PLEASE ENJOY A PREVIEW OF CHAPTER 1
“Will it happen this time? The ban announced last night—will it ruin everything? Dad says Russian law takes effect the moment it’s ratified. I’m so worried, Ethan.”
I rub my eyes and lean my head back while the jet engines roar in the background. My head throbs and my hands sweat as we try to begin our 13-hour journey. We’ve been sitting on the tarmac for two hours due to a mechanical problem.
Ethan grabs my hand and squeezes it softly, leaning over to plant a kiss on my forehead. I gaze at his face, bags frame his red eyes. I look out the window to distract myself. It’s a sunny cold day, the sky clear of clouds and full of promise for flight.
“One step at a time, Sofia. We’re closer than we’ve ever been. Remember that,” he says soothingly.
Turning back to him, my body becomes rigid as anger spills over me like hot molten lava. “You’re thinking the same thing I am! We should be overjoyed at the prospect of meeting our son! This is a time for celebration, a time for effervescent bottles of uncorked champagne! But this do-it-yourself adoption is a nightmare! How much longer can we handle disappointment after disappointment? The closer we think we are—the farther away we are,” I vent.
The conversation with Natasha on the phone last night burns in my brain.
“Adoption very risky in Russia now. The ban make Mafia watch money very close.”
How could she say that on the eve of our trip?
I play back what Natasha said. “This trip big gamble for you. l work to keep adoption away from Mafia. If I do not, police arrest you for human trafficking or Mafia take you. Better to go to prison. My name not appear anywhere, only yours. Phone will be disconnected. And I never know you.”
“Hello, folks. This is your pilot I apologize for the delay. The maintenance crew is working diligently to insure the safety of our trip. Thanks again for your patience.”
I glance over at Ethan, who’s dozing now.
“Honey?” I place my hand on his arm, but he doesn’t stir. Guess the fatigue finally caught up with him. If he had a drink, he’d be comatose. I think I’ll go to the restroom before the plane takes off. “Be back in a minute.”
I carefully unclasp my seat belt and try to skitter by him without disturbing him. As I walk past the rows on either side, I glance at the tendrils of ear plugs reaching upward like small sun-seeking plants, and the hand-held devices, passengers attached to them like farmers admiring prized vegetables pulled from the fields.
As I reach the door, the occupied sign forces me to pause and begin to turn around.
Suddenly, I hear the click of the door unlocking.
What luck! I’ll just dash in and dash out. Hopefully, I won’t have to hold my breath to stay in there. My face twists in repulsion at the thought. A haggard looking middle ̶ aged man with a large paunch emerges and smiles too brightly at me.
That look—that look of recognition like I’m a favorite relative, but I’m not. His lids half close as he squeezes past me taking his slow sweet time. And he looks back at me before he stumbles down the aisle way.
I push the door open and inhale a shallow breath. The smell of pump soap greets me. All clear. I can breathe.
Ting, Ting. The strained voice of the stressed-out flight attendant echoes through the tiny bathroom cabin.
“Within the next twenty minutes, The Captain will be turning on the fasten seat belt sign. Until then, you can use your electronic devices. We apologize for the inconvenience”
Turning from the sink to the opposite side to grab paper towels, all 5’2” 115 pounds of me twists like a corkscrew to move around. A quick swipe of the towels, a glance at my nostrils, a push of the lever, and I’m free to escape into the main cabin.
As I near my seat, I notice that “Mr. Too Brightly” is sitting next to Ethan.
Damn! I have to sit next to him! Looks like comatose Ethan has just re-positioned himself to face the aisle way. Why doesn’t this plane offer two across seating instead of three?
My steps slow, but I don’t want to wake Ethan up to swap seats since he’s so tired.
As I stand next to our row of seats, Mr. Brightly realizes with a dazzling repugnant smile that I’ll be seated next to him.
“Don’t tell me you’re with that guy,” he says, gesturing at Ethan. “He’s out cold. Between the screaming baby and me trying to wedge past him, he hasn’t moved an inch.” He smirks, his smile now a beacon of light.
