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Whiskey Dick by Ryan Ringbloom (1)

 

 

 

Just Plane Wrong

 

 

“Sir, are you listening to me? I said your belt can stay on.”

“Oh, sorry… I… okay.” I grab my buckle, struggling to find the correct hole notched into the worn leather. Why are belts allowed and shoes aren’t? Nothing makes sense here.

“Stay with your belongings. If your belongings move, you move.” The uniformed woman bellowing at me is no delicate flower, and I break into a sweat. TSAs are not exactly known for their warm personalities.

I fumble as I rush. My carry-on bag is in a bin that hasn’t moved; my shoes, phone, wallet, and a small prescription tube have already disappeared down the conveyor belt; and I still have a pocket full of change to toss in because the coffee I grabbed earlier cost $3.04.

“Arms up, walk through,” a new agent instructs. And of course I set off the detector and need to step to the side.

Bins of personal belongings gather and herds of people swarm around to gather their stuff. I can’t even see my stuff. What’s gonna stop someone from taking my things if I’m not over there?

From check-in to baggage claim, every part of flying sucks.

Bzzzz. The agent swirls a metal detector over my hips.

“Please empty your pockets.”

My pockets are empty; it’s probably the stupid belt I was told to leave on, but I dig in anyway and retrieve an errant dime. “Sorry ’bout that,” I say. The man grumbles, his nod granting me the right to pass, and I hurry over to collect my belongings that are thankfully waiting safely. At least I didn’t have to check any luggage. Out of the million things stressing me out, it’s one less thing to worry about, not that it helps all that much. Now that I’m officially in the airport and one step closer to flying, my nerves are shot to hell. I pat my pockets, making sure I grabbed the pills from the bin in my haste. Phew.

My stomach grumbles as flame-broiled goodness fills my nose. There’s a Burger King on my way to terminal B and although I usually try to avoid fast food, all bets are off at the airport.

But, before doing anything, I need to go to the gate, scope it out for any unattended bags that may need reporting, and inspect the plane through the large glass window for any concerning issues—not that it will make one ounce of difference unless the entire left wing happens to be missing. Nonetheless, I must look.

I press my head to the glass at gate twenty-four and stare out at the empty tarmac. Where the hell is the plane? I back up a few feet to check that I’m at the right gate. A petite brunette behind the podium clicks away on a computer, and on the digital screen above her, my flight isn’t listed. She’s dressed in the standard blue uniform with the airline’s logo and a gold name badge that says Alma.

“Going to Newark?” she asks.

“Mmmhmm,” I say with some hesitation, afraid of what she’ll say next.

“There was a mechanical issue and the incoming flight was delayed,” she volunteers with a smile. A smile? How can she say the words mechanical issue and smile at the same time?

“Oh, are they sending a different plane?” Or better yet, “Are they cancelling the flight?” I ask eagerly.

“No, the plane is fine.” Alma leans over and lowers her voice. “You don’t need to worry, it’s just the paperwork that usually tends to be the holdup.” She flirtatiously bites her lip, looking me over. I have that effect on women. I’ve been told it’s my eyes. But if this woman could see past my good looks and into my head right now, she’d see a coward with an intense fear of flying silently wishing his mom was here. “The new departure time for Flight 327 to Newark is 9:24 p.m.,” she informs me.

I glance down at my phone. 5:07 p.m. Fan-fucking-tastic. That means four hours and thirteen minutes more to stress.

I never should have agreed to fly home. Especially alone.

Coming down had been simple; me and four of my friends had piled into a car and driven to Florida for our friend Howie’s bachelor party. Unfortunately for me, going home is a different story. My work schedule isn’t as lenient as the other guys’ and I need to be back earlier than the rest of them. In less than two months I have to make this trip all over again for the wedding and I need to ration my time off carefully. However, if I factor in the possibility of dying in a fiery plane crash, then a few extra days off doesn’t seem all that bad. Seriously, mechanical issues. How can I get on a plane that is having mechanical issues?

Breathe.

I dig my hand into my pocket and pull out the prescription bottle my sister gave me. Without a second thought, I dump one of the small white pills into my palm. No water. Doesn’t matter. I chew away, my nerves so rattled I don’t even mind the bitter powdery mess on my tongue. I grab my phone and type, making my way over to BK for a Whopper.

 

Me: How long does it take for one of those pills you gave me to kick in? Plane is delayed. “Mechanical issues.”

Remi: Mechanical issues? WTF does that mean?

Me: It means tell Mom and Dad I love them.

Remi: How long are you stuck there?

Me: 9:24 pm. I’m freaking, you know I hate this shit. So what about the pill?

Remi: Yeah take one.

 

That doesn’t really answer my question.

 

Me: I don’t think I’m gonna make it.

Remi: Maybe a beer might take the edge off? Find a bar, have a drink and relax. People at airport bars love to talk. It’ll make the time go faster.

 

I lower my phone and survey the area. There’s a bar across from the Burger King. I’ll pass on the Whopper for now and have a drink instead. This pill isn’t doing shit.

