Laureen and I are having drinks at one of the bars at SeaTac, waiting on our flight from Seattle to Phoenix, when our boss, Vessman called on video chat. “Change of plans,” he said, with his rodent-focused eyes staring at us. “Hate doing this, but I need you guys on a plane to Hawaii. Short notice, yeah, but come on, it’s Hawaii. Right? Enjoy it.”
Quite common with Vessman; last month he had routed us from Dallas to Miami. In March, during tornado warnings in Nebraska, he sent us from Omaha to Boston, where they had nine inches of snow.
It’s our last excursion, our last momentum, a flight fueled by convenience, lust.
I look over at Laureen. Damn. Whatever made me do it… a work fling? Friends turned intimate? An affair? Our age gap is seventeen years. Yes, I know—quite alarming. Why would I do that? Laureen is twenty-six. I hear some hesitation in her voice when we board the plane, a certain stutter that we were, uh—finished.
“Of all places, Hawaii,” she says. “Sucks to be us, huh?”
I take in her sarcasm.
Laureen nudges my arm: “I was looking forward to getting home, checking on my mother. Did you see what that dude had on? Purple Polo with watermelons? Who does that?”
What was the deal about us going to Hawaii? A banking convention at the Omni Hotel and Vessman thought we should go at the last minute. American and Japanese investors will be there. Hotshots in the global banking industry. They had contacted DDC to adjust encryption code. At DDC, we’re always on-call. “Bravado I.T. Travelers,” I referred to us the day we landed in Boston. True, we made good money, damn good money, but I hated the rigorous nature of traveling, the constant bouts of turbulence and sitting for long periods of time.
Carolyn knows about Laureen, just as I had known about Marco, her office coworker two years ago. We went to couple’s therapy before Laureen and I got together. I have told Carolyn, after Hawaii, that I am resigning from DDC.
“Good,” she said. “But it won’t change things, you know—us?”
Laureen and I work on our laptop computers on the plane, somewhere over the Pacific, two hours into our flight.
“Threshold Moon is done,” Laureen calls out her special name for the file. She closes her laptop, rubs her fingers across her temples as if she feels a headache coming on. The airplane tilts right. Laureen tips her drink and sips the last bit of her margarita.
“So, who’s checking on your mother?” I ask.
“My brother Rick. Why? You worried about her too? Rick is good. He’s a constant texter and updates me on her condition.”
“She finished with chemo?”
“If it’s isolated and it has shrunk. Hey, not to change the subject, but do you think that I curse too much?”
“No, I don’t think you do. Why?”
“I probably do. Patrick text you back?”
“Not yet. I’ll text him after we land. I’m going to try and get in a nap.”
My son Patrick emailed me before boarding the plane about making the basketball team. He’s six-one and only fifteen. He has a much better jump shot than I had at his age. If he develops, grows more, the kid might end up getting a scholarship.
I close my eyes. I think about how Laureen and I get along so well. It’s not as though we can finish each other’s sentences, though. We are not so agreeable, more like two cats attracted to each other in ways that feel unhinged by the laws of attraction, a quick paw length away from protecting our egos.
“I’m glad I’m with you,” Laureen says, putting the palm of her hand on my forearm. “Only as friends, may that it be. Just coworkers, I get that. Man, that margarita has kicked in. Ha!”
“You want anything, sir?” the flight attendant asks, walking by. “We still have cold beer.”
“No thank you,” I say. “I’m good.”
Laureen runs her fingers through my hair; her eyes drift to the window.
“Do you understand all this new code, Thomas? I hate how Vessman always has these last-minute assignments.”
“I know what you know,” I say. “The banking side is big business for us. The honchos in Honolulu. I think it involves a new solution to ward off global defaults. To prevent or soften another catastrophe like 08.”
“You want my flash drive?”
“No,” I say. “Just wait until we land. Or until we get to our hotel. Man, a steak sounds really good.”
Suddenly, there’s a crack, like the sound of metal splintering, searing apart. It is loud and near the wing by the window where we sit.
“What the hell was that?” Laureen snaps, squeezing my thigh. “I’m not ready to die, Thomas.”
“You’re not going to die. If it happens you won’t feel it.”
Probabilities. I think how we both accepted the astronomical odds that we go down in the ocean or get torn to pieces. We accepted it, Laureen. The laws of physics now determine our fate.
Of course, I don’t tell her that.
“What?” she says. “I would feel every bit of it.”
She pulls her hand off my leg. She presses her face to the plastic window. I lean forward, hoping to see if something has hit the wing. In front of us, a teenage boy turns and says, “I bet the engine blew.”
