Long Way Home (Chapter One, page 2 of 10)

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Alexis was the epitome of focused.

Once the flight was airborne, Alexis watched multiple episodes of a television show she'd never heard of. It was listed as a comedy, but Alexis didn't laugh once.

During her meal, the neighboring passenger made an effort at conversation.

"Going to see family for Christmas?" the older gentleman asked her.

"Yes," she said curtly. She offered no details and she didn't ask about him. He quickly returned his attention to the small screen in front of him.

Even though her chair could recline and she had plenty of legroom, Alexis retained perfect posture for the duration of the flight. When the sound of a crying baby was heard from elsewhere on the plane, a few passengers exchanged sympathetic smiles.

Alexis didn't smile. Instead, she placed in her ear buds and pretended not to hear.

At JFK Airport, Alexis endured the long wait in line at immigration before continuing on to her connecting flight to Sarasota. Even after the eight-hour leg, she looked poised and together. Good Kate Middleton-style hair. Fresh lipstick. Wrinkle free clothes. To anyone who noticed her, Alexis seemed calm, cool and collected. The kind of person who would be handy in a crisis, not because she seemed compassionate, but because she didn't.

With the flick of his hand, the immigration officer ushered her up. Alexis stepped across the line and handed over her passport. He took a minute to page through it and looked up at her in mild surprise.

"Been a long time since you've been here."

"Yes, it has."

"Welcome home," he said pleasantly as he stamped her passport.

"We'll see."

Alexis took her passport and continued on to her connecting flight. Three more hours to Sarasota, then a ninety-minute drive to the marina. The trip was already exhausting and she hadn't interacted with family members yet.

The Sarasota flight seemed no longer than a wink. Alexis nodded off briefly, but couldn't get comfortable enough to truly relax. Not that she ever relaxed. Efforts at relaxation made her uncomfortable. It gave her too much time with her own thoughts.

Upon arrival, she followed the flow of traffic to the baggage claim area. After another lengthy wait, Alexis finally wheeled her large and small suitcases past all of the reuniting families and past the cab rank, to where a town car awaited her. The driver wordlessly opened the door for her and took her bags. She didn't thank him either; she'd lost her ability to be thankful eighteen months ago.

On the drive, Alexis watched the Florida scenery whiz by. It seemed more developed than she remembered. Strip malls and colorful signage dotted the landscape.

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