Maybe my parents didn't hug me enough as a child.
Maybe everyone around me is just a bunch of perverts.
Either way, I definitely don't feel comfortable in this situation.
The girl I ended up sitting next to in these little airport terminal chairs – they're always the same, low-slung black pleather – seemed to want the armrest, so I let her have it.
She's currently taking up not only the armrest but most of my chair and, by extension, my lap. Her hand, which started out on my knee, keeps creeping up my leg. I calmly put it back on my knee every time she moves it too close for comfort, but it just keeps shifting upward and I'm afraid to wake her up.
I can't leap up and scream in frustration and horror because there's some guy with a Lord of the Rings book passed out on my other shoulder, and he's never done anything to me that would make me want to wake him up, either.
He smells like tea.
And anyway, there's only two other spots I could escape to without leaving the area designated for our church group's use. Which, by the way, is stupid, because this is a red-eye flight we're waiting for and the only people in the whole terminal except us are three angry-looking businessmen.
One spot is blocked by some guy from our group, who's standing in front of it talking enthusiastically to some strangers from Wisconsin who are apparently on the same trip as us despite living several states away. I think he might be trying to get their social security numbers.
The other option is a single chair in the corner, right next to a kid I like to call Mr. Scary.
Mr. Scary looks much the way I've always pictured the Antichrist. He's fully dressed – unlike the rest of us, who more or less shuffled from our beds to the airport – in the tightest-fitting, blackest set of clothes I've ever seen. He may be trying to blend in with the chairs, but that doesn't explain the make-up... or the shoes.
Who wears platform shoes at two in the morning on a church trip, anyway?
That girl's moving her hand again.
Mr. Scary notices my flailing despite my attempts to contain it (so as not to disturb Tea-Smelling Guy). Instead of coming to my rescue, he holds back a smirk, waves at me, and returns to his book. He is definitely not my knight in shining platform shoes.
Just then, a guy in a vest who I assume works for the airline starts speaking into his little desk-microphone and tells us our flight is now boarding. He really doesn't need the microphone; we would have heard him just fine if he would've said, "Hey guys, you should get on the plane now," but I think the microphone makes him happy. So it's cool.
I stand up, and the girl with the hand sort of drags herself along. She's leaning heavily on me now, apparently to keep herself awake, although she's suspiciously bright-eyed if that's the truth.
In my head, I start calling her Thing – not because of any resemblance between her and the Addams family character, but because her hand seems to be an independent entity.
There's a thud behind us as Tea-Smelling Guy tips over onto my empty seat.
"Don't do that, Sonny," he mumbles. I walk away.
As we walk into the tunnel to board the plane, I notice Thing's exceptionally large carry-on luggage and I know I'm going to have to wait for her to find a place to put it before I get to sit down. I look behind me for any way to escape sitting next to her, but the only people from our group who seem to be left are Tea-Smelling Guy, still passed out in an awkward heap, and Mr. Scary, who looks like he's trying to wake him up.
Oh sure, now he does something helpful.
I grumble to myself as we walk onto the plane, but Thing doesn't notice. It's pretty small since we're flying out locally and will switch flights in Chicago on our way to Washington, D.C., but there's still two seats per row on each side of the plane. Several of these rows have already been saved just for our group, and within them the seats are ours to choose from.
The captain and stewardess, thankfully, look awake when they greet us. I take this as a good sign. The rest of the group, however, bear a striking resemblance to a flock of zombies. Zombies in pajamas. I miss that Bananas In Pajamas show that used to be on. Cheese and whiskers, indeed.
Thing takes a window seat and looks expectantly up at me. I stand frantically in the aisle.
"Can I help you?" says the guy who's been chatting up those people from Wisconsin.
"Bananas," I say to him quickly, then shake my head.
"I helped the banana pickers of Costa Rica win the right to unionize last year," he tells me with a smile.
"Oh," I say. I don't think he's joking.
The stewardess walks up and asks me if she can help me.
I shoot her an extremely large grin despite the fact that I'm actually quite scared right now. She looks alarmed and walks back the other direction.
"I wasn't trying to display dominance," I say sheepishly to her back.
The Antichrist staggers toward me under the weight of Tea-Smelling Guy.
"Where's Vito?" Tea-Smelling Guy is saying in distress.
"Home," Mr. Scary says curtly.
"But where are you taking me, Sonny?" says Tea-Smelling Guy. I realize his eyes are still closed.
"Home," Mr. Scary says again. "And I'm not Sonny, I'm Jack."
Hey-O, Captain Jack! sings a voice in my head. Bring me back to the railroad track!
I should really get to sleep.
