“Is Washington your final destination?” the man asked. He was considerably older than she was, perhaps mid-twenties. He wore a black suit with a white shirt, the collar open. Medium brown skin with a hairy chest, Andrea thought he looked Arab, possibly from Egypt or Saudi Arabia. His eyes danced a little, from her face to the swell of her breasts. A creeper, probably.
She shifted in her seat, hoping the questions were friendly, but not too friendly She didn’t relish an eight-hour flight with someone hoping to get lucky.
“It is,” she said.
“Personal,” Andrea answered, looking him straight in the eye. “I don’t have any business, I’m sixteen. My father’s an American diplomat and I’m flying home.”
The creeper swallowed. “I’m headed that way for business,” he said. Then his eyes darted to her legs.
Damn it. Her sister Julia had made her travel arrangements, and she was flying first class. So far as she could see there weren’t any other first-class seats, and as much as she didn’t want to ride all the way to the United States with this guy checking her out, she also didn’t want to ride in the back of the plane, jammed in like commuters on a Tokyo subway.
She reached into her purse and took out a paperback guide to backpacking in Italy, which she was planning to do that summer. More importantly, the book would act as a shield, hopefully fending off a too friendly conversationalist. Once the flight was in the air, she would switch to her laptop. She wanted to research beta thalassemia major. A rare genetically linked condition which could result in severe anemia. Failure to thrive. Bone malformation. Early death.
Rachel had it.
How was that even possible?
She certainly didn’t know of anyone in the family with thalassemia. What little she’d had time to read while waiting for the cab to take her to the airport hadn’t reassured her. The lifetime prognosis wasn’t good unless they could find a matching donor.
She tried to bend her mind away from her niece’s health condition and back to the book. Her creeper kept his distance while she read. Or pretended to. Her mind wasn’t really focused on the intricacies of the youth hostels of Italy, and what she really wanted to do once the plane was in the air was put her seat back and take a nap. She’d barely made the last non-stop out of Barcelona, and would arrive in Baltimore at midnight. Late enough she couldn’t do anything. But if she caught a short nap now, she’d be able to stay up most of the flight. Or … something. Jetlag was hell.
In any event, within half an hour the flight was in the air, the seat belt signs were off, she had a glass of wine and her laptop was open, earbuds plugged into her phone and music playing.
Her first stop was Wikipedia, where she began reading about genetic blood disorders. She found it interesting that Queen Victoria of England had apparently spontaneously carried hemophelia as a mutation, which she’d then passed on to her children and ultimately several European royal houses in Russia, Spain and Germany. The Royal Disease, it had been called. Thanks to all the inbreeding. But thalassemia was primarily seen in people with Mediterranean and Asian backgrounds, which of course the sisters shared through their mother Adelina. And while it didn’t have the immediate life-threatening properties of hemophelia, the long term effects were just as severe.
She pressed pause on her music, shifting in her seat. Time to make a stop in the facilities.
Andrea jerked in her seat, looking up from the computer. It was her next door neighbor in first class, Mister Hairy Chest.
“I couldn’t help but noticing you were researching medical conditions. Are you a medical student?”
That was just … strange. Why would he ask that? She’d already told him she was only sixteen. She didn’t want to be a giant bitch. But something about him set off all her alarms. “No,” she replied. “I’m in secondary school. I’m reading… actually my niece has a genetic blood disease… I’m going to Washington to help my sister.”
“Ahhh,” he said. “I see. I only ask because I’ve considered going to med school.”
Andrea let a breath out. Something about this guy rubbed her completely the wrong way. But Abuelita hadn’t raised her to be impolite to anyone.
“Are you a student?” she asked.
“I am… Universidad Autònoma de Madrid.”
“I see. And you study?” One of the several schools she’d looked into had been UAM.
His teeth gleamed in a broad grin. “Mechanical engineer. I’m in my third year.”
She swallowed, feeling an odd tightness in her chest. “Well. That’s nice. Excuse me just a moment.”
She slid her laptop into the leather pocket of the seat in front of her and folded back the table, then slipped out of her seat. Heart thudding a little, she made her way to the restroom at the front of the cabin, stepped inside and closed and locked the door.
Something was wrong. She’d spent two days touring the University and had met with the science and engineering faculty there. UAM didn’t have a major in mechanical engineering. Which meant Hairy Chest was lying.
Thanks so much, Charles, for sharing the first scene with us! I can’t wait for this book!
COMING UP: A great giveaway offered by Charles Sheehan Miles. Don’t miss it!