Light Blue: Chapter 1

Copyright, Nicholas L. Laning, 2011

Chapter 1
Us Against The World
“Excuse me, what time is it?”  I asked, turning to the man sitting in the chair to my right.  He glanced over.  My eyes took focus on his face.  He had small eyes, vibrant, red hair greased into shiny spikes, and wore a dirty, white track suit with royal blue stripes.  His body moved to answer, but stopped when a high, lilting, female voice chimed in over the intercom, causing the man’s eyes to pop up toward the ceiling, “Aer Lingus Flight 1019 from Dublin to New York is open to board.”
In one swift motion, he flipped over his wrist and dropped his gaze down to the face of his cheap, digital watch.  I could barely understand him as he mumbled, “Half nine,” then he went back to his original position without reengaging my eyesight.  His posture hinted, if not warned me, that he was back to his own business. 
Half nine.  It took me a few seconds to remember if half nine was nine thirty, or eight thirty.  Nine thirty.  She could get here at any moment now.    
My cell was in my pocket, but it hadn’t adjusted time zones yet, and I was far too tired to do even the simplest of math.  Sixteen hours to get here, two-hour layover, then sixteen or so hours back.  My brain was already shriveling with exhaustion.  It would be absolute mush by the time we were back to Dallas.
I rubbed my face viciously.  Once finished, it took my eyes a few seconds to uncross and focus.  People everywhere.
My sluggish gaze drifted out past the bustling crowds and through the wall of glass on the other side of the terminal.    The view through the windows was hazed by a million of little droplets of Irish rain that haloed the lights donning the wings and tails of the massive jets being taxied about the tarmac outside.  It was beautifully impressionistic.
Farther still, past the massive jets and the crisscrossing runways, a sliver Ireland sat rolling, wet, and green on the horizon.  Though it was only early September, the notion of Christmas and family warmed and faded momentarily.  To come all of this way and to not get to see Ireland again was some kind of torture. 
Still, I was just glad that none of my flights were delayed.  Had any of them been goofed up I would have missed getting to do what I came to... surprise Carissa, and fly back home with her. 
Seeing as how it didn’t happen, I felt free to chuckle a bit at imagining flying myself all the way over here to surprise her and fly back with her, only to miss the flight, and have to fly back all alone on a later one, and on top of that, not even be there to pick her up from the airport.  Murphy’s law has been measured, and found empty today. 
An annoying, metallic rattle shook my daze.  My eyes followed the noise down to my own hands, which were shaking badly, rapping my college ring against the metal armrest.  Not knowing exactly what to do with them, I jammed my left hand into the warmth of my coat pocket, and rested my chin upon my right.  Hundreds of tiny little needles pricked the palm of my hand.  I stuck out my chin and drug my knuckles across my face.  A raspy hiss accompanied each stroke.  Tough as sandpaper.  Great, I thought, so much for having a nice, smooth face.  On second thought, it doesn’t matter.  She likes me with a bit of scruff anyhow.
For the thousandth time I began to imagine how the surprise would play out.  The moment I clicked that button to buy the tickets, my mind has been stuck on replay of a moment that has yet to even happen. 
I began to imagine her walking into the terminal, but quickly shut my thoughts down.  There was no need to keep imagining. The moment would soon be here. 
My focus came forward out my head and back into the crowded terminal around me: the constant roar of conversation, feet padding, and luggage wheels rolling swirled about the hard, glossy, cavernous, terminal.  My eyes compulsively shot back over to the entrance to the terminal.
A line of what sounded to me like Japanese flew rapidly out of a tiny, grey-haired woman who was trying to position herself into a chair beside me.  Throwing her luggage into heap around her chair, she flung herself down, spilling her hot coffee down my left arm.  
With a measured jolt, I stood and tried to contain my reaction.  Before I could stop it, my eyes flinched shut, and a short burst of air whistled in the sides of my mouth through tightly clinched teeth.  
