Flight Companion

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My name is Bill. I’m middle-aged, married, and, mostly, respectable. But I have written a few stories here about unexpected, interesting encounters with women. Or at least I think they’re very interesting – the encounters, and definitely the women. You might find my stories pretty tedious, and too wrapped up in my own doubts and anxieties. So be warned. But they mean a lot to me, and perhaps for other people in my situation.

This story began one morning as I was sitting in the back of a plane. I was thinking about the Road Warriors.

I fly occasionally for business. It happens enough that all the fun has gone out of it – it’s mostly a nag. But I don’t fly as much as the guys who I think of as the Road Warriors. They’re the ones upfront in the business section, while I’m always in the cramped economy seats in the back. My firm doesn’t cover business class, and my handful of flights is never enough to rack up mileage for upgrades.

So I sit in the crowds, waiting for my zone to be called, as I watch the Road Warriors cruise out of the club lounges and right onto the plane. They could be older or younger than me but it always takes me right back to the jocks at high school for whom everything seemed to come easy. They look so casual but sharp in their suits with no ties, laughing easily with each other; hair, teeth and builds always better than mine.

I know it’s completely juvenile and insecure to think this way. I really do, and realize how pathetic I am sounding at the very start of this story. But yet it still eats at me every time, as I stand in the crammed lineup in the plane aisle, watching them relaxing in their large business-class chairs, while I fret about whether there will be space at the back to cram my carry-on. It’s not that I really care about a bigger seat. I just want to be what the Road Warriors represent. Alpha Males. Conquerors. Men of Influence. Instead I’m Bill, squeezed in the back.

It was very early in the morning on a cold winter day. This would be about a two hour flight, on a small jet flying direct to my destination city. Pretty typical. I was visiting several clients and had meetings right away in the late morning and for the next two days.

The plane was small enough to only have two-and-two seating across. I was in the aisle, and the window seat wasn’t yet taken. As always in that situation I had the same hopes: either that it would stay empty, or be occupied by a beautiful woman. My immature, juvenile mind at work again. Of course, neither ever happens. Usually it’s filled by a guy who looks just like me.

The flight was filling up and yet the seat remained empty. I tried to read my magazine but kept glancing up to see who was coming down the aisle…not that fat guy, please…yes, that pretty girl… Stupid. Juvenile. Insecure. That’s me.

The flight was nearly ready to go. Still no one. The attendant was closing the overhead lockers when suddenly a blonde woman came rushing down the aisle. She was breathing heavy and frantically comparing her boarding pass with the seat numbers. Finally she got to my row. Still frantic, she began to apologize for needing to get past me, all while while taking off her thick winter coat and looking for a place in the crowded slots to place it along with her bulky carry-on.

I stood up as gracefully as I could and told her it was no problem. I pushed my own carry-on over to make room for her coat and suitcase. She thanked me and moved to her seat, still jumpy. I sat back down while she began to fiddle with her things, trying to get everything right again.

In an attempt to calm her, I said, “Looks like you had to hurry, but you made it.”

That only flustered her more. “I…the security took so long…I had to run and run. Why can’t they make it quicker…I was sure I was late.” She took out her phone. “I have to turn this off, right? I can’t remember…oh okay…”

She was so flustered and distracted that I left her alone.

They shut the gate and the safety announcements began. The attendants ran through their pantomime while I watched my seatmate watch them. I began to relax. Compared to her, I felt for a moment like a Road Warrior.

The safety announcements ended but the plane still wasn’t moving, which was a little odd. We kept sitting there. Even the attendants looked a little confused. Finally the pilot came on the address system. “Folks, it sure is a beautiful winter morning here,” he drawled. “We’re just waiting to move into the de-icing area…then we’ll be ready to take off…just a little behind schedule…” He kept up the casual, unhurried drawl enough to make me realize the flight was sure to arrive late. I started to fret again, worried that I might not make my first client meeting.

I looked over my presentation but kept one eye on my seatmate. She had turned her phone back on and was making a call. I hoped she wouldn’t be a loud yakker.

