The plane touches down right on time as I look out the small window at the night lit up by the overpowering lights of the airport. We taxy down the runway and I close the small window that is the porthole to my old life, sliding the barrier physically between the two worlds and wishing I could do it as easily emotionally. I take the last sip of my small inflight cocktail and close my eyes as it burns my throat and warms my insides. It will be the first of many burns I know I’ll be feeling this week.
The other passengers begin to spill into the isle and I can hear the sound of the compartments above my head opening. I’m not getting out of my seat until I have to. Let the frantic old ladies and tired whining children out first. I’m not going to fight for a position in that miserable line when I can sit in this uncomfortable seat and prolong the last few moments I have to myself.
The man that was sitting beside me stands up and I open my eyes to make sure his departure does not include his carryon being dropped on my head. With a small smile and a nod, he steps into the aisle amongst the crowd and makes his way to the front of the plane. I have to admit that I’ve been a terrible seatmate. I was not really a big conversationalist and his attempts to start friendly chitchat fell flat as I kept a steady flow of alcohol streaming over my lips and wetting my tongue.
Finally when the last person has left the plane, I stand up a little wobbly and reach for my carryon. I can tell the flight attendant is anxious for me to get off this damn plane so she can too. I straighten out my skirt and feel the ache of standing in my heels again. I hadn’t had time to get out of my work clothes before rushing to make this flight. With my bag in hand, I exit the plane and take the long walk up the jet way feeling my dread build as I take each step.
It isn’t horribly late for a Monday night, but the airport is still pretty empty and there are small areas where the shops have closed and the lights are shut off. Of course there is no one waiting for me, I didn’t really confirm with Rachel what time I’d be arriving for that exact reason. I think it’s for the best that I get to the hotel and check in alone so I can have a night to let the events of this next week really settle in my head and heart.
The baggage claim area is a little more crowded, but only a few bags are still making the rotation. I watch my black bag with the pink ribbon I had attached to make spotting it easier, make a turn and move in my direction. When it gets close, I grip the handle and pull it to the floor beside me. This is it. I have arrived and a few hours from now I’ll be facing my childhood best friend and the rest of her bridal party at the hotel restaurant for brunch.
The air hits me like a tepid wet breath, sucking the air from my lungs and plastering my face with a moist sheen of perspiration. Yes, I’m back in Florida for the first time since leaving four years ago. I have about six days before I’ll be stepping back off of an airplane and into the fresh California air. I just hope I can survive this week with my sanity and dignity. Right now it doesn’t feel like either are possible.
I pull the wedding invitation from my purse and hail a taxy at the curb. The driver pulls over and helps to put my bag and carryon into the trunk before returning to his seat. The smell of fake leather and old air freshener offends my nose, but I know I must smell like a bar towel so I try my best to pretend it isn’t hard to breathe, and switch straight to mouth breathing only.
“I’m going to the Marriot.” I move to show him the invitation, but he waves it off and pulls into traffic so abruptly that I slam back against the seat. Fine, I guess he knows exactly where it is. I make it about two blocks before I have to roll my window down despite the horrid wave of uncomfortably thick air I know is going to come sweeping in. I hate humidity. I’m sure my sleek, long, straight California hair is quickly becoming my frizzy, fluffy, Florida hair.
When I finally step into the lobby of the hotel I let my head fall back and enjoy the crisp air conditioning for a second before righting it again. I tip my rolling bag into a slanted position and pull it behind me to the counter. I reserved my room under the wedding block a few months ago and now I’m having second thoughts about being so easily attached to all the other people in the wedding party. Being inconspicuous sounds the safest, but I know the right thing to do is go along with Rachel’s plans since she has been planning this big day since she was twelve.
I try to travel the hallway on my floor as quietly as possible. My goal is to be alone and not folded into the arms of some acquaintance I was happy to leave behind when I boarded that plane four years ago and headed to California. Once in my room, I quickly kick off my heels and slip on a pair of flip-flops. I pull my hair over my shoulder and braid the strands so I can maintain some semblance of control over it.
My short-sleeved, blush pink, silk blouse has seen better days, but where I’m going it doesn’t matter. I open the minibar and pull three small bottles of vodka from their shelf and tuck them into my bra. I have a date with the moonlight and I’m not going down there unarmed. In ten minutes time I’m sneaking back out of the room and making my way to the pool.
The large sign on the gate warns me the pool closed ten minutes ago, but I still push the gate open and find a chase lounger at the edge of the crystal clear blue water. The lights above are shut off in an attempt to deter rule-breaking guests like myself, but really they have no chance of stopping me. I sit down and adjust the back of the lounger so that I’m sitting up enough to drink my liquor and also reclined enough to relax and see the stars.
The sky in Florida doesn’t look much different than the one I can see from my balcony in California. I find that very comforting tonight as I listen to the insects chirping in the grass on the outskirts of the pool gate. The first bottle goes down a little rough, but that’s probably because it is more like my eighth or ninth of the day. The next one goes down much smoother and my shoulders relaxed as the thoughts that have been circling in my head bleed together and get fuzzy.
