Hope you enjoy this little oneshot, and - as always - everything I write belongs to me, so please don't copy or use my writing without permission. Thanks!
Colby sees her for the first time in front of Gate C23.
She's sitting in the back corner of the gate's lounge area, with her head tucked down and her focus entirely stolen by the book in her hands. He's not sure, exactly, why she catches his attention the way she does; perhaps it is because of her messy ponytail, which reminds him eerily of his little sister, who is always telling him, "Looks are cheap—do whatchu want."
Whatever the reason, he stalls in his spot and doesn't even notice the cursing behind him as the many other flyers (most of whom act as though they are running an hour late) have to dart around him. Almost unconsciously, his gaze drifts to the screen behind the gate's desk and he spots the words New York and 3:15 p.m.
She's going to New York, is his first thought, followed immediately by, and it doesn't depart for another two hours.
He's not surprised that she has such a long wait time ahead of her; he got to the airport three hours early, expecting a long screening line—because Atlanta—only to get through security in less than fifteen minutes.
Perhaps it is because of the amount of time he has left before his flight to California, coupled with the time left before hers, that he decides, Well, it certainly wouldn't hurt to sit down for a while, would it.
So, before he can second-guess himself, he steps off the linoleum floor and onto the patterned carpet, where the chairs settled around the gates are located, his steps slow as he approaches. The surrounding area is quiet, so he can't use the classic excuse of, "there's nowhere else to sit," but he's in front of her before he can realize how creepy he probably looks, looming over her the way he is.
"Hi," God, but he sounds like a teenage boy going through puberty with the nervous pitch of his voice and the way he shuffles uncomfortably.
The woman whips her head up, looking beyond startled, before her eyes settle on him and she passes him a bright, if not confused, smile. She opens her mouth and greets, "Hi, how are you?" but she sort of sounds like she's underwater, since his focus has been successfully stolen by her inquisitive hazel eyes and the delicate curl of her chestnut brown hair.
It is only when her smile dims slightly that he realizes he's still standing in front of her, looking like some kind of stalking idiot.
"Sorry," he clears his throat, panicking on the inside, and then blurts, "I couldn't help but notice the book you're reading—" he hopes she doesn't see his eyes as they dart down to the front cover of the object "—I love Stephen King." He does, thankfully, though he's only read a few of the author's works.
"Oh?" she perks up, straightening in her seat and folding one of the book's pages to mark her spot before closing it and setting it on her lap. "What's your favorite of his?"
Now he's extremely glad that he's actually read some of the novels, even if only one of those was for pleasure (book club during high school was a real pain in the ass). "The Stand," he says, which is mostly truthful—it's the one he read most recently, so, at the very least, he'll remember the plot if she asks.
She nods eagerly, moving her large purse off the chair next to her and gesturing at the seat with her chin. "I loved that one, but my favorite will always be Misery." she confesses. "It's thrilling, but not too horrifying—for the most part, anyway—and it was the first of his that I read, which means it holds a special place in my heart, you know?"
He has to blink a few times to clear the millions of thoughts that are flying through his head. For one, this woman talks fast; he's not even sure if she's stopped to take a breath yet. Even more notable, she has no accent, which tells him that she is not a Georgia local like he is—if she was, he'd be able to pick her accent out immediately.
Before he can think too hard on it, he remembers that she (more or less) invited him to sit next to her, and he is quick to dump his briefcase and duffle before plopping down in the spot beside her. "I don't think I've read Misery yet," he admits. "My old book club decided to read The Long Walk instead."
Her nose crinkles with distaste, and he has to scold himself for thinking of the action as adorable. "I wasn't fond of that one; post-apocalyptic novels make me nervous."
He grins despite himself. "How's that?"
She shrugs, leaning back into her seat and passing him a searching gaze. "Well," she starts after a short pause, "if I analyze them for too long, I often find too many parallels with our current world, and that makes me nervous."
"Because it's scary to think about a world like that?"
Her smile this time is almost mischievous. "No. Rather, because I'd be the only survivor, and I can't see myself as doing well in a position of power."