...but I can't because I don't have anywhere to sit. And the seat next to Thing doesn't count. It's not a seat, it's the seventh circle of hell. Not a situation I'm comfortable in!
"I think this is yours," says Mr., uh, Jack. He thrusts Tea-Smelling Guy onto me. He's quite heavy, and his head immediately lolls onto my shoulder.
"Horse heads," he states calmly.
"Um, actually," I start to say, but Jack has already walked away.
"Don't want to sleep next to horse heads!" says Tea-Smelling Guy, somewhat more urgently.
"Don't, then," I tell him, and drop him into the seat next to Thing, where he promptly curls into the fetal position at the angle that puts him furthest away from her.
There's a small squeal from across the aisle, and I look to see one girl sucking fiercely on a peppermint stick and another, next to her, rummaging hurriedly through her bag. She emerges with a battered composition book, which she waves above her head and promptly begins scribbling in.
I make to follow Jack – he, at least, seems mostly to be self-contained – but he's already sitting at the very back of the plane next to some kid with a laptop. I wonder what he's going to do once he has to turn off the computer when we take off, but as I watch, the kid takes out a Gameboy. Problem solved.
There's a pair of seats open right in front of Thing and Tea-Smelling Guy, and I take the one nearest the aisle. Hopefully people will think I'm saving the other seat and it will take them most of the flight to realize I'm not, by which point I won't have to endure anyone draping themselves over me for very long. Because I know they will try. This isn't paranoia; it's experience.
As though to prove my point, the stewardess walks by again once I've sat down, but this time she rests her hand on my shoulder when she asks if I need anything.
"Pillow!" I shout at her.
"Ah," she says, and hands me one from the overhead.
Apparently, I note, Mr. Scary – er, Jack – wasn't the last member of our group to board the plane. As the three angry businessmen go by, I notice someone vaguely familiar walking quietly behind them.
"Is anyone sitting there?" he asks me politely.
"No," I say a bit grudgingly, and slide over so he can have the aisle seat. He nods and sits down.
Thing's hand snakes up between the seats – oh God, I think, snakes on a plane – and strokes my shoulder lightly.
"Oh, I'm ready for it! Come on, bring it!" I say to the guy next to me, who looks a bit upset but otherwise doesn't react. I suspect that he may be a banana.
"I'm Tyler," he says, but offers no proof that he doesn't grow on trees. I wonder if I said that out loud.
Tyler reaches into the small gym bag he's using as a carry-on and pulls out a Rubik's cube, which he placidly scrambles and begins to solve. I lean as far into the window, and as far from Thing's hand, as I can, and attempt to get some sleep.
Evidently I succeed, because the next time I become aware of my surroundings, we're flying over a lake and Tyler looks more human than banana, which is good.
He's also sitting up straight in his own seat, Rubik's cube in one hand and stopwatch in the other. He is expressionless, but he gives off an aura of frowning.
Not a banana – not touching me – I think I like this guy.
Soon we've landed, and Tea-Smelling Guy is hovering over me and standing on one foot as Thing attempts to get her hippopotamus-sized bag out of the overhead compartment. When it finally springs free, she nearly drops it on one of the businessmen.
On the bright side, Tea-Smelling Guy is awake now and interacting in the setting of the real world, not New York circa 1945.
We're slowly, slowly filing off the plane and into a new terminal lobby. Everyone rushes to the bathroom. A few seconds later, a small boy runs out of it, crying. I wonder if Jack scared him.
Tyler buys a parfait from a stand nearby. I consider stealing it, but then decide it's best just to buy my own, so I do.
Immediately, two girls approach me and ask if they can have a bite. One trails her hand down my arm as she speaks, and I suspect she's asking for something more than frozen yogurt.
I am very uncomfortable in this situation.
I hear luggage wheels rolling up behind me – a sure sign that Thing is coming – and I bolt over to where Jack is lounging against a wall, texting.
"Do you want this parfait?" I ask him in a rush.
He looks at me. Then he looks back at his phone.
"Are you a robot?" he asks me after a beat.
"No," I say. He nods, satisfied, and returns to his texting. After a minute he sticks out his hand, and I deposit the cup in it.
Jack eats my parfait, and I watch him in what I realize is a distinctly awkward manner. However, nobody else has joined us since I ran over here, and I'm not going to risk my not-recently-molested status just to make him feel more at ease. He doesn't seem uneasy, anyway.
There's a flicker of movement in the corner of my eye, and I'm about to run off again when I see that it's only Tyler, still holding his Rubik's cube and stopwatch and now a small notebook, too. He hands the notebook to Jack, who sets the parfait down on the rim of a potted plant and looks down at the notebook and his phone, puzzled as to how to hold them at the same time.
