Moving Forward Chapter 1 continued...

     It’s incredible, I turned eighteen a couple months back and Tom promised me a trip to the casino when I get home. The girls wanted to take me, but Kelsey doesn’t turn eighteen ’till the end of summer and I’d never go without Kels.

     Then, there’s Tom.

     For something this special, for the first time being on (almost) equal footing as my brother, going to the casino together both as adults, well it’s a moment I want to share with him first. Because I wouldn’t be the person I am now if not for him.

     Hell, I wouldn’t have ever met these three amazing women if not for him. A hot-shot photojournalist could hardly cart a twelve-year-old around the world with him.

     My poor brother, what did he know about bourgeoning junior high hormones and periods?

     Enter Edgewood Prep Academy. I never thought I’d love shipping off to boarding school, but it grew on me quickly.

     We drink until we empty the bottle of tequila and two bottles of sparkling white wine from the Sonoma region of California.

     Kelsey lays sprawled across our Dijon mustard yellow suede sofa, three of the four bottles lay tipped on their sides, scattered over the floor of our common room—it’s a nifty name for a living room that connects the two bedrooms in our dorm—along with Pam and Ann.

     My best friend Kelsey lifts her head to look her unfocused eyes into mine.

     “I won’t last the summer without you, Al.” Her words slur and she punctuates her statement with a giggle-burp.

Drunken giggles aside, I understand. Her family might have more money than… than…—shoot—I hiccup. What was I saying?

     Oh yeah…Kelsey’s family might have more money than God’s half-sister, but her home is about as warm as a Russian nuclear winter.

     “So come visit, babe. Tom loves when you visit. We entertain him.”

     “I don’t know if I can. Mom has all those cotillions booked. It’s time to auction me off to the family with the most power and influence.”

     “I didn’t even know people still held cotillions. That’s kind of archaic.”

     “It’s all about business,” she says, slurred words muffled from her hands vigorously rubbing over her face.

     “We’ll figure it out.” That’s my promise to my best friend.

     We slowly start to drift off into drunken sleepyland. My eyes dip closed, staying closed longer each time until they pop open after I don’t know how many minutes and I grab my phone to check the time. With all our end of the year celebrating I forgot to set the alarm, but there’s still four hours until I have to be at the airport for check in.

     So we have to skip showers and only have time for a breakfast of orange juice and aspirin. Kelsey gets me to the airport on time.

     She doesn’t go home until tomorrow.

     Since she can’t go past check in with me, crying tears of wine and tequila, she hugs me tight.

     People with luggage and loved ones scurry past us.

     “Don’t have too much fun without me, Al. You and Tom going on your grand adventures before the summer’s up. I wonder what he has planned this year.”

     “Come visit with us. Then you’ll know firsthand, babe,” I practically beg.

     I have to get going. I don’t want to leave her behind but we’ll find a way for her to say with us. Tom and I are like the Weasleys to her Dursleys. So yeah, we will figure it out.

     One last hug and I walk through check in to stand in line at security.

     “Bye bitch!” she calls out to me. There’s a laugh to her voice even as I hear it thick with tears.

     Shoes, purse and carryon on the belt, I stop to pose in the x-ray machine for just a second. The TSA agent laughs and winks at me. He’s actually kind of cute.

     But I move quickly because I don’t want to piss of the line behind me.

     After collecting my shoes, purse and bag, I lean against an ugly beige wall to quickly slip on my shoes because they just announced boarding for my flight over the loudspeaker, then I take off running.

     I get to the gate right after they’ve called first class passengers, which is after they call for special needs passengers.

     Business class. That’s what I fly. Not as expensive as first class, but has more legroom than coach.

     “Good morning, Miss Bradley.” The attendant greets me as she checks my ticket. Once she determines everything to be cool, she hands it back to me. “I hope you enjoy your flight with National today.”

     “Thanks,” I give her my chipper response. Because I find chipper always works best in social situations. For example, flight attendants are usually more inspired to toss me an extra bag of honey mustard peanuts midflight when I’m smiling and chipper.

     And let’s face it, those honey mustard peanuts are the bomb. Wait—you can’t say bomb on a flight. I think they could throw me in jail for that. Honey mustard peanuts are the best. There you go, Mr. Security Man. I changed it.    They’re the best. Right.

     Moving on.

     The window seat already has its occupant when I arrive at my row. Ever since a lady got sucked out of the window when some plane’s engine exploded, I only do aisle.

     It’s a man in—surprise, surprise—a gray business suit. He’s hunched over texting on his phone when I approach, but straightens up, laying his phone face down on his tray when I sit.

     And the way he looks at me, it’s skeevy. The guy looks to be in his late forties. Sharp haircut. Sandy brown, no visible gray. Though probably not as thick as when he was in his twenties. But as I said, late forties—as if.

     I mean, forties isn’t old, but I’m newly eighteen, and my guess is he’s texting his wife. There’s definitely a golden glint from his left ring finger.

