Flight Partners: Chapter 1

If you are under the age of 18, don’t read this.

Copyright Artemis Fay and Badapple Press. All rights reserved.



“Your seat is on the far side, sir. Enjoy the flight.”

My shoulder bag collides with a stray elbow, and I pull it in tighter as I head down the aisle. Thirteen hours and we’ll be on the tarmac in Osaka, Japan. Well, thirteen and a half, really. More like fourteen, including taxiing out of Chicago O’Hare.

That’s less than a day. Two teaching shifts at Code English. Nothing, really. Just a little over half a day of hell forty-thousand feet above the earth. Shuffle, shuffle, kill me now. Shut up, brain.

Who are you trying to kid, Andy?

The couple in front of me finishes what seemed like an excessively long negotiation over who gets the middle seat, leaving me finally free to find mine. It’s not at the very back of the plane near the toilets, but the sweet spot where the fuselage narrows enough that the seat configuration has to change from three-four-three to two-four-two. The perfect place to sleep, relax, and not have someone’s elbow in my face during the long hours of airline-imposed night.

There it is, upholstered in purple twill. Home sweet home for the next better-stop-thinking-about-it eons until home. And it seems that in my bid to be last on the plane my companion for the flight has beat me here.

Seatmate roulette, what have you given me?

Luck, apparently.

A guy is in the aisle seat. He looks to be maybe my age, but with a goatee where my chin is perpetually smooth. A knee jutting into the aisle shows he’s definitely taller than I am. Hair’s dark, maybe brown, maybe black, and cut just long enough not to be buzzed. Track pants and a Legend of Zelda T-shirt complete the ensemble. Weeaboo, or just comfortable for the flight?

He flashes a wide grin as our eyes meet. Japanophile the guy might be, but hot he definitely is. “59J?” he asks.

I check my boarding pass one last time. “That’s me.”

“Got it.” The guy gives a friendly nod before stepping out of his seat. Polite, at least, and that bodes well. I spent the flight to the States next to a man with a cold who thought sniffing was an acceptable substitute for actually blowing his nose.

As I slide past my current traveling companion, his aftershave catches my nose—or at least whatever he’s been playing with in duty-free, from the bro-ish look to him. It’s sharp, citrusy. In the conditioned air of the cabin, it’s a breath of freshness.

You’ve had two drinks, not five, Andy. Give it a rest.

Then I’m past, settling my bag into the sizeable gap between myself and the fuselage. Nearly a foot wide, it’s the entire reason I booked this seat. No attempting to sleep sitting upright for me. I even bought a travel pillow just for the occasion, one of those dorky blow-up things. Flying in comfort, look at me.

The guy drops himself back in his seat. “So, buddies for the next thirteen hours.”

My phone’s already disconnected from the airport Wi-Fi. So much for sending that last message to my parents. “Looks like it. And it’s fourteen hours, actually. We still have to taxi.”

“Right, forgot about that.”

I wish I could. Those preflight shots are doing their job to relax me, but not nearly enough. Knew I should’ve had three.

Around us, the chaos of three-hundred-plus people rages on in at least two different languages. An old woman scolds her husband about his shoes, a teenage girl yammers down her phone, and the wail of a toddler climbs to the stratosphere. I buckle my seatbelt and pull it tight as the cabin seals, and before I know it, we’re trundling down the taxiway, safety demonstration blaring in all its corny bilingualness. Ladies and gentlemen, okyakusama, if the plane crashes, this is what you can do to make yourself feel better about your imminent death…

We’ve reached the head of the runway with two jets ahead of us. Five minutes until departure. Five more minutes of sitting here. I always do wear my running shoes to fly.

There’s a tap on the back of my hand. “Nervous flyer?”

What gave it away, the white knuckles or the fact that I can hear my own teeth grinding?

My seat-partner taps my hand again. “Hey. So. Uh. You’ve got a charm on your bag. Is it a good luck charm?”

He’s trying to distract me, how sweet. “No, it’s a safe flight charm. Mizudera Temple in Kyoto. A friend bought it for me.”

“That was nice of them.”

“Very. Look, it takes a lot of concentration to not throw up at this part. I’ll chat when we hit the sky, but for now, I need to stop opening my mouth.”

