I was tired. After getting up at 4 am, I’d been traveling for the better part of the day coming from Newfoundland, and now the plane was making a descent for a connection in Vancouver. All I wanted was to go home. The last thing in the world I wanted to do was to land in yet another airport to board yet another airplane. I made a mental note to sacrifice some cash for a direct flight next time.
Once we arrived at the gate and were able to deplane, I made a beeline for my connecting gate. With only 15 minutes until departure time, I knew that the other plane must have been waiting for us, and even though the gates were both in Air Canada’s terminal, they weren’t close to each other. My exhaustion was overrun by the adrenaline-fueled need to make my plane, and I hustled past the shops, boarding pass in one hand, passport in the other. There were others making the same hasty connection, and we chuckled and exchanged understanding glances as we checked in and walked through the collapsing corridor leading to the plane door. I pulled the strap of my carry-on over my head, carrying it in front of me to avoid hitting the passengers already seated. As I looked at the overhead compartments for the little aisle picture with number 22E, my eyes passed over a few scattered empty window seats and I silently prayed I’d be seated next to one. If I couldn’t get home quickly, at least I wanted my last 2 hours to be quiet and comfortable.
I saw him as I approached my aisle and I knew he’d be next to me. I sighed internally and checked. And double checked. Yes, he was definitely 22F, but I smiled and asked him what his number was, as much out of politeness as to make some sort of small talk. If you’re going to be in a stranger’s personal space for any length of time, I find that it sometimes helps to break the ice early. He looked young, with eyeglasses and what looked to be curly dark hair pulled back into a ponytail. Plaid flannel shirt, jeans, I figured he was a college student. In fact, he was making notes of some sort, and I wondered if he was returning from or going to a family holiday vacation. He looked like a nice enough guy, whatever his story.
“22F?” I asked, as I put my bag in the top bin.
He smiled and reached over to remove his bottle of water off my seat. “Yep, that’s me. Looks like we’re neighbors.”
“Looks like,” I replied blandly.
I got myself situated and buckled in, then leaned my head back and just stared ahead. In addition to being worn out, I was now wired from trying to make the plane. I was also getting hungry, but decided that another two and a half hours until dinner wasn’t so bad. I was just so desperate to start the runway taxi, I didn’t really care when I ate, as long as I could see Mt. Rainier rising up to welcome me back to Washington. Soon.
“Man, you looked wiped. Long trip?”
I looked at him without turning my head and smiled, in spite of the fact that I felt like doing nothing of the sort. “Yeah,” I answered. “I’m coming in from Newfoundland. I’m dying to go home.”
My seat partner laughed. “I am so with you there! I’m dying to go home and I’m only coming from Calgary! Of course, I was in a house with 8 other people for two and a half weeks,” he shrugged, “maybe that’s why.”
I groaned sympathetically and actually turned my head towards him. “Wow! You must have quite a family.”
“Actually, I was hanging with some friends. We were having a ‘multi-culti’ winter celebration,” he smiled. “We started with the Solstice, and ended with Kwanzaa. It was pretty amazing, but I’m really ready to sleep in my own bed, you know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” I said. My mind was stuck on his words about that celebration, though. It sounded interesting, but I wondered how it all came about. “You guys weren’t pushed to start World War Three with all those religions in there?” I asked, genuinely curious.
“You know, a lot of people ask that,” he said as he sort of turned his whole body toward me, clearly ready to explain. “It’s not like that at all. See, my friends and I are of the same viewpoint that all of those holidays – and we included five of them, have much more to do with community than religion. Whatever they started as, in our minds, they have become about togetherness and love, with whatever higher power you subscribe to thrown in for your own spirituality. All of us were raised in different religions, but whether we were Bar Mitzvahed, confirmed or baptized, we’ve all sort of developed a…” his hands made a rolling motion as he searched for his words, “melting pot of religious beliefs as we’ve become adults. My generation was brought up in an era and a culture where religion can be and is questioned, and most of us have done enough traveling and/or studying to know that there are so many doctrines in the world that we can choose what we believe! We can take what we need and make it our own private religion. Because, when you get right down to it, all religions speak of the same things, they just get pissed off at each other for saying it differently.”
I stared at him, intrigued by his convictions and somewhat taken aback by his passion. Before I was able to stop myself, I’d asked, “And, when were you born?”
He smiled in a way that can only be described as rakish, “’69.”
“Ah, of course you were,” I laughed and nodded.
He laughed good-naturedly and raised his tray table as we headed toward the runway. We were quiet during the taxi and ascent, then once we’d been airborne for a while, I decided that I wanted to know more about him. He really was a nice guy and seemed interesting, like the kind of guy a person could have a conversation with for hours and never get bored.
“So, you spent the holidays with friends. Where are you going now, back to school, or…?”
He took off his glasses and before he even answered, I was struck by his eyes. I usually don’t notice things like that. I mean, I notice the color of a person’s eyes sometimes, but normally, I just look to see that they’re looking at me, or whether or not they seem trustworthy. This man’s eyes were a really nice shade of blue. Big and pretty, like a girl’s almost, although there was nothing feminine about him. I imagined that he probably had lots of girls after him. Guys, too, more than likely.
