“Hi, is this seat taken,” I asked jokingly as I stood at a mostly empty bar.
The one man sitting in the terminal bar looked at me with a confused look on his face, and I laughed. He smiled, and I took a seat two places away from him. The bartender came around to our side of the bar.
“I only have drinks today.” He said.
“That’s fine, can I please have a vodka and tonic please, Brustros vodka if you have it. Thanks.”
The bar tender nodded as he turned to grab the glass and set to making my drink. I looked around at the airport terminal, there had to be twenty-five people in the entire terminal at best. Normally, LAX was packed as the whole world passed through these halls. Now it was just me and a few strangers. Normally this bar, that sat in the middle of the terminal was packed, I now had my pick of seats, and prompt service.
“Flight number?” The bartender asked as he slid my drink in front of me.
“AA445,” I replied and slid my bank card towards him.
“Chicago right?” He asked as he took it to the till attached to the counter where all of the alcohol stood.
I sipped my drink hoping it would take the edge off. I used to be a very nervous flyer but as work required me to fly more, the nerves fell away. However something about seeing the world so empty and traveling during quarantine set me on edge. I hoped a good strong drink would deaden the prickly edges of my nervousness. The bar tender handed me my card walked away. A child squealed off in the distance, and it made me wonder who would bring a toddler out in this, but who knows? It’s not my place to judge, I’m the idiot flying across the country during a global pandemic. I looked in the direction of the noise and saw a chubby toddler running full-steam from his weary parents. The boy with his straight black hair and bright eyes, wore a face mask. It was just another unsettling reminder of how much life had changed. At that thought I took another sip of my drink.
“You’re going to Chicago,” a man’s voice asked.
I turned back in his direction, he was the one I had asked about the seat. We were the only two patrons on this side of the oval shaped bar. He wore the uniform of a well-traveled man. An Oxford button down shirt, navy sport jacket, tailored jeans, and leather loafers. His leather brief case sat on top of his expensive rolling luggage wedged between his seat and the one next to him. His icy blue eyes complemented his hair, that was almost the perfect shade of gold, with dark brown undertones. He wore it cut longer, so I could see just a hint of a natural curl to it.
“Where are you off to,” I asked? Normally, I kept to myself. I didn’t make “single-serving friends,” as the term was coined from the film Fight Club.
“Are you traveling for business or pleasure?”
“Neither, I’m going home.”
“Ah,” I replied, not quite sure what he meant but it, but there was something about the way he said it that made the statement feel like a loaded grenade. I left the loaded statement sit on the bar as I took a sip of my drink.
“You, are you traveling for business or pleasure?”
“Coming home, from business. I flew out here before everything hit the fan. My company asked me to stay out here for an extra week. I did and then I woke up to a pink slip this morning. No warning, no explanation. It’s happening to a lot of people right now, I was just caught off guard.” Take that grenade in return, I thought to myself.
“That’s rough. What do you do? I mean what did you do?”
“I was a V.P. of strategic communication at March & Wakemen. You?”
“I work in entertainment out here. Sorry, about your job. Companies are going to need good comms people when this is over, I’m sure you’ll land on your feet.”
“Let’s hope,” I said as I raised my glass, and he raised his in return. We both sipped our drinks. My guess was his was scotch. He looked like a scotch drinker to me. There was a pause in our conversation and I looked around the mostly empty terminal again. I took another sip of my drink and put together what I knew of the handsome man at the end of the bar. He said home was in Chicago, but he worked out here. Hmmmm, mystery, but I didn’t want to pry. If I was going to have a single-serving friend, I was going to be a good one.
“Flight 487 to Dallas is now boarding at Gate M13. Flight 487 To Dallas is now boarding at Gate M13.” A woman’s voice echoed through the terminal.
The man on the other side of the bar, downed the rest of his beer, grabbed his bags and walked over to the gate. The man next to me, and I watched a total of eight people board the flight.
“Last call for flight 487 to Dallas.” The airline employee said, clearly out of formality, they had everyone on the flight.
“That’s an odd scene, isn’t it?” The man two seats down from me asked.
“It is. This feels like a strange dream, I keep expecting to wake from. Yet, here I still am.”
“I’m James,” he put his hand forward to shake mine and then pulled it away and waved instead.
“Hi James, I’m Lily.”
“Nice to meet you Lily. So what are your plans when you get to Chicago?”
“I guess the same as everyone else, I’ll hunker down and wait this thing out.”
We watched two more flights board as the terminal emptied. We each ordered another dink, there wasn’t much else to do.
