Alex stared out the airport windows at the late afternoon’s pounding rain. The faltering light of the day and the roiling thunderheads echoed their disapproval onto the runways. She glanced up at the lit board of arrivals and departures, searching for her flight number. It did not appear anywhere. She looked down at her wristwatch, chewing on her lower lip. She was still two hours early.
Smart people don’t travel in electrical storms,” she muttered as she dropped her bag onto the empty chair in front of the glass windows beside her gate. . Clutching the piece of paper Jay had printed out for her when he purchased her ticket on the shop’s computer, Alex inspected the list of flight times. With the bursts of violent electricity beyond the window, she felt imprisoned by the narrow chair in the too cold lobby waiting for a flight she wasn’t sure would even materialize. Alex rolled her eyes as she glanced at the pouring rain again. More and more flights were being delayed from the storm raging outside the graying windows through which she stared.
Having too much time on her hands and needing a distraction, she grabbed her mother’s manila folder, pulling it out of the bag. Alex ran a scant thumb through the thick stack of pages, blowing out the air in her lungs.
Did she give me her whole life history?
Flipping the papers to a section in the back, she recognized a story about the night her parents first fell in-love. She dug a red pencil from her bag before wrapping the pages backward around the binding. It was time to slice through the type face with her bleeding marks dripping across the page.
Entry # 54 October 25
Your diary is the place you’re supposed to make secret confessions, right? , so here goes. I think I fell in -love tonight. I know. I’m just as shocked about it as you are. The truth is I am a closet romantic, despite my refusals to buy into all the mushy stuff. Tonight, though, there was no mushy stuff and I swear to you it was more like a single step home, than a long crashing fall.
The trail was dark and Angel’s landing was still more than ten miles above us. Yes, we were hiking one of the most difficult trails in the park, alone, and in the dark. It’s a good thing there was no crashing involved.
He had been forced to drag, more than walk with me up the narrow trail. The sound of our heavy breathing filling the night. The steep trail was more than I could climb in the dark. Who am I kidding, it was more than I could have handled in full sunlight; I’m not exactly a mountain goat. My panting was only interrupted by my apologies for my pathetic attempt at athleticism. It would have been totally humiliating if it hadn’t been for his deep throaty chuckle drifting from beside me as he held my hand and rubbed it briskly to fight off the October chill. If he only knew it was that voice of his that gives me shivers. We both knew I would not make it much farther. Thankfully he acted as if it was his idea to stop and Sit beside the trail to wait for feeling to return to my aching legs.
When he assured me it was not the top of the trail that had brought him on this death trek, I should have caught on that there was a key piece of information I was missing.
“I need to say something to you, but I’m afraid with everything you’ve been through lately, you are not up for it."
I felt up for ‘it’ as long as he didn’t mean we were going to race back down the trail. He had a point though, emotionally, the last week had been rough for me and that place near my heart that braced me against more pain pricked a warning in my mind.
“Try me.” I said, laughing away my panic. “You might be surprised what I can handle.
” When he took my hand more firmly and cleared his throat, it was a good thing his voice totally distracted me from my flight instincts, or else my insecurities would have ensured that I would have missed what he was trying to tell me.
“Well,” he said. “you know that I love you. You’re the person I would never want to lose. We have been friends, good friends for a long time and I never want anything to ever get in the way of that”
His breath shuddered as he released it in a warm puff.”
“Somewhere between all the phone calls, the crazy weekends, and the bad dinners, I think I fell in love with you.”
I didn’t know you could interrupt the space-time continuum with the words “I fell in love with you”, but it happened at that moment. I was sure I stopped breathing.
“No, he said the edge of scorn in his words. “There’s no think about it, I know. I’m in love with you.”
Alex smiled, imagining her father’s low buttery voice drifting through the darkness. I know. She heard him murmur. I’m in love with you.
She closed her eyes and sighed, a crooked smile plastered across her face.
“What are you reading?” asked a bubble gum voice. “From the look on your face it must be pretty good.”
Alex’s eyes flew open. She dropped both the red pencil and her mother’s transcript onto the floor.
A wisp of a dark haired girl was stammering, as she bent over to pick up Alex’s things from the tight weaved flooring.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. You just had this look on your face like you were reading a love note from prince charming himself.”
Alex sat up in her chair as the girl’s face paled, the delicate features giving away she couldn’t be more than 11 years old. Her cheeks were beginning to color as she stood from her bent position at Alex’s feet. Smiling as if to test the level of acceptance, the dark eyed pre-teen handed Alex’s things back. Her chocolate colored eyes flicked a glance over her shoulder, the girl attempted another smile.
Alex’s cheeks burned as she took the manuscript and pencil from the girl’s shaking hands.
“Do you like fairy tales? My mom wrote this one about the night she and my father fell in love.” Alex moved the envelope from the chair next to her, motioning for the girl to sit down. With a quick shift of her eyes from side to side, the pixie like girl pulled her backpack from her shoulders and sank to the seat
“If it’s about your parents then how is it a fairytale?”
“My Dad’s not exactly prince charming,” Alex whispered from the side of her mouth. “But he’s the closest thing I know.
She held out her hand to ease the young girl’s awkwardness.
“I’m Alexandra, but you can call me Alex.”
The girl looked around once more, licking her lips before taking Alex’s hand and then whispering. “I’m Chantelle, but if my dad comes back we don’t know each other.”
Alex nodded one brief tilt of her head.
“Not supposed to talk to strangers huh??”
“I’m not supposed to talk, at all. My dad says I talk too much.”
Alex bit down on her bottom lip before going on.
“Is he nearby or can we talk for a minute.