He chuckles heartily, leaning forward and resting his elbows on his knees. "Don't do well with responsibility?"
"Oh, not at all; I like to stay in my pajamas most days, and I have a feeling such attire is frowned upon in every new-world order."
"Something tells me that it just depends on what type of pajamas you're wearing."
"Patterned pants and an oversized T-shirt that I got for about fifty cents at Kohl's."
He's laughing before he can stop himself, both at the mental image of her dressed in her pajamas, and at the flatness with which she delivered the retort. "Wow," he whistles when he's calmed down enough, "I'm sure that makes quite a statement when you go out in it."
"The folks at Walmart seem to like it well enough." She lobs back with a nonplussed shrug. "They certainly don't stop me from buying all my goods."
He snorts. "Like more pajama pants."
"Puh-lease ," she waves him off, her nose stuck into the air for added effect, "I would never buy pajamas from Walmart; I only wear the best brands, thank you."
They stare at one another for several silent beats, her hazel eyes lit with humor and his own blue gaze twinkling with delight at her sparring abilities.
Finally, they start laughing together, and it is only when their chortles fade to chuckles that she concedes, "I've bought many a pair of pajama pants from Walmart."
He opens his mouth to respond but is stopped when a voice comes over the speaker to announce boarding for a flight to Virginia. He wouldn't have paid it any mind, if not for the way she shoots out of her seat and begins to frantically gather up her things. "That's my flight!" she explains with flushed cheeks. "I've got to run—thanks for the company!" and then she is gone, and he is left with nothing but questions: So, not going to New York? and Are you single? are only a glimpse into his chaotic mind and, even then, one question stands out above all the rest.
What's your name?
He's been so busy with work that he hasn't had time to think about the mysterious woman that sat in front of Gate C23 with a Stephen King novel and a kind smile.
Being a contractor is an all-hour job, regardless of what, exactly, one is contracting for, but sometimes Colby thinks that being an IT contractor requires even more time, if only because he works to upgrade companies' computer systems, and then has to stay in town until they feel comfortable enough with the technology to work it on their own.
It's time consuming, and he often flies from job to job without going back home (the closest thing he gets is sitting in the Atlanta airport), leaving him without much stress-free alone time.
So, it's not a total surprise that the first moment he has to himself occurs at the Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; regardless of how others view it, Colby has no problem with a five-hour layover. In fact, he has grown used to spending time in the Atlanta airport, and knows how to search out the quietest locations to sit down and work on his computer.
It is because of his skill for finding silence that he is confused when his feet lead him towards the busier area of the airport, where multiple flights are departing, and late flyers are sprinting towards the gates.
What the Hell? He thinks as he raises his head to see where his lack of attention has led him.
He should probably be more shocked than he is when he spies the sign above the nearest gate and reads the words, Gate C23.
Of freaking course his stupid heart would take over his body and lead him here. Honestly, what else should he have expected?
She's not here, his mind whispers, ignoring his heart's cry of, But what if she is?
She's not, of course.
Colby's almost ashamed to admit that he looked and, even worse, that he was disappointed when she was nowhere in the crowd of people.
Shaking his head at his own foolishness, he turns around and begins to walk away, to an actual quiet spot, viciously shoving down the brief thought of, What if she's here, but going to Virginia? We're looking in the wrong place!
We're not looking at all, he grumbles inwardly, straightening the collar of his shirt and shouldering his computer bag. He's on his way from North Carolina to Kansas City (the aching want to leave the familiar airport and drive an hour to his home is strong), and he needs this time to prepare for the massive job that awaits, since outfitting an entire insurance company with the latest tech and software isn't going to be easy.
Just focus, he scolds himself. Seriously: Focus.
He doesn't think of the mystery woman again for the rest of his stay at Atlanta, and if his heart twinges when he walks past a sign that reads, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, he ignores it.
The job, as he expected, takes a month to complete.
When it's finally over, he is more than ready to return home, even though living on the outskirts of Atlanta isn't exactly stress-free either.