“What time is your flight?”
I looked down at my ticket. “6:45, I’ve got an hour. I doubt they’re going to start boarding soon. I wonder if I am the only person on the flight? What time is yours?”
“7:15. I think you’re right. Other than those people and the bartender I think we’re the only ones in the terminal right now. What a weird experience.”
I looked a the two women across the terminal who were looking out the window to the tarmac and then glanced around. James was correct, it really was just us. My stomach growled loudly. Two vodka and tonics on an already nervous stomach may not have been the best idea. I put my hand over my stomach.
“I wonder where I can get some food?”
“The bar will have food.”
“Nope, the bartender said drinks only when I sat down.”
“Let’s ask him where to find food, I’m hungry too,” he gestured towards the bartender who was on the other side of the bar wiping it down. “Excuse me.”
The bartender stood and came over. “Another round,” he asked as he picked up the scotch bottle James was drinking.
“No thanks, say do you know where we could find some food?”
The bartender thought, “well there’s nothing in this terminal. You could try terminal J. I now there’s an In and Out Burger over there that is rumored to be open. Everywhere else you’ll have to go back out through security but, honestly I wouldn’t risk it. You’re two flights are the last two tonight and I don’t know if you be able to get back through. They’ve been running a lean crew as it is.”
James turned towards me, “Want to give it a try?”
“It’s better than our current options,” I paused for emphasis, “nothing.”
James let out a little laugh.
“Do you want anything,” he turned asking the bartender.
The small gesture struck me, it was so simple but so kind.
“Nah, I’m good. Almost done for the day. Thanks though.”
James stood and grabbed his luggage as I followed suit. I could feel the vodka in my system. I wasn’t drunk, not even close, but I felt happy and at ease. James and I set off in search of terminal A and did not pass another soul as we walked through the empty airport.
“I expect to hear my alarm going off at any minute, and wake up from this weird dream,” James said as we entered terminal A which was just as empty as ours was.
“I was just thinking the same thing. I smell French fries.”
“Me too, now I’m really hungry.”
I let out a little laugh as we walked through the terminal. Half way through, the terminal opened to a circle with food options and a few tables on either side of the main hall. All of the food options were closed and my stomach reminded me that it would be a long flight to Chicago, hungry. An employee in the In and Out Burger walked from behind the wall to the kitchen and came around to the register. The gate was down but James and I looked at each other and walked up.
“Excuse me, do you have any food left for sale?” James asked.
“Sorry we’re closed.”
“I understand. But there is nothing to eat in the airport right now and my friend and I both have long flights. I’ll pay you double.”
The employee looked up at that, and held up a finger signaling for us to wait as he went behind the wall. I looked up at James who shrugged. The man returned a minute later with a large white to-go bag. He walked up to the gate and opened it handing us the bag of food.
“It’s just fries, they’re probably cold but it’s something.”
James reached for his wallet.
“No charge man.”
“Then something for your trouble,” James insisted.
“Don’t worry about. Stay safe.” He said as he walked back behind the gate and pulled it down.
My phone buzzed and I reached into my back pocket to retrieve it, the bag of fries in my other hand.
“My flight’s been delayed until 8. How is there a delay? No one’s traveling,” I asked to no one in particular.
“Maybe the plane left Chicago late?”
I nodded, and looked towards the end of the terminal where the last of the day’s golden sun streaked through the windows at the end.
“I love the color of the sunlight here. It is so beautiful.”
“Why don’t we go sit down there then. Let you soak it all in before you return to Chicago?”
James and I walked to the end of the terminal and sat directly in the waining sunset. We dug into the bag which had a generous helping of French fries. It wasn’t enough for a meal for both of us but there was enough food to take the edge off of hunger. I felt like a teenager eating just fries, with my single serving friend. In the middle of a spacious airport, there was an intimate feeling between us, like we were the last two people left in the building. I knew it wasn’t true. James’ phone buzzed and he pulled it from his jacket pocket.
“Huh, my flight’s delayed now too.”
“Two hours, like yours.”
“That makes me nervous. I hope our flights are cancelled. I don’t want to go back to the hotel. I want my own bed.”
“Nah, they won’t cancel.”
I was skeptical as James put his phone back in his pocket. He reached for another French fry as his phone began to buzz again. He pulled it out.
“Sorry I have to take this,” he said as he stood up and walked away.
I tried not to eavesdrop but it was hard not to in the silent terminal. James had walked back towards the food court, but his voice still carried.
