Strangers on a Plane by Elizabeth Richards

Jake leaned back against the plane seat, groaning as he ran his hands through his hair. Forgot my earbuds for the…eighth time now? How much worse can this day get?

You really shouldn’t ask questions like that, because fate adores irony™, and yes, it can get worse. Want to know how it can get worse? Well, it goes a little something like the person sitting in the seat next to you is super cute, and they start staring at you as you fumble with your phone.

“Are you all good, bro?” Jake looked up from his phone, which was dangling between his pointer finger and thumb. He nodded, his cheeks going red as he tucked his phone back into his pocket. The blonde girl sitting next to him laughed, offering her hand. “I’m Allie.”

“J-Jake.” He nervously shook her hand, his hands shaking as he tried to keep from making a comment about how small and soft her hands were. “You heading to New Jersey?”

“Yup! Headed back home for Christmas for the first time in almost three years.” Her smile was dazzling, holy shit. “Can’t wait to finally meet all of my best friend’s siblings, since she’s been hiding them from me for eighteen plus years.”

“Sounds fun. My sister is forcing me to come home for the holidays so I can meet her boyfriend and my brother’s girlfriend. I’m not ready for all the family bonding and hugs. Blegh.” Allie laughed at that, the corners of her eyes wrinkling as a smile stretched across her face.

“You looked a little upset when I sat down. Are you sure everything’s alright?” Jake had been distracted, and shook himself from his thoughts. He nodded, rubbing the back of his neck sheepishly.

“Yeah, everything’s fine. I just forgot my earbuds…again.” Allie pulled a container from her backpack, opening it and handing him an earbud.

“Here. I know how hard it can be to fly without something to distract you, especially if you’re a nervous flyer. The only downside is that you have to listen to my music with me, but it’s probably not so bad, unless you hate country.” When his eyes widened, Allie laughed, shaking her head. “Just kidding, I hate country with a passion.”

Jake let out a sigh of relief, taking the earbud gratefully as Allie started up her music. When it started playing, Jake looked at her in shock. 

Looking at her, with her ripped jeans, band t-shirt, and pierced nose, you wouldn’t think her favorite kind of music was violin. Well, you’d be incorrect in that assumption, because Allie happens to love violin. Electric violin, that is. When the more alternative songs started playing, Jake thought that sounded more like something she would listen to, though he wasn’t going to make any assumptions about anyone’s music taste. His darling younger sister loved metal and rock. Looking at her you’d think she listened to a lot of pop music, maybe even country, but she preferred the loud sounds of rock to pop.

Within minutes Allie was asleep, her head resting against Jake’s shoulder. Being the older brother he is, he took his jacket off, wrapping it around her shoulders and leaning back in his seat, losing himself in the memories of the last time he saw his siblings.

By the time Jake was done reminiscing, the plane was about to land. He waited until they were on the ground to gently shake Allie awake. Her blonde hair had fallen slightly into her eyes, and her lips were slightly parted as she breathed in and out calmly.

Upon a slight tap on her shoulder, however, her head popped up, and she looked at him, her brown eyes still glassy with sleep. “We’re here.” His voice was deep with disuse, and she yawned, nodding.

“I’m sorry I fell asleep on you, I know that can’t be comfortable.” Jake shrugged, stretching as he stood up.

“Meh, I have a little sister who does that all the time, so it’s nothing new.” Allie smiled, running her hands through her hair. “Anyway, let me help you with your bags, since you don’t seem to be tall enough to reach them.”

She rolled her eyes but accepted Jake’s help anyway, letting him grab her carry-on bag from the compartment overhead. Instead of handing it back to her, however, he waited for her to get up and started following her with her bag and his own. “You don’t have to carry my bag for me, you know.”

“Oh, I know. But it seems like you could use some help.” He didn’t miss the fact that she started texting someone on her phone, probably the friend that was supposed to be picking her up. I wonder what happened to make her so jumpy.

When they reached the terminal, he handed her her bag, and she slowly put her phone away, looking at him with wary eyes. As Jake swung his bag over his shoulder and walked off, Allie relaxed, her shoulders dropping from their tensed position as she headed to where her friend, Tammy, should be picking her up. 

When her phone started ringing, Allie reached up to answer it, but stopped when she realized the guy from the plane still had her earbud.“Shit. Tammy’s going to kill me, she got me those for my birthday. Well, looks like I’m dying in a few minutes.”

Upon spotting the redhead, looking urgently at her phone, Allie hurried over, biting the inside of her lip. “Tam! I’m here.” Tammy looked over at her, smiling softly.

“Took you long enough, you dweeb. So, I thought you and Nathan would get along…not so well, so I invited my older brother here to meet you first, but I think he might’ve gotten a little turned around.” Allie rolled her eyes, rolling her shoulders back as she felt someone’s eyes land on her.

“Is this the same brother you’ve been talking about setting me up with for years?” Tammy looked over Allie’s shoulder and grinned, nodding. “Great. How long do you think it’ll take him to get here?”

A soft tap on her shoulder, and she whirled around, coming face to face with the guy from the plane. “I think he’s here.”

Jake rolled his eyes at his sister’s remark, waving as Allie stared up at him. He took the earbud from his ear and handed it to her, winking. “I think you left this on the plane.” She silently accepted it, her mouth still open in shock.

“C’mon, you two, let’s go meet the fam.”