A couple weeks passed by and plans for the trip were made. They would leave Denver on a Thursday morning and then return on the following Monday. Julia was able to trade off her work trips and Aaron rearranged some appointments with patients. They decided to visit Maui because neither had ever been. Because she worked for the airline, Julia was able to fly for no cost, and could even bring a guest, and Aaron happily offered to cover their accommodation at a hotel.
The morning of their departure arrived. Aaron had stayed at Julia’s the night before so that they could leave from there, seeing as how it was slightly closer to the airport.
The sun wasn’t even up yet on an extremely chilly morning when they got in Aaron’s Jeep.
“You got your backpack? I moved it by the front door…,” Julia asked Aaron quickly as she turned to him.
Aaron was pulling into the street away from the house. “Yes, I grabbed it. It’s in the back with the other bags.”
Julia nodded. “Ok. Good. Great.” She was mentally going over a checklist in her mind.
Luggage. Check. Phone and charger. Check. Purse. Check. Boarding passes. Check. Boyfriend. Check.
When they came to the stoplight before getting onto the freeway, Aaron reached over and squeezed Julia’s thigh gently. His touch was comforting and thoughtful. This would be their first major trip together, the only other one being the cabin earlier that Fall. Julia was looking forward to five days of total rest and relaxation and was excited to get to spend her birthday with Aaron. She had wanted something small and intimate to celebrate turning thirty, and this was the perfect trip.
Julia thought that things between them had been going well. They spent as much time together as their schedules would allow. Their relationship had become more stable in the weeks after the exchange of I-love-you’s. She had become more and more comfortable with letting Aaron in and letting her guard down. Their dynamic felt natural and she felt like they were in a great place.
Aaron drove to the airport in record time and parked in the long-term lot. He opened his door and began the assembly of his chair parts as Julia got out and went around to the back door.
“Just think, babe… In a few hours, we’ll be having drinks in a beach bar in weather that’s 40 degrees warmer than this.” She said as she pulled out one of their rolling suitcases and plopped it on the ground.
“Very true…,” Aaron laughed. “I can hardly wait.” He made the transfer into his chair and closed the driver’s side door while simultaneously clicking the lock button on the key fob. He spun around and wheeled to the back where Julia was.
She handed him his gray backpack and he slipped it on over the coat he wore. He adjusted it so as to not overbalance himself with the extra weight. Aaron then reached in and pulled his roller bag out and set it on the ground. Julia slung her bag over her shoulder sideways and then pulled up the handle on her rolling bag.
Aaron took one last look inside and determined it was all clear. They had everything. “I think that does it. You ready?”
Julia nodded and closed the back door. They turned to the parking exit and made their way to the elevators to the main terminal. Julia pulled both of their wheeled bags behind her and she kept pace with Aaron, who navigated seamlessly through the crowded airport. They got to the security checkpoint quickly and prepared to part ways.
“See you in a minute,” Julia said as she gave Aaron his roller bag. Having traveled often, he had paid for TSA Precheck so he was able to use that line for a faster screening.
Julia hurried down to the Known Crewmember checkpoint line and showed her Crew badge. She was also quickly screened and she collected her belongings and waited on the other side of security for Aaron. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and double checked the departing gate on the electronic boarding pass.
D12. Gate D12.
She looked up in time to see Aaron making his way over to her, guiding his rolling suitcase with the footplate of the chair and toes of his shoes. Julia chuckled as she looked down.
“So, that’s how it’s done, huh?” She nodded to the bag at his feet.
Aaron shrugged his shoulders. “Hey, it gets the job done.” He laughed.
“Something to drink?” She asked and gestured to take the suitcase from him.
He reached down and pushed his bag to her, relenting the task of rolling it around in addition to himself. “Sure. And a bite to eat maybe.” He looked down at his watch. “We have a good half hour still.”
Julia led the way to the best coffee place in the airport, which was conveniently located near the departure gate. They waited in line to give their orders. An orange juice, toasted bagel, and fruit cup for him and a hot tea, muffin, and banana for her. They found an empty table in the corner of the seating area and settled in to eat.
