Angela Amman

Holiday Detour – Part 8

holiday fictionContinued from Part Seven — or start at the very beginning with Part One!

By the time Margot and Adam were making small talk at a hightop table at a nondescript airport bar, she felt like she would either cry or scream if she heard one more person complain.

A frantic woman barreled toward the bar, her dragged carryon bag careening off Margot’s legs. She barked an order at the bartender and returned to loudly outlining the situation into a phone tucked beneath her chin.

“I know tomorrow’s Christmas Eve, mom! We had plenty of time to get to your house, but I can’t make the planes fly into a blizzard,” she said. “Yes, we’re keeping an eye on the flights and maybe we’ll get to you by tomorrow. Oh, mom. This isn’t Jack’s fault. We agreed we weren’t going to take the kids out of school early this year.

Despite her bruised shins, Margot sympathized, even more so when an equally frantic man and three young children tumbled into the bar and made a beeline for the woman. A pang of loneliness hit when she saw the couple’s eyes meet. The woman handed her husband one of the two cocktails she’d ordered, and his rolled eyes seemed to release some of the tension in her shoulders.

“I can’t think of much worse that being stranded in an airport with a bunch of kids,” Adam said, sipping his beer as the family retreated to one of the tables in the corner. Backpacks and bags crowded together under the small table, but Margot thought the woman seemed at least a few degrees less frazzled since she’d been joined by her family.

“At least they’re together,” Margot said, ignoring the incessant vibration of her phone.

Adam laughed. “You might not think that in two hours when the kids are asking for their third round of overpriced airport snacks and their parents have a splitting headache from cheap cocktails.”

“Hey, you don’t know that they’re drinking cheap cocktails,” Margot said, unsure why she felt she had to defend a family whose mother had rammed a suitcase into her legs without so much as an apologetic smile.

“Trust me. No one flying coach with three kids is drinking expensive cocktails,” Adam said. “When my ex and I used to travel with our son, we’d try to figure out how many of the cheap airport bottles of booze we could drink before one of us needed a nap.”

Margot felt a little sting at the ease with which he mentioned an ex-wife and a son. She’d noticed the lack of a wedding ring when he’d commented on hers, but with her own concerns with her marriage at the forefront of her thoughts, she’d simply assumed  unmarried bachelor. She felt as though a divorce should leave tendrils of shadow on one’s self. Adam’s easy demeanor didn’t reflect any of the pain she’d been feeling the last few months.

“I’ve never flown with children,” Margot said, mostly because she couldn’t think of anything else to say. She resisted the urge to pick up her phone to check who’d been calling, fairly certain it was her mother, who managed to keep track of all of Margot’s flights almost as well as Margot’s infallible calendar system.

“But you fly a lot,” Adam said, referencing her earlier description of her job.

“For now,” Margot said.

“You mentioned that, but didn’t elaborate,” he said. “Are you getting out of the training business?”

Wine and low lighting loosened her tongue. “I’m getting out of the marriage business,” she said.

“Really?” His raised eyebrows invited her to keep talking.

“Vance and I seem to have a difference of opinion about the lifestyle we want to lead,” Margot said. “I don’t think I can do this anymore.”

“What do you think you’ll do instead?” Adam asked.

Margot blinked, then stalled. “I wasn’t aware I signed up for a career counseling session,” she said.

“Well, I did mention I worked with high schoolers, right? Guidance counselors apparently don’t take a Christmas break.”

Scenes flashed through Margot’s head. She’d been working the professional angles with Vance for so long that she could easily spout off sound bites about doing training for other companies or working with conference centers to set up professional conventions. Truly, though, she’d pictured their lives after selling the company from a more personal angle: lazy weekends checking out the wineries along the Niagara, a little boy with Vance’s shock of blond hair, dinners that didn’t come from a room service cart.

Ending her life with Vance meant the end of the company, which was a relief, but it meant the end of those dreams, too.

“I’m not exactly sure what I’ll do next,” Margot said. Needing something to do with her hands, she picked up her phone and scrolled through the missed texts. Blood drained from her wine-flushed cheeks.

“Is everything ok?” Adam asked.

“It’s just that Vance is here. In the airport. His plane got diverted, too.”

…to be continued

Holiday Detour – Part Seven

holiday fictionContinued from Part Six — or start at the very beginning with Part One!

Vance’s fingers flew across the keyboard of his sleek laptop. He never traveled without wi-fi, though it made him smile to think about how adamant Margot was about never working on a plane. His smile faded a little when he realized they wouldn’t argue about their working habits any more.

The client he’d been meeting with in Los Angeles had been one of the first sales he’d ever made. Jack had been shocked to hear Margot wouldn’t be following in Vance’s orbit in the New Year to train his new crew of payroll clerks.

