01 September 2012


All flights are grounded due to the storm

Regardless of when the flights took off, it was going to be bedlam, a fact that did nothing to improve Trish’s state of mind. Her two-day business trip, the one she had to take because Sanders couldn’t, would now be a three-day one. She would fall yet another day behind in reports, paperwork, mail and the other minutia that kept her wheels spinning without ever getting her ahead. Goddamned Sanders; if that wife of his tightened his leash any further he wouldn’t be able to leave home.

Her boss knew his cards and played his hand thoughtfully.

Hey, you want to be treated equal – you would be the number two for this trip. But if your kids take precedence…of course they take precedence, you prick. This should not be unique to my sex.

But, as he dangled her promotion in front of her, she made her arrangements and booked her tickets. And now, here she was, wherever here was. She and the rest of the population that flew this airline; the entire hub was grounded. Son of a bitch.

After a few calls, ensuring that her ex was able to keep the kids, her assistant could rearrange her appointments and all crap coming through for her should be directed to Sanders, she sought shelter. There were economy places along the airport perimeter but she and her corporate cards checked in here. Four stars and a fancy clientele – take that, Sanders.

The room was beautiful: plush robe, oversized tub, all the amenities. Trish set up her laptop, turned it on and watched the screen come to life. As soon as it was loaded, she turned it off. Forget it, I’m off duty. Her sour mood gave her confidence.

She perused the room service menu, but what she really wanted was a drink. The bar was as highly rated as the hotel – why not? She made a quick call to the boyfriend – the reliable, predictable boyfriend – telling him she was fine. He said everything she knew he would, he missed her terribly, even though it had only been 48 hours. Of course he understood. Don’t rush getting back. Just take care of you. Who says that? Nice, reliable, predictable boyfriends – that’s who. The boyfriend was a carbon copy of her ex; you would think she would have gone in another direction. But kids need reliable; predictable helped, too.

What did she need? A drink at a grown-up bar, that’s what.

Finding a bar seat between two businessmen, she parked herself on her stool, ordered a scotch – old and single – and started a tab. Expense report be damned, she was reclaiming something tonight; what that was, she’d determine later.

Most of the heads in the bar turned when he walked in, hers included. She had seen his last film, thought him quite good. Ironically, he had played an airline pilot. What was his name? She hadn’t fully appreciated the pilot’s appeal before, but in person it was a different story…his confident gait, wolfish expression, his lingering, engaging stare. She looked away when his gaze fell on her, an immature reaction. What flight had he been on? He seemed unconcerned at being stranded.

Trish ordered another scotch.

A pair of fans – groupies? – made their way from a back table before his first drink was served, enthusiastically vying for his attention. Trish thought she remembered her friend mentioning a rumor, that the pilot had been one corner of a triangle. Seeing him made it seem a lot more likely.

She checked her phone. There was nothing new, she knew there wouldn’t be. Her family was getting farther away with each sip of scotch. A mirror lined the wall in front of her, allowing her to see everything happening at the bar. She surreptitiously watched the groupies’ progress; he’d probably have both of them tonight. Trish imagined the pilot didn’t mind the layover, and then smiled ruefully at her own choice of words.

She must have at least a decade on him.

Trish watched the mirror as he ran his fingers through his hair and wondered if random acts like that were practiced. His eyes met hers in the mirror. He lifted his glass in a small toast as his lips pulled back into a smile that hit her in the knees. She looked away, again. Jesus, what was she, 13? When she mustered the courage to glance back at the mirror, it was Groupie Two’s glare that met her this time. Trish reddened and looked back at her drink. The groupies chirped out laughter from their corner of the bar.

The bartender pointed to her glass as the pilot’s laugh flowed along the bar’s surface. She nodded; the corporate card had no limits and she had yet to start enjoying herself.

The businessman to her left had abandoned his stool for a phone call. The one to her right had tried to remove his wedding ring covertly while looking at her legs. He engaged her in banal banter; she feigned interest. A conversation, even one as insipid as this, gave her an excuse to stay. Her phone buzzed with a text from her kids. Good night, my loves. See you soon, she replied. A loud quintet entered the bar. Their boisterous celebrating caused some of the more practiced drunks to surrender their bar seats. Trish contemplated following suit; they were awfully loud. But the pilot and his groupies generously moved down the bar to make way for the newcomers.

He was so close. Sitting with his back to the bar and his long legs extended in front of him, the groupies giggled and used any excuse possible to place a hand on him. The married-but-hiding-it businessman to her right nudged her in the arm and laughed. She missed the joke but laughed anyway. He ordered them more drinks; she put hers on her tab. Her phone buzzed again. Her eyes glanced down and she typed her return text. Yes, you can have ice cream. She looked up to find the pilot facing her; only Groupie Two between them.

Her married businessman asked her a question. She could barely pretend to care what he was saying. He produced a room key and waved it at her. Trish stared at it with shock. The pilot’s soft laugh reached her; she felt a fool. She shook her head, staring directly in front of her. Her married businessman muttered some weak insult and left her to pay for his drink.

Trish took a deep breath, keeping her eyes on the bar. She’d allowed the alcohol to convince her of impossible thoughts and now she must slink away, leaving her ego at the bottom of her glass. She pushed it away from her. Two long fingers stopped the glass mid-push while two more indicated to the bartender to bring another round. The pilot’s heat bled through her blouse where he stood. Not just yet, he said (whispered?), and slid into the married businessman’s vacated spot. She started to speak but he smiled and she lost the ability. They touched their glasses and both took long pulls on their drinks.

She seemed unable to make conversation and he didn’t seem to require it. The groupies reappeared without Trish realizing they had gone. They tried to edge her out. One leaned across the pilot to order a drink, something Trish would have done in college. Groupie One whispered something in his ear. He shook his head, his eyes never leaving Trish.

The groupies evaporated.

The pilot’s leg rested up against hers; a silent tremble ran up her thigh. What was his name? Her phone buzzed; the boyfriend checked in; guilt pulled her from her trance. How was she getting on? Did she want him to tuck her in? Smiley face.

I’m fine. All’s well. Thanks.

The bartender came round for another order. Trish stared at her phone. The boyfriend didn’t deserve this – he was a good man. She hated him for being decent. She turned to the pilot. The bartender asked again. No, we’re finished. She stood as her tab was presented. The ticket conveniently listed the information in duplicate, one for the bar to keep and one for her expense report. This would be a hard one to put through. Trish separated the two and wrote what was necessary. The pilot’s stare stayed on her as she turned to face him. They smiled and nodded at each other. Trish shouldered her purse and walked away slowly, hoping he was watching.

In her room she pulled the soft robe around her and regarded her view of the city. Being good was easy when all you’ve ever done is play it safe. Her phone buzzed from the table. She took her time retrieving it. Good night, the boyfriend wrote. Good night, darling, she replied, and slipped the phone into her suitcase, where it could not be heard. She pulled the pins out of her hair and let it fall to her shoulders.

Downstairs at the bar, the groupies were flitting around the pilot once again. He thanked them for their compliments and bid them good night.

In the elevator he removed the bar receipt she had left for him, and punched the button for her floor.

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