Every seat on the plane was filled and, as I had feared, 24D was a middle seat, more than halfway back. The overhead bins were full, so I crammed my duffel under the seat in front of me. It only had dirty clothes in it. And my stash of cash. Under my feet was a good place for it.
My seat mates were an interesting pair. The man on my right, by the window, was an older gentleman with a full head of white hair and a trimmed, white beard. He had the air of a college professor about him. He already had a thick book out on his lap, reading with his finger moving under the words across the page. The lady on the aisle to my left was of like age. She too had white hair, carefully styled to match her expensive looking travelling clothes. Even crammed into a coach seat in the back, she was the kind of lady who would put her best foot forward and always try to look her best. I admired her for it.
Safety talk completed, they dimmed the lights and we were soon airborne. The pilot came on and said he hoped to make up some of the thirty minute delay in the air. I smiled, hoping Mary Beth Colson in 4B took some comfort in his announcement. I reclined my seat and closed my eyes. I’d be home in a few short hours. I fell asleep.
I woke up sometime later when the flight attendants were handing out tiny bags of peanuts and drinks in small plastic cups. I ate my twelve peanuts–yes, I counted–and drank my four sips of water–I counted those too–and thought about the past two days. My life would never be the same. What direction it took, I still had to decide. I had options–a lot of options, now.
And I had new friends. They felt almost like family to me. I really had no idea how it happened. I was just a stranger, someone who needed their help as part of doing their jobs, nothing more. But somehow they invaded my heart. I missed Billy, Sharon, and Clyde. I looked down at my empty hands in my lap, misty eyed from the pain of being separated from people I really cared about. When I moved to Chicago, I felt none of this sadness. I had been glad to escape my former life. No regrets in that departure.
It was their care and affection for me which helped me drop my guard and admit to Billy and Sharon I was gay. Instead of thinking I was a freak, they embraced me all the more. I could be gay and still be a good person. Money can buy a lot of things but that revelation was priceless to me.
Helping the Colsons made me feel really good inside, too. Almost without thinking, I had used my new found riches to do something to help someone else. I had swung the hammer and hit the nail on the head. Compared to what their daughter was facing, it was a small thing, but I knew it meant a lot to Adam and Mary Beth in the moment, and even if all it did was relieve some of the intense emotional pressure for a few hours, then it was worth it.
My reverie broke when I saw a vision of hotness near the front of my cabin. Seth, the golden haired flight attendant from my earlier flight, was standing up there, talking animatedly with another attendant. They each had clipboards, comparing them to one another. Just looking at him from far away brought back the memories of our flirting from the other night. I sighed, realizing I had given up more than a First Class dinner and more legroom. I could have had Seth to look at all night. But it was okay. I had done the right thing.
I watched as Seth ran his finger up and down the other attendant’s clipboard, searching for something. His finger finally stopped on a specific spot on the board, and then he looked up, right at me. And he smiled big and wide. He knew I could see him, so he motioned with his finger for me to come up where he was standing. How could I resist? Anything to un-pretzel myself for a few minutes and, besides, it was Seth. And he wanted me.
He watched me as I walked up the narrow aisle, his eyes moving up and down my body. Mine did the same to his. In the dim lights he looked even sexier than I remembered. I hoped my hardening dick didn’t show in my pants. When I got to him he reached out to grab my arm and pulled me into the galley area and out of the aisle.
“Jack! I can’t believe it. You’re a sight for sore eyes.” He was visibly vibrating with excitement.
“Seth, it’s great to see you. I didn’t know you were on this flight.”
“I’m stuck in First again. Speaking of which, when I boarded I saw your name on the First Class manifest, but then you didn’t board. I was so disappointed. I was looking forward to a fun flight with you again.” He was grinning ear to ear and his eyes were sparkling with a special light again. What the hell was that?
“Yeah, well, I ended up back in coach. Sorry, long story.”
“Wait a minute...4A and 4B, husband and wife. They’ve been crying off and on all flight. Did you have something to do with that? When I was serving them dinner, they said something about how wonderful it was for the airline to get them two seats together and to upgrade them to First. Let me guess, United didn’t do it–you did. You swapped seats. You were supposed to be in 4A.” He smiled big, lightly poking my chest.