I grit my teeth and carefully squeeze by Ethan’s knees grabbing the headrest of the seat in front of me for support. Glancing back over my shoulder, I see him looking at Ethan. I focus on the seat space next to him, zeroing-in on the instructions on the pocket pouch for my seat. Someone scribbled in red pen, HELL A MILE HIGH. As I wiggle into my seat and grope for my seatbelt, he watches my every move.
“Lucky me!” he says as he cranes his neck over my arm rest to glance down my V-neck shirt. “The flight attendant let me change seats. Person next to me was sick. She coughed all over me.” He says waving his hand in front of his face as if shooing flies. A puff of whiskey more noxious than cigarette smoke wafts my way. My nose wrinkles in disgust. “Now, honey, tell me all about you.” He says patting my white knuckles which grip the arm rest.
“I’m too tired to talk.” Turning away from him, I grab a blanket and reposition my entire body as close as possible to Ethan’s seat.
“Okay, well, I’ll get comfortable. Must finish my movie,” he announces as he shifts around in his seat and loosens his tie.
From the corner of my semi-closed eye, I see him push off his shoes and remove his socks. Wiggling his now naked toes, he grabs his iPad and powers it on.
Gathering the blanket closer, I relax and try to drift away.
“Aw, Melissa, moan for me.” A breathless male pleas as he grunts.
“Yes, yes, that’s it!” A female pants in reply.
A glance reveals more than I want to see, a totally naked couple pleasuring each other. I feel my cheeks redden with anger. There are children on this flight!
As I glance across the aisle, I see a Mom hugging a toddler acutely aware. Her sour expression says it all as she positions her child’s head in the direction of the seat window.
Re-adjusting my body, I turn to face him, carefully choosing my words.
“Look, you may enjoy that movie, but a lot of people wouldn’t, especially the parents of children on this plane. If you’ll angle your screen toward the window and turn the volume down or use your ear plugs, I think several passengers will be grateful.”
“Mind your own business, bitch! I’ll watch whatever I want in the seat I paid for!” His eyes gleam. He’s enjoying this too much.
In my peripheral vision, I can see slack-jawed Mom across the aisle, her toddler now in the arms of his Dad. Her gripping hand like a talon-flexing as waves of rage engulf her. I see fury fill her eyes and heart—morphing her into a predator and a protector of her young.
Gripping the hand rest, I reach up for the call button. Immediately, his hand covers mine.
“You didn’t say that you don’t like porn.” He says with a smile as his hand squeezes mine.
My eyes glitter with cold, hard hate—hate as tangible as a slab of black marble. Hate that maims and kills without regret.
“Let me be clear,” I hiss. “Your movie disgusts me as much as you do! Leave me alone, and don’t talk to me!”
Turning my upper body away from him, I grab a pillow and blanket—positioning myself toward Ethan and away from him.
“And I let my fingers do the walking walking walking—all the way up your back.”
With unbridled fury, I turn and slap him with the force of my pent-up anger—anger at his moronic behavior, anger at having to sit on the tarmac for two hours and anger at having to deal with idiocy all along this journey.
Chuckling, he touches his now red-striped cheek.
I glance over at Ethan for help, but he’s still comatose, only a gunshot wound would wake him up.
Where’s that flight attendant? I did manage to push the button.
Some little kid is crying in the background. The 5-year-old girl adjacent to us is wearing white socks splattered with dirt. She‘s picking her nose and staring at us in wide-eyed wonder.
Finally, a tall, heavyset flight attendant hurries down the aisle looking irate.
“What’s going on here?” he demands.
In a well-rehearsed move, he kicks Ethan’s boot to wake him.
“What? Why did you kick me?” Ethan whines as he rubs his eyes, finally looking back and forth between me and Brightly.
“Good God, what’s going on here?”
“I was just asking myself the same thing,” says the flight attendant, shooting daggers at me. Clearly, he thinks this all my fault.
Rising to his feet and stepping into the aisle, Ethan blinks in disbelief, then grabs my arm and yanks me out of my seat to stand beside him.
“Are you ok?”
I nod, my lips trembling.
As Ethan turns to face Brightly, I watch him straighten his body and fold his arms across his chest, blocking Brightly into our three seat space. But instead of looking at the jerk in the eye, Ethan stares out the window behind his head.
