Noun. 1. The act of choosing; choice. 2. Something or someone chosen or available as a choice.
My downfall is not planning ahead for a delayed connection. I rehearsed for exactly 55 minutes of Jason’s time, a fair estimate considering he would have needed to wind his way back through security again. He could have breezed through the checkpoints, had it not been for the other travelers, disrobing their wet boots with heavy soles, and puffy parkas worn without shame like sleeping bags.
He is still dressed for a warmer climate, despite the fact that he’s been making his return stateside, where nearly every region has been experiencing record lows. It gives me chills to even look at him, the sleeves of his baby blue wrinkled linen button down casually rolled up over his elbows, army green cargo shorts hanging low on his narrow hips, distressed leather sandals on his feet. But Jason seems perfectly comfortable, his skin perpetually caramel after a year in the Murcia sun.
He tells me how he learned how to run on the sands of the southeastern shore of Spain. “It’s the only way, really. You feel like you’re never going to get ahead, but you do.”
I imagine peeking at the tan line around his lean, familiar waist when he will later raise his hands over his head while x-rays search his body as a weapon of mass destruction. You would never know he spent the past twelve months drinking café con leche made with fresh whole milk and eating homemade paella with his fingers. His frame tells a different story.
He has been teaching Spanish teenagers tricks: how to abandon their beautiful native language in exchange for phrases like “My name is” and “How much for” and “Can you tell me where” – so many things that will come in handy once they cross the ocean. I listen to his experiences as though he’s reading to me from a book of fairy tales. I tell him very few of my own.
The 727 for his next leg to San Jose had reported a mechanical failure, bumping his 5:35pm departure to a new estimated time of 6:55pm. He pulls out his passport. There are no claim tickets on his boarding pass, and I can’t imagine how one travels across continents without any baggage.
I order another round of the cheapest Chardonnay on the menu while Jason waives his hand like a Vegas dealer at the bartender’s suggestion of a refill on his iced tea.
“I want to try and sleep on the next flight,” he explains after another slow sip. Between his right index and middle finger, he holds a cigarette that isn’t there. “Gave that up too,” he notes, adding, “You know, I haven’t seen my mother for years.”
“You haven’t seen me for years, either,” I point out.
“Yes. But you’re still alive.” Now I am the one sipping my drink, silent.
We sit at the only bar outside of Terminal C at Portland International Airport, a tropical themed joint called Beaches, with fishing nets tacked on the walls between lifesavers that had clearly never served actual time on a ship. The lights are dimmed low, forgiving on our faces that wear time and space since shared college years. Our chairs are high and made of wicker, leaving a waffle imprint on my thighs just below the short hemline of my black dress. My feet dangle a few inches above the ground. I had dug my scarlet heels out of the back of my closet for a pop of color, knowing I wouldn’t be walking much, and had less risk of falling. That plus the mascara should have been enough to make my husband ask questions. Any question. But his eyes remain focus on the fourth down with three yards to go, feverishly refreshing his fantasy scores as I grabbed my car keys and added clear gloss to my lips on the way out the door.
“Where will you go after the funeral?” I ask.
“Not sure. Albuquerque sounds nice. Dry.”
We rest our hands on the counter over our cocktail napkins, his left pinkie just barely grazing my right.
“I shouldn’t have come,” I say.
“But you did.”
Overhead, an electronic female voice informs us of further delays, and I motion for the check, wondering if the wine on my breath will intoxicate him.