I blushed in embarrassment. “Yeah, well, they are a nice couple who needed to catch a break. They’ve had some really bad news and it was the only thing I could think of to do for them.” I told him the rest of the little I knew of the Colsons.
“You know, Jack. I said it the other night and I’ll say it again. You’re a special guy. You do the kindest things. When they told me about their seat change, I wondered if you had changed as well. Our count was correct. So I came back to check. And I’ve got some exciting news I just have to tell you, since you played a big part in it.”
I could not imagine what I had done for Seth, except run him ragged fetching glasses of water so I could lust after his ass. Seth gently grabbed my arm and pushed me closer to the airplane wall and away from the aisle for more privacy.
“So Jack, remember the other night when I told you I really appreciated how good you made me feel, flirting and watching me all night? No, don’t be embarrassed. I loved it. I mean it. So much so it inspired me to do something I had needed to do for a long time. You see, I had been separated for three months from my boyfriend after being together with him for over two years. I was having an extremely difficult time letting go, even though I was the one who ended it. I loved Tim–so much. But he didn’t love me the same way. I couldn’t even get him to move in with me. So Wednesday night, I was feeling better about myself than I had in a really long time. I decided I could do it. There were other guys out there who could love me, maybe even this hunk I met on my flight named Jack.” Now I was severely blushing–I hoped he couldn’t see it in the dim lights. Did he just call me a hunk?
“So I got home, poured some wine, put on some music and just chilled, feeling on top of the world. I could make choices again. Then there’s this knock on the door. It’s late, who could it be? Well, it’s Tim. I let him in and ask him what he wants–he says I want you, Seth. I want us to be an “us” again. And, Jack, it was the hardest thing I ever did because a huge part of me wanted to take him back on the spot, but I didn’t. I listened to him give his reasons why we were perfect for each other–all of which are true by the way–and then dropped the bomb on him. There’s only one problem, Tim, you don’t love me–not the way I love you. I want the whole deal, not just sex and fun times. I’m tired of waiting for you to commit to this relationship and be all in. Good and bad, fun and shit times. All of it. And I’m not living alone anymore. So I’m sorry, but the answer is no. I need to move on and find someone who can love me that way and I can love them the same way in return.
“He goes quiet with this shocked look on his face, and I show him to the door. I tell you, Jack, when I closed the door I thought I was closing it on Tim forever. I cried and cried but it was good, you know, like a cleansing. I know it sounds sappy but that’s how it felt.
“The next day was my day off so I’m just hanging out, eating a pizza and watching basketball. The doorbell rings and it’s Tim again, only this time he’s got flowers, wine and a request. Would I just hear him out? I thought, fine, why not, so I let him in. He proceeds to tell me how sorry he is for being selfish and afraid to move forward. He had been hurt pretty badly in a previous relationship when a guy abandoned him with no warning or explanation, never to see him again. He had never told me this story. I think he was embarrassed about it. Anyway, he tells me he absolutely loves me, can’t imagine not having me in his life and he is willing to do whatever it takes to make it happen. And Jack, he gets down on one knee right there in my living room and I swear to God, gives me a ring. He asked me to marry him! I’m engaged, Jack. I’m getting married!” He held up his left hand, and sure enough, there was a beautiful platinum band around his ring finger.
He was so happy, giddy even, and I was happy for him. Disappointed for myself, but I was just being selfish. Seth deserved more than flirting and lustful desire from afar. He deserved Tim, from the sound of it.
“Seth, that’s fantastic. I’m so happy for you. Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Oh yeah, I’m sure. Tim and I are perfect for each other. Always have been. I just didn’t know why he was holding back. We talked a long time yesterday–and well into the night–and I promised him I would never abandon him like the other guy had done. He really was so scared it was all going to happen again. But now we are together forever, and I have you to thank for it, Jack.”
My mouth fell open. “Me? What did I do?”
“You gave me the courage to stand up for myself—to believe I deserved to be loved completely. Tim told me later it was my standing up for love that convinced him he had to make things right between us. Do you know he had had the ring for two months, trying to decide if he could do it or not? He’s so sweet. Oh God, Jack. I so love that man. And I know now he really, really loves me.”
Just then, the curtain separating First Class and Coach was thrown open and another flight attendant popped through.
“Seth! There you are. It’s time to start final prep.” She was looking at us, standing unnecessarily close together. By her grim expression, she clearly did not like what she saw. “Maybe you can give some of the other passengers a moment of your time instead of flirting with this one and being generally inappropriate?”
