Boss in the Bedsheets by Kate Canterbary

1





Ash





Today wasn't off to a good start.

I made a point of arriving at the airport two hours before my flight. That was my way and I didn't care whether it was excessive. Two hours meant plenty of time to unpack my entire life at the security checkpoint and then put it all back together, a leisurely stroll to my gate, and a coffee and snack before takeoff.

That was my way.

I wasn't getting my way today. Not after a morning of hellish Denver traffic, a shitshow at the rental car return lot, and now—apparently—major staffing issues at the baggage check counters. As far as I could tell, the airline had one agent processing a line of passengers that now extended out the terminal door and onto the curb.

I checked my smartwatch again. I had an hour before boarding my flight to Boston and I knew that was enough time to get me from here to the gate but that didn't stop me from scowling at my wrist. Rather than waiting for the pot to boil, I banded my arm over my chest and tucked my hand under my arm.

But sweating over time would've been easier than watching the family of four in front of me. I'd stopped counting but it seemed like a solid estimate to say they had a million pieces of luggage between them as well as a complete inability to gather their boarding passes and passports.

It took everything in me to keep myself from jumping in and organizing them. I blinked, rocked back on my heels, tapped my fist against my lips. And then I checked my watch again. Only two minutes had passed but I lived my life in six-minute billable hour increments. Those two minutes mattered.

The family shuffled away from the counter—not all the way because chaotic messes never cleared out efficiently—and I stepped up, documents in hand. My luggage was on the scale before the agent could ask whether I was checking any bags today.

"One bag checked through to Boston Logan, Mr. Santillian," the agent announced, her gaze glued to her screen. I didn't correct her pronunciation. Not worth the effort to explain it was Sahn-tee-yawn and not San-till-ee-an. Not worth the time. "You'll be departing from gate A35 and your flight is on time."

I shot another glimpse at my watch as I slipped my boarding pass and ID into my pocket. While I had a long, successful history of simultaneously walking and telling time, today just wasn't my day. I knew it while suffering through gridlocked traffic and car rental hassles and the luggage check queue from hell, and I knew it the minute my wingtip connected with child-shaped soft tissue.

Though time slowed to stillness, my body was moving, flying through the air at a speed I couldn't harness. There was a yelp, a scream, the clatter of bags hitting the ground and shoes slapping against linoleum tile, and then a crack, a crunch, a grunt.

The grunt was all mine. The crack and crunch too. The remainder of the noise belonged to everyone else. I knew that as well as I knew this day was well and fully fucked.

From the unpleasant heap in which I'd landed on this unforgiving floor, I blinked up at the terminal's blinding fluorescent lights. I lifted my arm, pouted at my cracked smartwatch. The movement sent pain pulsing through my shoulder, down to my hip. I tasted blood on my tongue.

I gathered myself up, brushed my hands down my trousers. My suit coat sat crumpled against the wall of a vacant counter, my laptop bag beside it. Then I heard a shout in my direction. "Watch where you're going next time, man!"

Glancing back at the source of my stumble, I found several people kneeling beside a child. Tears streaked his cheeks though he appeared intact. "Sorry," I replied. As much as I wanted to suggest the kid—who was anywhere between four and fourteen years old, for all I knew about children—not crouch down in the middle of busy airports, I wasn't dying on that hill. Especially when the clock was ticking and I needed to exchange that preflight coffee for a whiskey sour to ease the throb in my shoulder. Hell, the throb on the entire right side of my body. "Is everyone all right?"

"Fine, no thanks to you," a woman answered. She thumbed away the child's tears.

Out of habit, I consulted my watch. The dead-eyed gaze of the black screen sent a bolt of cool anxiety down my neck, through my belly. I didn't have time to not have the time. Not today. Not after sealing a new deal that would either bring my father around to my vision for our accounting partnership or kill that partnership altogether.

"Again," I started, glancing around the terminal for a clock, "I'm sorry." This fiasco had me four minutes behind schedule and that schedule was already compressed due to the other failings of this day. I bent down to collect my suit coat and laptop bag. Later, I'd thank my good sense for investing in a satchel meant for war zones because I couldn't survive losing my laptop and my smartwatch in one shot. "I hope you have a good flight."