Had it really been sixteen months since they had last laid eyes on each other? As Fiona counted on her fingers carefully, she added it up to a round sixteen, and shook her head. The man in the seat beside her gave her a sideways glance as she raised each finger up to count, but with the mask on his face it was hard to tell whether he was smirking, scowling, or indifferent to her having to count like a five year old.
Her stomach did a nervous flip as that number sunk in. Sometimes it felt longer. You could have told her it had been 5 years since she had last laid eyes on him and she would have believed it. A long distance relationship was something they had been used to over the last 5 years, each of them living and working on differing ends of the continent. She was the first to admit she had taken for granted how easy it was to get on a plane, board a train or drive a car. Her being in New Hampshire, him being in Arizona, had never mattered.
They made it work because they were less than a day travel away if need be. Then suddenly, that wasn’t the case. Suddenly, they weren’t allowed. Suddenly, his job as a respiratory therapist made him someone working in COVID ground zero, and she with her severe asthma was prime candidate to catch what was going around and die.
As she felt the plane begin it’s descent with the tell-tale roll of her stomach she felt sick from it. Sixteen months of Face Time, emails, texts and even a few written letters for the fun of it. Distance though was still distance. Ink on a page written by hand did not replace the touch of that hand on your face. Since taking off from the airport Fiona had become full of excited anticipation, but also rising levels of dread that sixteen months would have changed Andrew. Maybe her slightly chubby thighs wouldn’t be cute anymore. Maybe the depression he had admitted to back during the second wave had changed how he felt in general about life. About them.
All she could do though was trust. Trust that the last text he sent before putting her phone on airplane mode said ‘I love you. I can’t wait to see you’ and trust it was true. Trust that she still madly loved him. Trust that they were stronger than COVID, and it wasn’t going to kill not just them, but what they had between them. They were stronger than that.
That assurance, that trust, made her smile beneath the cloth mask she was wearing. Each mile of descent from the sky was one more tick of excitement. Andrew was literally right below her right now, waiting for her. God, she was so worried she’d forgot his smell, or his fingers liked to wind through her unruly dark hair.
The voice of the captain came over the speakers to announce the final descent. Flight attendants moved out of the aisles and the chime came on announcing it was time to buckle up, flashing right beside the ever present no smoking light. She reached up and turned her little personal vent off, and then pushed up her little window cover so she could look down on the deserts of Arizona coming up to meet her.
She held her breath as the wheels touched, the plane giving a few good bounces before she breaks were hit and she felt herself being pushed back in her seat. After a few moments it was announced they were safely in Phoenix, and she finally exhaled. She had made it. She was no longer in the sky.
The anticipation became almost frantic. Being on the ground made Andrew all the more real. She turned her phone off airplane mode and was flooded from texts from him. He was driving. He was parking. He was here. Never in her life had she grabbed her stowed carry-on so fast, or pushed to get off a plane despite her cheap seat in the back. She rushed a quick ‘thanks!’ to the polite attendants and ran up the gangway as if her life depended on it.
Her heart was already pumping. She made herself slow down, but she knew he was right there waiting. She had never in her life made it to luggage claim that fast, and had never in her life felt she had had to wait so long. She saw the little pink flower luggage tag and snagged her bag, and nearly dumped the whole thing over in her haste.
Final stretch. She began moving, her luggage wheeling behind her with squeaking protest at the speed. No one was looking at her funny because she was not the only one reuniting, but as she came through the doors she didn’t look at other people, she was scanning the crowd, on her tip-toes, eyes wide almost like a panicked child who was trying to find their guardian. Like she had gotten off the plane and was already lost.
There was a tap on her shoulder and she spun, and her eyes suddenly locked onto a pair of blues. Blues she had only gotten to see through pixels in far too long. She didn’t feel, but heard, her luggage hit the ground as her arms flung around his neck, and suddenly their warmth was one again, and she inhaled so sharply to the sound of his exhale.
Home was suddenly not New Hampshire, Arizona or anything in between. She had come home in this very moment when the arms came around her in turn, and found their favourite places without hesitation or prompting. She had gained a few pounds and he had let his hair grow out but everything felt whole. Sixteen months were not erased, but made okay in a matter of a few seconds of connecting.
She felt her eyes fill with tears as his warm voice, now against her ear and not through her phone spoke to her gently.
“Baby girl, I missed you.”