*Unedited and subject to change by time of publishing
(c) Renee Ericson 2014
“Attention passengers,” a female voice alerts overhead. “The captain has started our final descent. At this time, we ask that you please return your seats to their upright position, stow away your tray tables, and any loose items. We will be on the ground shortly.”
Pressing the button on the armrest, the seat pulls my body vertical and posturing it at a ninety degree angle. I stow away the magazine that I feigned to read the entire flight and then look out the window, into the early morning, grey sky. It’s nothing but a cloud-filled view as far as I can see.
A soft finger brushes my elbow and a rattling sound comes from the passenger next to me.
“Hang on,” says the woman in the middle seat. The child in her lap contorts, twisting his little body around. “I’ll get it.”
She bends over, stretching toward the floor, attempting to reach something where people’s dirty shoes shuffle all day long. The toddler is blocking her attempts downward as she tries to maneuver in the small space. Her efforts look exhausting.
“Allow me,” I offer, reaching toward the area at her feet.
“Thank you,” she sighs, relieved.
I easily snatch up the soft plush giraffe from the floor and hand it into the mother’s waiting hands. She gives it to her son, who immediately puts it in his mouth. So much for germs.
“Thanks again,” she says, adjusting the little boy as he bounces up and down upon her lap. “It’s so hard traveling with little kids. Especially, on such a long flight like this.”
“I’m sure it is and no problem.”
She wipes the hair from the front of her face. “I can’t wait to get home. We’ve been gone for what feels like forever.”
“Oh, you live in L.A.?” I ask, smiling at the slobbering little guy, sitting on her legs. His angelic white blond hair falls in wisps around his ears.
“Yes. Well, just outside in one of the southern suburbs. My son and I were in South Carolina, visiting my mother. I try to make the trip once a year.”
“That sounds really nice. I’m sure she was excited to see you two.”
“She was.” Her little boy pulls one of the magazines from the pocket on the back of the seat in front of her. “What about you? You heading home, too?”
“No, I live in Chicago and I’m just coming out for a visit.”
“Oh, are you visiting any one special?”
“Yes.” I smile. “I am.”
She smiles back and says nothing further. Her son continues to paw at her face and she tries to keep him content as we descend toward our destination. I look out the window watching, as the world below gets bigger with each passing minute.
This week has been like no other I’ve ever experienced before. Brent, the man who at one point in time was everything to me, plunged his way into the life I was living without him. In some ways, upheaving everything I had in motion. School. Work. Dating. Yes, I had to cancel a date. A coworker and I had plans to go out this week, but there was no way I could meet him. My heart wasn’t in it, it was being beckoned by someone else.
Just this past Monday morning, Brent left my apartment, headed back to L.A., and I understood why. Our lives are different than they once were. He has responsibilities and obligations. So do I, and they’re in Chicago. I so badly wanted him to stay so we could try and be together. To find out what was left of us. If there was still an us, but that wasn’t possible. He walked out the door and took a piece of me with him. When he was gone, I realized that a piece of me had always been with him, because I felt the emptiness acutely without him. It was like a dull pain that I had learned to live with for years was suddenly a reopened wound.
We talked on the phone every day when we had a chance. He’s so busy with playoffs, and I have school and work, that finding a time we are both available was challenging. Especially with the time change playing a factor. His team had a playoff game this past Thursday, which they won, and we talked that night and agreed that we both wanted to see each other soon. However, with the unpredictability of when his season would end, we couldn’t plan anything. The unknown just made him seem further away. I was beginning to question what we were doing, if anything at all. That maybe I would have to live with just our memories, including his recent visit to Chicago.
Brent called the next day and asked if I would come out on Sunday. His brother was already coming in, arriving on Friday evening, but said my joining them for game day would be welcomed and that we could spend the day together on Monday just he and I. It seemed so crazy and last minute, not to mention expensive, but I said yes. I couldn’t help it. So here I am, on a plane about to see him again in less than one week’s time after a long four year hiatus.
I guess when you want something badly enough you do irrational things, like fly half way across the country to spend forty-eight hours with someone you haven’t seen in years. Oddly though, it feels right.
Brent was right that fate drove us back together, but the rest would be left to us to figure out. I’m not sure if we could ever get back to what we were long ago—to the kind of love that we shared. There was something special about that time before we broke apart. It was almost magical in some way.
We once were something beautiful, bonded through a process of heat and fire—much like porcelain. We were put on a pedestal, only to fall. To break—shattering into millions of tiny pieces—scattering everywhere. How could we ever find them all?
