I did the best I could, I guess, but everything just bleeds.
"Come on, let's go, Alex. Get off the cell phone—Gemma or Brooke or whoever that is can wait until we get home. You don't need to be talking to them every single second of your life."
I gave my father an over-exaggerated eye-roll, and returned to my conversation. "What were you saying, Gem? Adrian Hall's party?" Despite my refusal to get off the phone, I shambled after my parents as they led the way into the airport. Gemma continued her speech on the social importance of being seen at Adrian's as though nothing had happened.
"Literally everyone will be there, Alex. Please tell me that you're coming, so I don't have to go through the trouble of kidnapping you."
"Yeah, yeah, I'll come. I'm not Adrian's biggest fan, though, you know? I'd like to avoid him if possible."
Everything after 'I'll come' was drowned out by Gemma's raving about Adrian's perfect face, and how if he was more her style, she'd be all over him in a second…I knew better than to interrupt her when she got started on one of her rants. I even managed to hold my tongue when she started in on what a good couple Adrian and I would make.
"Seriously, Alex. Phone. Off. Now."
"Alright, Dad, I'm off! I'm off." I gave a bored sigh and said to Gemma, "Look, Gem, I'll call you in the morning, okay? We're supposed to be going through luggage checks and airport security and all that like, as of ten minutes ago."
"Fine," she said, "but you'd better start thinking about an outfit."
I laughed. "Goodbye, Gemma!" I snapped my cell shut. Black numbers lit up on the screen—12:02 AM. I quickly pressed the vibrate button and tossed it into my purse.
Just as we were finishing up with the baggage check, a flight delay was announced over the PA system.
"Tell me that's not ours, Dan," my mother said, sighing politely. "I've got a facial booked at eight in the morning tomorrow. I don't want to be all puffy-eyed and jetlagged when I get to the salon."
"Mum, the entire point of a salon is to fix things like that. Stop worrying."
"Yes, it's ours. Don't worry, I'm sure the delay won't be long. And the salon won't mind switching your appointment so you're later in the afternoon, if it comes to that. Honey, you put enough money into their pockets to be exempt from any twenty-four hour cancellation rules."
"Still, it's rude," she mumbled disagreeably.
I patted her arm. "It won't be long, Mum. We'll just go grab a coffee or something—I'm pretty sure there's a Starbuck's on the second floor."
Sure enough, the infamously prevalent coffee shop was nestled in between a news stand and a souvenir store, and we sat down to cold drinks and biscotti while we waited for the new flight schedule to be announced. Several others from our flight were waiting there, also, and we chatted with them for awhile. Meeting the other people who share your delayed fate always seems to help ease the annoyance, I've found. By the time we were finally called to board for Viiran City, the three of us—and some of the other passengers—were actually feeling pretty good. We'd made some new acquaintances, were wide awake because of all the coffee, and were at last on our way home.
I followed my parents as we made our way toward the terminal, thinking about the impending party. It was Sunday, and Adrian had planned the event for Saturday. That gave me barely any time to put myself in order. I'd managed to avoid talking to Adrian all summer, and all the previous year, pretty much, beyond formalities. I would have to talk to him if he found me while I was at his house. I repressed a shudder as the guards directed me through the metal detector.
"You're clear—have a nice flight, miss," one of the guards said, waving me off. I hadn't noticed him until he'd said it, but now that I did, I certainly noticed that he was extremely attractive. I was so used to balding, middle-aged men at airport security that it came as a shock to see someone who had to be only a handful of years older than I was, although he barely looked that. His eyes were dark, and there was a glint in them that I didn't like. I forced a smile, and turned away to once again follow after my mother and father.
"I totally just got checked out by the security guard," I joked. "I'm surprised you didn't see that and tell me to throw a sweater on, what with your super-Dad-senses and all."
"I didn't think a fifty-five-year-old man was much of a threat to your purity, sweetie," he laughed, glancing back toward the security station. I followed his gaze—not a sign of the guard I'd seen only a matter of seconds before.
I frowned, but smoothed my features as I turned back to my parents. "He could have been spry for his age!" I gave a nervous giggle, but it was lost to both of my parents as we approached the boarding hall. I tightened my grip on my carry-on apprehensively.
The flight attendants took our tickets and directed us to our seats, all smiles and courtesy. I selfishly took the window seat, although so late at night it's not as if we could see much.
"You don't look too well, Alex. We're not even in the air yet! And you don't get motion sickness!" My mother smiled sympathetically and patted me on the back from the seat beside me. Much like my father, she was admittedly not very good at comforting people. Also like him, she wasn't away from her job long enough to experience the joys of real parenting, and thus lacked some crucial skills in that department. "Do you need something for your stomach?"
More like for my head, considering I'm hallucinating, I thought bitterly. I was fine a few minutes ago, why is my heart racing so fast now?