I couldn’t understand a single word she was saying as she jumped to her feet, trying to wipe my arm with her scarf.  Her raised eyebrows and continuous covering of her face with her hands were easily translatable to me.  There was no doubt that she felt terrible. 
Quickly, and awkwardly, I stretched my face into a smile and raised two open hands to signal to her that it was okay.  “It’s okay.  It’s okay.  Not a problem.  Don’t worry about it.”  A large, dark stain blotted the left arm of my jacket.
Since I wasn’t staying, the only baggage I had was a satchel I was using to carry my laptop in, and a sack full of chocolates for Carissa.  So, it only took a second to gather my things.  My hands moved anxiously about my body patting my pockets in some half involuntary process of remembrance.  Once everything was accounted for, I scooped my hand through the handle of the sack of chocolates, and headed across the terminal to the bathrooms so I could rinse out some of the stain and clean up.  The plastic sack swung noisily by my side, bumping into my leg every so often.
It took all the patience and tact my tired bones still had to wade politely through the moving crowds.  My eyes kept jolting over to the entrance to the terminal.  I worried that if she entered she might see me, but with this many people, that would be unlikely.  Though, she seems to have a sense for such things, as if she can read my mind.  If such a thing as a soul existed she could read mine.  
That is why I have gone so out of my way to surprise her.  To be known so deeply, and so fully is something most people never know.  It is wonderful beyond what I can say, but it makes surprises a real chore.
As always, the entrance to the airport bathrooms had no door.  The wide, turning hallway guaranteed privacy while making sure you wouldn’t have to leave your luggage.  The sight of the line leading up to the sinks pushed my patience.  Now I’ll miss her, I thought.  My surprise is going to be ruined by that old lady and her cup of coffee. 
When it finally came around to be my turn to use the sink, the chrome knob had been handled so much it was warm to the touch.  I grabbed my left coat sleeve with my right hand and pulled it down over my left hand until it swallowed it.  My fingers curled around the lip of the cuff, holding the sleeve flat against my skin while I wetted and scrubbed the stain with my right.  The scrubbing wasn’t getting rid of the stain.
I clinched my fist and slammed it onto the counter.  Out of the corners of my eyes, I could see the men at the sinks to my left and right freeze.  I took a second to calm down before drying off and headed back out to the terminal.  Your’re just tired.  It’s no big deal.  Just calm down.  I kept repeating to myself.  I was exhausted, and I still had to fly back home.  One of the men mumbled, “Damned Americans,” as I walked out of the men’s room and back out into the terminal. 
Immediately upon exiting the men’s room, my eyes aimed and fixed upon the terminal entrance.  Not but a few seconds went by before my throat knotted.  Somewhere in the mass of bodies I saw a reddish-blonde head peak through. It was just a glimpse, but there was this sense in my chest.  My stomach churned inside.  Something felt different.  I felt different.  It was she. 
Eyes fixed on the still moving mass of bodies trying to get another glimpse of her I stepped out into the stream of travelers.  My presence disrupted the flow of everything.  People were dodging and swerving to avoid me.  One fellow saw no reason to change course, and spun me half around with a nice bump of the shoulder.  Through all of it, I kept my focus. 
It had been so long since I had seen her.  Skype had kept me sane, but barely.  Skype can only catch so much of who someone is.  Every moment spent apart saw me dwindle, but hope was in my heart once more. 
There through the sea of people, she stood checking her phone by the gate.  Her eyes darted with a look of frustration toward the terminal entrance, almost as if she were expecting someone to walk through it. 
I got within a few feet when the stream of people between us thickened to where I could not pass.  Yet, I could still see her.  Her body shifted, and her eyes lifted, and began darting about the room.  The look on her face was no longer frustrated, but one of hope and desperation.  Was she looking for me?
The crowd broke, leaving nothing between us.    
Her hands flung up to cover her mouth.  Tears fell from her eyes and down her petite fingers.  She closed her eyes and held them tightly.   I stood motionless, my body unable to decide what to do, overwhelmed in every good way.  
