Any other time I’d be chomping at the bit to get off the plane. In fact, I hate it when the aisle-seat passenger on my row just sits there calmly even after the forward door has been opened. Sometimes I even stand up in that awkward bent position just to shame some action on the other passenger’s part. But I don’t do that today. I am chomping all right but not to go. Because unless Eli does something or says something, and quickly, to go means I’ll never see him again.
It occurs to me that while I have developed this enormous, ludicrous, absolutely absurd crush on him, as if I were some kind of prepubescent girl drooling over a boy in a teen rock band, in a few more minutes I might find out that all I was to Eli Abbot was in-flight entertainment, on par with the airline magazines you find in the seat pockets in front of you. No one takes those magazines with them. They’re meant to be left behind having served their purpose of providing momentary distraction.
But I guess that will have to be okay. My life will go on, just not the way I want it to. During the flight I have indulged myself in many fancies: everything from dinner tonight to something sweeter than dessert afterwards. Petting only of course, no penetration, not on the first date, and it might be off the table anyway; although I recall that it wasn’t for Tammy. She enjoyed bragging to me about her various sexual conquests. I used to feel like a total prude by comparison. I am kind of a late bloomer and a slow starter.
Of course as a woman Tammy played catcher. Eli is supposed to be the pitcher. There are pills to help with that kind of thing now, but maybe he can’t throw it across the plate. I embarrass myself with such thoughts seeing as how they are utterly premature. But still I gaze at his gorgeous profile and think to myself what a loss if all those lovely genes are trapped inside. And in any case I’d be happy just to kiss his mouth. I’ve been staring at it all morning, imagining the brush of his beard, wondering if his mustache tickles. I guess I’m not all that prudish anymore.
But he hasn’t asked me for my number. Sure he suggested that we could get to know each other better. It was after all a polite thing to say. He could probably tell that I had gone gaga over him. He had simply been kind enough to toss me a few crumbs. And we had had fun. I’ll get to brag to friends about meeting an honest-to-God political operative. Some of them might be impressed, especially once I figure out who Eli works for, or I see him on T.V.
I argue with myself that that is enough, and breathe deeply to suppress the butterflies of anticipation on the one hand and swallow the dreaded disappointment on the other. Doom seems to move closer and closer, one vacated row at a time. I’m actually grateful when someone has to go against the flow to retrieve a bag that was placed in bin above a row that is situated behind them. Every minute counts.
Maybe we can just be friends I offer my heart the notorious consolation prize. I could follow him on Twitter. I’m convinced he lives an exciting life. From now on I’ll definitely be looking for him on T.V. and scanning the Internet for articles with his op-ed byline. He might be the coolest person I ever almost knew. That’s something, I sigh, resigning myself.
Eli looks over at me again, finally, and kind of smiles. It’s a crooked expression and doesn’t come anywhere close to his eyes, but I smile back. Far be it from me to sulk. Ironically it does sort of feel like waiting to be asked to dance. He must have to wait a lot now, I think; and he must hate it. He probably never did before. He would have definitely been a road warrior. I can see him, rushing through security check points, reading his emails on the terminal train, juggling Starbucks and his cellphone with casual efficiency, navigating the whole wide world and too busy to notice it.
Maybe I wouldn’t really like him if I did get to know him. He does have a temper, right? And he can be very direct, and yet not always when he needs to be. Poor Mr. Baxter. I suppose he’s off the plane by now. Eli is proud but he has a conscience too. He was sorry for being so stubborn before, and he didn’t blame me for intervening. So what if he’s a little edgy? I kind of like that. As soon as I can I’m going to Google him, and get myself a Twitter account.
“I was thinking,” Eli says. “It would be good to have an SME on homelessness. Someone I could run issues by as they come up.”
Yes, that would be good I nod in agreement. I must have made an impression on him talking about my work. I feel good about that at least, and I hurry through a mental rundown of the list of advocates and academics I know who can fit the bill. It’s a little surprising that he doesn’t already have somebody, but then again homelessness moves in and out of political fashion.
“It’s a national problem,” I say, “But there are regional differences. I can refer you to a number of--”
“I was thinking of you,” he interrupts me.
“Oh,” I reply, on the one hand thrilled that he would consider me and on the other certain that I’d never be permitted to do it.
“Seems to me you’d be perfect,” Eli says.
“I couldn’t do it on the record,” I inform him. “Not unless I get it cleared and that’s pretty much impossible. Our communications people would never go for it.”
“I see,” he says coolly.
“I mean anything I could tell you officially is already on the web,” I hastily explain. “They just don’t let us…you know...Government rules.”
“What about unofficially?” Eli asks in a way that has me vibrating again.
I probably still shouldn’t do it but no one has to know, and I don’t have to tell him everything. It would be nice to talk to him again, assuming he didn’t simply pass the task off to some assistant or intern.
“On background?” I ask, showing him that I know the way they talk in the political world.
He chuckles, and this time the light of his smile returns to his eyes.
“Yeah,” he says. “On background.”
According to the communications training they made us take at work, you should never trust the reporter’s lure of off the record. If you say it they can print it, air it, repeat it, and get you in trouble or get you fired. But Eli’s not a journalist I tell myself. He’s the man of my dreams, and this way I can keep on dreaming.
“Okay,” I agree.
He reaches into his inside breast pocket and brings out his phone.
“What’s your number?” he asks, prepared to enter it into his contacts list.
“You can reach me here,” I say presenting the card to Eli.
He’s actually surprised by the card, or so says the arched brow over his right eye. He takes the card from me, touching my hand with his strong fingers. I’m all tingly.
“Perhaps I shouldn’t contact you at work,” he says. “Given the circumstances. I don’t want to get you in trouble.”
He’s playing with me, and I like it.
We look at each other for a moment. I’m feeling rather pleased with myself. Maybe I at least look sophisticated despite the fact that I’m feeling quite sappy.
“Well said,” Eli confirms my projected image.
He returns his phone along with my business card to his breast pocket. For some stupid reason it matters so much to me that the pocket is on the left where you usually place your hand over your heart to say the Pledge of Allegiance. I want to make it a sign. He will call me. By now even the rows behind us are emptying. I really do need to go. Stacey is expecting me.
“Nice meeting you, Mr. Abbot,” I say standing up.
This time when I cross over him I keep my head up and my eyes opened, and for a single second I straddle him, hovering. He sweeps his gaze over me from waist to eyes in a way that has been telling women we are beautiful since Eve. In his brilliant ebony eyes that are almond shaped and adorned with those luscious lashes I see an invitation. I feel his fingertips lightly graze my hips. Another second passes. Then I step into the aisle. Once I’m there Eli hands me my tote bag and our hands touch again.
“Bye,” I say unable to come up with anything better.
“I’ll be in touch,” he tells me.
I smile at him and he returns it. I’m giddy, but I turn and walk away quickly stopping just long enough to grab my rollerboard from the open overhead bin. I don’t dare look back, and I wonder if he watches me, and I hope that he does. There’s a bounce in my step as I make my way up the aisle. He put it there. Maybe we’ll only be friends, friends with benefits.
At the of the end of the jet way they have parked Eli’s wheelchair. It’s a really nice chair, if wheelchairs can be nice. It’s sleek and modern, befitting him. Two sky-caps stand nearby waiting with an airline aisle chair that they will use to bring Eli off the plane. I remember Tammy and what it was like for her.
At the top of the jet way, I check my watch again, and then step to the side in order to send Stacey a Blackberry message that I’m on my way. As I start down the concourse, a woman walking next to me says to me, “Meeting your husband at Baggage Claim? I used to do the same thing. It’s a shame they always make them wait to get off the plane last.”
“Excuse me?” I reply vaguely recalling her from the plane.
“It is nice to be able to board first though,” she adds. “Guess it goes with the territory.”
She thinks Eli and I are together, and that he’s my husband. Wow.
“Yes,” I say with a big smile, deliberately choosing not to correct her. “I guess so.”
I peel off to stop at a women’s restroom. I suppose the woman will figure out her mistake when I don’t show up at Baggage Claim, and Eli does. In the meantime, I delight myself with the fantasy of us being together. How cool would that be. I imagine my first Twitter tweet being a line borrowed from the old Jeffrey Osborne song: #planelove.