“Paging Boyd Mitchell. Passenger Boyd Mitchell, please see the closest Summit attendant. Thank you.”
The sound of my name over the intercom pulls my eyes from where they’ve been focused on my phone, my attention briefly drawn away from the work that dominates my focus at all hours.
I quickly scan the crowded seating area at Gate C21, taking in the host of cranky, agitated passengers waiting to board the flight, as if one of them might be able to confirm that I did, in fact, hear my name announced throughout the terminal.
I don’t know why I do that, especially considering the fact that I’m usually traveling alone, but coming from a family as large as mine, one that is always in my business and full of a bunch of know-it-alls, I can’t help but believe I’m never alone, no matter how much I wish it were so.
Grabbing my carry-on and tucking my jacket into the crook of my arm, I carefully make my way through the extended legs and belongings of my fellow travelers.
Boston Logan International Airport is always a busy place, but today it seems especially so with families and groups trying to squeeze in last-minute summer vacations before the weather on the east coast begins to turn crisp and school starts back up.
It’s the reason I’m traveling today as well, even though I don’t really have the time to take off from work to spend two weeks in Cedar Point.
But it’s tradition, and my mother would absolutely pitch a fit if I were the one Mitchell child who bucked the tradition I had such a large hand in creating.
The last two weeks of August are officially Mitchell family time, and the idea that this two weeks on the calendar could belong to anyone or anything else is unjustifiable, work be damned.
It started when I left for college then continued when my sister Briar followed a year later. Originally, it was just a chance for us to catch up and reconnect with our family after long, boring summer jobs before starting school again.
My parents took that idea and cemented it into stone, turning those two weeks every summer into a non-negotiable family exclusive. Work doesn’t matter. Significant others don’t matter. Everything in life gets planned around those two weeks. Period.
A few times, my mom has even turned the end of August into a family reunion of sorts, inviting aunts and uncles and cousins back to the very town that grew them, our lakefront home and guesthouse turning into a glorified hostel with air mattresses galore and family members sleeping on couches.
I resent the obligation every year, wishing I were somehow brave enough to tell my mother I simply cannot take off of work this year, bold enough to tell her my employers are unwilling to be flexible.
But I don’t think any of us Mitchell kids have ever had the heart—or the balls—to break free from what’s expected, or to let down my mother.
“Boyd Mitchell,” I say when one of the Summit Airlines attendants finally nods me over to the counter. “I was called up just a minute ago.”
Her head bobs once but her eyes never leave the screen in front of her as she types furiously. She must be writing a dissertation, because I can’t imagine any airline computer program needing as much information as she’s providing.
“Can I see some identification?”
I slide my driver’s license forward, having already had it in my hand. The woman in front of me—Kimmy, her nametag says—takes a look at it, looks at me, and looks back at the ID before returning it.
Seems I’ve passed the test.
Suddenly, a wide and completely disingenuous smile covers her face. I almost want to ask her to go back to ignoring me.
“You’ve been upgraded to first class, Mr. Mitchell. Let me just print you up a new boarding pass and we’ll get you all settled.”
I usually hate flying Summit. It’s the airline my job partners with, and I have to fly regularly for work. It does come with some nice perks like getting upgraded here and there, but the number of times my flight has been canceled or delayed due to mechanical issues is ridiculous.
I always wonder if I’m actually going to get to travel when I arrive at the airport, or if I’m going to be hanging out in the terminal for hours while I get booked on a new flight.
Most of my travel for work keeps me moving on short-leg flights around New England and the east coast, an hour here, two hours there, so when I’m stuffed into an economy seat, I don’t stress over it. My flight to the west coast this morning, however, is an almost-7-hour doozy, so this upgrade couldn’t have come at a more perfect moment. I can feel my broad shoulders and long legs silently thanking the upgrade gods for their gift.
As Kimmy makes the necessary adjustments, I turn and take another look around the gate.
City life is perfect for me. I’m an eyes down, nose to the grind kind of guy, and I don’t make it a habit to pay attention to what is going on around me.
Having grown up in a small town, I know what it’s like to have people paying attention to my every move at all hours of the day, and I remember what it was like to wish those eyes weren’t watching and setting town tongues wagging. In Boston, if you give someone a little too much eye contact in a public space, you’re likely to get a stream of foul language shouted in your face. You’re supposed to keep your gaze down and stay out of other people’s business.
Like I said, it’s perfect for me.
But my therapist has been encouraging me to keep my head up, so I try to remind myself to take a look around a few times a day. Apparently, paying attention to the world around me will provide me with a ‘new perspective.’
