Life, Love, and the Pursuits of Vindication

Chapter One

Two Words

The flight attendant approached him, smiling her fakest smile in an attempt to persuade him into some complementary peanuts. She stared at him questioningly when he didn't respond, grinning weirdly in her direction. He couldn't help himself. Danny had said those infamous two words to him before he left. Two words that always made him smile like a little boy, sound asleep with the possibility of a wet-dream floating in the near future. He couldn't contain himself.

Her glare didn't waver, running a hand in his face. "Sir? Sir?"

Rusty blinked several times, coming back into reality. "...I'm sorry?..."


"Oh." He refused, shaking his head. This wasn't like him at all. Those damn two words did something to him that he regretted. Oh, how he always regretted it. But oh, how he loved to regret it.

He realized that he hadn't even watched the pretty attendant walk away like he normally would. The taste of chocolate covered strawberries filled his mouth at the mere thought of those two words, and he immediately reached for the attendant bell, feeling a need for a stiff drink.

She returned to his side, the fake smile still in place. He ordered a scotch, the quickly retreated back to his thoughts.

A woman in the next isle over tried desperately to get his attention, continuously glancing in his direction in hope for the "Lead Away Stare". Rusty saw the maneuver. Hell, he perfected the "Lead Away Stare". It was a technique that was burned into his brain since he was old enough to reason that girl's didn't really have cooties. It's simple: drag a girl - or in this case, a person - in with a flirty graze of the eyes, enough to get the other party interested. Then, once a connection had been established and the bait has been taken, slowly look away and casually start to do something else, leading the target away from their doings and giving them an opportunity to talk to you. Rusty loved the technique, mostly because it gave him all the power even though the other person would think they were making the first move.

He loved seeing the technique in action, testing its faults and other possibilities. Finding it an amusing - and a possible distraction - he took the bait, but refused a follow up, staying in his seat and shuffling his shoes. She tried again, and again he foiled her advance. Frustrated, she rebounded by approaching him, herself. Rusty laughed to himself. The girl was a newbie to the "Lead Away Stare". The whole point was to retain control, giving the flirter the upper hand with the possibility of rejecting the target if things go south. Now, she was handing the power over to him with her approach. The chance of rejection just increased exponentially. Still, he allowed her advance.

She smiled sweetly at him, sitting the vacant seat next to him. Once she was already seated, she caught his eye and smoothly asked, "Is this seat taken?"

She must have been extremely new to this, making him second guess her age. At first glance, the laugh lines around her mouth gave her the appearance of forty. The sheer volume of her incredibly blonde hair made her look thirty. Her thin, petite body and endlessly long legs made her look twenty. But, her intense lack of game made her appear maybe eighteen, seventeen at the least, although he highly doubted that. In any case, there was no way he was fully going to agree to any of her plans for him. There was just no challenge.

"If I said 'no', would it matter?" Well, even though he wasn't going to progress with her, it was still quite a while until he reached his destination. Might as well have some fun.

She shook her head, making her blonde hair shift unnaturally, the hairsprayed mass fighting against the disturbance. "Funny," she commented, smoothing her skirt in an attempt to get him to look at her ridiculously long legs.

"What is?" he obliged to this part of her act.

"You're wearing some expensive clothing – and with style, might I add… but you don't seem uptight enough to be a business man, and not snobbish enough to be mooching off of mommy and daddy. So…" she was offering him the chance at offering his name.

Rusty met her half way. "David. David King."

"David. Well David, what do you do, then?"

"I'm in finance." If she only knew.

Her smile widened. Now, she thought he was rich. Great. She stretched out a hand, palm down. She was trying to regain her control, so he humored her. "Jenna White, actress."

He raised his eyebrows at her. "An actress headed away from California?"

"I have family on the east coast."

He nodded. That's why she had such bad game. She was probably usually the one getting hit on, not doing the hitting.

"So tell me about yourself, David. Where are you going?" Jenna leaned into her seat, planting her elbow and bringing a finger to the corner of her mouth.