“Hi…it’s me,” she said. She was discreetly quiet, though it was impossible not to overhear everything. canlı bahis “I made it just in time…it was awful! The security was so long! And then I couldn’t get my shoes back on!” She paused for the other person. “I know, it’s all good. Thanks again. We are just waiting…they said there’s a delay I guess…so I just wanted to call and say thanks again. I’m so glad I came.” Pause. “Exactly.” Pause. “I know. Worth the effort of the trip. I need to do this more. Bye.” She hung up.

I kept looking at my papers but was now preoccupied thinking about my seatmate, and now I started to glance over a bit. The call had piqued my – you could call it curiosity or just nosiness, but I was naturally curious to know a little more about her. Admittedly, I probably wouldn’t have been as interested if it had been a man. But it did help distract me from the delay.

She was somewhere in her forties, probably just slightly younger than me. She had long, straight blonde hair past her shoulders and seemed to have a slim build. She was wearing jeans and some sort of white cotton top. I had only brief glimpses of her face but she struck me as attractive, in a normal, modest way. I saw a wedding ring.

My nosiness complete, I went back to minding my own business.

We still hadn’t moved. As happy as I was to have her beside me, I was getting uptight again, fretting about how late I would be. I took out a business magazine and tried to read it. My seatmate also had a magazine. It seemed to be about home decorating.

It must have been ten minutes before the captain came on again with another apology. “We’re just checking the weather…planning the best flight path…sit tight and we’ll be off as soon as we can.”

I was getting really antsy, worried that we’d spend all day on the tarmac. I looked over. My companion was staring out the window. I decided to try striking up a conversation again.

“It’s pretty ironic that you had to rush here and now you have to wait.”

She turned and looked at me. For a second she said nothing and I felt like an idiot. Then she smiled and agreed, “I know! But what can you do?” She shrugged. She was much calmer than before. Then she continued, “I didn’t think security would take so long. I guess I’m not used to flying.”

I smiled back. “It’s always hard to predict how long things will take.”

“Are you from here?” she asked. I said I was, and that I was headed to our destination for a business trip. She told me she had been visiting her sister, who lived in my city. She had never been there before. “I’m not a big traveller,” she said. “I guess you are, though.”

I explained a little about my work and occasional flights. I emphasized there wasn’t much interesting about it.

“Oh, I’m sure it is,” she said. “I’m Lori, by the way.”

“I’m Bill. Nice to meet you.”

Lori had a pretty face, though it was drawn, with high cheekbones, tight features and a few wrinkles of age. She was not very expressive; her smiles were thin with small corners, though it only made her seem more genuine when she did smile. Her light white cotton sweater covered a blouse of some sort. She was no knockout. But I liked looking at her.

We chatted for a few more minutes. She really did seem like a homebody who didn’t leave town much. To her I probably did come across as a Road Warrior, though it only made me feel insecure again. Now I was impersonating one. Our conversation gradually slowed. I didn’t want to keep badgering her, though she was asking most of the questions.

Finally the plane began to move. We entered the de-icing area and they sprayed the plane. Lori looked out the window and watched. I’ll admit I watched Lori.

It just felt natural. A man sees a woman – he automatically checks her out at least a little, right? Everything about her was nice. So I just admired her, the way I seem to admire all women. They fascinate me. It wasn’t at all sexual…mostly. Though she did seem to have a nice slim body.

I turned my eyes away before she looked back.

The plane was now taxiing for takeoff. Lori stared straight ahead as we rolled along. I looked down at her hand lightly gripping the seatrest. She was probably nervous and tense – but then, I feel that way on takeoff too sometimes. I thought how it would be nice to hold her hand and reassure her, as we gathered speed and lifted up into the air.

Once we were airborne, I looked over and smiled. She smiled back a little, with those drawn cheekbones, though it turned to a grimace as the landing gear noisily retracted. “All routine,” I said. She smiled a little again.

The plane ascended through the clouds. I took out my laptop and began reviewing for my day. I would have liked to talk more to Lori but had nothing in particular to talk about. She was still reading her magazine. I stole little glances at her. Yes, I’m juvenile. I think I mentioned that.

The first hour of the flight was uneventful. The attendants gave us water and weak coffee. I thought bahis siteleri about the Road Warriors eating whatever they wanted up front. But then the turbulence started.

