Travel Writing: Stuck in Austin

The idea behind Travel Writing is simple. While on vacation or traveling out of town, I write. I began writing when I have free time, whatever is on my mind and when I get back, I type it up and post it. Very minimal editing. This was written during my 3 day weekend trip to Houston to visit a friend.

This was why she hated flying. Small planes, crying babies and delays. Always delays. She had flown only a handful of times before this trip. She would not even be on the plane if it had not been for her mother buying the ticket and insisting she go back to her hometown. It had been 10 years, a decade since she had filled up her corolla and gone off to college. She wanted out of that small town and she needed to escape the small minds that lived there. Even though her parents moved away shortly after her, they were relentless in urging her to go back for her high school reunion. So, here she was, stuck in a tiny, overcrowded plane only twenty minutes from the airport she needed, then a quick rental car ride and she would be at her hotel. Bad weather, low fuel and the plane was forced to go past her airport to a neighboring one to land. She called her boyfriend the moment the plane touched down but quickly thought it would be better to text. “I should have never even agreed to this. Why do I let my parents still control parts of my life?” she texted him. I’m missing work, you and a premiere just so people can put on fake faces and try to show everyone their life is grand and better than everyone else. These reunions were all the same. They always have to one up the person next to them. Maybe I should just fly back once we land. After a few words back and forth, she figured she was this far, might as well just suffer through the weekend. At least the hotel was going to be nice. She made sure to stop by the liquor store and buy a bottle of wine and a bottle of vodka. Three days she kept telling herself and then her life could go back to normal. Back to her job, working costume design for movie sets. Her boyfriend who had directed a couple indie films and thought his big break was coming soon. Back to the life she had always wanted, away from her hometown and their small minds. Just 3 days she kept telling herself, what is the worst that could happen?

She woke up the next morning not wanting to leave her bed. She couldn’t figure out if it was because she knew she would have to go see her old friends, or because she polished off that bottle of wine by herself the night before. She struggled out of bed, turned on the shower and waited till the mirror had steamed up halfway until she got in. She was meeting friends at a local restaurant they used to hang out at back in high school. She got to the diner first and got a table. A few minutes passed when she heard someone calling her name, “Jen, Jennifer is that really you?” She did not want to look up, she recognized the voice the moment he spoke. She knew she had to, eventually, though. “Hi Mark, it, uh has been awhile hasn’t it?” Her mind was bouncing all over the place, but always went back to the first time they met. It had been her freshman year of high school. She remembered how quickly it all became so real. She caught herself stuttering and becoming quick of breath. She had never been with a man before him. Her parents would never have approved of their romance. Mark was below them, she knew they would say that it would never last. She invited him to sit for a bit, at least until Val, her best friend from high school, got there. They caught up quickly, talking to Mark had always been easy, but she knew what was coming. Graduation night.

“When I woke up that next morning you were gone. No word, nothing, you just vanished. I kept waiting for you to come back. It took a couple months before I found out you had left for college early. How could you leave me like that?” Mark said. She was scared, Mark always made her feel vulnerable. But with Dean, her current boyfriend, she had all the power. He was madly in love with her and she loved him back. She loved him, but still, he thought she walked on water so she pushed her luck with him all the time. But with Mark, she felt hopeless and helpless and lost in his soul. She would do anything he wanted, whenever he wanted. When she was at UCLA, she tried to fill the void that appeared once she left him, but never could. Not even with Dean. His hand slightly grazed hers, snapping her back to reality. “I just want to know why”, he said, but was interrupted. “Mr. Daniels, hey, how are you?” A voice said, coming up, hugging him as she sat down next to Jen, grabbing her arm, refusing to let her go. “I’ll get to you in a second young lady. Funny running into you here, Mr. Daniels, I can still remember freshman year, you made it so bearable for us all. And let’s be honest, Jen would have flunked Algebra 1 without all that extra help you gave her during study periods. She was hopeless without you.” Jen just gave a little laugh and sly grin. Val had no idea that most of those study periods were spent on anything but math.

