The chill of outside air seeping through the jetway caused Kate Wilson’s already petrified body to tense up more. She did not want to get on the plane.
A sunny but cold morning, as cold as Phoenix could be in January, only reminded her that going home was a necessity. She wanted, and needed, an honest winter. As an added bonus, winter was the best time to fly since turbulence spiked more so in the spring and summer months. Kate had learned this during her extensive research on the ramifications of flying for those with anxiety.
Kate paused and took a deep breath before stepping from the jetway onto the plane. The gap resembled a drawbridge, except below she didn’t see pavement, but a possible way out. Her mind raced. Does anyone else ever try to shove their foot into the gap and push it apart in order to squirm down onto the tarmac below? Or maybe they try to open the side door leading to the portable stairs which only employees use.
Caught up in her thoughts, Kate’s ebony boot, the right one, clipped the lip of the plane’s threshold throwing her midair.
A pilot and nearby flight attendant reached out in horror as Kate went down, face first. Her eyes just inches from their polished dress shoes. Her InStyle magazine went right, her US Weekly went left. Her unzipped faux leather purse landed in first-class while its contents rolled into coach. The mauve scarf now attached Kate to her carry-on bag.
“Oh, my dear!” a female flight attendant exclaimed. An arm locked around Kate, hoisting her to a standing position once again. Shaken from the mishap, she pushed her copper curls off her face.
“Good thing you aren’t flying this winged beast today, ma’am,” the pilot said, trying to make light of the situation.
Kate smiled, grateful that she was now perpendicular with the plane and once again on her feet. Yet her scarf remained caught on the carry-on bag. She wrestled the scarf free, as her carry-on thumped onto the plane’s floor. Kate’s face went as red as the anti-collision lights on the plane’s wingtips.
Behind her, there was complete silence. She stood, convinced that outside the gate the entire airport stood still, waiting to see what would happen next.
The pilot handed Kate one of her magazines. An attendant had fetched her purse and its contents.
“Are you okay, dear? Would you like someone to check you out?” The attendant held Kate’s purse as though it were her own.
Glancing down, she saw that her jeans were not ripped, but her knees burned. She wiggled her toes in her boots, and they felt fine. Her long-sleeve, charcoal-gray sweater protected her elbows from anything worse than being sore.
“I think I’m okay,” Kate murmured as she reached for her purse. She picked up her carry-on, smiled, and said, “Embarrassed, but okay, thank you.” She turned around to the line behind her. “However, I’m afraid I don’t know what happened to my ticket. I had it in my hand.”
The pilot, the two flight attendants, and Kate searched the floor, making sure they weren’t stepping on it. A little white piece of paper peeked out from behind where the pilot stood in front of the lavatory door.
“I think my ticket is there.” Kate pointed.
The pilot popped open the lavatory door to confirm Kate’s suspicion. Her face scrunched. Why am I even getting on this flying gasoline-filled death trap in the first place? Kate bent down to pick up her ticket at the same time as the pilot. Their heads smacked.
The ticket remained on the lavatory floor as they rubbed the pain from their foreheads.
“Here.” The pilot handed Kate her ticket.
“Thank you.” Kate took the ticket, her bag, and her diminished pride and headed down the aisle to locate her seat.
“Just make it to your seat and sit down,” Kate mumbled to herself. This day cannot get any worse.
Locating seat 13A, she stood on her tiptoes and reached up to place her carry-on into the overhead compartment. However, Kate could not get the bag over the compartment lip. In addition, the pain from the fall started to creep into her toes and knees.
“Let me help you,” a lanky, travel-chic woman said from behind her.
Kate spun around, allowing the bag to nearly fall onto her head.
“I saw what happened when you got on the plane,” the woman whispered. “You need all the support you can get.”
The travel-chic woman winked, snatched Kate’s bag from her hands, and placed it without any effort into the compartment.
Kate produced a half-smile and said, “Thank you.”
In a meek attempt to hide as quickly as possible, Kate squeezed past the seats’ edges and sat. Even without anyone else sitting in the seats, it remained a challenge to move in such a cramped space.
Kate rubbed the spot on her forehead, which felt as though it sprouted a small bump. The sunlight bounced off the airport’s windows as she gazed out. She prayed the actual flight would be far less of a mess than trying to get on the plane. Closing her eyes, Kate ran through her checklist. Dramamine, check. Motion sickness wristbands, check. Lavender oil, check. Puke bag in the seat pocket. Kate leaned forward and searched the seatback. Check. Safety instruction manual, check. Deep breath and counting, check. Plus, I hope I don’t have a seatmate who (a) got sick, (b) gets sick, and/or (c) skipped a shower in the last day.
As the plane filled up, Kate lucked out. Her seatmates consisted of a businessman who was more worried about when he could use his laptop and headphones than flying, and a woman focused on when she could get a glass of wine and read on her tablet.
The air pressure fluctuated and hummed in the cabin as they taxied out onto the runway. Kate took deep breaths and went over her mantra in her head. Remember, a real winter. Maybe she could even dig her skis out of her parents’ garage. This would be a time to clear her head and figure out her unhappiness. She checked to make sure her wristbands were in the correct spots and held her scarf to her nose, breathing in the lavender.