After breakfast, they both took turns watching the belongings at the table while the other used the facilities before the flight. They would fly from Denver to Los Angeles and then catch another flight to Maui. It would be a long travel day.
“You ready to head over?” Aaron asked as he slung his backpack on once again.
“I am, let’s go.” She stood and meticulously made her way through the dining area over to the gate with Aaron right behind her. The airline gate agents were already there preparing to start boarding when they arrived to the area.
Aaron followed Julia who found some empty seats nearby, a good spot to wait, and she sat down. She shrugged off her coat and laid it in the seat next to her along with her bag. Aaron turned and reversed his chair to sit next to her.
They sat quietly for a couple minutes, then Julia turned to look at Aaron. “Thank you.” She reached across to grab his hand that rested on the push rim of his chair.
“For what?” He replied with a smile. He ran his thumb over the back of her hand softly.
“For this. For coming.” Julia squeezed his hand.
Aaron smiled and clasped her hand with both of his. “No thanks necessary, babe. I wanted to come. Happy Birthday.” He brought her hand up to his mouth and kissed it.
Julia audibly sighed at the sweet gesture. “I’m glad you’re here.”
“So am I. Thank you for inviting me.” Aaron tugged on her hand and forced her to come closer so he could claim her lips for a quick kiss.
Once they pulled away, he held her hand in his and let it rest on his thigh. They sat in comfortable silence until one of the airline gate agents came over.
A pretty young girl, probably in her mid-twenties, with a calm and professional voice. “Are you Mr. Evans?” She asked Aaron. The airline knew in advance that Aaron would require some special assistance being that he used a wheelchair.
He nodded, “I am.”
The agent smiled. “We are ready to board if you are.” She gestured to the opened door leading down the jet bridge to the plane.
Julia pulled her hand back from Aaron’s and began to gather her belongings. Aaron knew that Julia would know he would be one of the first to board, given the extra time it would take to get settled.
He was used to this part having traveled a good amount. Depending on where he was seated on the flight, sometimes he would need the assistance of an aisle chair to get to his seat, but if he was seated closer to the front, he would not; that transfer was easy. This time though, he had to use the dreaded aisle chair. It was clunky and skinny; basically a human dolly. He would be the first to board before everyone else, ensuring there would be enough room to maneuver onto the aircraft, and he would be last to deplane.
Aaron heard the agent turn to Julia. “You’re one of our flight attendants, right?”
“Yes, that’s right.” She confirmed. “And this is my boyfriend, Aaron.”
“Awesome, well, I’ll go ahead and do a gate check on your bags if you won’t be needing them during the flight.” The agent looked down at the two pieces of luggage they had.
Julia looked at Aaron who nodded in agreement, he had everything he would need for the duration of the flight.
“That’d be great. Thank you.” Julia handed over the two items to the agent’s waiting hands.
“Follow me right over; we’ll get you on your way.” The agent turned in the direction of the door with both Aaron and Julia following right behind.
As he followed the agent through the crowded seating area, Aaron noticed a few people stare at them and a few others avert their eyes. He’d been through this many times before; he knew that they were curious about how the guy in the wheelchair was going to get onto this airplane. It was amusing to him at this point. The whispers and stares were a part of his regular life, even more so at an airport. Aaron caught the stares of a few people and simply gave them a polite nod.
Once at the door, the agent placed some neon green colored tags on their rolling suitcases and placed them off to the side.
“You know the drill, these will be ready and waiting for you planeside in LA.” She smiled and handed Julia two claim tags.
“Alright, Mr. Evans. Are you ready to go?” She then asked.
Aaron nodded again, “Yes, I am.”
“Do you need any help down to the aircraft?” The agent questioned.
“Oh, no, I’m good. Thanks.” Aaron said.
With a flick of her wrist, the agent motioned to follow her down the jet bridge. “Let’s go then.”
Aaron looked over his shoulder at Julia, an eyebrow raised. His smile was tight; almost forced.
It was tough to accept help, but he would try not to appear so annoyed at the whole spectacle. As he pushed forward, and glided down the first ramp, Julia reached out and squeezed his shoulder gently.
“Do you want me to wait for you, or get onboard…?” Julia asked softly. He knew she might have been sure about what he needed.
