It wasn’t as cold outside. Nell’s breath made little foggy puffs on the window, but she didn’t have frozen toes or painfully red ears. Nick dialed up the local classic rock radio station and cranked it up a bit. They did not speak as he drove fast down the freeway south towards the airport.
Nell’s eyes throbbed. Sand lined the corners of them and gathered beneath her eyelids. Crying had not helped. It didn’t help anything whatsoever. Nick’s resentment hung obviously off his eyebrows in the rearview mirror. Nell wanted to say two words, but she could see them dying before she spoke, freezing on the breath-clouded window. Some Rolling Stones came on the radio, and he reached for the dial, turned it up a little, tuned her out a bit more.
The highway leading into the airport was dark and peppered with red tail lights.
“When does their plane take off?” Nell asked.
“Her plane leaves at one-fifteen.” Her plane. The dashboard clock read 12:38.
“So, you get out and I drive around the circle a little bit, or can I park and come in?” God forbid they both go in. The silence and determination of Nick scared her. She should have backed off. Shouldn’t have said what she said.
“You can drive around. It won’t take me very long.”
“If you get bored and wanna leave, I can always take a cab.” Here they were, Lindbergh terminal ticketing. Drop-offs and pick-ups only, no parking. Police in yellow vests strolled around passing out tickets. Nick stopped the car.
“I’ll go slowly. What airline should I pick you up at?”
“Right here. Northwest.” He jumped out and slammed the door.
“God fucking damn it.” Nell undid her seatbelt and jumped into the driver’s seat. It was warm.
It took her exactly five minutes of driving a steady nice speed-limit-obeying speed around the loop that brought one from the terminal of the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport out, around and back to the drop-off area. The same cars and SUVs followed her. Some stopped until officers urged them on, taping at their windows and flailing their arms. She knew it took five minutes because the sign on her left as she exited the airport and got on a giant roller-coaster like ramp that swung her in the other direction told her what time it was. Every five minutes.
Then one-oh-one happened. Approximately fourteen minutes until Lucy flew away forever. Nell slowed as she rounded the actual stop-and-pick-up-travelers area. There Nick was. Standing rigid with fists clenched. Had he seen her already? Nell pulled over as close to Northwest as she could, engine running. Nick’s eyes brought her back, straight to a man carrying a bouquet of flowers as big as his head. Ron.
So a parking ticket. That could be a hundred bucks or so, probably more. So the door slammed behind her. Nell had three more steps to step when Ron and Nick met like bighorn sheep, heads down, steam squirting out of their nostrils.
“What a nice coincidence,” Nick was answering with a sneer. Ron snorted.
“Coincidence. What, you flying out to the national losers convention? It’s a small world, you son of a bitch.”
“You guys,” Nell scoped the area for cops. The two traffic men were all the way near the end of the place, attentions stuck on a parked white van.
“Fuck you, Ron. Why you here, bringing flowers to your faggot boyfriend? I thought he was coming in on the man-train.”
“You would know about that more than I, Crisco. I gave you your money. Why don’t you go crawl into a bottle before I kick your pussy ass again?”
“Stay away from Lucy, Ron. I think it’s obvious that she’s seeing other people. Not like she ever stopped.”
“So what,” Ron was livid. Every inch of his flesh burned red. Even his eyes glowed red. “Every time she fucks either one of you, she’s thinking of me.” Nick charged, knocking the vase of flowers out of Ron’s hands onto the sidewalk. Plastic cracked and bright petals turned to mush under Ron’s heels. A couple of middle-aged women ducked for cover.
“Stop! Stop! You idiots! Don’t fuck around out here, you know better!” A chill rode Nell’s spine like a bucking bronco. They’d be locked up in federal prison for complicating airport security before either could get out another disgusting taunt. Nick’s fist landed on Ron’s nose. Ron kicked up as he pushed the smaller man away, sending Nick onto his back. He sputtered, breath knocked from his chest. Ron pounced, leg flying into Nick’s shoulder, barely missing his face.
“You cocksucker,” Ron breathed. Nick rolled onto his feet. Police yelled in the distance.
“Suck this,” Nick gasped. He charged once more. Nick’s right fist came striking in like Mike Tyson, missing Ron by a hair. His left caught her brother in the stomach. Suckerpunch.
Ron stumbled now, slipping on flowers. “Break it up, break it up!” One of the officers, only car lengths away now, weaved through the crowd.
