I squeezed my eyes shut, trying not to fill my mind with everything that could possibly go wrong. Boarding a plane by myself and flying across the world was one thing but living in a completely different country for the entirety of a year was something else altogether.
I jumped when I felt someone touch my arm and opened my eyes. The guy sitting next to me had accidentally bumped my elbow while trying to find his seatbelt plug.
“Sorry about that, I can’t find the damn thing,” he apologised.
I immediately recognised his accent, something I would become quite familiar with in the near future. “That’s okay,” I responded. Then, without thinking, “Are you flying home?”
He managed to plug his seatbelt in and finally looked up at me. If I was a snowman, I would’ve melted into a puddle. His eyes were the most amazing mix of colours. Not classic blue like you would imagine – although ocean eyes are to die for. They were forest green on the edges, shaded with honey in the middle, and deep coffee brown in the direct centre.
“What gave it away?” he joked, pushing a strand of chestnut brown hair behind his ear.
His skin was glowing, like he’d spent a few weeks on the beach in the Bahamas, and his teeth were straighter than a white picket fence.
“You’ll have to figure that one out,” I responded playfully. I wished I could sneak off to the bathroom and look in the mirror. It was unlikely that I looked any different than I did ten minutes ago before I got on the plane, but there was a small chance that made me doubt myself.
I guessed the conversation was over when he bent down to dig in his backpack under the seat. Disappointed, I leant my head back against the chair and tried to relax.
“This is the route I travelled over the last month.”
I turned my head back towards my handsome stranger, trying to cover the smile that was bursting to spread across my face. He was holding a map of Australia, pointing at a red line that outlined the edge of the country.
“Oh, so you did a trip around Australia? I’ve wanted to do that for ages!” I actually had no interest in it whatsoever, but if it would get him to like me, I would say anything.
“It was incredible. The beaches in your country are so different to the beaches in America.”
“Good different or bad different?” I asked, smiling at him whilst trying not to get lost in the jungle of his eyes.
“Definitely good.” He glanced up from his map at me and gave me a charming smile. “By any chance do you have a name? When I tell my friends about you, I don’t want to have to refer to you as ‘she’.”
I tried to stop my cheeks from turning pink, but the more I thought about it, the pinker they got. “Jamie.”
“Jamie,” he repeated. “I’m Alexander, but you can call me Alex.”
“Well, Alex, it’s lovely to meet you.” I playfully held out my hand for him to shake. The warmth of his touch seemed to brighten every fibre of my being. Or maybe I was just sweating because we were about to take off and I felt like throwing up.
“This is the best part of the flight,” Alex commented, looking out the window as I felt the vibration of the wheels against the tarmac under my feet.
I tried to concentrate on his voice instead of the fact that we were about to fly thousands of feet into the air in a machine that weighed about eighty-thousand kilograms and stay there for fifteen hours.
As we took off, he pointed at the roads and fields that were quickly contracting – just like my lungs seemed to be the higher we got.
“Look – the higher we get, the more the earth seems to come into shape. You can see for miles – an entire country – and then blue sky, and then clouds. Don’t you think it’s beautiful?” Alex turned to me with his eyebrows raised.
I stared at him for a few seconds, trying to come up with an answer that matched the intelligence of his statement. Failing, I smiled and said, “yes.”
Thankfully an announcement from the pilot interrupted our conversation so I didn’t have to embarrass myself any more than I already had.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the seatbelt sign has been turned off. You are free to move around but we suggest that you keep your seatbelt fastened throughout the flight as we may experience turbulence.”
This was my chance to make sure I looked spectacular for my American dream. Unplugging my seatbelt, I stood up and opened the overhead locker to find my backpack. I bit my lip when I saw one of its orange straps sticking out from under a carry-on suitcase that looked like it weighed a ton. I had two options: one; I could tough it out and attempt to lift the suitcase with my own bare hands, risking embarrassing myself by ending up looking stupid, or two; I could ask Alex to help me.
I would’ve loved to sweetly turn to him, flutter my lashes enticingly, and ask him if he could pretty please help me lift the heavy suitcase, but knowing the type of person I was, I didn’t have enough internal courage to do that, so I chose option one. Taking a deep breath and trying not to worry about who was looking at me and wondering why I had been standing there for so long doing absolutely nothing, I reached towards the heavy blue suitcase and tried to squeeze my hands underneath it.
