The airport was more crowded than Lisa thought it should have been on a Tuesday afternoon. Travelers, exhausted before their trips even started, jostled for position at the check-in desk. “I can’t wait to get back home,” Richard said as they waited for a check-in kiosk to be available. “The vacation was great, but there is no place like home.” He chuckled. “Sometimes you need a vacation from vacation.”
“Um hum,” Lisa said. She wasn’t listening. She was too drawn in by the family standing in line at the baggage check-in. Their two children sat on the floor next to the luggage. The man and the woman stood angled away from each other each looking at their cell phones. They hadn’t been fighting, not in line at least, but they seemed so disinterested in each other. The woman’s chili expression when the man said something to her sent a shiver down Lisa’s spine. She wondered what happened to them. How did they meet? How did they fall in love? Where did that love go? Does this happen to everyone? Does love have to fade over the years?
“Lisa,” Richard called. “You’re holding up the line.”
Lisa was standing in front of the computer by herself. A man in a black suit and briefcase stood next to her frowning. “Sorry,” she said, rushing over to join Richard.
“You’re off in your own world.”
“Yeah. I’ve just been feeling a bit spacey since I got up this morning.” Lisa had a knot in her stomach. At first, she couldn’t work out what it was about, but then she remembered her job interview. That was probably the problem. After going to Damon’s house and seeing that he was with someone else, she realized that she needed to let go. She was embarrassed and angry. She was the reason that everything had turned out the way it had. She couldn’t expect him to sit around waiting for her to come to her senses.
Richard’s phone made the tweeting sound that announced an incoming text. He stepped to the side of the flowing river of people and stopped so he could check it.
Lisa turned back around to see the family she’d been watching earlier. Then she heard Richard laugh. “Who is it?” she asked.
“Just someone from work.” He quickly texted something back and returned his phone to his pocket.
“See that family over there.” Lisa pointed at them.
“Don’t point,” Richard said.
“It’s such a shame that they are so busy with their phones that they don’t talk. They must be miserable.”
Richard looked at the family for a moment. “You’re jumping to a lot of conclusions.”
“Am I? I mean look at them.”
“I’m done looking. Let’s find our gate. I have to get something to eat.” His phone tweeted in his pocket again, but this time he ignored it.
Security took longer than it should have, but Lisa’s mother had dropped them off very early for their flight. They found their gate and Lisa settled into one of the hard plastic chairs with the book.
Richard sat down next to her for a minute. He looked around anxiously.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Do you want to eat?” He craned his neck to look behind him. “I thought there would be more restaurants in here than this.”
She shook her head. “I told you to eat something before we left. There were so many leftovers in the fridge you could’ve found something.”
“I didn’t feel like eating any of that stuff. I want nachos.”
“You’d rather eat bad airport nachos than real food.”
“Who said they have to be bad?” He stood up. “I’m going to go find some food. You coming with me?”
“Nah. We’ll be boarding soon so don’t be too long.”
“Do you want me to bring you anything?”
“No thanks.” She watched him as he strolled away with his hands in his pockets like he was in no hurry.
Lisa was only reading for a few minutes when she heard the tweeting sound that Richard’s phone made with he got a text. She looked down and saw that it was sitting in the seat next to her. She went back to reading, but a few seconds later it tweeted again. Lisa looked up scanning the crowd to see if she could see Richard. He was nowhere in the sea of people. Then she looked down at the phone. He had been sending a lot of texts since they’d been on vacation, but he always said it was work. Something about it made her feel suspicious though.
Lisa knew she shouldn’t look. As she reached down and picked up the phone the knot in her stomach rose in her throat. She looked around again to see who was looking at her. She caught the eye of a little girl sitting next to her mother with a tablet in her lap, her hair in two twisted pigtails. The girl smiled at Lisa and waved. Lisa quickly returned her gaze to the phone. When the screen lit up it said that he had three unread text messages from someone named Heather. She took a deep breath and opened them.
The first message said:
“Hey Sexy. Life is a bore without you.”
The next one said:
“Can you meet me tonight or is that too soon? Usual place @ 9.”
“I’ll make it worth your wild.”
She only had to read the texts once. She knew what they meant. How could she have been so stupid. He’d cheated on her before. What made her think he wouldn’t do it again? Why did she ever take him back? Why would she consider settling for him when he wasn’t what she really wanted? Was she just going to keep settling in her life? She didn’t want to go to Chicago. She didn’t want to go to that stupid job interview. She didn’t want to stay with Richard, even if she couldn’t be with Damon.
She suspected that something might be going on. Sometimes he’d call to say that he’d be staying late at work and dread would tighten in her chest. When she felt like that she’d remind herself that she was silly. She didn’t have any evidence that he was seeing someone else and thought her feelings were the result of what had happened between them before. She wanted to believe he wouldn’t do it again even though she knew it was more likely than she wanted to admit.
She put his phone back on the chair, closed her book and put it in her backpack. When she looked up, the little girl was looking at her again. She smiled and waved. This time Lisa waved back. Lisa stood and turned around. She could see Richard coming back to the gate with a Styrofoam container of nachos in his hand and stupid grin on his face. The distorted voice of the airline gate agent came over the intercom announcing that they would start boarding soon. Lisa slung her backpack over her shoulder and grabbed the handle of her wheeling suitcase. She watched Richard’s face as she started walking toward him. As she got closer his grin slowly melted away.
