Authors: Whitney Boyd
“Does this look like a woman who’s tough?” The woman answers her own question without even pausing. “Absolutely not. She’s frail and my heart breaks for her.” She stares at the photo, shaking her head, and then turns to look at me. She looks at the magazine again and back to me.
“This is you!” Her voice is excited. “You’re Todd Marusiak’s fiancée!”
People a few seats away swivel around in their chairs at the sound of her loud enthusiasm.
I feel my cheeks flame red and shake my head quickly. “No, no I’m not.” It’s not a lie. I’m not his fiancée anymore. I pawned his engagement ring. Real fiancées don’t do that.
The woman eyes me still. “You’re definitely her. Kennedy Carter,” she reads from the article. “You’re Kennedy Carter!”
A teenage girl across the aisle yawns and looks over to see what all the commotion is about. “Who?” she asks tiredly. “Mandy Moore?”
“Nobody,” I say, turning my face to the front, not making eye contact with anyone.
“Todd Marusiak’s fiancée,” whispers my seatmate, her eyes sparkling. “You know, the one who he cheated on.”
The teenager yawns again and glances at the magazine picture the woman is waving. “I dunno,” she says in sleepy tones, “maybe.”
Her mother leans across her and cranes her neck to see what’s happening. “Who are you?” she asks.
More and more people are looking around now with the sudden influx of attention I’m being given. I sink lower in my seat.
“This is Todd Marusiak’s fiancée!” The woman beside me loves her role as town crier.
The teenager’s mother straightens up and looks me over from top to bottom. “It
her. You’re right!” She sits up taller in her seat and stares at me. “You’re engaged to one of the richest hockey players in the world!”
She nudges her daughter and whispers in her ear for a moment. The teenager looks embarrassed as her mother pulls things out of the bag she holds in her lap, looking for something. “Do you think you can get me his autograph? I’ll give you my address and you can mail it to me.”
I think I’m going to vomit, actually.
“No, I don’t think I can, sorry. We’re not together anymore.” The words hurt coming out.
“Really? I guess he dumped you for the ‘other woman,’ right?”
Why does everyone assume that he dumped me? Do I not look like the type who could do the dumping?
“I broke up with him, actually.” I square my shoulders and pretend to be oblivious to the world around me.
Just then the flight attendant wheels the cart in between us in the aisle. “Anything to drink, miss?”
I root around in my purse for the five dollar bill I know I have in there. I pull it out and hand it to the flight attendant. “Yes, an orange juice and vodka, please.”
No way will I get through the next fifty minutes of this plane ride without something stiff to dull my senses.
She hands it to me and I take a sip, feeling the burn clear my nostrils and open my airway. Since I haven’t eaten breakfast, I feel it go straight to my head. I shudder involuntarily and take another sip.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
My seatmate is not giving up. I take another long sip and shake my head. “Not at all. It was personal, it happened, and I’m moving on.” I finish off my drink, lean my chair back, and shut my eyes.
It’s okay. In fifty minutes I’ll be off the plane and starting fresh. I’ll find an apartment somewhere cheap and off the grid. I’ll get a job as a waitress or a shop clerk somewhere I can blend in.
Florida is the perfect place to be forgotten. Criminals and illegal Cubans hide out there all the time.
taught me that.
I drift off into a hazy slumber, half awake, half asleep, barely noticing when the flight attendant announces that we are ready to land, to put our seats in the upright position and stow all personal belongings.
Haze is good.
I step out of the airport and feel like I’ve walked into something solid. The humidity hits me and I take a deep breath. Florida smells warm, thick, and a little swampy. I take another breath and pull my shoulders back. Palm trees sway in the nearby gardens, tall and rugged looking. Flowers bloom all around me, and the smell of fresh blossoms calms my nerves.
My lungs feel warm as I continue breathing deeply; freeing my mind from the vodka and orange juice-induced haze I entered an hour and a half ago. People push past me, leaving the airport. Clumps of other people run screaming toward friends and family coming through the sliding doors. A teary-eyed couple kiss passionately, the man wearing Army clothes, clearly leaving for a stint away.
