"I'm sorry, ma'am, but-"
"There's nothing else you can do," I finish for the flight attendant in a bored voice. I know she's probably just as frustrated with my many trips up to the service counter as I am with her round about answers. Doesn't know when we'll be able to board. Doesn't know if we're even going to take off tonight. Doesn't know when the next flight to leave JFK is. I curl my fingers around the top of my suitcase handle, grit out a thank you to the tired attendant, and storm off to the waiting area at my gate.
I park my suitcase next to an open end chair and plop down with a sigh. This flight has been delayed three times already. If I was a gambler, I'd be willing to bet that the next step would be to cancel it altogether. And all because of some snow over Philly. I slide my phone out of my bag so that I can at least get some work done while I'm stuck here. After almost an hour of replying to emails, approving a couple of statements that are set to be released soon, and drafting a strongly worded cease and desist letter to a particularly troublesome tabloid, I'm about ready to call my mom and let her know that I won't be making it home for Christmas.
I'm sure if I call it a day and go home to my loft in Turtle Cove, I could still make it home by New Years. If this damned storm has moved on by then. I still have work to get done in Nashville, so I'll be down that way soon enough. To be honest, I'm overdue on checking on our branch there. I've given my boss every excuse in the book to keep myself out of Tennessee. Once my mom called and begged me to come home for Christmas this year so we could all be together for once, I figured I could hang the excuses up and kill two birds with one stone. Of course, that was before I knew how much of a nightmare travelling there would be.
My thumb hovers over my mom's contact as I debate pulling the plug on this whole operation. I can already hear her now, though. "Your sister has already flown in all the way from Timbuctoo, but you can't make it from New York?" I chuckle at my mental impression. Ever since my sister made plans to come home from one of her whirlwind adventures to celebrate Christmas with the family for the first time in almost ten years, mother has been pressuring me to be there as well. Guilt trip is an understatement. "You never come home anymore." "Well I just don't think a mother should have to turn on the television to see her daughter." "Your sister is coming all the way from Europe to see you, Josselyn." "Don't you want to be able to get everyone together under one roof for once? You don't know when we'll be able to have this chance again, you know."
I drop my phone to my lap with a hefty sigh. I've done quite well establishing myself as a PR maven here in New York. I've put in long hours and pushed my way up the corporate ladder, so high, in fact, that the top is well within my view. I handle so many high profile clients that I am no longer accepting any new ones. And yet my parents think I can just drop everything as soon as my sister sees fit to grace us with her presence. She doesn't even celebrate Christmas, which just adds to my theory that she only picked this time to fuck with me.
Not that there is ever any down time in my line of work. If it's not one thing, it's another. I can't complain, though: if it weren't for these celebrities and their ever-present scandals, then I wouldn't even have a job. As if the universe was sensing my thoughts, I receive a notification of an Instagram posts from one of my clients. I place my thumb on the sensor to unlock my phone and click the notification to summon the post to my screen. I let out a sigh of relief when I see a picture of her sitting on the floor in front of an immaculately decorated Christmas tree. I never know what to expect from her and am always pleasantly surprised when she posts something or says something to the paparazzi that follow her every move that I don't have to help her fix. She always pouts when I remind her that we are trying to tone down her image, which is always when I remind her that this is what she hired me for. I double tap the picture before I exit the app.
I sigh again as I lean my head back against the wall behind me. Maybe having a couple of days away from New York won't be so bad. Not that my job is confined to an office. Not that I'll get any rest. But I always get restless this time of the year. Christmas used to be my favorite holiday. But once you hit a certain age going home means being asked about a thousand times by all types of relatives when you're gonna settle down like so-and-so and start a nice family. Then I have to smile and pretend to be happy about their prying while I explain that there's not enough time for any of that in my busy schedule. I've heard the speech that follows that excuse so many times that I can now recite it in my sleep.