Next to me, Seat Buddy shifts, no doubt away, or to get out the puke bag in preparation. Not that I’ve ever actually thrown up, but you never know, I could just make my day. Good job, Andy.

And then warmth covers my clammy knuckles. Fingers squeeze my hand, firm and strong. “No worries, I’ll just talk then. I used to travel with my grandparents a lot, and my grandma gets really nervous when she flies, so my grandpa always told her stories. Probably kind of weird for a stranger to do that, but I figure if I annoy you, you can just throw up on me in self-defense.” His thumb is making circles around the side of my hand, slow and steady, the heat of it travelling up my arm. What the hell. Seriously, what the hell. I’m not going to throw up now, I’m going to die of shock. “How many planes to go?”

“One more, then us.”

“And you’re fine once we hit the air, got it.” The low tones of his voice vibrate down my spine, anchoring me tight to my seat. “See, my grandma wasn’t, so she’d take a sleep pill and go out like a light. Problem was, when we were only going from Chicago to Orlando, she’d be groggy once we got there. One time, my grandpa told the flight staff she had sleeping fits, and we just borrowed a wheelchair and bundled her into the taxi from that. We put Minnie Mouse ears on her before she woke up. She walked around wearing them for half an hour before she realized.”

Okay, now I’m just picturing the Japanese ba-chan across from us wearing those ears, yelling at her husband about them. To-chan, dame yo! Add that to the fact that this guy is holding my hand and I’m in overload. Why…I can’t even…

The plane jolts forward, turning into position. Oh God, here we go. Brace. Two minutes and this will be over. Or we’ll be in flames—

Seat Buddy’s other hand lands on my forearm, kneading the muscles there. I can’t tear my eyes away from the window, but his voice sounds close as he murmurs, “Funny, charging the runway makes you sick, but it always gives me a hard-on.”


His gray eyes are six inches from mine, witch-pale, surrounded by eyelashes a touch on the long side. His eyes themselves are almost almond-shaped. Is he half-Japanese?

He’s so close.

The engines have reached a roar. Sudden acceleration slams me back into my seat as we race down the runway, faster, faster. The terminal is flashing by, trollies, other planes, but we’re not going fast enough. Oh God, we’re not going to make it, we’re going to go off the runway into the grass and hit the fence and die.

The wheels lift off, and my stomach swoops. We’re flying.

Safe. Almost. Maybe. Wait for it, the wheels retracting. They will soon enough, and then we’ve made it. The plane will do the rest, and I can stop willing it to stay airborne.

And in the meantime, maybe I should let go of my seat buddy’s hand. Because apparently in the runway charge, I entwined his fingers with mine, or he entwined mine with his, but either way we’re holding hands two-thousand feet above Chicago.

His is large, with nimble fingers and the faint traces of hair between his first and second knuckles. No rings, though there’s the faint shadow of where a watch may have sat on his wrist not too long ago.

The landing gear clunks as it tucks itself away, and I tug at my hand. He squeezes it, then lets go. “Better, now?”

“Yeah. Fine, thanks.” Oh God, I just held a stranger’s hand because I’m chicken about flying. “Sorry about that, I don’t know what came over me. God, this is so embarrassing.”

His shoulder bumps mine. “Don’t worry about it. Not every day I get to hold a hot guy’s hand.” Beg your pardon? “So. You’ve spent some time in Japan, or was that charm just a souvenir?”

“I live there, teach business Japanese.” My short answer doesn’t seem like enough. God, I feel like such an idiot right now, but he’s looking at me like this is the most normal thing in the world. Cover. “It’s not much, but it’s a living. What about you?”

“I just got a job there, going to start in a couple of days. Teaching down in Okayama.”

“Eikaiwa, or ALT?”

“Uh, what?”

Newbie, right; he won’t know the lingo. Quick, reassert that you’re not a total twit with the guy who just said you were hot. “ALT is an assistant language teacher. They work in schools, usually public ones. Eikaiwa are English language schools that kids go to after school. Are you working at one of those?”

“Yeah, the second. Ei-kai-wa, did you say?” He sounds out the word in three slow syllables. “I’m supposed to be teaching elementary school kids, and some kindergarteners. Twenty-five contact hours a week, decent salary. Seem like a good deal, or warn me now, am I totally crazy?”

His smile is completely infectious. I’m returning it without knowing when I started.

