Holding my passport above the scanner, she looks at the screen and then at me. I try to appear calm as my heart pounds against my chest, expecting questions, but surprisingly—she stamps it.
“Enjoy your visit.”
Relief … freedom!
Suddenly, someone calls out my real name. I freeze.
Pretend you didn’t hear him, I remind myself. Not even an eye shift in his direction.
That voice. God help me. I shift my carry-on from left to right.
The furious waving of that masterful hand, stealing into my field of vision. Ignore. Ignore.
One foot in front of the other. Move. Move. Casually.
“Yuliana!” He comes close to crossing the barrier separating arrivals from those who would greet them with open arms. Or fists. Or death threats.
There’s no way he could have known I’d be here. I didn’t know I’d be on this flight, until yesterday’s passport swap with that German gal at the coffee shop therapy group. Both in recovery from rotten relationships, and looking like twins, or Doppelgangers, we knew what we had to do.
If we broke any laws while using each other’s passport, we agreed the punishment would be telling our exes where to find us. But I didn’t do anything wrong.
Where do I turn? He can’t get in, but I have to get out. The longer I stay in sight of these agents, the more suspicious I’ll look. I’ve worked hard to lose the Russian accent, but the cheekbones draw stares from men who cannot be trusted. Make that men, who cannot be trusted. All but Nathan.
Nathan, the polar opposite of the man screaming at me now. Nathan, my safe port in a storm.
Nathan. Nobody else knew I’d booked passage to the States, much less that I changed my itinerary with a red-eye flight. I’d found a pay phone–I kid you not, a pay phone!–before getting into the queue an hour ago. Nathan said he’d be here before I got through Customs.
Nathan, where are you?
“YULIANA! God damn you, I know you can hear me!”
Others are staring at the gorgeous Latino in surgical scrubs, his favorite pajamas, wrinkled with sleep. I’ll look odd if I don’t look at him, too.
And now he locks my gaze in his.
His tousled hair, his morning stubble, his flashing dark eyes. The way he says my name now that he’s got me trapped in his melting gaze. My real name, Yuliana, so sexy on his Mexican tongue. My body shivers with memories too visceral to stuff down, down deep with the bad ones, the worst ones.
“Yuliana.” His bedroom voice. Flesh has a recall system of its own, responding to triggers only the head knows how to resist. My head is useless. Don’t lose your head again, Yuliana.
–No, no, Jessica. My name is Jessica, according to the passport.
Do not look at him,
do not look,
do, do, oh,
LOOK at him!
That smile. Don’t fall for it again. He trots it out like an actor donning a mask.
My gaze darts, my senses shift into high gear, and I seek a way out. I can’t go back to him. Ever. Again.
But it’s like that thing Max Savage wrote in my high school yearbook. Story of my life:
Oh please do not do that
Oh please do not do
Oh please do
An agent cocks an eyebrow at me, a burly young redhead, feet wide apart, arms crossed, at the exit.
“Help me.” Swallowing hard, I struggle to speak above a whisper. “That man. He’s crazy.”
People with children, people talking into phones with unseen mics, people clutching passports in the long line, no longer show any interest in some man shouting to some woman in an airport. No matter how gorgeous he is.
My eyes dart, but still no sign of Nathan.
The burly redhead is at my side. It occurs to me I should try to unthaw. Unfreeze? Thaw? My English goes to hell when I’m nervous.
“Yuliana,” comes the silky Latino voice from another kind of hell. “Come along now.”
I look from the guard to the man I love. Loved. My heart is pounding so hard, my body wound so tight, I can barely get words out of my throat.
“That man.” I point with my head, trying for subtle. “The one in scrubs. He’s been stalking me. I have no idea how he knew I’d be here.”
The guard aims an authoritative stare at Joe Hernandez, the raging Latino in scrubs, who obviously raced straight from his bed to the airport to apprehend me.
“Cut the sheet, Yuliana.” Joe’s accent used to be so adorable.
“He’s delusional.” I lean closer to the young guard, so Joe won’t hear. “Saw me on Instagram, thinks I’m his ex-girlfriend. Can’t get it through his head, I’m not this … this Yuliana person. How he found me here–how?–it scares me.” It does. My throat goes dry. “I wonder what mental ward is missing a patient.”
And in those wrinkled scrubs, he really does look like an escaped mental patient.
The guard keeps an eye on Joe while tilting my way. “He does look a little hostile.”
I’m inspired. Work with what ya got, honey, said the coffee shop therapist.
Joe goes off like a rocket when anyone calls him by his childhood nickname, Chico.
