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The Great Flight Home from Santa Fe

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“You’re a smart person, but you have a way of ignoring things,” he'd said to her. “Even when all the signs are there.”

Even when all the signs are there. That phrase bounces around her mind for the rest of the day. What had Josh meant by that?

When she sits on the balcony of her hotel room and relays the conversation to Gwen later that night, her best friend merely says, “Hm.”

“Really, Gwen?” Mindy asks, annoyed. “I didn’t pay for a long distance phone call to get ‘hm’.”

“Well,” Gwen says, and Mindy can practically see her nonplussed expression. “He’s not wrong.”

Mindy tosses her free hand in the air. “Okay, so my best friend is siding with my druggie ex-boyfriend. Cool.”

“You always tend to be oblivious when it comes to Danny. I just didn’t know if you were serious or acting out another one of your romcom fantasies.”

“Yes, Gwen,” Mindy tightens her robe as a cool breeze comes through. “That’s exactly it. I’m pretending my life is like the millions of romantic comedies about a chubby Indian gynecologist who finds out her sweaty coworker is in love with her.”

She shakes her head, trying to forgo that train of thought. “Okay, this is insane. There is no way Danny Castellano is in love with me! He once yelled at me for thinking too loudly. He’s like my eighty-year-old grandmother, not a guy who wants to date me.”

“He drove you to see Josh,” Gwen reminds her. “He stayed with you at the Christmas party; he bailed you out of high school jail. And what about the pizza place you said he took you to on Valentine’s Day, after that bad date with the professor?”

Mindy is silent as her brain goes on overdrive.

“Okay,” she says, her voice unsure. “When you put them all together like that, of course it sounds like he’s got feelings for me, but—,”

“I’m just saying,” Gwen says. “There are signs.”

Hm, indeed.

 

***

 

On their flight home the next day, she finds herself casting yet another glance at Danny as if she's hoping to see something that would tell her once and for all if there were any "signs" to be seen. Instead, she gets an eyeful of him being thoroughly engrossed in the The Life of Pi. He slouches in his seat and his foot accidentally comes into contact with hers at one point and she finds herself thinking, Was that it? Was that a sign?  But then he moves it and grunts "Sorry," and she's back to square one.

For the thousandth time that morning, her thoughts stray to the conversation she’d had with her ex-boyfriend the day before, and she realizes she's going to drive herself up a wall if she doesn't put her mind to rest soon.

She plays with the hem of her shirt and forces herself to broach the topic. “So, Josh said something kind of weird yesterday, when we were talking.”

Danny breaks his concentration only slightly and glances at her with mild interest. “Oh, yeah?”

“Yeah,” she says, running her fingers through her ponytail. “He said he thought we had a ‘thing’.”

She has his full attention now. “A ‘thing’? What kind of thing?”

“He thought we were dating.”

Danny points at both of them. “Us?”

When she nods, he stutters a bit before settling with, “Well, that’s ridiculous.”

She gives a sigh of relief. “Yeah, that’s what I said.”

Danny continues, his voice a little more animated than usual. “Must be all that coke. It's rotting his brain, "

“Probably,” Mindy says, smiling like a weight has been lifted from her shoulders. “Because you and me? That could never happen, in like, a million years.”

“I know,” He nods towards an elderly man sleeping with his mouth open, two rows back. “I’d rather kiss that guy.”

Mindy frowns and lightly punches him in the shoulder. “Hey man, don’t get carried away. You wish you could hook up with someone as hot as me. Besides,” she taunts, “I’m not exactly dreaming of making out with 'Sweat Stains' Castellano.”

Danny looks like he’s about to retort, but thinks the better of it. Instead, he flashes her a crooked smile and returns his attention to the screen in front of them. Mindy’s smile falters, only for a second, before she follows his lead.

 

Thirty minutes later and they’re watching the film, sans headphones, and Mindy is feeling markedly more relaxed than she was when they boarded. She makes a mental note to call Gwen as soon as they land and rub it in that, once again, Mindy Lahiri was right. Danny Castellano does not have secret feelings for her, and they do not have a “thing”. God, why did she freak out in the first place? Had she really considered taking relationship cues from a quadruple-cheating cocaine addict? The thought is laughable.

She’s nearly dozing off when Danny runs his hands over his bare arms and flags down a passing flight attendant.

“Hey,” he glances at her nametag and flashes a grin, “Laura. Could I please get a blanket?”

Laura smiles politely. “Of course. Blankets are ten dollars each. We take cash or credit.”

His grin falls. “Ten dollars for a blanket?” He looks at Mindy as if to say can you believe this? “How is that even legal?”

Mindy fixes him with a smug expression.

