"It will be good. It will be normal, and, heaven knows, you need a bit of normalcy." The words echoed in my mind as I stared out the window and waited for the plane to leave the tarmac. My madre adottiva had spoken them 2 weeks before I left. I could still see her frizzled blonde hair sticking out at odd angles as she stopped and ran her finger along my chin. Always busy, she was. Always rushing around to take care of the 9 children in her care, but she stopped for me...for that one moment. Her eyebrows rose toward each other worriedly, and her lopsided smile showed that she pitied me for my hard life.
Was my life hard? I shifted in my seat, and the window showed me my reflection. With my ash blonde hair tied back in a bun, you could see my facial features clearly. My eyes were big and green, my nose very straight, and my chin small and pointed. I tried to study my eyes to see what sort of person I was. I have always found that you could tell a lot about a person through their eyes. But, maybe, it doesn't work in a mirror. The eyes in the window only stared back at me curiously as though they were trying to see who I was.
"Is this seat taken?"
I looked up to see a smiling man with a briefcase. He looked to be in his late 30s, and he wore a gray suit. For a moment, our eyes met and held each other's gaze. There was something in his deep brown eyes that I didn't like. Something possessive. Like he thought he owned some part of me. Cheeky -- since I had never seen him before in my life.
I clinched my jaw and scooted closer to the window -- an unnecessary maneuver since the seats were separated by arm rests -- but I felt that I wanted to be as far away from him as possible. I pretended to stare out of the window again, but all of my senses were trained on the newcomer. He stuffed his briefcase into an overhead compartment, smoothed the front of his suit coat, and settled into the seat next to me. Then he coughed and propped his right ankle on his left knee.
"First time flying by yourself?" he asked.
I turned and gave him a withering glance that was meant to communicate that 13-year-old girls like me found 30-year-old men like him both annoying and boring. If I had my ear buds with me, I would have put them in to solidify my silent argument.
"Scared?" he asked, as though I had freely admitted that, yes, this was my first time flying by myself.
Scared? Yeah, I was scared of a lot of things, but flying was not one of them and I only wished I could be more by myself than I was at that moment.
"My name is Robert," he went on.
"Oh, please go away," I thought.
"I presume your name is Kelsey?" he said.
Startled, my eyes shifted quickly from the window to his face. This guy was creepy. How did he know my name?
He was smiling again, and indicated my sleeve with a flick of his hand. I glanced down and saw my nametag, announcing my identity to the world. A flood of red rushed into my cheeks and ears, and I quickly ripped the name from my sleeve. Never mind that my madre adottiva had strictly instructed me to keep it visible and to not let it get wet. I couldn't stand the thought that complete strangers had access to my personal information.
The Robert-person chuckled. "Don't worry," he said, softly. "I won't tell."
The nerve of that man! What gave him the right to pretend like he was on friendly terms with me? I lifted my chin defiantly. "I like my name," I told him. "And I don't care who you tell."
He flicked a white fuzz from his gray suit and then turned to me with a searching gaze. "Is there another name you like better?" he asked.
My heart skipped a beat, and I felt the color rush to my face again. Surely, he did not know...And, yet, there was a depth to his gaze that carried more than friendly banter. I felt a thin blade of fear slide into my core as I searched his face. But his face was as impenetrable as my own reflection had been.
"No," I said finally. My mouth felt dry.
His lips pursed in an attempt to cover up his amusement, and his eyes held the smirk of a conqueror after a small victory.
I turned away from him and pulled my long-sleeve shrug closer around myself. The window shades were closing as the plane prepared for take-off, but still I stared at them as though I saw the world outside. Inside, my mind was reeling, trying to explain away the man's behavior.
A tap on my shoulder startled me, and my hand flew up to block at the same time that I sucked my breath in with a gasp.
It was only Robert...again.
"Sorry to startle you," he said, softly. His tone was serious. "If you need anything, I want you to know that you can always call me." He held out a scrap of paper with his name and a phone number scrawled across it. Reflexively, I took the paper from him.
"Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm going to find a new seat before the stewardess locks us in for the flight," he finished, shoving himself to his feet and digging his briefcase out of the overhead compartment.
As he moved away, I dropped the paper like a hot coal and wiped my fingers on my jeans. I sincerely hoped I would never see the man again.