Pretend Daddy(7)

By: Amy Brent

“Okay, honey, this is me,” I told him as we arrived at my gate. “You have fun with Giuseppe and text me about it.”

He nodded and gave me a peck on the cheek. “Will do. Have fun with your coast to coast rich people.”

“And you have fun with your economy adventurers,” I replied and, at his eye roll, I urged, “At least try.”

“Yeah, yeah . . .” he said as he walked away.

For a few moments, I just stood there and watched as my friend walked away. Then, I turned around to walk to the aircraft. As I approached the gate, I saw from the corner of my eye, a man at the waiting area with his chin propped over the knuckles of one hand while the other tapped a white envelope against his knee. The gray streaks at his temples told me he was probably around my age and the unkempt scruff on his chiseled jaw looked contradictory to the perfect fit of his suit. His eyelids were a little droopy like he’d been drinking too much, but a flash of pain and maybe anger was still visible in his blue eyes.

In my forty years, I had known a lot of pain, and for that reason, my heart broke for that stranger. But I had work to do, and so I pushed thoughts of him aside and walked my ass to the plane.

After greeting the rest of the crew, I stored my stuff and started getting the first class ready for our guests. As much as I enjoyed traveling the world, I had to admit that I missed my days of continental first class flights. There was something deeply satisfying about fluffing actual pillowcases and serving food on porcelain plates.

Once we were all set and the boarding process began, I positioned myself at the plane’s entrance to welcome our guests. We would be flying at max capacity, and as customary, I checked the tickets and greeted all ten passengers by name as I directed them to their seats. The last person to board was the man in the tailored suit who still had the envelope in his hand.

“Welcome on board, Mr. Walker,” I greeted in my kindest tone after checking his ticket. He looked me in the eyes and forced a ghost of a smile as he nodded, but didn’t say a word. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to your seat.”

I received another nod and led the way to the very first row where his seat was located. Once he was settled, I asked, “May I bring you something to drink before we take off?”

“A bourbon, please,” he said, and I quickly went to the galley to fix his drink.

As I made my rounds through the cabin, I realized that for some reason I couldn’t quite explain, my mind and gaze kept returning to Mr. Walker time and time again. My staring had nothing to do with how handsome he was. Honestly, he wasn’t really my type and, judging by his trendy haircut and hip reading glasses, I could tell my twenty-two-year-old daughter would interest him a lot more than me. Still, between the discomfort in his face, the compulsive drinking, and the daggers his eyes were throwing at the piece of paper in his hands, there was something that made me feel like he needed me somehow.

Knowing that those were crazy thoughts induced by too much work and not enough sleep, I kept my distance and tried to remain professional and out of his business. But my efforts only lasted until after dinner when all the other passengers were either sleeping or with their headphones on. He pressed the call button for yet another refill of his bourbon and I was quick to answer.

“You know that there’s a limit of how much you can drink in the air, right?” I asked him in a friendly tone I hoped would alleviate some of my intrusion.

He raised one perfectly groomed black brow and retorted, “And what would that limit be?”

“I’m not sure,” I admitted with a shrug, then added, “But I think you’re at least two shots beyond it.”

Mr. Walker sighed and nodded, but remained quiet for a few seconds. Then, just as I was about to turn around and walk away, he said, “I just buried my father today. I’ve looked up to him my whole life and considered his old ass my best friend, and in return, all I received was this letter right here.” He raised the envelope he had been holding in the air and looked at it. “His last goddamned words for me and they were disappointing as shit.”

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