Anger bubbles in the pit of my stomach, and this time not at Mr. Brightly. Why is Ethan always so non-confrontational? You’d think he was Perseus managing Medusa.
Sure, no one wants to brawl, but shouldn’t a husband take a stand when it’s necessary to protect his wife? I don’t know what would happen if I was in serious trouble—trouble that he couldn’t talk his way out of or rely on someone to fix. Got to hold on to the hope that his resolve would trump his reluctance—that he’d defend me. Looking away from Ethan, I grit my teeth in disapproval.
“What happened here, sir?” – asks the flight attendant, looking straight at Brightly.
“Well, I was watching my movie when this woman became irate with me.” Leaning in my direction, he smiles adoringly, tilting his head to the right.
Slack-jawed Mom is on her feet now, pointing at Mr. Brightly. Her eyes full of fire and focused on felling her target.
“Who do you think you are?” she says. “Shoving your garbage down our throats and exposing our innocent children to your trash!” Her moral outrage now silencing the once noisy cabin.
Turning to the flight attendant, she continues,—“He pestered this woman. He put his hands on her!” Taking a breath, she pauses satiated—even if momentarily. With a steady searing stare, she looks at me, ready to pounce again if needed.
“Thank you!” I say, relieved to have a witness.
“He was watching porn without ear plugs. I could hear it very clearly. When I asked him to lower the volume, he began harassing me. Then, he escalated the situation by putting his hands on me!” I answer, my indignation incinerating any thought of restraint.
“This man harassed my wife,” Ethan says to the flight attendant. “He should be removed from this p ̶ p ̶ p…lane.” He stammers.” What are you g ̶ g ̶ g…oing to do about it?”
An opportunity for me, Ethan’s body is turned toward the flight attendant. In a flash, I lunge for Brightly, bitch deserves some justice.
“Get away from me! Grab her!” Brightly shouts as he raises his fore arms to shield his face.
I feel hands on my shoulders now, pulling me away from my prey. Gritting my teeth, I resist leaning in, my hands a riverboat paddle wheel of slaps and punches.
“Stop, Sophia! It’s under control now! Ethan yells, re-doubling his efforts to tear me away from my quarry. His arms cocoon me and pull me back—allowing the flight attendant to drag Brightly from his “foxhole” across the seats.
Ethan tightens his hold as Brightly stumbles into the aisle, grimacing.
Brightly’s face is ghoulish and green as his hand reaches out toward the seat back pocket to attempt to grab the small paper bag poking out. Abruptly, a cough and a stream of vomit flows from his mouth, clouding the cabin with the sour gut-twisting stench of onions and whiskey.
Catching the brunt of it, the splattered attendant gasps. “You moron! You’re coming up front with me to sit near the Air Marshall!”
“Wait! I have something to say to him.” Ethan releases my arms sensing the passing of the raging storm that lives within me now.
There’s no cup. Could use a sick bag, but that may arouse suspicion and possible restraint. Must be quick. Grimacing, I reach toward the floor and grab a hand full of warm vomit from the putrid pool in the aisle. It feels squishy and chunky—my gag reflex glows bright red. Swallowing hard, I hold my breath for a moment to fight the nausea. As I exhale, I pull his belt buckle toward my belly with my left hand while my right hand empties the vomit inside his fly.
“You want some action? Here’s your action!” I sneer.
With a smile of satisfaction, I wipe my hand clean on his clothing.
Mr. Brightly is now red-faced and blustering, his pants dripping a brown noxious oatmeal substance.
“Let me at that bitch!” he shrieks as he swings his closed fist at me. Losing his balance, he lunges sideways and falls onto the flight attendant who grabs the back of his shirt and tows him to the front of the plane.
The child seated in front of us yells even louder now as the nasty fumes assault his nostrils. I turn on my heel, walking to the restroom to wash my hands several times and clear my head. When I return to my seat, I turn on the overhead air and glance at Ethan’s disapproving face. His lips knot and his jaw clenches, signals that I expect to see.
“I know you think that wasn’t necessary, but he deserved it. Get over it, Ethan.”
