UnConventional – Excerpt

We’ve been sitting on the runway for nearly an hour, waiting for weather conditions to clear enough for takeoff, and I’ve decided this first-class ticket was the best possible birthday gift I could have given myself. Because I’m comfortable—at least, as much as you can be on an airplane—I’ve already had a couple of cocktails, and I’m sitting next to one of the most attractive and interesting men I’ve ever met.

He’s laughing, his head tilted back, looking gorgeous. I reflexively check my mouth for drool. I’m really not that funny. “So you have an actual ‘anthem.’ Is that like a theme song?”

I blush, but it’s more from indignation than embarrassment. “I never should have said that. It’s just a song to motivate me. You know, like people make New Year’s resolutions?”

He’s stopped laughing, but he’s still smiling. “So tell me about this song. What? It must be important to you.”

I shrug. “Do you like punk?”

“Uh, I don’t dislike it, but I think Green Day is probably the only band I could name off the top of my head.”

“I love it. Judge me if you want. But…” I sigh. “It makes me happy.” I shrug. “I know a thirty-year-old woman has no right to love punk—”

He holds up his hand to stop me. “You have a right to like whatever you want.” His face scrunches up. “Except maybe if it’s illegal.” He chuckles. “Sorry. Go ahead.”

“There’s this song, ‘Weightless,’ by the band All Time Low. They sing about getting older and feeling like you haven’t accomplished anything, and that it’s time to face your fears and finally do something with your life. They compare their life to an unread book, wanting to feel ‘weightless.’ Very carpe diem.” I wave my phone. Technically it should be off, even though we’re grounded, but I turn it on. “You could listen to it, if you want,” I say, powering it on and offering it to him, headphones and all.

He looks at me, one eyebrow raised. “You sure you don’t mind me using your earbuds? I could have Ebola. Or bubonic plague.” He grins.

I laugh. “I’ll take my chances. You can just hold them if it bothers you. I have some wipes in my bag I can clean them with.”

He chuckles, wipes one on his shirt, then sticks it in his ear. His smile spreads across his face as he bobs his head to the music, listening intently.

I’m impressed that he actually takes the time to listen to the entire thing—or nearly so; the flight attendant interrupts us.

“Still okay over here?”

Santiago removes the earbuds, cleaning them again before wrapping them back around my phone and handing it back to me. “Excuse me?”

“I just wanted to make sure you were all right. I know our schedule has been interrupted—”

“I’m fine. Thanks,” he says with a slight nod.

God, the woman is obsessed with him. Not that I blame her, but does she really need to check on him every ten seconds? Not counting delivering drinks, she’s come over to ask if he needs anything ten times since I got on.

“That’s a great anthem, Di,” he says sincerely. “So what are you going to try to accomplish this year?”

“Well, my mom and I, we were really close. She passed away about ten years ago—”

“I’m sorry.”

“Me too.” Take a breath. “She loved books… It’s silly, but…she was kind of my cheerleader. Always told me I could do anything, be anything.” I sigh. “That’s another song, by the way.”

“Sounds like my oldest sister, Genie.” He hesitates for a moment. “She’s always been there for me. I can only imagine what losing her would feel like. I know it’s not the same, but—”

A comfortable smile slips onto my face. “But you understand. God…she’s been gone so long, but sometimes it feels so fresh, you know?” I pull my legs up, hug my knees. “Anyway, when I turned thirty, I looked at my life and said, ‘Is this really what she’d want for me?’ And the answer was no.” I blush. “I can’t believe I’m telling you all this.”

His grin sweetens. “I’m told I’m a good listener, although the two old-fashioneds probably helped.”

My blush deepens. He’s had one cup of water and that’s it. Maybe he doesn’t drink? Maybe he thinks I’m a lush.

“Deep breath, Di,” he says in response to my flustered look. I grip my knees tighter at his word choice. It’s what my mom would always tell me when I started getting worked up. His face softens. “I’m sorry. I promise I’m only an insensitive jerk on Mondays.” He grins.

That makes me laugh. “Today’s Tuesday.”

His face contorts comically. “Hmm. In that case, feel free to tell me to mind my own business.”

We smile together.

It feels good, talking to him like this, relaxing into the conversation as if we were old friends. I turn my head, leaning my temple against my knees. “I’m writing a novel. But! Before you ask, no, I don’t want to talk about it right now.”

He chuckles. “Fair enough.”

The captain comes on, mumbling barely intelligibly. I focus on trying to parse out what he’s saying and happen to notice Santiago shifting in his seat. He puts his hands on either side of his thighs and uses his arms to push his body back. It makes my heart beat faster, and I have to look away. It was the tiniest of movements, adjustments, but something about it…

“Guess we’re finally going to take off, after all,” he says, drawing my attention back to him.

I push my legs down, fold them into lotus position. Nod.

“I think it’s admirable that you’re writing a book.”

I laugh. “I doubt it’ll be the next classic. Besides. It’s a lot harder than I thought it would be.” I blow air through my teeth. “Sometimes it feels like I’m slowly pulling off pieces of my soul and patching it into prose.”

“Wow, Di. That’s beautiful.”

“What?” I flush scarlet. “Not really.”

“Even if you never publish it, just writing it is an accomplishment. Most people get set on a fixed path, like the streetcar, and deviating from that isn’t easy. It takes effort and a lot of guts.”

“And what are you, some kind of life coach who proofreads on the side?”

He chuckles, shakes his head, as if trying to find his voice again, smiling broadly. “Hardly. Let’s just say I know what it’s like to feel ‘stuck,’ as your anthem says. Trust me.”

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