“Oh, excuse me… sorry…” I saw her coming down the aisle and I knew… I just KNEW that she would be sitting next to me. She bumped into every other person already seated with her huge backpack, and the headphones draped around her neck were threatening to slip. I felt myself do an internal face palm as she slowed down. I almost felt a jolt of relief when she stopped at the row in front of me, but then she did a double-take and there she was, looking at me with those apologetic root beer colored eyes.
I say root beer because that’s my drink of choice, and what would eventually get me through this plane ride. I wouldn’t realize until weeks after this flight that it was the exact color of her eyes. But that’s not the point of this story.
She carelessly dropped her iPod, headphones and phone on the seat, before swinging her bag into the seat on top of them. She didn’t even hesitate, and I could practically smell the confidence coming off of her in waves. She hefted her huge backpack into the overhead compartment with ease, and then smiled at me.
“Sorry, it looks like we’re stuck together,” she said, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear and picking up her discarded electronics. She quickly checked the messages on her phone before shutting it off and putting it in her pocket. I watched her adjust herself, her headphones, her iPod… her clothes… for at least five minutes, before I realized that I had never responded.
“Oh yeah, stuck together.” I gave a nervous laugh, every nerve in my brain firing at the same time, making all rational thought processes impossible. I couldn’t think of anything else to say, so I let my words hang there for a while, before turning to gaze out the window.
There was nothing exciting to look at, but I tried to make myself look busy. I hated making small talk with strangers, and worse, I hated when the person sitting next to you on the plane was a real chatty Cathy. I always chose a row with two seats so it limited my chances of having to talk to someone.
As the flight attendants began to prepare for take-off, I couldn’t decide where on the chatty scale she belonged. Usually when someone jokes about being stuck together, they want to be your in-flight best friend for the duration of the flight. And seeing as this was an incredibly long flight, I felt dread begin to creep into my mind. But after her first greeting, she never opened her mouth again. She sat, listening to her iPod until we pulled away from the gate and taxied to the run way.
I started watching her out of the corner of my eye when she took her headphones off. She slipped them carefully around her arm and sat up, giving the flight attendant her full attention. From looking at her, I could tell she’d flown before. She even had one of those stupid neck pillows attached to her backpack. She was obviously a pro… Her iPod was fully charged, the brightness turned all the way down and she had those expensive noise cancelling headphones.
‘How the hell?’ I thought as my thought process begin to stray toward her again. I forced my gaze back to the window and stared at the run way. I watched all of the number markers as they passed and barely listened to the safety instructions. I had flown dozens of times before, it was all the same old song and dance. But my gaze was drawn back to her as she nodded her head and smiled at the flight attendant who was demonstrating right next to us.
She fell asleep soon after we took off, and I was thankful for that. No awkward conversation for me. Her head dropped to her chest, and it was then that I understood the need for that stupid pillow. The angle at which her head sat, and how it bobbed from side to side with the turbulence looked excruciatingly painful.
She woke up 20 minutes later, and I could tell she was disappointed by how little she actually slept. She checked the flight path and I heard her sigh, her shoulders falling forward. When she was fully awake she began to shift in her seat a lot; sometimes she would lean forward, her head resting on the screen in front of her. She was watching a movie, her headphones plugged into the arm rest. I watched as she kept her eyes focuses on the screen, reading the too-close subtitles and trying to keep watching the movie.
I wanted to tell her how bad that was for her eyesight, but I stopped myself. It was clearly none of my business.
She got up a little bit later to stand, and it was then I took my first chance to use the bathroom. The second she left her seat, I was up in a flash, heading towards the middle of the plane to empty my bladder. I stayed in there longer than necessary, stretching my limbs and trying to focus my thoughts. When I stepped back out I caught her eye and she gave me a half smile. I walked back to our row and sat down. Right after I did, she sat down as well. I saw a grimace flash across her face when she sat down, but again, I couldn’t think of anything to say. At this point, she had my attention, and for the first time in my career as a frequent flyer, I wanted to know more. But I had no idea what to say.
Thankfully, she saved me.
“So, where are you heading?” For the rest of the flight, we couldn’t shut up. She started to nod off around hour 8 because of the motion sickness medicine she took, but she forced her eyes to stay open to keep talking to me. I had never met someone I connected with on so many levels before. We swapped flying horror stories for the first hour, moved on to different places we visited and then we couldn’t stop talking about our interests. I’m sure everyone seated around us got sick of listening to us after the first hour, but I didn’t care. I had never met someone who shared my interests and talked about them so passionately; she was so energetic I found myself feeding off her energy.
I got her number around hour 10 and the second we parted ways, after picking up our baggage, I sent her a message.
She messaged me right back. It was three weeks later that I realized her eyes were the color of root beer.
Oh yeah, I said root beer got me through the flight. Well, in a way. I guess you could say root beer is what gave me courage. When dinner (can we even call it that) was finished, and they were collecting our trays, the last bits from my can spilled onto her lap. I apologized for about 30 minutes, before she looked me in the eyes, and with that confidence I had seen earlier, put her hand on my knee.
“It’s ok, really. It wasn’t your fault. We’re in the air, there’s turbulence all the time. Relax. And besides, it’s just root beer, it’ll wash out.”
I can still feel the warmth from her hand on my knee. I couldn’t stop the reflex, I had to touch her as well. I put my hand over hers in a moment of insanity, and just smiled. She looked at me with those damn root beer eyes and laughed at my awkwardness. Her laughter is what gave me the courage to ask for her number.
I still hate chatty Cathy’s when I’m flying, but I will always be thankful for that flight. For her bold personality and ease with which she could talk to me. You never know, you could one day meet your soul mate on a plane, just like me.
Middle Seat – Daily Prompt
It turns out that your neighbor on the plane/bus/train (or the person sitting at the next table at the coffee shop) is a very, very chatty tourist. Do you try to switch seats, go for a non-committal brief small talk, or make this person your new best friend?
I’m not sure I’m satisfied with this, it ended up going in a different direction than I had intended. But, I always enjoy thinking creatively when I write a Daily Prompt. Now if I could just meet my soul mate on a flight…