“You’re moving across the world; of course it’s crazy.” You hold hands with random guys on airplanes and tell them charging the runway makes you hard.

Did it make him hard?

I stop my eyes from glancing down just in time and clear my throat. “But your school sounds fine to me. I’m twenty-four contact hours and a bonus of one month’s salary every time I complete my contract, which I have for the past three years. It’s hard work, but hey, it pays the student loans, right?”

“That’s the idea.”

With a ding, the no-standing sign turns off. Just as quickly, an announcement begins. Drink cart soon, dinner to follow, beef stew or somen, our choice.

My seat-mate’s already excusing himself to the toilet. What, to relieve the hard-on?

Reality reasserts himself. Saying that was a distraction technique, of course, designed for its shock value. It was to get you to stop obsessing over how accurate your dental records are, Andy, nothing more.

Oh. Duh. He held my hand expecting me to brush him off, distract myself. Not hang on for dear life. He might be into guys, but he’s not into you.

By the time he returns, I’ve got my e-reader out and a thriller on the screen. Nod to him when he sits, but otherwise, we’re just people who happen to be sitting next to each other. Nothing more. When the drinks cart comes around, I get a rum and soda. I can feel the other guy eyeing me as I mix the two, but he doesn’t say a word, and I keep my eyes glued to the screen in front of me until the food service comes and I don’t have a choice but to put it away.

We both get somen. It’s passable. I pick at it while he clears his throat. “So. Were you in the States on vacation, then? Seeing family? Are you from Chicago?”

That’s three questions; which do I answer? I swallow down some more rum before I respond. “I’m actually from Ohio. I went home for an ex’s wedding, but yeah, I saw my parents, a few other relatives. The usual tour.”

“An ex’s wedding.” He latches onto that, seeming to chew it over along with his wilted salad. “That’s cool that you’re still friends with—her?”

I can hide it in Japan, never America. Never for long. Different cultural markers, different mannerisms. He picked it up loud and clear. “Him. I was best man, actually. They held the wedding in August so I could be there.”

“Nice of them.”

I’ll withhold judgement there. “I’ve been friends with David since high school. He and Wes thought it was important I be there. I actually introduced them by accident our senior year of university.”

“You know, call me crazy, but it’s not sounding nice anymore.” My seatmate takes another stab at his salad. “Me, I don’t try to stay friends with my exes. Not the girls or the guys.”

Well, that confirms one hunch.

His hand is in front of my eyes, ready to shake. “So. Your ex’s name is David. My name is Kenneth. And you are?”


His hand is just as warm as it was earlier. “Nice to meet you, Andy.”

“Nice to meet you too,” my mouth replies automatically, that junior high school answer I’ve drilled so many times.

It’s like that’s the signal he’s been waiting for as he launches into a soliloquy about himself. Kenneth’s a business major, just finished state university, wanted to see the world. Yes, he’s half-Japanese, can understand the language some but can’t speak it, and is nervous how that will go, but confident he’ll figure it out. In fact, he’s confident about his teaching abilities, about how he’ll travel Japan on the weekends, go to onsens, meet his maternal great-aunts and uncles. This guy doesn’t have a doubting bone in him.

And by the time the drinks cart makes one last pass, I have a major boner for him. His perfect cheekbones, that profile like it’s a copy of Prince Charming, the knee that’s been pressing against mine since the second sentence of his speech. Confidence is attractive, and so is the way he’s blatantly checked me out twice. He called me hot and his distraction techniques were pure flirting.

I gulp down my second rum and soda. Maybe we’ll join the mile-high club. Yeah, right, Andy.

“Wanna watch a movie?” Kenneth’s scanning through the selection on the seat-back screen in front of him.

“Sure.” Why the hell not.

“Okay, call me a total weeb, but I love Shogun. Is that good for you, or you want something more recent?”

I’ve actually never seen it, despite my dad’s occasional imitation of the samurai in it. “Shogun’s fine. Lemme find my headphones.”

His eyes widen. “Shit, that’s what I forgot to pack. Oh, man, I knew it’d be something.” Kenneth snaps his fingers. “Guess I’m stuck with the airline ones. Gonna have to get some new ones when we get there. What kind of shop sells headphones in Japan?”