"Well, deary/darling/honey/Josselyn, there's never going to be any time if you don't make any time," which is my cue to give an excuse to leave this conversation and wander away.
But still, this time of year always brings about a certain brand of loneliness. I try to brush it off as seeing one too many cute couples' pictures online, one too many cute tourist proposals in Rockefeller Center, one too many perfect family Christmas cards from family, friends, and clients. "I don't want a man," I tell myself every time I feel the loneliness trying to drag me under. "I just think I do for a moment." Then I square my shoulders, put my big girl panties on, and go back to running Manhattan. "There's no time for that," I remind myself.
"Attention passengers of Flight 4059, we are sorry to announce that take off has been delayed for another hour," the intercom overhead announces. The groan I let out gets lost in the sea of complaints echoing around me. I look over at the poor attendant who made the announcement shrink back behind the desk at the backlash. I do feel sorry for her. She's just the messenger.
I glance down at the time displayed on my phone. 6:23. The whole day is gone now, but there's still plenty of time to leave and salvage my night. Maybe call the girls and head over to SoHo...I sigh knowing I won't actually leave this damned airport until I board that plane. I've already promised to be there for Christmas, and I'm nothing without my word.
I sling my carry-on over my shoulder and grab my suitcase handle again, cursing myself for not just checking the damn thing as I stroll over to the nearest airport bar. I can't help but notice the couple huddled together in the corner laughing about something. She looks up at him adoringly while he takes a drink of his beer. I scoff to myself and pretend it doesn't ignite some kind of longing in me. I slide my suitcase in front of a bar stool before taking a seat myself.
I spend the next forty minutes watching the crowd around me while sipping on my 7 and 7 and picking at the nachos that I'd ordered. The cute couple from before took a ridiculous amount of pictures before they slipped off hand in hand to board their flight. Guess that's two things they have that I don't. I watched a group of girls gather around another girl in a pink and zebra print Bride-To-Be sash and take shots while talking too loudly about all the fun they were about to have in Vegas. Almost felt sorry for whoever Brad is since his fiancee is most likely going to nail half of Sin City. Watched a couple of guys in suits loosen their ties and drink beer while yelling at the Giants on the flat screen mounted behind the bar.
I tried not to watch Nash Parker, but he's hard to ignore. That's probably what makes him such a successful male model. I noticed him nursing a beer in the corner a couple of minutes after I walked in. He's been spotted a couple of times and has smiled graciously for every picture requested, but he's otherwise stayed to himself. We've met a couple of times at different events, but I don't feel as if I know him well enough to approach him, even though we did ditch a party once to grab some real food and tour the city late at night once years ago. But that was just a one time experience, one that we've never even talked about.
My phone dings on the bar top below me, dragging my attention from the stunning specimen across the way. I open Snapchat to find a new message from my oldest friend. She's probably the only person I'm looking forward to seeing during this trip back home. In her Snap, she's holding a glass of wine near her fireplace, her Christmas tree is barely visible in the corner, and she's captioned it "Are you here yet?" I snap a quick pic of the drink sitting in front of me, type out "not quite", and hit send.
"Well, I never did peg you for a whiskey girl," I hear drawled in my ear. I feel a shiver ghost down my spine at the sound of his signature deep, Southern voice so close to me. I turn to look at Nash over my shoulder, hoping I appear much calmer than I seem.
"And why's that?"
"Just pegged you for one of those vodka soda girls," Nash shrugs and takes a sip of his beer.
"Oh, so you've pegged me then?" I ask, making Nash choke.
"OhmyGod it's Nash Parker!" some teenage girl shrieks. We both cringe. A pair of teenagers rush into the bar from the nearby entrance. They eye the bartender a couple of times as if they're expecting to get thrown out at any second. They rush up to Nash and gush about how much they love him. He smiles at them sweetly, but even I can read the underlying anguish. It must be hard to be recognizable, to never have a moment to yourself in public. He hides it well when he poses for a couple of selfies with the girls.
