You Owe Me a Murder(3)

And I was going to be stuck strapped in directly behind the lovebirds for the entire flight, watching them crawl all over each other in the tiny coach seats. I squeezed my eyes shut as if I could block out the mental image playing on the big screen of my mind. I’d told myself a thousand times since we’d all checked in and I’d heard our seating assignments that I could handle this, but with every second that went by, it was becoming increasingly clear to me that I wouldn’t make it. I’d snap somewhere thirty-three thousand feet up and beat the two of them over the head with the in-flight magazine.

Or start crying again. I wasn’t sure which would be worse. You would think there was only so much crying a person could do before she got completely dehydrated. I’d told myself I couldn’t stand him anymore, so why did my heart still seize and my throat grow tight every time he was around?

I stood up so suddenly that my bag fell to the floor. I snatched it up and strode over to the airline counter. The gate agent didn’t look up. She was too preoccupied typing into her computer. Her fingernails, which had a thick layer of bright red gel polish, made a strange clacking sound on the keys. I cleared my throat, but she still didn’t stop.

“Excuse me,” I managed to get out before she held up a finger to silence me.

She finally finished whatever she was doing and glanced up. “If you’re asking about the delay, I don’t have any more information. As soon as we get clearance, we’ll start boarding.” There was makeup creased on her forehead and I suspected she was on her last nerve. She was a walking reminder to never go into a customer service occupation.

I leaned forward even though logically I knew Connor couldn’t hear me from where he was sitting. “I wondered if I could change my seat?”

She scrunched up her face. “I don’t think—?”

“See the guy back there?” I yanked my head in Connor’s direction. “That’s my ex-boyfriend. We’re going to England on a travel program. I’m supposed to sit right behind him.” I paused. “For nine hours.”

Her perfectly arched eyebrows shot up to her hairline and she looked over my shoulder.

I sensed I was getting somewhere. “He was my first boyfriend.” My voice cracked and I had to swallow over and over to keep control. “He dumped me just a couple weeks ago.”

Her eyes softened, but she shook her head. “I’m sorry, but I can’t—?”

“That’s his new girlfriend. She used to be my best friend.”

The gate agent sucked in a breath and looked over at Connor as though he were something she’d scraped off her shoe.

I felt bad as soon as the words were out of my mouth. Miriam and I had never even hung out before this trip, let alone been friends, but I needed the agent to help me. Desperate times called for desperate measures.

I don’t lie to hurt people, or to pull something over on them, but I guess sometimes I . . . make up stories to make myself more interesting. As long as I can remember, I’ve done it. On the playground in elementary school, I told the other kids that fairies lived in my backyard. In junior high I let everyone think I’d been adopted. I didn’t want to lie. I wanted to be normal and interesting, but I wasn’t.

I hadn’t lied with Connor. With him I’d been one hundred percent honest about my feelings, and look how that had turned out.

The agent clacked away on the computer. “Your name?”

“Kim, Kim Maher.” I spelled my last name.

“I need your old boarding pass.” I slid the limp piece of paper across the counter. She tore it in half as the machine spat out a new one. She passed it over to me with a wink. “He doesn’t deserve you. Have a good trip.”

The tight band around my chest loosened. “Thanks.”

I wove through the crowd clustered around the gate and plopped back down in my seat. I pushed the New York Times I’d already read out of the way and pulled out the magazine I’d brought. I hid between the pages, blinking back tears. The gate agent was right. Connor didn’t deserve me. It was the same thing Emily told me. But even if I knew it was true, it didn’t hurt any less. All I had to do was figure out how to get my heart to catch up to the fact that my head didn’t like him anymore.

A girl slid a few seats over to be next to me. “Did she say anything about the delay?” Her English accent made me feel as if I’d dropped onto the set of a BBC historical drama.

I shook my head and quickly wiped my eyes so she wouldn’t notice the tears. “No news.”

The girl sighed. She pulled her legs up and wrapped her arms around her knees. She tugged the thin cream cashmere sweater sleeves over her hands. She glanced down at the stack of paper on the chair next to me. “Your Times?”

I nodded.

“Did you read the article about the changes to the space program? I saw it earlier this morning.”

I jumped slightly in surprise. She seemed like someone who would spot a copy of InStyle at a hundred meters but wouldn’t know a shuttle from a rocket if she were whacked across the face with one of them. “Uh-huh.” I picked up the paper, looking for the Science section.

“I think that’s what I like about a real paper,” she said. “It’s like a knowledge Easter egg hunt. You never know what you’re going to find.”

I nodded like a bobble-head doll. That was exactly why I loved reading a paper too. “Yeah. Are you into space stuff?”

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