That evening went smoother than she thought it would. Mr. Daniels had been walking around, but she did a good job of ignoring him. She stuck by Val’s side most of the night. She oddly found herself enjoying catching up and hearing about her friends’ lives. She kept glancing at Mr. Daniels, wondering where is wife was. Susie had accompanied him to all the events when Jen was in school, by his side, even when he didn’t want her to be. She remembered the first time he talked about her. Mr. Daniels usually spent study period in the library offering help to students in not only math, but other subjects. That was how Jen had caught his eye. But there was one week, before December finals that he stayed in his classroom. She knew something was bothering him, because he was off in his classes as well. Jen decided to go talk to him. He and Susie had a fight the previous weekend, and she had been staying with her mother out of town. Mr. Daniels looked so sad, leaning up against his desk, music playing in the background. He always had music going in class, probably one of the reasons everyone loved him and his classes. Jen felt so sad for him. She made her way around the desks to him and just hugged him. Not like a typical teacher student hug. They stood there embraced in one another for what seemed like an eternity while Freddie Mercury sang about his melancholy blues. Then she did something that even surprised herself. As they broke the hug and he looked down at her, she reached up and grabbed the back of his head, slowly bringing her lips to his and kissing him and he started kissing her.

She quickly snapped back to reality not wanting to miss what her friends were saying. Most had the same life, married, kids and a white picket fence. There were a couple of exceptions of course, like Jen. Val was focused on her career and hadn’t dating anyone serious for a couple of years and Paula worked for a fortune 500 company while her husband was a stay at home dad. Over the evening, she spoke with a few other friends as well. James was now a coach at the high school and had married Mary, who worked for the city. But by around midnight, Jen had had her fill of catching up and was ready to head back to her hotel room. Val was catching the redeye back to Chicago, so they both left at the same time. They said their goodbyes in the parking lot and promised to do a better job of staying in touch and visiting one another. Jen began her drive back to the hotel, but found herself curious about this dusty old town. She started driving past her old haunts. The football field, the playground over by the park and down Lee Street. Val had lived on Lee Street, but more important was the house on the end with the blue fence. She drove by it and stopped before she saw the light. In a chair on the front porch, Mr. Daniels was sitting. She wondered what he was still doing up and shut off her car. The walk up there took forever in her mind and as she climbed his stairs on the porch, her eyes darted to the window on the end. Mark just laughed, knowing she was staring into the master bedroom, “Don’t worry, she hasn’t slept in that room for almost a decade.” Jen was shocked. Mark had always said he was ready to leave his wife, but never imagined he would.

She sat down, grabbing the wine on the table and pouring herself a glass. To this day, she still wondered why he had two glasses out on the porch. Did he have plans with someone else? Did he think she might stop by? Did he want her too? She never questioned it, just poured some and started talking. Mark talked about Susie and how she got sick right after graduation. He stuck by her side but she wasn’t with him long. The cancer spread quickly and the doctors said there was not anything they could do but make her comfortable. She was gone before summer’s end. “I came to see you at college,” Mark said, much to the surprise of Jen. “Why didn’t you…” “You were happy, in your element making friends and being a college freshman, I couldn’t throw all my shit from the past couple of months on you.” She told him all about college, even life after and working on movie sets. Mark talked about teaching and the traveling he had done. His wife’s family had had money and she was left a good portion of inheritance when her mom had died the year before her. She had left it all to Mark. He would spend his summer months off from school going to all the places they had talked about going to. “Why do you still teach?” Jen asked. “I love it,” Mark said with a big grin on his face, “I have always loved it, the look in a student’s eyes when they finally get it and the light comes on.”

They talked until the sun came up, and Mark made his way toward the door. Jen grabbed his hand and at that moment would have followed him into the unknown dark blues of the oceans depths but would settle for his bed. At the doorway she froze, just stopping in place as the word Dean slipped past her lips. Mark turned around and just gave her a puzzled look. “My boyfriend, we started dating my senior year of college. He said we would get married after he directed his first blockbuster.” At that moment, she looked into Mark’s eyes to try and read him. She never could back in high school, she could not. Mark had came back outside, standing by her side. Jen just opened the screen door again walking through the doorway before him, leading him to the bedroom quietly. They didn’t speak of Susie or Dean or anything at all. No words were needed once they stepped through that doorway.

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