Christina rubbed the red lipstick off her teeth and smiled into the mirror. She glanced over her appearance and smoothed her straight blonde hair. Round brown eyes gazed back. She smiled again into the mirror and then growled. The lipstick had stained her front teeth again. She reached for a paper towel and rubbed the lipstick off her lips and teeth. After she applied a new coat of clear gloss, Christina headed out of the bathroom pulling a small, black rolling bag behind her.
As she wandered down the expansive airport corridor taking in the sights and sounds around her, she noticed the vibrancy of the passengers. Vacations gave people the opportunity to open up and express their true personalities. Sometimes for the best and sometimes for the worst, it really didn’t matter. There was a freedom in being surrounded by these people. Christina wanted to raise her hands and run; she felt free. But her vibrating phone brought her back to the moment. She reached into her purse as she stepped to the side, next to a white courtesy phone. The screen on her phone read, Mark San Francisco. Christina’s heart started racing. Oh my gaaaaawd! I love San Francisco! Christina beamed and then pushed the ignore button on her phone. She stared out the tall windows that faced a parking lot of airplanes, lost in the bright natural sunlight.
“Excuse me, do you know if there’s food down there?” A woman walking the opposite way approached her and pointed behind her.
“Yes, there’s a food court and then further down a deli,” she smiled at the woman. “There’s also a couple of pubs where you can order food. Depends on how much time you have.” She thanked her and then scurried away.
Christina dropped her phone into her purse and walked along, watching the people chatting on cell phones, texting or running to their gates. A man wearing khaki shorts and a woman in flip-flops passed by her. Vacation, for sure. It was close to freezing outside.
Christina pulled her luggage to a stool at the bar and set it close beside her feet so it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. The bar was tight and crowded as she carefully removed her black pea coat. She tossed it on the stool and sat on it leaving her long red scarf wrapped around her neck. The man on the stool next to Christina took his eyes off the television to glance her way.
“Hey, how’s it going Christina?” The bartender asked and dropped a small square napkin in front of her.
“Hi Tyler, good. You?” Christina leaned forward against the bar. Tyler set a bottle of light beer in front of her. His blue eyes twinkled at her.
“Good, good. Where you off to this time?” Tyler folded his arms at his chest revealing a dark tattoo pattern that wrapped around his forearm. He wore a white button down shirt, but had the cuffs rolled up.
“Phoenix, for a couple of days,” Christina remarked nonchalantly and took a sip of her beer. “They’re taking me out to dinner tonight. I have to smooooooze,” she chuckled.
“Nice, get out of the cold,” Tyler commented.
“Yeah, but I’ll probably be inside most of the time, working,” Christina rolled her eyes.
“Too bad. I have a buddy who lives there and we go hiking when I’m out there . . . and it’s freezing here,” Tyler smiled. He had shaggy brown hair that had the contrived look of messy. “One sec,” he held up his finger, to indicate just a moment and then went to the end of the bar to take someone’s order. Christina picked that bar hoping that Tyler would be there. She liked flirting with him, knowing that nothing would come of it. He was a bartender.
“I live in Phoenix,” the guy next to her announced as he turned to face her.
“Is that where you’re headed?” Christina gulped, praying he would say no.
“Yes, well, not directly. I couldn’t get on a direct flight so I’m headed to Denver first. I’m Drew,” he smiled at her.
“Christina,” she waved her hand at him, relieved. She didn’t want him looking for her on the airplane.
“You from Chicago?” Drew asked as Christina nodded. “Me too, from Northbrook but moved to Phoenix for a job.” Drew took a swig of his beer and rested his elbow on the bar.
“How long ago? You like it there?” Christina turned her body to face him and adjusted the collar of her white button down shirt under her scarf. She settled in and stared into Drew’s unremarkable, green eyes.
“It’s great. I have a good job so that helps.” Drew replied. “I’ve been there now for . . . hmmm, four years now. Jeez, four years? Time flies, I guess.”
