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Hot Mess. That was the first thing that came to his mind. Like one of those psychological tests where you are supposed to say the initial thing that pops into your head when the doctor shows you a picture. The woman walking toward his gate tried to brush her long mahogany hair out of her face but lost her footing and tripped. She managed to catch herself only to lose her shoe in the process. She huffed and stopped, causing a chain reaction behind her as passengers tried to stop mid-step to avoid colliding with her. She was oblivious to the carnage she was creating. Instead, she walked off to the side and sat down on an empty chair trying to get her shoe back on. Her unruly hair kept falling in her face. She pulled a hair tie from her sweatshirt’s pocket and went to put it on and the thing snapped in her hand. She cursed under her breath and he had to stifle a laugh. She looked like a clumsy dark-haired version of Tinkerbell, small and feisty.
It was like a train wreck. He couldn't take his eyes away from her. She wasn't dressed in business attire but instead wore black leggings that looked like what he’d seen women wear to the gym. She had on an oversized hoodie that was at least two sizes too big.
“Welcome to flight seven-fifty-two nonstop to Baltimore. We’ll begin boarding in just a few minutes.”
The droning on of the airline attendant broke his gaze and when he looked back over she was gone. He loved people watching, always had. He had found since taking this job that the airport was excellent for this activity. He typically used the owner’s private jet as he was a close friend, but Derek had taken it on a business trip, so he was relegated to first-class flying instead. At the airport, most people just kept their heads down, playing with their electronic devices, but he never did. Maybe it was his cop grandfather or maybe he was just too curious, but either way, he always paid attention.
Sometimes people would spot him, and he’d be forced to take a selfie or sign an autograph. He’d played professional baseball for five years until an injury yanked him away from the one thing he loved. The owner of the team took pity on him and made him a scout for the organization. Derek Hathaway was one of the most involved owners in the league. He enjoyed being in the weeds, much to his general manager’s dismay. Amery did have the degree and demeanor for it, but he knew Derek had done it out of sympathy.
He picked up his bag and rolled his carry-on toward the gate. He knew he’d be boarding first. He waited for the cue from the attendant that first-class passengers were welcome to board, and he made his way toward her to scan his phone and board. He walked briskly down the corridor to the plane and greeted the flight attendant as he placed his carry-on in the overhead compartment. He was about to turn to sit when he was suddenly pushed from behind as someone went flying into him. He turned just in time to catch the person and as his eyes scanned down; he suddenly found himself face-to-face with the hot mess woman. Her eyes were wide as she looked up at him.
“Oh my God! I’m so sorry!” she exclaimed as she got her footing.
“That's quite alright,” he said, as he stepped back into his row still holding her arm. She was quite beautiful up close. Her eyes were almost violet in color and her skin was tan and flawless. She wore no makeup but had naturally beautiful lips and eyes. Her high cheekbones were blushed with a soft pink. She smelled of roses. He couldn’t help inhaling as he lingered slightly too close for slightly too long before letting her go.
She looked nervously from him to the seat numbers along the overhead compartments.
“Uh, I think that's my seat,” she muttered, pointing to the window seat next to him. He wanted to laugh out loud but bit his tongue as he moved aside to let her take the seat.
He stored his bag and then checked his emails one last time, trying to ignore the flutter of activity next to him. After a minute, he could no longer keep his gaze away. He turned to see her trying to pull something from her bag while pushing it under the seat in front of her. She gave one final tug and a travel pillow came flying out as she went flying into her seat. She was a disaster, a very cute, good-smelling disaster.
It took her a moment to realize she was being watched. She turned toward him.
“Sorry,” she mumbled as she placed the u-shaped pillow around her neck and laid a book on her lap. “I’m a bit of a mess today,” she continued with a shrug.
“That’s alright. We all have those days,” he offered in an attempt to put her at ease. It was a bit of a stretch, but certainly, some people might have days like hers. He extended his hand to her.