“No. Well, yeah, sort of. I’m a teaching fellow in Anthropology at Rainier U. I’m also a consultant to the Cascade Police Department, studying closed societies. My Roommate, who went to Tucson for Christmas, is one of the detectives.”
“Really? Tucson, huh? Not much of a white Christmas there, I guess.”
“No way! It was sixty-five on Christmas day when I talked to him.”
I looked at him and smiled as bells started ringing in my head. I wondered if he’d realized that he’d capitalized the word ‘roommate’. There was just the slightest hint of something there. Curious, I continued.
“Wow, sixty-five, huh? How long was he there? And was he having his own ‘melting pot’ thing?”
He laughed and I could’ve sworn I caught a hint of a blush. “No, he was visiting some family friends for a little annual get-together. They only celebrate Christmas down there. Not a menorah in sight!”
I nodded in understanding and laughed.
“He was only gone for a few days, though,” he continued with that tiny smile dancing around his mouth, “so he’ll be back before me. In fact,” he said looking at his watch, “he should be leaving for the airport soon to pick me up.”
There was no mistaking the excitement in his voice. He didn’t try to hide it, and clearly felt no need to. I smiled a bit ruefully at the idea of going home in a cab.
“So, you guys are close, then?”
He glanced up at me and smiled, communicating paragraphs with a single look. I knew immediately that I was dead on. He was in love.
“He’s my best friend. Man, I can’t even tell you the shit we’ve been through together! The mere fact that I live with him came about because my apartment got blown up by people running a drug lab next door! He let me stay for a couple of weeks, and I sort of set up house! Luckily, he doesn’t seem to mind. I think I’m easier to keep around than a pet, so he puts up with me.” He gave a self-effacing laugh and continued, “We’re really tight. I know he’s always got my back, and I always have his, you know? In general, but especially on the job.”
“You mean the detective work?”
“Yeah. He’s smart and intuitive. He’s a great detective. I’m proud to work with him. I’m proud to work with all those guys, actually.”
His face looked a little dreamy and I smiled and looked away. I felt like I was invading on his privacy, although he’d said nothing all that personal. It was just the way he looked while he talked about this man that made me feel intrusive. As if on cue, the pilot announced that we’d be landing soon, and I took that as my opportunity to allow him time to himself.
“God, didn’t we just get up here and they’re already talking about landing?” he asked as he closed his notebook and put it in his carry-on under the seat.
“That’s the nice thing about these trips,” I answered, bringing my seat up, “quick, and relatively painless. Usually, anyway.”
We said our goodbyes and deplaned. I only had my carry-on, while he had to go to baggage claim, so while we went in the same direction, I didn’t have to go to the carousel. I did, however, have to go to the restroom. When I came out, I saw him picking up his suitcase and handing it to a taller man in a baseball cap. The detective, I surmised. They were smiling and interacting comfortably, clearly in synch with and glad to see each other. They were cute together in a Mutt and Jeff sort of way, and I had to smile. I walked close enough to hear the man say, “What do you have in here, Chief, a body?”
To which my seat partner replied, “Just wait ‘til we get home, Jim, you won’t believe what I have to show you!”
As I went out and hailed my cab, I thought truer words were never spoken.
Jim held my hand almost all the way through dinner. He’d given it a squeeze shortly after we sat down, giving me a heartfelt, “I’m glad you’re back, Chief,” and a look that nearly stopped my heart. For the rest of the time, he found reasons to touch me, tapping the back of my hand, for instance, or just simply resting his palm on top of mine, fingers loosely curled around each other. Sometimes accompanied by a conversational point, other times, just touching, connecting. At that moment, I vowed to never spend the holidays without him again.
By the time we’d gotten home, I’d told him all about Calgary, from the 5-foot snow drifts, to the burnt latkes and the various mistletoe “incidents”. I went directly to my room and put down my bags, having taken the small suitcase from Jim, which was slightly heavier than I remembered.
“Home, sweet home!” I sighed gratefully, coming back out into the living room to put my coat on the rack. “Ah, man, I can’t wait to get into my own bed, use my own bathroom and speak nothing but English for at least the next month!” Jim was hovering near the couch and I walked over to him. “So, tell me about Tucson.”
“I love you, Blair,” he said suddenly.
I blinked. Then I smiled and stepped a little closer to him. “Yeah. I know you do.”
I put my hand on his chest and leaned into him, brushing his mouth with my own. His dry, soft lips opened against mine and slid across them, catching my top one and pulling slightly. That alone was enough for a nice, slow start. He took my lips between his and I did the same to him, over and over, until finally I opened once more and closed around his tongue. I opened my eyes and looked at him, beautiful in extreme close-up, and kissed him with my hand on his face. I felt his hand on my head as I held his, and I closed my eyes again, and let it all go. I ran both hands slowly down his arms and back up to his face, tilting my head up just enough to break the connection of our lips.
“I love you,” I whispered against his skin, my lips grazing the stubble of his upper lip. “I love you,” I said again with a kiss to the corner of his mouth. And with a fierceness I didn’t know I felt, I said it again, holding him tightly as he kissed my neck.
His lips traveled slowly up to my ear, and he wrapped me in a sweet, solid embrace as he whispered, “Yeah. I know you do.”