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Up in the Air
The roar of an airplane gliding onto the landing strip distracted Leighton from her thoughts. If for only a moment, she wasn't thinking if she was making the right decision or not. Things had changed so quickly for her. Three months ago she was about to graduate from high school, honor student, salutatorian, and class president. She had been accepted to every college she had applied to and was eager to begin her new life as a freshman at UCLA School of Theater.
Then a phone call changed everything. A phone call that offered her everything she had every wanted, "the opportunity of a lifetime" is what they had told her. Now she was about to board a plane to New York and fly off to her new life, a new life that did not include UCLA or college at all. "We'll take care of you here, not having a degree won't hurt you. Just defer a couple years and if you still think you need it then go back to school. There are colleges in New York too.", her soon-to-be boss had told her that with such conviction and yet she still doubted the truth in the statement. "The last thing you want is to look back in twenty years with a degree from UCLA and disappointment in your heart because you missed your one chance."
Leighton was brought back to reality when her boyfriend, Grayson, said, "It's time." Grayson grasped Leighton's hand, squeezing it gently and pulled her into an embrace, dropping Leighton's carry on bag in the process which fell onto the vinyl floor with a feeble thud.
Grayson whispered into her ear, "I don't want you to go." Leighton turned her head and looked into Grayson's deep forest green eyes, which glistened with the tears he was holding back, and for the first time she realized that it wasn't only her plans that had changed but she had changed his too. For as long as Leighton could remember she had been counting on Grayson. He had always been there when she needed him and now she was bailing on him. "You and me, always and forever.", that's what she had told Grayson on graduation day, before the phone call, when she still planned on attending UCLA with him in the Fall.
"I don't want to make this harder for you, but I can't....I can't let you go without telling you that I think your making a mistake. There are no guarantees that it will be a success, you're risking everything by going to New York. At least if you stay here, UCLA is a sure thing... at least I'm a sure thing.", Grayson uttered these words as if he had rehearsed them over and over in his head, never daring to say them out loud before, never daring to make them real.
"Last call for Flight 93 to New York.", echoed over the loud speakers and Grayson let go of Leighton's hand.
"I'm so sorry Grayson. I love you more than you'll ever know and me leaving doesn't change anything... This isn't goodbye.", Leighton said with a consoling tone in her voice that she meant for herself more than for Grayson.
"I could never say goodbye to you, I just have this feeling that I can't explain. I feel like I'm losing you Leight, it's more than New York and there's nothing I can do about it."
Grayson picked up the carry on bag he had dropped before and silently handed it to Leighton. He softy brushed his lips against hers and walked away. Leighton turned and handed her ticket to the flight attendant who smiled her practiced smile and cheerfully said "Have a safe flight."
Leighton found her seat and began to half listen to the captain who was speaking.
"We should arrive in New York City in approximately five hours and forty-five minutes. The time now is 7:15 am pacific. Please fasten your seat belts and give your full attention to the flight attendants who will explain the procedures in case of an emergency.", the captain announced. Leighton focused her eyes on the tall, brunette flight attendant without really seeing her. She watched as the flight attendant pointed up and to the walls of the plane but the location of the safety exits never fully registered in her mind.
Thoughts whirled throughout Leighton's mind as the plane began picking up speed. She watched the vast buildings of the airport disappear behind them as they soared forward. Her stomach did a somersault as the plane left the ground and a single tear rolled down Leighton's cheek. As she wiped away the tear she forced herself to smile and thought about the amazing opportunity she had been given. The role of Luisa in a Broadway revival of The Fantasticks. Eighteen years old and she was offered a role on Broadway!
All of the thoughts she had been having since she had been offered the part were running through her mind. Everything they had told her about the play.
"This is going to be huge, and you could be huge!... There is an endless line of girls behind you, if you back down someone will take your place in a second... Just wait until you get here, the city changes you, you will become the best you can be."
"I should be excited, everything about this is exciting. This is the right decision, how could I turn this down?", Leighton thought to herself. Then she remembered her dads reaction when she told him.
"Your giving up college? I've watched you nearly work yourself to death for the last four years so you would have the opportunity to go to college. You have that opportunity, why would you throw it away?"
Consumed with her thoughts Leighton fell asleep.
"Miss, can I get you a refreshment?", the flight attendant asked as she woke Leighton from her slumber.
"Um, yes please. Can I have a Sprite?"
"Here you go, ma'am," and the attendant handed Leighton a can of her favorite soda.
"And can you tell me how long we have been in the air?"
"Of course, we have been flying for about two and a half hours"
"Thank you so much", Leighton politely replied.
The Captain came on over the speakers again as the plane began to slightly shake, "Please secure your seat belts as we are experiencing some mild turbulence."
Annoyed, Leighton remained in her seat. She was not the type of person who enjoyed being confined and had planned on walking down the aisle to the restrooms. In her seat Leighton was alone with her thoughts, the last place she wanted to be. She recalled what Grayson had said to her before she had boarded the plane;"I don't want you to go". She thought about their goodbye that wasn't really one. She wished she had said goodbye, she wished he had said goodbye, because as much as she wanted it not to be goodbye, it was and nothing she had said changed that. The impact of what had happened hit her, she had left Grayson without saying goodbye. The plane began to tremble ever-so-slightly-more.
Willing herself not to cry Leighton imagined herself in New York, up on stage as Luisa, and she was happy. She imagined the lights of the city and tried to remember it from when she visited as a child. All she remembered from her childhood visit to New York was all the people, walking down the sidewalk in the midst of millions, she had hated the feeling of just being one in millions. But on stage, she would be one with millions watching her, Leighton smiled a real smile, remembering why she had wanted to go to New York. "The opportunity of a lifetime" is what they had told her, and it really was.
Suddenly, there was a loud bang that sounded like an explosion. People started screaming as the plane began to spin in every direction, plummeting toward the ground. Leighton looked out the window and could only see an empty field, bare from crops or any sign of life. The flight attendants were yelling "Remain calm." and "No reason to panic" as the plane crashed lower and lower through the air.
Leighton tried to think of happy thoughts and once again imagined herself in New York, up on stage as Luisa with millions watching her. In her fantasy, she was the lead in a Broadway play but when she looked over the awed audience who came to watch her, she didn't recognize even one face. A single tear rolled down Leighton's cheek.