She dropped her hands down by her side, baring her tear fallen face to me.   To the world it may have seemed trite, but I knew differently.  She might as well have been standing naked.  There was a time when such a thing didn’t even seem possible, when she wouldn’t even look at me. 
There comes a point when you have shared so much with someone that trying to hide becomes absurd, pretentious. 
Tears tickled the backs of my eyes.  I told myself it was okay to let them fall, but conditioning kicked in.  It didn’t matter what I said to myself.  Crying wasn’t happening, and wasn’t necessary.  She knew how I felt.  She knew me better than I knew myself. 
My moves felt awkward.  I wanted them to be perfect, to be right, masculine.  Instead, they just ended up being mine.  I walked right up to her and stopped.  For a moment, we just stood there in front of each other, close enough to where I could feel the heat emanating from her.  I stared into her eyes, and just listened to her breathe.  The simple rise and fall of her chest filling and emptying with air moved me to overflowing.  Just to know she was alive and near. 
Now inches away, her eyes darted back and forth as she switched focus between my eyes.  I did the same.  Everything else ceased to be but her eyes, two circles floating in a blur.  They were perfect.  They were light blue.   Like two black holes, they bent time and space.  Surely, if there were a heaven, they would be the entrance, surrounded by an endless, light-blue ocean.
Without warning, she broke, flailing her arms about my neck.  She pulled me in tight.  Her frame felt so incredibly frail and tiny to me, avian almost.  Each bend and break of her body seemed familiar and new in the same moment. 
I closed my eyes.  As we hugged our ears smashed into each other.  I swung my hand up from underneath her arm and sunk it into her long, flowing hair that covered her back.  Smooth as silk, and cool to the touch.  The tips of my fingers wound in and out and up to the back of her neck.  Her heavy breaths blew quickly across my neck, rousing goose bumps all over my body.  In unison, our heads turned slowly in toward each other.  The tips of our noses glided gently across the skin of the others cheek until our noses nestled in beside each other, leaving our lips so close that I could feel the heat from hers upon mine.  Her breaths rushed across my tingling, parted mouth.  Slowly, I pressed my body closer to hers until our lips brushed lightly.  The moment they touched, I could feel her breathing stop and catch inside her.  Her arms gave, mine tightened strongly.  My stone of a heart hurt from atrophy.  It was sore, like a leg muscle being run on for the first time since being injured, unable to take it in.   I was too happy to calculate.  Her arms tightened around my neck.  She pressed her lips firmly into mine.  Our violent breaths hissed against our skin.  Our lips moved in and over the top of the others again and again.  The warmth of her cheek was broken by the lonely, cold touch of a tear.  I couldn’t tell it was hers or mine.  I didn’t care.  I just wanted to be, and be with her.  Our faces stopped, again holding in our stalemate.  As we pulled them apart, her top lip stuck to mine for moment then gave tenderly.  Some of her hair had gotten caught in the short, prickly hairs of my face, that had turned her face bright red from abrasion.  We both chuckled quietly in the private world between our two faces.  Her eyes crossed with aim.  A quick wave of her hand, and the strand of hair slid reluctantly away from my face.  I slid my nose back across her cheek until my right eye was pressed against hers.  I could feel her eyelashes against mine.  The corners of our mouths touched and I could feel the muscles in her mouth tighten into a smile.
In flash, without warning, she pulled her self back.  I stood motionless, confused until… whack.  She sent a sharp jab that connected in the sweet spot underneath my left shoulder muscle.  I grabbed my arm and pretended to be stricken with immense pain. 
She laughed gorgeously.  “You Dork. That’s for…” she trailed off.
“For what?!” 
“Something,” she said, chuckling, “surprising me?”
“I thought you’d like it.”
She smiled.  “Who said I didn’t like it?”
I made my eyes narrow and exhaled deeply to play off my part of acting confused at her response.  I then shook my left arm about.  “Always the left.  Why is it always the left?”  I asked rhetorically.