Just my luck, right as I tried to lift the suitcase off of my backpack, the aeroplane jolted from some light turbulence – probably a moment where I should’ve been seated with my seatbelt fastened. The suitcase toppled out of the overhead locker and landed with a loud thud – right on top of Alex’s foot.
He didn’t make a sound, but his face turned the colour of a ripe tomato and his eyes started to water. Of the seventeen years that I had been on the planet, I couldn’t think of a time when I had been more embarrassed than I was in that moment. “Alex, I am so sorry! Are you okay? Please tell me you’re okay? I’m such a klutz!”
He was breathing heavily and rocking back and forth, but he managed to give me a small smile. “It’s okay. I’m okay,” he choked out.
I stared at him for a second before passing him a bottle of water we’d been given at the start of the flight. As he quickly thanked me and swallowed almost all of it in one mouthful, I grabbed my backpack and placed it on my seat before picking up the blue suitcase – which actually wasn’t that heavy – and placing it back in the overhead locker.
I asked Alex if he was okay one more time before hurriedly throwing my backpack over my shoulder, making my way down the narrow walkway and locking myself in the bathroom. It was the smallest and most uncomfortable space I’d ever been in, but I’d do anything to get away from a whole aeroplane of staring strangers. Turning to examine my appearance in the mirror, I was relieved to see my hair had stayed in the bun I had put it in that morning and my light makeup hadn’t smudged. I left the cubicle after washing my hands and applying a couple squirts of perfume to my pink sweater. I felt so stupid when I sat back down next to Alex. I didn’t know what to say, so I just sat there in silence, hoping he would speak first. But he didn’t. It was dark outside now and he was watching a movie, blocking me out with his headphones. Just when I thought I’d eternally ruined the one chance I had at making friends with an attractive American guy, he pulled his headphones off and turned to me.
“If you have nothing else to do, you should watch this movie. It’s pretty good.”
For the rest of the flight, I tried not to do anything stupid – well, anything else. I enjoyed the movie Alex had recommended, and the fact that he wasn’t holding an unnecessary grudge at me for dropping a suitcase on his foot. Or maybe it would’ve been necessary…
I slept for the last three hours and was woken up by an announcement that we were soon to be landing in Los Angeles. Alex had opened the window, but it still felt as if we were underground because the sun hadn’t come up yet.
“Are you excited?” he asked me, causing me to jump yet again.
Recovering, I smiled at him, almost sure I looked absolutely nothing like the Disney princess I wished I could resemble. “Extremely. I’ve never been to America.”
Alex stifled a yawn as he smoothed his hair over with his hand. “Oh really? I’m sure you’ll love it. Are you just here for a holiday?”
I shook my head, all of my earlier worries suddenly coming back to me. “No, I’m actually here for a whole year.”
Alex’s eyebrows launched towards the ceiling. “That’s awesome! If you’re here for that long, I might as well take your number. Surely you’ll have time to grab a coffee some time over the next twelve months.”
I grinned at him. “I’m sure I can fit it into my schedule.”
Ten minutes later, the seatbelt light flicked off and everyone stood up to grab their luggage. I took extra care to avoid the evil blue suitcase as I took my backpack and carry-on bag from the overhead locker. It was only when we were walking down the airbridge that I realised Alex was limping.
“You’re limping! That’s from me isn’t it? I’m so sorry,” I exclaimed, feeling the guilt all over again.
Alex laughed as we exited the airbridge and found ourselves in amongst anxious family members and friends, waiting to see our fellow passengers. “Stop stressing, Jamie. Yeah, I admit it hurts a bit, but nothing a good coffee won’t fix. How much time do you have?”
I was amazed that he had turned something that should’ve humiliated me into an invite to sit and have coffee with him. “I would love to, but I have to get to my accommodation. I can give you my number though. Even if we’re not staying near each other, it’d still be nice to keep in contact.” I was surprised at myself for my sudden confidence to talk to him.
“I wouldn’t want it any other way.” Alex gave me another charming smile.
Everything was starting to feel so real. All around me, I could hear American accents. It was so different from Australia, and I felt like a real outsider, but soon I would be calling this country home, and honestly, I was quite excited to see what was to come. Especially if it included Alex.