“Half of why I work with you is knowing your pretty wife will be out here showing my girls how to operate that software,” Jack had said.

Vance had cringed at the statement, but he kept his mortification internal. He’d told Margot about Jack’s unabashed sexism soon after he closed his first sale with the octogenarian. Margot had sighed. “You think it’s surprising to hear someone talk like that, but you just don’t notice because it doesn’t affect you.” She’d trained Jack’s team anyway, wryly briefing Vance each night about how Jack’s twin daughters were essentially running the small furniture company Jack had started years before they’d been born. In the early days, Vance reminisced, he and Margot had communicated so frequently that he could almost picture her training sessions.

He would miss those conversations.

The papers he’d sent to Margot weighed on his mind, and he closed his computer. Standing in the aisle for a moment to stretch his legs, he second-guessed the decision to have the paperwork delivered to the bed and breakfast. Margot raved about the Camellia Cottage, and he’d figured it would be almost like receiving the news at home. His head hurt when he calculated she’d probably spent just as many nights at the bed and breakfast as she had at their small apartment during the current year.

“Excuse me, sir, you’re going to need to take your seat.” The flight attendant’s voice interrupted his thoughts, and immediately he noticed the strain she was attempting to veil with a smile.

“Of course,” Vance said. He flipped open the computer again as the seatbelt sign flashed to life above his head. He didn’t need to look at the information to know he and Margot were scheduled to arrive in Buffalo within minutes of each other. It would be the first time they were in the same city in well over a month, and he wondered why he’d thought it was a good idea not to wait until they were home to talk about the decision he’d made without consulting her.

Turbulence rattled the ice in the plastic cup sitting next to his laptop. Idly, he wished he would have only ordered a single bourbon instead of a double, but the liquid was already sloshing in his stomach and slowing his thoughts.

“This doesn’t feel right,” Vance’s seat mate said. Vance smiled automatically, preparing to smooth the panic he heard in the man’s voice.

Another jolt of turbulence stopped him from assuring the man.

“I haven’t been on a flight this rough for years,” Vance said, letting countless flights scroll through his thoughts. He knew the weather in the midwest and northeast looked precarious for the evening, but he’d been hoping they’d land before the snow got too heavy.

By the time the pilot announced they’d be grounding the plane far short of their destination, Vance had closed his eyes against his pounding headache. He wished he would have waited to give Margot the papers in person. Now he wasn’t even sure when he’d see her, and he knew she wouldn’t check her own email before landing in Buffalo.

Maybe two bourbons had been one too few instead of one too many.

…to be continued

Holiday Detour – Day Six

holiday fictionContinued from Part Five — or start at the very beginning with Part One!

The wine settled warmly in Margot’s stomach, and she felt herself relaxing for the first time since sweet Nora Lou had handed over the mail. She didn’t even mind when her music slid into the soundtrack of a decidedly love-friendly Christmas movie and completely ignored the increasing turbulence that shifted her tote bag back and forth at her feet. A tap on her shoulder shocked her out of her contentment cocoon, and only the smile greeting her from the seat behind her made the interruption slightly palatable.

“Do you believe in coincidences?”

“I don’t know if coincidences are something to believe in,” Margot said. “They just happen, don’t they?”

“That’s what I mean, though,” he said. “Is it a coincidence that the seat behind you is empty? Fate?”

Margot cringed a little at the word. Fate had never had any place in her belief system. One of the things that cemented her attraction to Vance had been the way he laughed at the idea of fate and insisted they were in charge of their own. Still, debating the machinations of the universe with an attractive stranger seemed to be the surest way to end the conversation.

“Maybe a little bit of both,” she said, instead, hedging her bets. Movement at the front of the plane caught her eye. The flight attendants were clustered together, whispering a little.

“I’m Adam, by the way, and I don’t normally do this,” he said. “Buy wine for married women, I mean.”

Margot’s cheeks flamed into a shade of red that likely matched the cranberry wrap she’d snugged around her arms. The sparkling rings on her left hand were so much a part of her existence that she’d forgotten they broadcasted her marital status to the world. A flood of guilt washed on top of her embarrassment. How many times had she worried about Vance getting too friendly during his sales dinners? Now she had been the one to welcome a little flirtation.

“And now I’m obviously sticking my foot directly into my mouth,” he said.

“No. I appreciate the drink. I’m just having a day,” Margot said.

“I could tell. I have a knack for that, believe it or not. I work with teenagers, and being able to tell when they’re having bad days kind of goes with the territory.”

“I’m not sure what it says about me that you somehow equated my emotional state to that of a teenager having a bad day,” Margot said.