“You know perfectly well why.”
I responded with as much melodrama as I could muster.  “I have NOOO idea what you are talking about, crazy woman.”
“Because this one,” she sunk her finger into the front of my right shoulder,” is mine.  Right?”
I raised my hands.  “All yours.”
She slowly slid her body against me again, gently resting the side of head against my chest, into the dip between my right shoulder and pectoral muscle.  My already outstretched arms wound around her, and pulled her in once more.  My chin rested perfectly atop her head.
“I missed you... so very much.”
My head rose and fell against hers as I spoke.  “I missed you too, like you wouldn’t believe.”  I rested in those words for a moment, then asked,  “How’d I do?”
“You did good,” she said coyly.  “You did very good.  I’ve gotten to where my mind is always looking for your next surprise, and I didn’t see this one coming.  You outdid yourself.  Though, I ‘m afraid you are going to be one tired man tomorrow.”
“I don’t care.  You’re worth it.”  I let those words sink in before continuing.  “Certainly not our first adventure.”
She gave her head a shake, “Not our last either.”
There was something about the way she said it that left me feeling there was something hidden behind her words.  I almost asked, but then I recalled her curious behavior. 
“So, when I was waiting for you to show up…”
“You kept looking back at the terminal entrance...”
Knowing exactly what I was referencing, she slid right in, “…right.  Well, I was expecting someone.”
I gave a facetiously suspicious look.  “Really?”
She rolled her eyes.  “Yes, and he’s very good looking.”
Continuing in my melodrama, I stuck out my finger and began to wave it about in an embarrassing manner.  “What’s his name?  Come on.  Lemme at’im.  I knew you’d find some Irish deviant to…”
“He’s an old man.”
I stopped dramatically, and contorted my face to one of playful disgust. 
She rolled her eyes.  “His name is Doctor Alexander, and he was supposed to fly with me, but I don’t know.”
“That makes sense...”
She gave a quizzical look.
“I couldn’t book the seat next to you.  One over.  That’s why.  Your friend took it.”  A pang of frustration burned acidic in my chest.  I desperately wanted to be near her.  It was a microcosm of us, running a great race, only to be forced to stop just before the finish line.  I wondered, how long can we stand at the threshold of finishing the race, and keep our sanity?  How long?
I didn’t answer the question.  I pulled her back into my arms.  She slid her head effortlessly, in practiced fashion, back to her spot on my right shoulder. 
“I love you, Carissa Lerche, so much.  So much.”  I gave her a squeeze with a quick flex of my arms.
“I love you, Joel Bernal, more than life.”
Hearing her say my name broke me.  Most of the time, we called each other by one of the many nicknames we had given the other.  Our actual names were only for moments when they really meant something.  My name was sacred to her, and hers was never to cross my lips lightly.  Her name was the closest thing I had to an invocation. 
All I wanted to do was close my eyes and hold her.  I knew the dam would break, that the questions would come spilling over again, but it would hold for now. 
I rested my head atop hers, and peered back out into the crowd.  People spreading to the four corners of the Earth.  You could get lost in it.  You could be anywhere in the world within hours.  I imagined us forgetting everything, and just moving forward, starting somewhere new, somewhere far, letting all that ties us down slide off our backs.  But, it was a lie, because what tied us down, what kept us apart, was inside us, and couldn’t be left behind.  It would follow us no matter where we went.  It would never let us go, never let us be whole.

Half Remembered Dream
Lockers lined both sides of a hallway that seemed to go on forever.  Blurry figures swirled about me in motion, all trying to get to class on time.  Their fear, like mine, was palpable.  Blood throbbed in my neck as I desperately tried to find my locker, but for the life of me, could not.  It’s location was fuzzy in my mind.  The more intensely I pulled for it, the farther it slipped into the recesses. 