“Please.” I lower my chin, looking up at Burly with my baby-blues. Blink away a stray tear. “Please, go ask him for his ID. I don’t know his real name, but on Instagram he goes by Chico.”
My heart skips a beat. This has to work! At least until Nathan gets here.
Burly Redhead nods to another guard, and they approach Joe. I back away, watching.
“She’s getting away!” Joe yells. “YULIANA!”
“Calm down, Chico.”
Joe flinches, his gaze raking the redhead from head to toe. “Who you talkin’ to?”
“You, Chico. Show us your I.D.”
“Do not call me that!” he shouts.
There is a God! Joe is blowing up, acting like the loose cannon I am counting on him to be.
“Your I.D.” The guards are staring him down, which will make Joe twitchy.
Joe feels his pockets, swears in Spanish. “I left home in a hurry. She’s the loony tune. Stop her!”
“Yeah, you can tell us all about it. At the station. Chico.”
He swells into a purple fury. Profanity spews like steam and molten lava from his suddenly ugly face.
The guards trade glances. “Someone needs his meds. Better find out where he escaped from.”
“Es-cape-ed?” Joe rages. “What deed that lying beetch say about me?”
Run, my inner “beetch” says. Run. But I just keep backing away, eyes focused only on him.
“Hey, beetch!” Joe yells. “You know why Nathan ees the only man on earth who’d date you?”
He waits for my reaction. I start turning away.
“Because I paid him to!”
No, no, no.
Nathan. Joe knows Nathan. How did he play his part so well? How could I have been so deceiv-ed, as Joe would say? A hundred romantic moments flash before my eyes, then go down in flame.
Someone crashes into me from behind, and I’m down. I’m reeling through space, starry, head-spinning, stomach-churning outer space. I can’t even feel the floor beneath me but I do feel hands, pulling me up, then holding me steady.
Slowly, I turn to face a lady in a fake fur coat and an ill-fitting hat with a fluffy raccoon tail that looks a little too twitchy not to be real. Really real.
“You’ll be all right,” she drawls. Her voice is honey-sweet with the sound of the South. “I was once married to a man like that ass-hat. Chico? Gawd.”
I’m moving now, because she’s tall and sturdy and I’m five feet without these boot heels, but even if she were a child, I’d let her lead me like a scared stray from the dog catcher’s net.
Joe’s voice fades away.
The airport flows away beneath my feet as this human tugboat guides me to a subway train, then to a parking lot, where she unlocks a big white van with 501(c)3 Animal Rescue painted on it, and slides a door open.
“Animal” is what Joe is. I breathe again when I make out a happy dog face as part of the logo.
The woman faces me, hand out, so I take it. Hers is warm and dry; mine, cold and clammy.
“Rhonda,” she says. “I’m Rhonda. I run an animal rescue.”
A bizarre, high-pitched mumbling comes from the woman’s head, and I freeze all over again. God. Not another lunatic about to kidnap me. My body flunks the flight or fight thing. I just whimper.
“Glory. Don’t move.” The woman’s head chitters at same time words come out of her mouth. Her hat starts moving, and my stomach clenches. I’ve lost my mind. It’s gone for good this time.
“Pardon me.” Hands rising, she grasps the hat, and suddenly a real, live raccoon is in her grasp, its black bandit mask turning my way. Turning, she leans into the van, hisses a few profanities, and makes a series of scuffling noises that end in resounding click of victory and a sigh of satisfaction.
What in God’s name have I gotten myself into now?
“Coon head.” She runs her fingers through her hair. “Worse than hat head.”
Her laugh is crazy in a good way, a coffee shop therapist sort of way. She looks young and pretty without the weird hat. I’m starting to think. To feel.
“The airline wouldn’t take her, so I gave her some knock-out drops. Glory’s book tour in England is paying for the rescue. I don’t know you from Adam–or Eve–but my spidey senses are tingling. In a good way, for once.”
My Doppelganger’s coat isn’t warm enough, and I shiver.
“You have two choices: get in this van with Coon Head Rhonda, or take your chances with Chico.”
I laugh so hard my ribs hurt.
In a good way, this time.
Rhonda is the Executive Director of a 501c3 rescue that regularly transports unwanted dogs from areas of shelter overcrowding to regions of high demand, where No Kill methods are firmly established. It all began with Kobi, the dog shown in this photo.
~ I pledge to donate 100% of any SDB income from this post to @rhondak’s 501(c)3 rescue, or a 50/50 split with Rhonda’s OCD and Fiction Trail and Radio Hour and Minnow Support and SFT…. regardless, Rhonda gets the $ because she knows how to invest time, talent, and money to make things happen! Steemit is a better place because of Rhonda the Raccoon Whisperer ~
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