"I'm fine," I answered aloud. "I'm pretty sure three cups of black coffee just does this to people who only drink lattés and mochas."
"If you're going into law when you're done school, you'd better get used to it," my father said. "Or anywhere in the corporate world, for that matter. Your Commerce degree is only going to come with the aid of gallons of black coffee, I regret to inform you—and law after that? You'll be living on the stuff in a few years, I guarantee it."
"I will take caffeine pills," I muttered, knowing that coffee was most likely not the cause behind my sudden illness—not that I had any idea what was.
I sat quietly while the flight attendants ran through the perfectly-choreographed routine on airline safety. As if everyone on the plane hadn't seen the demonstrations they presented us with a thousand times before, and as if they weren't sick to death of performing it, they kept brilliant smiles on the entire time. I wondered how upbeat they'd be if we crashed, and they actually had to cling desperately for survival to a seat cushion while waves tossed them around in the wreckage. Would they smile so cheerfully if they found themselves drifting into a corpse?
I shivered, and pushed the uncharacteristically morbid thoughts from my head. It really wasn't like me to think so…creepily.
Soon we were pulling away from the terminal, and I forced myself to relax. Honestly, we were on our way home after being away for a full two weeks. I had tons of new clothes to show off. I'd gotten my hair done in the most expensive, exclusive studio I had ever even come across, I had about thirty new shades of eye-shadow and lip gloss to try out upon my return…and on top of everything, there was a huge party coming up where I could show off a great new outfit and perfect hair! This was hardly the time to be getting all depressive.
The plane took off without incident. Despite my strange, nauseous apprehension, I fell asleep within minutes to the easy glide of the aircraft through clear skies. There wasn't a cloud in sight out the window.
My head cracked against glass, and I was immediately flooded with adrenaline. I jerked upright, my eyes darting around nervously for the source of the disturbance.
The entire plane was shaking. I lifted one hand to my throbbing forehead, and it came away tainted with blood. I'd been using my arm as a pillow while I slept, and the metal on my watch had to have caught the skin when we hit turbulence and I fell into the glass of the window.
"What's going on?" I quietly asked my parents as I turned to look outside. There were no stars visible—the wing was barely visible.
"We're passing through a bit of a rough patch, folks. Hold tight, and keep your trays up. We'll be out of it in a few minutes. Until then, it is advised to remain in your seats, and keep your seatbelts on."
My father calmly said, "I suppose that answers your question," as he checked to make sure his carry-on—which came in the form of a briefcase—was securely shut, and then placed it cleverly under one foot to keep it from sliding around.
It was several more minutes before things evened out, and the seatbelt sign turned off again. The captain announced that we were once again free to move about the cabin if necessary, and that we were safely in the clear. He cracked a joke or two to lighten the mood, and then signed off by telling us all to return to sleep if we so desired.
I looked around. Nobody seemed too fazed, and they were all dutifully returning to their peaceful sleeping—meanwhile, the nervous feeling I'd had when we'd first gotten onto the plane was returning threefold.
"I think I'll go to the bathroom," I said absently, standing up and sliding past my parents to reach the aisle. The washroom was only a few steps away—one of the many advantages of first-class seating—and I locked myself in with a sigh of relief. Somehow that nice, enclosed little piece of solitude helped calm me.
I ran the water for a moment or two, and then splashed some on my face. Every cool droplet that hit my skin made me feel a bit better, until I felt confident I could go back out into the plane and perhaps enjoy the rest of the quiet ride to Viiran City. I bent over one last time to flick the water off of my face, and stood up to see someone staring back at me from the reflection in the mirror.
My face froze in an expression of pure shock, while my heart raced too fast to be healthy in contrast.
"Hello, Alex," the reflection said calmly. I quickly placed him as the disappearing guard from the airport. I couldn't find the words to speak, however. He couldn't have been in the lavatory with me! With the stance I was in, I was talking up well over half of the standing room.
I quickly whirled around, pressing myself up against the sink as I did so. Although it was impossible to imagine that he'd been there only a moment before, he was certainly standing in front of me right then.
"H-how did you g-get in here? Who are you?" I stuttered out weakly, keeping my eyes trained on his hands, in case he pulled some sort of a weapon on me.
He flashed me a winning grin, and said, "It doesn't really matter how I got here. The name's Valin Vanden."
"You should just get away from me," I hissed, reaching for the door handle. "The flight attendants are going to notice I'm taking too long, or my parents will, or…something."
Before I had a chance to react, he had my wrist in a grip of iron with one hand, while he covered my mouth with the other.
"I can spot what I want a mile away," the stranger said, staring directly into my eyes as he spoke, "and you're a prize and a half, I can tell. You may not be showing it off to the world, but you're something else. I intend to take advantage of that, Alex." He paused, as if considering something. "This plane is about to go down. Flying that metal nose of its right into a storm, you know? There'll be no survivors."