I close my eyes and listened to the sounds of the night as the alcohol makes my muscles warm and pliant. The creak of the gate opening gets my attention and I slowly lift my eyelids to see who has broken the calm of my private sanctuary. A small light is shining in the distance and the peace is further broken when a man bites back a curse, but lets loose a growl as his toes make contact with the hard metal frame of a lounge chair.
“No, no, I’m ok,” he says into the phone that is shining on the side of his face. “I just kicked something. Fuck that hurts!” He doesn’t see me as he limps in my direction and I try hard not to find his half limp, half hop attempt at moving hilarious. Alcohol can blur the lines between mildly amusing and completely gut-busting. When my snickering breaks the night air between us, his face quickly turns in my direction and he comes to a complete stop.
“Let me call you back,” he tells the caller. He moves the phone from his ear and taps the screen.
I’m trying to pull it together, but I can’t stop laughing. “I’m sorry,” I manage to say before another bout of giggling bubbles out of me. I wipe at my eyes, sucking in a few breaths to try to put an end to the cackling.
“You’re not even trying to contain yourself,” he teases, and I’m pretty sure I snort from the ridiculousness of this whole situation.
“I’m sorry.” I reach into my bra and pull out the last small bottle. I look down at his feet in the darkness and wonder why he hadn’t at least worn flip-flops. He starts to approach me slowly and I watch as this man in an expensive suit tries to walk like his recently smashed toes aren’t hurting. He almost pulls it off, but a few feet from my chair he starts to hobble again and then lets an impressive chain of expletives fly as he spins around and plants his ass in the chair next to mine.
I tip my head back against the vinyl straps of the chase and lift my small bottle of vodka in his direction. “This might help.” His lips curl into a smile and he takes the bottle from my hand. When his skin touches mine the tiny hairs on my arm lift and I can feel the sensation all the way up to the back of my neck. He twists the little blue top off the bottle and sighs.
“It won’t be nearly enough, but it’s something.” Before he drinks it he reaches up and loosens the silk tie around his neck then leans and adjust his lounger to match mine. Finally he tips the small bottle back and swallows its entire contents in one gulp.
I watch him stare up at the sky for a minute before I turn my head back to the moonlight and try to not notice the way he smells like soap and the fresh woodsy scent that is always uniquely male. I think I also smell power and money--but it might just be the alcohol. I would never claim to be an expert in men. This week is going to really drive that message home.
He tucks the small bottle into the pocket of his perfectly pressed shirt and then reaches for his wrist. He struggles for a minute with the button and I realize that he’s almost as tipsy as I am. I hold my hand out for him to put his wrist in and he only hesitates a brief moment before allowing me to help with the button. When it’s freed, he moves his other wrist into my grip. I pop the button through and try to ignore how nervous and excited it makes me to touch him. His closeness floods my senses with rich cues that seem to speak to my female brain and nerve endings without permission. I manage to release his wrist before I turn to goo.
Pulling the sleeve down to gain a small bit of tension, he expertly rolls up his sleeves and then unbuttons the top two buttons on his collar. “Thank you.” His voice rolls over me and I love the way it burns as warm inside me as the alcohol had.
“It’s the least I could do for laughing at your expense,” I tease.
He nods. It’s quiet for a moment as we sit beneath the night sky. Under any other circumstance this would be an excellent way to meet someone. It has just the perfect amount of amusement and attraction. The problem is, there’s already a history between us. Not a love story, just a few years where this man, Andrew, had a friendship with the man I was in love with. We were together quite often during that time.
“Do they know you’re here? I wasn’t sure you were going to come.” He slowly turns his head to look at me, but I keep my eyes trained on the sky above. Just like that the weightlessness and ease of the evening suddenly becomes heavy and insufferable.
“No, and I wasn’t sure I was going to come either.” My answer doesn’t require any more explanation than that. He already knows why I don’t really want to be here. My heart aches in my chest as the reality of what I’m going to have to take part in this next week sinks in a little deeper.
“If it’s any comfort to you, I think Rachel and Evan have worse boundaries than Facebook.” While he says it in a serious tone, I immediately laugh. I don’t know that a truer observation has ever been said. When I turn my face towards him he’s looking right at me. He smiles, but I see the empathy for me in his eyes. “You should have told them to fuck off.”
“Perhaps,” I say with a sigh. “But then I wouldn’t have been the bigger person. Who knows? Maybe this is something I need to see.” I shrug a little and watch his face become clearer as my eyes continue to adjust to the darkness around us.
“Sure, but did you have to watch it from the front row? Shit Sophie, you’re the maid of honor.” He shakes his head and breaks our eye contact to look back up into the sky.
Rachel and I have been best friends since kindergarten. For years we had been inseparable. I always knew I would be the maid of honor at her wedding, just like I imagine she should be mine. However, what I never could have imagined is that she would be marrying the man I was in love with. Maybe one day I’ll say it’s for the best, but as of today, I’m not quite there yet.