He is so focused on getting home that he almost doesn't hear the call of, "Hey!" Of course, Atlanta is one of the busiest airports in the world, so he doesn't pay the voice any attention, even though part of him insists that he take a look to see what's going on.
He doesn't though, or, he doesn't until the following shout of, "Stephen King nerd!" permeates his mind.
That's her, is zipping through his head before he can even acknowledge that he's spinning around, and he's sure his heart might actually cease to beat for a split-second when he spies the woman, standing just beside the boarding doors to Gate E14 with a wide grin on her lips.
He stops walking, his jaw agape, and is even more stunned when she passes him a wave and a quick, "Have safe travels, partner!" before she is saying something to the boarding agent and then disappearing behind the doors.
It takes several minutes before he realizes that: 1) he just saw the mysterious woman again, after at least two months; 2) he just saw the mysterious woman, only to lose her again; and 3) he still doesn't know her damn name.
"Shit," he can't help but mutter, grimacing and mouthing an apology when a nearby lady covers the ears of her child and shoots Colby a fierce glare.
He stands in front of Gate E14 for at least five more minutes, merely watching the doors and wondering if it's possible that she boarded the wrong flight and will be back out any second.
But then the gate agent is announcing that the flight to Virginia is taking off, and please see the Information Desk if you have any questions or missed your flight.
You have got to be kidding me.
How is it possible to get so close, and yet remain so far away?
He doesn't want to think about it any longer, so he rubs a hand over his face and then continues on his way, telling himself that everything will be fine once he's back in the comfort of his home.
When one travels as often as Colby does, they get used to delayed or canceled flights, rude flight attendants, and unfortunate power outages that shut down airports for hours, if not days.
What they may not get used to, however, is the constant need to search all of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport just to see if they can spy a woman whose name they don't even know.
Even Colby isn't used to the nearly-unconscious urge to keep his eyes peeled for messy brown hair and bright hazel eyes.
It's been a few weeks since he saw her last, and he's still kicking himself for not at least asking, "Wait, what's your name?" before she vanished into an airplane.
Kick yourself later, he thinks, his eyes darting to his watch. You're running late.
It's a first for Colby, and he's so used to being early that running even ten minutes behind his mentally-mapped schedule has caused his heart to beat with panic and his palms to sweat.
He won't miss his flight, but he'll definitely be boarding later than normal; it's not an awful situation, of course, but Colby has never been one to enjoy rushing.
Then again, the only reason he is late is because of his mom, who decided to call him right before he left his house to make sure that he is still coming to visit her in two weeks; Colby would rather rush to a plane than end a phone call too soon with his mom—the woman would never let him forget such an injustice, just as she would never let it slide if he hadn't answered her call at all.
"A rock and a mother that I don't want to anger," he grumbles to himself through his pants, working his legs as fast as he can without actually running, because Atlanta is so crazy that attempting to run through it seems like a death sentence.
His gate is in sight when he comes to a jarring halt.
Not because he ran into someone, but because holy shit there she is.
She's sitting at the gate just before his, her legs crossed and one foot bobbing back and forth idly as she reads the book in her hands.
"Stephen King!" is all he can think to yell, because she's literally right there but I'm late to my flight and damn it—it takes a while for them to board everyone, right?
As he'd hoped, she shoots up in her seat and looks around, laughing brightly when she spots him (his stomach blooms with warmth when he realizes that he is responsible for the stunning smile on her features). "Nerd!" is her reply, and he shakes his head with amusement even as he strides closer.
You're already late, flitters though his mind; his hearts contests with, But when will we get this chance again? And really, is that even a fair competition?
His eyes dart to the screen behind the nearby desk just long enough to read the words, and then she has all his attention once more. "Virginia?" he asks, and she nods.
"Always," is her answer. "Where are you headed?"
She clicks her tongue with mock disapproval. "Blegh, work—who needs it?"
He scoffs. "My bills."
"True enough!" she cheers as she marks her spot in her book before letting it slip shut. "Did you read Misery yet?"
