leveled out then, and once the lighted seatbelt indicator flickered off she reached across again to unfasten Will's. She forced herself to recall her fiancé, kept her hands deliberately away from Will's toned stomach, and once he was free she laid his hand gently back on the seat beside him. She didn't go as far as putting the armrest back between them, however.
It grew relatively quiet, as most of the other passengers became absorbed in movies or music, and she was free to watch the little patchwork of fields and suburban communities pass below the plane and try to puzzle out what the hell Will had meant with the ferry boat comments. She stared first at the ground and then at the clouds, waited what felt like hours for it come to her, until at last she remembered.
He'd kissed her once, on a ferry boat, in New York. They'd been going out to see the Statue of Liberty, and it had been absolutely freezing and he'd wrapped her in his black wool coat. Almost with longing she remembered the feel of the sleek material under her fingers, expensive and thick, recalled how his scent was all around her, could almost taste the frigid autumn air. It had started to snow, uncharacteristically heavily for the end of October, and he'd mumbled something in her ear and spun her around and kissed her.
It hadn't been their first kiss, or their last kiss, and it hadn't been a particularly special occasion. It wasn't romantic in the least. It had been an impulsive outing, she recalled, because Will had grown bored with their walk in Central Park. Still, she didn't know how she could possibly have forgotten; the day hadn't been especially romantic or life-changing, but it had certainly been perfect.
There was an anxiety rising in her chest as she pushed away the now-painful memory and thought instead of what Richard would say when she made the phone call and told him she'd missed her connection. Or rather how much he'd shout and swear at her. He was supposed to meet her at Heathrow, but a late flight would mean him having to rearrange his entire schedule. And he wouldn't be happy.
There was also an unfamiliar ache, something unrelated to nerves. She knew now, allowed herself at last to realize it and admit it, that she'd made a very big mistake three years ago. She had a thing for ferry boats, too.
...to be continued...