This was the story I came up with.
Where Happy Begins
“But you don’t understand!” Ben slammed his fist on the counter. “I have to catch a flight to San Francisco! As soon as possible!” His face reddened.
“Sir, I am going to have to ask you to calm down. I’ve checked all the outgoing flights to San Francisco and Oakland, and there is nothing available. Now you can sit down in the guest area and wait to see if there’s a standby cancellation, but other than that, I can’t do anything for you.” The petite blonde stiffened up and held her ground.
Ben took a step back and ran his hand through his thick hair. “Okay, look. I need to get to San Francisco. This is life and death here. Can I buy someone out? Isn’t there first class available? There’s always first class available. Whatever it costs, I’ll pay it.”
He couldn’t believe this. Why was this happening? Now? He’d been busy living his life, doing his accounting thing, when all of a sudden, out of nowhere, he met her. Well, not met. They’d never actually met. But he wanted to. He needed to. Especially now. In 2031. The clock was ticking.
“Sir,” the blonde, her nametag read Megan, let out a sigh, and said, “Like I’ve already told you, there’s nothing available. And when I say nothing, I mean N-O-T-H-I-N-G. Flights have been booked years in advance. And with everything so…finite, there’s no wiggle room. So please, sit down in the guest area and wait. If something becomes available, I’ll be the first to let you know. Now, if you don’t turn and walk away now, I’ll be forced to call security.” She cast a glare at Ben.
“Thanks a lot.” Ben leaned over, grabbing the handle of his suitcase. He glanced at the waiting area.
A sea of faces met his look. All folks waiting for the same thing. An open seat. Presumably there to get a chance at seeing their loved ones before…
It was only two years away now. Ben felt that pressure. Eighteen years ago, he’d only been a kid. Playing soccer and tossing footballs with friends in a park. That was when the world changed.
There are moments in every generation. Moments that define an era. JFK, Martin Luther King Jr, Elvis, Vietnam, Watergate, 911. Well, that day had been one of those moments.
Cars pulled over on the side of the road. Cell phone towers were backlogged and overloaded as people raced to call their loved ones. It wasn’t the day the earth stood still. More like the day the earth jumped into hyper speed. Everything was suddenly on a time limit.
In twenty years, the earth would be gone.
A massive collision with another planet.
Live well became the mantra.
But Ben had been only twelve then. What had he known of time? For him, one week of school was like a year in solitary confinement. But now, it was different.
Because at thirty, the things he wanted from life were so much more than a kiss in a closet, or to make it on the JV football team, or even to get away with trying a cigarette or sneak into mom’s cabinet to sneak some bourbon. No. These things meant nothing. Not anymore.
Now he wanted a wife. A family. A future. But these things were not really things he ever thought he’d have. They were an implausibility. Future? The future consisted of dust.
Until he met her.
They’d met online. An online community. Social networking at its finest. At first it was just flirting. Ben flirted with everyone. But at some point, it became more than that. He looked forward to their private messages back and forth. Messages evolved into texts which evolved into phone calls which evolved into this ‘thing’. He was in love with her. And he had to get to her. Because there were only two years left. And there was no time to waste. Every moment needed to be spent by her side. Holding her hand. Falling in love all over again in person.
Sitting in this airport, Ben imagined the stories all these other people had. Maybe some of them were similar. But it didn’t matter. She was all that mattered. She had no idea he was at the airport. Trying to get to her.
He looked at his watch. 3:00 p.m. The next flight would board in twenty minutes. His foot nervously tapped the carpet, which apparently annoyed the guy sitting next to him. The guy glared and made a slight coughing sound.
Ben smiled. “I’m waiting for a seat.”
The guy glared and turned away as he muttered, “Yeah, aren’t we all buddy.”
Ben rolled his eyes. People were so rude these days. But he understood. Time was precious. So any second spent wasted waiting for something, especially with no guarantee that the waiting would be rewarded with any fruits, made people a bit more caustic.
Still, he had something few had these days. Faith. Hope. This would work out. It had to. He wrapped his hands in one another and kneaded them nervously. His head hung down, a soft brown strand of hair fell in front of his face. His weight shifted as he sighed. He looked at his watch. 3:03 p.m.
The intercom crackled. “Jean Meyer. Standby call for Jean Meyer for flight 815 to San Francisco.”
Ben’s head snapped up. Who was this Jean Meyer? Maybe he wouldn’t show. Or she. Jean was a fairly ambiguous name. He searched the large room for someone headed to the front desk. There. From the right. A young woman. Red curls cascaded over her shoulders. She was pretty. Gorgeous actually. He would have been attracted to her if he wasn’t so consumed with thoughts of her. His blue eyes watched her as she made her way toward the ticket kiosk.