The captain announces that the plane is stabilized. We’re about to land. Laureen closes her eyes and presses her front teeth to her lips, her face white in fear. She looks at me as if she might throw up, that in the back of her mind we might get sucked out into the atmosphere at five-hundred miles per hour.
I feel calm, oddly. I feel if it is my time to break away with the plane and disintegrate into the ocean—there’s not much that I can do about it. I can pray to God, sure, but stopped that long ago. Stopped praying after 9/11; stopped praying after one of my best friends was shot to death at a rock concert; stopped all that nonsense after Carolyn went through two miscarriages, and after my father’s suicide.
The flight attendant says: “It’s fine. Everyone, we will be landing in Honolulu momentarily.”
People will say that Thomas Tillson and his mistress deserved their punishment for their adulterous behavior. “God struck them down with vengeance,” a pastor in Mississippi will conclude, not long after the plane crash.
“God had a plan for them, for everyone on that plane, and it is God’s plan and desire that we don’t quite understand,” a pastor in Flagstaff will say, with careful deliberation to a big crowd at a mega church.
We don’t hear another sound or any noise by the wing. Laureen grabs my hand and we keep our attention ahead, toward the cockpit. Briefly, I feel like a stranger to her. Maybe it was the refurbished air flowing? Maybe it was the alarming, sudden panic from the passengers after the sound around the wing? Are we not eventually strangers in this wide spectrum of life? Soon, Laureen and I will walk across the tarmac at the airport and go to our hotel and order a bottle of wine, shrimp and steak on DDC’s travel card. We will take a warm shower after soaking in the hot tub. In the morning, we will go to the conference rooms and set up any needed computer terminals. We will deliver the banking code to a gentleman known as Cheong-Le, a banking honcho from JP Morgan. I will read later that Cheong-Le’s nineteen-year-old daughter had leapt to her death off a bridge in Tokyo two years ago, but you could never tell something so tragic had happened behind his dark-pearl eyes.
Our plane banks left after a bout of turbulence and the flight attendant stumbles. She is curled against the wall, and I see her black underwear exposed. Her left foot shoeless. She sees me, and we lock eyes. Our eyes entwined together, sunken into the realm of how we might meet again in our next life.
I see Patrick as a baby, holding him. My six-foot-one son almost a grown man. Weird that my life does not flash in front of me, but fragments of light, maybe the tiny lights in the compartment above, jut out as if spurts of air hitting a candle flame when one walks past it.
A hard jolt bounces the plane as we land on the runway. We would learn later that part of the metal on the right wing had broken off. The captain and co-pilot were congratulated nationally for their calm nerves and smooth landing of the plane. I text Carolyn that I’m okay, but tired.
The sun has not set and the clouds in the distance absorb a purple color of fading light in the air. I smell Laureen’s sweat; she hugs me and says, “Well, not the best flight that I’ve had, if this was meant to be, or so—”
“Laureen, nothing is meant to be. We’ve had this philosophical conversation before.”
“To live, Thomas. We are meant to live.”
I shake my head in disagreement and don’t bother furthering any argument.
I think about dolphins in the Pacific Ocean, Great Whites’ fins slicing through waves and absorbing the entrails of half-eaten fish. I think about Carolyn and Patrick and how everything will be fine within our family dynamics, complicated as they’ve become. I will let Laureen go. I am sorry for all of this.
The next morning the sun heats my face and arms through the curve of the hotel window as I lay in the comfort of the white sheets. Even fancy hotels’ smells linger around us, and one cannot distinguish it from a lesser quality room. Laureen is gone. Did she catch the next flight back to Arizona? I can still smell her powdered body, her breath like minted coffee and waffle syrup on her lips. I did not leave her, she has left me. Bummer.
After I got out of the shower, I see Laureen standing by the bed. Her tennis shoes untied, her burgundy hair pulled back and wrapped with a tie, and she says, “Went for a workout. Let’s go for breakfast and finish the terminal install. Get the hell out of here. Look, I understand, Thomas. I do love you, but you don’t have to love me. After all of this, we can just be normal coworkers. I’m okay with that. Really, I am.”
“I’m quitting DDC,” I say.
“Hope not because of me,” she says.
“Because I’m tired of being a corporate puppet. I want to spend time with my family. Fix things. Mend hearts.”
She gets a shower and then we take the elevator down, eat breakfast and begin our computer setup and don’t talk to each other for another hour or so. I want more than anything to leave Hawaii, but it will be another six to seven hours. I walk over to grab coffee and stare out of the atrium window, watch clouds break apart and reform, watch a plane disappear behind them. A few hours pass, and I feel a tap on my shoulder. Laureen says, “We can go. I don’t want to fly alone.”