Withering Hope

By: Layla Hagen

My last flight as Aimee Myller starts like any other flight: with a jolt.

I lean my head on the leather headrest, closing my eyes as the private jet takes off. The ascent is smooth, but my stomach still tightens the way it always does during take-offs. I keep my eyes closed for a little while even after the plane is level. When I open up my eyes, I smile. Hanging over the seat in front of me, inside a cream-colored protection bag, is the world's most beautiful wedding dress.

My dress.

It does wonders for me, giving my boyish figure curves. I'll be wearing it in exactly one week. The wedding will take place at my fiancé Chris’s gorgeous vacation ranch in Brazil, where I'm heading right now. I've made this flight numerous times before, but it's the first time I'm traveling in Chris's private six-passenger jet without him, and it feels empty. When I next board this plane, my last name will be Moore, Mrs. Christopher Moore. I sink farther down in my seat, enjoying the feeling of smooth leather on my skin. The emptiness of the plane is accentuated by the fact that there is no flight attendant tonight.

I couldn't bring myself to ask Kyra, Chris’s flight attendant, to work tonight. Her daughter turned three today, and she’s had the party planned for ages. No reason for her to pay because I decide on a whim that I absolutely have to return to the ranch tonight instead of tomorrow so I can supervise the wedding preparations.

The poor pilot, Tristan, wasn’t so lucky—he had to give up what would have been a free night. But he'll forgive me. I've found people are willing to forgive many things—too many in my opinion—from a future bride. I'll have to find a way to make it up to Tristan. Maybe I'll buy him something he'll enjoy as a token of gratitude. That might be a challenge since I don't know Tristan all that well, though he's been working for Chris for a few years. Tristan is very guarded.

I’ve gotten pretty close to Kyra, who seems beside herself whenever I travel on the plane. I suspect Chris and the business partners he usually flies with aren't as entertaining as the endless discussions we have about the wedding. But all I have managed with Tristan is to get him to talk to me on a first name basis and crack an occasional joke.

Three hours into the flight, Tristan's voice resounds through the speakers. "It looks like there will be more turbulence than usual tonight. It'll be safest if you don't leave your seat for the next hour. And keep your seatbelt fastened."

"Got it," I say, then remember he can't hear me.

The plane starts jolting vigorously soon after that, but I don't worry too much. Tristan Bress is an excellent pilot, even though he's only twenty-eight—just two years older than I am. I've made this flight often enough. I’m almost used to the occasional turbulences. Almost.

I peek out the window and see we are flying over the Amazon rainforest. The mass of green below is so vast it gives me goose bumps. I gulp. Even though I'm not scared, the continuous jolts do affect me. An unpleasant nausea starts at the back of my throat, and my stomach rolls, somersaulting with each brusque movement of the plane. I check the seat in front of me for the sick bag. It's there.

I grip the hem of my white shirt with both hands in an attempt to calm myself. It doesn't work; my fingers are still twitching. I put my hands in the pockets of my jeans and try to focus on the wedding. That brings a smile to my face. Everything will be perfect. Well, almost everything. I wish my parents could be with me on my wedding day, but I lost them both eight years ago, just before starting college. I close my eyes, trying to block the nausea. After a few minutes it works. Even though the flight isn't one bit smoother, my anxiety loosens a bit.

And then an entirely new kind of anxiety grips me.

The plane starts losing height. My eyes fly open. As if on cue, Tristan's voice fills the cabin. "I have to descend to a lower altitude. We'll get back up as soon as possible. You have nothing to worry about."

An uneasy feeling starts forming inside me. This hasn't happened before. Still, I have full confidence in Tristan's abilities. There is no reason to worry, so I do my best not to. Until a deafening sound comes from outside. I snap my head in that direction. At first I see nothing except my own reflection in the window: green eyes and light brown, shoulder-length hair. Then I press my forehead to the window. What I see outside freezes the air in my lungs. In the dim twilight, smoke paints black clouds in front of my window.