"But mommy, Miss Middleton said we're going to finger paint tomorrow with the pri-hairy colors. We can't---ooh! a plane!"
"Shut up, Tibby!"
Bee slowed to a stop in front of the airport. She slung her arm across the steering wheel and caught my arm before I could leap out of the car.
"Jill, you can't run," she said, trying to keep her voice as low as possible.
"Yes, I can," I said. "He's too close. I need space to figure things out."
Bee glanced in the rearview mirror. The kids were bickering loudly. "How long?"
"I don't know," I said honestly. "Not long."
She reached out and squeezed my arm. "We'll watch after Hoover," she promised and I felt at least one tiny part of my tension ease.
"Thank you Bee," I said. "I owe you."
"Just be careful," she warned. She swiveled around. "Hey mouthies! This is your stop!"
Cole scowled. Tibby crawled over him, the first out the door. "Are we going on a plane?"
"We sure are," I said. I still wasn't able to meet Cole's gaze. I already knew that he knew and I couldn't let him see me totally vulnerable. Not again. Not after he had seen me almost dead.
"Where are we going?" he asked quietly. "We don't have clothes."
"Don't worry about that," I said, ignoring his first question. I knew the big trouble was going to start momentarily. "We'll pick up a few things when we get there."
We had just traveled over an hour with Bee flying like a bat out of hell to make the flight. The nearest airport to Sandusky was Hopkins International in Cleveland. The airport was relatively quiet, but then again I hadn't been in a lot of airports in my life to be a good judge.
"Coley, lookit! That plane just took off! Woosh!"
I had just neared the board with the list of flights when Brian's voice carried across the terminal.
He was wearing a green t-shirt, jeans, and yet another gigantic pair of brand new sneakers, this time in green to match his shirt. Tibby broke into a grin, but just as I had expected, Cole's face grew dark.
"What's he doing here?" he said, annoyance evident in his question.
"Brian kindly invited us to visit his hometown," I said.
"Mom!" Cole took a step back. "No way!"
"What's he doing here?"
A copycat annoyed voice piped up behind Brian. His son, Baylee if I remembered correctly, stepped up beside him.
"Jill? Jillian Bridges?"
Before Brian or I could jump in to head off a feud before it started, a voice from my past distracted me completely. Coming up quickly behind Brian, older, but with a smile still as sweet as I remembered, was Brian's mama, Jackie.
"Mrs. L!" I cried. Before I could contain myself, I ran at her. I took refuse in the warm hug that she gave me.
"Look at how beautiful you are," she said. She stopped embracing me, only to hold me at arm's length. "You still look like the teenager I remember. What's your secret?"
"Good genes, I guess," I said. "It's so good to see you."
Her smile only widened. "Brian said he ran into you." She cast a sidelong look at him, to which he ignored. Instead, he knelt down and whispered something in Baylee's ear that only caused the boy to scowl more. "Are you joining us?"
"Yes," I said. The immediacy of the situation came crashing back down on me. I quickly turned. Cole was clinging to Tibby's hand, but was slowly beginning to lose the battle of keeping her from running to Brian and beginning her shoe pickery again.
"Are these two gorgeous children yours, Jill?" Jackie asked. Over her shoulder, I saw Brian's dad, his brother, and what could only be Harold's children. He hadn't been kidding when he had said it was a family trip.
"What? Oh, yes. Let me introduce you..."
"What other kinda cookies do you make? Do you make peanut butter cookies? Do you make oatmeal cookies? Do you make oatmeal raisin peanut butter chocolate chip cinnamon apple M&M cookies?"
"Pokemon's for babies."
"You're only saying that because you don't have a DS."
"When you said you were flying home, I thought you were talking coach," I said.
Brian hadn't stopped staring at me since we took off. He had graciously given me the window seat. I was reclined in a chair that was much larger and more comfortable than even my recliner at home. The flight attendants were literally tripping over themselves to accommodate everyone with anyone they asked for. I had expected maybe a bag of peanuts if I was lucky. I should have known that he would travel in luxury.
"I've found with my family that it's better to separate ourselves out. We tend to be disrupt--"
"Hey, grandpa, play the alphabet with your armpit again!"
"Harold, don't you dare!"
"I wanna hear!"
"So, are you going to tell me what's going on?"
Brian pulled me back to our little section of the plane. Tibby was enamored with Jackie. Cole and Baylee were sitting next to each other, an unfortunate result of every other seat in first class being taken. They hadn't come too close to killing each other. Yet. I was just lucky that Cole had finally followed me on the plane, even if it had been with a lot of cursing that would have gotten him grounded for a month under other circumstances. I sighed and glanced back out the window.
"Nothing's going on."
"Jilly," he lowered his voice to a whisper. "The way you were earlier today at your office...I've never seen you like that. I've never seen anyone like that. You were acting like someone was coming to murder you." Oh, if he only knew! I shook my head.
"Listen, I know it's not my charm that got you on this plane. Don't get me wrong, I'm really glad to be sitting next to you right now, but I can see how tense you are." I didn't answer. I studied the fluffy clouds and thought about heaven. Was the visual imagery real? Did angels really spend their days looking down at us from the clouds? I liked to think so. I liked to think that there were layers of clouds too far up for us to go. It seemed like such a peaceful existance to be able to lounge weightlessly, knowing that you were safe from the troubles down there.
"Is it Tibby's dad?"
Brian's hand had slid over and was resting warmly on the hand I had resting on my knee. His fingers felt warm. Strong. Familiar. I didn't answer. I just looked into Brian's concerned blue eyes and that seemed to give him his answer. He leaned closer to me.
"What did he do to you?"