He opens his mouth to answer, but then shuts it, clenching his jaw.
“Yes, I’m aggressive,” I go on. “I don’t let people run over me. What will you do if you become a father? Teach your son to be a doormat? Peace at any price, right?” I ask, shuddering at my words.
Before Ethan can answer, the pilot’s voice comes over the loud speaker. “Good news! Ladies and Gentlemen, looks like we’ve been cleared for takeoff.”
Ethan settles back into his seat and closes his eyes again, as though he’s off the hook, but he’s not. We’re traveling to Russia, one of the most dangerous countries in the World and my perfect yet imperfect husband is as aggressive as a rabbit. And that scares me.
Sitting upright, I elbow him. His eyes fly open again.
“What happened to you?” I ask angrily. “What made you sleep so soundly while all of that was happening?”
With a sheepish look, he explains, “At the terminal, when you left in search of frozen yogurt, I left in search of a pub. I thought I could finally relax a little. The drink just got the best of me. I’m sorry.” Squeezing my hand, he looks out the window for a few minutes; then, turns back to me with an almost academic furrowing of his brows.
“As a guy, I can’t blame him too much. He’s very drunk and you’re very pretty. I’ve struggled to keep my hands off of you at times. Besides, he didn’t know we were together.”
I raise my eyebrows in disbelief. “Are you making excuses for him?”
“Of course not,” Ethan answers insincerely.
“What he did was wrong!” I continue, my cheeks heating up again with anger. “It was depraved and disgusting! Sometimes, you’re too objective, Ethan. To the point of being inappropriate!”
“Remember logic and objectivity are two of the qualities you love about me.” Ethan says with and an endearing smile, fishing for a magic lure to restore the peace between us.
“You’re digging a bigger hole for yourself!” I lash out, glaring at him. “Some things should remain unsaid. I hope one day you learn that. Inappropriate can create havoc for us in a third world country.”
“But you know what I mean. You know I’m not malicious,” he says gently.
“I do because I know you and give you the benefit of the doubt, which not everyone will do.”
“I apologize. Please, baby, forgive me.”
Looking deeply into my eyes, he grabs my hand and kisses each knuckle.
How can I say no to that? He’s too charming.
“Maybe, one day, you’ll uncap that big cylinder of swagger outside the bedroom. Having said all that, you know it’s hard for me to stay mad at you,” I mutter as worry imbeds in my gut like a parasitic worm.
“I love you.”
“I love you too, Ethan.” I quickly peck him on the lips.
He chuckles as he entwines my fingers in his, his gaze now directed toward the window and mine toward the aisle. All is forgiven, for now.
As the pilot maneuvers the plane for take-off, Ethan begins to nod off, now snoring lightly. I, on the other hand, am wide-awake. Staring out the window, I can’t help but think about all the emotional baggage we’re towing to Russia, aggressive stubborn me and mild-mannered Ethan.
With a gentle kick, I wake Ethan.
“Sorry, honey, I’m so scared. Think of what’s awaiting us—the people, the culture, the climate and ‘no tell’ Natasha as in ‘no telling what she will or won’t do for us’.”
Tears well up as I think of the possibilities. Clasping my hands together in my lap, I stare at the seat pouch in front of me as I struggle to stay composed.
“Come on, Sofia, what are the chances that something bad will happen? You’ve got to be more positive.”
As I wipe my tears away, Ethan rewards me with a hug.
“Extreme uncertainty, extreme danger and extreme distance from home, I’m just talking facts not possibilities. Single out any one of the facts, and it’s frightening for both of us, not just me. Combine all of the facts, and chilling doesn’t begin to describe it.” I sniffle.
“Yes, both of us fear all of those situations, but we’re beyond the point of turning back. The pilot won’t stop the plane for us because we changed our mind about this trip. Commit to finding the happy moments and they’ll be there for us,” he cajoles, adding a chaste kiss to end the conversation.
“Now, how about a smile, Sofia?” He coaxes as he gently lifts my chin to plant another kiss on my lips.
Turning away, I cross my arms and stare out the window.
The jet engines whine as they push the plane across the runway. While the plane rises, my heart sinks.
© Copyright 2016 Kelly K. Lavender