By the time I depart for the airport on Sunday morning, all the ingredients for white chili stew will be blending in the slow cooker, and hopefully a delicious dish waits for Daniel when we get home. I pack the tent, so he doesn’t know I hunkered down in his absence and curled up in the fetal position until his return.
He texts me once he lands in the states, which certainly excites me, even though I know he needs to complete three more legs of his journey to get home.
Back in the US of A – just one more sleep until we’re together.
I was disappointed yesterday when he didn’t call me, so I check the flights along his itinerary, and I notice it nears midnight when his flight lands in Dallas, probably early in the morning when he gets checked in to his hotel for the night. A second text this morning lets me know he doesn’t oversleep.
Just boarded – wheels up shortly and back together soon.
I love that he uses punctuation in his texts. I hate that he didn’t just call.
It’s a two-hour drive, but a three-hour flight, so once I am certain the flight is airborne, I grab the keys to his truck and get on the road. I’ll still have time for a quick fill-up, plus the roads should be plenty clear and, cross my fingers, delay-free. I’ll beat the plane, because I’d rather wait inside for him than cut it close and meet him curbside after he picks up his bags. He pretends the latter is acceptable, but I’m sure he knows I will be there early.
Thank goodness for cruise control, otherwise I would drive like a crazy woman to get to the airport faster. I know it doesn’t make his plane land any sooner, but I am just so excited to see him. This is the longest we’ve been apart since we got married, and despite how busy I’ve kept myself these past two weeks, I have missed him every single day, but especially every single night.
I remember the first night we spent apart about six months after we married. He planned to drive down to Cheyenne for a business meeting with the intension of driving back the same day. Of course, it was March, and just like this month is proving, you cannot rely on the weather to be cooperative in the late winter. He barely made it to the city and Mr. Waterfield insisted he not return. Quite frankly, I think Mr. Waterfield wanted to put Daniel up at his house, to which Daniel would never agree, but that was the first night we spent apart. It wasn’t a big deal, but I think Daniel felt guilty for not being prepared for such a contingency.
But I’ve successfully survived these sixteen days without him, and I have so much news to share from what I expected would be an uneventful absence on my end. I can only imagine how much news he must have about his travels and his business, and I’m sure he took pictures of the mountains to share with me. I doubt that they can be more wonderful than our mountains here, but I still cannot wait to have him share them with me regardless.
I look to the left towards our mountains, but the Bighorns have segued into the Pryor Mountains and a small portion of the Custer National Forest. Coming up will be a dozen smaller spots named for the failed general, including the site of his notorious last stand, which I always say I’m going to visit, but never allow time to do so. Even if I have time enough today, nothing will deviate me from my destination, even if I were to arrive hours early.
As it works out, his flight lands early and within twenty minutes from touchdown, I expect he’ll be by my side. Claiming baggage is much easier to do in Billings than most other airports, so I foolishly stop for fuel before getting to the airport. My optimism supersedes the inevitable pace of the typical travel industry and he sends me a text asking me to just wait, rather than come inside, so I circle the small lot watching for him, and then again, occasionally checking my phone. I want to run inside but I stay with the truck and circle the small lot one more time to not park too long in the loading zone.
Despite the overcast skies, my world gleams when I see him walk through the sliding doors. His height, his gait, his blond curls, even his two-day beard make me forego my patience and leap out of the truck towards him. He drops his bags at his side and shares my enthusiasm. Neither of us speak and cling to each other desperately, as if the same obligatory forces that nudge me to move his truck – this isn’t a parking zone, ma’am – might likewise pull us apart.
I finally whisper in his ear over the sound of pre-recorded reminders, jet engines, and the traffic of the nearby road.
“Damn, I missed you.”
He kisses me and for a moment, it’s just like his departure – bags, airport, morning, truck, emotion, lovers – but this time, he’s here and he’s home to stay.
He lifts me so my toes barely touch the ground to hold me steady. “I love you.”
“I cannot even tell you how much I missed you and how much more I love you today than the day you left.” Honestly, every time I say something similar, it sounds ridiculous, yet absolutely true.
He sets me down and pulls me tighter in one fluid movement. We must be a site for those around us, but I don’t care.
When we finally let go, I still grab his sleeve in my fist and refuse to let him wander more than arm’s length away. It only allows me to pick up his smallest bag and carry it back to the truck while he secures the heavier two. I finally release his arm and head towards the passenger door.
“Nat, do you mind driving? I’m not sure I’ll stay awake for the entire drive.”
I know he mentioned I might be the one driving, but I was so looking forward to lying down on his lap. Given how late he arrived in Dallas last night, the time zones, and the multiple flights, I certainly don’t blame him.
He kisses my cheek as I pass him, watching for oncoming taxis as I round the back of the truck and step into the road. I climb in, buckle up, check for traffic, and cautiously merge in just like every time he entrusted me with his vehicle. I want to talk and update him on everything from the moment he left until the moment not three minutes earlier, but this is the time to be quiet, and I know it. I’ll leave it to him to speak when he’s ready, to decompress in his own time. To my surprise, it’s just as we pull away from the airport.
“Can we grab something to eat? Do you mind?”
“I don’t mind, but I figured we’d eat when we get home, but we can stop if you want something now.” I hold off revealing my chili surprise.
“It’s not that I want to spoil whatever you have planned, but we didn’t get breakfast this morning, and it was a long flight, and the coffee and airplane snacks just didn’t cut it.”
“What sounds good?”
“A big bowl of something hearty like stew or chili sounds good, but I’ll settle for something that isn’t fast food.”
I know a place just two exits down the interstate, so within fifteen minutes we wander in so I can buy an ice tea for myself and he opts for a French dip sandwich. Au jus isn’t really an eat-while-you-drive food, so we sit down at a table near the window and I just stare at his beautiful face. He inhales the first bite.
When he swallows, I ask the obvious post-travel questions.
“So, how was your flight?” He’s already taken a second bite, so when he finishes, he answers.
“The flight was fantastic.”
I cannot tell if he’s being sarcastic or serious. “How so?”
“Do you remember Newbold?” I recall the name, but I cannot think of his face and my expression tells Daniel as much.
“He was at a couple of the Christmas parties at the office. He’s one of the junior partners.” He takes another bite as I wait to hear more about Newbold. Besides his name being in the title of the firm I don’t know anything about him.
“From the day we left until our return flight, he was just exhausting to have to travel with. He insisted this morning that we get to the airport early, so we skipped breakfast, only to find out that he was trying to switch his flights and go through Denver. So, as it turned out, we didn’t fly back together, which actually made the flight the most relaxing two hours of this entire trip.”
I could be wrong, but I don’t recall Daniel ever speaking ill of anyone unless they really deserved it. He generally gives people the benefit of the doubt, which I am guessing Newbold used up pretty early in the journey.
“I’m sorry, babe. If you couldn’t be with me, I wish you could have at least been with someone who wasn’t so tiresome.”
“Tiresome doesn’t begin to describe him. I don’t even know why he flew out of Billings when we left – he lives in Laramie. Anyway, I’m just glad for the break.”
“And to be with me?” I remind him, but I also want to hear him say he missed me.
“And to absolutely be with you.”
That was enough. That’s all I need to hear. I let him finish his sandwich in peace.
NEXT: Baggage – Part 16