“Tell me about Phoenix . . . what do you do for fun? What’s it like not having winter? What’s it like to live in the desert? Are the summers as hot as I’ve heard? Will you ever move back to Chicago?” Christina rattled on.
“I guess you’ll find out when you get there,” Drew chuckled. Then he went into to explain to her how it was great not having winters but he did miss the change in seasons. And he missed the lush trees and green in the Midwest because Phoenix was arid and had a naked landscape. Sure, there were trees, cactus, and other scruffy plants that lent to some green and other colors but it was very different. Drew enjoyed hiking and biking and could go out to do those things any day because it was sunny and nice all the time. Summers were hot, but he recommended getting out early in the morning to beat the heat. He also took trips north the Flagstaff to cool off during the summer. Drew wasn’t sure if he’d move back, but maybe because of family. He paused but Christina just stared at him and nodded, taking in the details. Drew liked being of interest to a nice-looking female, so he continued.
“I’m a lawyer at a huge law firm. Gribbons, Smith and Kendal . . . you ever heard of it?”
“No,” Christina answered.
“What do you do?”
“You like it?”
“Yes,” Christina impatiently responded.
“What kind of consulting?”
“What else could I do in Phoenix?” Christina cut him off.
“Oh . . . “ Drew bit his lip. As a tourist, some of the things that Drew recommended were to see the Frank Lloyd Wright House called Taliesin West, visit the art museum, hike Camelback Mountain, to wander the botanic gardens and shop in Scotsdale. There were lots of restaurants but mostly chains, but that was changing now. Outside of Phoenix, if she had time, of course, Drew mentioned exploring Sedona and a trip to Arcosanti, which was a town in the desert devoted to creating a community that lived in harmony with the earth.
“It’s an eco town that they started building in the 70s and are still building. They had this vision of being ‘green’ before anyone knew what that was. To avoid suburban sprawl which is out of control in Phoenix,” Drew commented and took a sip of his beer.
“That’s so cool . . . and isn’t Sedona supposed to be a spiritual center?” Christina shifted on her chair, tuning out the bustling people around her. Phoenix was a whole new world. Time had stopped.
“Yeah, something about a vortex. Not sure. I hiked there once. It’s gorgeous,” he smiled.
“It’s so interesting. I’ll have to look it up,” Christina rubbed her hands together.
“I have a friend who knows about that stuff. I can give you my number in case you want to go explore,” Drew responded.
Christina agreed and had Drew call her so she could store his number in her phone. He told her had a nice time talking to her but that he had to go. His flight would be leaving soon. She was sad he had to leave because she wanted to hear more about Phoenix. After he left, Christina smiled to herself as she put his name in her phone, Drew Phoenix.
“When you leaving?” Tyler leaned against the bar in front of her.
“Soon. I have to get going, too,” Christina replied and laid her phone on the bar.
“Nice phone, can I see it?” Tyler asked.
Christina handed her phone to him and stood up. She pulled her coat off the chair and put it on.
“Whoa, what’s this? Adam Seattle, Blake NYC, Chad Miami, David Atlanta . . .”
“Can I have my phone back please?” Christina snapped it out of his hands.
“Just curious. Big deal, so you like guys from other cities. Anyone in Chicago?” Tyler teased.
“Look, I might want to call them when I’m in that city. I don’t know. . .I have to go,” Christina turned around quickly almost barreling over a guy. She nearly ran out of the bar, embarrassed by the situation. Only one other person knew of her little secret and now Tyler knew it, too. She’d just have to avoid him. She scolded herself the whole way through the airport corridors, down the escalator and out the door. The outside cold air nearly took her breath away as she walked towards her car, dragging her luggage behind her.
“Did you know that when you live in a warm climate, like in Phoenix, you lose track of years? You know, like you don’t have the weather reference like you do in Chicago,” Christina mentioned after the customer left. “I know that I got my dog in high school in the winter because it was so dang cold out when he had to go pee.”