"I can hold your phone," I volunteer.
Jack looks at me a bit strangely, then hands it to me.
As Tyler flies into action on his Rubik's cube and Jack watches, apparently transfixed, the phone starts flashing in my hands.
Well, do you want me to call you and shout "sodomy"? says the screen when I open it.
"Er, Jack..." I say.
"Shhh!" he says angrily before turning back to watch Tyler.
After writing down a time a few seconds later, he takes the phone from me, chuckles, and quickly texts a reply. He hands the phone to me and picks the notebook back up.
As Tyler starts cubing again, Jack's phone begins to buzz. I hesitate, but he doesn't look like he'll be ready to answer anytime soon, so I open it and say "Hello?"
"SODOMY!" screams a female voice in my ear.
I am silent. I am emulating Tyler. I don't think I pull it off as well as he does.
"Hello?" says the voice.
"Hello," I say.
"You're not Jack," says the girl on the phone after a pause. Her tone is accusatory.
"I'm not," I say agreeably.
"Who are you, then?" she asks.
"Martin," I answer. "Ashley, actually, but. Martin."
"Ashley?" says the voice. "You're not a girl."
"I'm sure not," I reply.
"Well, you could be lying, actually," she says. "And seeing as we're only talking on the phone I can't really check, but I could ask Jack to. He'd probably do it. Would you be terribly upset?"
I look at Jack, who, apart from having absorbed my name, seems not to be paying us a bit of attention. My first thought is, not really.
"He might be," I say at length.
"Nah," says the girl. "Jack doesn't really get upset. Are you, by any chance, the chiseled jock-boy with the doe eyes?"
"Um," I say eloquently. It's quite accurate, I guess. "Are you... psychic?"
"Phone psychic, that's me!" says the voice cheerfully. "Would you like to know what's in your stars? Only twelve cents a minute for the first minute. After that it's five dollars."
"I... a minute?" I say.
"That depends on if you're a Pisces, now I come to think of it."
"Look, I really don't feel comfortable in this situation. How do you know what I look like?"
"Well if you don't want your stars read, can I just talk to Jack?"
I glance back over and, sure enough, Jack is watching me closely. Tyler is eating the remains of my abandoned parfait with a spoon he seems to have materialized out of nowhere. I give the phone to Jack.
"Hey," he says casually. I can hear laughter coming faintly through the speaker.
"No," says Jack. Then, after a minute, "I'm a Capricorn!"
"No... no... certainly not," he continues. "No. Charlotte! I didn't say you could tell him that part!"
Unless I'm much mistaken, the Antichrist is blushing. I think Tyler is snickering into his – er, my – Jack's? – the parfait, but then I could be wrong about that part.
"No, you can't talk to him again! I'm... no. No, I'm hanging up. It's five in the morning. ...Time zones don't matter, Charlotte! We're still in the same one!"
He doesn't hang up yet, though. The voice – Charlotte's? – is still coming through the phone.
"I told you, I'm hanging up. Now. Hanging up!" shouts Jack, and this time he does.
At which point I tear my eyes away and notice that nobody else from our group is still in the terminal. When I say so, even Tyler looks alarmed, albeit not as much so as Jack, who jumps about a foot and shoves his phone back into his pocket. I don't even know how there's room given how tight his pants are, but hey. We have a flight to catch. No time for pants-thoughts.
Jack and I hurry to the nearest monitor that displays departing flights. Tyler trails vaguely after us. Problem: there are four flights to D.C. listed on-screen, and we have no idea which one is ours.
I don't, at least.
"We're looking for 549-10," Tyler says calmly. With only minimal panicking on my part, some on Jack's part, and absolutely none on Tyler's part, we figure out that we ought to be two terminals away by this point.
The three of us hop on a moving sidewalk, which makes me feel rather space-age and pleased with myself. Soon we're almost run down by the same three angry businessmen from our first flight as they powerwalk past.
Jack leans against the railing, which somehow gives him the appearance of nonchalance even while on a moving sidewalk.
More businessmen dash past. It's like playing Frogger, but with guys in suits instead of cars! I say as much, and Tyler gives a small smile in response.
We reach the terminal, where a small crowd attempts to lift me onto their shoulders as I step off the moving sidewalk. (Tyler and Jack, of course, disembark without any fuss at all.) A few of the people in the crowd aren't even in our traveling group. I suspect that the overenthusiastic supporter of banana workers is behind this, but then again, it could just be that everyone is stalking me.
Is it weird if I hope it's the former?