This is the first look at my upcoming novel, a blend of imaginary events meant to change your perspective about the truthfulness of social media. Be prepared to travel with Amanda and Mark on a dangerous journey that will keep you turning pages late at night.
“I didn’t see it coming. As a skeptic, in my view, each man was a predator, especially if the invitation came from the net. Nothing had prepared me for the changes in my life. At thirty-five, I had reached the peak of my career as a reporter, although I had failed my parents’ expectations to create a family. Eventually, they had given up and had embraced my dreams.
Monday morning supposed to be an ordinary day. The coffeemaker’s ring woke me up at five. I had one hour to be on my way to work. A woman with straight dark hair, shoulder length, hazel eyes and full lips stared back from the mirror. After giving my hair a quick, energetic brush, I pulled it back at the nape of my neck and added a pale blue bandana before heading toward the kitchen for a cup of coffee. After one sip, my nose wrinkled in a frown. It was too strong and too black. Some creamer would help to alter the taste of Colombian coffee. Without time for breakfast, I packed a container of yogurt and some fruits, grabbed my purse, and I was out of the house at five minutes to six.
Too cold again, I thought. There was no one around but a stray dog that had decided to tail me to the bus station.
“Go away,” I yelled, but the dog still followed me around.
I picked up a stick from the side of the road and threw it toward the hungry animal. After a few more barks, it decided to run away and leave me alone.
Snowflakes started to fall, an icy wind carrying the white powder in every direction. It was the end of January, but this winter had decided to stay more than usual in the city. The bus arrived the second I had stepped onto the platform. I chose an empty seat by the window and sank into the warm cushion, watching the flurries wrapping the ground in a snowy blanket. My cheeks were frozen from the arctic blast of the early dawn and felt like cement. The soft music coming from the earbuds stopped me from thinking of the last months’ events. I needed a change to alleviate a pain still vivid in my heart.
Half an hour later, the bus stopped at my station. I picked up my bag and stepped again into the frosty air. In front of One Park Tower on 34 Peachtree Street in downtown Atlanta where my office was, I shook the snow from my hair. Warm, toasty air melted the remains of the icicles as soon as I stepped into the grandiose lobby and, by the time I had reached the tenth floor, their existence became just a memory.
“Good morning, Amanda,” Jeremy, my colleague, and competition, greeted me. “You’re early again, girl. Is anything pressing? Is Joan giving you a hard time?”
“No, sweet face. I like to start the day early,” I mumbled and gave him the thumbs up as I went to my cubicle.
Jeremy said, “All right, then. I’ll see in a bit.” Then, he disappeared inside the elevator.
“Sure, honey, take your time,” I said.
I turned on the lights in the editorial section and set my bag on the floor. There were around forty cubicles and twenty offices in the suite leased by our company in Atlanta. The headquarters were in New York, and we had other satellite offices around the U.S. My cubicle was the one in front of the editor-in-chief’s desk, Joan Murphy, and Jeremy’s cubicle was next to mine.
My laptop woke up slowly, giving me time to arrange the notes on my desk. I was late with my report, so I plugged in the flash drive, and the article popped up on the screen. I reread it before I emailed it to Joan. Mission accomplished, I thought after I clicked the ‘Send’ button.
As I did every morning, I started to browse the internet, reading the news coming from Kabul. I didn’t know why I still made my morning creed to keep informed of the situation in that area. It wasn’t like Joan would ever give me the assignment, although I would have loved to travel to that part of the world and write about what happened there.
Joan’s voice took me by surprise.
“Good morning, sunshine,” Joan said.
“Joan, you startled me,” I said, turning the chair around to face my boss.
“I have news for you,” Joan said and signaled to follow her. “Cold morning!”
“This weather’s a bitch,” I said.
“Amen, sister,” Joan chuckled. “Have a seat, Amanda.”
Her invitation sounded dangerous, especially since Joan had never invited anyone to sit on a chair in her office unless they were getting fired. She usually shouted her orders, and all the editors left the room like lambs.
“Is it bad?” I asked.
“It depends on your vision of bad.” Joan paused.
A frown formed on my forehead as cold chills traveled up and down my spine.
“How would you feel if I give you the Kabul assignment?”
“Are you serious? You would give it to me?”
“I thought you wanted it. Was I wrong?”
Joan scrutinized me from behind her thick glasses and the rise in her eyebrows made me swallow hard. She was around my age, and, just like me, she spent most of her time working. Her eighteenth-year-old daughter started college last fall, and Joan’s husband was always traveling around the world, selling books.
Joan tapped her fingers on the desk while she waited. I wanted to jump on my feet and kiss her instead of sitting still on the chair, but I managed to keep myself composed when I answered her.
“No, not at all,” I said. “When do I leave?”
“Saturday,” she answered.
“This Saturday?” I jumped to my feet. “I better get ready.”
“Are you happy now?”
Joan’s voice softened a bit.
“You know I am, Joan. I’ve always wanted to cover the war zone. I won’t disappoint you,” I promised.
“Go, now! I have things to do.”
Joan concentrated at the papers on her desk, but she couldn’t hide the smile growing on her face.
As soon as I sat at my desk, I couldn’t stop grinning. My head was in the clouds, and even the horrible coffee from the tower’s cafeteria tasted better. I thought of Mark. Maybe he had already left Kabul. I couldn’t face him. Not after everything we’d been through. Perhaps he had moved to another part of the world, just as he said he would when his assignment ended.