“An electronics shop. But…” Watching him rip open the plastic is giving me an idea, or maybe it’s the rum, but either way, Andy, for once in your life, take a fucking chance. “Share mine?”

Sharing mine means sitting close, shoulders touching, maybe even heads touching. Legs pressed firmly together as the cabin dims…

How strong was that rum?

Or maybe it’s the words that have been echoing through my head for four days now, David hissing that he thought my going to Japan was adventurous, but no, I was just running away from my life to go live like a college student, refusing to face the real world.

Is this enough real world for you? Is this enough not running from it?

One earbud hooked in my left ear, I offer the other to Kenneth. Will he, or won’t he?

He slips it in. “Let’s watch the movie on your consul.”

I hit start just as the cabin lights dim. Slide our window shutter shut, and then, what the hell indeed, I lean my seat back at the same time as Kenneth does.

It’s him who raises the armrest between us and slings an arm around my shoulders. Only the pulse in his wrist, fluttering against the bare skin on my arm, gives away that he might not be as confident as he looks.

I lean my head into the crease between his arm and his chest, the muscles firm under my head, and listen to the opening dialogue of Shogun. Against me, Kenneth breathes a sigh that feels like relief and begins rubbing my shoulder, sending a current down my sternum, then straight down from there.

Concentrate on breathing. Remain calm. In, out, in…

I wake up with the screen in front of me dark and blurred, an airplane blanket pulled up to my chin. Artificial night has already begun, the lights low and windows all shuttered as the rest of the passengers sleep or watch movies. Beside me, Kenneth’s head is tilted back as he snores under his breath. My headphones are tucked into the pocket in front of me, neatly looped, my glasses hooked next to them. Good thing I can find them, because the drinks I had earlier are making themselves urgently known.

The lights at the back of the plane are too bright after the darkened cabin, the flush of the toilet loud enough to rattle the sleep out of my head. God, you’d think after all these years they’d figure out how to make those a little bit quieter. Why don’t they wake half the passengers every time they go off? Or at least wake Kenneth.

Actually, I’m a little disappointed, there. I thought I’d wake up with his arms around me, not crossed over his own chest. Maybe he’s just a gentleman.

Or maybe he had other plans.

I stop in the aisle next to our seats, because the cocky jerk’s gone and stolen mine. Not only does he have my travel pillow tucked under his head and my seatbelt buckled over his blanket, he’s smirking at me.

His arms raise, beckon.

Oh. Yes, he did have a plan. Strike that assessment of confident earlier; he’s downright cocky. And you love cocky guys, don’t you, Andy.

Well, what the hell. Not like anyone around us is awake to see.

I can feel every inch of my skin that touches his as I slide onto the seat next to him. His stomach is my pillow, firm but warm. His arm comes down to rest across mine, pulling me in tight as he covers me with a blanket. I clip my seatbelt over it, locking myself into place, and I’m pretty sure the alcohol’s left my system but now I’m drunk on my own daring.  It’s not that I’ve never been this intimate in public before. Held hands, sure; flirted and kissed. But cuddling on an airplane that contains three-hundred sleeping people? It’s almost erotic.

Kenneth’s fingers beneath my t-shirt sleeve to rub my arm. God, I wish he’d move that hand further under my shirt, touch my nipple, which is going stiff just thinking about. He should touch it, pinch it, here where no one will see, but I’ll know.

I’m getting hard, and I can’t stop these thoughts.

Between his muscles and my face is only a thin sheet of knit fabric, and it’s soaked with the scent of him, that citrus-spicy smell I noticed earlier. It can’t just be something he was playing with in duty-free, because why would I be able to smell it down here?

And under that, I can smell him. As in, his dick, musky and mouth-watering, and, if the stirring I’m seeing in his track bottoms is any indication, it’s three inches from my face. I’m not the only one turned on right now. Well, he’s the one who wanted to sit like this.

I purse my lips and blow a stream of cool air at the thin fabric over Kenneth’s semi. It jumps. Try it again, and not only does it jump, but begins to stand up, stretching the fabric as it grows.

The hand inside my T-shirt sleeve is growing more insistent, his palm grinding into my arm with just enough burn to show me that I’m hitting the spot, and God, I’m hard already, dick straining at my jeans.

