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By:Amanda Lance

I watched the cumulus clouds pass in sharp white bubbles outside of the airplane’s window. They collapsed into each other, forming puffy trestles that evaporated as the plane soared its way through the sky. The tint of the window itself prevented the sun from damaging my vision, but it also kept me from really seeing anything beyond the scope of the clouds. There were moments after take-off when I thought I saw a few birds, though at this altitude, it wasn’t very likely. And though I understood how fast the plane was probably traveling, it wasn’t nearly fast enough for my purpose. I tapped my foot against the rim of the seat in front of me as if I could ward the impatience away.

The excitement made it almost impossible to read, though I did try, flipping through a National Geographic and Reader’s Digest. It was difficult to sit still without accomplishing anything, knowing all the while that I was getting that much closer to Charlie and my continuing education as a pre-law student. I reran every detail in my brain. It would have been much easier to write everything down—the pros, the cons, and every decisive possibility of our arrangement. But I knew that anything like that might be construed as potential evidence in a court of law if the very worst should happen. So I kept my thoughts to myself. I made no outline or reports like I would have done with any other major life plans, and instead just memorized my ideas, even keeping them to myself, so I wouldn’t have to agitate Charlie’s anxiety further.

Only now on the plane was I beginning to feel the innate guilt of leaving home, Dad was, of course, an adult, but he hadn’t been so alone in a long time, and neither of us was unaware of that. But I’d have to leave home sometime, whether he liked it or not. Still, I promised to call a minimum of four times a week and do my best to return home for Spring break—in return, I made Dad promise to go golfing at the first sign of nice weather and at least consider taking a cooking lesson.

I knew that I would have to get a job when I settled in; preferably, something on campus or under the table. I was afraid to express it to Charlie, but if something went wrong, and I had to disappear quickly, then cash would be the only way to go. The authorities might look at my meager bank statements and credit card receipts and reject the idea that I was probably involved in the mischief. I also reasoned that by accepting Charlie’s offer of tuition, it may be construed as a bribe if he were ever caught.

The airport was miserably crowded when I escaped from my flight and finally got through security. I could feel the instant temperature difference and ended up taking my sweater off, stuffing it my wheeled suitcase. Though it was almost January, I couldn’t help but notice those arriving from return flights were wearing t-shirts and the women had chosen open-toed shoes and shorter dresses. Immediately, I felt out of place by the tans and highlights. I began to count and felt around in my pocket for my phone, remembering my promise to Dad, and wanting to get it out of the way as soon as possible.

Charlie wanted to meet me at my flight exit but I convinced him it would be better for him to avoid the airport altogether, considering the tides of security personnel and cameras that would be washing over an international airport would be too risky for a FBI Most Wanted drop-out. And before I could even explain over the phone, Elise volunteered to be my chauffeur.

I spotted her in the parking terminal almost immediately. It was easy, as she was leaning her hand against the horn and flicking the headlights without reprieve.

Laughing, I flung my duffle bag over my shoulder and waved. Several people looked at her strangely as she stuck her head out of the open driver’s side window and began to shout.

“Addie! Hi! Over here!”

I cupped my hands to radiate the sound, “Yes! I see you!”

She waved me over, and I crossed the busy streets filled with taxis and beeping cars to the all-too-familiar black SUV.

“Hey, Elise, thanks so much for taking the time to do this.”

She stepped out and closed the door behind her. “Are you kidding? I get a chance to participate in the conspiracy for a change. You think I’ll pass that up? Anyway, driving always puts Tyler to sleep straightaway. This is probably the greatest nap he’ll ever have.” She smiled that warm, bright smile that was especially hers and embraced me in a hug. I thought she was wearing a different perfume from the last time I saw her.

I climbed in the backseat, eager to see the little guy. “Hello, young sir.” I plopped down my duffle bag and tossed my suitcase aside—glad to be rid of the heavy weight. Gently, I pulled at the pudgy toes that could only be shoe free in a California December.

Elise sighed and pulled herself back into the car. I thought that if she didn’t have those long legs, she wouldn’t be able to drive the tall vehicle at all. “He climbs everything and anything now. When he figures out he can walk, I think I’ll have a full-fledged nervous breakdown. He must have inherited Benjamin’s need to drive me crazy.” She threw her hands in the air, exasperated.