“Yes, I’m at the airport. Look I don’t know why we have to do this now, in the middle of a global pandemic. Isn’t it enough that I am flying across the country to be there?”
I couldn’t hear the other end of the call, but there was tension in Jame’s voice and I felt uncomfortable listening. I reached for my bag, to grab my own phone as I heard him continue.
“What difference does it make? Why couldn’t you just send me the papers, I don’t see why I have to be there to sign them.”
Was he going home to sign divorce papers I wondered. I had not noticed a wedding ring. His annoyance was turning to anger as I watched him begin to pace out of the corner of my eye.
“I am staying in the guest house. Look, I’ll sign the damn papers but then I am coming home,” there was a pause as the other person on the phone talked. “You don’t get to tell me where home is anymore,” he said as he hung up the phone.
He brought his hand up to his head but I couldn’t see what he was doing, he stood with his back to me. I looked at my phone as I put another French fry into my mouth, trying to act like I was oblivious to the call I had just witnessed. James walked back up and sat down.
“Sorry about that.”
“Huh,” I said trying to be polite.
James understood and gave a slight smile of acknowledgment.
“Would you like a magic French fry?”
James looked at me quizzically as I picked up a French fry.
“This is not just any French fry, you see it’s a magical L.A. French fry.”
James laughed as I continued on.
“Yes, it will make you younger, richer, healthier.” I laughed and put the fry back down.
“No, keep going, you have my attention.”
There was a genuine smile on his face, and for the first time, I truly noticed how handsome he was.
“Well, Sir, this magical fry,” I said as I picked it back up, “it also cures all ailments and maladies. Generations of explorers have searched for this magical fry only too end up disappointed. I offer it to you my weary traveling friend.”
I held out the fry and James laughed.
“Magic you say? That was quite the story. You’d fit in well out here.”
“I guess you doubt it’s magic. This fry will have to be all mine then.”
“No, no I don’t doubt it.”
I raised an eyebrow as I looked at James and laughed as he took the French fry from my hand. He popped it into his mouth and chewed slowly with emphasis and swallowed.
“Is it working? Do I look younger, healthier?” He joke turning his face side to side.
“Whoah you do.” I laughed.
James laughed too.
“Thanks for sacrificing that magical fry for me, a weary traveler,” he joked.
We both laughed as I wrapped up the paper the fries had sat on and put all of our trash into the bag. I stood up and took the empty bag and put it into the trash can.
“What time is I,” I asked looking back at James.
James got up and grabbed his luggage and mine as he pulled mine over to me. I took it from him as we began to walk slowly towards the terminal entrance.
“Do you want to walk to terminal D? I don’t think we have to leave the security to do it.” He asked.
I weight my options, the only thing that awaited us in our departure terminal was the bar, and I had my fill.
We pulled out luggage through the empty airport towards terminal D. The sole of my leather loafer echoed through the empty halls.
“I’m going back to Boston to sign divorce papers,” James said.
His statement caught me off guard.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
“Me, too. My soon to be ex-wife is insisting I be there to sign in person. I think she’s going to try to use our kids to get more out of me.”
“That’s rotten. How old are your children.”
“I have two girls, Ellie who’s 11 and Margie who’s 13. I hate that they’re having to go through this. I took a job out here and my ex, Karen, didn’t want to move the girls out here.”
“How long have you been working out here?”
“Five years. They did live here up to a year ago. I couldn’t understand what was so bad about living out here. Karen, just hated it. She wanted to be home in Boston with her friends. She started flying home most weekends, and weekends turned into long weekends, and then weeks at a time, until one day she called and said she was done with our life out here. I think there’s someone else in Boston.”
“I worry about my girls. I hope this doesn’t destroy our relationship.”
“Can I ask a question?”
“Did you offer to move back?”
“I did, no job is worth my family. When I told her I’d finally move back, she told me not to bother, it wouldn’t make a difference.”
“Ah, sense your suspicions of someone else.”
James nodded. Our walking slowed as I put my hand on his arm to comfort him. He put his hand over mine. The gesture felt appropriate and awkward at the same time.
“We’re a barrel of fun, you and I. Unemployed and well, you…” I gestured.
“I guess we are. I think this is the most fun I’ve ever had in an airport.”
“That’s just sad,” I joked.
“No, I mean it. I knew this trip was going to be difficult and I didn’t expect… I’m glad I met you.”
“I’m glad I met you too.”