I don’t know what she’s hoping I’ll find by watching a woman pick a wedgie then grab a French fry to put into her mouth, but I’m assuming there’s a lesson to be learned in there somewhere.
“Hi, how are you?”
The bright voice next to me has my focus shifting down the counter to the short brunette approaching the attendant standing next to Kimmy.
This woman has her dark hair in a messy knot high on her head and doesn’t look to be wearing a lick of makeup, but damn if I’m not knocked on my ass by the most breathtaking smile I’ve seen in my entire life.
If only it were directed my way.
I shake my head and let out a quiet huff of laughter at myself, wondering where in the hell that thought came from. When was the last time I hoped any woman looked my way outside of a bar?
Apparently, my little laugh wasn’t quiet enough, because the woman’s eyes flit to mine for just a second, the tiny wrinkles next to her lids crinkling slightly as she acknowledges me. Then she turns back to talk with the woman at the desk.
“Here you are, sir.”
I drag my eyes away from the brunette with the bombshell smile and look back at Kimmy. I blink once, feeling like I’ve missed something while I was staring, then take in the fact that she’s slid my new boarding pass forward on the counter.
“Thanks.” My response is quick as I retrieve the slip of paper and tuck it into my wallet.
“Absolutely. Can I do anything else for you?”
I shake my head, giving her a tight smile, and I’m turning to walk away when the brunette’s words penetrate my mind.
“…never flown before and I’m a little nervous. Is there anything really important I need to know or be prepared for?”
Her voice, while upbeat and melodic, has the hint of nerves behind it, and it takes an effort to hide my smile. I don’t think I’ve ever met an adult who has never been on a plane before. I wonder what that’s like, to enter into a situation that’s completely out of your control and totally unfamiliar.
Truth be told, I also struggle with fear when it comes to flying. You can explain it to me a million different ways, but I still have trouble with the concept that something weighing close to 350 metric tons can just float in the air.
And yes, I know it doesn’t actually float. Obviously. But that’s what it feels like.
With the job I have working with startup tech companies and app developers across the Eastern Seaboard, though, saying I’m afraid of flying isn’t an option. So, I’ve had to suck it up and rack up those frequent flier miles.
Thankfully, it has gotten easier over the years, the gripping panic as we lift off the ground easing to more of a mild anxiousness that passes as soon as I’ve had my first drink.
And whether I’m seated in first class or not, there is always a drink when I’m flying. Because whiskey just makes everything better.
I’m lucky enough to come from a family that did a lot of traveling when I was growing up. My parents wanted us to see the world and all the differences and opportunities that exist. My sweet mother, hoping to calm my troubled mind, always had a bible verse for me when we’d fly. Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord or He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.
I again take a seat in the gate area and stretch my long legs out in front of me, settling back in to wait until we’re called to board.
I have no problem trusting in a higher being, whoever that is. I grew up in the church and believe in a greater plan, a God-like figure who loves us and wants us to have good lives and be good people.
What I don’t trust is human ability. We are innately fallible, and technology created by fallible humans is literally designed to be imperfect. As a person who does not enjoy the state of not being in control, I find it difficult to put complete trust in something so precarious other than myself on this great earth.
Or, I guess, in the open air.
Thirty minutes later, I’m walking down the jet bridge, first class boarding pass clutched like a lottery ticket in my hand, when my phone starts to ring. The soft notes of the familiar ringtone echo down the corridor for a few seconds as I change my jacket from one hand to the other and dig my device out of my right front pocket.
I let out a disgruntled sigh when I see the name on the screen.
Thing 1 would like to Facetime
Instead of ignoring him like I should, I swipe right and watch while the call connects, moving slowly behind the handful of other passengers boarding the plane in group one.
When the call goes from ‘connecting’ to ‘connected,’ Bishop’s face appears and he gives me a big, childish smile.
The sound of my brother’s voice booms out of my phone and fills the mostly silent walkway, my cheeks heating as I give an embarrassed wave to the elderly couple who turns to glare at me.
I quickly shuffle around to plug my headphones in, popping one in my right ear before giving Bishop a nasty look.
“Thanks for that. It’s not like I’m in public or anything.”
His face morphs into that shit-eating grin that says he knows exactly what he’s doing, and it makes me want to hang up on him.
“It’s your own fault, Boy,” he says.
“Boyd,” I correct him for the millionth time since we were children, my tone firm.
