The Layover

by Christian Linville

Circling above O’Hare in the afternoon sky, the aircraft trembled as it passed through the shifting waves of air. Kara smoothed the wrinkles of her blue skirt, crossing her legs in the dim cabin as the aircraft descended. While she felt the nakedness of her ring finger, she rehearsed the upcoming events of the afternoon. Looking upon the faces of the first-class passengers anxiously glancing to another during the rough descent, Kara mentally inspected the cabin, preoccupied by what she would say to Michael. After the pilot routinely landed the aircraft and guided it to the terminal, Kara and the other flight attendants directed their passengers to the exit. Afterward, each attendant inspected the aisles thoroughly for trash or forgotten items. Kara folded seat trays, adjusted seat belts, and refilled empty magazine trays.

When she departed the aircraft through the jet bridge, she confirmed the departure time of her last flight at the check-in desk. In the bathroom, she stood before the mirror and adjusted her scarf, tightening it snugly against her soft white neck and positioning the red ribbon ends across her shoulder. She wet her index finger and ran it precisely around the soft edges of her lips, wiping away light smudges of red lipstick. Kara stepped away and inspected herself, pulling small lint and dust particles from her blue jacket and tossing them to the white tiled floor.

One tall, pale-skinned attendant emerged from a stall behind Kara. “How do you look so beautiful all the time?” she asked.

“You’re the pretty one, Lacey.”

“I’m going to miss you,” the attendant said fondly, embracing Kara. “What’s your departure time?”

“In forty-five minutes.”

“I hate my new route,” Lacey admitted, moving to the sink to wash her hands. “I wish I could be with you on your last flight.”

Kara readjusted her soiled uniform in the mirror. “Me too.”

“Do you want to get coffee?”

“I’m meeting Michael.”

“What for?”

“He has papers for me to sign.”

“Good riddance,” the attendant spat.

Kara smoothed her ponytail, eyeing Lacey’s reflection in the mirror.

“Well,” Kara defended, “we have a lot of good memories. I’ll drown myself if I focus on the bad, so I choose to remember only the good.”

“That’s called selective memory, honey …”

Kara didn’t like what she saw in the woman’s eyes. It looked like pity. “Say good-bye to me before you leave. My next flight isn’t until tonight.”

“I will,” Kara promised and left the other woman to inspect herself alone in the mirror.

Glancing at her watch, Kara dodged speed-walking travelers and lazy security attendants. She looked at her phone once more to ensure no plans had changed. Rounding a corner, she saw him near the lounge entrance, his suit perfectly pressed, cuffs and pilot wings glinting beneath the artificial lighting. That familiar concerned expression weighed heavily upon his narrow face. He glanced at his wrist, resting his weight on the extended luggage handle.

Spotting her approach, Michael nodded his head gently.

“Hello, Michael,” Kara said, continuing her pace.

Michael turned and began matching her steps. “When is your next flight?”

“Forty minutes.”

“We’ll find a table in the lounge. I have a pen.”

“I have my own pen.”

The plump desk clerk greeted Kara and Michael as they entered the lounge. It was quiet except for the white noise of a few televisions. At the bar sat three off-duty pilots lined like dominos. In a dim corner were a man and woman; she was clearly distressed and looking away from the man. She sat down, feeling both sorry for the woman and pleased that she and Michael could be so amicable about all this.

Michael pulled one of the white leather chairs from its place toward Kara and the small coffee table between them. Once he was seated, Michael withdrew a small stack of papers from his front luggage pocket.

Kara crossed her legs and leaned forward, resting her arms on her knees.

“How was your flight? Was that your last?” Michael asked.

“I have one more flight today.”

Michael laid the papers on the wooden coffee table. “That’s your last?”


“What is your final destination?” he said stiffly.

“Pensacola,” Kara stated with the papers in hand.

“You’re staying there?”

“Yes. Does that surprise you?”

“Well,” Michael rubbed a scuff off his shiny black shoes. “I wasn’t sure where you would be.”

“I think Florida will be nice,” Kara stated. “Chicago is boring now.”

“Chicago is cold,” Michael added.

“I don’t see where to sign. Did your attorney not mark this?” Kara questioned.

Michael leaned forward to examine the papers. Kara was suddenly violated within his body space. She remembered the last moment they embraced before she’d flung herself into the backseat of a cab on that final infuriated escape to her mother’s house in Florida. Fear of the memory and its rabbit trails leading to an inevitable romantic end invaded her senses, so she focused again on the stack of papers. “I can figure it out.”