The words, "I read it the day after I met you," are on the tip of his tongue before he reminds himself that maybe he shouldn't tell her that, so he instead settles with, "I did, actually; all of this flying gives me plenty of time to catch up on my reading." Except he ready Misery during one of the busiest work weeks of the year (when he really shouldn't be reading for fun), but she doesn't need to know that either.
"And . . .?" she wiggles her eyebrows, and he can't help but chuckle at how expressive her face is.
"And it was a Stephen King novel." She raises a single eyebrow (an action eerily reminiscent of his mother) but doesn't reply, and he shuffles on his feet nervously. "I liked it," he continues. "It was thrilling, but not terrifying; I was even able to fall asleep that night."
Her brows drop and then she is smiling again (Is it tiring to smile so much? It seems like it would be painful.). "I'm glad to hear it!"
"Last call for flight D2304 to Indianapolis," comes over the loudspeaker, and he's never been so frustrated in his life.
"That's me," he tells her, his smile strained. "Safe travels . . ." he trails off, eyeing her expectantly, and her eyes widen when she understands what he wants.
"Oh, sorry! My name is Nadia."
He didn't know it was possible for someone to have a name fit them so perfectly.
"Colby," he returns, before passing her a genuine grin and waving as he runs off.
Finally, is the only word on his mind, and he doesn't even know how he makes it to his seat because of the daze he's in.
The name brightens his spirits for a full half-hour before he's hit with another epiphany.
I didn't get her freaking contact information.
Really, he's making a habit of this.
You'll see her soon enough, he reassures himself. Eventually
Colby doesn't see Nadia when he's at the airport, waiting for a flight that will take him back home to Missouri to visit his mom.
He doesn't see her when he returns from Missouri, or when he flies out three days later for Little Rock, Arkansas, or a month later when he goes from Little Rock to Charlotte, North Carolina.
And then somehow three months go by, and he'd be lying if he said he wasn't worried, even though it's silly to be worried about someone he hardly knows. Sure, Nadia's flights to Virginia seemed relatively predictable, but it's entirely possible that she's been coming and going, and he just hasn't seen her. After all, Atlanta is massive.
Or, that's what he tells himself to keep his inner panic at bay, anyway.
But then six months pass, and he's never been so scared in his life. Sure, he doesn't know Nadia well, but the thought of something happening to her . . . ?
Well, his stomach would be in fewer knots if his plane was going through severe turbulence.
Where are you? is the question that zips through his mind as he walks past multiple flights to Virginia, on his way to the gate for Oklahoma. What happened to you?
When he is on the plane and Hartsfield-Jackson is slowly fading from sight, he can't help but think, What if I never see her again?
The resulting ache in his heart is too much, so he throws that idea out the proverbial window and promises himself that he will not be negative. What had he told himself when he saw her last?
Right: You'll see her again—eventually.
And maybe "eventually" isn't the same as "right away," but it will have to do.
"Eventually," he chides himself out loud, ignoring the look he gets from the man sitting beside him.
"Eventually," as it turns out, is very, very different from "right away," and even vastly contrasts the word, "someday."
"Eventually" for Colby turns out to be nine and a half months of mostly-frenzied waiting.
The desperation with which he held to see Nadia again is probably obvious when he hears the words, "Stephen King!" as he walks towards the airport's exit.
Colby whips around so fast he nearly knocks over the woman that was walking behind him. Passing her a breathless, "Sorry," he ducks around her and lets his eyes wander, searching and searching and searchin—
Nadia is standing on the opposite side of the walkway with a massive grin stretching her lips, and her hands settled on her hips almost expectantly.
Colby cracks a smile of his own, peeking both ways before crossing the tile and stopping just in front of her. "Nerd," he greets her, just as she did him when they saw each other last. He'd like to keep things light, but the concern he'd felt for the past nine and a half months, coupled with the immense relief in knowing that she's fine, swirl in his gut and demand to be eased with answers.
"Are you alright?" his voice is soft. "It's been a while."
Her hazel eyes dim with sadness for a moment, but it is so brief that he almost doesn't catch it. "Yeah, sorry about that; I haven't been back to Virginia for seven months, and the airport isn't exactly a place for hanging out."
