This week’s prompt was to write a story about travel woes of some sort. I came up with a riff on Sliding Doors, which was one of my favorite movies when it came out (when Gwenyth was a movie star and not a shill for pseudoscience). I’m not crazy about this one, but let me know what you think.

Hannah sat in a seat right in front of the gate for her flight, idly scrolling through her phone, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She looked up at the “Departures” screen but nothing changed. Five more hours. Five more goddamn fucking hours before she would even get to board. It would put her on the flight she originally booked home from this conference. He would be expecting her by then.

Well, if she had to wait that long, she might as well spend it tipsy. She headed for the bar and ordered a beer, but when it arrived she found she wasn’t in the mood to drink. She stared at the untouched glass for several moments, trying to picture what she must look like.

“Stuck here too, hey?” A voice to her left. Hannah assumed they were talking to someone else, so it was several moments before she lifted her head. Average-looking guy, brown hair that could use a haircut. Hard to tell sitting down, but he didn’t look particularly tall. Brown eyes, that, while kind-looking, were unremarkable. Hannah turned back to the bar.

“Yeah. Next flight home isn’t for five hours.”

“Is that why you haven’t had any of your drink? Need to make it last that whole time?” Oh great. A would-be comedian. She offered a hint of a smile at the joke, but still kept her eyes on the bar.

“Ok. I’m sorry. Clearly you’re not in a social mood. I’ll leave you alone.” He shifted over a seat, lifting his hand to the barkeep.

“I wanted to get home early because I’m pretty sure my fiancé is cheating on me,” she blurted out. What the hell did she say that for? She covered her mouth and tilted her head back, cheeks flaming.

“Oh. Damn.” Hannah glanced over at the guy. He looked concerned, and a bit uncomfortable. Probably regretting that he even talked to her. He picked the wrong girl to pick up. The thought was instantly hilarious, and she began to laugh. Uncontrollably. For long enough that he probably thought she was crazy. Hell, maybe she was. If he was smart he would have left by now. She glanced over again. Nope. He was still there, looking mildly alarmed.

“You’re still here.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I can see you,” she replied, frowning. Now he laughed.

“No, how do you know he’s cheating on you?”

“Oh yeah. That.” She took a sip of her drink. “It’s a bit of a story.”

“I’ve got time.” He took a sip of his, shifting in his seat so he was facing her.

“Yeah, I guess so.” She took another sip. “I was actually booked to take the flight I’m on again now, and Jake was supposed to pick me up. I texted him to remind him and when he didn’t answer, I called him. His voice just sounded funny, you know? And I swear I heard a woman’s voice in the background.”

“So you don’t know for sure.”

“No.” Hannah shook her head. “I booked an earlier flight so I could get home and maybe…I don’t know, catch him in the act, I guess.”

“And now you won’t.”

“And now I won’t.” She drained her glass and thumped it on the bar.

“So what are you going to do now?”

Hannah shrugged, letting her gaze unfocus. “I don’t know. Ask him maybe? See if I notice a reaction? I’ve got—” she glanced at the clock behind the bar “—four and a half more hours to figure it out.”

“Well—”

“Hannah.”

Well, Hannah, if you like, we can figure it out together. We’ll be the next Sherlock and Watson.” He signalled the bartender for another drink for them both.

“Why are you being so nice to me, uh…”

“Mark.” He stuck out his hand and she shook it. His hands were warm and slightly calloused. “Because six months ago, I was you.”

***

Hannah sat in a seat right in front of the gate for her flight, idly scrolling through her phone, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. She looked up at the “Departures” screen but nothing changed. She should be boarding any minute. Then she had a two-hour flight to figure out what she would do, what she would say, if she did catch him. And what if she didn’t? Was she imagining it or did he just cover his tracks well?

“Ladies and gentlemen, at this time we would invite all passengers in rows thirty through thirty five to board. Please ensure you have your boarding passes and photo ID ready.” Hannah checked her boarding pass for what felt like the ninetieth time. Seat 32A. Window seat.

She grabbed her carry-on, slung her purse over her shoulder and joined the line of people. Please let me sit next to someone who doesn’t smell, she thought. When she reached her row, she was the first one there. Maybe this flight wasn’t full and she would get the row to herself. She sat down, then bent forward to stow her bags under the seat in front of her. As she did, she felt the seat shift as someone else sat down. She tilted her head to look. Average-looking guy, brown hair that could use a haircut. Hard to tell sitting down, but he didn’t look particularly tall. No discernable odor.

Hannah sat back up, shoving her earbuds in her ears. She stared out the window, half-watching the baggage cart load the bags onto the plane, tears blurring her vision. Suddenly, she was startled by gentle tap on her shoulder. It made her jump and gasp aloud, her heart hammering in her chest. She whirled to face the guy in the seat, swiping at her eyes with her knuckles.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to startle you. It’s just that they’re doing the safety announcements.” He smiled apologetically. His brown eyes were kind-looking. “Hey, are you okay?”

“Yeah.” She wiped her eyes again. “No.” She sighed. “I think my fiancé is cheating on me.”

“Oh. Damn.”

“Yeah. I took this flight so I could get home early, maybe catch him in the act, I guess.” She sighed again. “I’m sorry. I don’t even know why I’m telling you this.” She started to put her earbuds back in.

“No, no, it’s okay. Sometimes it’s easier to talk to a perfect stranger, you know?” He stuck out his hand. “I’m Mark.”