Rusty was running out of ideas. He pretended not to hear, turning his head down towards his feet. She leaned closer, unfortunately knowing the wiser. Sure, she was so easy to give the power away but couldn't take a hint. Great.

About to create something so fabricated, so outrageously obvious that she would have to have known he was lying just to get her to walk away, a hand slipped into his and a pair of lips brushed against his cheek. "There you are, sweetie. I swear, I wouldn't be able to find my way out of a paper bag if you weren't with me."

He knew that voice, and the chocolate strawberries flooded his taste buds once again. He didn't have to look, nor did he want to. Not unless he was going to get sucked in. "Darling," he beamed, looking back towards his uneducated guest, "This is Jenna White. She's an actress." Rusty gave her hand a gentle squeeze of admiration and thanks, watching Jenna remove herself from the empty seat and return to her own. "So you've been here the whole time, Lily." It was more of a statement than a question.

She filled the seat next to him, grinning menacingly. "Watching you squirm," she kidded, lifting his chin so he had to look her square in the eye.

She was just as he remembered. Jet-black, bouncy coils of angel hair, pouring just over the tips of her shoulders as if pushing boundaries. Steely blue eyes, shooting icicles up and down his spine. Uncharacteristic pale skin stretched taunt across high cheek bones, hollowing her eyes just to accentuate the mystery. "Lily…"

"So, guess what…"

He raised a hand to her, ripping his eyes away. "Lily, the answer is no."

Lily's eyes grew big, innocence leaking out and filling the entire plane. "You don't know me anymore, Rusty. I wasn't going to ask you a question!"

"Yes, you were."

"Okay, so maybe you know me a little more than I expected. But, you don't know what I was going to ask. How can you go around making hasty decisions like that? You could be interested, after all."

"Fine, go ahead and ask. My answer is still going to be no." Rusty took his glass in his fist, pouring a mouthful down his throat. The scotch stung on the way down, but not as much as denying Lily. A couple years ago, it would have been near impossible to refute her. Sure, he would have gotten through the first "no", but he always used to cave after that. Now, he had the second down packed. Maybe a third, if he needed it. After that, he would be putty in her hands. He couldn't let her get that far. "Look, I'd love to help with whatever you need done, but I just can't. I'm supposed to be in Boston right now, finishing up the second part of a four part bank branch heist with these guys that paid me a whole shit load of dinero to help them carry it out. I bailed on them during part one because I was running a little late with something else. Then…"

"Because Reuben almost died!"

"… I bailed on them the first time."

Lily rolled her eyes, the purity sucked back into the sapphire portals. "People pay you to help them with jobs? How the hell did you get that gig and where can I sign up."

Rusty ignored her, tension rising now that he remembered why he regretted every meeting they've ever had. "Why are you here, Lily? Other than asking for my help."

She answered with a question of her own, "How did you know I was here?"

"Two words."

She nodded, hugging her knees to her chest and resting her chin on her crossed arms. "Ah, good ol' Dad's at it again, huh. Which two words was it this time? True Love?"

"Settle Down."

Lily smirked, shaking her head disapprovingly. "When is he going to understand that the concept of me and you just won't ever work?"

That was a blow below the belt. "If I remember correctly, it was you that decided that all on your own."

Silence broke between the two, and awkwardness enveloped what was an otherwise healthy moment. It was true, she had walked out on him. But what Danny didn't know – and what Rusty didn't know she knew - was that he was about to walk out on her. "All I remember was the fighting…" Lily sighed, breaking the silence.

Rusty held his peace.

"Look Rusty, it wasn't my idea to come to you for help. The truth is, I didn't want to. But I have to. I'm willing to beg you, if need be."

A knot was forming in the back of his neck, the tension beginning to store itself in a painful way. He rolled his neck, looking towards the ceiling. He was wrong, there was no third "no". He just didn't have it left in him.

"Did I mention that I'm willing to let you finish Part Two of whatever the hell you're doing. And it wouldn't be just me and you. Dad and his little crime syndicate, or whatever you call yourselves, are going to be heading up in a couple of days."

Nope, definitely no third. "Where is the job?"

"New York."