What Lies Beneath

By: Andrea Laurence

“I am never taking this airline again. Do you know how much I paid for this ticket? Absolutely ridiculous!”

The sharp shriek of a woman’s voice attacked Adrienne’s ears the moment she stepped onto the plane and rounded the corner to first class. The woman sounded like she felt—although Adrienne was furious with herself, not a helpless flight attendant. She was going home a failure, but she had no one else to blame.

Her aunt told her that taking her father’s life-insurance money to start a fashion-design company in Manhattan was a stupid, reckless thing to do. She’d be back in Milwaukee and broke within a year, she insisted.

At least her aunt wasn’t right on all accounts. It had been nearly three years since she left. Adrienne had some moderate success, a few dedicated customers, but in the end, the cost of keeping afloat in New York City was more than she could take without a big break, and it never came.

Adrienne looked down at her boarding pass and started eyeing the seat numbers for 14B as the line finally began to move. As she moved closer, she came to the horrible realization that the screamer was going to be her seatmate for the flight. The woman had finally calmed down, but she didn’t look happy. Adrienne grabbed her book, stowed her bag in the overhead compartment and quickly took her seat, avoiding eye contact.

“I can’t believe I got bumped from first class by a group of Japanese businessmen and crammed into the window seat. I can barely move my arms.”

This was going to be the longest two hours of Adrienne’s life. “Would you like to trade seats?” she asked. It was the one thing she could offer to save herself. As much as she would love to shove the woman up to first class, there were no seats unless she was amenable to sitting in the pilot’s lap.

The little concession made a huge difference. “That would be wonderful, thank you.” The woman’s expression instantly softened and Adrienne could finally appreciate how attractive she was. A bad temper did little for her appearance. She smiled wide, revealing perfect white teeth and full lips, and for a moment she reminded Adrienne of her mother. They looked a lot alike, with long, straight, shiny dark brown hair and bright green eyes. She could be Adrienne’s attractive, put-together older sister, really. Her suit was expensive and impeccably tailored. Her shoes were this season’s hottest Jimmy Choos.

Adrienne suppressed a sudden pang of jealousy. This woman was better suited to be the beautiful and fabulous Miriam Lockhart’s only daughter. Adrienne inherited her mother’s fondness for fashion and skill with a sewing machine, but physically, she had more of her father in her, with his untamable kink to her hair and crooked teeth she couldn’t afford to fix.

Adrienne undid her seat belt and stepped into the aisle to trade seats. She didn’t mind the window, and to be honest, she should have a good view of New York City as it slipped away with her dreams.

“My name is Cynthia Dempsey,” the woman said as she sat down.

Adrienne was surprised, figuring the woman would dismiss her once she’d gotten her way. Slipping her book into the seat-back pocket, she returned the smile, hoping the woman didn’t notice her crooked teeth the way she’d noticed her perfect ones. “Adrienne Lockhart.”

“That is a great name. It would look fantastic on a billboard in Times Square.”

Or on a fashion label. “I’m not meant for the spotlight, but thank you.”

Cynthia settled in, fidgeting with a large diamond engagement ring on her finger as they started to pull away from the concourse. Her fingers were so thin, and the band too large, that the massive jewel seemed to overwhelm her.

“Are you getting married soon?”

“Yes,” Cynthia said, sighing, but her face didn’t light up the way it should. She leaned in more like she was sharing gossip, as though her wedding would be the talk of the town. “I’m marrying William Taylor the Third at the Plaza next May. His family owns the Daily Observer.”

That said it all. It would be the talk of the town. Adrienne was sitting three inches from the woman, but it might as well have been miles. She would probably spend more on her wedding than Adrienne had inherited when her father died. “Who’s doing your dress?” The only common ground they could share was fashion, so Adrienne steered the conversation that direction.

“Badgley Mischka.”

“I love their work. I actually interned with them for a summer in college, but I prefer daily wear that appeals to the modern working woman. Sportswear. Separates.”

“Are you in the fashion industry?”