Colleen sat in the window seat of the second row of first class, watching the jet bridge tremble slightly each time a passenger stepped from it onto the aircraft.
Four hours earlier, as she was getting herself ready for work, the photo of him that had been stuck to her dresser mirror let go and fluttered to her slippered feet. She looked up at the TV at that moment to see the weather map on the morning news with the muted meteorologist using both hands to push a high-pressure cell into the Caribbean region for the weekend. On her wall calendar the day was marked with an angry red X. That’s when she opened her laptop and started searching for flights.
A flight attendant leaned across the unoccupied aisle seat and welcomed Colleen aboard. She offered to bring magazines, champagne, coffee, or a hot washcloth.
“For what?” asked Colleen.
“For your face, silly.”
Colleen toed her battered knock-off handbag further under the seat in front of her and looked out at the blanket of dull clouds covering Philadelphia.
A couple boarded the plane dressed in short sleeves and sunglasses; ready for their island vacation. “I know he said it wouldn’t be delayed, but with our luck...well, you know our luck,” said one of them.
“Positivity please,” replied the other.
“Next time, book us with more time to make our connection. Please. Thanks.”
“Next time...” Then line moved and they were into the coach cabin.
Colleen knew that there were no other connecting flights to Aruba. This was her only shot.
This was crazy, impulsive, exciting, expensive, and not at all like Colleen. This was going to be the day that she would be able to look back on as the point at which she changed her life. This day in February of her thirty-second year. The day that she steered her life hard to the port side and watched her sails snap full, as she was swept forward on a new wind. She drew in a deep, calming breath, closed her eyes, and held if for a three-count as she visualized her future fulfilled self. She blew the breath out.
Upon opening her eyes, she found that a woman had taken the seat next to her and was discretely using a compact mirror to examine her teeth.
“What I thought was a corn muffin, turned out to be a lemon-poppy seed,” she said without turning. “And, well, you know how those damned seeds are.” She snapped the mirror shut and smiled over at Colleen. “Are you a nervous flyer?” she asked.
“No,” said Colleen quickly. “Sometimes. Not always.”
“I noticed you doing the breathing.”
“Oh, that. That’s something else. Visualization.”
Colleen guessed that the woman was somewhere in her fifties. She appeared extremely confident and serene, like she was comfortable holding on to secrets.
“Are you nervous?” Colleen asked.
“I’m a flight attendant.”
“Oh,” said Colleen dropping her gaze.
“I’ve been a flight attendant so long that I used to be a stewardess.”
The woman smiled and Colleen laughed politely.
“Do you think we’ll be delayed?” Colleen asked. “I need to make a connection to Aruba.”
“I’m hoping to make that flight too,” said the woman. “If we push from the gate on time, the crew says we should be able to beat the weather.”
The working flight attendant approached with a tray and placed glasses of pale champagne in front of the two women.
“How are we looking on time?” the woman asked her.
“Well,” began the flight attendant, betraying more of her Georgia accent than she had when she was first speaking to Colleen, “visibility is dropping so they’re spacing us out more. Right now, we’re only about ten minutes behind. You’re connecting to AUA?”
The woman nodded.
“Me too,” said Colleen.
“Fingers crossed, but right now you’re okay.”
For the first time since she’d had the impulse and set this chain of events into motion, it occurred to Colleen that she hadn’t clue as to what she was going to do when she arrived in Aruba. Taxi to the resort, she thought. Get in to my room, freshen up, figure out what I’m going to say, and go find him.
“Are you meeting friends or vacationing alone?” asked the woman.
“An old friend is getting married.”
“How nice,” said the woman.
“And what about you?”
“I am going to visit my daughter.”
“She lives there?”
“No, but it’s been quite a long time since we last saw each other. It will be a surprise.”
“That’s so sweet!”
The woman looked at her, calm and quizzical. Colleen downed her champagne.
The jet bridge retracted, and the aircraft started backwards with a slight lurch. The flight attendant reappeared with a fresh glass. “Another one before take-off?”
Colleen nodded. The flight attendant scrunched up her nose as she handed it across.
Colleen held the glass and felt the need to talk. The plane’s engines revved up as the pushback tractor disconnected and drove back to the terminal. They began to taxi forward, and the engines wound down again.
“My friend, the one who’s getting married,” Colleen began.
“Your old friend,” added the woman.
“Yes. He’s actually my old boyfriend.”
The woman turned in her seat, interested. “The two of you have stayed close?”
“Not exactly close,” said Colleen.
“But he invited you to his wedding.”
“Well,” said Colleen with the rising inflection of someone trying to justify their misdeeds. “He will forever be the only person for me. It’s been twenty-seven months, and I feel it more now than when we were together. I thought I would be able to move on, but this morning I realized I have to take this shot. I have to go there tell him how I feel. So, that’s what I’m doing.”
“I say ‘bravo’, and good luck to you.” The woman raised her glass.
“Thanks. I just hope he doesn’t get angry.”
“Does he have a temper?”
“Cole? Heavens no. He’s a complete lambchop.”
“Cole?” asked the woman.
“Yes, that’s his name.”
“You don’t hear that name very often,” she said quietly.
The first officer announced to the cabin that they were fifth in line for take-off, and he predicted an on-time arrival. Colleen, in her giddiness, grabbed the woman’s hand and beamed at her. After a moment the woman coolly withdrew her hand.
As the flight attendant came back to retrieve the stemware, the woman nodded towards the bathroom as she undid her lap-belt.
“Could I? Real quick?” she asked, as she stood.
“Just hurry hon.”
Colleen watched the next plane in line turn left and thunder down the runway until it pointed skyward and quickly disappeared into the clouds. As her plane edged up to the next place in line, she heard a stirring thump that seemed to be coming from the side of the plane. Then, a loud, warbling, persistent alarm sounded from the front of the cabin. Members of the flight crew bounded up the aisle. The cockpit door swung open. The lights flickered and from her window Colleen could see the yellow evacuation slide unfurling from the front door of her aircraft.
A single person, the woman who had just left Colleen’s side, leapt onto the slide with her arms crossed about her chest as she performed an expert emergency deplaning. At the bottom of the slide, she stood, smoothed her skirt, tucked a stray hair behind her ear, and calmly waited for someone to come and arrest her.
Minutes later, as the plane was surrounded by emergency vehicles and Pennsylvania State Troopers, weapons out and pointed at the tarmac, the flight attendant leaned in next to Colleen to watch from her window.
She whispered in disbelief, more to herself than to Colleen. “Why would she do that?”
“Craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” said Colleen.
“She say anything to you?” asked the flight attendant.
“No,” said Colleen. “She seemed as normal as a church mouse.”
The flight attendant went on, “I talked to her in the terminal and she told me she was going down to surprise her daughter who was getting married on the beach tonight.”
Colleen heard this and a wave of nausea swept over her. Her vision went gray. Her head swam. A loud hum filled her ears, and filtering through it, the flight attendant’s voice said:
“Looks like you’re not making it to Aruba today either honey. But there’s always tomorrow.”