Friday, June 28, 2013

Hearts of Steel - Chapter Three

"See you on the other side," he said, then touched my shoulder in passing. My heart skipped up into my throat, beating so loudly that I didn't trust myself to speak. So I just nodded, and made myself extremely occupied with adjusting the seat-belt buckles on my bears.

Did he notice how he affected me? Could he tell how my fingers shook? They didn't feel like my own hands.

. . .Come on, Priye. Get a grip on yourself, girl. He wasn't all that. He probably didn't even mean to touch your shoulder. It was an accident, an incidental touching as he grabbed the back of the seat. . .

Hoping that I wasn't being too obvious, I waited until there was a small break in the flow of traffic up and down the aisle, then plucked a glossy airport merchandise magazine from the seat pocket in front of me. A single flick of the wrist and oops! How clumsy I was. I reached down to retrieve it. And if I happened to catch a glimpse of those gorgeous sculped buns as he walked way, then so much the better.

My head leaned over the armrest, turning a fraction to the left to see if I could locate where he was sitting.

"Here yoi go, ma'am."

Before I could get a good look, a flight attendant dropped down with his saccharine, practiced smile and blocked my view. He passed the magazine back to me.

"Thanks." My expression was as bland as my tone. I may have missed the booty shot, but my maneuver wasn't a total loss. I knew where he was sitting. Just a few rows back on the opposite side. Another quick glance back. I didn't want him to know that I knew where he was. I didn't want him to know that I was interested enough to pull a cheap stunt like butt-watching.

His long arms were folded behind his head. His eyes were closed. Could he be asleep already?

Well, there went that foolish female fantasy that I had. The one centered around desire that he couldn't take his eyes off me. All women have had them. The magic moment when the man of your dreams, your true love, your soul mate, catches your eye from across the room. Suddenly, the rest of the room looses focus, like someone has smeared petroleum jelly all over the camera lens. Violins start to play, and you start toward each other in super-slow motion. The next thing you know, you're running hand in hand on a lush tropical island, splashing through crystal clear waters making waves against sand so sparkling, it could be made of crushed diamonds.

Like in a Destiny Child's video, the wind machine blows your hair back in the perfect direction. You've got the perfect perm. Not even the waters of the Carribean can kink it up. Your bathing suit is the perfect color, a perfect fit. As you run along the water's edge, the strategically placed thong stays in place, no matter how hard you jiggle. No stretch marks. No love handles. No cellulite. You don't even need a cover-up. perfect fantasy was blown to bits by one simple fact. The black American wasn't interested in me. He was just being polite - or, at the most, flirtateous.

I blew out a disappointed breath and tried to stare out the window to lift my spirits, so to speak. It wasn't easy being on the aisle seat. I had to crane my neck to see around the bears. I'm the opposite of most white-knuckle fliers. Most folks who are afraid of flying don't want to be reminded that they're on an airplane. They'll drink themselves into a stupor, listen to statickly headphones, or endure crappy movies to avoid feeling like they're thousands and thousands and thousands of miles above the ground.

I don't like to fly, either. To be more accurate, flying doesn't bother me nearly as much as the alternative - which is plummeting to the ground in a fiery ball. It's the fear of crashing that gets me all worked up when I get onto an airplane. I like the window seats. As long as I can see blue skies, fluffy white clouds, I'm okay. I tell myself that God's up here in Heaven. Any place He chooses to hang out is okeydokey, fine with me.

As the plane taxied to the runway, the flight attendants went through the emergency procedures in what looked like a cross between directing traffic and a contest.

As if I were preparing for a test, I listened to every word, repeating them softly to myself. I wondered what the airline's policy was on women, children, and teddy bears going first if something did happen on the plane. I snickered as I imagined the faces of the emergency medical response team standing ready at the bottom of the escape chute as the bears came sliding toward them.

My grin quickly faded as the captain came over the intercom and gave us the flight expectations - travel time, arrival time, and weather conditions of the destination city. The flight was delayed, the destination time was going to be delayed, and worse than that...sounded like there would be rough weather ahead. A few thunder boomers, the captain told us. He had every confidence that we should be able to get through the storm by climbing over it.

Bad idea, I thought. To do that, we would have to go closer to the storm. Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't the more prudent course of action to try to get away from the danger?

Thirty minutes into the flight, we hit it. The first wave of storm clouds. My fingers clasped the arm rest. I gritted my teeth so tightly that my jaws ached.