“Yeah, would you mind waiting? If that’s ok…,” Aaron glanced back over his shoulder.
Julia answered quickly. “Sure thing.”
Once at the bottom, a couple of young guys were waiting with the aisle chair. “Just let us know what you need, Mr. Evans,” one of them said. The airline agent made room and stepped out of the way.
What is with this Mr. Evans stuff? I’m not old enough to be a Mr. Evans yet… am I?
Aaron noticed that Julia stood to the side, and he gave another tight smile to the guys. He shrugged off his backpack and coat quickly, before handing them up to Julia. “Could you hold these, babe?” He asked quietly. She took the items and laid his coat across her forearm. Julia stood by quietly and watched.
Aaron wheeled parallel to the aisle chair, getting as close to it as possible, then flipped down the wheel locks on his chair. The two guys both had a hand on the aisle chair; one at the back and one on the opposite side from where Aaron was. He scooted his rear end close to the edge of the cushion of his chair and then lifted each foot off of the footplate.
“I’m just going to swing over…,” he said to the two guys as he looked up, affirming that he was fully capable of making the transfer independently. They braced the chair then, making sure it was stable.
Aaron scooted forward more and reached over with his right hand to grab the edge of the aisle chair seat. In one swift movement, he lifted over to the seat quickly, and planted himself directly on it.
Once he knew he was stable and his rear was in place, he lifted each foot up onto the small raised platform and held his knees together with both hands.
“Nice,” one of the guys commented. “Let’s get you secured in here now.” He and the other guy began buckling the various buckles around Aaron’s chest, which were completely unnecessary for him to have but it was mandatory.
Aaron reached down to grab the Velcro straps for his legs, insistent on helping with the process. As he grabbed for the strap his left knee fell to the side and quickly took his foot with it, splaying his leg out sideways. He braced his right leg to make sure it stayed put, then he hurriedly reached out and brought his hand under his left knee and lifted his foot back into place.
Shit. Damn legs. Come on, boys. Cooperate with me today, would you?
Aaron glanced up at Julia quickly and he was met with one of her comforting smiles.
Aaron held his legs together and the two guys brought the Velcro straps around Aaron’s calves and around his knees, securing them. He gave the ridiculous straps on his chest a tug then reached over and grabbed his black seat cushion from his chair and placed it on his lap.
“I think I’m all set, guys.” He then said.
“I’ll get your wheelchair tagged too, Mr. Evans. It’ll go underneath in the cargo compartment.” The airline agent pulled another neon green tag from her pocket and handed Aaron his portion of the claim tag before placing the tag on the frame of his chair.
Aaron slid the tag into the pocket of his shirt. “Thank you, I appreciate it.” This part always made him nervous; being separated from his chair. It was his main mode of transportation. He had a huge internal fear that on any given flight he’d take, he would land and for whatever reason his chair wouldn’t be there or it would be damaged. It had never happened before and he hoped it never would, but it didn’t make it any less nerve-wracking. He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Alright, I think we’re good here.”
Gesturing to his backpack that she still held, Aaron spoke. “I’ll take that bag off your hands, Julia.”
She handed it over but kept his coat. The two guys then wheeled Aaron to the door of the plane then turned the aisle chair around so he was backward as they hauled him over the threshold and onboard.
Two of the crew members were there waiting to greet them. “Hello, good morning!” One of the flight attendants said.
“Good morning,” Aaron returned with a smile.
The airline agent waited in the jet bridge and Aaron heard Julia thank her for her help before following Aaron onto the plane. She exchanged pleasantries with the crew too then turned and walked facing Aaron as he was pulled backward down the aisle. He silently made a funny face which made Julia laugh. They were seated in row twelve, so they didn’t have to travel too far back in the plane.
“Babe, which seat do you want?” Aaron asked as the two guys began helping him undo all the chest straps.
“Oh, it doesn’t matter. Window, I guess. The middle seat will be empty,” she waited a row back from him to give plenty of room to move.
“I’ll take the aisle then.” Aaron pointed a thumb at their row, signaling for her to step into the row first.
