"I don't like it."
Eddie slams the salt shaker down with more force than necessary. The table shakes. I watch as my orange juice sloshes around in its glass before spilling over the side, dripping down and staining the white table cloth.
I lower my newspaper just enough to meet Eddie's gaze. He's turning red. I fight the urge to smile, clear my throat instead.
"Don't like what?" I ask, turning my attention back to the article before me, "Did they put peppers in your omelet? Terrible service here. I specifically heard you tell them not to."
I turn the page.
Eddie reaches a hand up and pulls the paper down to the table. Clearly I find the omelet comment much funnier than he does.
"Don't do that please." He says, his voice stern. I feel like a child, being scolded for misbehaving. I frown. Annoyed, I feign innocence.
"Don't do what?" I pick up the paper again. "Would you like me to pick the peppers out for you?"
Eddie raises an eyebrow and leans back in his chair. I smile and tilt my head to the side. The vein in his neck is starting to pulse.
"Don't…do that. That thing you do – avoid the subject, dismiss me like I'm a little kid. You know exactly what I don't like. And you know exactly why I don't like it." He leans toward me, his elbows resting on the table. He rests his chin on the tops of his hands. "In fact, I think that's why you're doing it?"
My smile falls. I pull the newspaper down and start to fold it up.
"You think I enjoy pushing your buttons?"
I put the folded newspaper inside of my purse and pick up my coffee, all the while keeping my eyes down. Eddie sighs.
"Yes. That's exactly what I think."
I nod, thoughtful, and take another sip of coffee. Then another. After about five minutes of uninterrupted silence I put the mug down and run my fingers through my hair before finally looking up and meeting Eddie's eyes across the table. I smile, a genuine smile this time, and lean towards him.
"You're wrong," I say. "Now, get your elbows off the table."
Ever since I'd told Eddie about my trip to the Bahama's he'd been behaving like a lunatic. Giving me the third degree every time I left to have dinner with friends, re-enacting the Spanish Inquisition every time I came home later than he anticipated. He was always there, waiting for me when I walked in the door. Sitting in the dark, low music playing. Not even the tv on to keep him company. It reminded me of being in highschool, having a curfew. Eddie began to remind me of my father. And that, needless to say, was totally creepy. A few times when I'd come home from the bar with the girls and I'd see him sitting there alone in the dark, I'd wanted to ask him if he had any friends at all. Somehow I doubt that would have helped the situation. The whole idea of my trip had made him into a crazy, jealous psychopath. And all because I was taking this trip with my ex-boyfriend.
Daniel Biggs, now a talented, budding TV producer with a knack for spotting the "next big thing", was known to me simply as Danny. We dated in college, and then after for a while. We lived together for almost a year before the big incident. I mean, I dated the guy for six and a half years before he abruptly and unceremoniously dumped my ass nine months ago. (Nine months, three days, and two hours ago to be exact…but hey, who's counting?) Six years and all I get is a phone call? Right. Anyway, needless to say I moved on from him as soon as possible, i.e. Eddie, and never planned to speak to or of Danny ever again. Of course, when the phone rang a month ago, that all changed.
Now, I get the fact that Danny is probably an extremely busy guy, what with his being a big shot producer and all, but when I got the phone call from his God damn secretary telling me that the vacation we'd planned almost a year ago couldn't be cancelled, and that we were going to have to go, or lose upwards 10,000 dollars….what was I supposed to do?
I called the jackass.
Me: What do you mean, it can't be cancelled? That's ridiculous. Why didn't you just call and cancel it when you broke up with me? I mean hell, Danny, you were already on the phone.
Danny: Look, Layla, if I had things my way we could just call the resort and get a full refund. As it so happens, Atlantis doesn't give full refunds for the Club Suites. Not to mention we already paid, booked dinner reservations, scuba lessons, a horseback ride on the beach, which was your idea, by the way…and a two day hike through the rainforest. So, unless you want to be out 10,000 apiece, we're going to have to go through with it.
Me: You know I don't have that kind of money laying around.
Danny: Do I?
Me: Jackass. You know I saved months worth of paychecks for that trip. God, can't you just take someone else? One of those floozies who's always throwing themselves at you?
Danny: Oh, Layla, don't be that way. Besides, I already thought of that. But we paid under my name, on my credit card. If you don't go I have to pay the whole way myself.
Me: Ooo, tragic.
