Tripping over my suitcase, I land on my knees, which take the brunt of the fall as I skid across the carpet. Biting back the burning pain, I stumble out of my bedroom to answer the front door.
“Sienna!” Paige calls out from the other side.
“One sec!” I say and slide the chain lock away from the door.
“You’re not even up?” Paige’s mouth falls open.
She pushes past me and comes inside.
“I’ve been calling and texting you for the past hour.”
As I run both hands over the top of my head and through my hair, a long, deep sigh escapes my lips.
“Thank you, Captain Obvious,” she says and brushes her hands toward me in a hurrying fashion. “Let’s go; we have half an hour to make it to the airport.”
In my camisole and panties, I rush past her back toward my room, still trying to fully wake up. I yank the outfit I set out last night from the back of my desk chair and throw everything on in seconds. I’ll have to forget about a shower because there’s no time. There’s not even time to brush my teeth, so I swig back a mouthful of mint—gargle, swish, and spit—and then graze my deodorant sloppily underneath both arms so fast that I think I missed the left pit altogether. No makeup. Dark auburn hair pulled into a messy something-or-another at the back of my head. I look like death.
Finally, when I’m as ready as time will allow, I shoulder my purse and yank on the pull-out handle of the suitcase I tripped over, rolling it behind me as I rush toward the door. Stepping into my red Chucks without stopping long enough to push my heels into them properly, I slam my apartment door behind us on the way out, wincing as I hear the photograph of my parents hanging by the window hit the floor with a thump and a crash.
I’m hardly ever late for anything. Ever. My fear of flying has everything to do with why I didn’t hear the alarm this morning. I want to go to Hawaii—more than anything—but I know the next several hours of my life as I’m moving through the sky in a glorified sardine can forty thousand feet above an abyss of ocean will cause enough stress to take years off my life—if the plane doesn’t crash and kill me first.
Everything about this trip so far is going wrong.
We make it to the airport just in time, surprised I didn’t have anything suspicious in my purse that I forgot to take out before going through security, and we’re on the plane minutes before takeoff.
“You sure you’re gonna be all right?” Paige asks, sitting next to me in the window seat.
“No, I’m definitely not sure,” I say, trying to settle myself, “but nothing I can do about it.”
“Want me to knock you out?”
I smirk over at her.
“No, I think I’ll pass, but thanks for the generous offer.”
She grins and shakes her head, peering down into her phone. I know she’s itching to tell me how ridiculous it is to be so afraid to fly, but she’s doing well to hold her tongue. For now. I give her an hour and she’ll cave to the urge and tell me anyway. Because that’s what best friends do—they give each other shit.
Paige is slender and tanned like a Hawaiian Tropic model, wearing a pair of short shorts and a pink ball cap that fits snugly over her small, blond head. My boss, Miss Cassandra Harrington, glamour girl extraordinaire with a passion for money and all the things it can buy, agreed to hire Paige on as my assistant, even against her initial concerns about Paige being my best friend. We love the new arrangement—me because she helps keep my head on straight in this hectic profession, and Paige because she started out as Cassandra’s assistant and that’s enough to break anyone ten times over. I should know because I also started out there.
So I don’t have an anxiety attack and embarrass myself on this flight, I slip my earbuds in and lay the back of my head against the headrest, hoping to soothe my rattled nerves somewhat with the constant sound of rain pattering and swishing in my ears. It’s not nearly as effective as a Valium might be, the sound of rain, but it helps a little and I’ll take what I can get. I keep several variations of rain sound effects on my iPod for times like these.
As the plane takes off, I grip the arms of my seat so tight it feels like my fingernails could pierce the hard plastic. Breathe, Sienna. Just breathe. Paige is sitting next to me with a big smile that I assume is supposed to be her way of saying, See, there’s nothing to it—look at me. I’m not afraid. She means well, she really does, but like a lot of people, she just doesn’t understand the fear.
I close my eyes and listen to the rain, picturing myself sitting on land, watching the droplets fall all around me and sink into the earth. And I think about my twenty-two years of life as if it’s my last chance to be intimate with my happiest memories.
Six hours later I’m on Oahu in one of the most beautiful places in the world. And I’m still alive. I’m equally excited and disappointed to be here—excited because, well, it’s Oahu, disappointed because I’m not here to inhale the beauty of the island or spend days photographing it as I’d always dreamed, but instead to work my butt off arranging someone else’s wedding. But I can’t complain. The trip is fully paid for and not a lot of people can say they’ve even been to Hawaii, much less went on someone else’s dime—I’m a lucky girl.
“I’m so excited!” Paige says over the buzzing of conversations in the airport. “Our first time in Hawaii. It’s going to be awesome.”
Paige reaches out a ring-decorated hand for my duffel bag. “When we get to the hotel I’ll get you checked in and make sure your room is up to par.” She’s trying so hard to play the assistant—carrying one of my bags for me, pretending she’s not my best friend, speaking to me in a sort of proper way that just comes off as weird to me.