“That’ll work,” she said as she stepped into the row and sat in the window seat. She laid their coats in the middle seat and took her bag strap off her body and placed the bag under the seat in front of her.
Aaron reached over to drop his backpack in the floor in front of the middle seat. He tossed his seat cushion into the aisle seat, he’d use it for this flight, it was better than just the regular cushioned seat of the plane. One of the guys who were helping made sure that both ends of the seat belt were accessible and on the sides of his cushion. Once the chest straps were off, Aaron undid the Velcro leg straps but was careful to keep his knees together. The armrest on the seat would not be able to be raised up so he’d have to transfer around it into the seat.
“I’m going to do the same thing, guys, just swing over…,” Aaron lifted his knees and placed each foot on the floor. Then he reached over to the opposite armrest of the seat and lifted himself up and over into the seat. He settled back onto the seat cushion and lifted his legs, making sure his feet were
flat on the the floor.
He reached his hand out and shook both of the guys’ hands. “Thanks, guys.”
One of the young guys gave Aaron a fist bump too. “Hey, no problem at all. You know what you’re doing, Mr. Evans.”
Aaron laughed as they tidied up the aisle chair straps and started moving forward up the aisle. “Take it easy, man.” The other guy said.
Ok, that wasn’t so bad.
Aaron turned his head to look over at Julia who was busy getting her phone and cords and a book out of her bag.
“Hey.” He said in a low voice. She looked over at him.
“You good?” He asked as he reached out across the empty middle seat for her arm.
“I’m good. Are you?” She questioned.
He smiled and gave her a nod. “Yes.” He gave her arm a squeeze then leaned forward to reach his backpack and slide it under the seat.
He sat back up and buckled the seat belt low on his waist. More people came aboard then, mostly families with small children and elderly folks. In no time, the flight was almost fully boarded. Then, Aaron noticed that an older gentleman with a greying mustache, presumably one of the pilots given the uniform and hat, was making his way up the aisle and he stopped at their row.
“Hello, sir, how are ya today?” The pilot said to Aaron, his tone was friendly and laid back.
“I’m well, and you?” Aaron returned.
Greeted by the pilot? This is a new one…
At that moment, Julia looked up and noticed the exchange.
“Oh my gosh, Rick!” Her voice showing complete surprise. She stood up from her seat and reached out to give his outstretched hand a squeeze. “How are you?!”
“I’m good, darlin’. I heard you were on this flight, I had to come say hello.” Rick had a slight Southern drawl to his voice.
Julia laughed. “Well, I’m glad you did. It’s been a while, we haven’t flown together in such a long time.”
Rick nodded. “That’s right, it has been a while. Headed to the City of Angels, huh?”
“Oh, well, no… Going on to Maui…,” Julia turned her attention to Aaron. “Captain Rick, this is my boyfriend, Aaron.”
Rick immediately reached out his hand. “Richard Graham, good to meet you.”
Aaron met it with a firm handshake. “Aaron Evans. Good to meet you as well, sir.”
“She’s dragging you to Hawaii, huh, bud?” Rick clapped Aaron’s shoulder and motioned to Julia who simply shook her head, knowing he was teasing.
Aaron laughed. “Yes, something like that.”
Rick reached out again and squeezed Julia’s hand that laid on the seatback in front of her. “Good to see you, youngin’. You let the flight attendants know if y’all need anything.”
Julia smiled, “Will do, Captain. Thank you.”
“Nice to have you both on board. Enjoy the flight.” Captain Rick said with a nod then turned and walked back up the aisle to the flight deck.
Julia took her seat again, still smiling from the conversation. “He’s the first Captain I ever flew with after I completed my training when I started. He’s been looking out for me ever since. Such a great guy, and an extraordinary pilot.”
“I’m glad you introduced me. I can tell he thinks highly of you.” Aaron said.
Julia smiled. “I’m happy you got to meet him. What a coincidence.” She buckled her seat belt again and settled in.
An announcement was made overhead that the forward door would be closing soon and that everyone would need to take their seats. Julia slid the window shade up and Aaron saw that the sun was rising. Their trip was officially underway.
Thanks for reading! I am glad to be back. My goal will to be post every two weeks. So, see you back here in a couple!