I hate that obnoxious nickname. It’s not even a real nickname as much as it is my brother enjoying his relentless antagonism. I’ve never fully understood his fascination with Boy, though, since he’sthe one who couldn’t pronounce his Ds until he was ten.
“Oh. Really? I never knew your actual name before today. Thank you, kind sir, for enlightening me so that I might serve at your every request.”
He bows his head, and I roll my eyes at the horrible British accent.
“What do you want?”
I step through the open plane door when the couple in front of me moves forward then stop again in the galley to wait for the people in front of me to take their seats.
The flight attendant in a purple and tan uniform gives me a big smile, and I manage one in return.
“I’m getting on the plane,” I grumble, hoping he’ll take that as a clue that he should get to his point, and quickly.
“Bell wants me to remind you that you promised to do the Kilroy hike with us this year. You know, since you manage to find an excuse every year not to go.”
I let out a sigh, wishing I’d just put my phone in airplane mode a few minutes early.
The much-dreaded—at least by me—Kilroy hike is an overnighter that requires lugging a massive pack into the mountains just outside our hometown. I enjoy a good run or swim and make frequent use of the gym by my house, but hiking long distances has never been my thing, something my younger siblings have never seemed to care about since they demand I go with them every year.
“It can be a new family tradition,” my sister Bellamy said five years ago, excitement in her voice at the idea of all of us going together and pitching tents at the campground near the top.
It sounds like a miserable time to me, but as the only voice of dissent for most things in our family, my opinion rarely matters.
Luckily, I’ve always had an excuse, and it’s getting to the point where I’m actually impressed by how long I’ve managed to get out of it.
That’s quite the record of evasion.
Last year, I had an emergency company teleconference that coincided with the date that worked for everyone. The year before that I hurt my knee playing a pickup rugby game with some friends from college. One year I even used a crazy hangover to my advantage, faking a cold that kept me bedridden, though how I was feeling after splitting a full bottle of whiskey with my friend Rusty wasn’t any kind of a lie.
I’ll tell them whatever they want, but I’m not gonna be dragging my ass up a mountain any time soon.
“Yup. No worries.”
I finally reach my row, lifting my carry-on into the overhead compartment. Picking up the pillow and blanket provided on my seat, I plop down, letting out a rush of breath as the people behind me surge past like a wave.
I love first class. Being 6’4”, it is quite the squeeze to sit in economy. The extra width of an upgraded seat is wonderful for my broad shoulders, but it’s the legroom that makes all the difference.
Summit Airlines seats are pretty snug in the main cabin, and I usually have to manspread my legs so I don’t punch a hole through the seat in front of me. I always feel like shit as I apologize profusely to the people sitting next to me, knowing I’m not going to be able to change the fact that my legs are seriously encroaching on the tiny bit of real estate they’ve paid for.
Flying is bad enough, and I’m a firm believer that everyone should interact as minimally as possible. My rules of the air are as non-negotiable as this trip home at the end of every August.
Don’t make small talk. Don’t touch me. Don’t sneeze on me. Don’t ask me to move to go to the bathroom more than once. Don’t set your things on my tray table. Don’t hog the armrests. Don’t kick my chair.
It’s a give and take, and everyone has to be on board with it, which is rarely the case in economy, where the mentality is more like cattle jockeying for room to breathe.
First class, though? Everyone’s in a completely different mood. Nobody is bothersome. Everyone is considerate. We get a drink and a meal and enough space for our limbs and torso. Most of the time, you’re left alone instead of stuck sitting next to some overly verbose crazy person who wants to share their life story.
Having the ability to sit here in silence with my noise-canceling headphones and all the room I need for my long-ass legs on this long-ass flight?
No one would be able to tell by looking at my face, of course, since my default expression is the male version of resting bitch face.
What would that be called? Resting dick face?
Sure. That works.
“You get bumped to first?” Bishop’s voice in my ear reminds me that I’m still on the phone with him, and I tilt the screen toward me to just in time to see him stuff a handful of Cheetos in his mouth.
“How could you tell?”
He shrugs. “There’s always that weird pad behind your head when you’re in first.”
I turn to look and there is, in fact, a pad that rests on the seat.
When I look back at my brother, I see that he’s set his phone up on a table and taken a few steps back, getting comfortable on a couch I would know anywhere. The tan walls and deep blue accents of my mom’s living room are as familiar to me as the lines on my hands.
“You’re already home, then?” I ask, doing a quick mental calculation of when my brother might have traveled to town.
“We got in a few days ago,” he responds. The we can only be referring to himself and his twin sister, Bellamy.
