Joe Appleton ran his fingers through his long blond tresses and thought of Julie playing with his hair when they’d made love. A tingle ran through his groin. Embarrassed, he shifted in his seat to distract himself.
An attractive stewardess stood at the front of the 727. She held an upside down telephone handset and spoke into the mouth piece as if it were a microphone. “Welcome aboard ladies and gentlemen. On behalf of Captain Rogers and the entire flight crew, I’d like to thank you for choosing American Airlines.” Joe smiled and thought, Like I had a choice. “We’ll be leaving LAX shortly and expect calm weather tonight. We should land in Atlanta at 5:10 AM eastern time. You may want to adjust your watches. Now for some safety….”
Joe tuned her out and thought of Julie again. Would she wait for him was a question. Did he want her to wait was the big one. Their parting had been bitter sweet. As usual, Julie became dramatic, angry at him for leaving one minute, then smothering him with kisses the next. She’d known for months that his number was up and he’d be called soon, but facts didn’t matter to her. She’d been harmed and had to blame someone for it. Joe remembered the relief he felt when his flight had been called and the guilt that followed it.
The roar of takeoff brought Joe out of his reverie. The window served little purpose, all he could see were streetlights and such, and after the plane cleared the San Gabriel Mountains not even those broke the darkness. He accepted a pillow and thin blanket from the stewardess and leaned against the bulkhead.
A high pitched noise woke him. Disoriented, he threw an arm out and elbowed his sleeping neighbor prompting a whoosh of air but fortunately the burly guy didn’t wake up. He heard it again, followed by a mother’s cooing and soothing assertions of her love. Soon shuffling sounds and bumps to his seat back had him wondering what was going on until he heard the baby suckling. He pondered if it was a bottle or a nipple. Julie‘s right, I am a pervert, he thought.
A look at his watch showed that it was 3:30 AM. A groan escaped his throat. He needed more sleep but the stomach butterflies were too active. A crumpled copy of Time sticking out of the seat pocket caught his attention. The cover showed the face of a screaming student superimposed over the White House and the caption “PROTEST!” Joe shook his head and considered what they thought they could accomplish. He skimmed the pages not really reading just passing time until a Rolex ad stopped him. It proclaimed “Your Time is Running Out.” He had agreed.
The plane landed at 5:00 AM, a favorable jet stream according to his burly row mate. The puddle-jumper to Fayetteville, NC took off forty-five minutes later. Surprising himself, Joe slept until the planes tires screeched on the tarmac. He stretched and felt chilled by the breeze flowing from the overhead vent. Water drops dotted the window to his right and the early morning sun exposed a steamy-wet runway.
Joe withdrew his carry-on bag from his seat bottom and joined the stream of passengers moving to the sole exit and stairway to the payment. He smiled ruefully at the stewardess’s “Have a good day sir, watch your step.”
He damn near fainted. The air temperature was in the 90’s and the humidity was higher, well beyond anything he’d experienced in his twenty-one years. My God what am I in for?
Outside the airport, a line of green buses waited to be loaded like ore hoppers at a coal mine. A uniformed soldier wearing a Dudley Do-Right hat stood at the first bus. Joe got in line behind several other guys and waited his turn. “What’s your name?” Dudley asked, keeping his eyes on his clipboard.
Joe jumped at the unexpected volume of the question, “Joe Appleton.”
“Full name, idiot!”
“Joseph K. Appleton.”
“Bus two.” Dudley’s eyes never left the clipboard.
Joe looked for bus two but couldn’t see a single-digit number on any of them. He decided against asking Dudley after he overheard, ‘Full name, dickwad!’ Hoping the Army had some sense of logic he went to the second bus in line and asked the driver if it was bus two.
The driver, a small wiry guy about nineteen, smiled at Joe. “You’re the first to ask before you got on, so I’ll save my witty remark. You want the third from the end.”
Joe thanked him and headed to his hopper.
He climbed the two steps to the driver’s level and asked if he was on bus two. The driver nodded and returned to his paperback. The cover displayed a buxom women being ravaged by a shirtless Indian brave. Joe rolled his eyes and moved to an empty seat. The bus wasn’t full, about twenty guys were spread out sitting alone like Joe. He looked around and noticed the reversed image of the number 2 bleeding through a piece of paper taped to back of a glass pane in the bus’s bi-fold door. The hand-made sign would only be visible to the world when the door was closed.
Joe hadn’t touched Army dirt, yet he’d learned an important lesson. The Army’s sense of logic defies logic.
To be continued.
© 2015 David P. Cantrell He is a contributing member of the EWI staff.