Return To You - Leia Stone

Chapter 1


I judge airplane flights on a drink scale. The drinks being alcoholic beverages, and the scale being how many I should have to get me through the terrifying experience of hurtling through the sky in a metal tube.

I've checked the weather and I know what the skies have in store for me on my trip from New York City to Phoenix. If only I could use radar to see what's in store for me once I land. Going back home to the small town of Sedona that I left ten years ago doesn’t exactly fill me with excitement.

The flight-attendant on this flight has a kind, lopsided smile, and the second my backside is firmly planted in my first-class seat, I request a glass of wine from her. So far, it’s a one wine glass kinda flight. That’s bound to change though, especially with the shitstorm of a day I’ve had.

I smile gratefully when she hands me the dark red liquid. I inhale before taking a sip. I’m not one of those people, the wine connoisseur with the discerning palate. It’s just I find the scent of the wine comforting. It’s my airplane ritual, a signal to my brain that it’s time to relax. Wine and I are old friends.

My shoulders are the first to relax, inching down from my ears, followed by the unraveling of the muscles in my upper back. Passengers board as I unwind, and I watch them casually, my gaze flickering away if our eyes happen to meet. I’ve always feared prolonged eye contact with strangers. Or … maybe not always. Just since then. I fear that someday a person sensitive to the sins of others will look at me and know. The way an animal senses an earthquake before it happens, they will see in my soul the dark stain of shame.

Shame stains all of us, but not everybody nurtures it the way I do. I could let it go, but it would take with it more than just its smudge. It would take him, and I’m not sure I can do that.

I chug the rest of my glass, but promise myself to wait until we're in the air to order another. I can't show up and be drunk in front of my poor sick mother. Her life is hard enough as it is. There's no way I'm going to pile my troubles onto her. She needs a doting, thoughtful daughter, and that's exactly what she's going to get.

I'm so busy thinking of my mother that I barely register the woman who’s had one too many facelifts until she nestles in across from me. She clutches her tiny Pomeranian like a life raft, her fingers decorated with a diamond ring on each finger. We share a quick glance before I turn away.

I don't belong up here in first-class. I make good money, but spending it on a fancy ride from the east coast to the desert feels wasteful. I've made this same trek a dozen times since I moved to Manhattan, but I've always flown coach. Until now … until my mom called and asked me to move home. Then I dropped everything: my job, my apartment, and two grand on a last-minute airplane ticket.

My gaze stays firmly fixed out the window. The sky darkens, but the night steadily lights up. It's mostly white-yellow, the light from apartments, but there are neons too. And tonight, the top of the Empire State Building is purple.

I shift forward in my seat as the plane backs away from the gate. We taxi to the runway, join the line of other planes waiting their turn, then pick up speed. Nerves claw at my gut as I think of what I’m leaving behind, what I’m going home to—the unknowns that hide in every corner of my old town like hidden shadows waiting to pull me under.

Fuck this day.

My fingers press into the cold window, the heat from my skin leaving behind slick marks, as I whisper goodbye to the city I spent six years calling home.

The plane lifts off and the feeling of weightlessness makes me gasp. The sprawling city twinkles at an awkward angle as we ascend. When I first came here, twenty-two years old and eager, this place smelled like hope and possibility. Now I know better. No matter how good something seems in the beginning, it cannot possibly maintain its luster. Eventually, everything fades.

"Folks, we have touched down in Phoenix. Current temperature is eighty-six degrees, and unfortunately, it's