I can't tell if it's the sudden movement of the plane—a gentle lurch that makes my stomach flip, my limbs pushing deep into the seat as we rattle down the runway, this giant metal box we're all locked inside moving faster and faster, making my eardrums swell—or if it's his words that make me feel suddenly uneasy.
I take a deep breath, dig my nails into the armrest.
"Flying make you nervous?"
"Can you stop?" I spit, my head snapping back in his direction. I watch as his eyebrows raise, my sudden meanness taking him by surprise.
"I'm sorry," he says, looking embarrassed. "It's just—I thought you might be interested. In telling the story. Your story. On the show."
"Thank you," I say, trying to soften my tone. We both tilt back as the plane begins to ascend, the floor rattling violently beneath our feet. "But I'll pass."
"Okay," he says, digging into his pocket and pulling out his wallet. I watch as he flips open the faded leather, pulls a business card out, and places it gently on my leg. "If you change your mind."
I close my eyes again, leaving his card untouched on my knee. We're in the air now, ripping through clouds bloated with water, a beam of sunlight occasionally finding its way through the half-drawn shade and casting a ray of bright light across my eyes.
"I guess I just thought that's why you do it," he adds softly. I try to ignore him, but curiosity gets the best of me. I can't.
"You know, your talks. It can't be easy, reliving it over and over again. But you have to if you want to keep the case alive. If you ever want it to be solved."
I squeeze my eyes harder, focusing on the little spider veins I can see in my eyelids, glowing red.
"But with a podcast, you wouldn't have to talk to all those people. Not directly, anyway. You'd just have to talk to me."
I swallow, nod my head gently to indicate that I hear but that the conversation is still over.
"Anyway, just think it over," he adds, reclining his chair.
I can hear the rustling of his jeans as he tries to get comfortable, and I know, within minutes, he'll be able to do so easily what I haven't been able to do in a year. I peek one eye open and glance in his direction. He's pushed wireless headphones into his ears, the steady thumping of bass loud enough for me to hear. Then I watch his body transform the same way it always does, predictable yet still so foreign to me: His breath begins to get deeper, steadier. His fingers begin to twitch in his lap, his mouth hanging open like a creaky cupboard door, a single bead of drool quivering in the corner of his lip. Five minutes later, a gentle snore erupts from his throat, and I feel a pinch in my jaw as I clench my teeth.
Then I close my eyes, imagining, for a fleeting moment, what it must be like.
I push my key into the front door, twisting.
It's nearly two in the morning, and my trip home from the airport is nothing more than a blur, like those long-exposure photographs that feature busy commuters with trails of color following them around the train station. After landing at Hartsfield-Jackson, I had grabbed Waylon's business card and tucked it into my purse, picking up my things and pushing toward the exit without so much as a goodbye. Then I ran to my gate, hopped onto my connection, and took another forty-five-minute flight into the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, my eyes boring into the seat in front of me the whole way home. I barely remember staggering through baggage claim, hailing a taxi outside the terminal. Letting the car lull me into a kind of trance for another forty minutes before being dropped in my driveway, stumbling up the steps toward home.
I hear my dog whining as soon as the key begins to turn. I already know where to find him: sitting just inside the front door, tail wagging furiously against the hardwood like a feather duster. He's always been mouthy, Roscoe, ever since he was a puppy. I envy his ability to hold on to the things that make him him, unchanged.
Sometimes, when I look in the mirror, I don't even recognize myself anymore. I don't even know who I am.
"Hey, you," I whisper, rubbing his ears. "I missed you."
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.
Monday, April 3 we begin the book The Drift by C. J. Tudor.