“I’ll kill you both,” Ron hissed. He dove at Nick, hands at his throat. Nick threw punches that were lost in the crowd sounds and their falling bodies. Nick’s head hit the concrete with a sickening thump.
“Ron, get off of him, stop,” tears flowed again. Trembling, Nell sank to her knees, expecting a pool of blood to appear beneath Nick’s dead eyes and grow and grow and grow. Nell squeaked, inhuman. Before the police descended, Ron jumped back. Nick’s leg kicked up, catching her brother right in the thigh, inches from his goodies. Nick’s glossy stare led his body, faltering, into a half-standing position. Nell jumped over in front of him. His hands immediately shot to her shoulders, holding himself up.
“Get the fuck out of here,” the first cop to arrive spat. “If I wasn’t so busy, I’d arrest you both. Get the fuck out of my sight.”
“This asshole—“ Ron started. A glare from the officer cut that short. Nell swung under shaky Nick and began pulling him towards the car.
“Come on, Ron. Get in my car now, or you’ll both go to jail.” Ron stood his angry ground.
“You have ten seconds, sir,” the officer said. “You all know an airport is the last place in America to bring this bullshit.” Ron grunted and stalked off towards the four-lane traffic.
“Ron, come with me. Wherever your car is, I will take you.” Nell threw all of her strength into her voice that wasn’t supporting punch-drunk Nick. Ron relented in the shadow of the law.
Nell gathered her keys and thrust them into Ron’s chest. “And you drive now. Drive to wherever your van is.”
“Shut up,” Ron said. He did as he was told, violently pushing her driver’s seat back into position. Nell opened the door and shoved Nick towards the backseat. He collapsed into it, panting. She joined him and slammed the door.
“Let’s go. I don’t want either of you two fucking idiots to speak to each other.”
“But—“ Nell could make out the word “Lucy” sloshing against her fingers as she threw her hand over Nick’s mouth.
“Be quiet, now. Let’s stay out of jail. You two are lucky. Beyond lucky.”
“Yeah, lucky,” Ron grumbled.
“Stop! I don’t understand what you two have to fight about. Can’t you both see Lucy at the airport? Her husband probably doesn’t care who talks to her.”
Nick grunted. He doubled over to put his face in his hands, elbows on knees. Looking up, Nell caught Ron touching his nose tenderly in the rearview mirror.
“Were did you park, Ron, the side of the freeway?” Nell asked. They flew away from the airport in the middle of three dark lanes.
“I took a cab here,” Ron said angrily. “We have to go back to Lucy’s house.”
“What happened to the van?” Nell asked.
“I sold it.”
“So you’re just going to take a cab everywhere?”
“I’m buying a cheap used car. I needed the money in order to afford house payments.” He seemed to be cooling down. House payments?
“You bought Lucy’s house.”
“It was our house. Now it’s my house.”
“Fucking idiot,” Nick said under his breath. Nell flew forward into the passenger seat as Ron stomped on the brakes. The door opened, Ron’s hands thrust in to grab Nick out. He didn’t need help. They threw themselves back out onto the street.
“So when do you move out?” Nell asked Nick. They stood outside her car in his parking lot, having dumped Ron off at his house.
“By the end of the month.”
“Where are you going?”
“Like I said, it’s close. In town here. When I move in, I’ll let you know.”
“All right.” Nell looked back up into the night sky. There was a triangle of lights drifting silently above. Now that could be Lucy.
“Did you see her?” Nell whispered. Nick glared at her, but as he stared, his lip trembled a little bit.
“Of course,” he answered. The night swirled around them, cold and sharp for what seemed like hours. Neither spoke. Hands in his coat pockets, Nick weaved back and forth.
“Can I do anything for you? Do you want to go upstairs and talk?”
“Thanks Nell, but no. I just want to have a little time to myself. Good night.”
“Good night,” she said, feeling tears begin to surface. Nick nodded, avoiding her eyes. Nell felt the wind from his motion pass by her face on a slight man-smelling breeze.
She deserved ice cream. Ice cream and a treat of some videos from Blockbuster. That grammar exam had been tough. But she did it, might have even passed it. Studying paid off, even if her concentration was shot to hell.
None of the videos in her bag contained Steven Segal, in fact they were three of the kind of movie that Steven probably dreamed of beating up when he went to bed at night. The phone looked at Nell anyway. Whenever it did that, she turned away, stomach sinking. No, that was quite all right. The ice cream was company enough if it had to be.
