*** Beth ***
Beth stopped with the strawberries and cream (she was just about to pour warm syrup on his lips) and forced herself back into reality.
"I'm sorry?" she asked. She hadn't the foggiest clue what he had said.
"I asked if you fly often." He was sitting up again, the moment had passed.
"I try not to. It makes me rather nervous. The last big trip I went on was to Haiti for work and that was over two years ago."
"I always wanted to tell you that I especially admired the portraits you took of the children from the school. Several of them were quite impressive. Not that your still-life and garden photography isn't good, it is, but there was something...powerful in those portraits."
"I think it was the children themselves that made the photos powerful. They had messages to say, after having survived the earthquake back in 2010, and trying to learn in that tiny, under-equipped school. They didn't even have toilets, not to mention pencils or paper," Beth said. She felt the blood rushing to her cheeks as she spoke. Those portraits were by far her best work, her most precious creations and she had no idea that Russell had ever noticed them.
"I'm surprised you went. You weren't afraid?"
"I was with a good group, mostly guys and we had secure local contacts. So when Jerry asked me to go for a special edition on the renovated hotels, I said yes. My husb-my ex-husband who was my fiancé at the time said I shouldn't, but that was before....Well, at the time, I really wanted to go. What I wound up shooting the most pictures of were those gorgeous kids."
"It's fortunate you didn't let your ex stop you," Russell stated.
His eyes were staring into hers in a way she could only describe as overwhelming. As though he had let himself in and she had no choice but to give him a secret side of herself for him to hold.
"I agree," she said. The air in the cabin was icy cold, but Beth was having a difficult time breathing, as though it were close and stuffy. She pushed her shoulders back to ease the sudden tension there and open the airway to her lungs. The seats were so small that she could sense the heat from Russell's arm on her own, and she wondered how she would make it through the next eight hours to Honolulu.
"Nervous?" Russell asked. The engines were on and they were taxiing to the runway.
"You could say that."
"Do you get airsick?"
Thank goodness for small favors, no, she didn't ever get motion or airsickness. She shook her head. But she wasn't nervous; not yet, anyway. Just sitting too close to a man very unlike her soon-to-be ex-husband.
A man who admired her portrait photography.
She squeezed the armrests as the plane accelerated and the noise from the engine drowned out all other sounds. The nose tilted upwards, their speed increased and they were lifting off the ground, although Beth's stomach was falling as everything else went upwards. She didn't trust herself to speak for several minutes. She slowly grew aware that her arm was pressed against Russell's. She was hogging the armrest between them.
"Oh, sorry, you can have this one," she said.
"Thanks, these seats are so small, I could use it," he said. He had to be several inches over six feet; his shoulders filled the seat space and his knees were pressed against the back in front of them. "If you can believe it, I upgraded us to extra leg room."
"You should have told Jerry to upgrade us to business," she said. "You know this trip is a steal for him."
"Yes, well, he doesn't know it yet, but he is paying for our island-to-island flights and my hotel rooms."
Island-to-island flights? His rooms? Oh, Beth, did you actually assume he was going to sleep in your hotel room with you? she asked herself. You are coworkers. Repeat after me, coworkers!
"Is that right?" she asked. "I hope you booked expensive places."
"Everything is expensive in Hawaii. I promise."
"You've been to Hawaii before?" she asked.
He shifted in his seat and faced her in painful slow-motion. A one-sided smile spread to his lips and his eyes crinkled again slightly. He simply stared at her in silence until she couldn't stand it anymore.
"What did I say?" she asked, cheeks heating up.
"I was wondering how many mojitos you had before you sat down next to me at the restaurant, because while we were talking, you only had one."
"You know," she breathed, thinking honesty really was the best policy, "I was wondering the same thing myself for the entire weekend."
"Good. Then we are on the same wave-length," he said. A low chuckle rumbled from his chest. "In answer to your question, yes, I've been to Hawaii half a dozen times when I was a kid and teenager to visit my aunt. It's been about fourteen years, though since the last time." He leaned closer to whisper, "We talked about this at the restaurant."
"Ah. Um, what else did we talk about?" she said. Her voice squeaked a little at the end of her question and she cleared her throat quickly.
"We didn't say much about anything besides Hawaii and what we want to do on the trip."
He's enjoying himself, she thought. He has to see how awkward this is for me, and he doesn't even care. The sadist.
That was the wrong word. Her mind went running merrily down that tangent. It made her think of being spanked. She shifted in her seat, head reeling with images of being bent over on all fours, him kneeling beside her, his hand coming down hard on her bare buttocks....She was breathing too fast and getting hot in dark places. In the aisle, the drinks were being served and she focused for a few minutes on the cart and the flight attendants, until she could calm herself.
"Something to drink?" the flight attendant asked them. The woman practically winked at Russell.
"Iced tea," he replied.
"A rum and Coke, please," Beth told her, handing her a credit card.
Russell reached for his drink with the hand that was spanking her in her fantasy, but Beth turned her eyes firmly to the flight attendant and her thoughts away from anything to do with his hands. Or the deal they had made.
As Beth sipped her drink, she wracked her brain to remember the evening at the restaurant. A memory surfaced; she was next to him and he had his head lowered, a frown on his mouth as though he was thinking about something, then he nodded. "Yes," he said. "I could do that for you."
Do what? she wondered. Do what for me? Oh, please, please let me have asked for something really good, like a luau on the beach with tiny umbrellas in the tropical fruit drinks, or an overnight cruise with ballroom dancing, or, or, or even something kinky like handcuffs and silk blindfolds. Oh, yes! Handcuffs and blindfolds! You can put those in your check-in, no problem, she told herself. She had to know for sure. It was killing her.
"Russell, can I ask you exactly what was the bargain we agreed upon for this trip?" she said so softly that Russell acted as though he had not heard correctly. He asked her to repeat the question, which she did.
"Oh, the bargain," he finally said. "Yes. You really don't remember our deal?"
"No, I really don't."
"But you would like me to tell you?" he asked.
"Yes," she whispered. Please say something about handcuffs!
"You are sure you don't remember?"
"All right, we agreed that I would..." he started and then paused, lost in thought. "Wait, no. I think it will work out better this way. I don't think I should tell you, after all."
*** Thanks so much for reading! That deal is still a mystery, unfortunately for Beth! ***
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