As we near cruising altitude, there’s a significant leveling out of the plane; releasing its twisting grip of my head. Even with closed eyes I can tell we’re still in a gradual climb. I take a deep breath and sigh it out to regain bravery before opening them. Eager to see how high we’ve climbed, I lean forward and look out the window.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached cruising altitude and the fasten seat belt sign has been turned off. You may now move about the cabin. In a few moments the attendants will around the cabin to offer you hot or cold drinks. Alcoholic drinks are also available at a nominal charge. Our estimated arrival time in Chicago is approximately 4 hours from now, putting us at 9:24 P.M. for landing. Please sit back, relax, and enjoy the flight Thank you.”
I push my weight higher from the chair and crook my head to the right, looking for Tim. He’s there, about 10 rows back, engaged in conversation with his neighbor. I sit myself back into my seat, placing my fingers on my manuscript to scan for the place I’d left off.
“That paper must be pretty impor’ant.” The raspy voice next to me speaks.
I can sense the energy from his eyes pour into me. I look at him and offer a polite smile. “I suppose. I’ve been putting off making edits and revisions for far too long.” Our eyes meet. His are gentle, deep like chocolate honey. But I can almost see a gold undertone in as the light shines in on them through the window, like chocolate honey. My eyes draw over the rest of his features. Black hair; wavy, and messy, falling over his forehead to frame his oval face like a polyester cap. Freckles dance on his slender nose and cheeks under a layer of tan skin; evidence of outside activities. There’s a teasing crease in his left cheek from the half smile painted on his full lips supported by his strong chin covered in stubble.
“Well, I hope you’re not late on any deadlines.” He holds my gaze with his before breaking contact to glance at the stack of papers upon my lap. My eyes follow his and I look at the top page; covered in scribbles and markings of red and blue ink.
“It’s just a self motivated project, so… no deadlines. Good thing too! Six years in the making would have me owing publishers more than my arms and legs!” I tap my pen against the paper while my chest compresses with nerves making it hard to breathe.
His arm bumps into mine as a result of his chuckle. “Nah. I don’t believe they are really that harsh.” He leans his head back onto the headrest and turns it, looking at me.
“Yeah, I was being facetious. I wouldn’t actually know…” I shrug, gazing at the papers to avoid looking back at him.
“Well, let’s hear it then?” he mumbles.
His comment captures my curiosity and draws my focus to him; the crease in his cheek is still there. “Hear what?”
“What’s it about?”
“Oh … um, it’s silly.” My heart races, prompting my palms to grow damp with sweat.
“It’s impor’ant enough to spend an entire six years writing. It can’t be that silly.”
I break. A smile grows on my face and I close my eyes, little hairs tickling my neck when I shake my head. “It’s a sci-fi drama about an alien geneticist who’s tasked with creating a new hybrid species using the DNA of her people and from another world to be enslaved as workers to mine gold which can supply machines the resources they need to re-create their atmosphere so that their people don’t die.” I take a deep breath after my long-winded response, biting my lips together. No response. I peek at him. “…It’s an on and off project.”
He nods and smiles. “Sounds like a fun story.”
“You don’t really have to humor me about it. But I appreciate you trying!” I put the cap back on my pen and fumble with it in my hands, slouching in my seat a bit to get more comfortable.
“I wasn’t humoring you. It sounds neat.” He peers into the aisle and smiles before sitting back, folding his hands in his lap, twirling his thumbs around one another.
Silence stabs the air as I direct my gaze to stare at the clouds out my window. I hear the attendant asking people in the seats further ahead of us what they’d like to drink.
“Can I ask you a question?” His voice comes in loud but quiet as he speaks.
I look over at him and nod, pinching my lips together, tucking them into my cheeks. “Sure.”
He’s leaning in toward me. “I hope this doesn’t eh … embarrass you. But I couldn’t help but notice your reaction to our takeoff.”
My face heats with crimson.
“What was that all about?”
I take a deep breath and lick my lips to prepare for response, reflecting on my words before speaking. “I don’t know how to explain it … when I feel the magnitude of force pushing me back into the seat I feel so weak and insignificant in comparison. Thinking about what is necessary to be part of the entire airplane assembly to make flying possible. I feel privileged to be part of it. So I let the sensation take me somewhere that I think people take for granted. To a microscopic level of oneness with … everything. It’s exhilarating!”
His straight pearly whites sparkle with the smile he’s wearing from ear to ear. A chuckle escapes his lips. “Wow.”
I shrug my shoulders up slightly, slinking back in defense. “What? … you asked.”
“Yeah – well I guess I figured you were just gonna say like “It gives me jitters” or something, not give me a physics lesson.”
“Oh. I guess that was a lot to take in wasn’t it?”
He brings his hand toward me, “I’m Bob.”