Never Stop Falling

PROLOGUE

He said he couldn’t wait for me.

His last words continue to echo in my thoughts, silencing the drone of the airplane’s engines. About a month has passed since, but his words are so deafening he might as well be sitting beside me with a bullhorn at my ear. Though, I wouldn’t mind it, since he’d only be inches away instead of a few thousand miles, close enough so that my knee would fall against his. I’d lay my head along the broad plateau of his shoulder, and our elbows would playfully battle it out over the armrest between us. Eventually, I’d let him win.

I glance at the empty seat to my left, and for a split second, I almost wish it was occupied. Perhaps then, I’d be too distracted by an airplane-etiquette-dimwit sitting in Seat B, with his blatant disregard for personal space as his foot ventures into space clearly meant for Seat A—me. The vacant seat is only a reminder of the emptiness in my heart. So, Dimwit in Seat B, bring on the bad manners because you’d actually be doing me a favor.

“Can I offer you anything to drink, sweetheart?” the flight attendant asks as she reaches my row with the beverage cart, an extra amount of cheer exuding from her dimpled grin. This woman embodies the definition of Miss Susie Sunshine, with the right amount of bounce in her golden locks, her cheeks a rosy pink that perfectly contour her heart-shaped face, and her pearly whites nearly blinding me as a flash of sunlight pokes through the window and dances off of them. If this is what happiness smells like at nine in the morning, then I just got a big whiff of it because this woman reeks of cheer. Then again, I do have to applaud her. Not many people have as much cheer in their entire body as she does in her right pinky.

I eye the selection before telling her, “I’ll take the strongest thing you’ve got on that cart of yours. Whatever says: ‘I’m moving across the country for a guy who probably doesn’t want me anymore because I pretty much threw his declaration of love in his face, but hey, a girl can try, right?’ Whatever says that, I’ll take it.”

The flight attendant grins and winks at me. “What’s your name, sweetheart?”

“Corinne.”

“Corinne, I’ve got just the thing for you.”

She scans through her beverage selection and pulls out two little bottles of vodka with one hand, and a canned tomato juice and cup of ice with the other. I guess she’s done this countless times before. For this exact reason, maybe not, but surely she’s heard and seen it all. I reach for my purse wedged beneath the seat in front of me, but she simply shakes her head as she hands me the drinks.

“Good luck, Corinne.”

I return her generosity with an appreciative smile.

She leaves as I pull down the seat-back tray and place the vodka, tomato juice, and cup on top of it. I ought to stick to one bottle because the last time I had hard liquor, I paid dearly for it. One drink at thirty-thousand feet equals two, so I’ve heard, and if by some miracle, he is waiting for me when I disembark, well, I want to be coherent, not letting my mouth run off and calling redheads who I don’t know fire-crotch. I still can’t believe I said that.

I want to feel every single way he affects me. The way my heart leaps out of my chest and makes a dash for him the moment his eyes meet mine. The way my insides flutter when his mouth curls into that irresistible smile of his. The way every bone in my body seems to liquefy the second he pulls me against him. His scent, his touch, the burn of his gaze, the warmth of his lips—all manifesting into one heavenly addiction, and the sight of him intoxicating me. At least in my head, that’s how it plays out.

Still, there is that little thing called reason, lingering in the back of my mind, never failing to bring me back to reality. I’m not even sure he read my e-mail. And if he did, perhaps he was too far gone to care. Perhaps he meant what he said when I walked away. He couldn’t wait.

I lean back against the headrest and gaze through the window. The blue sky stretches far beyond the horizon, greeting the morning sun in the distance with hardly a cloud in sight. The earth looks like nothing more than a computer motherboard from thirty-thousand feet as it slowly moves beneath us. Picking up one of the bottles and twisting the cap to open it, I pour the contents into my cup.

“Cabin crew, call the flight deck,” the captain’s voice suddenly commands over the loudspeaker.

I can’t put my finger on it, but there’s something about the captain’s voice that rings concern. The announcement is soon followed by the vibration of heavy footsteps rushing by, and I see the cheery woman striding up the aisle toward the male flight attendant who is speaking on the phone near the front of the plane. Only, she doesn’t look so cheery anymore.

Instead, every thud and thump against the floor sounds distressed, as if the tension in her furrowed brow is weighing her down. The male flight attendant hangs up the phone as quickly as he picked it up, simply nodding his head as soon as the female reaches him. They speak, and something tells me this conversation has nothing to do with beverages or peanuts.

You don’t gasp over peanuts.

And she gasps.

The female stills before turning toward the back of the plane, her eyes scanning over the occupied seats. I would never guess her to be the same cheery person from earlier. Her cheeks are drained of color. Her dimpled smile is now a frown. Her forehead glistens with sweat.

This look, I know it. She’s trying to hide it, but I see it. It screams fear. Pure, tangible fear.

And then everything begins to unravel.

The two flight attendants part, the female walking hastily down the aisle past me, her mouth forced into a smile.

The plane makes a sharp, sudden turn, knocking the bottles and can to the floor. I’m too startled to check if the leftover tomato juice has spilled.

A loud ding, and the voice of the captain rings through the cabin once again—cool and strangely calm—telling us to remain in our seats. Telling us to keep on our safety belts. That he has to land the plane immediately. And not to worry.

It’s only when I tighten my seat belt that I notice the big, damp spot soaking through my jeans, and the ice cubes lying in my lap; the plastic cup—crushed in my hand—is now empty.

The plane begins to descend quickly, and I toss the empty cup aside and firmly grasp both armrests at the sudden, jerky movements.

The voice of a male passenger echoes from where he sits a few rows ahead. With the in-flight phone pressed to his ear, he sounds concerned, but I can only make out the word emergency due to the growing chatter all around. The commotion only seems to intensify when his voice grows louder.

As whispers of chaos circulate through the cabin, passengers grow frantic, holding onto their seat belts with white knuckles. Many are trying to remain still—eyes closed, faces frozen as if sitting for a macabre portrait. Someone behind me begins to cry.

Fear rolls over each row of the plane until it finally swallows me.

I gasp. My ears shut out all the panic around me so that I hear nothing else. And then my gasp is silenced by my heavy breaths. And my breathing is silenced by my pounding heart.

And then everything falls silent.

Except for his words. They echo in my head, the last words I might’ve ever heard him say.