He stood up and waited for her to go up to the counter. He had to make sure that was her. While following her to the front of the line, he made sure he remained ever so slightly behind her. He didn’t need her to think he was some kind of stalker or creeper. She talked to the clerk, taking out her identification.
“Excuse me, miss?” He tapped her shoulder lightly and gave her his best smile. “I was wondering if I may be able to buy your ticket off of you?”
She looked at him, her brows furrowed. “What?”
“I really need to get to San Francisco. I need to get on this flight. Can I buy your ticket?”
“I bought a ticket four years ago! Do you know how much I paid? And how long I’ve been waiting for an opening?”
“I can only imagine. But look—” Pulling out a black worn leather wallet, he plucked out a wad of hundred-dollar bills and fanned them out in front of her. “Take however many you want. I have to be on this flight.” He locked eyes with hers. They were pretty. Green. Fantastic green eyes. What a knockout. His face flushed a bit. He flashed his trademark half grin. The one that always made girls swoon.
Her stone face melted a bit. Softened. “Why do you need to get there so badly?”
His smiled and looked somewhere off into the distance. To that place he always was when he thought about her. Caroline. The name rolled off his tongue like raindrops off a leaf.
“I need to meet somebody. My future wife. I need to surprise her. And I need to ask her to marry me, today. Because any more time away from her is too much. Because I need to be happy. And happy begins when she’s in my arms.”
With a quick nod of his head, he managed to break from his daydream. His attention turned to Jean. He noticed she was tearing up, as well as Megan, the blonde clerk at the counter. Jean’s lips were pursed as she cleared her throat.
She nodded. “You can take my seat.” She clasped her hand on his. “Take it.”
Ben’s blue eyes went from her hand to her kind face. A beautiful face. With those lips. Lips that in any other situation he would have given anything to kiss. But not now.
Caroline. He’d be with her in a few short hours. Thanks to Jean.
“How much do you want?” he asked.
“Just what I paid,” Jean said. “Fifteen hundred.”
Ben counted out fifteen bills and placed them in her palm, cupping her hand as he did so. “Thank you, Jean. Bless you.”
Looking over at Megan, he noticed her sniffling as she printed out the boarding pass. “Here sir.” She handed the slip of paper to him. “Can I have your name so I can make the change on the flight manifest?”
“Ben. Ben Williams.”
“Thank you, Mr. Williams. Good luck. Here’s to a ‘yes’.” Megan anchored a strand of hair behind her ear, and then held out her hand toward Ben. Enthusiastically, he gave her a quick hand shake.
Ben buckled his seat belt and looked out the window. The window seat. He lucked out. The aisle seat always led to bumps by the drink cart as well as getting jostled by people passing back and forth from the bathrooms to their seats. The middle seat was just awful. No one ever shared elbow space. The window seat was perfect. He could catch a nap which would make time pass a little bit more quickly.
The take-off was pretty easy. Nice and smooth. Planes usually made Ben a little nervous. But the butterflies in his stomach were overriding any nerves he normally had. He was going to see her in…
He looked at his watch. It was 4:30 p.m. Just over four hours. He’d be there. Leaning towards the window, he closed his eyes. He’d try to get some rest. Thinking about her big brown eyes, that adorable smile, the sound of her laugh, Ben drifted to sleep.
“Sir,” the stewardess spoke softly, “Would you like a drink? Beer? Wine? Coffee? Soda? Water?”
Stirred from sleep, Ben replied groggily, “Water would be great.” With his hand, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his eyes to try to fight back the headache from an uncomfortable sleep.
He looked at his watch. 6:30 p.m. Not long now. The plane would be landing in about two hours. Ben tapped his fingers against the pads of the armrest. At the same time, his leg twitched in the same rhythm.
Someone was looking at him. He sensed it. Slowly turning to his neighbor, who he hadn’t really even noticed until this moment, he noticed a small older woman peering at him from behind her tattered Nicholas Sparks book.
Ben smiled. “Sorry. I’m nervous.”
“Oh yeah? Don’t like traveling by plane, huh?” She had a kind face. Full. Slight wrinkles where she laughed. She may have been in her fifties. Ben wasn’t very good placing ages with faces. Especially women. He tended to err on the young side. Not that many women minded it. It was part of his charm.
“No. It’s not that. I don’t mind flying actually. I’m nervous about when I get to San Francisco.”
“Well, we have an hour and a half to kill. If you don’t mind talking, I’d love to hear all about it.” She put her book down in her lap. “I’m Sarah. And you are?” She reached her hand toward him.
“Ben.” Ben shook her hand gently.