“Huh,” she says, tapping a finger to her chin, “Who's overpacked now, Danny?” She pointedly pulls her blanket up to her chest and smiles with self-satisfaction. He ignores her and speaks to the flight attendant directly. “Look, who’s in charge of this? Can I talk to the Chief, or whichever guy’s in charge?”

“I am the Chief flight attendant,” Laura says, her smile never faltering. Danny looks taken aback as she continues, “And I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do about the price.”

“Never mind,” Mindy says quickly. The second hand embarassment is starting to get to her, so she steps in to prevent Danny from further making an ass of himself. “He’s good, thank you.”

As soon as Laura leaves, she turns to Danny. “You, Castellano, are the absolute worst. And please don’t pretend you can’t afford a ten dollar blanket.”

“It’s not about whether I can afford it,” he says stubbornly, though he has the decency to look embarrassed. “It’s the principle. I’m not going to pay ten dollars for something that should be complimentary.”

“Okay, Grandpa,” she says, rolling her eyes. She lifts one side of her blanket and holds it out to him. “You are welcome to share this blanket with me for free.”

He considers her offer for a moment before shaking his head. “No, don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

She gives him a strange look. “I’m not worried. It’s just a nice gesture.”

She shakes the blanket at him until he finally takes it. “Thanks, Min,” he says, pulling it over the armrest and wrapping it securely around his waist.

Just as they get comfortable again, the plane begins to shake violently. For a moment it feels like they're falling, and Mindy gasps as she instinctively grasps Danny’s hand, which is gripping the armrest. Once she realizes what she’s done she stares at their hands, and then at Danny. He’s pressed against his seat and staring ahead, visibly shaken. Okay, Mindy thinks. This is purely a support thing. Totally friendly hand-to-hand action.

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking,” A soothing, not-at-all-worried woman’s voice comes over the loudspeaker. “As you know, we’ve experienced a temporary brief bout of turbulence, but there's nothing to worry about, as the skies are clear and the flight should continue normally. Thank you for your cooperation.”

Mindy breathes in and feels herself calming down when she looks at Danny, and at their still intertwined hands. The “totally friendly” window is quickly closing, so she starts to slip her hand from his grasp. Her efforts prove fruitless, however, when he immediately grabs it back, tightening his grip.

Shocked, she looks down, and then back at Danny. He’s still facing forward, and Mindy has the sneaking suspicion that he's purposefully avoiding her gaze.

“You okay?” he asks, breathing as if he’s just run a 5k.

“Yeah,” she says, surprised to find that her voice is just as gone.

He’s probably still freaked out by the turbulence, she reasons. That has to be it. It isn’t like Danny's holding—no, grasping her hand because he likes it. Still, she can’t stop staring at their hands, can’t ignore the fluttery feeling that rose in her stomach when he refused to let go. She’s hesitant to speak or move, and a tiny part of her acknowledges it’s because she loves the feeling of his hand on hers and wants it to last for as long as possible. His hand is a lot softer than she expects, and so deliciously warm. She barely even minds the sweat, if she’s being honest. God, what is happening to me?

She chances a look at Danny and he finally returns the favor. The feeling she gets when their eyes meet is cause for alarm, she thinks, as his gaze sends a warm, tingling sensation shooting through every corner of her body. She wills herself to turn away, but finds she’s frozen in place.

Maybe it's because she's been so obvlivious to the "signs" everyone else was convinced of, but she's downright shocked when Danny uses his left hand to cradle her cheek and pull her face closer. And when his lips meet hers, she’s even more surprised. Not too surprised that she can’t move her lips against his, of course, or lean into the warmth of his touch. Her free hand tentatively slides into his dark, thick hair as he deepens the kiss, but when she feels his thumb begin to stroke the hand he was STILL holding, she slips out of his grasp and pushes him away.

“Danny!” She whispers, wiping her mouth with the back of her hand and trying to look as scandalized as possible. There are so many things she can say, like What are you doing or I thought we were just friends, or even I have a boyfriend!, but all she can muster is, “People might see!”

She glances around the cabin for any onlookers. Well, specifically for Morgan or Jeremy. Fortunately, the two are still passed out from their Santa Fe shenanigans and completely oblivious to anything happening across the aisle.

Danny looks ashamed as he runs a hand down his face. “You’re right, I’m sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I guess the adrenaline from the turbulence, and the kid fighting that tiger on the boat has got my blood pressure all work—,”

His—stupid—explanation is interrupted by Mindy grabbing a fistful of his shirt and catching his lips with hers, pressing as close to him as she can despite the awkward way their seats are arranged. He responds immediately, his left hand cradling her jaw as their mouths take part in a long sensuous dance. There’s an undeniable intensity beneath the kiss, but they force themselves to take it slow, using the series of closed-mouth kisses as an opportunity to truly acquaint themselves with the other’s taste, to really convince them that this is it. This is really happening.

