I don't trust people who follow their hearts. Hearts are peculiar things. They're necessary muscles that keep us alive by pumping blood and oxygen into our veins. Hearts are also compulsory, often making us foolish. They pull us towards others with a force that aches, burns, and satiates you all at once. Before you know it that mass of tissue is no longer yours.
Maybe mine never was.
In my case, that draw came from a stranger that left my heart feeling both fulfilled and consumed.
I didn't expect to fight her for the last standby seat to New York City. I didn't plan on letting her get under my skin. Or the way her vulnerability tore me up inside and compelled me to care for her. She didn't plan on letting me witness her chaos.
Her anxious heart and my perfectionist mind let things get messy.
And though we didn't plan for it, our interrupting of each others' lives was exactly what we needed.
Sometimes the mess is the most beautiful part of life.
The airport felt like a claustrophobic beehive. People swarmed and whizzed past me, completely disregarding my personal space. As if travel didn't already suck, as if the process of taking off shoes and going through X-ray machines where some dude sees the outline of your dick wasn't miserable enough. The experience might've been better with a gorgeous woman to impress, but of course, I always got stuck with bearded, hefty men.
Truthfully, I didn't hate traveling. Not by a long shot. Traveling can change your view of the world. For some people, it can make it seem a lot bigger, filled with cultures and places you can only imagine. For others, it cinches the circumference of the Earth like a belt tightens around your waist. I loved the idea of discovering the world. Unfortunately, my late twenties consisted of traveling for work at a constant rate, which left little time for me to plan vacations I'd hoped for as a college student. But I guess I was lucky to be where I was when I was. Though I never believed in being in the right place at the right time, I learned the truth behind that notion that October evening.
Gate C3 in San Francisco International Airport was booming. Sitting there, I had no idea that I'd be traveling nonstop for the next five months, or that my life was going to radically change. My planet was suddenly going to feel connected and small, yet devastatingly large. Most importantly, I had no clue that the change was going to come with a pair of gray combat boots.
My flight to New York City was overbooked, but the accounting firm I worked for liked saving money, which provided me the torture of waiting on standby. Luckily, I usually had the good fortune to get on the plane despite being on a waiting list. And things were definitely looking up. The sexy, red-headed attendant winked when she said I was first up if someone didn't show.
Seeing as my flight didn't leave for another hour, I decided some caffeine would help me work during the flight. I'd be meeting with Daniel Ellis the following morning, a client who had been our big catch for years now. This was my chance to prove myself as a CPA in hopes of making partner at the company. I'd clawed my way up from the bottom, from taking care of tedious residential taxes to kissing every client's ass. Coffee was absolutely necessary to ensure I didn't fuck things up.
Walking to the food court, I considered how airports never really close and how difficult it must be to keep them clean. They sometimes feel like an awful combination of restrooms and jail cells. People come in and out, bringing their germs along with them, leaving that trail of bacteria for the next lot to pick up. It's filthy if you really think about it. And then you get stuck there with a bunch of bitchy people trapped in a large holding room till you get shut into a metal tube towards your next destination.
Dunkin Donuts was my solution to being stuck there. Of course, the line was never-fucking-ending. If I didn't desperately need the caffeine, I would have turned my ass back towards the gate. As I browsed through e-mails on my phone, I overheard different tenors and tones ordering their fix: nonfat cappuccino, coffee–black, iced mocha latte, etc. Each one brought me closer to the counter. Finally, with only one person ahead of me, I looked up.
Petite, toned legs stood before me in skintight black leggings that led to scuffed combat boots. Impulsively, my eyes trailed up the rest of her body, noticing her luscious ass contrasting her thin waist. She had squared yet feminine shoulders—a dancer's body, and a perfect one at that. My blood heated as I started imagining what I'd do to a body like that. She wouldn't know what hit her. But then she spoke, and that dark-haired beauty let out words in a deep, sensual voice. It sounded like pure seduction and sweetness tangled together. I suddenly needed to match a face to that sound. Desperate wasn't something I did, but with her it began with just the sound of her words.
"Hi, an espresso, please," she said, putting her weight on one foot while eyeing the donuts. "Oh," she hummed, and the tight moan sent a jolt of blood to my groin, causing me to readjust myself. What the fuck is wrong with me? I'd reacted as such to plenty of women, but not because of their voice, and certainly not while they stared at sweets. But she was a curious little thing. "And an old fashioned donut too."
Moving closer, I tried catching a glimpse of her features, but it was no use. The only way I'd see her was if I was willing to risk looking like a creep, and I was already getting stranger-danger glances from the guy next to me. He was probably trying to do the same. Judgmental asshole. I waited, the two minutes dragging as she paid. Finally, she moved for me to order and I was able to take in her profile.
I unavoidably understood the word stunned, because this girl was stunning. My body became stiff, each of my functions inept. All I could do was look.
Her fair skin contradicted her dark, almost black mane. Her lips were plump, yet delicate, the bottom one slightly fuller than the top. The pervert in me instantly imagined what they'd feel like all over my skin, specifically where I was currently throbbing. She must have felt me watching, because she turned to look right at me and caught my blatant staring. That delectable mouth offered me an acknowledging smile. I didn't pay it much attention. Correction: I couldn't pay it much attention. All I could focus on were her hypnotic, amber-colored eyes. They burned through my skin the way whiskey burns your throat on the way down, but warms your chest. It hurt. It seared my gaze to hers. That stare left me dizzy.
My lips parted, and I nervously shifted my weight. My clumsy movement left me bumping into the man beside me. His scalding coffee poured down my back and into my ass crack. I'd like to say I played it cool, but there was nothing cool about the burning skin that forced me to emit a pathetic screech.
Yes, a screech. You know, the same sound girls make when they see spiders. Now, mix that in with the forward hip thrust I did to avoid more coffee on my ass, and well, I was just the quintessence of masculinity. Fucking Thor right there.
When you get embarrassed, your first reaction is not to check if you're okay. No, it's to see how many spectators witnessed you making a complete idiot of yourself. The guy behind me apologized profusely, while the people in line behind me all stared—some wincing, others trying to suppress laughter.
It was incredibly awkward. No big deal. It's not like anyone of value saw it… Except her.
My eyes darted to find her staring, and that's when I felt another kind of burning all over my face. Like some neurotic asshole, I turned and strutted to the bathroom. I could've pretended it never happened, but the way she'd looked at me before my mortifying moves had left me exposed. She'd studied me with what appeared to be equal interest in my body. I wanted that look again, wanted to take in the way she perused my height, my face, and softly hummed to herself in what seemed like an approving assessment. It had turned me on. But I couldn't fucking go back, not after that debacle.
I wanted more, but I didn't even know where to begin. Ironically enough, I wouldn't have to go far.
Stephanie Alba lives in Miami, Florida with her husband, her toddler and their two dogs, Milo and Van Gogh. She's obsessed with Disney, British history, traveling, romances novels, movies, and Halloween. When she's not glued to her laptop or writing in her notebook, she's either: running, planning her next vacation, binge-watching Netflix, reading, or chasing her toddler.