I attempted to say something, but it was just a harshly-repressed groan against his cool palm.
"Rude of you to interrupt," he said dangerously. "That said, I have an offer that you can't really refuse."
I tried once again to speak. This time, his black eyes glinted with rage. He slammed me back against the mirror with a growl. My head hit the glass with a loud crack, and my free hand banged the sink as I tried to stabilize myself.
"You're to keep your mouth shut, do you understand? Not a sound."
The back of my head throbbed, and I suppressed a whimper. I managed to nod beneath his fierce grip.
"Easily trained," he whispered. "Perfect."
That brought something out in me. I drove one knee up as hard as I could, and used my free arm to shove against him in a desperate attempt to gain freedom. I kicked and pushed and thrashed with all of my strength, but he didn't move so much as an inch. It was as good as fighting against a brick wall. All it seemed to do was anger him even more.
My foot hit the door, and it made an enormous sound. The stewardesses would hear me, now—I would be saved! They'd ask me what was wrong and either I wouldn't answer because this 'Valin' had his hand covering my mouth, or he'd let me go and I'd call for help.
"You idiot," he snarled, pulling away from me completely. I drew in a breath, and just as I was about to let out and scream bloody murder for someone to save me, he wrapped his hands around my head and smashed me into the mirror again, and again, and then a third time. The glass cracked loudly with every hit, until finally half of it fell off of the mount and hit the metal sink. It shattered all over the place, and at last a flight attendant knocked hard at the door.
"Miss, what's going on in there? Are you okay?!"
My brain raced to think of how to say something, but as the stranger let me out of his hands, I just slithered to the floor. Black spots danced at the edge of my vision, and I focused on his feet as best I could to stay conscious.
"I think you should come out now, miss. Is everything alright?"
Through absolutely no will of my own, I found myself saying, "I'm so sorry, ma'am, I'm incredibly airsick right now. I slipped and dropped my compact just now, and the stupid thing broke. I'll be fine in a minute, I'm so sorry about the trouble."
She'll never believe that, I thought dizzily. She must have heard us fighting. She'll go get someone else to help her open the door, now!
To my shock and horror, I heard her answer back lazily, "Oh, okay. I'll keep you from being bothered, then."
I looked down at my hands. They were shaking, and cut up from the glass on the floor. They seemed so perfect. Just great, I've got a concussion…oh, God. I tried to stand on my own, but was hauled up before I got a decent chance at it.
"Y-you made me say that," I weakly accused. "You made me."
"I can make you do a lot of things, given the opportunity." His black eyes looked me up and down, and he grinned. "Back to business. This plane is going to crash, Alex, and every single person on it is going to die. Not a chance of survival, you got me? Except for you. You're going to live."
I took in several gulps of air, trying to keep myself from getting sick all over him, as much as I wanted to. "And why's that?" I asked, my voice strange even to my own ears.
"Because I'm going to get you off of the plane."
"Why would you do that?"
"I want things from you," he said darkly. "And this is the perfect opportunity to put you in my debt."
I struggled to say, "How do you even know the plane is going to go down? We passed the turbulence already. Captain said clear skies for the rest of the flight."
"I know everything. Remember that—everything. If I say it's true, it's true. Really, you could take this or leave it, but you are going to take it, or you'll die. And I…" He smirked, then drew my hand up toward him. I couldn't seem to pull it away, no matter how hard I tried. Slowly, carefully, he dragged the tip of his tongue over a line of blood snaking its way across my skin. When he reached the wound it came from, he lightly placed his lips over it.
"Get away from me…what the hell is wrong with you?" I hissed, finally breaking the spell and wrenching my hand from his grasp. I nervously ran a finger over the place he had just touched.
The cut was gone. I shuddered.
With a satisfied smile on his terrible, pale lips, he reached over to unlatch the door. "I'll be back when it's time for you to make your choice," he said simply. I jumped for the handle, only to realize that he couldn't oppose me, because he was no longer there.
My head was spinning as I stumbled out into the hall. Everyone within hearing distance was openly gawking at me, and every second more eyes were added to the group.
"Are you okay? Honey, you're bleeding all over the place!" The comment finally came from a woman with a thick southern accent sitting just two rows back, in the aisle seat.
I stared blankly at her for a moment before turning to retreat through the curtains separating first class from coach.
Eyes followed me as I shakily made my way up to my row. Unlike on the other side of the class-divide, these were not the kind of people to get involved in potentially messy things that were none of their business. A few whispers were all that could be heard as I stopped to get my bearings. I was breathing heavily—the air seemed to be thin and insubstantial, and I just couldn't get enough of it. I took another step forward, then another. I managed to get myself right next to my parents before the pounding at the back of my skull finally consumed me.
The last thing I heard as my legs collapsed from under me and I sunk back into my head was my father's worried and horrified cry of, "Alex! Oh my God…"
And then, nothing.