Just as the plane taxied to the runway, my phone lit up, and Finley’s face kissing at me shone bright on the display.
She had come to Passages just once, long enough for us to have a three-hour counseling session and dinner. She’d tearfully admitted to me that she’d walked past Falyn into the apartment, seeing a picture of me on the nightstand and assuming it was Tyler she was crawling into bed with. She recalled him calling her Falyn when she settled into the bed, but she was so jealous and hurt she could only think of retaliation. She was too ashamed to speak to me after that—until the day she sat in a beautiful room with beautiful flowers, marble floors, and expensive paintings chosen to promote calm and comfort while our ugliest sins spilled from our mouths.
“Hello?” I said, holding the phone to my ear. “Getting ready to take off, Fin.”
“He wants to see you.”
“I want to see him, too. I’m just not sure if it should be tonight.”
“He wants to pick you up from the airport. José can do it. It’s completely up to you.”
“I’m sorry. I’ll tell José to meet you in baggage claim at seven-thirty.”
“It’s okay. Driving from Denver will make for a nice chat.”
“Yes. I have to go, Fin. I love you.”
I pressed END and placed my phone in the console between me and the older gentleman in a Prada suit and eyeglasses. He reminded me a bit of Stavros, the bartender from the Colorado Springs hotel, with his silver hair and style. As the plane took off, I thought about my last moments with Tyler, the choices that I had spent sixty days trying to let go, and the way Tyler had looked at me. I wondered if he would see me that way, as the weak, lost little girl he had to babysit. Ellie three-point-oh was neither weak nor lost, but she was carrying a lot of guilt and not enough forgiveness.
When the wheels set down in Denver, my head fell forward, my chin sliding off my fist. I smacked my lips, taking a sip of water as the flight attendant began her speech about disembarkation procedures. Once the plane came to a full stop and a bell chimed over the PA system, seat belts clacked in quick succession, sounding like the clicking of a keyboard, and then the rustle of everyone standing at the same time resonated throughout the fuselage. I had checked all of my belongings, so I squeaked past the silver-haired businessman and stood in the aisle, waiting for the door to open.
The walk up the jetway seemed longer than usual, as did the train ride to the baggage claim terminal. Everything felt different—I felt different. When I reached the escalator and ascended to baggage claim, I saw Tyler standing at the bottom, getting shouldered and nudged by people getting off the stairs and passing by. He looked up at me, never pulling his gaze away until I was standing in front of him.
“Thanks for coming all the way here to pick me up.”
“I’ve been everywhere and called everyone to find out where you went. I was going to be here when you came home.”
Someone pushed from the back, forcing me to take a step forward.
“Hey,” Tyler said, pushing the guy back. He guided me farther away from the top of the escalator, and the warmth of his fingers on my skin made me more emotional than I’d anticipated. “I didn’t realize two months could feel like such a long time.”
“Probably because you didn’t have a coat,” I said, handing him his jacket.
He looked down at the fabric in his hands. “I’d forgotten about the coat. Couldn’t forget about you.”
“Just needed some time to get my shit straight,” I said.
Tyler smiled, seeming relieved at my choice of words. I was wearing the cream dress and tall, high-heeled suede boots Finley had sent. My hair fell in soft waves to the middle of my back, smoke free and clean. I looked very different from the last time he’d seen me, but he appeared reassured that I at least sounded the same.
The conveyor belt buzzed, alerting the passengers from the flight just before it began to move. They crowded around the baggage carousel.
“Here,” Tyler said, taking me by the hand and leading me closer. Bags were already tumbling to the long oval that surrounded the chute. My bag was the third, the handle wrapped in a bright red priority tag.
Tyler lifted the large luggage without effort, then extended the handle. “It’s a hike,” he said, apologetic.
“Yes, we have,” he said with a smile. He was still nervous, quiet, as we made the journey to the parking garage. Denver International wasn’t the easiest airport to navigate, but Tyler was focused, getting me to his truck as quickly as he could.
Once he loaded my bag into the back seat, he opened my door and helped me climb in. My high-heeled boots made it difficult, but with one arm, Tyler lifted me into my seat.
He jogged around, hopped into his seat, and twisted the key in the ignition. He fussed with the air conditioner and then looked to me for approval.
Tyler backed out and navigated the maze of the parking garage until we saw daylight.
“So, uh,” he began. “Guess who’s going to be a daddy?”
I craned my neck at him, bracing myself.
“No! Oh fuck, no, not me. Taylor,” he said, laughing nervously. “Taylor’s going to be a daddy. I’m gonna be an uncle.”
I breathed out. “Great! That’s great. How exciting. Jim must be thrilled.”
I nodded, turning toward the window and closing my eyes, exhaling slowly. I’d been looking forward to seeing him for so long, and not knowing what to expect, I was already emotional and feeling frazzled. I tried to do the breathing exercises I’d learned while away.
The tires buzzed against the road, the tone sounding a bit higher when we reached the highway and Tyler kicked up the speed. Waiting for him to have the inevitable conversation about my sudden departure was too much pressure, so I decided to do it myself.
“Wait,” he said, wringing his hands on the steering wheel. “Let me explain.”
I swallowed, worried that it was going to be much worse than I had imagined the last eight weeks. Tyler had cast me aside, left me, broken my heart, and yelled at me a thousand different ways in my dreams. Now, all he had to do was show me which one would be our reality.
“I was pissed. I admit it,” he began. “But I didn’t know you’d gotten on a fucking plane. I’m an unbelievable dick, Ellie. I didn’t realize you were in such a low place. I don’t know what we’re doing, but if it’s just friends with benefits, I can’t even call myself a good friend. I should have seen it. I should have known.”
He was fidgeting, taking off his ball cap and pulling it low over his head, then lifting it again so he could properly see to drive. He rubbed the back of his neck, shifted in his seat, and adjusted the radio.
“Tyler,” I said. “Just say it. If it’s too much for you, I get it. It’s not your fault. I put you through a lot.”