“It would never occur to me to purchase first class tickets on such a short flight,” she’d said with maybe a hint of judgement.
“Yeah...me neither,” I’d said coughing into my hand.
“Have you ever flown economy?”
“Doesn’t it bother you when people with money are cheap?”
“Well, cheap, or wasteful.”
“Let me buy your ticket home and then we may as well sit together. You do realize that the price of your airfare isn’t even half of what it costs to stay one night at a Hurst hotel,” I said wickedly.
“In that case, I’d like the most expensive seat on the plane, please.”
We had been chatting over departure plans with Therese over dinner when Therese had suggested we fly back to LA together. “It’d save me a trip to the airport,” she said with what I recognized as a ploy. Typically, I’d have evaded such tactics, but I found Therese charming and seeing Olivia’s finger freeze over her phone where she’d been scrolling for flights, I’d felt a bit mischievous, and in all honesty, happy at the prospect of travelling with her.
So, I’d bought the tickets that night, and then we’d spent the day together yesterday; collecting deeds, maps and all the other official paperwork the attorneys would need to draw up the sales contracts.
We drove again through town with the top down, and then toward the outskirts, Olivia’s hair whipping around her head as she took the jeep as fast as she dared down her favorite undeveloped road, me, whooping out encouragements like, “faster, speed racer!” both laughing as she brought us to a sudden stop in front of a life-sized plastic, pink cow that had appeared to me as though out of the dust swirling around our tires. “What the... ?” I’d exclaimed, nearly jumping out of my seat. There was nothing else in sight.
Olivia had giggled hysterically, clearly pleased with herself for pulling off the prank. “You’ll just have to uncover the mystery of this pink cow next time you visit.”
We took more photos, dreamed aloud and made trips to the diner; once for lunch and twice for chocolate malts. I learned that Olivia had double majored in business and journalism in college and that there had been a time when she’d also been interested in becoming an architect. She learned that I’d wanted to be a race car driver until I turned ten and that I had a weakness for old western movies and Cesar’s jalapeño mango salsa.
Somewhere between the first malt and our visit to see Miss Elizabeth at Frank’s, I felt that almost imperceptible shift that happens between people when they move from acquaintance to friend.
At Frank’s, I sat straddling the fence where Miss E was grazing while he and Olivia talked out of earshot at the top of the dirt drive. When they’d walked back down toward me, I’d noted how Olivia seemed to stand up straighter, walk lighter. All was forgiven.
Frank agreed to help canvass the town about a potential development deal and advised that I start working on something the town could vote for in the next month. Olivia and I would need the majority of the votes to allow for a sale of so much property from one person to another. But he’d also said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the reception.
“A lot of people feel responsible for what happened to Liv’s grandfather,” he’d said to me as Olivia nuzzled her horse. “So, they may be more open to hearing what you have to say. It’s helped too, you both being here this week. People have been wondering what’s going on- why a hotel billionaire is in town with Therese’s granddaughter. It’s got everyone excited...” raising an eyebrow at me, “for one reason or another.”
“Small towns,” I’d said dismissively.
Watching Frank and Olivia hug goodbye, I thought about what she’d said about their history and wondered if they’d ever dated. The way his hand had lifted for a moment as though he were going to tuck a strand of wayward hair behind her ear, the cautious way he gazed down at her. It was possible, I’d mused.
As I had prepared for my departure this morning: checking out of the Tropical Palm Motel, driving up the road to Therese’s house; a knot of dread had begun to grow. I wasn’t ready to leave, and I couldn’t wait to come back. It was inexplicable how tied I felt to this place.
The goodbyes had been difficult. I could see both women were trying not to cry. “I know you’ll be back for Thanksgiving and Christmas but...it’s just never enough for me, Livy angel.”
When Therese turned toward me, I hugged her and kissed her on the cheek. “My Nathan would have loved you. You’re his kind of man, with your vision and your grit. Looking forward to your return.”
Breakfast and mimosas consumed an hour ago, Olivia was now asleep, her socked feet curled beneath her as though she were scrunched in economy, her head bobbing periodically toward me and then away again.
