The Ride Home

by Sam Romano

At least I don't have to move away now... she kept repeating to herself while she waited to board the airplane back to Chicago. At least I don't have to leave...At least I'll be here when Lyn's baby is born...At least...

"All first-class passengers may now board American flight #197, New York to Chicago." Finally! The wait to board had seemed an eternity. Given the late hour, there weren't many people wandering about the airport to keep Alex entertained. There wasn't much of anything she could do to keep her mind off of things.

Should I tell Steve? she wondered to herself as she sat looking out into the blackness that the small window of the empty airplane offered. He needs to know...wait, maybe he already does know? Nah, that can't be. He'd never stick around if he knew she were doing that...Besides, he would have told me, right?

Alex shifted uncomfortably in her seat, wishing that she had not in fact drunk that cup of tea she made for herself during that uncomfortable 30 minutes at Gerry's penthouse. Well, what else was I going to do while they...Funny how he never lasted that long with me... Her thoughts trailed off as an elderly gentleman sat down in the next row over. He tipped his baseball hat at her as she shifted uncomfortably in her seat, trying to find the most comfortable position to ease her throbbing bladder.

Ick...I should have used the bathroom before I left. I wonder if any of her things were in there. Alex imagined Kelly's toiletries sloppily thrown on the Italian marble vanity Alex had meticulously chosen just a few short weeks ago. She imagined Kelly happily splashing around in the sunken bathtub Alex so adored, with Alex's exquisite silk bathrobe tossed carelessly to the side. That was supposed to be MY bathroom, Alex sniffed.

Tears began to well up as she tried crossing and uncrossing her legs. Alex hated using the nasty, little bathrooms on an airplane. I'll never make it another hour. At least I can use the first-class loo. Probably the last time that this will ever happen. She sighed as she got up. As she exited her row, the cute old man lightly grabbed her hand. "Cheer up, darlin'. It can't be all that bad..." he happily chirped. "Yeah, I'll try," she muttered as she walked towards the bathroom, fighting to contain both her tears and her bladder.

Ahhh...sweet relief... Alex began washing her hands and caught a glimpse of herself in the tiny bathroom mirror. Ugh, you look like hell. It's no wonder... She splashed some water on her face. Maybe I'll call Mom and Dad to pick me up, but they'll want to know why I'm back so early. How can I tell them? I can't answer all of their questions tonight. No, maybe I'll just go straight to see Steve. He'll want to know..."

Alex felt a sense of dread knowing she'd be seeing Steve tonight. She hated him. He was pompous and self-important. Much like Gerry, he lauded his expensive education and high-powered job at the firm over everyone. But Gerry had his good qualities. Steve, not so much. Steve lived to put people down, gleefully making nasty comments about someone's weight or bad skin or messy hair. Worst of all, he kept all of their friends, particularly Gerry, supplied with an endless stream of coke.

She hated Gerry when he used--his expressionless, glassy-eyed stare; his constant fidgeting; his swollen, red nostrils. And more than anything, she hated Steve for turning Gerry into some common junkie.

Maybe the coke made him do it, she tried to convince herself as she refastened her seatbelt. Gerry always gets horny when he's high. But he didn't look high tonight, so maybe not.

While gathering her stuff to exit the plane, the cute old man lightly touched her elbow. "Hope you have a smile waiting for you here. You look like you could use one." Great, Alex thought to herself, even strangers think I look like hell.

She slowly walked towards the ground transport wondering where she should go. Instead of walking outside to hail a waiting taxi, Alex sat down on a bench completely bewildered. Where should I go? Maybe I'll just go home and try to sleep and deal with this in the morning. No...I'll only wind up crying. Better yet, I'll just stay at Mom and Dad's since they're so much closer. Shit, no...I don't want them grilling me about every last detail tonight, and I know Lyn will do the same. Plus, Lyn will only call and tell Mom. She doesn't need the added stress of my problems now anyway, not with the baby coming and all. Steve should be the first to know...I'd want him to tell me.

Alex listlessly fumbled for her cell phone and turned it back on. Ten missed calls and seven voicemails.

Message one, sent yesterday, Friday, April 28th, 11:42 P.M.