Mindy's falls back in her chair as Danny reaches over the armrest and rests most of his weight on her, his right hand sneaking beneath the blanket to massage her hip. Finally, they open their mouths and allow their tongues to meet, and fuck if it doesn’t feel amazing. As he massages her tongue with his and lightly runs his teeth along her bottom lip before sucking it into his mouth, she can't help but break their kiss to sigh against his neck.  

She nips at the skin between above his Adam’s apple as his hand slips under her shirt and begins to palm her breast through her bra. She ushers him closer as their mouths collide, tongues bumping against each other as she strokes the roof of his mouth and his hand pushes the cup of her bra aside, his firm fingers kneading her breast.

Mindy releases another sigh as her own hand travels beneath the blanket and doesn't stop until it's resting right on top of the growing hardness between his legs. Now it's Danny's turn to sigh as he increases the pressure on her breast in preparation for her touch.

They’re so completely overwhelmed by the sensation of literally being closer than they've ever been, that they don’t even register Laura’s presence until the flight attendant clears her throat.

“Excuse me,” she says, causing Danny and Mindy to jump as far apart as they possibly can. Neither of them dares to look Laura in the eye, and for a second Mindy actually wishes the plane would crash, just to spare her the humiliation. “We received a complaint from one of the passengers, and are going to have to ask you both to…”

She pauses as if searching for the right word. “Stop.”

“Yep,” Mindy says quickly, keeping her gaze low and smoothing out her hair. Beside her, Danny adjusts his side of the blanket, making sure his lap is completely covered, and raises a finger.

“Sure. Uh, do you,” his voice is extremely shaky, and he presses a fist to his mouth and coughs. “Do you think,” he tries again, “I could get a glass of water?”

Against her better judgment, Mindy makes eye contact with him and he groans audibly. “On second thought,” Danny says, “how about an old fashioned?”

“Not a problem,” Laura replies sweetly. Her unwavering smile is a testament to her professionalism, Mindy decides. “Would you like anything, ma’am?”

Mindy shakes her head. “No, thank you."

“Okay, I’ll be right back with your drink.” Laura says and disappears.

As soon as she’s gone, both Mindy and Danny release nervous, shaky breaths. After checking to make sure Jeremy and Morgan are still asleep—they are—Mindy drops her head into her hands and moans. “Oh God.”

WHAT DID WE JUST DO???!!!??

Danny scratches his neck, clearly uncomfortable. “So,” he starts weakly.

“Let’s, um,” Mindy interrupts, pointedly turning toward the television in front. “Let’s just watch the rest of the movie.”

Relief washes over Danny’s face as he settles back into his chair. He’s clearly glad to avoid talking about what just took place, and Mindy is far from ready to sort through the one billion thoughts performing breaststrokes in her mind. 

So, she forces herself to push back all thoughts about Danny and his mouth, and instead focuses on begging God to not to send her to hell for cheating on her Preacher boyfriend. She's in the middle of reminding Him about the time she let Alex buy the last pair of sparkly red Jimmy Choos at last year's Neiman Marcus sale when Danny mutters, "I wonder who complained."

They both turn in their seats, seeking out any possible suspects. Most passengers are either sleeping or messing with their laptops, totally uninterested in anything around them. Well, everyone except for one.

Mindy starts to nudge Danny, but thinks better of it. She whispers hey, instead and gestures two rows back. "I think I know who ratted us out," she says, her lips involuntarily turning up in a small smile as Danny turns to see the old man he claimed he'd rather kiss than Mindy staring back at them with a fierce frown on his face. 

"Oh boy," Danny laughs. The sound of his laugh and the feelings it inspires are all the confirmation Mindy needs that Heaven is simply not in her cards.

 

***

 

On Monday, Betsy approaches Mindy as she’s flipping through her mail and asks, “Dr L, did you have a good trip?”

“Uh, yeah,” Mindy replies, and she looks up to see Danny arrive with his morning coffee. She hasn’t seen him since they arrived at LaGuardia airport on Saturday afternoon, when she purposefully got “lost” in order to leave without saying goodbye. “I did have a good trip.”

Danny stands beside to her—a little too close, maybe—and corrects her. “It was a great trip.”

He looks at her with a smile so genuine and meaningful that Mindy crumbles under his gaze and immediately looks away.

“It was great,” she agrees, mostly to prevent him from saying anything else, anything incriminating. It was great, she thinks, but it can't happen again.

And though she’ll never admit it out loud, that thought makes her incredibly sad.