“Is something wrong?” he asked when they reached each other.
“I can’t do this anymore.” Lisa didn’t intend to explain anything to him. She was planning on walking past him without a word, but she couldn’t quite do that.
“Can’t do what?”
“This. Us. All this pretending. You don’t really want to be with me, and I certainly don’t want to be in Chicago with you acting like everything is okay.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw your phone, Richard. Who is Heather?”
He swallowed hard. “What were you doing snooping around on my phone?”
“Don’t make this about what I was doing. This is about what you were doing.” She pointed at his chest. People were looking at them now. “Why did I think that you would be faithful? I should’ve known. Once a cheat, always a cheat. I’ve had enough of this.” She started walking past him, but he grabbed her arm, swinging her around.
“Where are you going?”
“Let go of me.” She pulled away from him. “I’m going to my mother’s house.”
“You’re not coming back to Chicago with me?”
“Are seriously asking me that question? Why would I go anywhere with you?” She turned around and started walking again.
“It isn’t what you think!” he yelled after her.
She whipped back around and went back to him. She ripped the ring he’d given her from her finger and held it out to him. “I don’t want this.” When he wouldn’t take it, she dropped it onto the shiny black tile floor. The ring bounced a few times before coming to rest in front of the toe of his navy blue sneakers. “Maybe you should give it Heather.”
He bent down to pick up the ring. “Heather isn’t the kind of girl you marry.”
Lisa considered kicking him in the face as he bent over, but knew it probably wasn’t such a good idea. Instead, she ran her suitcase into him sending his nachos to the floor. Neon yellow cheese and chips scattered across the tile in front of him.
Lisa’s heart pounded in her chest as she walked to the tram that would take her out of the terminal. “You can’t just walk away from me!” She heard Richard yell. The tram pulled up right on time, the door slid open, and she stepped inside. When she turned around to face the doors, she didn’t see Richard anywhere. He hadn’t followed her. She breathed a sigh of relief as the doors slid closed and the tram started to move.
Lisa didn’t have a plan, but she knew that whatever she could find for herself here was better than what was waiting for her in Chicago.
“I’m glad you finally came to your senses and left him.” Lisa’s mother put a bowl of broccoli cheese soup on the table.
“We all are.” Jamila took a bite of the piece of bread. “Thanks for having me over for lunch, Claire,” she said to Lisa’s mother.
“The soup looks great, Mom.”
When Lisa called her mother to pick her up from the airport she came right away without asking any questions. In the car on the way back to her house, Lisa told her mother about what happened, the text messages and the way Richard was never what she wanted anyway. Her mother knew that already. When she told her Lisa was not surprised. Everyone she knew had told her as much at some point. It took a while for her to open her eyes though and see that they all knew what they were talking about. It had only been two days since all of that happened and Richard had called several times every day since. Lisa ignored his calls. She didn’t want to hear his explanation because there wasn’t a good one. She didn’t want to yell at him or have a fight. She only wanted him out of her life.
“You know that room you used to stay in is still empty if you want to move back to the other side of the bridge,” Jamila said. She had never rented the room out again after Lisa moved to Chicago. She didn’t need the extra money and didn’t want the hassle of trying to live with someone she did know that well. “You know I like the company.”
“Or you can stay here,” her mother said. “This is your home, and you’re welcome to stay as long as you want.”
“Thanks, mom.” Things had been going so well with her mother that it was difficult for Lisa to believe that they ever had problems in their relationship. “I think I’ll take Jamila up on her offer though. Connie is trying to get rid of the Starlight Café, and I was going to see if I could buy it. I’m not sure where I’ll get the money from yet, but I love that place, and I think I could run it.”
“If that’s what you want to do, I think you could run it too. You’d make a good businesswoman.” Her mother’s eyes sparkled, and for the first time, Lisa felt like she might be proud of her. “Look at you, getting your life together. You got rid of that no good boyfriend, and now you want to buy a business.”
“I think the Starlight Café is perfect for you,” Jamila said.
“Now I just need to convince the bank to give me a loan.”
“Find out what you need,” her mother said. “I’ll be able to help you out. I probably won’t be able to give you all the money you need, but I’ll help you out.”
“You don’t have to do that,” Lisa said.
“I want to,” her mother said. “Let me do that for you. You told me that you felt like I didn’t have enough time for you when you were growing up, right? Well, this is my chance to show you how much you mean to me. You are my only child. I’d do anything for you.”
Lisa hadn’t realized that before. She thought her mother thought of her as an inconvenience, but now she was starting to understand that all of the work she’d done was for her. Her mother wanted her to succeed. She wanted to show Lisa that success was possible. When Lisa really thought about it she knew her mother had shown her that and a lot more. She’d showed her how to be strong and how to take care of herself. She’d showed her that her dreams were possible and that she shouldn’t let anyone hold her back. In the places were she fell short Lisa could pick up the slack. She understood how to show people love and warmth. Something that her mother struggled with.
“I’m sure the bank will loan you the money to buy Starlight. It’s already a success, and you have good credit.” Jamila started eating the soup. “This is delicious.”
“Thanks.” Lisa’s mother said. “It’s been good to have people to cook for these last few days. I’ll miss you when you move out Lisa.”
“I’ll be back to visit.”
“Don’t stay away too long again,” her mother said.