“Amery Walsh,” he said.
She gave him a shy smile. “Lyla Perkins,” she said as she shook his hand.
Her hand was soft and warm in his and just like the rest of her, it was petite.
“Nice to meet you, Lyla,” he said. He wanted to say more but the flight attendant came by asking if they wanted drinks. Lyla asked for a red wine and he asked for a whiskey.
When he glanced over at her again, Lyla was reading her book, a mystery novel, if he could guess. He pulled out his tablet and began to work on his notes. He’d met with three potential players. They’d all end up on a minor league team, but two had real potential, one might even get to go straight onto a major league team if the kid worked a little harder.
The flight attendant brought them their drinks and he passed the red wine to Lyla, their fingers touching briefly as she grasped it in her hand. She didn’t make eye contact but kept on reading. She drank her wine quickly. The attendant was back collecting trash before take-off when he noticed Lyla had passed out and her book was leaning against her precariously. He placed the bookmark back in it and set it on her lap before closing her seatback tray. He closed his own and kept typing, setting his iPad on his thighs.
The drink began to take affect the second they were in the air. Finally, tired enough, he was able to fall asleep for a few hours. He woke as the sun was just beginning to come up. Lyla was still fast asleep. She looked utterly adorable, curled into a tight ball. Her head leaned against his shoulder. Her book had fallen during the night and was sprawled out on the floor next to her sneakers, which she must have kicked off at some point. She looked more like a little kid than a grown woman with the giant hoodie that practically swallowed her up so much so that he was unsure what her body looked like beneath it.
She woke with a start. She’d caught the red-eye from LA to Baltimore and from the looks of it, the sun wasn’t up yet. She stared at the sky that was just beginning to show the faintest hint of dawn on the horizon. She glanced down and saw her book in her lap, the bookmark lodged in between the pages. She must have dozed off after take-off and clearly before the in-flight food service. She was hungry, but food would have to wait a bit longer.
“Hungry?” a voice to her right asked.
She turned to Amery. He motioned to his tray which held a plate of some type of breakfast with fruit and a croissant. It looked delicious. Before she could answer, Amery, pulled down her tray table and set the plate down.
“I figured you might be hungry, so I had the stewardess bring me an extra plate for you,” he explained.
“I guess I slept right through breakfast,” she said as she pulled back the seal on the small cup of orange juice and took a sip. It didn’t taste half-bad.
Her day had been a bad one. OK, it was probably going in the record books. She had always, always been prone to disasters. It was like a disease that followed her around constantly. She had been sent to LA the week before as part of her first assignment with her first real job. She’d spent endless hours prepping for the photo shoot. She was to assist the head photographer in photographing several celebrities for the next issue of Look and See Magazine. She really wanted to work in PR, but this job would pay the bills until she could figure out a way to segue to work in PR or make her PR and marketing blog a career. The magazine worked out of several offices and somehow, she got stuck in the smallest in Washington D.C. Apparently, a lot of celebrities lived around D.C., and obviously, there were the frequent White House galas and state dinners and whatnot that they wanted to photograph. Matthew, the head photographer, was a nice enough guy, albeit a bit bossy and self-absorbed, but she could manage.
Yesterday had been the last day of shooting and she had royally fucked up everything. She forgot to tell the caterer to arrive early as Matthew requested. So, he had no breakfast before the shoot and wasn’t pleased. Albeit, he had completely changed the times for the shoot two hours after they had wrapped the day before, and so she was scrambling trying to rearrange schedules for their last day. She then tripped over a cord on the way to call said caterer and took down one of the cameras that had been set up earlier. It broke. Matthew went ballistic and sent her to fetch another one. Every store was sold out of this camera, and she ended up calling in a favor to get one for the shoot. Ugh, the favor…she didn’t even want to think of going on a date with that creepy guy from college that she was sure roofied the drinks of half a dozen of her sorority sisters at various parties over four years. Then, just when she thought the day couldn’t get any worse, Matthew sent her to pick up several ball gowns. The cab driver she used got lost, and she ended up being late to the store. The manager had already gone out to an early lunch. The sales lady had no idea where the gowns were and then brought out several she thought were right. They weren’t.
