A few days later finds me walking through the airport with a plain clothes police escort. While it wouldn’t normally be allowed, my father accompanies us to the gate, and when they call for passengers who’ll need assistance getting on the plane, we say our farewells.
As I’m about to turn away, my father clears his throat. “I know I don’t have any right to ask this, but will you let me know when you’re home?”
He stands there in his bespoke suit, fiddling with a silver monogrammed cufflink.
“I don’t know how to say this without coming off as a selfish prick, but I’m going to say it anyway. I hate the circumstances that led to this, but I’m glad I got to see you again. I hope this won’t be the last time.”
“Can I… Is it too much to ask… Will it hurt you if…” My father doesn’t shrink before the most powerful people in New York, but his five-foot-two daughter has him ruffled. I’m flattered, but I don’t want to be the person who leaves someone they love twisting in the wind. I close the gap between us and wrap an arm around him. He rests a cautious arm over my shoulders before kissing the top of my head. There’s a heave of his chest, and when I pull away, his eyes are wet. He clears his throat and scrubs thick fingers over the back of his neck through the bristles of his greying blond hair before he extends a hand to Crispin.
“Cris, you watch out for her as much as she’ll let you. She’s my princess.”
“I will. She’s mine, too.”
I roll my eyes at them, embarrassed, though a warmth creeps through me.
“We should go. I don’t want you to get caught up in the crowd,” Crispin says, slinging a backpack over his shoulder and taking up my carry-on.
“Of course, go on. Have a safe trip, Rani.” It’s no I love you, but I’m not sure I could take that from him yet.
“Thanks, Daddy. We’ll talk soon.”
I lace my fingers through Crispin’s and head toward the jetway. I’m tired by the time we’ve settled in our seats, though we’re in the first row. Jack insisted on flying us first class. I’d tried to protest, saying we’d risk the crapshoot that are upgrades. He’d told me to save the stubborn and know-it-all tough act for clients, and to just, for fuck’s sake, let him do this for me.
So here we are, and though I’d never admit it, Jack was right. Sitting in this wide, plush seat is already unpleasant. I can’t imagine being crammed into one of the cardboard-for-cushioning sardine seats a few rows back. When the wheels leave the ground, my stomach pitches. The pain medication I’ve been tapering off has an unsettling effect when I’m on solid ground, and in the air it translates to outright nausea. I clap a hand over my mouth and tuck up my feet.
“India?” Crispin’s turned to face me, concern pinching his brows. “What’s the matter?”
“I’m going to be sick,” I whimper, hugging my knees to my chest as close as my bruised ribs will allow. He scoots closer to rub my hunched back.
“That’s okay.” He reaches for one of those puke bags I’ve always ignored and shakes it open before tucking it between my fingers. My insides roil again at a brief, weightless feeling, and I close my eyes tight. I’m trying to smother the sick, but it’s not easy. “Deep breaths, mili. You’re going to be all right.”
He talks to me in low, soothing tones, and I distract myself with the cadence of his speech and his warm touch. I gag a few times, but keep my last meal inside my body. By the time we reach a cruising altitude, I’m shaking and sweating with the effort, although leveling off settles my stomach some.
I hear Crispin talking to someone, and moments later, there’s a cool cloth on the back of my neck and he replaces the crumpled waxed bag with a half-full cup of water. I sip it under his direction, and the crisp, cold taste dispels some of the stale, near-sick sensation in my mouth.
I nod, and he refills my cup. I drink that, too. The brief reprieve lets me loosen the hold I’ve got on myself, and I relax toward him, not bothering to open my eyes as I nestle under his arm.
A few hours later I wake, stiff and sore as hell and not in a good way. I need to get up. Crispin brushes some hair out of my face.
“Feel any better?”
“Not so sick. But I—I hurt.”
He checks his watch. “You could take your meds, but…”
“No.” I’d rather be achy and uncomfortable than risk getting sick to my stomach again. I expect him to argue with me, but he doesn’t.
“Yeah, I get it. Are you up to making a few laps? Walking around might make you feel better.”
I nod, and he helps me up. All the injuries that had been feeling so much better have resurfaced with a vengeance. I might as well have been assaulted yesterday. I don’t know if it’s the altitude or having fallen asleep in such an awkward position, but I’m back to square one. I try to slide past him, but he stands up and steps into the aisle, leaving a gap for me. I take a few steps toward the back of the plane and realize Crispin’s right behind me.
“What’re you doing?”
“I’m coming with you.”
“Why?” It’s not a terribly scenic trip, and it’s not like I’m going to run away.
He studies me, debating. I cross my arms in front of my chest and wince at the pressure on my ribs.
“I’m worried about you. If you get dizzy or sick, I don’t want you passing out on some stranger.”
“You’d rather I faint on you?” I’m teasing, but he’s not.
“Yes, I would.”
“Fine.” I shrug and allow myself a private smile at his fingertips resting on the small of my back while we make a few loops up and down the crowded aisle. When we get back to our row, my luxurious seat looks as inviting as a medieval torture device. I’d keep walking, but I’m tired from the few laps we made. All I want…
I slide into the row and sink to my knees, laying my head and arms on my empty seat. I don’t know that I’ll be able to stay this way for long, but Crispin’s taken his seat and is petting my hair, murmuring soothing things just loud enough for me to hear.
He’s interrupted by a flight attendant. “Excuse me, sir. Is she—”
“She’s fine.” He’s using that voice on her, the one that sways me so well, and my spine pricks with jealousy. But he’s employing it on my behalf, to care for me, and that flash of hands off is replaced by a wave of gratitude.
“Is there anything I can—”
“I’ll let you know if we need anything. I’ve got her. Thanks, though.”
I can’t imagine what she must be thinking about this strange woman kneeling on the vibrating floor of the plane with her eyes closed, but I can’t care at the moment. This is the only way I’m going to get through the next bit of this flight. And that’s how I make it across the country, in twenty-minute increments.
When our descent’s announced and I have to sit like a normal person, I’m reduced to tears. They slip down my face one at a time, the only external indication of my agony, because I can harness the rest and Crispin helps me manage in any way he can. He pinches the unmarked skin of my inner arm and digs his thumb into a pressure point on my elbow. Though the sharp pain makes me wince, it’s something he has control over, something I could stop with a word, and it helps distract me from the hurt neither of us can do anything about.
When we land, I’m surprised there’s press here, too, but Crispin tucks me under his arm and pushes his way through the crowd to a waiting car. He bundles me home and eases me into the bath before he puts me to bed. I have three days before I start back at JVA, and I need to prepare. To me, that means poring over endless emails and reports on what I’ve missed, but to Crispin, it means spoiling me with food, rest, softcore kink, and sex. We compromise, and come Monday morning, I’m able to suit up in my professional armor, less rigid than it used to be. It’s time to get back to work.