“I’m sorry baby.” Charles’ voice slurred across the phone. “I love you, please just come. I miss your face baby, please”
The boisterous background of the bar drowned out most of charles’ drunken proclamations. Freezing gusts from the snowstorm outside the gateway of her disembarking plane, combed icy fingers over Alex’s scalp, driving her to the seating area to escape the chill. Her eyes flew in panic over the dismal decor. The black clad seats beside her gate,bound side by side in long awkward rows, offered no hope of comfort or reprieve. Alex clenched her jaw and bit down on the inside of her cheeks to fight back tears.
“Charles,” she spit through her phone, “I borrowed money, I flew half way across the continent, my parents are freaking out, and your sorry that you asked me to marry you and then changed your mind?”
The crowded gateway in O’hare International Airport drowned out the quiet shriek of his voice but she plugged her other ear to hear him.
“I didn’t change my mind” Charles hissed, the sentence becoming one long syllable. “I just talked to my mom and she pointed out to me that I should not have been so…crazy.”
“Crazy” she snapped, “since when is getting married crazy?”
“since the 1960’s, Alexandra”
Tears brimmed at the edge of her burning eyes as Charles softened his tone and whined again.
“We need to talk about this after you get here, that’s all baby. Don’t be mad at me.”
Alex held back the sob she could feel ripping at her throat. The churning fury of her temper was always extinguished by her tears of humiliation. Taking a deep breath to steady her voice and wiping at her eyes, she settled her emotions.. He would not hear her cry and he would face her, sober, with the truth.
“Fine, Charles,” she stated the words absent of emotion. , “that’s a good idea. We’ll talk about this when I get to New York.”
The screen flashed electric blue as she shoved it back into her bag.
“You asked your mom?” she mocked. while trying to lecture him from half a continent away.
Words from her reading of the manuscript echoed in her thoughts.
The greater part of love is trust.
Alex’s hands shook as she ran them threw her hair.All she wanted was to collapse into an empty seat near the window. Frosty fingers of ice laced the glass, framing the White layers of frozen fury drifting in a blowing cloud across the barren airport grounds.
Thanks to the tortured weather, She had missed her connecting flight. The airline apologized before putting her on standby for an empty seat on the next one, but she was exhausted, abandoned, and cold.
Her light woolen coat wasn’t made for winter in the northwest. Shivers scraped across her shoulder blades as she curled into a vacant seat to wait. It was one o’clock in the morning in Chicago and when Charles had called in the midst of this newest set of obstacles, she’d been thrilled. He was calling her, worried about her traveling alone, especially in the middle of the night.
When she’d heard his voice the quickening of her pulse brought a smile to her face, erasing the exhaustion from the flight. Charles voice was like syrup though, thick and too sweet. The slurring of his words into half sentences, explained everything. He was drunk. He was always hopelessly in love with her when he had Jack Daniels and Jim Bean to feed his emotions. It was a pinch of irritation in the back of her mind, until he started crying and apologizing for not wanting to marry her. Maybe she hadn’t translated drunken-ese correctly? Did he say it was a mistake because his mommy disagreed with something he’d done while thinking for himself? Alex shook her curls out around her chilled shoulders, feeling the bite of the manuscript beneath her right arm.
The two and a half hour flight had sped past the tiny circular window beside her seat in the small plane. Absorption in the manuscript had taken her mind off the bucking and jolting of the aircraft traveling through a blizzard between Denver and Chicago. With that thought to cling to during the flight, She’d withdrawn the pages.
The beginning of the manuscript would take her into parts of her mother’s past she was unfamiliar with. It would take deeper concentration, keeping her thoughts within the plane’s interior. The first words did not disappoint. Instead they startled her drowsy senses and white knuckled grip.
“If this were a fairy tale…If I believed in fairy tales, I would have to start a few years ago when I fell in love with my prince charming...”
With her brow furrowed, Alex glanced at the year printed across the top of the page. Confusion flooded her thoughts. her dad had been twenty one when her parents had met, but her mom was four years older than he was. The date would have made him seventeen. Her red pencil, clamped between her teeth where she’d been holding it since take off, dropped onto her lap as the plane shuddered. The storm seemed intent on breaking her attempt to correct the typo. If she refused to focus on the boiling sky in the window beside her, she might keep her heart from exploding from sheer panic. The survival instinct kept her eyes on the full description of what she’d read a few moments earlier.