Florida is busy. Florida is the perfect place to escape from Todd. Florida is beautiful.
“Welcome home,” I mumble to myself. I walk a few steps and then stop, leaning against my suitcases. Where do I go now?
I had been so determined to get to Florida, I hadn’t thought much about the details. I had briefly contemplated getting an apartment and a job, but both of those seemed remote and far away when I was sitting in my condo in Colorado. I had just put them off, saying I’d handle them when I got here.
I have no idea what to do. Every other time I’ve run away from life, I’ve had a sort of plan. Like right after my mom died, I’d taken the money she left to me and fled to Boston to live with my grandmother. She’d taken me in until I figured out I wanted to go to university there. And when I ran away from Boston after school got so darn hard, I’d followed Todd to Canada. He’d arranged the apartment, he’d looked after the flights and money and all that.
I pull my luggage over to a bus stop bench and sit down. I need a minute to figure everything out.
I really need food. Something delicious, like vegetarian Vietnamese noodles, perhaps. But maybe I can grab something from the Hilton where that travel agent made me reservations. Then I can use their WiFi to search for apartments. Once I find a place to live, I’ll be able to look for jobs nearby, settle in, find furniture, and get my life back on track.
Perfect plan. Step one . . . get to my hotel.
There should be a shuttle or something. I look around for a sign, anything saying
but see nothing.
I stand, grab my luggage, and head back toward the sliding glass doors to bring me inside again. The doors open and the cool air conditioning send a chill through my body as I leave the warm blanket of humidity outside. I spot an information booth a few yards away and awkwardly wheel my suitcases behind me.
I wait in the line until a man smiles broadly and turns toward me. I step toward him and lean on the counter between us, resting my suitcases at my feet.
“Hello, miss, welcome to Orlando. How may I help you?”
He has a thick Southern accent, overemphasizing the “h” sounds and almost dropping the vowels completely. He must be from North Carolina or Georgia or somewhere a bit farther north. It makes me feel a little calmer to realize that he’s an immigrant to this fine state like I am. If he can make it here, so can I!
“Hi, I have a reservation at the Hilton but am not sure where to go for the shuttle.”
The man points outside, to where I had been a moment earlier. “The shuttle service for all our airport hotels is right out the door there.”
The man nods and grins even bigger. Smiling that much must give his cheeks quite the workout, I think. “Yes’m, no problem.”
He’s so kind and helpful. I wonder if he can help me with my more pressing problem.
I hesitate only a second. “I also was wondering if you can recommend a good place to live. I’m moving here and need to find a job and an apartment and have no clue where to start.”
My voice sounds almost unrecognizable to me; it is so full of panic and nerves. I can’t believe I’m about to let a stranger decide where I will live.
The man waves his hand in acknowledgment and reaches into a desk drawer beside him. He roots around for a moment and then rises, holding a brochure in his hand and places it in front of me.
“Welcome to Kissimmee!” screams the title of the brochure. An alligator is on the front, his mouth open like he’s laughing at me. And plotting to eat my arm.
“Kissimmee is a good place for you to go, ma’am, if you’re hoping to live here more permanently. It’s not too far out of Orlando and is usually the place where people stay when they come to Disney. They are always looking for employees for their restaurants and hotels down there. Not to mention, rent is cheaper than right in Orlando.”
I bob my head, intrigued by what I am seeing. This looks like the Florida I had pictured in my head. I turn the pages of the pamphlet while the man continues talking.
There are pictures of happy people on every page. Palm trees and flowers are everywhere, a beautiful lake with a beach and bikini-clad women playing sand volleyball with tanned, muscular men. This looks like a nice place, I tell myself. I can do this. I can totally handle this.
“Kissimmee?” I repeat slowly, emphasizing the middle syllable the way the man did.
“Yes’m. That’s the place for you, in my opinion. Ya’ll can ask around, but it’s a pretty good place to be. Like anywhere, it has nicer and poorer neighborhoods, but if you check with a few locals, you’ll find a safe apartment.”