Seth saw the angry look rise on my face, so before I could say anything, he held up a hand to calm me and turned to face her. “Sure thing, Angie. I’ll be right there. Just helping this passenger with a connection issue.” He waved his clipboard at her as if a missed flight is what we had been discussing. More like a missed opportunity on a love life. Angie turned in a huff and disappeared through the curtain.
“Well, Jack. Gotta go back to the grind. I’m so glad I got to see you again tonight. I really can’t thank you enough for what you did for me.”
I was truly happy for Seth. He was getting what he always wanted. What I wanted. I was sad for me, though, and it must have shown on my face.
“Jack, don’t look so down, man. You’re an amazing guy, and if Tim and I hadn’t worked things out, you and I might be having a very different kind of conversation tonight. Believe, Jack. I know there’s an amazing guy out there looking for you. You’ll find him. And he will be the luckiest son of a bitch ever.” He smiled and then did something completely airline inappropriate. He hugged me tightly. It felt so good. I didn’t want to let go, but I also didn’t want to get him in trouble.
I stepped back and looked into his eyes. “I hope you and Tim have a wonderful life together. It’s been fun hanging out with you on the plane. And thanks for sharing your good news. I mean it. It gives me hope.”
“Sure thing, buddy. Take care.” And then he was gone. I returned to my seat and squeezed back in. I was so ready for this flight to be over.
We landed a short while later and arrived at our gate only five minutes late. I could see a pretty fierce rain coming down through the plane windows. I was going to get wet finding my car for sure. I sighed and sat back, waiting for all the passengers seated in front of me to deplane. Finally, it was our turn. I helped the lady on my left take down her carry-on bag, for which she thanked me sweetly, then put my duffel over my shoulder and headed up the aisle. I looked for him, but no Seth again. Oh well.
My four sips of water had not put any pressure on my bladder, but I figured I’d better make a pit stop anyway before getting out there in the weather soup. I came out of the bathroom and saw Adam and Mary Beth Colson just a few yards in front of me. Call me ghoulish, but I was curious about the outcome of their daughter’s surgery. But I couldn’t exactly go up and ask them. They may not even know yet.
I decided to follow them to baggage claim. I could stand there, even though I had no baggage, without drawing attention to myself. So I did. I stayed behind them the whole way. Adam was trying unsuccessfully to get someone on his cell phone and he was clearly frustrated. We rode the escalator down to the baggage level and I followed them to carousel four. I stood off to the side, maybe fifteen feet away from the Colsons.
We were only standing there maybe three minutes, waiting for the bags to arrive, when there was a shout behind us.
“Mom! Dad!” Everyone turned, but it was Mary Beth who took off running toward the shouter.
“Oh, Greg. How is she? Is she alright? Tell me, is she alright?” She was holding onto the sides of his face, daring him to look anywhere else and not give her the answer she desperately needed.
“Yeah, Mom. Jen is gonna be fine. She had a ruptured spleen, which they removed, and she has a few stitches, but that’s it. She’ll be good as new in no time.”
The family just stood there and hugged one another, tears of relief flowing freely. My own face felt wet. I decided then and there that real love made me cry. It was a good feeling. To see a family who cared so much about one another, who lived for one another. I wanted that. I needed that.
There was nothing more I could do, so I followed the signs which led me up to the parking lot trams and jumped on one at the last second as the doors were closing. When we arrived out at the parking lot, it seemed especially dark and dreary, despite all the lights illuminating the cars, with torrents of rain falling. I got my jacket out of my duffel bag and saw the envelope of cash. My new toolbox.
I zipped up my jacket and trotted out into the rain. I have a pretty good memory for the placement of things, kind of like a built in GPS system, so I found my car with no effort. I got in and immediately had a puddle of nearly ice cold water on the floor mat below my feet. I got the heater going and by the time I got home, I had unzipped the jacket and could just about feel my toes again.
My apartment was my apartment. Nothing had changed. But as I stepped through the door and closed it behind me, I paused. I had a vague sense it was somehow empty. Something was missing, something I had not been aware of before. But I was too tired and wet to care. I didn’t even unpack. I threw the duffel bag on the floor in my bedroom, ripped off my clothes and slid under the sheets. I slept like the dead.