"Hey, um, Alex, it's me. Where the hell are you? Just come back to the apartment so we can talk. Where did you go???"

Message two, sent yesterday, Friday, April 28th, 11:58 P.M.

"Yeah, it's me again. Call me and let me know you're okay. You left in such a hurry before. We're, I mean, I'm really worried. I'm sorry...come back and let's talk."

Message three, sent today, Saturday, April 29th, 1:16 A.M.

" I'm really getting worried. We need to talk now. We can work this out. This was all just a huge misunderstanding. Call me."

Message four, sent today, Saturday, April 29th, 1:42 A.M.

"Would you just pick up the fucking phone already? Quit being such a drama queen! Call me and we'll work it out."

Message five, sent today, Saturday, April 29th, 1:58 A.M.

"Um, Alex, um, hi, it's Kelly. I'm so, so sorry about all this. Can you pleeeeease come back here so that we can all talk? Pleeease??? Just don't tell Steve, okay?"

Alex always hated Kelly's Cajun drawl. It was imperceptible to most people, but Alex knew it was there. And even though Alex counted Kelly as one of her closest friends, that damn drawl grated on her. Hmph... she thought to herself. "Don't tell Steve." Don't tell Steve??? I guess that settles it...I'm going to tell Steve tonight. She began walking towards the taxi stand, her destination now firmly set.

Message six, sent today, Saturday, April 29th, 2:04 A.M.

"Alex, get your ass back here now! I'm not going to deal with this bullshit all night! You don't know everything that's been happening. You just don't understand..."

Message seven, sent today, Saturday, April 29th, 2:32 A.M.

"Alex, baby, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to get upset. I was just really surprised to see you tonight is all...really surprised. And well, I can explain everything. Really, I can. But I thought we agreed we'd meet at Grandpa's Hamptons house in the morning. I was just really surprised that Ferd didn't take you straight there, seeing as I had that meeting with my client and all. Just, just don't do anything...don't do anything stupid before we can talk, okay? Please, just call me. I'll send Ferd to come get you...wait, shit...he's off until, better yet, I'll come get you myself."

"549 W. Pearson, please. Near Water Tower Place..." Alex felt relieved when she slumped back in the taxi. It was nice to be home again. For all its glitz and glamour, New York was such an ugly city. There was no green grass or lush trees. Just cold, gray cement, hard steel buildings, and even colder, harder people. She had no love for that city, even when it was new and exciting to her. When she'd walk hand-in-hand with Gerry down Park Avenue on one of her weekend visits to New York, she often wished they were walking down Michigan Avenue instead. She longed to be sitting atop the John Hancock, watching the city lights twinkle on the lake while sipping a martini in the Signature Room, as she had on her first date with Gerry. At least I don't have to move there now...At least I can stay here...

"Lady...hey,lady...iz thees it?" the driver asked. Alex, lost in her thoughts of the not-so-distant past when she and Gerry happily walked these very streets, snapped to attention. "Yeah, yeah, this is it..." She threw $40 on the front seat. "Keep the change."

"You sure, lady?"

"Yeah, keep it." Alex scurried into the dimly lit foyer. She squinted as she looked for the right button. Where the hell is it? Oh wait..."Steve and Kelly Carmichael"--there it is. She laid on the buzzer for much longer than was polite. No response. She did it again even longer this time.

A sleepy voice answered, "Who the fuck is this? This better not be a joke."

"Hi, uh, Steve? Hi, it's Alex. Can you let me up?"

"Alex, what the hell are you doing here? It's the middle of the night! Is Gerry with you? What the fuck time is it?"

"It's about 3:15. No, Gerry isn't with me. I need to talk to you about something."

"You lookin' to score?"

"NO!!! What in our history together would ever lead you to believe that? Look, we just...we just really need to talk about something. Just let me up."

"Why are you here, Alex? You don't pay me social visits when Kelly's not around."

"Do you, do you know where your wife is?"

"Huh? Yeah, she's in a swamp visiting her parents..."

"No. Do you know where your wife is?"

"She's not in a swamp with her parents????"

"No, she's fucking my fiancé in New York."

A long moment of silence passed. Bzzzzzzzzz...