You Owe Me a Murder(7)

I nodded solemnly as if I were very concerned about timeliness. Every muscle in my body clenched as I walked over the threshold, anticipating a piercing alarm going off, but nothing happened. Nicki gripped my elbow. “Don’t look back. Only guilty people look behind them.”

My neck stiffened and I kept moving forward down the hall. The adrenaline that had rushed through my system seconds ago was now bailing ship and I felt lightheaded. My bag weighed a hundred pounds. I half expected every person we passed to develop x-ray vision, see through my tote, and point me out as a shoplifter. Nicki seemed to sense I was barely holding it together, and she pulled me along until we reached an empty gate area. We both started giggling as we dropped into a row of seats.

“I can’t believe I did that,” I said. I opened the bag expecting the vodka to be missing, a figment of my imagination, but the bottle was there. I glanced quickly at Nicki to see if she was impressed that I’d actually done it.

“Since we’re headed to England it would have been more fitting to have nicked some gin, but a girl has to work with the opportunities she’s got.” Nicki patted the side of my leather bag. “You were perfect. When you said that line about how I could sue them, I wanted to cheer.”

I shook my head. “Are you kidding? As soon as I took the bottle, all I wanted to do was run for it. I felt like I was going to freak out at any moment.”

She laughed. “But you didn’t. Being good at something doesn’t mean that it isn’t hard or scary—?it just means that you keep moving forward when other people quit.”

I laughed. “I tend to be a quitter. I’m scared of everything.”

“Like what?”

I rolled my eyes. “I could make a list a mile long. For starters, I’m terrified of heights. I won’t even go to my grandparents’ new condo in Miami because they live on the twentieth floor. Usually when things scare me, I’m the first one to bail. I won’t go skiing, kayaking, or anyplace that looks like it will have spiders, and I get hives when I have to go to the dentist and my dad’s a dentist.”

Nicki wrinkled up her nose. “Now, I get the dentist phobia, but heights? If you’re going to be scared, be scared of something good.” She laughed. “You were scared to take the liquor, but you did it. That’s the difference between ordinary people and extraordinary. Extraordinary people might be afraid, but they do it anyway.”

My chin lifted slightly in the air. The shame over stealing was mixed up with pride in doing something risky. I wanted to brag about what I’d done and apologize all at the same time. Most of all I wanted her to keep talking. “I still can’t believe I did that,” I said. I wanted her to understand I wasn’t someone who did things like this. Heck, I wasn’t someone who did things at all, but maybe it was as simple as deciding that I didn’t want to be that person anymore.

Nicki threw an arm around me and gave me a half hug. “Think about it. I wonder what you might do if you let yourself really go? You know, every accomplishment starts with the decision to try. And then keep trying, even when it’s hard.” She smirked. “And of course, if life gives you an opportunity, take it before it disappears. Or at least before they put the antitheft device on it.”

I packed up what she said and placed it carefully into my memory. It struck me that her advice was important. Not because I wanted to become a master criminal—?I felt bad about taking the booze and couldn’t imagine doing it again. But . . . I liked that I’d done it at least once. Been like Nicki. Daring. Not afraid. She seemed to have figured out the secret to life. All the brochures for the Student Scholars program had stressed how travel made a person grow. I’d secretly thought it was a bunch of marketing bullshit. How could a change in geography make a difference? But maybe it was possible: I could evolve into someone else. I could almost picture my mom’s approval . . . and the blog post she’d write about it.

The public-address system squawked and announced that our flight would start boarding. I couldn’t believe how the three hours had flown by. I pulled the bottle slightly out of the bag. “Do you want this?”

“You keep it. I don’t know the whole story with the guy and girl back at the gate, but I suspect you need it more than me.” She pushed herself up from the seat with a ladylike grunt. “We should get going. I still want to get that gum.”

I reached for her arm before she started to walk away. “Thanks. I was feeling really down before.”

“That’s what friends are for!” She poked me in the side as if I were being silly.

“Well, I appreciate you making me a friend after only a few hours.”

Nicki smiled. “Don’t you know? I decided we were friends the instant we met.”


August 15

16 Days Remaining

Most people went to sleep as soon as the flight attendants cleared the trays from dinner and dimmed the lights. A few pulled out those squishy kidney-shaped pillows filled with buckwheat. The guy one row in front of me in a too-tight Darth Vader T-shirt was snoring already. Or drowning in his own phlegm. It was a bit hard to tell which from the sound he was making.

I pressed my forehead to the window. I strained to see anything in the darkness, but all I could make out was my own faint reflection in the thick glass. I knew we were miles up in the air, but it seemed more as if we were under water. Black and cold. Even though it was late and the engines made a white noise hum, I couldn’t drift off.

Eileen Cook's Books