Michael checked his airman’s watch. “Will you be with your mother in Florida?”

Kara looked again to Michael. He stared back questioningly, his eyebrows bent forward, pressed together. “I will,” she admitted.

“How is she?”

“She is better.” Kara sighed. “She tells me she’s used to being alone now. I have to say, that’s a little comforting to me.”

Michael watched Kara inspecting the papers, the late afternoon sun caressing her blonde hair. He twirled his ring between his thumb and pinky, noticing Kara’s bare finger.

“That’s nice of you to ask,” Kara noted.

“I really enjoyed your mother.”

“My father was a different story.”

“Well, I didn’t have to deal with him for long.” Michael chuckled then silenced himself. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it that way.”

“I know.”

“Ron was a good man.” The words were kind, but the tone sounded obligatory to Kara.

She came to the end of the stack and paused to look through the tall lounge window beside her. Chicago stretched across the horizon behind the runway, clear in the late-afternoon sunlight.

“Are you still in the house?”

“Yes,” Michael said. “I’m in contact with a realtor right now. She tells me it is very sellable.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know. She’s probably bullshitting me.”

“Don’t let her tear up my garden,” Kara said, looking at Michael. His eyes were soft in the sunlight. He did not blink. “It was a good garden.”

“Yes. It was. There were a lot of good things in that house.”

“What have the neighbors said?”

“I avoid them like the plague,” Michael admitted. “Oh, yes …” He turned to his suitcase and withdrew a small brown coffee cup decorated with purple flowers sprouting from the bottom of the mug. “I brought your cup. You forgot it.”

Kara took it from Michael’s outstretched hand, inspecting its shape and memory in her soft white hands, tapping its rim with her fingernails. “You are kind,” she mumbled.

“Who said I wasn’t?” Michael smirked.

“Well.” Kara began, returning his smile.

“I can show emotion, Kara.” He insisted. “I feel things.”

Michael’s face puckered, and he looked out the window. She remembered the face, the one she’d seen as took one final look back in the taxi. “I think you’re a generally kind person,” she said, reexamining her signatures. “I don’t know if you can say the same for me.”

Michael shrugged, causing his pilot wings to glint in the sunlight. “I had bad habits too.”

Kara glanced to her ring finger, anxiously needing to feel its exposure. “I don’t remember any of yours.”

“Please.” Michael chuckled.

Kara rested her back against the chair. “Time heals all wounds, right?”

“Maybe …”

“I thought you emptied your feelings of resentment at Dr. Harden’s desk?”

“You don’t have any hard feelings?”

“No.” Kara said. “I don’t. I feel differently now, looking back. Don’t you?”

“I still feel that some are better friends than lovers,” Michael muttered, still facing the runway.

Kara rolled her eyes at Michael’s attempt at complexity. “I’ve always been the sentimental one.” She shrugged, searching again for a sign of surrender in Michael’s eyes.

“True.” Michael stood and looked down at his watch. “Okay. You’ve got to be going.”

“Yes.” Kara agreed, deflated at his coldness.

“I’ll take care of these,” Michael said, pulling the manila folder from Kara’s hands. “I’ll stop by Tim’s office on my way home.”

“Thank you.”

Kara took her small suitcase and followed Michael through the lounge. She glanced once more to the skyline, noting the unusual clarity of the buildings, then to the corner where the man and woman sat, but they were gone.

“I’ll let you know if you missed anything,” Michael stated, holding open the door for Kara as the two emerged into the bustle of the terminal. “Be safe.”

“I will,” Kara said and departed for her gate. She looked over her shoulder for one last glance at Michael, but she couldn’t see him among the travelers. “I’m a damn romantic,” she mumbled, her mind swirling with memories of subway rides into the city, snow showers, and warm summer evenings sitting on the stoop, the dark outlines of newly budded trees against the failing light. “Some are better friends,” she repeated.


After Kara inspected the interior of the aircraft a second time, reviewing the emergency guidelines and procedures of her last flight, she sat once more in the ill-lit nook and crossed her legs. The pilot’s voice came over the intercom announcing, “Flight 678 for Pensacola,” and “Prepare for takeoff.” As the aircraft lifted into the sky and gained altitude, the plane bounced and shuttered. Kara noted the passenger’s faces, some wearing confused expressions, glancing to each other for comfort amidst the turbulence, others faking sleep to hide fear.

Kara rested her head back, fighting against the tender memories while looking through a window across the aisle, the orange glow of the evening settling outside.

“Go to hell,” she whispered and closed her eyes.


Category: Featured, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing