She looked out the plane window and sighed, letting her book fall to her lap. One hour in, four more to go… She should be used to this by now—the flight from L.A. to New York. At least twice a year she’s at this window, a book in her lap. This time, it was House of Mirth by Edith Wharton, the root of her attention-seeking sigh, and perhaps the wrong choice for this journey.
Answering the call of attention, her seatmate tilted his head toward her. “What are you reading?”
When he first sat down beside her, she had offered him half a smile, then reached in her bag for her book, declaring her disinterest. It was a long flight, and what she wanted was peace. Unequivocal alone time where her life on the ground was irrelevant and all that mattered was the dream world inside her head.
His hair was dark, well-styled but too long, his hands clasped together in a manner that suggested patience. The collar of his flannel was slightly askew. Its black and blue coloring matched his eyes in a way that was inexplicably comforting, the crinkles around them revealing his age to be somewhere in the 30s. No ring on his left hand.
“Is there a specific answer you’re looking for?” She asked, feeling bold.
“What do you mean?”
“Is there a particular book you hope I’m reading, maybe one you’ve read so we can discuss it?”
His smile spreads slowly, reflecting light. “Okay, don’t tell me the title. Tell me what’s going to happen.”
His eyes followed the movement of her legs crossing toward him. “I’ll give it to you straight, things are not looking good for our heroine.”
He nodded. “What plagues her?”
“Her quest to belong to society. To have the most. To have everything, and still be free.”
“Mmm. She wants to have it all.”
“She wants to break the wheel. But of course, she can’t. Right now the chips are down. I only have fifty pages left and I’m hoping this guy who was in her inner circle will reappear.”
He arches an eyebrow. “A guy, huh?”
“It’s not that I want him to ‘save her.’ She just needs help, and they’ve been so attracted to each other the whole time. They have great banter, but they keep missing each other emotionally, and they’re bowing to societal expectations of what their relationship should be. So my hope is that he shows up for her, and they figure it out together.”
There’s a pause before he speaks, leaning on the arm rest, his chin perched in his hand. “But you’re not reading Jane Austen.”
“I am not reading Jane Austen.”
“So what’s going to happen?”
“Heartbreak, trending deeply toward devastation.”
“But you’ll recover?”
“God, I hope so.”
He nodded and looked down at his hands. She returned to her book, only every other word sinking in, while out of the corner of her eye, she watched him. His hands were still clasped. He made no move to pull out a book of his own, nor turn on the seatback TV.
“Are you planning to go to sleep?”
“You’re making me nervous.”
“You’re sitting there. Doing nothing.”
“What’s it to you?”
“My doing nothing is distracting?”
“Please, tell me what I can do to make you more comfortable.”
She closed her book. Ready to play. “Honestly, I don’t know what I was thinking, bringing a book like this on a plane.”
“I wasn’t going to say anything, but I was surprised by your choice.”
“But impressed, right?”
“Is whether I’m impressed important to you?”
She shrugged to hide her smile. How was he this charming? A curtain fell down around them, a spell, as their eyes locked.
“Listen, Rebecca, I–”
She held up her hand to stop him from going any further, to prolong the game of pretend. In the air, she could pretend they were strangers, ponging witty banter back and forth, an unknown future in front of them.
She could pretend to be chill, relaxed, unphased, and not completely devastated.
Pretend that he wasn’t getting married to someone else. That maybe time travel was possible and she could go back to before—to when they were kids, and he brought her water for the moat around her sandcastle. To when they were in high school, and he stayed home from school with her when she was sick to watch Ferris Bueller and eat chicken noodle soup. To that graduation party where he told her she was it. To rewrite her answer as yes instead of no.
He was alone. Lunch turned to drinks turned to a moonlit walk on the beach, catching up, falling for him, spending weeks together before he told her the truth. He put a ring on someone else’s finger. He didn’t know what to do.
Jeremy took the book from her lap and tucked it into the seatback pocket. Then he reached for her hand, clasping it in his lap. Her thumb was drawn to his ringless left finger, her last shred of hope dying out as the wedding date drew closer. Still on the calendar.