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Flight Delay

By Charlie Hudson


“Actually, I spent last evening with a lesbian Wiccan couple,” the woman said quite matter-of-factly. In the year-plus that Roy had been tending this bar, he was certain that he’d never heard that said. Actually, he’d never heard that at any other bar either.

It was in the mid-afternoon lull; a third of the tables and half the bar empty. The woman, clad in a light blue and navy print sleeveless dress with a navy jacket with silver buttons that she’d hung on the back of the barstool, was a road warrior. Roy could spot them the moment they crossed the threshold, the carry-on piece no matter the gender, and purse for women, computer bag for men. Road warriors never carried backpacks and only lawyers and bankers carried briefcases. Wine, vodka, or gin for women if they were drinking liquor, beer, vodka, bourbon, or scotch for men. It wasn’t unusual for women to order beer or for men to order wine, but it also wasn’t the primary choice. The woman, her strawberry blonde hair a distinct shade among both blondes and redheads was a sauvignon blanc, but Roy had allowed her to order. Customers rarely wanted to know how predictable they were. The Chicken Caesar spinach wrap, yes, she’d have the chips was also to be expected. The fact that she was in the bar rather than an airline club was the surprise, but that was explained when she said, “Maintenance problem and projected as a one-hour delay, but it might be less. At least the gate was two up from the bar. They said to stay close in case they fixed the problem more quickly than they anticipated.”

“How did you come to know a lesbian Wiccan couple?” The man asking was on his second red ale, the burger finished literally a minute before the woman arrived.

Roy guessed them to be the same age which may be why the woman sat only one stool down from him, a polite nod initially to a fellow traveler. It had taken the man exactly four sips of beer to move next to her. He was Bob, a petroleum engineer on the way to a new job in Houston, as Roy had learned when serving the second beer. Atlanta was the layover as it was for practically anyone flying from Raleigh, North Carolina.

“One of the women and I went to high school together and reconnected through Facebook,” the woman said, lifting a finger to ask for another glass of wine. “I had no idea she was this close to Atlanta and my seminar finished at noon yesterday. I popped out for an early dinner, met her partner, and caught up on the fourteen years since we graduated.” She smiled a thank-you at Roy. “Oh, I’m Susan Barton, by the way.”

“Bob Blaylock,” he said with a wide smile. “If we get married, you don’t even have to change your initials.”

“Ah, that would be true,” she said with a small laugh.

It wasn’t an Oh hell, what a jerk laugh though, but rather a, Well, he’s kind of amusing.

“Do you know why they are Wiccans?” he asked, waiting while she ate the last bite of her wrap.

“We talked about that,” she said, pushing the empty plastic basket toward Roy. “It has to do with nurturing Mother Earth and being tired of the hypocrisy of most major religions.”

“I think I get that,” he said, and Roy missed the rest of the explanation when Cherisse came up with a pout that wasn’t as cute as she thought. “Double Black Jack, water back, Bloody Mary, and a Bud Light,” she said heaving a sigh that meant she wanted him to ask about her day. Rather, about her life that was a recital of being misunderstood by everyone she came in contact with. He didn’t mind since she wasn’t looking for advice. He’d made the mistake once of telling her that if she picked the same kind of worthless male over and over, she shouldn’t expect a different outcome from free-loading and ultimate disappointment.

He looked sympathetic as he prepared the drinks. “Tough day?”

“It’s that man of mine,” she began, her litany of grievances the usual and her timing well-practiced to coincide with when he set the last drink on her tray. Despite the dramas she insisted on keeping him apprised of, she didn’t neglect the customers in the process and that was what mattered. The staff was dependable and the difference in working at the airport was that you didn’t tend to have the regulars like you did in other bars. There were a handful of frequent fliers that stopped in occasionally, but most of them belonged to the airline club. For Roy, the predictable was mixed with amusing unexpected conversations as patrons traversed the country or made connections after global travel.

It wasn’t that he’d planned a career as a bartender. School had never appealed to him and he’d drifted into a job at a neighborhood tavern by way of being a busboy, dishwasher, and general whatever-was-needed-at-the-moment. The daytime bartender was notoriously unreliable and began to lean on Roy to cover for him when he was late or took off early, thinking the owner was unaware of the arrangement. Roy didn’t mind and began to pay closer attention to the regulars, found a couple of bartender guides stashed away, and for the first time in his life discovered an interest in something other than sports. When the owner finally tired of the inventory coming up short, he’d offered Roy the job and even helped him get his license. Roy was not a big guy, but he was muscular and had dodged gang members enough is his youth to know how to spot trouble before it started. His friendly style, brown eyes that focused on people as they talked to him and quick smile at a joke was his preferred manner, but he could put an edge in his voice if he needed to and the Louisville Slugger kept under the bar had only occasionally been raised to make a point. By the time the tavern was sold and slated to be torn down, he’d polished his style, learned how to make the more exotic drinks, could mix a perfect martini, and the shot-and-a-beer jobs were behind him. The airport position was in fact, temporary in one sense. The most upscale restaurant and bar he’d ever worked in had fallen victim to a vicious divorce; his boss a great guy to work for, but not to be married to if one considered fidelity to be important. The subsequent fallout had swept through his professional as well as personal side and he’d been forced to sell as part of the settlement. To Roy’s dismay, Alexander’s had been purchased by vegetarians who didn’t taint their bodies with alcohol. A friend had been leaving the airport job and the timing was right. Fortunately, Roy’s previous boss was on the verge of regaining his financial footing and Alexander’s Fine Food and Spirits was set to open right after the first of the year in Buckhead. Despite his aversion to study, Roy had quietly taken a few management courses and one in basic accounting in preparation for the head bartending position that would be his with a staff of two shifts.