It was just a little rumbling at first. I turned to Lori, who looked at me a bit worried. I smiled confidently, though I could feel my stomach starting to flip-flop a little. I closed the laptop and stared straight ahead. The rumbling got worse. It didn’t stop. Soon the plane started to shake. Each bump brought little squeals from passengers.

I stole a look at Lori, who was rigid, seemingly biting her lip. My own insides were in agony. But my instinct was to be strong…for her. Right? She was turning pale and looked like she was on the edge of crying.

I suddenly had a crazy impulse, and moved my fingers over hers. She immediately grabbed them in a tight grip. I held on to her. We both stared ahead, holding hands. Her skin was so much softer then mine. It felt electric, but I was mainly preoccupied with just keeping upright.

This went on for several minutes. Finally the pilot came on. “Folks, sorry for the bit of turbulence were having.” Bit? These guys were faking it more than me. He went on. “Looks like we may have to make a flight change…the weather changed faster than we predicted and it’s looking a bit stormy ahead of us at all levels…” A bit , again. “So air traffic control recommends we divert and make an alternative landing for now. Sorry about that.”

I was amazed – I had never had a plane diverted before. The storm must be bad. We were now headed for a city well off the flight path. My day had gone to hell, and I was still sitting through the wild bumps of turbulence. Lori and I were still holding hands firmly. I wanted to talk to her. But my own insides felt like jelly, and all I could do was stare ahead and hope we made a safe landing. I managed to squeeze a little bit and gave her a smile. She managed a weak smile back.

The shaking slowly lessened as we flew away from the storm. After a while I could feel the plane descending. I looked past Lori to see the ground coming closer – a snowy landscape as far as I could see. “Not much more,” I whispered to her. Her eyes were closed but she nodded. She never let go of my hand.

We touched down surprisingly smoothly. I let go of Lori’s hand and began to relax, though my insides were still a mess. Lori’s eyes were open but she was still staring at the seat in front of her. And little did we know what lay ahead.

*****

The plane sat on the tarmac for a while, waiting for a gate for our unexpected arrival. The crew kept us updated, mainly to say there was no information about other flights, or rescheduling, or much of anything. Lori listened intently to each announcement. Finally she turned to me and asked what was going to happen.

I felt useless as I told her I didn’t know. We would probably be waiting in the airport for a while. I felt even more powerless as I took out my phone and called my first client to tell him the situation. His secretary took the information, confirming that it was very stormy there and that he was sure to understand. Lori could hear me, of course. When I hung up, she touched me lightly on the arm and said, “I’m sorry that you’re going to be late.”

“It’s okay,” I said. Her touch was tingly. I remembered our hand holding. She didn’t say anything about it. Perhaps neither of us wanted to mention it.

Eventually we moved to a gate and stopped. We were told to exit the plane, though the attendants still didn’t have any more information. Everyone instantly rose and flooded the aisle. I brought Lori’s things down for her. For the first time I could really look directly at her, and she was just looking more and more attractive. As she leaned forward, I could even see down her blouse a little and saw the faintest hint of cleavage. But I was primarily focused on getting off the plane and up to a customer service desk as quickly as possible. I knew that the sooner I got there, the more likely I could get on another flight, or waiting list, or something. Or rather, the sooner we both could get on one. “Follow me as best you can,” I said to Lori. “And meet me at the desk.”

We went up into the terminal. People were moving slowly and aimlessly and I tried not to be rude as I pushed through them. I passed a large well-staffed desk marked BUSINESS CLASS. The Road Warriors were already being served. I didn’t know the airport well and wasn’t completely sure which way to go. So I guessed and kept pushing ahead as politely as I could while dragging my carry-on. I barely looked back, but saw Lori struggling behind two large women. I wanted to go back and help her, but I knew I had to push ahead. Soon I reached the desk – only one guy was ahead of me, but soon four or five gathered behind. Lori soon arrived, a little breathless. I waved at her and she moved ahead of the line beside me. I smiled. She smiled her drawn smile again.