I look back at my phone so as not to intrude on their conversation and notice that my hour is almost up. Time to get back to my gate and finally board my plane. I signal to the bartender to close my tab. I down the rest of my drink while he runs the card I left with him earlier. I place the glass of ice back down on the bar top right when he brings the receipt and the card to me. I write in a tip and total, scribble across the signature line, and push it back towards him. With a parting "Merry Christmas," I stand up to grab my bags, checking again to make sure I have everything. I wave at Nash as I try to slip past their little group when one of the girls stops me.
"OhmyGod! Didn't you date Brandon Blake?" she asks. I look down at her hand brazenly resting on my arm, then back up at her eager face. I try unsuccessfully not to look at Nash. He raises his eyebrows at me questioningly.
"Yes, I did," I reply, pasting on my best smile. The girls shriek again, making me cringe again.
"OhmyGod! You're so lucky. I would literally die to be able to date him. He's so sexy. But you know that. What was it like to be with him? Why did you break up?"
"Duh, Kelly," the second girl says to her friend as she swats her arm, rolling her eyes for emphasis. "Their schedules didn't line up."
I smile and nod in agreement. "Yes, we were both just too busy at the time. Now, I have to-"
"So would you ever get back together with him then?" the first one, Kelly, asks all too eager. I eye the phone in her hand wondering whether or not she's recording this interaction. I want to tell her exactly how I feel about the "so sexy" actor she's gushing on about, but I know better. We agreed to keep things civil in public. Besides, if anyone knew how one comment could alter people's perception of you, it was me. I could lay the whole truth out right here and now for these girls, but they'd never believe me. No, not Brandon Blake. Not America's favorite heartthrob. He could never do anything wrong. All it would do is make me seem like the bitter ex.
"We don't have any plans to," I say, completely skirting the actual question. "I have to get back to-"
"Can we get a picture with you real quick?" she interrupts again. I nod in reply and pose in between the two for a couple of shots, wondering just why in the world anyone would want to brag about running into me at the airport. I finally manage to tell the girls that I need to catch my flight and start to slip away when I hear a loud beeping sound.
"Sorry, ladies, that's my cue as well," Nash apologizes, but I can tell he's at least a little grateful for the excuse. He downs the rest of his beer and slams it down on the bar. He tosses a couple of twenties and a Merry Christmas towards the bartender before he grabs the bag I never noticed him carry over.
"Okay, bye!" one girl calls after us.
"Wait! Are you two here together?" the second asks. I pause to answer, but Nash's hand on the small of my back ushers me forward.
"Just keep going," he mutters under his breath. I look up at him questioningly. He turns back to wave at the girls. He tells them it was good to meet them, which makes them melt into each other in giddy laughter and forget their question. "Sorry," he apologizes after we round the corner and are no longer visible to the pair of teenagers. He takes his hand away from the spot it's been resting on on my lower back, and I shiver at the sudden chill I feel.
"What was that all about?" I ask. He cocks an eyebrow at me as if to ask "whatever do you mean?" I narrow my eyes at him.
"You should know that denying accusations like that only fuels them."
I can't believe I didn't realize that myself. Of course it would have been a mistake to deny we were here together to these girls. I bet they would have rushed to social media to share the apparent inside news.
"Don't worry about it."
Nash continues to walk with me towards my gate. I cut my eyes at him a couple of times while I try to judge just why he's still keeping pace with me.
Nash smirks at me, and I have to grab onto my suitcase handle like a crutch to keep my knees from giving out. Damn, it's no wonder his face is all over Times Square.
"Yes?" I reply, mentally facepalming myself for sounding so unsure.
"Small world." Nash winks at me before he saunters over to a nearby chair in the waiting area for my gate. My mouth drops open. I drift closer to him as the surprise slowly begins to wear off.
"Wait, you're going to Nashville?"