“Yeah but that could be now because you still live at home and it’s winter,” Sherry commented and hugged her arms around herself and shivered. “I wouldn’t care, I would take not having seasons if I could be warm.”
“I’d be okay with it, too. At least try it out. Maybe every day would be the same, like Groundhog Day.” Christina giggled and pushed one side of her blonde hair behind her ear. She wore bright blue eye shadow on her brown eyes.
“It’s like that here, too,” Sherry whined and stuck her red fingernail in her teeth. Something was stuck between her teeth. She paused and remarked, “I see the same people coming to and from work. I can tell I’m late just by looking around on the train.”
“I think I love Phoenix. There’s so much to see and do,” Christina clapped once and held her hands together.
“You say that about all places,” Sherry commented and scanned her fingernails. She furrowed her brow when she noticed that some of the paint had come off.
They each stood at their designated cash register in the duty free store at the airport. The store was bright with white walls and a shiny, white floor. It carried discounted big-ticket items that international airline passengers had access to. Christina wrapped her arms over her chest and leaned against the counter as she waited for the next customer.
“Gawd, Tyler saw my phone list. How humiliating. I look like a stalker but really I just want friends in other cities . . . in case I go visit,” Christina moaned and rolled her eyes.
“Yeah, but you’d have to tell them you lied. That not only did you not work at some consulting company as a fancy executive but that you work here.” Sherry giggled and put her hands on her wide hips. “Maybe you should try to meet people in the bars in town. We have zillions of bars.”
“The first question that guys ask is what do you do. I don’t want to tell them I’m a cashier. When I tell them I’m a consultant, I get such a different response. More respect,” Christina huffed.
“I know,” Sherry agreed shaking her head of brown, frizzy curls.
“When I go to bars here, another favorite is what nationality are you? I’m so sick of it . . . I mean I’m everything. It would take ten minutes to list off all the nationalities I am! I don’t fit in here.”
“I want to go to Phoenix. It sounds fascinating. We could be sitting by the pool right now,” Christina pondered.
“I’ve been there to see my grams. It’s filled with old people who drive golf carts around town,” Sherry explained and then lifted her palms up. “Did you know they have parking spots for golf carts? Can you believe it?”
“That sounds so cool! I want to live there!”
“You always say that,” Sherry nodded her head, side to side. “You should go visit these places first.”
“I’ve never been anywhere,” Christina remarked.
“Okay so we went to Disney World once when I was a kid. And Epcot, that’s where they have all the exotic places. It was fascinating! But that was also the trip where the airplane almost crashed,” Christina opened her brown eyes dramatically.
“Yeah,” Christina focused in on Sherry. “As we were landing, the winds were so strong so the plane was bouncing up and down and all around. My mom was freaking out. It. . . . was . . . .so . . .. scary!”
“Yikes, that sounds awful.” Sherry looked worried but then relaxed. “You need to give it another try.” Christina shrugged her shoulders.
The store filled with travelers, which meant that a plane had just landed. People crowed the aisles of the small store with a heightened energy. Christina found herself content when working in the store. There was laughter and customers would start conversations with her. International travel seemed exotic and out of reach to Christina.
“Heeeey, what . . .?” Tyler looked puzzled as he stood at the counter with a pack of gum. The line of customers was long behind him. Christina froze and her mouth dropped open. She felt heat in her cheeks and they began pulsing. Tyler handed her the gum and she swiped it with the cash register scanner. She still found that she couldn’t speak as Tyler handed her money. She didn’t think she would ever encounter him in the international terminal. He worked in domestic. What was he doing there?!
“So, a consultant? Did you get laid off?” Tyler squinted at her.
“I. . . I. . . explain later,” Christina mumbled. People were waiting and some had to catch flights so there was no way she could go into it at that point.
“Sure, Christina,” Tyler raised his eyebrows and walked out of the store.
“An ex?” A skinny lady wearing pink lipstick and dark eye shadow asked her. She placed her cosmetics on the counter.