Danny: Look, Lay, just-
Me: Don't call me that.
Danny: Just come with me. Okay? I'll sleep as far away from you as the bed allows.
Me: You'll sleep on the floor.
Danny: Oh come on Layla. I-
Me: Floor. Or I'm not going.
Apparently he really, really doesn't want to spend that money, because he agreed to sleeping on the floor for seven nights. Funny, the power large amounts of money and a vindictive ex-girlfriend can have on a man.
But anyway, now that the day of the trip has finally arrived, I knew it was really only a matter of time before Eddie asked me, for the hundredth time, not to go. Of course I knew he didn't like it. And of course that was partly why I was going. But the real reason, the main reason, was that I simply could not get out of it.
Believe me, I tried.
"I'm not sure you tried hard enough," Eddie grumbles, pulling out of the restaurant parking lot and into weekday morning traffic. I fight the urge to roll my eyes.
"Honestly Eddie, you're being a little over dramatic, don't you think?" I pull down the visor on the passenger's side and check myself in the mirror. Not that I feel the need to impress anyone…but its been nine and a half months since Danny's seen me, and I'll be damned if I show up to the airport with a zit or purple bags under my eyes. No way.
"Honestly Layla, I don't. I think my feelings are completely justified. What kind of man allows his girlfriend to go on a weeklong vacation with her ex? And not just any ex, but a wealthy, successful ex?" Eddie shakes his head and casts me a sideways glance, coupled with a small smile. "Now that I think about it, it won't be anyone's fault but mine if you do leave me after this."
I laugh uncomfortably.
"Trust me, Danny Biggs doesn't want to go on this trip anymore than I do. He's a tightwad. The thought of losing money terrifies him." I lift my hand and run it lazily through Eddie's blonde hair, and smile. "You have absolutely nothing to worry about."
"If you say so."
We smile at each other a moment before Eddie's mood darkens again.
"But I expect a phone call every night when you get back to the hotel."
I lean back in the seat.
"Ew, stop doing that!" I cover my eyes with my hands. "I already have one father, I don't need to two."
"Oh, come on. I thought you told me you think authority figures are sexy." He puts his free hand on my leg.
"Ew, Eddie, no." I slap his hand away. "Authority figures, yes. My dad, not so much." I shudder involuntarily. This conversation has killed any hope for my libido in the next month. Maybe even the next two months.
We spend the rest of the thirty minute ride to the airport in silence. I stare out the car window, half hoping and half dreading that somehow the flight gets cancelled. I don't want to go. I chance a quick look at Eddie, and I wish I hadn't. His jaw is set, and he's gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles are turning white. He has more to say on this vacation business, but he seems to sense my unease, and he stays quiet. One of the best things about Eddie- he may be over protective to a fault, but he doesn't push. Not like Danny always did.
Danny. The thought of him makes me momentarily nauseous, and my nerves are going haywire. This vacation is going to be miserable, and I as I sit staring out the window at the approaching airport, I'm fairly certain that only one of us will make it out alive.
"No, the front's blocked off," Anna said, pacing around the office as she spoke with the Limo driver on her Bluetooth, completely ignoring me. "You're going to have to pull around the back of the building."
I look at her, start to say something. She holds up one finger that stops me before I even begin. How she does that, I will never understand.
I watch as she crosses the room to my luggage, waiting by the office door. She writes something down on a tag and slips it around the luggage handle. She turns to me.
"I'm not really sure what you'd do without me," She smiles and slips off the Bluetooth headset.
"I don't know. I mean, I guess I'd have to write my own luggage tags." I shrug. "That would really suck."
Anna gives me a look, and I raise an eyebrow.
"What?" I ask, crossing my arms over my chest.
"Look," she walks toward me, and I drop my eyes to the ground, "I know you aren't happy about this trip. But guess what? She isn't either. Trust me. I am the one who had to tell her about it in the first place." She smacks my shoulder. "You big chicken."
I straighten the lapel of my jacket and give Anna a dirty look.
"I'm not a chicken," I grumble, placing my thumb and forefinger on either side of the bridge of my nose. "I don't like confrontation."
Anna snorts, and it annoys me. Everything annoys me today. Everything has annoyed me for the past month and a half, ever since I remembered about this damn trip. I mean, ask any guy and he'll tell you the same thing. The last thing he wants to do is go on a romantic vacation with a bitter ex girlfriend. Add the prospect of losing large sums of money to that, and you have a single guy's worst nightmare.