“So, Ben, what makes you nervous in San Francisco?”
“It’s not a what. It’s a who. A girl. Someone I’ve been dying to meet. For the first time.”
Her eyebrows raised. “A girl? Do you know this girl?”
“Yeah. You could say that. In fact, I love this girl.” Ben smiled that faraway smile.
“Does this girl have a name or do you just call her ‘girl’?” Sarah laughed quietly.
“Caroline.” Ben blushed at the sound of her name. It always had that effect on him.
“That’s a lovely name. Ben and Caroline. Sounds nice together. But how can you know if you love her if you’ve never met her?”
“Same reason you can know you love anyone. You just know.” Ben repositioned himself in his seat to face Sarah.
“So, how do you know this girl. Caroline?”
“Well, we met online. One of those social sites. We started talking. Just about whatever at first. I talk to lots of people, you know. But she was different. I don’t know. We just clicked.”
“Clicked?” Sarah asked.
“Yeah, we just hit it off. We exchanged numbers, started talking on the phone. And it was great. We would talk for hours. About everything. And nothing.”
“You know what she looks like? What if she’s some scary psychopath? Or a con-artist? I swear I saw an old episode of CSI about that same thing.”
“No, I have pictures. Many of them.” Ben pulled out his phone from his jacket pocket. He scrolled through some images and handed it to her. “See?”
She held the phone and scanned the picture. “She’s pretty.”
“She’s beautiful. I don’t know what she sees in me,” Ben whispered.
“I bet she sees the same thing I can.”
“Oh yeah, and what’s that?” Ben raised his eyebrows.
“A sweet, young man who is kind and smart. And has a good heart. And to my knowledge, those qualities are hard to come by.” She reached over and patted Ben’s hand gently. “So, how long have you two been carrying on this way?”
“About six months.”
Sarah’s eyes widened. “Wow, that’s a long time. Why haven’t you two gotten together yet?”
“I don’t know. Life. Work. Money.” Ben leaned his head back on the vinyl fabric.
“And now? How has that changed? How did you get this seat? Flights aren’t cheap.”
“I just realized,” Ben took a deep breath and continued, “I can’t be without her anymore. And nothing else is that important. I can get a job anywhere. And I sold my car and my television. Even my old school video games which, by the way, are worth a ton, and I’m now on my way to San Francisco. To start a new life. And I have this—” Ben searched his other jacket pocket and produced a black box. He flipped the lid open and handed it to Sarah.
Carefully taking it out, she slipped the ring into her hand, turned on the overhead lamp, examining it. The ring sparkled brilliantly in her hand. White gold. Princess cut. Gorgeous. Sarah glanced at Ben, her mouth gaping.
“It’s stunning, Ben. She’ll love it.”
“I hope so. It cost a pretty penny,” Ben replied.
Sarah put it back into the box carefully. She passed it back with an approving nod. “So, when you gonna ask her? Right away? Or wait?”
“I don’t know,” Ben said, “I guess I’ll just do it when the time is right, you know.”
“Well, I’m sure she’ll say yes. She’d be crazy not to.” Sarah smiled.
Ben talked to Sarah throughout the rest of the flight. Partly to pass the time. Partly because she was easy to talk to and she reminded him of his own mother. He reminisced with her, sharing some of the moments he and Caroline had shared. He relayed all the things he loved about her. The fact that she snorted when she laughed really hard. Her love of chocolate and popcorn. The way she was always there for him, even though she was miles away. The little care packages she sent him so that he knew she was thinking of him. The fact that she remembered every detail of their relationship. And how they were such a great match.
The wheels touched down on the tarmac. Ben looked at his watch. 7:08 p.m. Remembering he needed to adjust his watch to the new time, he twisted the small knob until the time read 4:08 p.m. He’d be at her house in about an hour. His nerves began to surface once more. His mouth was dry. He needed a drink. Maybe a soda.
Grabbing a drink on the way to the taxi pick up, he hurried through the airport. A cool whoosh of air brushed against his face as we walked through the automatic doors. Eyes wincing at the bright sky, he had been inside for so long, he searched for an unoccupied taxicab.
There. If he was quick, he could catch it.
As he grasped the handle of his luggage, and fumbled the soda in the other hand, he rushed to the small, yellow van. He picked up speed as he noticed another couple heading for the same one. But he was faster. And much more motivated.
“Taxi!” he yelled. He was able to slow down as he neared the door and realized it would be his.
He heaved his luggage in and followed. He handed the driver a piece of paper. “Here’s the address.”
The driver shrugged. “Got it.”
