Brenda Murphy © 2017
All Rights Reserved
“Come on, Mac. The pool is going to be shut down. When would be a better time to go?”
Mac sat back in her chair and peeled the label off her beer bottle. “It’d be crazy expensive. Easy for you to talk but I’m on my own.”
Nicole sipped her wine. Mr. Nips meowed loudly and jumped into Nicole’s lap. He rubbed his head on Nicole’s chin, making her spill her wine.
Mac laughed and handed Nicole a napkin. “So, how’s it going with Virginia? You guys good?”
“Thanks.” Nicole wiped her chin and pushed the cat to the floor. “Better than good. She’s everything. It’s incredible.” Nicole’s cheeks were bright red. “I’m picking her up from the airport tonight.” She took a sip of her wine. “I wish you’d find someone, Mac. You deserve to be happy.”
Mac snorted. Happy. What does that even mean? “I’m happy. Enough.” She shifted in her seat, causing her ring of keys to jingle. Liar. A disgruntled Mr. Nips batted at her keys, making them jingle again.
“You have to do this.” Nicole reached out and touched Mac’s hand. “I wouldn’t be picking up Virginia if you hadn’t pushed me to talk to her. This time it’s me to you. Fuck you if you don’t take this trip.”
Mac set her beer down. “I’ll think about it.” She stood up and finished her beer in two long swallows before she tossed the bottle into the recycle bin. She bent down and rubbed Mr. Nips between his ears. “See you tomorrow. Don’t let your girlfriend make you late again.”
Nicole blushed and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Mac.”
Mac let herself out. She took the stairs down two at a time. She stepped over her bike, turned the key, and kicked the engine over. The low rumble between her legs was satisfying and comforting. She checked the time on her phone. Home? The bar? She took the long way home, tearing through the dark night trying to go fast enough to outrun the relentless sadness chasing her.
The airport was hot and sticky. Mac wiped at the back of her neck with her kerchief before stuffing it back in her pocket. She checked the information board. “DELAYED” flashed by her flight number and she stifled a groan. After loitering in the airport bookshop, she settled on a copy of Motor Sport magazine and a pack of mints. She walked back to her gate. A group of disgruntled travelers in suits was packed around the desk haranguing the gate agent. Mac pressed her lips together. Her tolerance for self-important businessmen was low on a good day. And with the possibility of a long weather delay, she looked for a seat as far from the desk as she could find. She found an empty row of seats and sat down. Mac tucked her daypack between her feet before she pulled out her phone to check the weather. The line of thunderstorms delaying her flight shone bright red with bands of yellow and dark green on the weather app radar.
“Excuse me. Would you watch my bag? I need to visit the ladies’. I don’t want to drag it with me.”
Mac looked up from her phone. A tall woman in a black cotton knit dress stood in front of her. Her eyebrows were delicately arched and she spoke with the barest hint of an accent. Pale blue eyes and a quiet smile graced her face.
The woman placed her monogrammed black leather bag next to Mac’s boot and held Mac’s gaze.
Exquisite. The bag and the woman. “I’d be happy to.” Mac stuffed her phone in her pocket. Her beat-up day bag looked even worse resting on the floor next to the woman’s bespoke luggage. She watched the woman as she wove through the crowd. Her sandy brown hair brushed her shoulders as she strode to the bathroom, graceful in a pair of black pumps. Who wears pumps on a plane? Mac looked at the rows of travelers seated behind and in front of her and the empty seats around her. She peeked at the luggage tag attached to the woman’s carry-on bag and read it. Lana Baroni. Name’s as fancy as her bag. Why me?
Her black T-shirt, biker boots, and jeans were unique among the crowd. Most of the other travelers were dressed in baggy shorts and running shoes, track suits or yoga pants and T-shirts, except for the cool kids in skinny jeans and Chucks. Don’t make a big deal out of it. The woman walked back through the crowd, full-figured and elegant. Mac was mesmerized watching her as she approached. Her long black dress flowed around her legs, the knee-length slit in the skirt showing off an occasional glimpse of her long legs. Damn. As good coming as going. Mac sat up straighter in her seat.
“Thank you.” The woman sat down, choosing the seat next to Mac over the numerous empty seats on either side of her. Mac inhaled her perfume, appreciating the subtle spicy scent of ginger and cedarwood the woman wore.
“You’re welcome. Are you on this flight?” Mac turned to look into her eyes. Cornflower. That’s the color of her eyes. Cornflower blue.
“Yes. Trying to get home.” She shifted to face Mac, her knee brushing against Mac’s thigh before she straightened out her legs and sat back in her seat.
“Moltrasio, but I have some business in Milan beforehand. And you?”
“I live here but I’m trying to get to Monza.”
“For the Grand Prix, yes?”
“Yes. How’d ya know? You psychic?”
“This.” She tapped the magazine in Mac’s lap.
Mac smiled and searched for something else to say. I could listen to her talk all day. “You follow Formula One?”
“You could say that.” Her mouth quirked up on one side. “Did they say how long before we board?”
