Read the opening of my new novella, The Worst Noelle. It's going to be published as part of an Australasian anthology of Christmas romances entitled, Baby It's Hot Outside.
The novelty of slumming it wears off after about ten minutes of traveling Economy: there is no elbow room, no leg room, and certainly no Balenciaga bag room.
“These seats have limited reclining because they’re in front of the lavatories,” explains the flight attendant.
“No kidding. You call this limited?”
“Madam, there was the option to select your seat when you booked your flight.” She enunciates every word as if I am an idiot.
We lock eyes, and I smile, though I would quite like to strangle her with her candy-pink neck scarf.
By the time I’d got round to booking my flights there hadn’t exactly been many seat options left, and besides, after drowning my woes in a bottle of red wine, I’d been in no fit state to make carefully considered decisions. After retrieving the wedding invitation from the trash, I’d impulsively bought my tickets and only then rung Lara in New Zealand.
“Hey, Lozzie! It’s me!”
“Noelle?” she’d groaned. “What time is it?”
The pincers of a headache had begun to tighten. “Sorry, did I wake you?”
“Mmm. Don’t worry. What is it? Is something wrong?”
Don’t even get me started. Everything is wrong, my life unraveling faster than toilet paper.
“No, nothing’s wrong. I’ve good news! I wanted to let you know my I’ve changed my mind. There’s no chance I’m going to miss your wedding, so I’ve booked my flight from L.A.”
There was a howling silence. For a moment I thought we’d been disconnected.
“Sorry. Did I hear that right? You’re coming to New Zealand after all?” Lara asked.
“Why, would you rather I didn’t?”
“No! Of course not! I’m just surprised. I thought you said it was too far, and you were crazy busy with work, and, you had to spend Christmas with your family like always.”
To think I could be flying home to the Hamptons, wallowing in Foley festive luxury—admittedly, that always came with a generous side-helping of toxic family bickering—and instead, here I am being spat through the air like a cat’s hairball on route to Lara’s wedding.
“That was a month ago. A lot can happen in a month,” I’d said.
“Well, honey, I wasn’t expecting this, but that’s great news! I can’t wait to see you! Eeeee!”
It had only been the next day, in the sour light of morning, with a vicious hangover for company as I tried to unpick the previous night’s drinking spree and decidedly flighty decisions, that I wondered if I hadn’t screwed up. Again. Had Lara sounded a tad unenthusiastic about my visit and us rekindling our bestie status? Maybe I should’ve called her first to check she still wanted me to come. Maybe she would’ve preferred a generous wedding gift, rather than a heroic gesture—maybe something useful from her wedding gift list like an Electric Sheepshearing Handpiece.
Let’s be honest, I haven’t seen Lara in five years and, if a lot can happen in a month, imagine how much can change in half a decade.
Regardless, I am now on a flight bound for New Zealand. If that’s not true dedication to our enduring friendship, I don’t know what is. I’m sure it’ll turn out just fine.
“Any chance of a drink?” I ask the flight attendant. “After our delay, we should be entitled to some compensation, don’t you think? A glass of champagne, maybe?”
She pouts her pink lips. “I’m sorry, but drinks won’t be served until after the fasten-your-seatbelt signs have been switched off…and drinks are not free in this section of the plane.”
“Of course.” As if I need reminding. We’d probably have to pay for toilet paper just to wipe our asses.
The flight attendant glides away.
“Excuse me? I haven’t finished…Oh, goddammit. Shoot me already!” It’s not exactly an auspicious start to my vacation. “Someone put me out of my misery, please,” I mutter.
Neither of my traveling companions reacts. I am squished between a rock and a hard place…actually, let’s be honest, more like a rock and a mushroom. The Rock in the window seat, ever since giving me a rigorous double take (because clearly, he’s unaccustomed to women wearing Armani Privé suits), has kept his eyes fixed on the book in his lap, studiously ignoring me. Whereas Man-mushroom on my left appears to have already fallen asleep, mouth gaping wide enough to stow carry-on luggage.
I groan. “You know how they call these flights long haul…” I’m talking to myself. The only way to endure this prolonged incarceration is steeped in alcohol. Why hadn’t I paid for First Class tickets? What warped part of my brain had told me this would be a good idea?
Traveling Economy is the sort of remedial torture Lara would approve of. She’s horribly virtuous, practically a saint, having given everything up to be with the man she loves. Shaun. His name alone conjures up sheep shearing and gumboots. Ugh. Unless there’s an eject button on my armrest, it’s a little late to extract myself.