“I suck at daily journal entries. When I am super-happy I write about it and when I am miserable I write dark and depressing stuff. It’s the in between times when my life is quietly working that I forget to keep track of my memories.Today is my wedding day, so of course I’m writing. The story that made this day possible is a thousand heartbreaks earlier. A million tears in the past.
So today, I have collected these entries as a way to show what love is,and if I can remember all the details accurately it will tell a real love story, better than a fairy tale because its true.
That stated I will go back a year, or two and try to make this crazy ride I call life make sense.”
A wayward curl drifted over her sight until she tucked it behind her ear. The twin engine, aluminum can she was crammed into, shuddered in the wind.
Focus, her mind commanded, forcing her eyes off the erratic movements of the plane. The violence of the storm shook the pages between her fingers as she found the first of her mother’s numbered entries..
#1 March 1
“I thought I’d met my prince a few years ago. Like an idiot I didn’t think about it too much and I fell in love. I should have known something was wrong when it seemed too perfect. I don’t believe in boy meets girl fairy tales so I’m not sure how I got blindsided by this one, but I did.I could tell you that I never meant to fall in love with Mike, but the truth is…I wanted to. He was, on the surface, everything a fairy tale prince should be: Handsome, Charming, Sweet and funny.Best of all, Mike was my best friend. For me, the greater part of love is trust.
I chose to fall in love with him,because I trusted him: his tenderness, the time we shared, talked, laughed and then spent in each others arms. The stupid girl I was even trusted the passionate parts of our relationship were more than just empty actions. I’d had other guys offer physical enticements, but I wanted Mike’s kisses and middle of the night whisperings to mean that I was his world. I believed actions meant feelings.Ni eve, I know, but I couldn’t let myself believe it wasn’t the same for him. Mike and I were best friends. Best friends don’t get physical and have it mean nothing, right?
It just didn’t seem possible, that for two years I missed the truth. I can see it now. Times he would smile at me, but not say the words. When people would talk about how perfect we were together, and he would withdraw.
If I had been paying attention, the physical part of our ‘friendship’ would have been a red flag instead of the last straw. Too many bad cliches, I know, but that was us. One giant, rotten, tangled cliche. That mess became my life, , and when he left me, I did not know how to love without him.
No amount of tears on both our parts could unwind it. There weren’t enough therapists or friends, or tubs of mint chocolate chip ice cream to bring him or my heart back. After months of pain and struggle, I realized that waiting and wanting would leave me nothing but alone, so I gathered the remnants of my world, and I let go. My whole life was suddenly rearranged, no best friend, no boyfriend, nothing but emptiness where I thought I was loved.”What hurt the most was realizing, I hadn’t fallen in-love; I just collided like a doomed, pain filled, crashing comet into it.”
“..”Alex shook her head as tears scratched at the back of her eyes. Mom’s best friend? Why hasn’t she ever told me about this? Thoughts of her mother’s first love mangled into images of Jay. She couldn’t imagine him acting like this Mike. She didn’t allow herself to imagine being his girlfriend, either. She’d let the thought cross her mind once or twice,but what her mother was describing was exactly the reasons she wouldn’t fantasize about Jay. She would never let things go that far with him. She couldn’t risk what it might cost her.
Alex's teeth sunk into the pencil before she let it drop into her bag. This part of Tricia’s life existed long before her parents had found each other. This was a different woman than the mother she had known her whole life, this was a girl, raw and wounded displaying her bleeding heart. Focusing again on the words , Alex kept reading.
“I left behind more than my best friend and first love then, I moved, started school and work, in another city and began living with a group of girls that Mike and I both knew.. We expanded our painful togetherness to include chances to be apart. Yet, we never were.
What made it worse was watching him flourish into a fuller social life with my room mates and girlfriends. I refused to be a spectator and casualty.. He and I were uncomfortably apart and together as he dated, flirted, and focused on the people that were my world as well. I don’t know if I wasn’t trying hard enough to get away from him or if he was unconsciously tormenting me with his interest in my girlfriends. Either way I was crumbling beneath the pressure of my own broken heart, and the reality of how little he cared. My prayers were anguished as I begged for the desire to stop loving him. I still thought I could find true love, I just didn’t know how when I’d so thoroughly believed the charade Mike had sold me.