“Great, thank you so much!”
I clutch my Kissimmee pamphlet and slowly wheel my suitcases back outside. I walk to the shuttle pickup area and carefully place my luggage out of the way of people walking by. Then I sit on my suitcase and wait, flipping through the pamphlet again.
There are advertisements on nearly every page. Information about attractions in Kissimmee and dozens of colorful pictures.
Gatorland, one page screams with bright yellow and orange letters. I look closer at it. It’s like a zoo only with hundreds of alligators.
“Feed the gators! Sit on the back of a gator! Watch gator wrestling!”
A little blonde girl with pigtails beams into a camera and holds a hot dog out for an alligator to eat through a mesh fence. Although slightly concerned for the little girl’s fingers, I am suddenly excited. This is definitely going to be one of the first places I go. Definitely.
In fact, maybe I could even work there! I can see myself, all tanned like the alligator wrestler in the other photo and wearing khaki shorts, smiling to the screaming crowds while saying something tough like, “A gator is nothing more than an overgrown lizard, ya’ll.” Okay, how cool is that?
I glance at the page opposite Gatorland. It’s an advertisement for a little cookie shop, Breck’s Gourmet Cookies. The toffee, chocolate chip, pumpkin cheesecake, and white chocolate macadamia cookies in the picture look positively amazing. I could even work there, I think with enthusiasm. You know, learn their secret recipes and one day I can make them for my grandchildren and tell them about how I used to work for a gourmet cookie shop. I’ll be like my former neighbor, Mrs. Lawrence, only without the pink tinge to my hair.
Yes, Kissimmee is definitely the place for me.
I am turning the page to check out what other amazing things are in store for me, when a bus pulls up to the curb with
scrawled elegantly on the side. A man steps out and asks if I am waiting for the shuttle. I nod, shove the brochure in my pocket, and stand to the side while the man loads up my luggage.
Things are starting to come together.
A couple of hours later I’ve settled into my hotel room, taken a nice hot shower, and slept the edge off my headache. I’d ordered the veggie burger from room service and ate the entire thing, not even caring about the calories. Well, I mean, sure it crossed my mind but I clearly didn’t dwell on the fact that each mouthful was approximately twenty-five calories. Plus I drank a soda. And it wasn’t even diet.
Now, with some lipstick carefully applied; a fresh t-shirt, shorts, and black sandals on, I feel refreshed and invigorated.
“All right,” I mutter, opening my suitcase and taking out one hundred in cash. I stuff it into my wallet and then reach to the very bottom. I feel the hard surface and pull out my laptop.
Finding a place to live is the most crucial right now. I’ll do a Google search for places in Kissimmee, and I’m sure I’ll find something nice. I start up my laptop and check my email out of habit.
Two new messages.
Unconsciously, I bite my lower lip and click on the inbox screen. The first is from [email protected] Emily Poole is married to one of Todd’s teammates. She was the first one to call me and ask if I’d seen the news about Todd cheating. In public she’s my friend. In private I know she prays for bad things to happen to me.
I don’t want to read it, but I can’t seem to stop myself. Maybe she’ll have information about Todd, I think hopefully. You know, saying something like his plane crashed and he died and in his dying breath he called my name and asked for forgiveness. Or something like that.
I open the email and immediately cringe.
Dear Kennedy, I tried to text you, but your phone is off?!? I know you’re sulking at home, but darling, you just need to weather this storm out. I have a new hot tub and would love for you to come over and we’ll have manicures and vegan sushi rolls and just talk this over. Everything will be off record. *laugh* I hear the reporters are camped out at your door, so looking your best will definitely make you feel better. Oh, and I also heard a rumor that you’re going to be on The View!?!?! I can totally go with you, if you need the moral support. Let me know! xoxox Emily
I shudder and hit the delete button. Of course Emily would think that manicures solve cheating fiancé issues. And I’m sure she’d love to get herself in the paper alongside me, putting on a brave face while smiling through her fifteen-thousand-dollar veneers. Besides, until Todd cheated, she hadn’t called me in over a month.