As the plane was nearing cruising altitude, it hit an air pocket or some such thing and took a 'hop'. My hand gripped the armrest like a vise and I furiously chewed the wad of gum in my mouth; it had lost all of its flavor almost an hour before.
"It's okay, miss. You don't have to worry." The voice on my right spoke softly. I turned to see the most beautiful blue green eyes I had ever beheld. He was staring at my hand.
"They really know what they're doing, and I think it will be okay." His voice was so reassuring that it disarmed my nervousness completely.
"Is this your first time flying?" At any other time it might have almost seemed like a pick-up line. Not that I'd gotten many of those. At one time I might have been the one saying it, as a matter of fact. But now, flying back across an entire continent, I was never more unsure about who and what I was than at that moment. His eyes seemed to follow me like one of those paintings and I knew he wasn't being rude, which broke down my defenses even more.
"You're very pretty." Oh dear god in heaven he didn't say that? Me? Maybe 'not ugly' was a better term for it, but no other words ever spoken would match the healing of that little phrase. I began to cry.
"I'm sorry you're sad," said so simply, but with such power. After months on my own, I was looking forward to being home. I had the surgery all by myself; real life interruptions prevented any of my friends from joining me in Montreal, and my family would have died before endorsing my decision with their presence.
"You can have this, if you like." He handed me his handkerchief, which he produced from the breast pocket of his jacket. Such a simple bequest, but so warm and strengthening. I took his gift and wiped the tears from my eyes.
"I'm glad to meet you. My name is James. James Montalbano. I'm traveling with my mother to my grandmother's funeral."
For the first time since coming out of recovery only days before, I actually offered my hand in greeting as myself.
"Judith...Judith Martin." He shook my hand gently and then did something I have only dreamed about. He kissed my hand softly and said, "Pleased to make your acquaintance." I struggled with my tears, but it was a losing battle. My shoulders began to shake enough that the attendant came over.
"Are you okay? Can I get you something?" I smiled and shook my head no. She nodded and went back up the aisle.
"May I ask you a question?" He had been perfect up to that point, and while I felt vulnerable, it was just too hard to refuse. I nodded. He smiled before turning to his right and looking across the aisle at his mother, who was looking on with interest. What a lovely family. He took a deep breath and said finally,
"When I grow up, can I marry you?"
"Jimmy," his mother interrupted, "What did we just talk about?" Her voice and smile belied any correction.
"Oh...yes. Miss Martin? When I grow up, MAY I marry you?" He smiled at me with his eleven-or-so-year-old eyes.
"Yes, Jimmy...you certainly may."
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