A female passenger, sporting red spiked hair and chin-length hooped earrings, stopped beside her. The woman carried a Venti Starbucks. "Excuse me." Her German accent a reminder of the destination. "Would you mind holding my coffee while I store my carry-on?"
"Of course." Heather held the cup while the woman shoved her small suitcase into the overhead bin.
"Sorry for the inconvenience. I wasn't thinking when I bought the coffee."
"It smells heavenly." Heather stood to let the woman pass and then handed her the cup.
"Thank you." The woman blew on the lid and took a sip. "I'm Mia."
"Long flight ahead but soon I'll be home." She pointed to Heather's brochure. "Salzburg?"
"Yes. For a much-needed vacation."
"I'm from Frankfurt. Really missing my daughter and husband."
"You'll see them soon."
Mia broke into a wide smile. "We've done FaceTime and texted, but I want to touch their faces and hug them."
Heather continued to read the Salzburg brochure to avoid any personal comments from Mia, like whether she was taking a vacation solo. An elderly man wearing a straw fedora and a white mustache sat in the aisle seat across from Heather. He pulled his phone from his pant pocket and used his thumbs on the keyboard like a kid.
Mia placed her coffee on the tray and made a phone call. "Wie geht es meinem kleinen Mädchen?"
Heather translated the German. How is my little girl? The woman's excitement resonated through every word. Love. Laughter. Priceless commodities that Heather didn't possess. Yet this trip offered an opportunity to rekindle her faith in God and chart a course for the future.
While the attendants made their way through business class with drink orders, Heather longed to have confirmation she'd made the right decision to take this trip. No one knew of her vacation plans except her parents and Assistant Special Agent in Charge Wade Mitchell in Houston. No one needed to know the why of her trip until she made a few decisions.
Stuffing the Salzburg brochure into her bag, she snatched the aircraft's information and confirmed the layout for 267 passengers, restrooms, exit doors, in-seat power, on-demand entertainment, and three galleys. She always noted the details of her surroundings, another habit of working so many FBI cases. Always be prepared for the unexpected.
If the trip had been FBI sanctioned, her present circumstances might not hurt so much. How ironic she worked the critical incident response group as a behavior analyst, and she wrestled to understand her own life.
Right on time, the flight attendants took their assigned posts while miniature screens throughout the plane shared the aircraft's amenities and explained the passenger safety instructions. The captain welcomed them moments before the plane lifted into the clouds.
On her way. No turning back. She prayed for a safe journey and much-needed answers.
Food smells from business class caught her attention, a mix of roasted chicken and beef. Too often of late, she forgot to eat or nothing appealed to her. To shake off the growing negativity, she paid for Wi-Fi and grabbed her phone from her bag. Time to concentrate on something other than herself.
She glanced at the incoming notifications. No texts. Her emails were an anticipated list of senders when she longed for a change of heart from Chad. Sighing, she closed her eyes. Between her job, Chad, and stress, too often she fought for enough pillow time.
Two hours later, she woke from a deep sleep to the sound of a woman's scream.