“Hurry,” a voice said.  I whipped around and recognized the face, though I couldn’t say from where.  It was surely the face of a friend.  Surely.  Again they prodded me, “Hurry, or you will get in trouble.”  Then they sagged their head down into the stack of books they were carrying against their chest, and scurried on into the crowd. 
I didn’t have long, that much I knew.
Somewhere blue caught my attention.  A blue bow above a sea of bouncing, blurry heads.  When I had finally shoved my way to the girl wearing it, I was filled with dread.  I grabbed her shoulder and spun her about.  “Carissa, help me.  I don’t know where my locker is.”
Fear and disgust crawled across her face.  “Do I know you?”
The words cut me deeply, deeper than I thought possible.  My heart broke.  “Carissa!  It’s me, Joel!” 
She ducked her shoulder out from under my touch and kept moving.  Panic-stricken and confused I followed alongside her.  “Carissa, help me please.  I love you.” 
She stopped abruptly and scowled at me.  “Don’t say that!  Don’t you dare say that.   You don’t know me.”
Apparently I was holding books too.  I threw them against the wall, sending pages fluttering about the hallway. 
Everyone stopped what they were doing. 
Down the hall a door opened.  A massive figure walked out and yelled, “What’s going on in here?  You leave her alone.”
The giant started toward me.  My fear broke in my brain, and a flood of rage flew into me.  “No!   Don’t you tell me what to do!  Don’t you ever tell me what to do!”  Full speed I ran at the giant.  To everyone’s astonishment, I lunged toward its chest and bowled it over onto the ground.  A newfound fear spread across the giant bully’s face.  Before it could react, I raised my fist and smashed it down into his face.  I could feel his skull bounce of the hard tile floor beneath.  Again and again I pounded it.  Arms flailed about my face.  Everyone in the hall tried to pull me back, but none of them could.  Over everything, I could hear Carissa scream, “Stop it!  Stop!  Stop!  Stop it!”  She let out a shriek so loud that I had to stop to cover my ears.

Traffic In The Sky
My eyes popped open, each at their convenience, slow and cranky.  The mild, monotonous hum of the jet’s engines saturated the cabin.  I flexed and twisted my way around onto my back until I was more comfortable.  My lower right ribcage ached from hours of being smashed into the metal armrest.  I slipped my hands into my jacket and gently massaged the offended spot through my shirt.  My face twisted into a grimace. 
The cabin was mostly dark, save for a few pointed beams of light overhead those who were still awake.  Occasionally, you could hear the muffled sounds of speech, or the distant, tinny beat from someone’s IPod. 
I reached up for the overhead, and twisted the air nozzle all the way open.  The blast of air tickled my facial hair.  It felt good, cooling the warm beads of sweat that stuck to my face.  After a few seconds spent basking in the cool air, I let my head sink to my left. 
My heart warmed, as I looked at Carissa, asleep and dreaming. Several strands of her hair hung across her face, rising and falling with each gust of air from her mouth.  Gently, so as to not wake her, I stretched over and, using the tips of my fingers, brushed back the curtain of hair, revealing her perfect face.  Her lips sputtered from the rush of breath rushing out between them.
Beyond her, through the window, all was black.  The horizon could only be discerned by the stars that shone above the perfect black of the vast, cold, Atlantic Ocean.  My mind drifted, wondering if we were passing overhead where the Titanic lay across the ocean floor, thousands of feet below the surface.  I could just imagine the immense, lethal cold of her deep waters against my skin. 
That’s when I saw it.  Gentle greens and blues slowly pulsing in a giant mist atop the sky.  Aurora Borealis.  My heart began to pound with wonder, with awe.  The moment became immediately etched into my brain.  I would never forget it. 
The Northern Lights.  How many people had seen this wonder?  What had people thought about it thousands of years ago?  Had they thought it deity?  If so, I could see why.  It was more beautiful than I could have imagined.  Nothing I had ever seen in all my life had ever looked more alien, more supernatural. 