He can't help the curiosity that is ignited at her words. "On your way back, then?"
He sees it again—a brief flicker of sadness in her otherwise happy features—but she tucks it away just as quickly as she did the first time. "No, I don't need to go back anymore."
Colby doesn't know what to say, so he doesn't say anything; instead, he holds her gaze and searches her expression for any hint of what she could be hiding. When he sees nothing, he drops his voice, his tone colored with genuine worry, and broaches, "Nadia, you can tell me, if you'd like."
She swallows thickly, rubbing her arms as though cold before confessing, "I kept going up to see my mom, since she wasn't doing so well, but, um, she passed during my last visit, and I haven't gone back since the funeral."
He's not sure what he was expecting, but it definitely wasn't that.
His heart drops to his feet at the knowledge that Nadia—kind, sweet Nadia, who loves Stephen King and makes his heart beat faster than a hummingbird's—was suffering for seven months and he wasn't around to (at the very least) offer a comforting shoulder.
"Ah, Nadia," he sighs, "I'm so sorry about your mom."
She shrugs, a sad grin tugging at her lips. "Me too. But," she clears her throat, and it is as though a switch has been flipped; her entire countenance grows joyful once more, "how are you? I'm sorry it's been so long."
"Don't worry about that," Colby is quick to soothe, his fingers itching to touch her and comfort her. "I don't . . ." he trails off, his mind only then catching up with her earlier words. "Wait, you're not here for a flight?"
Nadia's light smile turns sheepish, and she looks far younger than she probably is, scuffing her boot against the carpet like an embarrassed child. "No, I'm not."
"Okay . . .?"
The question is open-ended, but she recognizes it easily enough. "Yeah, well," she clears her throat, sets her shoulders, and meets him eye-to-eye, as though she is silently daring him to challenge whatever she's about to say, "I came here to see you."
I was not expecting that.
Really, she's just full of surprises today.
"Me?" is all he can say, because he's pretty sure his mind just short-circuited.
They start another one of their staring contests, where they just gaze at one another in silence and try to determine the thoughts in the other's head, and he's not sure how long it lasts before he can't help but ask, "Why?"
Another beat of quiet passes, and then—just when he's about to jump in and reassure her that she doesn't need to tell him if she doesn't want to—she blurts, "We don't know a lot about one another."
"You like Stephen King," is the intelligent statement that comes out of his mouth. And your mom just passed away, he doesn't say, because he's not that stupid.
Her lips quirk upwards. "Right. And you travel all the time, but that's not a lot to go on."
He's not sure where she's going with this whole thing, but he's so worried that she'll say something along the lines of We should probably forget about each other and have a good life, Colby, that he jumps in with, "That's fine—you have to start somewhere, after all." Is it just him, or is his voice pitched with nerves?
Nadia must notice, because she shakes her head with a soft chuckle. "I know," she assures, "and I was hoping we could maybe graduate from 'starting somewhere' to 'getting somewhere.'"
Colby's surprised again, and he's sure it's obvious by the widening of his gaze and the raising of his brows.
Is she asking me on a date? is his first thought, quickly followed by, Holy freaking crap, she's asking me on a date.
Or, at the very least, she's asking that they get to know one another better as friends; either option is fine with him, so long as he doesn't have to say goodbye this time.
"Not going on a flight?" he repeats his earlier question.
Her grin matches his own. "No. You?"
"Not this time."
And maybe they don't know each other well, but he does know that she likes Stephen King novels, and she knows that he spends most of his time in an airport.
It's not much, but it's a start.
And a start is better than nothing.
*Dusts off cobwebs* Well, hello there, dearies! How is everyone? Good, I hope?
I must admit, it's been a while; I'm working on a long story right now, but this was a little oneshot I wrote during a (surprise surprise) 3 hour layover in Atlanta. Gotta love the airport inspiration, amirite? Anywho, here's hoping you enjoyed, and I'll hopefully be back soon with another (longer) story.
Reviews are always appreciated, in case you were wondering. :)
Peace out, brussel sprouts,