Cookies ‘n cream ice cream. Might as well be a big pathetic girl and eat it out of the box. Nell turned on the first movie. Romantic comedy. They made it look so easy on the back of the box, boy meets girl and all that crap. She didn’t have the strength to fast-forward the previews.
On the table, the mail caught her eye. Nothing for her, probably. Among bills and junk, she saw the Eiffel Tower staring back at her and knew. Lucy. She set the ice cream down to read it.
Bonjour! Just got married in the most beautiful little church in Paris. Wish you could be here. Again, thanks for everything. David has convinced me to move right to New York with only little over a day back in Minneapolis. I don’t think I’ll get to see you then, but someday soon I will visit again. Hope your life is an adventure!
P.S. Nick is a nice guy. Be good to him—he needs someone around who cares as much as you do.
Nell threw it. The card sailed up gracefully, hit the air wrong and came tumbling down violently back in her direction. She stuffed ice cream into her mouth, chasing away the anger. Cared as much as she did— what a joke! What’s the point when he doesn’t care back? Fuck! Nell wished she had never gone that night—have Ron get his own damn video. But why would Ron want to see his ex-wife, right Mom? Maybe for a quick fuck with someone with enough admirers to start her own football team? Fuck.
Nell stopped. Breath, brainwaves, heartbeat, all frozen by pity food stabbing her temples. She let the spoon fall into the melty ice cream and clutched her head. Ow.
Buzzer. Bullshit. Who’d be here this time of night except one of Sara’s undersexed stalkers? Nell grabbed the remote and upped the volume a couple notches. Yet she sat unmoving, hoping against hope. . . yeah, stupidity. Pressed “up” arrows again and volume rose. Screw the neighbors. Nell closed her eyes against the harsh blue and black of late night TV. Shifted on the couch in her pajamas.
It buzzed again. Of course.
Nell set the remote on the coffee table, hoping to god Sara hadn’t just forgotten her keys. She wanted to be alone. Tonight and for a long time. Sara understood somehow, or at lest Nell thought she did, and so she hoped it was the super or something.
She buzzed whoeveritwas in without talking, in hopes it was someone she actually wanted to see. Looking down at herself, a baggy t-shirt and a pair of holey sweatpants, she just hoped whoever it was wasn’t picky.
The knock came a few minutes later, strong on the door. Nell again set the remote back down and traveled towards the door. Very light in the apartment was off, and her movements were magnified by the quickly changing colors of the show she’d been watching.
Nell’s heart beat in double-time, wishing, hoping, begging for it to be Nick on the other side. Ashamedly, she shook the hope away and turned the knob.
Like a ghost, Nick stood there in league with shadows. Face bruised, one eye red, the other blackened. His lips set themselves tightly in a serious pose, and his arms disappeared behind the dirty leather jacket.
Nell wanted to say “Hey,” or “Hi,” or “What the Hell you doing here,” but all she could do was stare, mouth open.
“Gonna invite me in?” He asked quietly. Nell shook her head no.
“What are you here for?”
“Pick a hand.”
“You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Nell said. Her eyes ached with the absence of sleep.
“Come on, I don’t have all night, here. Just pick a hand and let this be over.”
Nell growled. Her hand on the door almost slammed it in his face. Give him another black eye, even take out some more teeth. He stood there, bored, eyes searching the entryway and hallway for some relief.
“That one,” she snapped, pointing. Nick shifted around, grunted and pulled the prize in front of his body.
Surprise, surprise. Jesus Christ. A six-pack of Bud Light. Nell felt tears surfacing. She began closing the door when a wave of anger slammed against her chest.
“What the Hell? You came over to give me THAT?? God! Why even bother. You might be an alkie, but I’m not. God. Go away, will you? Just go—go get fucked up and dream about Lucy—just leave me—“
“Wait,” Nick said quietly. “I think you might have picked the wrong one.”
“What?! I sure did, you ass!”
“It was a joke. I’m sorry.” His other hand came slowly around into the entryway, holding a pathetic bunch of flowers wrapped in cellophane. Carnations with some greenery, a dopey plastic heart on a stick in the center.
Nell’s eyes automatically found tears. Nick set the Bud Light down in the hallway and held the flowers out with both of his hands.
“I really am sorry, Nell. You’re a good person. I’ve put you through a lot. I’m sorry.” He reached out one hand with the little bouquet clutched in a fist. “Can we start over?”
Nell gasped. Her hand covered her quivering mouth. She let him in.