How could our lesser-evolved brethren have known that it was not all that different from them?  It was not supernatural at all.  Gases swirling about the air.  Nothing more.  For a moment I couldn’t help but be sad as the wonder faded from within.  Nothing more than gases in the sky.  Nothing more.  Being lucid, being honest, hurt.  I pondered the Orwellian truth, Ignorance is bliss.  If only.
“It’s beautiful isn’t it?”  The paper thin voice whispered over my shoulder.
I sat back in my chair and turned to my right, where Dr. Alexander sat writing feverishly in a binder splayed across his lap. 
“It is,” pausing, debating whether or not to fully engage in conversation.  “Thanks again for switching seats with me.” 
He raised his long-fingered hand out and gently waived the notion away in the air in front of him.  “Nonsense.  Had I known you were coming, I would have picked a seat on the other side of the plane.  I fear I have dampened your surprise.”
He had.  “Nah.  She’s here next to me, and that is all that matters.  If not you, it would’ve been some stranger who snored or something like that.”  His body rose as if to chuckle, though no sound emerged.  He had yet to stop writing.  If anything, it seemed his hands worked even faster now that we spoke. 
The old man wore a tweed flap cap, casting a strong shadow across his face and down his chest.  The beaming light reflected brightly of the white pages, outlining the features of his white-bearded face with a thin rim of light. 
I sat back in my seat.  Staring straight forward I blurted out, “It almost looks alien.”
Out of the corner of my vision, I could see his movement come to an abrupt start.
“What’s that?”
I gave a lazy shrug.  “I said it looks almost alien.”
“What does?”
“The Northern Lights.”  I pointed across my body toward the window.  I swiveled my head back toward the old man.  He chuckled through closed lips.  Short bursts of air hissed out of his elderly, red nose.  “You think so?”  He said.
I nodded mildly, uncertain why what I had said warranted such a reaction.  There seemed to be something condescending in it, but I channeled the peace I felt with Carissa next to me into a more tempered response.  “Sure,” I said with a low voice.  “It almost doesn’t seem to fit, like something out of Lord of the Rings, or Star Wars, or the Bible.” 
He tilted his head.  “Interesting paring.”
“How’s that?”
He shrugged.  “The Lord of the Rings and Star Wars are works of fiction.  The Bible is a religious text, something over a billion people hold sacred.”
I said nothing.  I hadn’t meant it to be offensive or snide, but I could see how that could be.  I could just imagine Carissa’s face break had she heard me say it.
“You are a marvel, you know that?”
I didn’t.  Actually, the sentiment seemed odd to me, caught me off guard.  Too personal.  He didn’t wait for me to say anything before clarifying, “I mean you and Carissa, not you yourself, though I am sure if half of what Carissa has said is true, you are indeed a marvel as well.”  He smiled.  “No, I know quite a bit about you Joel Bernal.  Carissa has told me much.” 
For some reason that chafed me.  He didn’t know anything about me.  Did he? Carissa did.  Had Carissa shared about me, he may well know things about me even I didn’t, for there was surely no clearer lens into my mind than her.  She has shown pieces of myself I had long forgotten, or never even knew existed to begin with. 
I am just cranky.  Airplane sleep is better than nothing, but not by much.  Still so exhausted, still such a long way to go, and then straight to work.  Just thinking the sentence made me tired.
“Your story confounds.  Again, when I say your, I mean you and Carissa together, not just you.  I ask myself, how is that two people could love each other the way that you do, with such great truth, such brutal honesty and vulnerability, and don’t see eye to eye on the most fundamental truths of your own existence.  Is there a God?  Absolutely fascinating.”
It wasn’t fascinating to me.  His words cut me deeply, not because of his presence in them, but the truth behind them.  Something should have come to mind, but nothing did.  All I could do was stare at the bag of peanuts my hands were pushing about on the tray in front of me.  It frustrated me that I was so obvious, but he must’ve been able to tell what his words had done to me.  He shifted the conversation. 