“Nah, our plane had to land in Norfolk. The storms have grounded everyone.”
The woman frowned and pulled an e-reader from her bag. Mac took the clue and slid back in her seat and opened her magazine. The images of the drivers and cars sent a thrill through her. She flipped through it, trying to envision how it would be watching the race in person. She remembered the first time her dad took her to a race. They were standing on the concrete apron of the grandstands at the half-mile track in Richmond when the drivers started their engines. Mac’s dad had boosted her up on his shoulders to see over the crowd. The scent of his drugstore aftershave and cigarette smoke blended with the smell of fuel and sweat and adrenaline that was NASCAR. She shivered remembering the way her body vibrated with the roar of the engines. She traced her fingers over the images of the cars on the page. This is for you, Dad. And me.
The storm raged outside. Rain and small hailstones hit and splattered against the glass wall behind them as dark clouds shadowed the waiting area. Mac tried to focus on her magazine but the hint of cedarwood and ginger perfume from the woman next to her wove its way into her thoughts. She shifted in her seat, careful to not bump the woman sitting next to her. Once she’d pushed her earbuds in she swiped to her favorite playlist and turned it up to drown out the sounds of the rain and hail.
She kept her head down and watched the woman from under her lashes. Late thirties early forties. Money. Class. The woman was solidly built and broad shouldered. Her dress was short-sleeved and displayed her well-muscled arms. Swimmer? Tennis player? Mac was a woman of few words but in this moment with this woman she had so many she wanted to say.
The man’s voice was loud enough Mac could hear it over her music. She pulled her earbuds out and looked up from her magazine. Ugly, loud, his anger escalating, the man leaned over the airline check-in desk. The small woman behind the counter stepped back. Her hands were raised, palm out. I should leave it alone. She’ll call security.
“Stupid cunt. I hate this fucking airline. What do you mean you don’t know when we’ll board? Is it that hard?” He leaned over the desk, his hands spread wide. A few of the passengers nearby looked up. A mother pulled her son into her lap and turned away, using a small stuffed animal to distract him from the scene at the desk.
“I need an answer, bitch,” the man shouted.
The passengers around the desk were quiet. The few men sitting nearby watched. No one made a move to help. Mac sighed. Fuck that. Mac stuffed her earbuds into her bag and stood. Lana stopped reading and looked up at her.
“Can you watch my bag?”
Lana glanced at the desk and tilted her head. “Yes.” The man was still yelling and gesturing at the desk clerk. “Be careful.”
“Always.” Mac strode to the desk, walking heavily in her boots. Her footsteps sounded like pistol shots in the uneasy quiet surrounding the desk. She walked up behind the man and stopped an arm’s length away.
She pitched her deep voice lower. “Hey, buddy.”
The man whirled around. His face was red. The acrid smell of cheap beer assaulted Mac’s nose. Great. A drunk dudebro. “Why don’t ya leave her alone? She can’t control the weather.”
The man sneered at Mac, taking in her boots and jeans. “Why don’t you–” he took a step toward Mac, invading her space. “Mind your own fucking business?”
Looking over the man’s shoulder, Mac saw the clerk ease closer to the desk and pick up the security phone.
“I’m trying to but you’re being loud. We all got places to go. There’s kids here. You’re scaring them. You don’t need to yell at her. The plane will be here when it gets here.” Keep him talking. Give them time to get here. He’s got me by a few pounds. Don’t start anything.
“It’s none of your business, you fucking bull dagger. Who do you think you are?” Spit flecked his lips as he spoke and he stepped closer until his face was an inch from Mac’s.
Easy. Don’t let him get to you.
Mac moved her right foot back, ready do what she needed to do to protect herself or the people around her. “The bull dagger that’s going to kick your ass if you don’t sit down and shut up. I didn’t do two tours in Afghanistan to come home and listen to this kind of bullshit.” Mac clenched her fists and shifted her stance, ready to make good on her threat. The boarding area was quiet and Mac sensed the other passengers’ eyes on them.
“Sir?” A security officer arrived and stood beside Mac. She relaxed her hands. The man stepped back and raised his hands, palm out.
“Hey, I didn’t do anything. I want to know when we’re boarding. Nobody knows a fucking thing here. And then this nigg…” He stopped speaking before he said the one word guaranteed to start a fight as two more security officers arrived.
“You need to come with us.” The first officer stepped closer to the man, placing herself between Mac and the drunk.
Mac stepped away and the security team escorted the man from the boarding gate. The desk clerk mouthed a silent thank you and smiled at Mac. The other passengers went back to their phones and reading their magazines.
“Thank you.” The woman with her son on her lap called to Mac as she walked past her seat. Mac nodded an acknowledgement at the woman, not trusting herself to speak.
She went to the bathroom and splashed cold water on her face. The kick of adrenaline from the altercation drained away and left her hands trembling and her stomach in knots. She rubbed the tight muscles at the back of her neck. Asshole. Stupid fucking asshole. Fuck.