"Don't like confrontation, huh?" She smacks me again. I grit my teeth. "Please. You're scared of a girl."
"I am not…scared of a girl." I pinch the bridge of my nose as hard as I can, then stand up. "Besides, you don't know her. She fights dirty."
I look down at my suit, pick a piece of imaginary lint off my shirt. The last thing I need right now is another excuse to dread this trip, and Anna's giving me a whole list of them. I don't want to go. My God, I do not want to go.
Anna walks closer to me. She brushes the front of my jacket off, lifts her hands to straighten my tie. I look down at her and give her my best puppy dog face. She expertly ignores me, showing off her years of practice.
"Please don't make me go." I say, leaning my head back, staring at the ceiling. "Please, Anna, make up an excuse for me. Just call Layla and tell her the trip is cancelled because I…have…a dental appointment."
Even as I say this out loud, even as I fully appreciate how ridiculous it sounds, I feel like the idea is genius.
Clearly, Anna does not agree.
"A dental appointment?" She shakes her head, smiling pitifully. "You are a sorry excuse for a man, Mr. Biggs."
I shrug, unfazed. "I hear root canals can take up to twelve hours to complete. Days of recovery time, Anna." I lower my eyes to meet hers, raise my eyebrows and lower my voice to a whisper. "Days…"
Anna pulls my head down to look at her, locking both hands on either side of my face and squeezing.
"Snap out of it." She hisses, no longer finding me funny. "She is just a woman, a woman like any other woman you've slept with and dumped. Okay? Calm down." She abruptly lets go of my face. "Watching you be this pathetic is making me rethink working for you."
I nod in agreement, rolling my shoulders back.
"Yeah, okay, I get it. You're right."
Except she isn't right. Layla Anderson is anything but just another woman. If she weren't special, I wouldn't be nervous. I wouldn't care about going on this trip. I wouldn't have on my best suit, damnit. What the hell have I gotten myself into?
My stomach rolls.
"I know I'm right," Anna's saying, not paying any attention to me anymore, "I'm always right." She picks up my suitcases, opens the office door, and flings them unceremoniously out into the hallway. I watch from where I stand, too nervous to yell or fidget or do anything other than stare straight ahead. Anna walks back over to me, positions herself behind me, and shoves me in the direction of the open door. I trip over one of my suitcases and land face first on the scratchy carpet.
"Ow," I grumble, pushing myself up onto my knees, "was that really necessary?"
Anna is looking down at me, a smug grin on her face.
"Got you out of the office, didn't it? Now, your driver just pulled around out back. You have a little over an hour and a half to get to the airport, if you leave right now. So just remember what I told you."
I nod, standing up and dusting my suit off. "Always change my underwear."
Anna smacks my arm playfully, her hand on the doorknob ready to slam it shut. "She's just like any other girl, Danny."
I frown. "Oh, right, that part."
She begins to shut the door, then stops, looking at me thoughtfully. She reaches a hand out and smoothes the lapel of my suit jacket.
"Try and have fun, okay?"
I smile in what I hope is a reassuring manner.
I don't know how many times I've tied and re-tied my shoelaces. I stopped counting after six. My nerves are getting the best of me. It's as though I'm powerless to stop my fidgeting, and my feet are starting to ache from the constant pressure. I glanced down at my watch again. Forty-five minutes until take off. So, where the hell is he?
I bend over and unlace the double knot I just tied on my right shoe, re-tie it with just a little too much force. I wince as I pull the strings out on either side and proceed to loop them together to form an even tighter knot than the last time.
"Layla," Eddie plucks my hands away from my sneaker and pulls them into his lap. "I think you've got them tied, sweetheart. You're going on round twenty-two."
"He's late," I hiss, keeping my eyes straight forward. "I hate it when people are late. He knows I hate it when people are late."
Eddie pats my hands.
"Well then, I'm sure he probably has a good reason."
I turn and glare at him, yanking my hands violently out of his lap and folding my arms across my chest.
"Who's side…are you on?"
Eddie gives me a look that says he isn't in the mood for my petulance. I'm being a child, I know. But I can't seem to get it to stop. It's either this, or curl into the fetal position right here in the middle of the airport terminal.
I sigh and sink down into my chair.