“Uh, what? Oh, yeah,” Christina nervously responded as she scanned the items.
When the store had basically cleared out, Christina was flooded with a multitude of negative thoughts. She didn’t know what to do about Tyler. Sherry consoled her but said that she should come clean with him. That was the last thing Christina wanted to do. She told Sherry that she would never see Tyler again and that she would end her experiment. This pained Christina but she’d have to move forward and find something that interested her. She was so humiliated.
“I’m going on break, you want anything?” Christina asked. Sherry shook her head, no.
Christina went out into the terminal to her favorite coffee bar. She sat on a stool with a hot cup of coffee and faced the window out onto the runway. It was a bright gray day, almost so that she could’ve used sunglasses. Someone had left a travel magazine on the counter so she reached for it and hoped to drown out her thoughts by reading it.
“What?” She whipped around automatically. Tyler stood there. He had a duffle bag on his shoulder. “Ohhhhhh,” she moaned and grabbed the magazine to put it up in front of her face.
“What’s going on?” He asked and stuffed his hands in his winter jacket.
“Going on vacation? Where to?” Christina peaked above the magazine. He just stared at her with his dazzling, blue eyes. He looked sexier than ever.
“I’m going to London with my band,” Tyler motioned behind him.
“You’re in a band?” Christina was still holding the magazine up to hide her face. Tyler shook his head up and down. “Gawd . . . you wanna sit?” She motioned and he sat on the stool next to her but kept his hands in his pockets. “I’m obsessed with travel.” Christina put the magazine down in front of her and explained everything to him.
“It’s not about picking up guys?” Tyler relaxed and rested his elbow on the counter.
“No, I mean the attention is nice and the guys in Chicago don’t even notice me but it’s my fascination with somewhere else.”
“Flight attendant. Why don’t you do that?” He asked.
“No, I’m scared to fly,” she responded. That trip to Florida still haunted her and she didn’t know if she could ever fly again. Tyler nodded as she went into great detail about her fear.
“Have you ever thought of hypnosis, maybe that could help,” he commented.
“Oh, maybe,” she perked up.
“You’re curiosity about travel is interesting . . . as I overhear your conversation with people, I actually learn more about different destinations. Have you ever considered writing about it?”
“No,” she chuckled. “I love talking to people about different places.” Christina put her hand on her forehead and rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “Tyler, I’m sorry that I lied to you. I feel terrible.”
“Why don’t you talk to people, like you normally do but then blog about it. Tell them the truth, that you’re writing a blog about different cities and you want to interview them.”
“I like it . . . “ Christina nodded and smiled.
One year later, Christina had thousands of subscribers to her blog, “Travel with Tina”. She still worked at the duty free shop, lived with her parents and hadn’t traveled anywhere, but she was completely happy. Over the year, she had met so many interesting people and had even started to frequent local bars. There she found folks from other cities, too.
“Hello this is Tina,” she answered her phone. It was an unfamiliar number.
“Hi Tina, this is Rosemary from Hart Literary Agency,” she paused as Christina held her breath. “I’d like to talk to you about writing a book. There is also some movie interest in your armchair travel blog. . . you still there?’
“Yes,” Christina squealed. “Yes, yes, yes!” She looked over at Tyler who was sipping his coffee. They were sitting at his kitchen table, both still in their pajamas.
“Can you fly to New York so we can meet,” Rosemary responded.
“Yes, when are you available?”
“I can’t go,” Christina mumbled. Tyler curiously eyed her.
Christina hesitated and then blurted, “I’m afraid of flying.”
Rosemary laughed and laughed which made Christina start laughing. “Honey, there are pills for that,” Rosemary calmly remarked.
“Okay,” Christina beamed. They set a date and Rosemary would send her all the travel details.
She set down her phone after ending the conversation and paused. “Hypnosis . . . do you think it really works?”
“It’s worth a try,” Tyler smiled.