“Usually, one gets into trouble talking about themselves.  Here I’ve gone and gotten myself into trouble talking about you.  Forgive me.  Let’s start again and I will be far more selfish this time around.  I would like to talk a little bit more about myself, if you’d just be quiet for a moment.”  He snickered at his sarcasm.  “Let me tell you about how Carissa and I met, as I am sure you are just dying to hear the epic saga that is about to unfold.”
Without diverting my gaze, I nodded.  “Sure.”
“Brilliant.  Well, we met in a pub, in this wee little town called Maghera, in the middle of nowhere really.  Boisterous place, full of craic. 
My eyebrow lifted. 
“Ha!  Not that kind of craic, I’m afraid.  ‘t’s a Gaelic word, means ‘fun, conversation, the enjoyment’ like.” 
Ireland dripped openly over the brim of his last sentence. 
I dipped the corners of my mouth down and nodded in understanding.
“So, myself, and a couple of my associates had dropped in, having heard that their mussels were worth the drive, which they were.  We sat down at our table.  We ordered, and that’s when I saw her.  She was sitting at a table hidden away in a nook, all by herself, drinking something non-alcoholic of course.” 
I turned a bit toward him, but not completely, and smiled with the right side of my mouth.  “Of course.”
“Protestants.”  He winked, and rolled his eyes mockingly.   “Anyhow.  I saw her sitting there, her sadness crashing in against the life and music about the room…”
“The craic,” I interrupted.
His face lit up.  “Exactly.  The craic… and it broke my heart.”  He shook his head.  “She reminds me much of my granddaughter.  When I got closer, it was obvious she was crying.  So, I sat down, and I showed her this trick.” 
His hands reached out swiftly and opened the bag of peanuts.  The thin, shimmering plastic crinkled noisily, then popped once the seal was broken.  He held up and shook the bag of nuts with his right hand until a single peanut popped out into the open palm of his left.  He set the bag down and turned toward me with his body as much as the seat would allow, all the while holding the peanut out in front of him.
“Alright,” he whispered.  “Watch the peanut.”  Immediately he drew the peanut up between the fingers in his right hand and lifted it up off his left palm.  With swift motions he lifted his right hand above my head then brought it back down into his still open palm.  He did so three times, then opened both hands.  The peanut had vanished! 
Just as my puzzled brain was wondering how such a trick could have been pulled off, a voice from the seats behind moaned, “Hey!  What the hell? Why are you throwing peanuts?  Come on, man.”
I tried, but couldn’t stop my laughter.  My attempt at covering it up had me hissing like a snake. 
The old man turned out into the aisle to talk back to them, “Terribly sorry.  My limbs don’t always do what they are supposed to at my age.  Was aiming for my mouth when the damned thing popped right out of my hand…”  He broke into laughter himself, blowing any chance of belief in his cover.  He swirled back around, unable to stop from laughing.  He stopped just long enough to add, “Poor fellow wasn’t too nuts about my trick.” 
I laughed until my sides hurt.  Finally, after some time, my breathing began to smooth back out.  I knew what he was doing, but I didn’t care or feel condescended to.  I felt better, just as I knew Carissa had when he preformed the trick for her. 
Besides, I didn’t want to hear about her crying.  I knew it was because of me, and it killed me.   
He continued on, “Anyhow, my lame trick made her smile, and that is how we became friends.”  He paused.  “All the while I have tried to get her to be a part of my research, but she has refused to do so thus far.”
My interest piqued.  What in the world would he need Carissa’s help for?  I could feel one of my eyebrows raise involuntarily.  “What’s your research?”  The second I said it, I thought about how lame the question was, how there were probably fifty better ones. 
“Thought you’d never ask,” he said excitedly.  “I,” he stuck a thumb into his chest, “am an anthropologist.  But, my passion, my field of expertise, if you will, is in studying and researching extraterrestrial life forms.” 
“That,” he continued, “Is why I found your comment about the Aurora Borealis seeming alien so… entertaining.”
