Chapter 2⎮That Tall Drink Of Water

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It always astounded me that, even after a sprinkle—hardly even a shower at all—Floridians suddenly lost the ability to stay between the lines. The wipers had barely swiped a drop from the windscreen when we'd found ourselves crawling southbound along the freeway.

"Damn rubberneckers," Mom grumbled as we passed the accident on the northbound side of I95.

Once we'd made it to the airport, we hurried to the counter to check my bag in with only minutes to spare. The woman tagging my luggage was giving me squinty eyes as she transferred the heavy bag to the conveyor belt. "I can't guarantee your bag will arrive on this flight," she said with a disapproving sniff.

"No worries." As long as it got there eventually and in one piece, I didn't care.

"Boarding starts in twenty minutes." She dismissed me promptly and nodded to the next person in line. Clearly, there was a carrot up her backside that she'd failed to dislodge this morning. That or someone had crapped in her porridge.

With a tight smile, I left her to her sour disposition, shoving my driver's license into my back pocket.

"This is only goodbye for a little while!" Mom said, her chipper words sounding discordant as she sniffled bravely. "No tears."

"Sure," I scoffed, wiping at the tears spilling warmly onto my cheeks. "I love you, Mom!" There was a raw lump in my throat that had been swelling painfully throughout the drive to the airport. "I swear, one day I'll pay you back for wasting all the money you've spent on my—"

I was instantly enveloped in one of her fiercest hugs. "Don't think about that now, Ev. I'm considering it an investment. Make the most of life and have fun." And then she pulled away to fix me with a stern and watery look. "But not too much fun..." she clarified meaningfully. "Don't forget what I said about always using condoms."

"Mom!" I grimaced with a laugh, my face turning puce.

"I'm just saying! And remember, I'm just a phone call away if you need me, okay? Say the word and I'll hop on the first flight to Ketchikan."

"I know." And I did know that. She was the stable and loving fixture in my life and I had probably only retained my compos mentis this long because of her. Struggling for composure, I took my backpack from her arm. "Is it too late to change my mind?"

"Yes"—with tongue in cheek—"I've already rented your room out to Hugh Jackman."

"Mmkay." I checked my watch. "I'll call you when I get to Ketchikan." With a last, trembling wave, I hurried off before I did change my mind. Or missed my flight. Gramps would love that, I thought derisively.

Goodbyes were brutal. Mom's teary face nearly crumbled my resolve altogether when I turned to glance back one last time, so I determined not to look back again. Figuratively too. She would have been proud of that. My feet ate up the drab linoleum as I followed the signs for my gate with eyes still dimmed by tears. The TSA line was, thankfully, short, so I was able to breeze through security. The officer studied my puffy eyes stoically as I shoved my laptop back into my backpack. Once I'd pulled my sneakers back on, I raced for my gate.

By the time I got there the last of zone four was trickling past the ticket scanner. Before I knew it I was buckled up, listening to the deep hum of the engines as they idled. I was really doing this! It was heady and surreal—taking control of my life. The knots of tension in my gut were alternately loosening and tightening, as if still unsure of which emotion—fear or excitement—held primacy. I knew I should be fearful for leaving my safety net for parts unknown, but it was impossible not to let the latent power of the engines, and the sight of the other planes hurtling down the runway, act like a counterpoise to meekness.

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