The flight got rocky over the red canyons of Utah, gutted holes in the earth a mile wide and just as deep, a place a girl could hide if suddenly she found herself falling untethered from the sky or, more plausibly, out of love with the man sitting next to her. To help soothe nerves, I ordered a Jack and Coke, Ollie an orange juice. But when the stewardess brought them to us, she mistakenly handed Ollie the alcohol and me the breakfast drink.
“Come on honey, don’t look at me like that,” said Ollie, hoisting the whiskey to his lips. “You know how you get when you drink. I’m just sparing you the embarrassment.”
The guy on the other side of me—as an act of consideration, I’d taken the middle seat—nudged me in the ribs.
“You don’t have to put up with that,” he whispered. “I mean, it’s 2010 for god’s sake.”
I smiled quietly, drank the juice. The plane dipped, the wings shuddered. Coke sloshed down the front of Ollie’s fake bowling league shirt.
“Aw, fuck,” he said, handing me his cup. “Hold that, will you?”
While he was in the bathroom I downed the rest of the drink, my seatmate cheering me on.
“I feel like I’m back in college at a keg party,” he said, applauding when I’d finished. “You want to make out, too, while he’s gone?”
As far as make-out sessions go, it wasn’t bad—a little bumpy. The guy hadn’t taken his chewing gum out of his mouth, and I ended up nearly choking on a wad of Bubblemint. I decided to keep it, chewing in secret when Ollie charged back to his seat, the front of his shirt soaked.
“Shit wouldn’t come out,” he said, settling back in his seat.
The “fasten your seat belt sign” flashed on. I unbuckled mine, then undid the top button of my pants. Drinking always makes me bloated, and I didn’t want my seatmate to see my stomach balloon over the skinny jeans I’d thought a good idea to squeeze into at six in the morning. I’d wanted to look sexy, my first time in California. Like one of those movie stars with the chunky sunglasses and manicured nails. My own nails were bitten to the quick, a leftover from the argument Ollie and I had had the night before when I put my bikini in the underwear compartment of the suitcase.
“You’re not wearing that,” he’d said, fishing it back out and flinging it into the corner chair. “Not at my brother’s house, no way. He’s got two boys, remember?”
How could I forget? When they’d come to stay in our one-bedroom apartment last year the oldest son Nathan, three at the time, had stormed into the bathroom unannounced while I was on the toilet.
“Poo-poo?” he’d said, pointing at my ass. “Aunt Lulu have poo-poo?”
“Okay, kid, first of all,” I’d said, snatching a clutch of toilet paper as I stood, my jeans slithering in a heap to the tiled floor, “there are so many things wrong with this, the invasion of my privacy notwithstanding. First of all, an ant is that annoying little creature you set fire to with a magnifying glass. I’m an aunt. And even then not really. You know why? Because after five years of living together, your uncle has not once asked me to marry him. Why don’t I ask him, you want to know? Good question, pipsqueak. To which I say: who wants to ask a man to marry her when that man hasn’t once brought up the subject of marriage in over—”
Eyes wide, back against the door, Nathan turned and bolted down the hall screaming, “Mama! Ant Lulu go poo-poo!”
Through the plane window the hills of Los Angeles rose to greet us, brown and dusty and so unremarkable I thought I might cry. Along with everyone else, Ollie and I trudged the mile to baggage claim. By the time we got to the conveyer belt I’d relaxed enough to blow a fat pink bubble.
“Hey, where’d you get the gum?” asked Ollie.
“What, this?” I said, feeling my cheeks flush. “I—uh, I found it in the bathroom.”
“In a wrapper? Or already chewed?”
“Now, seriously, Oliver. What do you think?” By now our conversation had gotten heated. Everyone, including Mr. Bubblemint himself, turned to watch. I groaned, inwardly—more than sex standing up, Ollie loved a captive audience.
“It was on the toilet seat, wasn’t it?” he asked, grinning. “Under the lid?”
“You’re disgusting!” I stalked off, surprised when Mr. Bubblemint followed me to the other side of the conveyer belt.
“Remember,” he said, bending to my ear. “2010. An entirely new millennium, didn’t you hear?”
I looked across the way, at Ollie helping a little girl struggling to loop her arms through her backpack straps while her mom stood off a few feet, talking with another woman. I wondered what he’d say when he learned I’d brought my bikini along after all. I planned on pulling it out a few days into the trip, when he was relaxed and happy and nothing could go wrong because we’d successfully put three thousand miles between old habits and new hopes.
“Yeah,” I said, doubtfully, as Ollie made a fish face for the little girl, who giggled uncontrollably. “I know.”
Outside, a white sun seared heat onto my eyeballs. I put my chunky new sunglasses on, dumped the gum in the trash, looped my arm through Ollie’s. For now, we were happy in California.
What more could we ask for?
Janet Freeman lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she serves as the founding editor of Rough Copy. Her award-winning stories have appeared or are forthcoming in numerous print and online journals, including Cottonwood, Main Street Rag, Breakwater Review, Prick of the Spindle, PANK and elsewhere. She can be found online at: janetfreeman.com.