"Now, that's a long story," she said with a laugh. "I lived in Nashville for a long time, then moved to Houston because of a guy. I'm coming back to see some old friends and take care of some business." She glanced at the man next to her, but he was still asleep and wasn't paying attention to either of them. "Your relationship sounds so romantic. Mine on the other hand...well... it's been pretty turbulent."
Nikki wasn't sure what to read into the statement. An abusive boyfriend? Cheating spouse?
"Relationships can be complicated sometimes," Nikki said. Tyler had told her their relationship didn't have to be complicated, but she still wasn't sure that was possible.
"Though I am looking forward to one thing while I'm there," the woman continued. "I'm a bit of a country music fan. I never miss a chance to go to at least a concert or two when I'm in town."
Nikki smiled, not minding the conversation, but glad the subject had finally shifted away from Tyler. "My brother's one of the hundreds of aspiring musicians, so I go listen to him play from time to time."
The plane dipped again, shuddering from side to side.
"I'm not sure how much more of this I can take." The woman's face paled as she turned to look out the window. "And on top of that, they booked me in a middle seat. I hate the middle seat." She leaned over to slide her book into her bag, then groaned as her watch snagged on her red cardigan and dropped into her lap. "Can you believe I just had the clasp fixed?"
Nikki looked at the beautiful detail on the watch. "It's lovely."
"Thanks—it was my mother's, and—"
A deafening explosion rocked the back of the plane before the woman could finish. Nikki's stomach heaved as the plane dropped several hundred feet. She glanced out the window and caught a glimpse of the forested ground below. This wasn't normal turbulence. Something was very wrong.
"This is the pilot speaking. I need everyone to stay calm and brace for impact. We're expecting a rough landing."
A coffeepot smashed to the floor as the plane made a sharp descent. Someone screamed behind her. Nikki glanced at her seatmate's terrified expression as she leaned forward and braced herself on the seat in front of her. The man at the end of the row was now wide awake as the plane plummeted toward the ground. Her mind spun, unable to focus. So this was what it was like to die? To watch her life flash before her during these final seconds? Her parents, her sister, Tyler...
Her body strained against the seat belt. Funny how she'd accepted years ago that the possibility of dying in the line of duty was high, but this way—a plane crash—this was never what she'd imagined.
And why was it that all of a sudden she felt like so many things had been left undone? So many things she wanted to tell her family. Instead, all that was left was a fleeting kaleidoscope of memories of people she loved. Random thoughts of things she wanted to say to her family and friends.
Like how her parents had already lost her sister. How were they going to survive the loss of another child?
And then there was Tyler—
I'm not ready to die, God. Not yet.
Nikki held her breath as the ground rose up to meet them. Instead of panicked screams, the passengers around her seemed lost in a state of confusion. As if the reality of what was happening had yet to fully sink in. The feeling of weightlessness washed over her as gravity seemed to disappear completely, and the landscape appeared beside them in the window. Then for a few brief seconds after impact there was only silence.