THEY HATE ME. AND WHY wouldn’t they? I’m a screwup. A troublemaker. At least, that’s how my family feels. Even now, standing in the airport on my way out of their lives, they’re looking at me like I’m an embarrassment. The black sheep. And I hate them for that. Those thoughts make my breath catch. Tears burn the back of my throat, but I refuse to give in to the emotions raging inside of me. I won’t give my parents the satisfaction of knowing how much they’ve hurt me. But they have. It’s like a knife has been plunged into my chest, the serrated edge tearing me apart. I lift my chin and harden my expression.
“Emily.” My father looks at me with sad eyes. “I know this is hard for you, but we love you very much.”
My mother nods in agreement. “We just feel this is a necessary step in becoming a mature young lady. It’s really best for everyone.”
“Everyone but me, you mean.” None of them will admit it, but I know they think they’ll be better off without me. Maybe they will. What do I know? I cross my arms over my chest, refusing to look at any of them a moment longer.
“Honey, please don’t be upset with us. You really didn’t leave us any choice.” Mom pats my shoulder, and I jerk away from her touch.
“Shipping me off to the middle of nowhere to live with two people who are older than dirt is not your only choice. It’s just the easiest and least messy.” I turn away from them and stare out the large window that overlooks the massive parking structure.
“Calm down, young lady.” My father’s stern face is reflected in the window, but I ignore him. “And stop being so dramatic. You’re going to Alaska, not the middle of nowhere. There are people who spend their entire lives wishing they could go there and never do.”
I roll my eyes. Like I care about people I don’t know. Why should I? No one ever cares about me, not even my parents. “Besides, you love your grandparents,” Dad says. “Just think of this is an extended vacation.”
Scowling, I shift on my feet and avert my gaze once more.
“Em, don’t be like this.” My brother, Erik, stands beside me and gently nudges me with his shoulder. “It’s only going to be for a few weeks. Then you’ll come back home, and everything will be fine.”
Nothing will be fine ever again. I’m leaving my home, my friends, my school, my boyfriend. My heart shatters when I think of Matt and how he so carelessly dumped me the second he found out my parents were sending me away. Tears sting my eyes. My best frenemy, Ashley, is probably throwing herself at him again. She’s always wanted him, and now, thanks to my stupid parents, she’s going to get her shot.
“You’d better get going. You don’t want to be late for your flight.” Dad smiles tightly and shoves his hands into his pockets.
“Yeah, getting through security will take some time,” Mom adds as if I’ve never been through this process before.
Sighing, I sling my carry-on bag over my shoulder. I checked my bag when we arrived, so I don’t have to wrestle with trying to jam a suitcase into an overhead compartment. My mother pulls me into a hug. I keep my arms at my sides, and I’m positive I hear her sob. For a second, I think she actually cares. She really should’ve been an actress. “I love you, Emily, please don’t forget that.”
She releases me, and then my dad hugs me. I give him the same stiff response. “Be safe and call us as soon as you land, okay?”
I give him a dirty look. They’d threatened to take my phone away—I think they were worried I’d convince one of my friends to help me run away. The thought did cross my mind.
Dad sighs heavily. “Grandma and Grandpa Sheffield will be waiting at the airport to pick you up. Make sure you call us.”
When Erik steps up to hug me, I stand ramrod straight with my arms at my sides, and I don’t hug him back. While I know none of this is his fault, that he’s a victim of his upbringing, too, I hate the world and everyone in it. Living in Erik’s shadow is dark and lonely.
“Show those Alaskans how to do things, Emmy,” Erik whispers, and I can’t stop from smiling. He’s the only person in the world who can get away with calling me Emmy. Reluctantly, I soften and wrap my arms around him briefly.
“I will.” I give him a squeeze before releasing him and walking toward security.
I don’t bother to look back; my family is probably already gone anyway. I cannot believe they are shipping me off to Alaska like this. They know how much I hate it. Last time we visited, I got so sick, I missed two whole weeks of school. At the time, I was convinced I’d contracted some weird, deadly, as-of-yet-undiscovered disease that had been lying dormant in the snow and decided to make itself known by taking over my body. But it turned out to be just the normal old flu.
I step into the security line behind some guy who is slightly taller than me and who smells really good. He moves forward in line and begins the process of emptying the electronics from his bag and taking off his shoes. I watch in fascination at how confident and at ease he appears. It’s like he’s oblivious to everything and everyone around him. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. One of the first rules of being in New York: always watch your surroundings. He must not be from around here.
The security officer waves me forward. Here we go. I despise airport security. It takes forever, and taking my shoes off is such a pain. There’s something gross about walking barefoot on a floor that sees as much action as an airport. I shudder at the thought and put my shoes up on the conveyor belt.
Even with socks on, the floor is cold and sticky. “Gross,” I mumble.
“Excuse me?” The guy ahead of me turns around and stares at me.
He has piercing blue eyes, which momentarily shocks me. I swallow and lick my lips. “Uh, nothing, I was just…” I shake my head. “Nothing. Sorry.”
He tilts his head to the side, smiles, and then turns away. He steps through the metal detector, and I lose sight of him as he gathers his stuff and is swallowed up by the crowd on the other side.
If only I could be swallowed up like that and disappear.
After making it through security, I head toward the SunDun terminal—all the way on the other side of the airport. By the time I get there, most of the seats are occupied. Great. It’s almost two hours before my flight is scheduled to leave, and I am not going to stand the whole time. I find a single empty seat near the windows, and I claim it before someone can steal the chair. I accidentally elbow the person next to me. He looks at me and smiles.
It’s the same guy from the security line. Heat creeps up my neck and erupts on my face. “Uh, sorry. I didn’t mean to hit you.”
“It’s okay.” His voice is soft but deep. “These seats really aren’t made for strangers, are they?”
I laugh. “No, they’re really not. The seats on the plane are worse though.”
“Oh, I know. The flight here I was squished between a very large man who had to have the tray down so he could be on his laptop, and a pregnant woman who apparently had horrible morning sickness. It wasn’t fun.” He laughs, and I smile in response. He’s got a great laugh, and it helps brighten my mood a little. “I’m Aiden, by the way.”
Before either of us can say anything else, his cell phone rings. He rolls his eyes and gives me an apologetic shrug. “Sorry.” He stands, says hello, and walks away.
I sigh and slouch in my seat. Hopefully, he won’t be gone too long. Time crawls by, and I’m getting more bored by the second. Finally, I hear the familiar announcement. “SunDun Flight three-seven-two-two from New York to Seattle may now begin boarding.”
That’s another thing about this trip—a three hour and fifty-two-minute layover in Seattle, Washington, before boarding a much smaller plane to Anchorage. At least my parents gave me money for food, but I still hate them for making me go in the first place. I stand, adjust the strap of my carry-on bag, and walk toward the woman who’s checking boarding passes. She scans mine and hands it back to me with a smile. “Enjoy your flight.” I nod and head off to board the plane.