The engines whined as the plane banked to the right anf my cup of mostly watered-down ginger ale slid to the carpeted floor. It rolled out of sight. I think I heard a plastic crush as though it met an untimely demise beneath the heel of someone's shoe.

"Please, God."

I prayed not because I thought I was going to die. The way my stomach was heaving, I almost thought I'd prefer to die. I prayed not to be ill and embarrass myself in front of everyone. The sound of someone else on the flight retching started a chain reaction of my own gastric juices, making me clamp my hand over my mouth.

"Please, sir. You'll have to return to your seat."

Someone tried to make it to the bathroom?

"For your own safety, please remain seated until the captain turns off the seat-belt required signs."

"Please, miss. wife is up there, and she's deathly afraid of flying. I have to go to her."

That sounded like. . .it was! I looked over my shoulder to see J.D skirting around the attendant. He was heading my way.

The plane took another unexpected dip, causing him to pause and hold on to the seats, one on either side of him, as he made his way toward me.

"Don't tell me that a big strong fellow like you is afraid of flying." I tried to sound flip and saucy. But I was the one who was afraid. Scared spitless. I'm sure he saw that in the creases between my brows and the hole I'd almost chewed into my bottom lip.

"Nope. Just need someone to hold the bag while I puke my guts out. I thought since I carried your bears, you'd be willing to return the favor."

I'm sure in the history of pickup lines, his would never make the books. But who could be picky at a time like that?

"Are you all right?" He asked, scooting past me. I unbuckled Grandma Bear's seat belt and shoved her over to make room for him.

"Just peachy," I said breathlessly.

"You're a terrible liar, Peaches," J.D retorted. He clasped his hand in mine and gallantly pretended not to notice it was ice cold.

"Jack Deneen." He introduced himself, giving my hand a gentle squeeze. "My friends call me J.D."

"Priye. Priye Cole."

"Pleasure to meet you, Priye," he said, pronouncing my name in a funny way and somehow made me believe that he'd be pleased to be sitting next to me even if the plane was going down in flames. A direct look. An open, honest, appraising look that swept over me from my tinted roots to my crossed legs.

"That's a very beautiful name." He tilted his head toward the bears. "Then again, I'm sure it fits the subject."

The plane jolted, sending Granda Bear bonking softly down on J.D.'s head. I tried not to giggle. This wasn't funny. We could all die. The plane could crash. If the man was going to die, let him die with some dignity.

"Not that I'm complaining, J.D., but before you buckle your seat belt, do you think you could turn granny bear around?"

"Excuse me?"

"Reposition her." I continued. It's bad enough that they have to share a seat, but the way he'd placed Grandma Bear on top of Grandpa's, well. . .it looked. . .it looked. . .it looked obscene. Like the bears were trying for a membership in the mile-high club. Dressed as the bears were, looking so much like my grandparents, it hurt my brain to think that they would still be interested in sex.

"Do you want me to turn her around?" J.D suggested reaching for the buckle.

"No!" Grandma sitting on Grandpa's lap? The plane thumping up and down like a pogo stick. No, that would be even worse. "Never mind. Just leave her where she is."

"Are you sure you're all right?" Even his frown of confusion at my obvious, nutcase ranting onlu ehanced his handsome face.

"Not really. I'll feel a lot better when we fly out of this storm."

"Talk to me, Priye. Maybe that'll take your mind off of this storm."

"I really don't feel like talkinh." I insisted. I'd rather listen to him talk. The sound of his voice was deep and rumbling, not unlike the thunder I imagined shook the clouds. I liked the way my name looked on his lips - a soft pucker, a prelude to a kiss. I wouldn't think about the flight at all if he would just keep talking to me.

The plane banked to the left. I could hear the change in the engines as we gradually made our descent.


Too soon. The flight was over much too soon and I still didn't know any more about her than I did before. I have her name. But not much more than that. She was afraid of flying. Who wouldn't be after a bumpy, gut-wretching flight like that?

She wore vanilla musk and minimal makeup. But there's so much more I wanted to know. If I didn't do something fast, she was going to walk off this plane and away from me forever.

A few more minutes. I just needed a few more minutes with her. My mind raced as the plane left the runway for the loading ramp. If I couldn't get much out of her in two hours of the flight, how was I going to get anything of substance from her in five minutes?