"Layla, the plane doesn't take off for another half hour. Please, just relax." He wraps his arms around my shoulders and, like a child, I melt into him.
"You were right, this was a terrible idea." I mumble against him, turning my face into his shoulder. "It's just 10,000 dollars…why didn't you try and talk me out of it?"
Eddie chuckles, the rough wool of his jacket scraping the side of my cheek.
"Ah, honey. I hope you aren't serious."
He snorts. "Oh, come on. You know I tired."
I shrug again.
"Look, whenever I try and talk you out of something, you just dig your heels in deeper."
I sit up, leaning back in my chair. Funny, I've never noticed this before, but I suppose it's true. Everything I know I shouldn't do, and probably wouldn't do otherwise, I make it a point of doing as soon as Eddie says it's a bad idea. Funny also, that it never seemed to be that way when I was with Danny.
"Yeah, I guess you're right."
The admission bothers me more than it should.
Eddie takes one of my hands in his and squeezes it. I resist the instantaneous urge to pull away. My stomach churns, my nervousness returning. A lump rises in my throat and I swallow, hard.
"Are you having second thoughts about going?" Eddie asks, sounding hopeful. "Because it's not too late to say you've changed your mind. I'll go get the car right now."
He starts to stand up, but I put a hand out to stop him and shake my head no.
"My bags are probably already loaded onto the plane." I check my watch again. "We're going to start boarding soon."
I glance around me in the terminal, then back in the direction of the security lines. The plane is set to take off in less than thirty minutes.
Where the hell is he?
"Is there any way we could go just a little bit slower? That'd be great."
The driver gave me just the slightest of dirty looks over his shoulder. I sat back in the seat nearest the partition to give him some space. Stretch limos. Not a fan.
"I'm sorry. Slower, sir? I'm already going five under the speed limit."
I glance out the window. It's true, other cars are flying around us, honking and displaying several types of choice hand gestures as they go. I turn and look out the front windshield- the airport looms ominously close, only another five or ten minutes drive. I check my watch. A little less than forty-five minutes to take off.
"Damnit," I mumble, buttoning my suit jacket and running a hand through my hair. Anna must have anticipated my stalling. It makes sense now, why she had the driver arrive so early to pick me up.
"Sir?" The driver asks, as if looking for confirmation on his speed, or possibly on his destination. Since it's now evident that plan A has failed, I am now intending to whole heartedly accept plan B.
"Looks like its full speed ahead, my man. Now, where…do you keep the good scotch back here?" I move towards the rear of the limo and begin rummaging around in the contents of the mini bar. "I have roughly ten minutes to get drunk, and I intend to take full advantage of that."
The driver clears his throat.
"If I may, I don't believe that scotch and airplanes are the best combination."
I laugh, half nodding as I finally locate the bottle I've been searching for in the mini bar and pour a generous amount into one of the glass tumblers.
"No, probably not," I look at the amber liquid in the tumbler and will it to take effect as soon as possible. "Scotch and an ex-girlfriend however, are an entirely different story."
I raise the glass in the driver's direction and catch his eye in the rearview mirror. "To your health," I quip, then down the contents of the tumbler in one long gulp. It burns all the way down, and I cough a few times before I can really breathe again.
"That looks way cooler in the movies." I grumble, pouring myself another as we pull into the airport parking lane.
"The second one usually goes down easier." The driver says, a smile in his voice, as he comes to a complete stop and gets out of the limo. I stare at the liquid a moment then toss it back again. Just as bad this time as it was before. Still, I can feel its warmth in my chest, and the tingling begin in my arms and legs, so at the very least it's working.
I open the door and step out of the limo, and the scotch goes straight to my head.
"You'd better get going sir, or you're going to miss your flight."
I nod, half listening. I'm dizzy. I should have known not to drink so much so fast. I step toward him, my hand outstretched in the direction of my bags.
"I'll get these checked in. You go ahead." He says, grinning at me.
I check in and grab my boarding pass in a blur, focusing on just getting onto the plane and sitting down. Possibly going to sleep. I pass through security and somehow manage to get to the gate just as they call the last section to board.
As I step up and hand my boarding pass to the flight attendant I take a second to glance around me. No sign of Layla anywhere. Maybe she changed her mind and left. Maybe that wasn't an entirely terrible idea.
Just as I'm considering doing exactly that, I hear it – "Where the hell have you been?"
Oh, yeah. This is going to be fun.