In the months that followed , the ragged edge of my wounded heart always reminded me that I still loved him. A part of me wanted him to wake-up and come running back. Another part knew he wouldn’t. I wasn’t even sure after a year or so that I wanted him as much as I wanted him to suffer.
The pettiness of that is embarrassing now, then, it was just plain wrong. I moved away again, only to end up on the periphery of his life once more.
This time though, I wanted him to move on as much as I wanted to be friends the way we had been. My pain had boiled down to just regret. I was sure I could live with the truth, and with him there to remind me of it.
Alex wiped the silent tears that had begun to slip down her cheeks as she remembered the story. Before the landing, the night and storm had evaporated along with her fears, leaving raw emotion in their wake. In Charles’ defense,” I was a little over sensitive when I got off the plane. she thought.”
Silently scolding her fly away temper, she pulled the bent pages from her bag and turned back to the first page, to start the story again. The frozen air drifting up the gang plank sent a shiver down her spine as her mother’s words became auditory in her mind.
# 9 April 4
We all went dancing again tonight Yeah, all of us. I swear my new roommate’s know three quarters of the single guys in the valley and they follow us around like we hold the secret key to the cookie jar. . I’m not sure why I keep tagging along with Laura and Melanie to these things except that I don’t want to sit home wondering if there is something else I should be doing. Laura is always trying to find anyone to add to the entourage. the crowds at the club keep her calendar full and her social life frantic. Mel on the other hand seems fairly particular. She has introduced me to some of the guys she knows. They seem a little more…mature. Tonight there was only one that made an impression though, maybe because it wasn’t the first time I have ever met him.
I don’t know how long he’d been sitting beside me when his voice firstcaught my attention.
“Hi, again.” He said with a crooked smile,”I think we met a couple of months back? I used to be your roomate’s boyfriend.”
I thought I remembered the smile but mostly it was his cobalt blue eyes and the sound of his voice that made me focus on him. He explained that we had met a few months earlier when my old roommate Ashley had introduced him to a group of us going dancing.
It sounded familiar because Mike had been particularly focused on Ashley that night, despite the fact she had a boyfriend. I must have been distracted by Mike’s presence as usual, because I barely remembered this guy.
I almost choked as our first meeting suddenly came to mind. That was the night she was going to break up with him, because she and Mike were messing around. From this guy’s description of how I knew him, she had done it.
Living with Ashley for over six months taught me to recognize the victims of her tease ‘em and leave ‘em games, so when his introduction had included the words ‘I used to be your roommate's boyfriend I’m sure I must have cringed openly at him.
He just offered a crooked grin and a shrug, as he laced his fingers behind his head to stare off into the crowd. I clumsily apologized for her behavior, feeling more guilty for knowing Mike’s part than really feeling sorry for Ashley.
No big deal,” he said.”We just had different idea’s about dating. I wasn’t totally sold on her and she wanted it to include all other guys.”
I shake my head even now, thinking of it, but he hadn’t seemed to upset. It was a good sign that he was there at the club. Ashley told me a few weeks ago that he was lost without her and spent all his time alone. This guy did not seem to me like anyone who was lost. talking to him for just those few moments tonight made more of an impression than any other conversation I’d tried to have in the midst of screaming music and clamoring crowds.
He seemed solid, confident, , quiet but polite. I didn’t see that much of him, I don’t know why I remember except that Ashley and Mike are a sore subject for me. Part of me believed Mike got from her what he was good at handing out, because she played with him before dumping him for another guy. The whole mess just felt…rotten. I didn’t know this guy, but I went from feeling sorry for him to being glad he’d dodged that bullet. It had only taken a few words.
Anyway…it doesn't matter Melanie and Laura came and grabbed him to dance, and before I could even ask his name he was gone.
Alex shook her head again, digging in the bag for her red pencil. This random guy was so arbitrary here. What was her mom thinking including him. The manuscript had black marker covering portions of the journal entries that her mother didn’t think were needed. Perhaps in her zest to discard more intimate parts of her life story Tricia had marked out the portion that would have connected this memory with her broken heart, but having no idea what parts she was Missing Alex once again felt the impatience of her trip flaring her criticism. She jotted a note in the margin to Tricia. Random Mom, she scribbled. Who is this? Is it Dad? is he with your roommates. Connect him or this experience more clearly to Mike. She pursed the pencil between her lips to read again, when her phone’s tone rang from her bag.