The car sped along the highway, crossing bridges and weaving through small suburban neighborhoods. Judging from the small side streets they were now on, Ben figured they were close. So close. His heart skipped a beat. Pulling out his phone, he pulled up a picture and stared at it. A grin washed over his face. Caroline. She’d be so happy. At least he hoped so.
A terrible thought crossed his mind. What if she wasn’t? What is she didn’t want him there? What if she didn’t want him to see her until she was ready to see him?
With a quick shake of his head, he abandoned those thoughts. No. He knew her. He knew her soul and her heart. She wanted him there. She wanted him with her. It was all she’d ever said. In texts. In emails. In conversations. She wanted him.
And he wanted her. So much.
The taxi slowed to a stop. Ben glanced at his watch again. 5:17 p.m. He was here.
After handing the driver a crisp one hundred-dollar bill, Ben stepped out of the car. With his luggage at his side, he stood in front of the small house. A small, white craftsman two-story. Complete with a front porch, swinging bench, and wildflowers in small pots lining the walkway. It looked like something she would have. It was Caroline in house form. Cute. Quaint. Classic.
Ben inhaled deeply. This was it. He was here. She was in there. Only a few hundred feet away. Okay, Ben. You can do this. Be cool. Try not to be a complete idiot.
He walked to the front door, set down his luggage, and knocked. Three knocks. He waited.
The door slowly opened. A young woman stood in front of Ben. Attractive. But definitely not Caroline. She had her eyes. That same warm smile. But it wasn’t her.
“Hi, can I help you?” she asked politely.
It was all he had to say. Her eyes widened and her hand shot to her mouth. “Ben? Is it really you?” She stood there, still. Shocked.
“Yeah. And you are?” Ben asked.
“I’m Kelly. Caroline’s sister. Come in!” She grabbed Ben’s hand tightly and pulled him inside. Closing the door behind him, she pulled him into a hug. “I feel like I know you. Caroline’s going to be so glad you’re here. So glad.” She stepped away and wiped a tear from her eye.
Ben’s heart began to beat faster. He wanted to be done with all the niceties. He wanted to be with her. Now. He just needed to be pointed in her direction.
“I suppose you want to see her, right now?” Kelly said, as she laughed.
Ben nodded. “Yeah. That’s kind of why I’m here.” He smiled. Usually, Ben was a man who would charm the girls. But the only girl he could even think of was in this house. So, his normal tendencies disappeared.
Kelly led him toward the staircase that led to the second level. “First room on the right is hers. She’s in there right now listening to some music.”
“Thanks.” Ben wiped his hands on his pants. He took a breath. Jaws clenched, he swallowed. Here goes.
One stair. Two. Three. Soon he was at the top. He stood frozen. Each step was like walking with a cement block on each foot. Why was he so nervous? What would be the worst that could happen? Nothing. Because she wanted him. She’d said so every day. And he wanted her. More than a little.
Hand clutching the door knob, Ben stood and listened. A soft bass and treble of music emanated from the door. He set his hand on the wood. Felt the pulse of the beat. She was listening to the playlist he’d made for her. It had all their favorite songs on it. Ben smiled.
With one quick movement, he swung the door open.
His breath hitched.
There she was.
Just as he’d pictured.
Her brown hair, soft against her face. The way the light danced on her skin. Cheeks with a hint of pink. Those lips. The ones he’d thought about kissing all this time. She was as beautiful as he’d known she would be. the bed where she rested. The constant beep of the machines distracted him for a moment. He looked at her arm, the IV hooked up to the drip. The BP monitors closely tracking her pulse and vitals. She was an angel.
The accident had been so sudden. On her way home from work, she had tried to avoid the crash by swerving into another lane. Into oncoming traffic. The collision had been horrific. Caroline had been tossed around in her small car. Her head severely injured by the impact and force of the other vehicle. Ben had worried when he hadn’t heard anything from Caroline for more than a week. Knowing everything about her, Ben had managed to get into contact with Caroline’s best friend. That’s how he found out. That was two weeks ago.
A tear rolled from his eye and he walked to the edge of the bed. Beside her. Gentle and delicate, he leaned down and kissed her softly on the lips.
“Hey baby, I’m finally here.” He moved one hand over her forehead and ran fingers through her hair. It was like silk.
He sat down at the chair next to her, pulled out the black velvet box and placed it on a small table that also held a vase of gerbera daisies. Her favorite.
He picked up her hand and held it. “I’m here baby. And I’m not going anywhere.”
He would spend every free moment for the next two years by Caroline’s side. Whether she’d ever wake up from the coma, would remain to be seen. But either way, Ben was determined to spend every single day of his last two years with Caroline. Because now that she was in his arms, his happy could begin.