Cross-country travel during the week between the holidays requires stamina, patience, and an emergency pair of underwear tucked in your carry-on. I have zero patience, but according to my dead granny Kay, I’m as full as a tick when it comes to stamina.
The two-story wall of glass allows sunlight to illuminate the area inside the Arrivals Terminal at San Jose International Airport. The brightness highlights the frenetic motion of people. Baggage claim can only be described in one word: chaos. People jostle each other for space around each carousel like cash is about to roll out instead of luggage.
I’m about to meet a lot of people I’ll be going to school with next September. It’s exciting, but I’m nervous, too. This week will be my opportunity to become friends with all the people in Faith’s world. In a way, it’s surreal. For the longest time it was just me and my best friend, Faith. The two of us against a bunch of buttheads we went to school with. Now there’s an entire group of people in her life.
A pang strikes my heart. I hope I still have a place in my bestie’s life by the time I transfer here.
Someone snorts behind me, then I hear a few hushed giggles, which makes me glance over to the other baggage station. What appears to be a sex toy wiggles its way around the carousel. I’m not sure if the thing happened to turn on—or if some baggage handler with a sick sense of humor decided to flip it to live mode—but I’m mesmerized by its frenzied gyrating.
I’m puzzled by the numerous squid-like tentacles on the apparatus, but not in a judgey way. I mean, I can’t see the need for that many appendages, but I haven’t made self-pleasure an Olympic sport.
That device is out of my league—belonging to a gold medalist if I’ve ever seen one.
“That’s so unsanitary. Stan is ruined,” a gorgeous brunette behind me cries out. I do a double take when I recognize the young woman. She’s a beauty influencer on KickBack. Is it Stan the squid or STAN the sex cephalopod, her most zealous fan? I roll my lips inward because I don’t want to laugh. Stan looks like a comfort animal of the finest sort. My respect for the beauty diva goes way up.
“Whatsat, Mama?” a little girl about my baby brother’s ripe age of five asks in the hushed lull.
I glance at the little girl’s mama waiting for her answer. I’m interested, too. Since I might need a fast comeback if I ever find myself in a similar situation.
“It’s a bath toy, Brittany.”
“I want one. I want one. I WANT one.”
“Don’t we all, sweetheart,” another woman near us agrees, tongue-in-cheek.
My banana-yellow director of pleasure—named after my favorite minion—remains safely at home. No chance of Kevin buzzing down the conveyor for all to see. I’m grateful for the spared indignity.
The influencer’s friend or assistant scrambles to retrieve Stan. Poor squid. That’s just wrong. I glance away. No one touches Kevin except me. And my baby brother—but that was only one time, before I learned to store Kevin out of Collin’s reach. He hadn’t learned to talk yet, so Mom never heard about his discovery. Small blessings.
It’s impossible not to stare at the spectacle.
Someone squeezes next to me on my right. I can’t glance away from the person valiantly fighting to stuff the sizeable squid into her laptop bag, while the diva flaps her arms, doing her best to direct the proceedings.
The person who scooted in next to me might have done so for a front-row seat to the Stan show. At least that’s my assumption, since I haven’t glanced their way. Meanwhile, the poor gal trying to wrestle Stan into her bag reminds me of my own frustration trying to wrestle Collin—affectionately nicknamed the turd—into pajamas back in his toddler days. No small feat.
The person beside me says, “The most interesting people can be found at the airport.”
His voice seems to float down from far above me. There are two things that feed a crush for me: a distinctive voice and the shape of a man’s hands. I have a thing about hands. I have no idea why—I know it’s silly—but it is what it is. The voice makes me pause. His voice is deep and smooth like a shot of top-shelf tequila. Tangy. Delicious.
“Totally,” I agree. Still not glancing in his direction. Inevitably his voice and face won’t match, or he’ll be old enough to be my father.
My phone trills with a text. I check the screen. It’s from Faith, who patiently waits for me in the cell phone lot:
Do you have your bag?
I glance at the carousel to my left and don’t see my bag. Bright orange and turquoise tends to stand out among the blues, grays, and blacks of standard-issue suitcase colors. There are fewer bags on the conveyor. My eyebrows pinch together with worry. Hiking my heavy backpack higher on my shoulder, I type a reply:
No sign of it yet.
The girl wrestling the vibrator gives up and braces Stan under her arm. It starts to gyrate again, making her jump. I clamp my hand over my mouth as soon as the snicker escapes. Damn. That is one formidable sex toy.
The guy beside me coughs to cover his laugh. The sound tugs a grin from me.
I watch the dynamic duo weave their way through the crowd at the terminal, turning back to my own carousel once I lose sight of them. My heart sinks. I realize that while I’d been watching the squid showcase, only four suitcases remain circling my baggage carousel. My bag isn’t among them. “Shit.”
I glance up, and farther up, and finally make eye contact with the person next to me, who happens to be the finest specimen of man flesh I’ve seen in real life. In the grand scheme, twenty isn’t all that old, but it’s still a significant amount of time. My breath hitches.
He’s age-appropriate. His hair is a light cinnamon brown that probably bleaches to a more gingery color in the summer sun. He reminds me of a younger version of the actor who plays Jamie Fraser in the Outlander series, but this guy looms even larger.
I happen to glance at his hands. Holy shit—I shouldn’t have. His hands are large. Long fingers with scrapes along the knuckles add ruggedness to his almost elegant hands. When our eyes meet, his navy-blue eyes resemble the color of the deepest part of the ocean, an abyss that renders me incapable of glancing away.
A shiver works its way down my spine. My phone buzzes in my back pocket, distracting me. I break eye contact to check the screen. Faith sent another text:
Keep an eye out for Everest. He went inside to find you.
Then it hits me. The exemplar of male beauty standing next to me has a Fortis University Gladiators hoodie on with the motto fortis fortuna adiuvat screen-printed under an icon of a sword. Hilt positioned between his pecs, blade pointing down toward nirvana. I force my gaze not to drop lower. His arms are huge, the circumference certainly bigger than my thighs. “Everest, I presume?”
“At your service.” He smiles at me.
Something deep inside my core pulls tight. “Climb Every Mountain” sung by the Mother Abbess to Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music plays in my head. Full volume.
This could be a problem. Everest is Faith’s friend and her boyfriend’s teammate. Unacceptable. He’s so pretty, a voice inside my head whines.
No. No. No.
Men are off-limits—even a gorgeous man who looks like one of my favorite actors. Didn’t Daniel teach you anything? I shake my head to clear my thoughts, then I breathe deep.
“I’m Kirsty. It’s nice to meet you,” I murmur, shoving my right hand at him.
When his hand clasps mine, the current travels up my arm and down my chest, settling low in my core to zap my lady bits. Holy cow. It’s like his hand is a lightning rod. One touch and he nearly blasted off the latch to my jewelry box. I release my grip before my underpants combust.
His pupils dilate and the side of his mouth lifts in a grin. “Likewise.”
He’s freaking potent. Knock it off, I scold myself, shoving my tingling hand into the front pocket of my jeans.
Excerpt from “Handful, Chapter 1.”
By: C.R. Grissom, Tule Publishing