It was time to find out.
Nervous is not a word big enough to describe the anticipation for this little spur of the moment trip. It’s impulsive, illogical, and everything I want to do. My heart made up my mind.
The airplane lands with a bit of a jolt and we taxi to the gate. My palms are ridiculously clammy as I turn on my phone, to let Brent Know I’ve arrived. It’s just before ten in the morning local time according to the clock on its face. Moments later, a text appears.
Brent: I’ll be waiting outside near baggage claim.
We just landed. You here?
Brent: Yes. I’m in a silver Audi. I’ll be looking for you.
Another Audi? Apparently, he has a “thing” for them.
Great. I’ll be there soon.
Brent: See you soon.
Pulling my bag into my lap, I tuck away my phone and wait impatiently until we’re able to leave the aircraft.
About ten minutes later I’m exiting the plane with my blue duffle bag over my shoulder, walking down the hall and following the signs toward baggage claim. I didn’t check a bag, since this is a short trip, but that’s where we’re supposed to meet, just outside the doors.
Stepping onto the escalator, I descend to where large groups of people are piled around turnstiles awaiting their luggage to come out. Everyone looks tired from their flights, disheveled hair and clothing, except the young kids turning in circles to entertain themselves.
Taking a deep breath, and then another, I continue forward straight toward the automatic sliding doors. One set opens, and then the next, for me to exit into the bright morning light. The air is warm—warmer than Chicago, but not appropriate for sunbathing. It is November. I unbutton my jacket, so not to overheat, and then look left and then right, searching for Brent.
My eyes lock on him as he stands in front of his car, facing the opposite direction. I know that’s him and would recognize his stance anywhere.
This is it.
There’s no turning back.
Not that I could anyhow.
He’s what I want, the reason I’m here and all I have to do is take the measured steps to meet him.
And so I do.
About ten feet away from Brent, he turns around, finding me. His eyes smile, his face lights up and I forget everything. A nervous, excited, half-laugh escapes my lips and my cheeks ache from pushing them so hard with joy.
I’m finding my way home.
“Hi,” I barely get out, unsure how to start.
“Hi.” He reaches for the bag on my shoulder. “You ready to go?”
He laughs and then opens the back door, placing the medium sized bag on the seat. I reach for the passenger side door to let myself in.
“Wait,” Brent says as he closes the door. “I think you forgot something.”
“I did?” I release the handle. “I’m pretty sure I only had one bag.”
Brent suddenly wraps his arms around my waist and lifts me up. I shriek a little, like a teenager, and grip his shoulders. Touching my nose to his, I look deep into his bright eyes and my face relaxes, but my breathing quickens to the point where I’m not sure if it’s enough to feed the beat of my heart.
“I didn’t realize how much I missed you,” Brent says.
“Me either,” I reply. The words are heavy, applying further back than just last weekend.
He closes his lids and nudges his mouth forward to tentatively touch mine for an instant before pulling me closer and resting his chin on my shoulder. I circle my arms around his neck to hold him tight. We stay in each other’s arms, remembering one another, for a period of time. His heart beats against mine. The smell of his cologne blissfully invades my senses and so does the underlying smell of him, which is unique to Brent. His body melts into mine and I don’t want to let go.
Brent sets me down, kisses me on the cheek and then holds open the car door for me as I slide inside the tan leather interior. He makes his way around the vehicle and gets in as I buckle my seatbelt. Moments later we’re pulling out into traffic, heading toward the highway, on our way to his place.
“Thanks for picking me up,” I say, watching the cars weave in front of us.
“Did you think I would make you walk?”
“No,” I laugh. “Just…thanks.”
My eyes dare a look, but it’s not enough. Would it be wrong to stare at him? Adjusting my body, I lean my shoulder against the seat, watching Brent as he drives. This is why I’m here. He is why I am here, so there’s no reason to be shy now. It’s all or nothing.
Before I got on the plane this morning I made up my mind that if we were given a second chance, I wasn’t going to waste it with innuendoes or games. We needed to get to know one another again and I wasn’t going to hold back any part of me. My feelings may get hurt, but they’ve been hurt before. Pain is something I’m capable of surviving and a broken heart doesn’t scare me—I’ve been living with one for years.
“So, how was your flight?” Brent asks as he’s changing lanes.
“What time did you have to get up?”