     “Hey there, beautiful,” he says.

     Yes. As I thought, not just skeevy, but smarmy.

     Ugh.

     “Hi,” I casually answer, because it’s not usually safe to ignore these types of men.

     He openly peruses my body, stopping to stare for long moments at my chest, and I’m not even showing any cleavage. Great. This should be a fun flight.

     “Traveling alone?” he asks. Well, I could lie, except we’re on a plane. He’d know I lied when no one joined me.

     “Yep.” God, I hate this part. My pits begin to sweat because I just know he’s going to say something inappropriate.

     “Staying in Michigan or transferring flights?” he asks about our destination, right as his phone dings from a text he’s doing his best to keep me from seeing. He jots off some quick words, then turns his attention back to me, expectant look in his eyes.

     “Getting off,” I tell him, immediately regretting my word choice. Tensing, I suck in a sharp breath, which draws his attention to my mouth.

     He leans across the whole of the seat separating us, pushing way into my personal space. His breath fans the hair around my ear, close. “Ever joined the Mile High Club?”

     “No,” I answer curtly now.

     “It can be amazing. Two strangers connecting for one moment in time. What do you say—how ’bout you let me get you off before you get off?”

     Now would be the time when I lie, and I lie big. “I just finished my junior year of high school”—that’s not a lie—“I don’t think it’s even legal for you to get me off”—which it is, I’m eighteen—“So…”

     His spine straightens, he doesn’t pull back yet.

     Okay, lie two. Pulling my purse onto my lap, I unzip the first pocket and withdraw my phone, going to Tom’s contact, so he can see.

     “Wh-who you calling?”

     “My brother. He’s an agent in the FBI’s sex trafficking division. I want to make sure when we land, he has people waiting to talk to you.”

     I don’t actually know if the FBI has a sex trafficking division. But the lie must sound plausible because Mr.    Creepy-Dude turns sheetrock white.

     So I use what’s left of my lady-balls and point to the phone in his hand. “Which means you should text your wife and tell her you won’t be home for dinner.” Perfect timing. His phone pings again with another text right when I say wife.

     Karma, bitch.

     He withdraws to his seat completely. As in, he might move his seat to the wing if that were an option, and begins texting frantically until we’re ordered to put our phones away for take-off.

     It’s a pleasant flight from here on out. The man avoids eye contact, hell, he doesn’t even clear his throat the rest of the plane ride he’s next to me.

     About an hour in I get up to use the bathroom and when I return, dude is M.I.A.

     We’re on a plane, not somewhere he could hide, but he certainly makes sure I don’t see him again.

     When we land an hour later, I’ve all but forgotten about Mr. Creepy because Tom, my Tom, should be waiting for me.

     Purse strap slung around my shoulders, I stand and open the overhead bin to grab my carryon, being jostled and shoved by other passengers trying to be the first off the plane.

     I take my spot in the line and move along with them until we disembark, able to fan out in the tunnel.

Saginaw. Home sweet home.

     My heart beats faster with anticipation. You couldn’t pry the smile off my face with a crowbar. My feet move faster through the terminal until I find myself dodging and weaving between all the bodies hurrying toward baggage claim.

     One large roller case later, I move into the large area of the airport where families and friends connect all around me.

     But no Tom.

     Well, he could be in the bathroom, so I wait for about ten minutes.

     Still no Tom.

     Which means I pull up the text with my flight information that I sent him. Correct times. Correct day.

     Oh…kay…

     Phone to ear, I actually call my brother this time. No answer. His voicemail picks up. Just to be safe I leave a message, but keep trying back anyway.

     After an hour more of waiting in this stupid airport, and I still can’t get ahold of my brother, I use my phone to hire a ride-share driver to take me home.

     The driver shows up twenty minutes later and she’s kind enough to help me with my bag.

     She drives a newer looking sporty-type minivan. And when I climb in back, there’s a child’s booster seat and a stuffed, plush sea turtle lying next to it, reminding me of the summer when I was eleven, Tom took me to Sea    World. It had been the summer after our father died.

     Where could Tom be?

     He’s never not shown. Never.

     The more I think about it, the angrier I get.

     Twenty-five minutes pass before the driver pulls into the driveway.

     Tom’s car is parked by the garage.

     Lights are on inside.

     And when I open the door, I hear the faintest chords of Chopin’s nocturne in E minor. It has a longer title I never remember, but that’s neither here nor there.

     Gritting my teeth, I climb out of the minivan and walk around back to the hatch to remove my bag.

     The heavy suitcase rolls behind me, catching on the cracks in the sidewalk leading up to the porch. We live in a beautiful two story brick colonial. Tom and I looked at so many houses before we settled on this one. Even though I’d been living with our father at the time, Tom involved me in everything.

     Which begs the question, why is my brother inside listening to blaring decibels of Chopin when he should’ve been at the airport picking me up?

     I unlock the door, swing it wide and yell, “Tom!”

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