“You can do this,” she muttered as the plane shook with the roar of the engines gaining power. Kate closed her eyes. The plane lurched forward, pushing her firmly into the seat. She tightened the seat belt strap as the front wheel lifted off the ground. The back two were still on the runway. The plane’s nose pointed toward the sky. This was one of Kate’s favorite moments of flight. In that moment Kate was reminded of how amazing a plane can be, and how light her body could feel. She felt as though her body took a breath of freedom in that moment of weightlessness.
But then, the back two wheels came off the ground, and Kate’s stomach dropped. Her favorite moment was over. Put the wheels back down! Kate wanted to scream at the pilot. Noticing the choppiness of her breathing, she returned to her mantra. The last thing she needed was to have a panic attack at thirty-five-thousand feet.
The plane continued to climb, putting pressure on her ears. Kate attempted to fake yawn, encouraging them to pop, but without any success.
“Here,” the businessman seatmate said, and he held out a stick of gum. “I saw you trying to fake yawn. Try this, it works better.” The businessman made eye contact for half a second, before returning his eyes to the seatback in front of him.
“Thank you,” Kate said. She smiled and took the gum.
She folded the spearmint gum into her mouth and shoved the wrapper into the seat pocket. The plane began to level off, as Kate peered out the window at the brown landscape below. It had been an extra dry summer, without much monsoon rain, which set fall and winter up to fail. A few areas of green were scattered here and there. December had seen some rain, but Phoenix definitely needed the monsoon storms to bring enough moisture to make it through the dry spells. Seeing Arizona from above reminded Kate of why she still loved Washington. The state’s lush green landscape and snow-capped mountains often remained throughout the summer months.
The flight attendant came by with the beverage cart as Kate flipped through her glossy magazine pages. She ordered a glass of red wine. Even with all her checklist items checked, she wanted to be anywhere but here.
“Cheers,” Kate’s other seatmate said, reaching over the businessman to tap their plastic glasses together. Despite their toast, he didn’t lose focus on his electronic spreadsheet.
The wine and the Dramamine began making Kate drowsy. She dozed until the pilot’s voice broke through the humming of the pressurized plane.
“We are beginning our final descent into Seattle. For those of you who are visiting, welcome. For those of you coming home, welcome back. Flight attendants, prepare for landing.”
While most people find landing to be the worst part of a flight, Kate found it to be the only other thing she liked about flying. She listened for the snap of the landing gear like a child waiting to hear Santa on the roof.
The plane dipped to the left as they circled around the Space Needle. Rain skimmed across the window. It was as though the sky were crying tears of joy along with Kate. The gray clouds were so thick that it was impossible to tell where one cloud ended and the next one began. Evergreens popped into view as though they were reaching up, trying to touch the plane’s belly. The aircraft lined up with the runway as the houses below came into view. They appeared like a child’s playset, miniature and without the flaws of life. Kate envisioned a tiny toddler’s hand coming in and picking up the plane; spinning them around the room before dropping them onto the carpet.
The wheels touched down on the rain-soaked runway and the brakes worked hard to slow them. Kate yanked her seat belt tighter for safety. Once, as a child, her seat belt had not been tight enough, and she went shooting forward. The seat belt caught under her arms as her legs flailed around, soon choking her.
The brakes finally took hold, grabbing the runway with force. Then the plane bounced softly forward as it taxied toward the gate. The dampness of the air crept down the aisle from the now open door. Passengers hurried to get their bags and disembark. Kate remained seated, staring out at the rain. She hated all the shoving and bumping just to get somewhere one minute faster.
When the last passenger exited the aisle, Kate stood and reached for her carry-on. Forgetting she didn’t put it up there, she now realized she could not get it down.
The flight attendants were busy thanking and saying goodbye to the remaining passengers, so Kate placed her left boot on the armrest of the seat and her right boot on the seat. Hoisting herself up, she grabbed the compartment edge. Letting go with her left hand, she snatched the bag, yanking it toward the edge. In an attempt to climb down and take the carry-on with her, Kate’s boots tangled around the seat arm. Trying to fall forward into the row, she braced herself as she slid awkwardly into the aisle seat.
Getting to her feet, she rubbed the side of her hip. At least her carry-on was on the floor now where she could reach it. Taking a deep breath, Kate headed toward the front of the plane.
“Are you okay?” a flight attendant asked.
Of course, the attendants saw her latest mishap. Kate rubbed at the pain.
“I’m fine,” Kate said. “Have a wonderful day.”
“You too, dear,” the flight attendant replied.
As Kate turned back to give her a smile, she tripped over the airplane door gap again. She stumbled forward, but was able to catch herself this time. Kate straightened her scarf and readjusted her sweater.
With a fake smile plastered across her face, she headed downstairs to baggage claim with her head held high, regardless of the giggles she heard from behind her.
If you enjoyed chapter one, be sure to get the book or ebook and meet Oxnard and find out what happens!