I smile, taking a small sip to indicate that I understand. When she walks off, I lean down, digging my hand into my purse until I feel a mini bottle tucked neatly into the side pocket. I'm attempting to discreetly unscrew the cap when I feel a presence beside me, hovering close.
"This is me."
My neck snaps up, and I'm half expecting to see somebody I know. There's a familiarity in the voice above me, vague, like a casual acquaintance, but when I look up at the man standing in the aisle, I see a stranger with a TrueCrimeCon tote bag slung over one arm, the other pointing to the seat beside me.
The window seat.
He sees the mini bottle in my hand and grins. "I won't tell."
"Thanks," I say, standing up to let him pass through.
I try not to glower at the prospect of being stuck next to an attendee on the fight home—it's complicated, really, the way I feel about the fans. I hate them, but I need them. They're a necessary evil: their eyes, their ears. Their undivided attention. Because when the rest of the world forgets, they remember. They still read every article, debating their theories on amateur sleuth forums as if my life is nothing more than a fun puzzle to be solved. They still curl up on their couches with a glass of Merlot in the evenings, getting lost in the comforting drone of Dateline. Trying to experience it without actually experiencing it. And that's why events like TrueCrimeCon exist. Why people spend hundreds of dollars on airfare and hotel rooms and conference tickets: for a safe space where they can bask in the bloody glow of violence for just a few days, using another person's murder as a means of entertainment.
But what they don't understand, what they can't understand, is that one day, they could wake up to find the violence crawling through their television screens, latching on to their houses, their lives, like a parasite sinking in its fangs. Wriggling in deep, making itself comfortable. Sucking the blood from their bodies and calling them home.
People never think it'll happen to them.
The man glides past me and into his seat, pushing his bag beneath the chair in front of him. When I settle back in, I pick up where I left off: the gentle crack of the cap breaking, the glug of vodka as it pours into my drink. I stir it with my finger before taking a long sip.
"I saw your keynote."
I can feel my seatmate looking at me. I try to ignore him, closing my eyes and leaning my head against the headrest. Waiting for the vodka to make my eyelids just heavy enough to stay closed for a bit.
"I'm so sorry," he adds.
"Thank you," I say, eyes still shut. Even though I can't actually sleep, I can act like I'm sleeping.
"You're good, though," he continues. I can feel his breath on my cheek, smell the spearmint gum wedged between his molars. "At telling the story, I mean."
"It's not a story," I say. "It's my life."
He's quiet for a while, and I think that did it. I usually try not to make people uncomfortable—I try to be gracious, play the role of the grieving mother. Shaking hands and nodding my head, a grateful smile plastered across my face that I immediately wipe away like lipstick the second I step away. But right now I'm not at the conference. It's over, I'm done. I'm going home. I don't want to talk about it anymore.
I hear the intercom come to life above us, a scratchy echo.
"Flight attendants, prepare doors for departure and cross-check."
"I'm Waylon," the man says, and I can feel his arm thrust in my direction. "Waylon Spencer. I have a podcast—"
I open my eyes and look in his direction. I should have known. The familiar voice. The fitted V-neck and dark-wash skinny jeans. He doesn't look like the typical attendee, with his glossy hair shaved into a sloping gradient at the neck. He's not into murder for entertainment; he's in it for business.
I'm not sure which is worse.
"Waylon," I repeat. I look down at his outstretched hand, his expectant face. Then I swivel my neck around and shut my eyes again. "I don't want to come across as rude, Waylon, but I'm not interested."
"It's really gaining some traction," he says, pressing on. "Number five in the app store."
"Good for you."
"We even solved a cold case."