I allow myself the briefest glance at her face as I pull my laptop out of the seatback pocket and place it on my thighs but I’m still thinking about the way her lips peak like the sparest sketch of identical mountain tops under her little nose as I connect to the cabin Wi-Fi. It’s not until I’ve read and responded to my second email that I feel all of my attention focus on where it needs to be— business. I’m halfway through the messages deemed “not urgent” by my assistant when I feel the faintest tickle on the side of my face. I grin as Olivia’s head bobs again, then commits, forehead first, onto my shoulder, the landing so abrupt it wakes her.
As her head moves back onto her seat, she rubs her eyes. “I think that’s the best nap I’ve ever had on a plane.”
“I don’t know how,” I say ruefully. “Sitting scrunched up in your seat like that. You realize these seats do go all the way back, right? You’re in first class.”
“Yesss...” she says, dropping her feet toward the floor and hunting around for the complimentary slippers. Locating them, she scoops them onto her feet without ever bending down. I chuckle, and she smiles back, as though she understands my amusement.
“Back at it huh?” she says, glancing at my open laptop. “Don’t let me stop you.”
Now that she’s awake, the last thing I feel like doing is work.
She touches the screen in front of her, and I find myself wanting to yield to the warm glow of a movie and Olivia’s company. “Maybe I’ll watch a movie with you instead?”
But the way I say it must give me away because she smiles knowingly and says, “how about we both order a stronger drink and then work for an hour. We can reward ourselves with a movie after that.”
I shake my head at her. “You’ve done these deals before.”
She laughs easily, scooting to the edge of her seat so she can reach the thick, leather-bound notebook she’d stashed in her seatback pocket before we’d taken off. “Rich and Audrey are both terrible workmates. They both work harder than anyone I know, but once they’ve finished theirs, I have to cut deals with them to leave me alone, so that I can finish mine.”
“Rich...that’s your boyfriend? You never really said but I deduced from the number of texts you’ve been fielding.”
Olivia resumes a similar position to her napping attitude, with one leg crossed under her, the other dangling from the seat. I hadn’t realized until now that her feet didn’t quite touch the floor. “Yes. Since senior year of college.” If she were in her mid-twenties, she must have been with rich for a few years now. This surprises me. “Audrey is always saying I’ve known him my whole life because of Frank. They are similar in a lot of ways, but not in the ways that matter.”
“I know where they’re both from...both born and raised in the Midwest. That matters to me. There’s a deep sense of knowing when you have an idea of someone’s upbringing and roots. But, Rich wants more than a little town existence, and Frank is happy with his. Sure, Frank wanted more for Tomahawk Hill, but that was because he never planned to leave it. Rich wants to go as far as he can and do as much as he can. He couldn’t wait to leave the Midwest behind when we graduated.”
The first thought I have is that Rich is an artist or filmmaker, an actor or writer, like so many people his age in LA. I could see Olivia with someone creative and artsy. But she says, “He’s in residential real estate now, but wants to get into commercial real estate by the end of the year. He was rookie of the year when he started, and he already has his own, corner office, which is unheard of at his brokerage.”
“Ah, that’s great,” I say, but think her answer rings hollow. The person I’d known over the last week hadn’t seemed to be the kind who lent much value to things like promotions and office square footage.
“So, what are you working on?” I ask, peering at her notebook.
“A novel.” She says this somewhat bashfully, but then with a stronger voice as though she or someone else in her life had told her to ‘own it’. “I freelance—mostly business and marketing articles--to make ends meet, but my real dream is to finish my first novel by spring of next year.”
“Wow,” I say, with real reverence. “I can’t imagine facing a blank page like that. I think that suits you.”
She laughs, makes a face. “Oh, you think so, huh?”
“I can read people pretty well.”
She turns away, makes a show of putting pen to paper. “And what am I saying now?”
I chuckle, turning toward the inflight menu. “Olivia. Always so subtle. Let me order that drink for us.”