"I'm going to hang out here for a while, so if you want to go back to your seat. . ." Priye left the sentence unfinished, but her meaning was clear. She was dismissing me.

"Do you need any help getting your bears off the plane?" I wanted to see who was there waiting for her. A passel of kids? An anxious husband? A representative from the overstuffed toy convention?

"You don't have to do that. My relatives are waiting for me." She held out her hand. "It's been a pleasure, Jack Deneen."

Her tone was polite and dismissive at the same time. What else could I do but take what crumb she offered and move on? Chalk this up to just another chance meeting - two people who briefly touch each other's lives then move on, never to meet again.

We stood there. All around us, people prepared to leave. I heard sounds of relief that this unpleasant flight was over. But I wasn't ready to let go. Call it instinct. Call it ego. If I didn't push the bounds of the socially acceptable conversations, this woman would walk away from me.

I used the proximity of the overhead bins to lower my face toward her. Brash. Bold. I was going to kiss her goodbye. I rationalized that the illusion of the near-death experience entitled me to a kiss. A small one. A peck on the cheek.

Her dark eyes widened. Was she surprised? Maybe. Willing? I hoped so. I leaned even closer, confident that by now she knew what I wanted, what I intended to do.

But she performed an emotional reversal on me and withdrew her hand. She stepped backward across the aisle, murmuring something about not blocking the way for other passengers.

I hoped that she didn't see the disappointment in my face. No, I take it back. I hoped she did see. I wanted her to know how she affected me. I wished I knew why she affected me. Why was I so fixated on this woman?

I had thousands of screaming female fans. Any one of them would give close to anything for this opportunity. Egostical? Perhaps. Truthful? Definitely. I'm a wanted man. But not, apparently, by Priye Cole.

To avoid more awkward moments for us both, I returned to my seat and retrieved my overnight bag. I toyed with the idea of waiting for her, of not leaving the plane until she did. It could have the opposite effect. It could tick her off, make her call security to detain me if she thought that I was harrassing her.

Strengthening my resolve not to appear desperate and pathetic, I slung the bag's strap over my shoulder and stepped back into the aisle. The plane noise had hushed. The voices of the flight crew drifted back.

A few more steps and I would be even with Priye's seat. A few more, just a few more. Almost there. Keep it cool.
. . .Its obvious that she's not interested, let it go. . .

"Can I have your phone number? Call you while you're in town?"

I paused and looked around me, as if wondering if a ventriloquist had thrown his voice to come out of my mouth. I had no intention of asking her for her phone number - the last act of a desperate man, sounding this close to begging.

She looked at me and offered the kind of smile that someone gives when she's trying hard not to smile. "I don't think so," she said, shaking her head. But she chewed her bottom lip. A sure sign of indecision. Could she be considering it?

"Excuse me. I've got five minutes to catch my next flight."

Priye turned her head at the sound of the heckler, so I moved out of the aisle to let the last of the stragglers pass. In that moment, a decision had been made. She wasn't going to give me the digits.

Knowing that she'd made up her mind, I did what any black man, mindful of his pride and ego, would do.

"Then I'll give you mine. You call me." I insisted as I unzipped my overnight bag. I found a tablet, promotional material with the team's logo on it, and a pen.

Because the cap had been left off, I made a mental note to have Sandra, my housekeeper, buy some extra stain pretreater the next time she did laundry. That should take care of the stray pen marks left on my clothes.

I scribbled small circles in the top corner of the pad and shook the pen back and forth a couple of times until the ink ran freely. Using the back of the seat to support me, I wrote down my cell phone number and my pager number.

"Here." Holding the paper between crossed fingers of my index and middle finger, I passed the slip across to her. "Here you go."

She barely glanced at it, then tucked it away into the deep recesses of her purse.

"Don't lose that now," I said, half in jest. If she was anything like my sister, once items were stuffed into the bottomless pit of a purse, nothing short of an experienced excavation team could dig them out again.

"I won't," she promised. "It's right here." Then she patted the side of her purse. I couldn't help but notice that she patted the wrong compartment. Had she done that on purpose, to mess with my head?

"You're not going to call me, are you?"

"You never know," she said, in that maddeningly non-committal voice.

"Yeah, sure."

I stepped back into the aisle, heading for the exit. Glancing over my shoulder, I placed my hand to the side of my jaw, mimicking a telephone.

. . .Call me. . .
I mouthed to her.

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