“It’s okay,” I respond, tucking a stray strand of hair behind my ear. “I don’t mind at all. It’s just good to see you again.”
Brent takes my hand in his and brings it to his mouth. “I can’t believe you’re here.”
“I can. I just flew for over four hours to get here. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. Trust me, it’s real.”
Lowering his hand, Brent rests our joined ones on his leg as he continues to drive down the highway.
“Did you want to do anything special while you’re in town?” he asks.
“Just hang out with you. That’s all.”
He darts his eyes to me and then back to the road. A slight grin grows on his face and he shakes his head to himself.
“What?” I ask, confused.
“You’re just so…I don’t know. Different.”
“I don’t know. It’s like everything I ask you is…well you have a straight forward answer.”
“I know.” I adjust myself and grip his hand. “I made a promise to myself that by doing this, coming here, I wasn’t going to hold back. I want to be here and I just don’t want there to be any question in your mind about that.”
Taking his eyes from the road, he gives me a look like I’ve just slammed him with sack of potatoes. “You’re serious, aren’t you?”
“Yes.” My thumb strokes the back of his hand. “We have so much to deal with as it is. I think us just being upfront and honest is going to make this easier. No guessing.”
“Huh? So I anything I ask you, you’ll give me an honest answer?”
“Yeah. I think we have enough shit between us, no reason to add anymore.”
“Hmmmm.” A sly grin creeps up his face. “Okay. Honest.” He pauses. “So are you nervous about staying with me?”
“A little.” I catch myself in a half-truth. “Okay, a lot.”
He puckers his lips. “Did you think about me all week?”
“What do you think?”
“Hey, you said you would give honest answers. So give.”
“Yes.” I adjust myself in the seat. “It was ridiculous.”
“I think I like this,” he comments.
“You know, you could return the favor a little.”
“Okay.” Brent adds pressure to my hand. “Sure. Ask me a question.”
“Did you think about me all week?”
His dimples disappear and he looks straight ahead at the vehicle in front of us. “Ruby, I haven’t stopped thinking about you since that first day I took you on the lake when we were in high school.”
My eyes widen, shocked by his answer. A small sound crosses my lips, but it’s nothing legible. I’m rendered speechless by his answer.
“So, is it my turn to ask?” he questions, not allowing the silence to linger too long.
I clear my throat, forcing my voice to return. “Yeah. Sure. Go ahead.”
“Are you excited to see me naked?”
I laugh. I laugh hard, pulling my hand out of his grip to cover my mouth.
“I take that as a no?” he jokes.
Heat rises to my cheeks. “I hadn’t thought about it.”
“You flew all the way out here, thousands of miles, and my hot, naked body isn’t on your mind at all?”
“I don’t know if I’m ready to be that honest.”
“So you were thinking about it?”
Turning my head toward the window I quietly say, “Yes.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t hear you.”
“I said yes!” I frustratingly shout.
“I knew it. Now you’re talking,” he says, a touch of mock pride taking over his expression. “Keep it coming. Tell me more.”
“I don’t want to talk about your body.”
He looks at me, curiously. “Are you suggesting that you want to do other things with my body?”
I playfully shove his shoulder. “Just concentrate on the road,” I laugh, situating myself to face forward, crossing my arms in front of me. We travel in silence for a minute or so, until I hear Brent chuckle.
“What are you laughing at?” I ask, giggly.
“Liar. Tell me.”
“I was just wondering what part of my body you’re thinking about right now.”
“Your mouth.” I smooth my hands over my thighs.
“Why are you dying to kiss me?” he teases.
“Oh. My. God. What has gotten into you? No. I want you to stop talking about your body.”
“Hey, you’re the one who started all the honesty talk. I’m just playing along.”
“Well, thanks for that.” I shake my head. “Who knew you were so obsessed with being naked?”
“I’m a guy,” he says, lowering his voice to a very deep baritone. “It’s part of my DNA.”
“Right,” I mockingly huff. “Lame excuse. Blame the double helix.”
“What? Why? Because I said double helix?”
“No, because you can’t stop thinking about me naked.”
“Oh, I give up.” I laugh.
Brent touches my elbow and searches for my hand, finding it and lacing our fingers together. He shakes them a little, silently calling my attention. Turning so my shoulder is against the seat, I position myself to face him once again. His mouth relaxes a little as a comfortable silence fills the car. He peeks in my direction and I see that his moment of teasing has come to an end, for now.
“I’m really glad I found you again.” He takes our hands, resting them on his leg.