When I returned, my dream of traveling had been fulfilled but not replaced with another. Not until I saw Millicent. She looked like she was just beginning her own dream. In that moment, I wanted to be a part of it.
At the time, I didn't think of all this. I came up with it later, when I tried to explain to her or anyone else why I found her so attractive. But back then, I continued to my next gate. After traveling for twenty hours with still more to go, I couldn't even muster up the energy to speak to her. All I could do was admire.
It turned out we were on the same flight. I took it as a sign.
She had a window seat, and mine was in the center of the middle row. It took a little convincing, some flirting with a flight attendant and a twenty-dollar bill, to get my seat moved next to Millicent. She did not look up when I sat down.
By the time the drink cart came by, I had come up with a plan. I would order whatever she ordered, and, because I had already decided she was special, I could not imagine her ordering anything as mundane as water. It would be something more unusual, like pineapple juice with ice, and when I ordered the same thing we would have a moment of symmetry, symbiosis, serendipity—it didn't matter what.
Given how long it had been since I had slept, this plan sounded plausible in my head right up until Millicent told the flight attendant thanks but no thanks. She did not want a drink.
I said the same thing. It didn't have the effect I wanted.
But when Millicent turned to the flight attendant, I saw her eyes for the first time. The color reminded me of the lush, open fields I had seen all over Cambodia. They were not nearly as dark as they look now.
She went back to staring out the window. I went back to staring at her while pretending I wasn't.
I told myself I was an idiot and I should just talk to her.
I told myself there was something wrong with me, because normal people didn't act like this over a girl they had never seen before.
I told myself not to be a stalker.
I told myself she was too beautiful for me. With thirty minutes left on the flight, I spoke. "Hi."
She turned. Stared. "Hi."
I think that's when I stopped holding my breath.
Years passed before I asked why she kept staring out the windows, both in the airport and on the plane. She said it was because she had never flown before. The only thing she had been dreaming about was a safe landing.
Petra was number one on the list, but now that she's been eliminated I move on to the next, a young woman named Naomi George. I haven't spoken to her yet.
In the evening, I drive to the Lancaster Hotel. Naomi works as a front desk clerk at the Lancaster, one of those old-world places that survives because of its past glory. The building is huge and so grand in decor it could never be built today. It would be too expensive to do right and too cheesy if done wrong.
The front of the hotel has glass doors and side panels, offering a good view of the front desk. Naomi stands behind it wearing the Lancaster uniform, a blue skirt and jacket, both trimmed in gold braid, and a crisp white blouse. She has long dark hair, and the freckles on her nose make her look younger than she is. Naomi is twenty-seven.
She probably still gets carded in bars but is not as innocent as she looks.
Late at night, I have seen her get a little too friendly with more than one male guest. They have all been alone, older, and well dressed, and she doesn't always leave the hotel when her shift ends. Either Naomi has been making extra money on the side or she has aspirational one-night stands.
Because of social media, I know that her favorite food is sushi but she won't eat red meat. In high school, she played volleyball and had a boyfriend named Adam. Now he is referred to as The Cretin. Her last boyfriend, Jason, moved away three months ago, and she has been single ever since. Naomi has been thinking about getting a pet, probably a cat, but she hasn't yet. She has more than a thousand online friends, but from what I can tell, Naomi has just two close friends. Three at the most.
I'm still not sure she is the one. I need to know more. Millicent is tired of waiting.
This excerpt ends on page 15 of the hardcover edition.