 

Me: Good idea. Wish me luck.

 

Shoving the phone into my carry-on, I trudge over to City Point Bar & Grill and scope out the scene. It’s filled mostly with businessmen in suits, none of whom look too anxious to spend their time conversing with a timid flyer. I take a seat at the corner of the long wooden bar and drop my bag by my feet.

“What’ll ya have?” The bartender places a coaster in front of me.

“Bud please.”

He takes off with a nod and two seconds later my coaster has a beer. The man sitting two stools away from me pays out his tab, and once he leaves, three men come in midconversation and fill the seats next to mine.

“I shit you not, the thing was dangling from the wing the entire flight.” One of the men chuckles. “My wife’s refused to fly ever since. We had to take the Auto Train to Florida last month when we took the kids to Disney. Triple the price, quadruple the time. Hope they enjoyed it ‘cause I’m never doing that again.”

“My wife is the same way,” man number two chimes in, even though I wish he wouldn’t. “There was a hairline crack in her window and she white-knuckled it all the way home from an anniversary trip we took to Sonoma. Five and a half hours of her insisting we were going to be sucked from the plane.”

Sucked from the plane? There’s a new image for me. I gulp my first sip of beer. My fist is wrapped tightly around the bottle and my knuckles are white. And I’m not even on the goddamn plane yet.

I scan the bar, wondering if I should get up and change seats. A blonde across the bar catches my eye. She smiles and gives a coy wave. Her gesture is one that I’m used to, though usually just ignore. Typically I prefer to be the one who does the approaching.

“It was a goose in the propeller. The turbulence was insane. People were being tossed around the plane. They had to do an emergency landing in Texas.” Man three’s story is way too fucking much. That’s it. I scrape the legs of my stool back. With my beer in one hand and my bag in the other, I decide to take my chances with the flirty woman across the bar. It can’t be any worse than this.

A round face with a small dusting of freckles smiles at me as I draw near, puffing up her full cheeks even more. Her blonde hair is scooped away from her long neck and brown eyes peer through dark-rimmed glasses. Pretty girl. Very pretty. This might not be so bad. Passing time with her until departure could definitely make things easier.

“Hey. Mind if I sit?” I say, taking the seat next to hers and placing my bottle of Bud down on the bar.

“Good. So you do recognize me?” she says, and I freeze.

What? No. I don’t recognize her, not even a little. I stare at her. I stare hard. I am practically boring two holes into her pretty blonde head.

I have no clue who this girl is. I rack my brain and think. I’m not one to ever forget a face.

And then it hits me.

 

 

 

Heavy eyelids hooding the brightest blue eyes I’ve ever seen catch a nervous tick as he tries to place me.

“We went to high school together. I sat behind you in Chem,” I make up as I go.

I hate flying. My nerves are shot. My stomach is a wreck. And I just popped my second Pepto. When I saw this guy sitting by himself across the bar looking just as anxious as me, I couldn’t resist. I need something to keep my mind off the fact that my flight back to Jersey was just delayed.

The nervous stranger looks me up and down and blows out a long stream of air. “Is this your way of hitting on me? Because I don’t know you and I never took Chem.”

Shit. That backfired quick. In college I used to be able to pull off antics like this all the time. Guess those days are over. Note to self: College—cute. Age thirty-two—pathetic.

“No, I’m not hitting on you.” Quick, plan B. I need a plan B. What’s plan B? “Aren’t you, um, Cliff…” I bite down on my lip, glancing around the room. “Barstool?” His eyes narrow and my skin heats up. I close my eyes and turn my head. Cliff Barstool? Am I fucking serious? If dying of embarrassment is possible, I’m a goner. “I’m sorry, I’m not hitting on you.” I’m humiliated and have no choice but to tell him the truth. “I’m just a horrible flyer. The worst. My flight was delayed and I was looking to pass the time. It was stupid. Again, I’m really sorry. Can I buy you a drink to make up for it?” As soon as I say the words, I realize it sounds like now I really am hitting on him. “You can take it and sit somewhere else,” I add quickly. That came out rude. “Not that you have to sit somewhere else, I just figure you’ll want to.” I will never ever fly again. Obviously the pressure is too much for me, causing me to say and do one ridiculous thing after another.

He doesn’t move and his brows knit together. Perhaps he’s wondering if he should call airport security on me. Maybe he should. I can be put on a no-fly list. That would actually be great, then I won’t have to make up an excuse next time work wants me to fly out for a conference.

“Uh, so... that was a little crazy,” he finally says. “But hey, I’m not at my best when it comes to flying either and my flight was also delayed. Maybe a little crazy to pass the time is just what I need.” He laughs and I have no choice but to laugh too. I was an idiot pretending that I knew him, and that Cliff Barstool thing was just ridiculous. I don’t blame him for thinking I’m a little crazy.

“I really am sorry.” I apologize one more time and extend my hand. “I’m Paisley, by the way. Paisley Robins.”