A sigh shudders out of me. “You’d think after the wait an’ all, they’d have provided us with a beverage, huh?” I pull out the inflight magazine and flick through its pages. Who buys this crap? Meanwhile, my brain seems to have latched onto the harrowing realization that I’m stuck on this plane getting farther and farther away from civilization and comfort and sanity…and closer and closer to what is most likely to be the worst wedding, the worst Christmas, and possibly my worst mistake. Ever.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Lara, even though we’ve lost touch. We have history. At school we were like magnets, joined at the hip…We shared the same privileged upbringing. Though admittedly our tastes in pretty much everything that mattered could not have been more diametrically opposed. At least it meant we never clashed over potential boyfriends.
Once we’d left the closeted existence of boarding school, Lara and I had gone our separate ways, me throwing myself into college and a career in advertising, and Lara throwing herself into the void—or what she called the big wide world. I cringe thinking about some of the whacky stuff she’s gotten suckered into, from being blessed on one of the floating villages of Lake Titicaca to learning pole dancing in Beijing. That’s where she met Shaun, which doesn’t exactly give me high hopes for the man.
Lara sporadically sent me postcards from wherever she was, but the wedding invitation from New Zealand had come as something of a shock. She had found ‘the one’ and was finally ‘settling down’. It sounded a lot like swallowing the worm in the tequila bottle to me.
I shove the magazine back where it should be, alongside the sick bag. Only sixteen long hours to go…
“Good book?” I ask the Rock in the window seat.
“Mm-hmm.” He knits his brow. I have to be honest, he has it worse than either Mushroom Man or me. Rock’s denim-clad knees are smushed up against the seat in front. If I wasn’t locked in a silent battle for elbow space, I might (almost) feel sorry for him, but he lost my vote of sympathy the moment he stole the armrest.
I guess chivalrous behavior doesn’t extend beyond Business Class.
On my other side, the Mushroom lets rip with one hell of a beer-bellied snore and one of his shirt buttons pops off.
“Oh my God!” What next?
Fortunately for him leg room is not an issue. In the airport lounge, at opposite ends of the bar, we’d pretty much matched one another round for round. When he’d hopped off his bar stool to board, I couldn’t help but notice he was almost as wide as he was short, and I couldn’t have cared less…until I found myself seated next to him. The fact he’s now spilling over the sides of his seat, infringing on my already limited space, is fast becoming a significant issue— especially if he’s going to snore all the way to Christchurch. To be perfectly honest, I also resent the fact that the alcohol we’d both consumed in the bar hasn’t had the same anesthetic effects on me as it evidently has on him. His brand of snoring is like being run through with a hacksaw.
“Did you get any headphones?” I rifle through the pocket of the seat in front of me again. “I don’t have any. Did I miss out on that?”
The Rock’s eyes flicker in my direction, but he says nothing.
I try to get comfortable. “Excuse me. Could you just…?” I corkscrew my knees toward him because at the moment he’s the lesser of two evils. The look he gives me would crack ice. Seriously?
His knee doesn’t budge, and his face conveys as much sympathy as a glacier. “No. Do you mind?”
“Yes, I do, actually!” More than he could possibly imagine. It’s a tough call not to feel sorry for myself, stuck between the pair of them, twisted like a goddamn contortionist trying to fit myself into a shoebox…with nothing better to do for the next god-knows-how-many hours than mull over the sinkhole of my life. Talk about adding torment to torture. “Strictly speaking, your knee is encroaching on my space. See here.” I draw a line in the air from the edge of my seat to his splayed knee and poke his kneecap with my fingernail.
The Rock’s eyes narrow, exasperation tattooed all over his face. “What do you expect me to do about it?” His expression does little to ease the hive of frustration building within me. He’s not impressed, but neither am I, and, unfortunately for him, he’s making my unbearable situation worse.
“Go and sit elsewhere?” I suggest pleasantly.
His lips compress into a thin line, but I feel the pressure of his knee against mine ease up a fraction.
“Thank you,” I mumble. I press the Call button for the flight attendant. And again. And again.
“Careful, you might break a fingernail,” says the Rock under his breath.
Wow. “I might break more than that.”
His eyes are focused on whatever he’s reading, but his top lip twitches.
“I don’t think my Call button works. Can I try yours?” I press his Call button, and he flashes me a flinty stare.
“No-one’s going to come. You have to wait until the fasten-your-seatbelt lights have been extinguished,” he says.
“Yes, but like I said, if I don’t get a drink or a little more leg room, I’m going to be doing the extinguishing. This has to be the worst flight ever!”
As if listening, the plane gives a shudder.
If you want to read more you can order your copy of the Baby, It's Hot Outside anthology here.