“I’ll sit anywhere,” she told the airline attendant behind the counter whose name tag read Patrick. It was 3 o’clock in the morning, London time, and Heather was surviving on fumes by that point, in a race against time trying to make her way back to Chicago.
“Listen, I missed my flight, but it wasn’t my fault,” pleaded the desperate woman.
Patrick looked up from the monitor embedded just below the surface of the counter as Heather strained to look down at the plane schedules he had pulled up. He had frosted tips, the type that she would have laughed out loud at if he were one of her closest friends, but at that moment he was her best hope so she stayed silent.
“Ma’am,” he said, in an impeccable British accent. “I don’t doubt that, but we have no flights available until 6:30, and that would be standby.”
“But I need to be in Chicago, like, yesterday,” she begged, stopping just short of getting on her knees. She adjusted her cleavage, hoping that might change things, but his eyes were on her own. It figured.
“Then might I suggest calling whomever you’re supposed to be meeting there and letting them know you will be a tad late,” said the ever helpful Patrick, smiling sardonically at her.
“It’s not like that,” Heather said, all pretense of begging gone. She was an executive, and used to getting her way. She wasn’t going to let some, some pencil pusher tell her she couldn’t get it done. “Look, I’ll pay you for whatever you can get done for me.”
“We don’t accept tit for tat,” said Patrick with a straight face, indicating with his index finger the security cameras trained on them. “It’s strictly against the law. But I can place you standby for the 6:30 and you can keep your fingers crossed.”
She walked away after giving him her name and cell phone number, feeling like an ironic mirror of herself, a meek version of who she hoped she would never be. But it was so much more than that, she finally admitted to herself, knowing that if she couldn’t tell herself the truth she would never be able to trust anyone else with it. She felt like a total failure not just because she missed her flight, but because she wouldn’t make it to such a significant event — again.
Jordan had called her on Monday and made her promise she would come, that she would be there for the most important day in his life, knowing how crazy her own life was and what it would mean if she said yes. But she had said yes anyway, because she was weaker than the facade she put on every single day, and for the simple fact that it was him asking. She had never gotten over Jordan, even with an entire ocean and five years between them. Yet she said yes, as if he were asking her to coffee to catch up, not to his impending nuptials.
“I can’t imagine my special day without you there,” he’d said, not knowing how it made her catch her breath, not realizing it tore her up inside. Still.
“But won’t it be awkward, Jordan?” she replied through slightly gritted teeth. “I mean, we almost got married.”
“Which was ages ago, and you’re still my best friend,” he had said, dismissing her fears like so much garbage. “You are my best friend, right?”
“Shouldn’t your fiance be your best friend, Jordan?” she asked, knowing his answer before the pause, before the exhale, even before she asked the question.
“You know it’s always been different with us,” he’d said. “And Shae understands that. She’s the one who asked me to invite you, that it wouldn’t be the same without you.”
And Heather had sighed then because he knew he wasn’t lying, that Shae had such a pure heart that she would want whatever Jordan wanted. But they were both such idiots, really, that they couldn’t see what was right in front of their faces, what was between them as surely as a hedge separating private lawns. Because she was balanced on that hedge, ready to spring onto the green grass on the other side, regardless of who it hurt.
“Okay,” she had said, half expecting cheers from the other end of the connection, but he just gave her the details and signed off, as if it had been a foregone conclusion the whole time, like the call had been a matter of course. She felt bruised in that moment, a peach that wasn’t quite ripe enough to taste good in the peeling, but at the same time she felt a rush of elation. She was going to see Jordan again, after five years of phone calls and dodging his requests to visit.
But she sighed again as she wheeled her carry-on across the tiled walkway of Heathrow, Terminal B. Even if she managed to get on the 6:30 flight there was no way she could make it to the reception hall to catch the ceremony, and only a thin wisp of a chance she could get to the reception. And if she missed that flight she would arrive too late for any of it. She knew she should call Jordan, that she should let him know she would indeed miss his special day, but she was too afraid to dial his number.
She imagined he would sound magnanimous, that he would say it wouldn’t be the same without her, that he would be sad over the situation. In that way the phone call would only serve to make her feel better, but she knew she deserved to feel as bad as she possibly could, because of the reason she had been late. The night before she had taken out all of their pictures, all of the photos that had chronicled their friendship since high school, every album she had created in secret, knowing how it would look to others. And she had allowed herself to cry the tears she had held in since her move to London.
Soon the vodka had come out, and then all pretense was lost as she drank her sorrows away, tears fat and heavy, falling onto the photos she had fought so hard to preserve. But she hadn’t been able to stop herself, because his marrying Shae was the final nail in the coffin of what could have been for the two of them, one last arrow to her heart from the man who said he would love her forever. It just wasn’t the kind of love she wanted from him, which made all the difference.
“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” came the smooth voice over the intercom, breaking up the sound of the muzak that had been the soundtrack for Heather’s melancholy mood. She sat down on one of the unyielding black plastic chairs across from the news stand that somehow seemed to her melancholy as well, deciding whether staying would accomplish anything of merit.
“Now boarding — 3:40. Flight 269 to New York City. Terminal C,” said the voice again, and something tumbled around in her mind, finally settling into place with a snap, breaking her from her self-imposed torture. It was time to really move on. There was a reason she had missed her flight, and it had nothing to do with Jordan. It had everything to do with her, with her own opinions of herself, how she had said she wanted to move on, but had done nothing besides avoid the situation. It had changed nothing. London had changed absolutely nothing.
So she got up out of her seat, even though she had just sat down, and headed for Terminal C as fast as her legs could carry her, Patrick’s eyes on her the whole way until she turned the corner and joined with the crowd of people in the tunnel between terminals, hustling from one place to another just as she was. A smile crept its way onto her face as she realized what she had to do to change her life for the better, and sitting in an uncomfortable chair at Heathrow wasn’t the answer.
The loudspeaker came on once more, but she had stopped listening by that point, on her way past Terminal C to the exit, to the double doors that led to a freedom she hadn’t recognized was owed her. It was time to get rid of those pictures for good, she thought to herself, her mind racing, to block his number from her phone, to make a clean break once and for all. It wasn’t healthy for him, for Shae, and most definitely not for her at all, and she had to be the one who was strong, who severed the rotting limb before it took over everything.
Heather easily melted into the group of newly arrived passengers heading out into the rising sun of what had the potential to be a brilliant London day, and she smiled for the first time in a long time. Chicago could wait. Forever.