I tried to just play along with him, waiting for the turn.  I wasn’t going to made a fool.  “Makes sense then why you would be in Ireland.  Right?  I mean, aren’t there a ton of UFO sightings in the U.K.?  Crop mazes and such?”
He tapped his finger lightly against the trey in front of me.  “There are indeed, though those have nothing to do with my research at all.”  His face was intense, pensive.  “I am studying a different kind of alien.”
“A different kind of alien?” 
I must have sounded more incredulous than I thought.  He answered, “Yes, one much more close to home.”
He’s serious!  I pressed my lips together tightly.  “You know.  It could be possible I suppose, hypothetically, but there’s no empirical evidence to support such the existence of aliens.”
“She said you were sharp,” He offered genuinely.  “Don’t you mean that there is no empirical evidence THAT YOU KNOW OF?”  He emphasized the end of the sentence heavily. 
I wish I weren’t, but I am incredibly defensive, and tired. So, before I could even think about what he said, I had slapped my hands down on the armrests and retorted with fire, “Most scientists would agree with my claim.” 
Covering the top with his hands, so as to cut down the sound, he cracked the top of a miniature Coke can I hadn’t even noticed him retrieve.  The all too familiar sizzle of carbonation hissed out from nooks and cracks in his grip.  He took a quick sip, wiped his mouth, and looked back at me. 
“Joel, science, as a whole, can’t even come to a consensus as to whether or not eggs are good for you.  Yet, they have the gall to say they know, they KNOW, the chemical composition of a star sitting a million miles away.”  He paused for effect.  “Honestly, they have a million eggs right there, and yet, every month there is new study out explaining why eggs are now good for you, only to be reversed by another study a month later.  Are eggs good for me or not?  The suspense is killing me.”  He chuckled at his own joke. 
I took a deep breath, though not so deep as to look intentional, and waited until I was calm.  The whole conversation had turned comically absurd.
He took another slurp from his Coke.  “I’m sure you doubt me, Joel, and that you think me crazy, and that is okay.  That is the very essence of truth.  The second you hold to something as true, you think everyone who thinks otherwise nuts, like it or not.  Even those people who are running around trying to tell everyone there is no truth, so no one should be offended.  They offend more people than anyone.  Ironic isn’t it?”
I didn’t answer his last question, because I didn’t want him to think of me as condescending.  “I don’t think you’re crazy, just wrong.”  I shrugged.  “I trust in what can be seen, smelled, tasted, touched, or heard, and, with that, I have been given no reason to believe in aliens.”
“What if I could give you the evidence you needed to change your mind?” 
The question cut me with its edge of absurdity.  His tone shifted flat, to usher in the utmost seriousness.  “Never mind.  Forget I said that.”
“You really are a true believer?!.”  He said it both as statement and question. “I thought, when listening to Carissa talk of you, there was no way you could really be an atheist, not with the way she talked of your connection.  Seeing your love in person gave me even more doubts.  You really do believe in nothing?”
I nodded.  “Well, it’s not that I believe in nothing, it’s that I don’t believe period.  I take what is there for me to see, period, nothing more.”
“Incredible.  Truly incredible it is, and impressive, in a way.  Empiricism is a tough choice.  Only the most devout can live it.  To believe that we are all just molecules, collected by chaos and breathed of chance...” He gave his head a shake.  “Not many have the stomach for it.”
 I turned my head back over to Carissa.  To know the truth, that we are just matter, and don’t really matter.  It was tough, but the truth is the truth.  We don’t pick it.  We find it. 
As I stared at her perfect face, I couldn’t help but feel myself to be a liar.  Chaos.  Chance.  They were our forefathers.  Dr. Alexander’s.  Mine.  Even my parents.  But, not of Carissa.  No way she was born of chance.  I couldn’t accept it.  I would never accept it.  And that… is tearing my mind to pieces.

Copyright Nicholas L. Laning