The two of them drive each other—and the rest of us—bonkers, but I am certain there has never been a set of twins who were more of a we than Bishop and Bell.
“I bet Mom was thrilled you showed up early.”
He doesn’t catch the sarcasm in my voice.
Patty Mitchell normally loves surprises, but she’s also a very planned person, and balancing those two parts of her personality can be…a challenge, to put it delicately.
So, having two of her kids show up a few days earlier than she planned—before the house is ready, good gracious—was probably enough to send her into some sort of tizzy.
But Bishop just shrugs, his youth reflected in that whatever kind of look he always seems to have on his face. It wouldn’t occur to him that showing up early would aggravate our mother, because he struggles to think past his own opinion and needs.
“She seemed a little irritated at first, but she came around.”
Of course she did, because her love for her kids took priority over the fact that she probably hadn’t set up their rooms or stocked the fridge or any of the hundred other things she likes to do before we come home.
I might keep my nose down a lot, but that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention, and I know my family, particularly my mother. That woman is nothing if not the ultimate host, even to her brood of selfish children.
Before I can say anything that might attempt to clue Bishop in on why our mom was cranky with him, a pair of green leggings stops right next to me.
I let my eyes trail up the short but toned legs, over sweet hips and lush curves before I finally meet the eyes of the woman who was standing next to me at the counter earlier.
A soft blue I’ve never quite seen before twinkles back at me.
“I think I’m sitting right there,” she says, pointing to the empty seat next to me by the window.
“Who’s that?” Bishop barks into my ear, and without another word, I close out the screen, ending the call.
“Sorry about that,” I say, unbuckling my belt and standing up, moving into the aisle to let her pass by me.
“No problem.” She gives me that smile again as we both settle down and buckle in.
“I’m Ruby,” she says, her eyes bright and cheery, that smile looking to be permanently locked onto her face but still managing to be genuine. “I saw you earlier, at the counter, right?”
I nod but don’t answer.
Part of me is kicking myself, because the gorgeous girl from the counter is sitting next to me and I should absolutely talk to her.
But the minute I say anything, I’m breaking one of my cardinal flying rules, which just opens the door to needless conversation I’m never in the mood for.
And yet, damn if I don’t feel more than tempted to break that rule just to hear that lovely voice of hers again or have an excuse to look at her.
I waffle back and forth for a moment as I stare at the black screen of my phone. Ultimately, logic wins out, and I stay silent.
Seemingly unaware of my internal dialogue, Ruby is focused on the small bag she has in her hands. It’s a backpack, I guess, made entirely out of patches. She unbuttons the top and sticks her hand inside, pulling out a green Moleskine notebook and placing it in the seatback pocket in front of her. Then she rebuttons the bag, drops it on the ground, and kicks it forward.
Rapid-fire texts from my brother begin to pop up, and a quick glance confirms he’s asking about ‘the hot girl’ and wondering if I’m bringing someone home.
Instead of responding, I swipe it over to airplane mode and tuck it into the pocket in front of me.
My eyes scan the entering passengers, hoping to distract myself from the woman sitting next to me, but for some reason I can’t seem to explain, I’m hyperaware of her. Her scent—jasmine—and the soft noises she makes as she explores her seat. Opening and closing the window. Her legs swinging slightly like a child’s in a chair that’s too big for them.
“What’s your name?”
Her voice takes me by surprise and I look in her direction, finding her beautiful blue eyes twinkling at me, a small smile on her face.
“Boyd,” I reply, my name popping out of my mouth, almost without my consent.
Since when do I give my name to the people I sit next to on planes? Since when does someone even ask?
Something moves in my peripheral vision, and when I look down, I see she’s extended her hand.
In the first ten seconds of sitting next to me, she’s broken one of my important flying rules by making unnecessary small talk even though I assumed my silence a few minutes ago would communicate that I’m not much for chatter.
And now she wants to break another rule by shaking my hand?
I look from her hand back to her eyes, finding her still wearing that same brilliant smile, before I feel compelled to place my hand in hers.
She gives it a firm squeeze, and damn if I don’t feel that squeeze rush through my whole body, especially when she leans toward me just slightly.
Her voice is perky and happy and full of the qualities I typically find irritating in anyone giving me their attention.
But not today, apparently. Today, I find myself drawn in by her sweet smile and kind eyes, and I realize I’m leaning forward as well, mimicking her body language.
She lowers her voice, almost as if she’s about to tell me a secret—a secret I desperately want to know.
“Nice to meet you, Boyd.”
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