We turned into terminal D, which was deserted. My heels clacked on the floor echoing through the terminal. We walked in silence past empty gate after gate. This terminal was longer than the previous two. James stopped in the middle of the terminal and I stopped two steps ahead of him and looked back in his direction. Letting go of his luggage he walked up to me and slid his hand along my cheek. I could smell his cologne as he stepped towards me. His hand was soft against my cheek. He leaned down and brushed a soft kiss across mine. I stood in awe as he pulled away.
“I’m sorry I know I shouldn’t have done that. I just wanted to know.”
“Know what,” I said as I licked my lips, still tasting him, and the salt from the fries.
“I wanted to know what kissing you would feel like,” he said with an embarrassed look on his face, “I’m sorry if..”
I closed the space between us and wrapped my arm around his neck as I pulled my his lips to mine. This time I felt him brush his tongue across mine, and it had the same effect of striking a match as I my body felt like it was in flames. I had never had an experience like this before. I didn’t know I was drunk from the booze and didn’t realize it, or the current situation of being alone in an airport during a global pandemic, but something in my let go of my reserved nature. He pulled my body in tighter against his as his kiss deepened. I took my hand off of my luggage and looped it around his neck, as I held him with both hands.
He pulled away and looked down at me. I had not realized how much taller than me he was than me. There was something in his icy blue eyes that pierced through me.
“Wow,” he whispered.
“Wow good, or wow bad?” I asked softly.
“Wow good, very good.”
In the boldest action of my life. I pulled his hand over to a gate, the noise of my shoes muffled on the carpet of the gate. I pulled his hand gently behind the wall of the desk at the gate. As soon as we stepped behind it, he pulled me back into his arms. Pinned between him and the cold wall, I felt like a teenager. He kissed me again as he slid his hand up my soft gray sweater. As his hand connected with my breast I let out a soft moan.
I reached between us and tugged at his belt but the fancy buckle wouldn’t release. He pulled his hand away from my breast and released the clasp on his belt. As he brought his hand back to me he pushed my sweater up. My breast sat, eager to be touched in my white demi-cuped lace bra. I reached between us and unbuttoned his pants and pushed them down, listening to the contents of his pockets hit the carpeted floor. He reached down and unbuttoned my, jeans, but they did not fall from my hips. His kisses were deep, and with a feverish intensity that made me feel like we were both on the precipice of something. I helped as I pushed my own pants down. I slid my foot out of my loafer and out of one of my pant legs as he lifted me against the wall.
This is nuts, but I love it, I want it! My inner-voice screamed. My body was arm against him, and everywhere he touched seemed to tingle. I felt like clay in his arms. He entered me, bring a rush of pleasure with it. He kissed me as we went at it secretly in the middle of an empty airport terminal. My fingers dug into his back as the pleasure built. He pulled his lips away from mine and I pulled the cool air of the terminal in greedily, unable to keep as silent as I knew I needed to be. I bit down hard on my lip to keep from screaming out as the orgasm tore through my body. James brought is mouth over mine to muffle the sound. My body shook and my fingers and toes tingled.
He pulled his mouth from mine and whispered in my ear, “I can feel you coming, it’s so fucking hot.”
I brought my mouth back to his and tired to kiss him with as much intensity has he had kissed me. It was all he needed as I felt his body lurch, and my back pressed harder against the wall. I wanted to stay pined like that forever, as my own orgasm was still in it’s final waining moments. We stayed like that, my body lifted in his arms, back cold against the wall, as we both breathed hard.
James set me down gently and we both dressed silently. I could not believe that I had sex with a stranger. I watched James dress, in amazement of what had just happened, that I know knew him intimately. We walked from behind the wall, hand in hand, our luggage still standing in the middle of the terminal where we’d left it. Grabbing our luggage we started walking back towards our terminal.
“I don’t believe that just happened,” I said out loud.
We both looked at each other. I reached over and wiped a streak of my peachy colored lipstick from the side of his face.
“Lipstick,” I said as I pulled my finger away to show him.
My phone buzzed as we reached out terminal. I pulled it out of my bag.
“My flight is boarding.”
“Can I have your number? Lily from Chicago.”
“All right James from LA. 312-333-9380. I have to go.”
“Bye, he said softly.”
“Bye, I waved. I turned back and looked at him as I got behind the one other person boarding the flight. His polished traveler facade back on. He waved again as I boarded, and I waved back one last time.
I took my seat on the flight and counted two other people on the plane, still in awe that I had just slept with a complete stranger. As I felt the plane push back I realized I didn’t get his number in return. I wanted to leap off of the plane and get it from him. I wanted to get to know him more. As we took off, I thought about him leaving LA shortly himself to go home to Boston.