These thoughts played in the background of his mind as he kept an eye on the draft Sam Adams around the corner, the scotch on the rocks one stool over, Cherisse, and edged close enough to hear the sauvignon blanc – Susan – say, “That would depend of course on if you want the urban lifestyle. I travel so much that I wouldn’t be able to keep up with a house if I had one. My parents have the big place with the pool over in Kingwood and that’s less than an hour from my condo. Rentals? Yes, there are some, but I imagine they would want a year’s lease.” She shook her head when Roy pointed to her glass that was still a third full. Ah, she was sipping this one.

“The guy who’s showing me around is at Club Towers,” red ale – Bob – said.

“That’s a good option,” Susan said with a nod. “It’s maybe a mile or so from where I live, a nice complex, and it does rent by the month. I think they do furnished as well as unfurnished – all the regular services you need are close by and if I remember correctly, they were advertising that they’ve redone their fitness center to include a heated pool.”

Bob tilted his head toward her. “I’m going to guess that you’re a cyclist and let me think – tennis?”

She laughed – a pleasant sound – a rich laugh, not some girlish giggle. “You’re correct about cycling, but it’s racquetball, not tennis. You?”

“Kayaking, I enjoy a good game of racquetball; I can manage not to embarrass myself on a golf course, and scuba. That’s part of why I’m looking forward to the new job. A quick hop to Mexico and Belize. I enjoy the diving there.”

“I’ve done some snorkeling,” Susan started, the scotch on the rocks needing to cash out.

Roy heard the rhythm of the two talking, a kindred discussion now that had shifted from polite passages between strangers. He prepared to refresh their drinks as Susan said, “No, let me have a club soda instead.”

Her cell phone rang as he replaced the drink, noticing the time on his watch.

“Excuse me, I’ll be right back,” Susan said to both of them. “I have to take this.”

“Leave your stuff, I’ll watch it,” Bob said with a grin, looked at Roy, then took out his own phone.

Roy glanced toward the people passing by the bar. “Aren’t you boarding soon?”

Bob was tapping away. “Hold that thought,” he said, his fingers moving quickly. A smile crossed his face when he finished and he took a sip from his beer. “I’ll only be gone a few minutes,” he said when Susan re-appeared, mild exasperation reflecting in her blue eyes. The expression was probably left over from her telephone call since she smiled at Bob. “Okay,” she said and agilely lifted onto the bar seat.

Not that it was Roy’s business, but he did wonder what Bob was up to because the glance that he’d thrown Roy definitely hinted of some sort of scheme. The Sam Adams needed a refill and a skinny, bald man in a green plaid shirt took a stool three down from Susan and was pointing to the vodka section. By the time he was done answering questions about their basic menu, Bob was at the bar, Susan smiling again at something he’d said. Their postures belied the fact that Roy knew they’d met less than an hour before.

A burst of laughter preceded three young men all wearing polo shirts in variations of the purple and gold of Louisiana State University, late twenties to Roy’s practiced eye, confident that nothing but good futures awaited them. And why not? One bore a striking resemblance to Denzel Washington and the other two should have no problem enticing smiles at a singles scene. They filled in most of the space between the skinny man and the end of the bar. Drafts - India Pale Ale, porter, red ale. Burgers all around.

“I wrote my personal cell number on the back,” Susan was saying as she handed Bob a business card and Roy a credit card. It was of course, a Platinum American Express.

“It’s a two-city trip and I’m scheduled to return on Thursday,” she continued as she calculated the tip and signed.

Bob grinned. “I have to leave on Wednesday to go and wrap up some loose ends in Raleigh, but I’ll be back on Saturday.”

“We’ll see then,” Susan said, sliding off the seat to slip her jacket on and gather her bag and purse. “Give me a call.”

“I will,” Bob said enthusiastically, swiveling to face her. “Have a good rest of your trip. Hope you don’t have any more delays.”

“Me, too,” she said with a smile and wove her way through the tables that were beginning to fill.

Bob nodded as Roy pointed to his empty glass. “That, my friend, might have been the best decision I’ve made in a while.”

Roy was close enough to the tap to draw the beer and carry on a conversation. “What was that?”

“The flight to Houston was overbooked and they needed volunteers. I don’t have anything until the morning, so I gave up my seat and I’ll leave on the later flight.”

“Ah,” Roy said.

Bob took a sip, the tanned skin around his gray eyes crinkling. “You believe in love at first sight?”

“I’ve known it to happen,” Roy said simply, thinking of the only couple that applied to. He was certainly no stranger to instant attraction, knowing quite well how often that could be mistaken for love at first sight.

A trickle of condensation rolled down the glass and Bob wiped it with a napkin. “Well, here’s the thing, Roy. I looked at Susan’s face and I saw something there that I’m not sure of, but I have a feeling that it’s special. I mean, here I am taking a job in Houston and she only moved there a little over a year ago after her parents kept raving about it. Her plane was delayed or otherwise, she never would have walked into this bar and sat in this spot at the moment that she did. If I had made my flight, we wouldn’t have had longer to talk.”

“I see your point.” Roy said, having heard enough bar conversations to agree that there had seemed to be a connection between them.

Bob was still grinning and lifted his glass in a toast. “Yeah, I know, it could be nothing after all. On the other hand, it could be the start of something terrific.”

“You’re right about that,” Roy said, realizing that he meant it and lifted a hand to acknowledge the trio of men who wanted another round. Who knew, perhaps a genuine romance was indeed in the works.

The End