“Apparently I’ve also forgotten how to speak with adults,” he said. “I just thought you looked you might need a gesture of kindness.”

Margot was torn between the warmth of the intention and the sharp sting of realizing he hadn’t been flirting with her after all. She took a deep breath, centering her thoughts. Until she’d seen his smile, she hadn’t even realized she’d missed that feeling of being bestowed with unexpected attention.

“I did,” she said, forcing herself to stop overanalyzing every word he said. “I’m Margot. Thank you for the wine.”

The speaker system crackled to life above their heads. Margot instinctively gripped the armrest, though she remained twisted around in her seat, facing Adam.

“Thank you for your patience with the turbulence,” the captain said. “Unfortunately the storms in the Northeast are more severe than we anticipated. We’re going to be diverting the plane for a landing at O’Hare.”

More instructions droned overhead, but passenger chatter made them impossible to hear. Margot blissfully forgot all about the prior moments of embarrassment and blurted her frustration.

“Chicago? What are we supposed to do in Chicago?”

Adam shrugged a little. The nonchalance reminded her of Vance for the second time since she’d seen him in line for coffee.

“I don’t know. Maybe they’ll be able to get a plane off the ground later tonight.”

“I doubt it,” Margot grumbled. “And it’s practically Christmas Eve.”

“In that case,” Adam said. “I’ll let you return the favor and buy me a drink at one of the numerous airport bars Chicago has to offer.”

…to be continued

Holiday Detour – Day Five

holiday fictionStart at the very beginning with Part One!

Margot tucked her legs to one side and then the other, trying to figure out a way to get comfortable without infringing on her seatmate’s right to legroom. Even with her slightly roomier economy-plus seat, there was no room for user error in the tight quarters.

Pulling out her book, phone, and earbuds, she settled back into the faux leather before remembering she’d definitely need her lip balm. They’d only boarded a few minutes earlier, and Margot had reached for her tote bag at least three times. The woman next to her couldn’t have been sleeping already, and Margot’s bustling wasn’t exactly quiet, but her eyes remained stubbornly closed.

Spared from small talk, Margot ignored the safety lecture at the front of the plane and fell into the pages of a story she’d read on countless flights across the country. She liked the predictability of her favorite books—and the way they surprised her with new bits of whimsy and insight with each read.

Despite her determination to ignore reality, she couldn’t stop the flood of thoughts racing through her head. Maybe she should have opened the mailer before shoving it aside. What did divorce papers look like anyway? And really, could Vance plan things any more poorly? Their recent conversations replayed over and over, in technicolor, in her head.

About two months prior, she’d noticed a flurry of emails from an attorney before Vance had changed the password on the joint account. His evasive answers about the emails, and the new password, exhausted her.

“We agreed to sell,” Margot had said.

“You remind me of that every single day,” Vance replied. 

“I told you eight months ago that I only had six more months of this schedule left in me,” Margot said. The ultimatum had been almost impossible for her to deliver, and it stung that the date had slid by without any sort of acknowledgment.

“I know, Margs. I do. And I want that for us, to spend more than a few days together each month. But I don’t think it’s time to stop the hustle quite yet.” His smile, the one she knew he used at sales meetings, almost coaxed her into acquiescence. 

“You’ll never think it’s time,” she said.

“I will. You know I want to take things to a certain point and then sell when we’ve established it’s a viable solution but—“

“But ‘there’s still room for growth’,” Margot parroted his familiar words back to him. She couldn’t help the sarcasm making her voice crueler than necessary.

“It’s unfair to mock me. I’ve always been transparent about what I wanted for this project. Actually, these are goals we set together, years ago. I could say you’re the one being unreasonable.”

Her book open on her lap, Margot dug her fingernails into her palms. He’d been right, of course, but he’d been wrong, too. When they’d talked about running the small business on their own, they’d planned for a solid year of Vance selling the software and Margot training the businesses implementing it. Three years later, and Margot had started to see her travel weariness wasn’t hitting Vance nearly as hard. She’d let him know she only wanted to do the training for six more months, and she’d imagined him pulling away from her a little more each day as three seasons came and went without him mentioning putting out feelers for buyers.

“Excuse me, ma’am.” A voice broke through the music she kept on as a way to deter plane conversations. The flight attendant stood at her elbow.

“I’ll just have a water,” Margot said, gesturing to the coffee still sitting half-full on her tray table.

“Actually, the gentleman offered to buy you a drink,” the attendant said, nodding across the aisle.

“In that case, I’ll have a red wine,” she said.

Margot turned to see the blond hiker, not that she actually knew he was a hiker, sitting across the aisle and a few rows behind her. He grinned and shrugged, and Margot wished he was just a little closer so she could hear his warm voice again.

…to be continued

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