We met at the Los Angeles airport after our flight was canceled because of a mechanical failure. You asked me, “Will they ship my luggage to my home?” I shrugged, having not traveled much in my lifetime, not much at all, except for business, which was why I was here, waiting for the next flight to Santa Rosa.
I didn’t pay any more attention to you. I was too busy waiting for my boss to return with her bottled water. I wanted to board the plane and head home. It was after ten o’clock, past my bed time, and the veggie sandwich I had eaten an hour ago was not enough to settle my nerves about whether or not I would be home in the morning to help my husband take our children to their respective schools.
After the plane landed in San Francisco, you found me once again waiting for the midnight shuttle to take us home. When you wouldn’t stop talking, I finally reached out, introduced myself, and shook your hand. I noticed your closely clipped hair that made you look almost bald, the tweed Fred Astaire hat in your hand, and the button down shirt and khaki slacks that made you look like you had stepped out of a 1950’s photo. You kept on talking and talking, and your enthusiasm buoyed me. I lost track of how cold the San Franciscan air was and how dark and lonely it felt beneath the awning. You were like a bouncing fluorescent ball of energy illuminating the darkness. Your talk was so absorbing, witty, and entertaining that I forgot about how my husband did not call to say he loved me, how my daughter only cared about how I had yet again missed her birthday, and how my co-worker friend thought my photo text with the abbreviated message, “Wish you were here,” was for my husband, not him.
My boss stood on the sidewalk behind us smoking a cigarette. I pointed to a man standing on the curb holding a sign with someone’s name written in black marker. “That will be me later this year when I go on a cross country book tour,” I said.
You glanced behind us at the man with the sign and nodded. “How many books have you written?”
“Too many to count,” I said, “but this will be the fifth I’ve published.” I bit my lower lip and tears welled up in my eyes as I wondered if my family would miss me or would they dread the day I returned.
You tossed the tweed hat back and forth between your hands and said, “I followed a girlfriend to college and picked whatever major seemed grown up at the time just to be with her, but when I discovered color—how blue or orange can make someone buy something—I discovered the my true calling.” You clasped your hat gently with the fingers of one hand and gazed at me with your hazel eyes. “Sometimes you have to follow a path that will care for your health and spirit.”
I glanced away and shivered. You must have thought I was cold because you offered me your jacket. I shook my head and said, “It’s my soul that’s freezing.”
You frowned and pulled me close. I rested my cheek against your shoulder and noticed my boss across the street staring at us. I shifted, trying to pull away, but you held me closer and whispered, “How can you be with someone who limits your potential? Who doesn’t want you to succeed? It might have been fine when you’re twenty, but it’s not okay when you’re forty. You need respect and recognition. You deserve to be with someone who understands that.”
“All I ever wanted was happiness,” I whispered back.
You released me. “Are you happy?”
I glanced away, afraid to answer.
You waved your hat like a magic wand, cutting through the night, bringing clarity to the situation. “When my wife and I contemplated getting a divorce last year, she said it was because she couldn’t live with a man who was too soft with his children. I told her I would rather be unmarried and alone than to create so much tension with my son that he would never open up to me. If that means I’m not hard on him, then I’m willing to end the marriage. I cannot live with someone who cannot accept me as I am.” Our eyes met. “When are you going to stop hiding that light inside of you?”
“I’m not hiding it,” I said.
You stopped talking. Your fingers splayed to catch the brittle night. “You’re such a liar.”
When the shuttle arrived, we sat next to each other and continued to chat until the bus driver said, “Hush. People are trying to sleep.” You tilted your head close to mine, and our heads touched. “Let’s whisper,” you said.
It was after midnight. “We should be sleeping,” I said. “We both have to be at work by eight.”
You whispered, “But I could talk to you all night.”
I smiled. “And I could listen to you all night.”
You said, “You are a good listener.”
We touched noses and continued talking.
I felt your voice vibrating against my skin. I felt your energy infiltrating me with new life. I felt your words filling me up, making me full.
“I have plenty of friends who say they’re writers,” you said, “but I’ve never seen anything they’ve written.”
“It’s a tough business,” I said.
“That doesn’t matter.” You wrapped your arm around my shoulder, tugging me closer. I placed my head against your shoulder and felt safe and warm and loved and understood. You said, “You’ve published five books.”
“I only sell one book for every five hundred hits on my website,” I said.
“That’s good.” Your voice uplifted me. “The average conversion rate is one to two percent.”
I was too tired to try to calculate the mathematical formula to verify if you were correct. “I won’t feel so bad anymore,” I said, although I knew deep down I would continue to compare myself to my friends, many of whom had books for sale in the Hudson Bookstore at the airport terminal at LAX.
You held me closer and whispered, “You’re a star.”
I smiled against your shirt, too uncomfortable for words.
Later, as the shuttle drifted through San Francisco, our words grew sparser, our breaths grew longer, and our eyelids grew heavier until we parted into dreams.
When the bus driver jolted us awake, we parted like plastic peeling away from skin, reluctantly and hesitatingly, a film of body heat clinging to us like memory. You said, “I enjoyed our conversation.”
We stepped out into the night, and while I waited for my boss to disembark to drive me home, you pulled me into your arms and said, “Even if we never see each other again, I will always look into the heavens and think of you because you are a star.”
I felt my throat tighten and tears well up against the surface of my eyes. “This night reminds me of the movie Before Sunrise,” I said.
You chuckled, stepping back and holding me with your hands on my shoulders. “No, it’s more like Clerks.”
I shook my head. “It was more like destiny.”
You smiled and nodded, donning your hat and walking away to the long term parking lot, leaving me alone.
Weeks have passed since that night. And whenever I am alone after midnight I think of you and wonder if you still think I am a star.