“Anything interesting happened in Joan’s office?” Jeremy asked as he leaned over my chair.
I kicked his leg to release my seat. He took one step back.
“You bet. I’m going to Kabul.”
“You are a bad ass. The Taliban should run in fear knowing you’re coming,” he chuckled.
“Is this your idea of being funny? Because you’re not,” I said, smacking his arm.
“Ouch!” Jeremy took two steps back. “Good luck,” he said.
I knew he had competed against me for this assignment. He joked that only passionate reporters should go overseas. Too bad for him he didn’t get it. I was determined to transmit the best reports from the area. And if I were fortunate, maybe I would get the chance to meet General Mark Niese in person.
The week flew by, and Saturday morning I loaded my bags into the van. My flight was in three hours, and I had to make it to the airport in time. I locked the front door, leaving the past behind and embracing the challenges ahead.
“Take care of you, sis,” Eric said, “and be safe. Let me know when you reach the camp.”
“Sure, and, please, don’t worry about me. I’ll be just fine.”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m afraid of,” Eric added and kissed my forehead before he left me at the Departures section of Atlanta International Airport.
Eric was my younger brother, and he had made it his mission to worry about me. I waved until his car disappeared from view, picked up my luggage, and went to the check-in point.
“Good morning, Ms. White,” the attendant said as he checked my bags in and returned the passport and the boarding passes. “Your flight leaves in two hours. Please, proceed to the security point,” he instructed and turned to the next traveler.
“Thank you,” I said.
The security point was busy, as usual. The airport was the largest and most crowded in the United States, people flying from Atlanta all over the world. I fidgeted in my spot because it was my first overseas assignment. I had to live in a military camp for the next weeks and, for a city girl like me, it was exciting and scary at the same time. Being the milestone of my career, I had every intention to make it worth the risk even if Taliban weren’t the friendliest of people in the zone.
“You’re set to go, Ms. White. Your flight leaves from the gate A40,” the security officer said after he had checked every inch of my body.
“Be strong. Be cool. Be a bad ass,” Joan had encouraged me on Friday afternoon before I left the office, and I had every intention to be just that. A bad ass girl with a mission…
“Passengers for the Kabul flight prepare for boarding. Have your passport and boarding pass ready,” I heard a woman saying into the microphone.
I didn’t know if I was ready. I was worried. It was a war zone, after all. But it wasn’t the war zone that worried me. No, I could handle it. It was the uncertainty of being face-to-face with the man I met online. This perspective scared the hell out of me. I intended to play it cool if he was still in the camp.
I extended the boarding pass to the beautiful blonde at the desk, and she checked me in.
“You’re all set, Ms. White. Please, proceed to the plane.”
“Thanks,” I said and stepped into the corridor toward the plane. My seat was by the window, a special gift from Joan. I smiled and placed my bag in the compartment above my head, except for the laptop. With my head resting on the seat, I closed my eyes. The next weeks would be rough for sure. And what if we would finally meet? What if he was indeed the man he said he was? I’d handle the situation if, or when, it came up.
“Would you like tea or coffee?” the flight attendant asked, interrupting the flow of my thoughts.
“Coffee, please,” I said. I didn’t feel hungry, but my stomach thought otherwise. It was going to be a long day, and it wouldn’t serve any purpose for me to starve to death. “A bagel, honey and butter would be much appreciated.”
The attendant smiled and handed me the coffee. The black liquid burned my throat after the first sip. A child cried in the background. I put my earbuds on since I was barely coping with the noise in my head. My eyes felt heavy. I closed them for a few minutes. And the minutes turned into hours by the time I opened them again.
“We’re over the ocean,” I said to myself after I looked out the plane’s window at the blanket of white clouds. A few blue spots appeared here and there in the white foam, and I spotted boats that looked like ants on the blue expanse below. I pulled back the blinds. It was just too bright. And every time I closed my eyes, Mark’s face came to life. Everywhere I went, he followed like a shadow.
“General Mark Niese from the military unit stationed in Kabul, I’m coming,” I whispered. “I told you that one day we’d meet. You said it was impossible. I guess I was right, and you were wrong,” I mumbled.
If those imprudent feelings would fade too and let me breathe, I couldn’t be happier. No way could he still be in love with me after I had called him a scammer and had reported him to the DOD. I didn’t find out what had happened to him after the trial. Maybe he had returned to San Francisco after he had received his vacation letter as he called it.
I checked my watch. In exactly six hours, I would reach Kabul. Soldiers would wait for me at the airport and take me to the camp. Those were the instructions I had received when they debriefed me at Wednesday’s meeting. My duty was to report about people’s lives, their fight for freedom, and about our soldiers’ sacrifice in the war zone in their battle against the Black Spider, a notorious terrorist organization responsible for the bombings in Boston, London, and Paris. With everything going on in that part of the world, fewer journalists were willing to endanger their lives or, worse, lose their heads.
Since Eric was my only family, I didn’t leave anyone else behind to wonder about my safety or my head. I had never considered myself ready to become a full-time wife or a mother. I just couldn’t do it. Journalism was like the air I breathed, my true love if something like true love even existed. Eric teased me about the love affair between me and my profession. He didn’t know that I’d dated a man, that I loved him, and that I broke both of our hearts in the end.
Maybe love wasn’t part of my destiny.
Happy Reading everyone!