*** Beth ***
When the taxi arrived at the Explorer's Express Terminal, Ray attacked her, pouncing from out of nowhere.
"Where have you been? I've been waiting for nearly an hour! Guess who I saw already?" Ray gushed before Beth could even pay the taxi driver and get her luggage out of the trunk.
"What are you doing here?" she asked in return. "Aren't you supposed to be at school?"
"No, we got the day off," Ray said, grabbing hold of her rolling suitcase with one hand and slurping on a to-go cup of coffee from the other.
Beth lifted her eyebrows at her.
"Oh, all right. I'm sick. I called the office with Mom's cell phone and told them I had an infectious skin rash."
"Wonderful. Where's the line to check in at?"
"Right this way," Ray said.
They passed through the sliding doors and found Russell reading a newspaper at the end of the line.
"Beth, good morning," he said. He folded the paper and reached out a hand to Beth. She took it for a hand-shake, not sure if that was what he intended. "Good morning," he repeated, smiling. He was all business: suit, tie, pale blue cotton shirt and shined shoes. Only his wide smile betrayed that the day was not a normal one.
She stood there mouth open with his strong warm hand wrapped around hers, trying to conjure up a witty, savvy, surprisingly original way of saying good morning in return, but all she could do was pump her hand up and down.
"Actually, I wanted to show you to the line and I need to give you this," Russell said. He extracted his hand to remove the tickets from his briefcase. "We have to go together to make sure our seats are next to one another."
"Ah, that's great. Let's get in line, then. Wonderful."
"Hi, I'm Rachel, Beth's little sister," Ray announced. "Our mom couldn't make it this morning, so I came to see her off. Could I just get a quick picture of you two, for Mom, of course. Smile!" Ray held her phone up and snapped a picture. "Perfect. She'll love it. Beth, I need to say goodbye privately, over here." Ray pulled Beth to the side.
"Beth, he is amazing. I mean he is at least twice my age, but when I get old, oh, please let me go on vacation with someone as hot as he is!" she whispered, throwing her arms around her sister. "And I almost forgot. You need this. Put these in your purse in case you can't make it until you reach the hotel, and you want to join the mile high club."
Beth watched, shocked as Ray took her purse and put a small package of condoms into the inner pocket.
"What is that? What are you talking about?" Beth asked, glancing over her shoulder to see if Russell had noticed. His face was safely buried in the newspaper, thankfully.
"You know what these are for, don't you?"
"Of course I do. But you are seventeen. You told me you're still a virgin. You are still a virgin, aren't you?"
"Yes, I'm still a virgin. Mom's giving me a thousand dollars if I stay that way until after graduation. I picked these up for you because I know you never plan ahead." She grinned and waggled her eyebrows. "You might have to drag him into the restroom during the flight, is all I'm saying."
"Ray," she hissed. Then she sucked in her breath. "Since when is she giving you a thousand dollars? She never offered to give me a thousand dollars. And what do you mean drag him into the restroom? He's a human being, not some sexual object."
"Five condoms should get you through the plane flight; use them wisely, use them well and have fun. Take your hair out of the bun and leave it loose pronto. Trust me. Have a safe trip; I love you so much!" Ray said, hugging her tightly again.
Before Beth could protest, her younger sister was skipping off waving and blowing kisses on her way out of the airport. Beth turned to Russell, who was still engrossed in the day's headlines. She took a deep breath for courage. She crossed the tiles and took her suitcase, and asked him if he was ready.
"I am. Let's go," he said with a half-smile. The initial warmth in his smile was already cooling and he was slowly returning to the impersonal, distant coworker she knew from the office. He didn't say anything else that was not work related for the next two hours. Her heart sank a little in her chest. It was going to be a long week.
Shortly after 11:00, they were filing their way down the tight aisle to their seats, Beth's heavy carry-on with her photography equipment bumping her heels as she walked. They passed the first and business class, and were in the economy class of a two, three, two configuration seating when they reached their places. Russell asked in a low voice if she would prefer sitting next to the window instead at the aisle. Being this close to him was making her nervous and she decided to blame the woodsy smell of his cologne for keeping her brain from functioning properly.
"No, the aisle is fine, thanks," said Beth. She was tugging the handles of her carry-on bag to lift it into the bin, when Russell reached over her and took it from her hands.
"Allow me," he whispered and slid his own bag in next to hers. He stepped in front to sit down. "It mustn't be easy, carting your camera around everywhere."
"Two cameras, actually. Plus my laptop is in there, and some other equipment." Her body was starting to react strangely to his close presence. If she was not careful, she would lose control completely and try to do something she would regret. Unless he agreed to whatever it was she wanted to do. Then she might not regret it at all. She busied herself with her seat belt, pulling the strap firmly. It was really going to be a long, long week.
"Excuse me, I have to put this under here," he said, bending forward to put his briefcase under the seat.
And—freeze frame, Beth whispered to the camera inside her mind. It was a moment she wanted to keep, a moment worth revisiting time and time again. Russell was turned slightly sideways and leaning forward, his head almost resting on her knee and he was looking up at her with his wide smile that made his eyes crinkle deliciously. His unruly brown hair was a touch too long and its thick waves fell loose to the side and grazed her skin.
Yes, she thought, rest your head a while on my lap. I'll feed you strawberries and whipped cream. There was a question in his chocolate colored eyes, and she noticed his lips were moving. He was speaking to her, asking her something.
*** to be continued! Hit the star if you are having fun! ***
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Two Tickets to ParadiseRomance
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