“Nice to meet you, Paisley, I’m Jaxon Kay.” He gives me a firm handshake. “But most people call me Jax.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Jax.” My cheeks are still on fire. “I swear I’m only crazy when it comes to flying. The rest of the time, I’m normal.” Am I normal? Yeah, I guess for the most part I am. Normal, and if anything… boring. My life these days consists mostly of work, TV, and sleep. “So, your flight is delayed too? What time are you stuck waiting around until?”

“9:24 p.m.” He answers quick and exact. “Heading back to Newark. What about you?”

“Uh-oh, Flight 327?” My lips curve downward in eek formation. He nods. “I hate to tell you this, but the new flight time is 10:43 p.m. They sent an updated status five minutes ago.” I show him the text on my phone as proof.

“Fuck me,” he grumbles, and the beer in his hand gets chugged.

“Sorry,” I say.

“I take it that means you’re heading to Jersey too?”

“Mm-hmm.”

“What the hell kind of mechanical issues is this plane having?” he says, mostly to himself, after tipping the bottle back to guzzle the last sip.

“Mechanical issues?” My voice hits a high pitch. “What are you talking about?”

“The woman at the podium said the plane was having mechanical issues. That’s what’s causing the delay.” He cranes his neck and summons the bartender over with a nod. “Another please,” he says, swishing a finger over both our bottles.

“No, I’ll have whiskey instead.” I don’t know what possesses me to say whiskey, but the words mechanical issues probably have something to do with it.

“Sure thing. How’d you like that, miss?” The bartender talks fast with a thick accent.

“Um….” I thought just saying whiskey was enough. I’m not much of a whiskey drinker. “On the rocks?” My answer is a question.

The bartender grins and makes a suggestion but between his accent and speaking so fast the only word I make out is… coconut?

“Sure, I love coconut,” I say, and Jax laughs.

“He said Jack and Coke. It’s whiskey mixed with soda.”

I’m batting a thousand. I know what Jack and Coke is. Am I that shaken by the flight and now this new information that I’m turning into a complete moron? Apparently yes. I really hope I can pull off this continuous red face as being kissed by the Miami sun.

“That’s fine, I’ll have that.”

“Make it two,” Jax says. “Flight delays and mechanical issues calls for something a bit stronger.”

The next few minutes pass without either of us saying anything. Both of our legs rock nervously against the bar as we watch the bartender flip over two glasses and mix our drinks. Passing the time with someone who hates flying as much as I do might be a mistake. My stomach is going insane. Instead of small butterflies fluttering around in my belly, I just have one jacked-up butterfly doing burpees and grunting the words mechanical issues over and over.

Flying to Miami wasn’t all that bad. Sure, the flight had it’s terrifying moments: taking off, landing, and everything in between. But it had been on time and there had been less time for me to overthink.

Crap. I should have just driven here. Sure, it’s about an eighteen hour drive, but if I had I wouldn’t be here right now obsessing. I could be in my car listening to ’90s on 9. I’d already be about four hours in. I could be wolfing down greasy fries from a McDonalds drive-thru and singing along to the Spice Girls. That’s what I really really want.

The bartender delivers our drinks and Jax raises his glass to mine. The dark hair on his head and face only accentuates the brilliant hue of his eyes. He rubs a hand over his beard almost as if he knows I’m evaluating his looks and that I’m on the beard portion at this very moment. He’s fucking hot and he knows it. He’s probably the type of guy who thinks if we sit here and have a few drinks that maybe later he’ll get laid.

Loser.

And by loser, I mean me. ’Cause I kinda hope that is what he’s thinking. I’ve been all work and no play for so long that I could go for a little Mile High action. Now that’s something that would definitely get my mind off of flying.

“Do you live in Miami or is Jersey home for you?” Jax asks, distracting me from mentally removing his pants.

“I live in Jersey, I was in Miami for a conference. Not that I couldn’t have just gotten all the same information from a corporate email without all this hassle.” I take my first sip of Jack and Coke. Strong. Disgusting. I take another sip. “What about you?”

“I’m Jersey born and raised. I was in Miami for a bachelor party. I drove up with friends but I have to be home before they do, that’s why I’m flying. I was promoted recently and I couldn’t get more than a few days off. I gotta be back by Wednesday.”

“What do you do?” Model? Firefighter? Cowboy? It’s got to be along those lines.

“Walgreens. I’m now the daytime manager. I started when I was eighteen. I’ve been there for twelve years. In five more, I’m hoping to become regional manager,” he boasts proudly.

I do the math. He’s two years younger than me and works for my competitor. The fact that we work for opposing chains makes me laugh out loud.

“It’s a good job. I’m happy there.” He scowls, insulted by my laughter.

“No, you don’t understand.” I touch his arm. “Me too. I work for CVS.”

“Are you fucking with me again?” He cocks a brow.

“I swear.” I rummage through my bag looking for one of the tags from the conference. I find one with the CVS logo on top and whip it out. “See?”

“What are the chances? Two managers at competing stores. That’s great.”

His lips stretch across his handsome face and his shiny white smile lures me in. I sip my drink, lost in his good looks, and it never even occurs to me to correct him that I am not a manager.