As I shift, Kenneth’s leg nudges at my knees. I let it between mine, where it can press against my erection. A jolt goes up my spine, down my thighs, held apart by his. I want to rock my hips so badly right now, and the pressure on my arm is almost painful.

Then it’s gone, skating across my shoulder and my neck, all the way to my hair, where it laces through.

Is he pushing my face lower?

A shift of his leg against my hard-on has me grinding down. He uses the movement to tug my blanket up over my head.

The scent of him is so strong I can taste the pre-cum already. My fingers are already moving, sliding his track-bottoms over the head that’s rigid with his heartbeat, hot and already sticky at the tip. He’s uncut, and the squeeze I give him confirms he’s average at least, if not bigger.

I’m about to give a stranger a bareback blowjob forty thousand feet over Canada, and I can’t get enough of it. My hand squeezes his length again, and he’s wide, nicely wide, and maybe we should go back to the toilets, like that wouldn’t be obvious. But we could get a room at the airport hotel. Hell, he said he’ll be living in Okayama City. Well, I’m in Kurashiki, right next door. I’d ride him raw any day. Lean forward one last inch and lick his head.

The plane drops.

I’m out from under the blanket, gulping down fresh air as the drop stops, then starts again. Not like a plunge, but like we’ve turned to stone, falling out of the air, the wings sheering off; something this heavy isn’t meant to fly—

“Cabin crew, please return to your seats. Heavy turbulence ahead.”

Turbulence. Right. Because we’re on an airplane, surrounded by three hundred people, including a flight attendant who takes one raised-eyebrow glance at me as she passes, eyes sliding from my flushed face to the flagpole still tenting Kenneth’s pants and back to my hips, still ready to hump Kenneth’s.

What the fuck was I doing.

The second I’m allowed to, I’m racing back to the toilets to splash water over my hot face. A drop of my seatmate’s precum still clings to the corner of my mouth, and I know that’s what it is because when I taste it, it’s salty.

And I’m still so hard I ache, rocking against my own hand for the briefest relief. What the fuck is wrong with me? Am I just overcompensating for what David said? Showing the world that I’m not jealous of him and his textbook-queer wedding, complete with rainbow bowties and two groom’s cakes? Am I as hard-up for sex as he insisted, or just doing this because of his goading?

That same flight attendant’s waiting outside the toilet when I get out. My stomach drops faster than the plane did.

“Did you know passengers can be given up to ninety days in jail for lewd behavior on an airplane? No, bet not. But I thought you might want to know, just as a friendly reminder.” She smiles, but there’s a warning behind it. “Enjoy the flight, sir.”

Oh, my God, and every deity listening.

It’s all I can do to make it back to my seat, or should I say Kenneth’s, because he still has mine. Tries to catch my eye when I sit down, but no, no. My hands are shaking with adrenaline. Wouldn’t David love it if I got on an airplane and ruined my entire fucking life for what, some stranger I’ll never see again? I’m going to be sick, and not from flying.

My ereader’s sticking out of the seat pocket next to me. Tug it out, turn on my thriller and then stare at it unseeing. Kenneth’s shoulder bumps mine, but I lean away. Lewd behavior would cost me everything.

Doesn’t it always.

When the snack cart rattles around, I eat with my head over my book and take back my seat as soon as Kenneth excuses himself to the restroom. At last, I can stretch out in the extra space I booked specifically for me. Not some stranger, no; myself. And if he wants it? He can suck my dick and pay for it. God.

And maybe Kenneth gets that we’re done, or maybe he had the same little chat I did, because on his return he pulls out a 3DS and plays until breakfast comes around.

The plane docks in Osaka without a hitch, my hands tucked in my armpits where they can’t be held. I just want to be out of here, into my own apartment, with my own space. For three weeks that’s all I’ve wanted, and I’m so stupid close.

Ahead of us, the plane begins to empty. First, business, then finally economy. The couple in front of us have begun fumbling with their overhead bins when Kenneth turns to me.

His face is set in a smile that’s more of a grimace that he probably thinks hides his feelings. “Well, it was memorable meeting you, Andy.”

“Likewise,” I bite out. “Enjoy Japan, and have a nice life.”

He lets me go ahead of him when leaving the plane, and hopefully that’s the last of Kenneth the seat-buddy I’ll ever see. I just want to go home.


Chapter 2 (not yet posted)

So. What’d you think?



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