Matthew had canceled the shoot and stormed out of the building muttering to himself about inept assistants. She’d caught the first flight home; fairly certain she would be canned when she arrived back in D.C. She sighed as she ate a piece of fruit. She needed a job and she needed it fast.
“Penny for your thoughts?” Amery asked.
Shit, had she sighed out loud? She glanced over at him. His blue eyes intently bored into hers.
“Long day, that’s all,” she said in between bites.
He glanced at his watch. “Well, we have another ninety minutes, so spill it.”
She was a little taken aback by his forwardness. “Uh, well,” she started. Where to start? “I had a pretty shitty day at work yesterday, and I’m ninety percent, strike that, ninety-nine percent sure I’m going to be fired when I get home.”
“What do you do?” he asked.
“I work for a fashion magazine. I was in LA for a shoot and well, it didn’t go very well.”
“You’re a model?” he asked.
She nearly choked on her croissant, and he patted her back.
“Uh, no, definitely no,” she said, taking a sip of orange juice. “I’m an assistant to our head photographer.”
“Oh,” Amery said. “Do you like doing that?”
She shrugged. “I guess so.”
Amery laughed. “That doesn’t sound very convincing.”
She sighed and turned to him, knocking over her remaining orange juice in the process. “Oh shit!” she exclaimed as she started to mop up the mess on her tray table. Suddenly, Amery was handing her napkins. She looked over at him quizzically. He pointed to a stash of napkins in his seatback pocket.
“I figured it was better to be prepared,” he explained. She rolled her eyes. She must have seemed a total fucking mess to him.
“I’m not always so prone to accidents,” she said tersely, although deep down she knew that was a blatant lie.
Amery threw his hands up in a defeated gesture. “I didn’t mean to insult you,” he said.
“Sorry,” she mumbled. “I’m a little sensitive today.”
Amery put his finger up and the stewardess came over to him. “Two mimosas, please,” he said.
“Sure, Mr. Walsh,” she said politely and walked back to the galley.
She was back before he could speak again, as though mimosas were sitting around on standby for the passengers.
“Here, peace offering,” he said as he handed her a plastic champagne flute. “To your day vastly improving,” he added as he clinked glasses with her.
“Accepted,” she said as she took a sip of the mediocre drink.
He studied her for a few moments, and she stared back at him. His gaze was so intense, she had a hard time looking away from him until the captain spoke over the cabin intercom.
“We’ll be beginning our descent into Baltimore in about thirty minutes, folks. It’s currently seventy degrees at BWI and partly cloudy. The cabin crew will be coming around shortly to collect any trash you may have. We hope you’ve enjoyed your flight and we look forward to seeing you again soon. Have a great day, everyone,” she said.
Lyla downed the mimosa and handed her empty champagne flute back to the flight attendant.
“Well, that’s one way to start off the day right,” Amery laughed as he finished his.
“Cheers to that,” Lyla said as she stuffed her pillow back into her carry-on bag.
Lyla picked up her book and started to read again. Amery closed his notes on his tablet. She could feel the plane descending and knew they’d be landing shortly. She internally groaned at the thought of having to go to work in a few hours. She sighed again. She supposed she should just go in straight away and get it over with.
She placed her book in the pocket in front of her and looked out the window as the plane began to land. She could make out the Chesapeake Bay and Bay Bridge in the distance. A few minutes later the plane bumped as the tires hit the ground.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, Lyla,” Amery said as he turned on his phone and reached for his carry-on bag.
“Likewise,” Lyla replied, trying to remember his name, something with an “A.” Yeah, she was a mess.