Hugs and introductions were dispersed all around and then they were hurried outside on the tarmac to board the tiny plane. Again, Claire hadn't seen Jim or Diane. Maybe his plane from Chicago was late. Maybe they'd have to come on a later flight to the Bahamas. Claire secretly hoped so.
The group squeezed down the tiny aisle of the plane and found their seats. All the carry-ons were given to the attendant since there were no overhead compartments. Claire was the only person in the group who had to sit with a stranger since everyone else had come in pairs. Mandy and Craig sat in the seats in front of her, Glen and Lisa were behind her, and Kaylie and Mark where across the aisle from her. An elderly gentleman with a white beard and wearing tropical colored clothing sat in the window seat beside Claire. She smiled over at him when she sat down.
Mandy was just taking her seat when Claire saw her smile and wave at someone at the back of the plane.
"Dad made it," Mandy said to Claire. "He's in the back."
Claire forced herself not to turn around and look.
The flight took off and everyone settled in. The aisle was too narrow and the ceiling too short to get up and walk around comfortably, so everyone stayed seated for the hour-long flight.
After a time, Claire's curiosity got the better of her and she turned slightly to catch a glimpse of Jim in the back of the plane. He sat on the aisle, like her, so she could see he was dressed casually in khaki pants and a green polo shirt. His hair was cut perfectly, long enough to show off the waves, but short enough not to look shaggy. And he was already tan. Claire wondered how a man who worked indoors and lived in Minnesota could be tan in the winter. Obviously, he went to a tanning salon. It was probably Diane's idea. Claire couldn't get a view of Diane in the window seat beside Jim. Claire was certain Diane would be dressed brightly in a tight outfit and have a golden tan of her own. After all, she was only thirty years old. Jim had married her when she was a mere twenty-six and he was forty-one. It was obscene.
Jim raised his hand and waved at Claire, making her turn around hastily. Her face burned red. She hadn't realized she'd been staring at him for so long. Claire grabbed her charm bracelet and began twirling it around her wrist. She felt stupid for being so obsessed with her ex-husband. In truth, she shouldn't give a fig about him or that woman he married. But being around them still made her so nervous, she tended to act like an idiot.
Four years ago when Jim left her for Diane, it had taken Claire by utter surprise. She'd literally been the wife who was the last to know her husband was having an affair. She'd thought their marriage was fine. They'd been together for twenty years, raised a daughter, and both had interesting careers that they enjoyed. At the time, Claire's boutique was still getting off the ground, but making a small profit and growing. Sure, Claire had spent many hours there, sometimes all day and into the evenings to save on employee expenses when she was first starting out. Often, Mandy worked there, too, after school and on weekends. But Jim had been working a lot of overtime, too, so Claire hadn't felt bad about it. They were building their lives like couples do, or so she thought. She had no idea that Jim had decided to build his life elsewhere, with someone else.
For Claire, the day Jim told her he was leaving her seemed just like yesterday. It was still fresh in her mind and her heart. How could someone who vowed to love you forever suddenly want to leave? Maybe that was why she was still nervous around him and Diane. And now, she'd be spending the next seven days on an island with the two people who she least wanted to spend time with.
As the rest of the wedding party chatted around her, Claire closed her eyes and focused on staying calm. "I can do this, I can do this, I can do this," she chanted softly to herself.
Claire's eyes flew open. Mandy had turned in her seat and stared directly at her.
"What are you doing?" Mandy asked, frowning. "Are you okay?"
Claire stopped rocking in her seat and sat up straight. She hadn't even realized she'd been doing it. "I'm fine, dear. Sorry," she said, sheepishly.
Mandy pursed her lips. "Mom, you have to get ahold of yourself. You're scaring that poor gentleman beside you." With that, Mandy turned around in her seat again.
Claire grimaced. She looked over at her seatmate. "Sorry," she told him.
The elderly man smiled. "No worries," he said. "Are you afraid of flying?"
Claire shook her head. "No. Flying is fine. More like afraid of spending the next week with my ex-husband and his new wife." Claire tipped her head in the direction of the back of the plane and the elderly gentleman turned and looked at Jim through the separation between their seats.
"Oh, I get it. Do you want me to kiss you passionately and make him jealous?" he asked with a sly grin.
Her hands flew over her mouth as Claire stifled a laugh. "No, thank you," she said through her smile. "But it was a kind offer."
The man winked and turned back toward the window.
Claire took a deep breath and let it out slowly. The old man's silly offer had helped her relax. But, inside her head, she was still chanting, I can do this, I can do this.
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