The cab pulled up to the curb and the four of us got out. It had been a productive day and the banter on the way to the airport had been lively and good-natured. After nearly 18 months working together on the program, I knew the histories and favorite jokes of the three uniformed men who, each in turned, kissed my cheek goodbye.
Jeff turned to Phil. “Man, I’m not used to seeing those stars on your shoulders yet.”
Bob laughed. “Yeah, you have to refer to him as General Shit-for-Brains now.”
Phil blushed and chuckled. “I can always count on you jokers to keep me in my place, can’t I?” Jeff, Bob and Phil had been together in the active reserves for at least 10 years, as nearly as I could tell. Between the three of them, they had logged nearly 80 years in the military. Phil had been promoted to General for less than a month, and he still didn’t look like he felt quite comfortable in his epaulets.
A silence descended between the three of them. Then, Bob and Jeff took a step back, stood at attention, looked Phil in the eye and offered a crisp, respectful salute. “We’re proud of you, Sir.”
Phil humbly saluted each of them in turn. “Colonel; Colonel”
Jeff and Bob each picked up their bags and headed down the concourse. Phil placed his hand on my shoulder and gave me a wink. “See you in Tampa next month, right?”
“You bet. Be safe going home, Phil.”
The line at the ticket counter looked to be at least a half hour. I was suddenly very grateful that, when I arrived at the airport this morning at five-OMFG-nine this morning, I had checked in for the return flight. I grabbed my briefcase and sneaked into a suddenly short line in security.
I found myself staring, motionless, down the C concourse. Fatigue descended on me like a stifling August fog, and for a moment I could not remember where I was supposed to go. A mass of humanity made its way past me on both sides: hurried, purposeful, focused, glancing only for the briefest of split seconds at the barefooted, middle-aged woman who stood at the security checkpoint, holding a pair of peep-toe pumps.
I slowly made my way down the concourse, vaguely aware of the colors and sounds and smells of the shops as I walked past. Lavender, paper, cheap fabric. Spotting a Mexican place up ahead, I briefly considered a quick bite and a drink before I got on the plane.
My phone rang; as I went to answer it I noticed the blinking voicemail symbol in the corner. How had I missed a call?
S was nearly crying on the other end. “ I got in an accident. K and I are OK. Everyone is OK, but I think I totaled the other car.” He went on to recount the details; I didn’t hear them. They were OK. Right. They're Ok.
“You both are OK? You’re sure? The other guy is OK, too? That’s all that matters. We can replace cars. We have insurance. This is why we have insurance, Love. Don’t worry. It’s going to be OK. Looks like God made you buy that scooter for a reason, eh? You’re sure K is all right? Does she want to talk?”
S had to hang up; the insurance guy was on the other line. I turned around and headed back into the Mexican place. That Margarita suddenly looked a lot more appetizing.
Checking my messages, I heard Annie tell me that my attempt to transfer her to my hospital had been successful, and one dear friend was going to take over the care of another.
For the first time this week, I felt like things might be OK for Annie.
An Irish couple sat down at the next table. Their accent carried over the din of a hundred conversations, like an unlikely flute in the midst of Manhattan traffic. The phone rang again. It was Karen. “Beth, where are you? I’m having a crisis.”
“I’m in New Jersey.”
“You’re telling me.”
“No; I mean, I needed you to come out and have a glass of wine with me.”
“If you can wait a minute, I’ll drink a margarita while I listen to you. What’s up?”
“I’m just so depressed. I really thought Greg was going to propose this weekend. What’s wrong with me? Why isn’t he asking?”
I stopped short. “Wait a minute. I thought you told Greg, in no uncertain terms, that you wouldn’t marry him if he asked you. Remember?
“Well, I did. But I thought he would still want to marry me. I want him to want to marry me, you know? I just think he's being stubborn, not asking me to marry him.”
I paused for a long moment. “Hang on a minute, hon.”
Setting down the phone, I picked up the margarita that had arrived in front of me, and drained it in two long draughts.
Clearing my throat, I picked up the phone again. “You are a sad, sad bucket of fries. I gotta catch a plane.”
Leaving a $20 on the table, I turned off my phone and headed down the concourse.