“He’s playing a slot machine somewhere around here, but not nearby.” Chantelle said glancing up and down the hall. My mom is picking me up to go back to Fresno. I spent Christmas break with him and New Year’s but now I can finally go home. Is that where you’re going. Home to see your dad?”
Alex grinned and shook her head.
“I’m going to New York to see my boyfriend.”
Chantelle closed her eyes releasing a sigh.
“If you’re dad’s practically prince charming,” she gushed. “Then you’re boyfriend must be the real thing.”
Alex stifled a laugh as the teenaged girls sparkling eyes shone out across the emptying waiting area.
Aflutter bucked in Alex’s stomach again as she smiled out into the storm.
Aflutter bucked in Alex’s stomach again as she smiled out into the storm.
“The real thing” she said with a shudder, “The real thing.”
A stream of passenger’s began exiting the gang way at their left. Chantelle peeked around Alex at the line.
“Is he a lot like your dad?”
Chantelle sat back down and began picking at the sipper on her back pack. “Your Boyfriend. Does he remind you of your Dad?” Alex wrinkled her nose, not quite understanding the young girl’s question. “My mom always warns me that girls fall for guys that remind them of their “Father. She says that’s how she and my dad ended up together or not together anymore I guess, and If I’m not careful, I’ll end up with some loser who ignores me like my dad does. She says it’s the curse of being a daughter.”
Alex let her expression dissolve from thoughtful to concerned. She watched the bitterness in Chantelle’s words echo back from her dark eyes.
“I hope your boyfriend reminds you of your dad, though.” Chentelle sighed, “If he does than you’ll end up as happy as your mom is, right?”
Alex opened her mouth to try to explain the complexities of relationships, but Chantelle jumped to her feet and ran to throw her arms around a dark haired woman exiting the walkway.
The woman was taller with the marks of time pacing relentless across her pixie features, but she was a near copy of the smaller girl. Chantelle pulled her mother to her chair next to Alex while the woman’s tired eyes scanned the waiting area. With a deep frown pinching her forehead into puckered lines, the woman scowled.
“Did your Dad just leave you here alone?”
“No,” Chantelle sighed, pointing down the loud wide corridor behind Alex. “He’s on a slot machine down the hallway.”
Chantelle’s voice was apologetic, her smile broken until the corners of her cherry lips turned down. the older woman’s dark eyes found a sandy haired man loudly flirting with a stewardess attempting to avoid his grabbing hands. Oblivious to their presence, his crude comments dripped, along with the unlit cigarette, from his yellowing lips.
Alex turned her head toward the awkward scene, just in time to see him, leer darkly as the uniformed woman walked away brushing her hands against her flight uniform. As if the action could rid her of debris from the encounter.
“Well,” Chantelle’s mother huffed pulling her purse tightly against her shoulder, “We better go let him know that I’m here now, so he can get back to his…life.”
Alex raised one hand from her lap offering a quick smile. The pretty young girl blushed as she twitched a wave in Alex’s direction before she and her mother disappeared into the throng of passengers.
She shook her head at the two vanishing figures, hoping for either one of them to get the chance at ‘the real thing. Deep in her heart she feared that neither would ever break free from that curse.
The tender warmth of her father’s icy eyes flashed across her mind with the thought. She picked up the manuscript again.
I found myself speechless,” her mother’s words went on as Alex settled down to read again.
“I’m never speechless. I can talk about anything with anyone. What is wrong with me? A gorgeous man tells me he’s in love with me? And I say…nothing? I just stared into the darkness trying to find words for what was happening inside of me. The ringing of bells, choirs of hallelujah, spark of fire, and all the traditional background emotions that are supposed to show up when the right man falls in love with you abandoned me. I’m sure I had a thousand really moving speeches or romantic responses I should have been able to think of, but my brain totally bailed. I waited for the inspiration to come. Think…think of something…hurry before he; before he what? Discovers you’re secretly mute and changes his mind?
While I tried to compel my hapless vocabulary to cooperate with my tongue, I could only think of one thing. Of course, we should always be together. I felt as if he was just explaining to me how the sun was coming up in the morning. What do you say to that?
He is usually Okay with silence, but I’m pretty sure he prefers the comfortable kind, so he stood up and tried to make it seem as if we were just having a casual, middle of the night, conversation about politics or the weather.
He must have gotten tired of my impersonation of a mime having a stroke, because he pulled me to my feet beside him.
“I think we had better get out of here, before it gets too dark.”
He mumbled he excuse halfheartedly, I wasn’t too brain dead to notice we had passed ‘too dark’ hours ago. We headed back down the trail, my hand still in his as he led the way.
There should have been an awkward silence following our return hike that night, but even in the tortured wake of bare emotion, we had no problem talking…but for the life of me I can’t remember a single thing we talked about. My mind was still racing. I have this really bad habit of picking things apart and analyzing them to death, so the whole time we were talking I was recalling past conversations, moments that now had new meaning, and the truth of my own feelings, pushing past our prattle.
I liked it, this feeling all warm and snugly, wrapped in six months worth of memories. While he hiked and I basked in my surrender I suddenly remembered a conversation we were having earlier on the trail. . We had talked about the best kisses we’d had and he had described to me his. Panic flooded all those happy feelings, and now I stopped on the steep down grade pulling him up sharply.
“What?” he asked, “What’s wrong?”
“I’m worried,” I said.
“What are you worried about?” he asked, pulling away from me and turning back down the trail.
“What if I’m not as good of a kisser as Nora?”
“He gave me one of his crooked grins while brushing a lock of hair out of my eyes. I guess we’ll just have to practice.”