Alex scrambled for it, hoping Charles had called her back and decided to be a man. Her fingers fumbled impatiently racing against her quickened pulse to answer the call and hear his voice, when her eyes caught sight of Jay’s number flashing across the screen. Alex smiled as she answered without hesitating.
“”It’s waaay past your bedtime. What are you doing calling me so late.”
Lex, you OK?”
“Jay,” Alex chided playfully, “Its after one in the morning. Why aren’t you asleep?”
The hard edge of his voice softened noticeably and Alex heard him let out an unconscious sigh.
““”Well, Its only midnight here, and my best friend has been highjacked by a storm somewhere in the Midwest. I couldn’t go to bed, until I'd at least heard the ransom demand.”
Alex laughed letting the tenseness of her jaw muscles unclench with his teasing. She glanced around the cold room drawing in a deep breath.
“I’m in Chicago, right now.but the delays in Vegas made me miss my connecting flight and I may be spending the night in O’hare..”
“you could be back here in a couple of hours and if I meet you in vegas you could spend at least part of the night in your own bed.”
Alex heard the wistful tone of his voice and her heart ached to just follow his advice. She did not respond to the silence palpable through their wireless connection and Jay cleared his faltering voice again.
“so, assuming you can fly anywhere… what happens after you get out of Chicago?”
Alex opened her mouth to give him her practiced explanation, but retracted it before it could leap off her tongue.. What was her plan now? To go and convince Charles?, To break up with him? For a brief moment her mind screamed that she should just turn around and go back to McCarran. If she were going somewhere tonight maybe it should just be home. She could hear jay’s stumbling footsteps keeping pace with his breaths across the line, and she quickly silenced the arguments in her mind. He would meet her in Las Vegas, and it was the middle of the night. She couldn’t do that to him, she had to get a hold of herself and be reasonable.
“I don’t know, Jay.” She relinquished in a broken breath. “Charles is…reevaluating..uhh…us. I’ll have to get back to you on that.”
Jay’s breaths were heavy and even now, as if he was trying not to hyperventilate as Alex bit her lip waiting for his response.
“I don’t care what Chucky’s plans are,” Jay stated. “What do you want to do?”
she clenched her teeth expecting the pause to give him a chance to start ranting about this stupid plan and her idiot boyfriend. The line remained silent though until Jay spoke again. His voice, so quiet it came only as a whisper.
“Every relationship takes work Lex, no matter who you decide to be happy with, as long as your happy. Are you sure this is the one you want to work on?”
Alex gulped back her fraying nerves. “This is the one that needs me to work on it.
Lowering her escalating tone, she cleared her throat with a shuddered breath. “It’s like you said, I just have to choose to be happy.”
She was glad that he was a thousand miles from where she now sat. she would never have been able to convince him if he had looked into her eyes. If she was aware of the tension between them, Jay was probably ready to chew through his tongue.
“then I guess you’re going to New York.” Jay said, his voice gruff and tired. “and I’ll see you …uhh…when you get back.”
“until then,” she said leaning back against the frigid window. "Tell me about the game tonight?”
Jay groaned bringing a smile to Alex’s lips. “I didn’t get any draft offers from the NBA.”
“What about from your Dad and Grandpa?”
“How did you know I met with the Jorge’s tonight?”
Alex twirled a curl around her index finger. “Its Thursday, right?”
Jay’s low chuckle caressed her cheek again. “Yeah, well I didn’t get any further with my dad than usual. He did offer me a part time gig as a busboy at Mama’s restaurant.”
“Because the 12 hours a day you put in at the shop aren’t enough?”
The line remained quiet until Jay cleared his throat. “Speaking of that, I’ve got to get some sleep before work. Are you Okay? Have you got the pepper spray I gave you?”
“Yeah Dad,” Alex said. “I know you’re not this worried about my being attacked by strangers. What’s wrong?”
“Alex I just-“ The phone became silent again. “I just want you to be happy.”
Alex sniffled. “I will be, maybe not stuck in this airport, but eventually. Don’t worry so much.”
Before she’d hung up Jay had stopped talking. He gave her yawns and grunts, but she knew he’d said everything he was going to. The more they'd talked the more distant he'd become. Something was bothering him. She wished she were close enough to find out what. Her hand tightened around the phone as she fought with her desire to call him back and get him to talk about it. The blinking of her digital clock caged the temptation. It was the middle of the night. She'd take care of it tomorrow.