The news was not great at the desk. Our small flight bahis şirketleri was indeed cancelled, and the storm was playing havoc with schedules. But there was space on an afternoon flight to our destination, assuming it managed to take off. I was grateful for that. There were even two seats together. They printed new boarding passes and I gave Lori hers. “Thanks,” she said. As we were leaving, I heard the staff tell the next guy behind me that there was no more room on the direct flight.

I felt a little swell of pride. Partly for me, but mostly because I had delivered for Lori. I had looked after her. Just like when I held her hand. I had just met this woman. But I felt responsible for her, and that felt really good. I felt bad about my cheap look down her top, even though it wasn’t intentional.

Now we had to wait. The airport was crowded and I suggested we look for a place to sit down. I asked Lori if she wanted something to eat, but both our stomachs were still recovering from the turbulence, and she told me she didn’t eat much in the morning anyway. We pulled our suitcases along and found a small row of unoccupied seats.

No longer confined in the plane as complete strangers, it was much easier to talk now. We told each other a little bit about ourselves. She was a mother of two and had always stayed at home, though now she had little to do. Her husband worked for a large company, doing something or other in the office. I told her about my own family and a bit more about my work.

“It sounds very exciting,” she said. “I’ve hardly left where I grew up. My sister was the most adventurous in the family when she moved to your city.”

“Not really,” I told her. “You just sort of go where you’re told.” That wasn’t exactly true – I had pushed hard to earn new assignments and promotions and to get to my level of responsibility. But I didn’t want to sound boastful.

She smiled. “I think you’re being modest.” I didn’t reply at first, but she kept looking at me. Finally I smiled and admitted I liked new places and new challenges. She grinned in victory.

Our conversation continued like that. At times she came across as sheltered, and almost naive. But she was no fool.

We talked about flying and travel. Same thing. Despite her flustered appearance when I first met her, and her implication she had never left her home city, she had been to Europe as a student years before and taken vacation flights to tropical destinations. I told her she had struck me as a nervous, very infrequent flyer who knew little about security and other procedures. She laughed and gave me her thin tight-lipped smile again. “I guess I never remember anything,” she said. “I’m kind of a dork that way.”

I told her that was silly. Then, feeling brave, I confessed a bit of my Road Warrior envy.

She didn’t laugh at my insecurity. “I get that,” she said. “I think it’s pretty normal to always want a little more. Even when we know we should just be happy with what we’ve got.” I agreed.

Lori was the best companion I could have stuck in an airport. The more we talked, the more I discovered new layers to her. The worried woman on the plane changed into a confident, intriguing person. She had a clever, ironic sense of humor. Despite somewhat different lives, we also had a lot in common. We were close to the same age. Similar suburban lives. We liked the same music and movies. We both went to church, but hinted at some shared doubts.

I almost forgot that we had held hands. But I remembered when she took out her phone and called her husband about the delay. I phoned my own wife and checked in with my clients. The clients understood and said it was no problem. My wife unhelpfully suggested I should have anticipated weather problems and flown out the day before. Then she asked why I needed to travel so much anyway. I hung up feeling bad.

It was approaching lunchtime. We were finally both hungry, and discussed lunch options in the big terminal. “How about that sushi booth over there?” I suggested. She made a face.

“You like sushi?” she said.

“Sure,” I said. “Don’t you?”

“I’ve never tried it,” she said. “I just can’t get over the idea of cold raw seaweed and stuff.” She seemed embarrassed. I was surprised. Where was the confident, worldly woman I had just been talking to?

She opted for a salad. The food area was crowded and we had to share a table with two older women who graciously made room. We didn’t talk much though. I was self-conscious with our audience and unsure how to continue our getting-to-know-you conversation. They would have assumed we were a married couple. Not a middle-aged man and woman who happened to meet and hold hands on a plane. I offered Lori a piece of sushi. She tentatively tried it and admitted it wasn’t that bad.

*****

Eventually it was time for our flight and so we moved to the gate. It was on schedule and we headed on board, nestling into our new seats – a middle and window. A big guy was on the aisle. Lori took the window and I settled in beside her. It was much tighter than the other plane, especially with the big guy spilling into my seat. I had to move closer to Lori, so that our hips were touching as we shared the armrest.

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