She looked up from the computer where, her editing mind noticed, she had already typed five pages. The story was aching to be told, and Cate felt like it was about to burst out of her. She nearly couldn’t bear to rip her mind away, but it was unusual to hear anyone address her as Cate. She was Catherine Chao, novelist and mother. Not Cate, any longer.
When she met the eyes of the man standing in the bulkhead aisle, clutching a ticket and peering at the row numbers, she felt adrift. Unmoored. Completely taken by surprise. When she had seen him last, she was sobbing, and he was speechless with surprise and loss. It took some effort to find her voice, and say his name, because there was no doubt who it was. “Jace? I mean, Jason?”
He broke into an easy smile. His easy smile. “Yes, yes of course. Is that really you?”
She smiled back and held out her right hand. “Yes, of course. What a surprise to see you!” He bent to take her hand, shook it and then dropped it quickly, like he was unfamiliar with the custom.
‘I think I’m sitting next to you,” he said. “I’m so tall, I always try to sit in the exit row.”
“I fly so often, now, that I get assigned here automatically,” Cate said, and shook her head. “I feel so surprised to see you. How are you? I mean, how have you been?”
He exhaled sharply and adjusted his bag and jacket into the small seat. “I’m flying to Minneapolis for meetings. I, well, I’m hardly able to talk. I can’t believe it’s you.”
She nodded and shifted her computer so the words on the screen would not be visible to him. “I’m glad to see you,” she said softly, and smiled. Honesty was usually a good approach. “I can’t even recall how long it’s been.”
“Fifteen years,” he said. “Cate, how have you been?”
She also exhaled in a sigh that shuddered. Then she clasped her hand to her mouth. Removing it, she said, “You know, good. Really good. And also bad.”
He looked at her with his brown, flecked eyes and for a moment she was locked. Just like college, just like fifteen years ago. Then she shook her head once, and her long hair jumped with the motion. He said, “Will you tell me?”
She looked around for a moment, considering. “I’d rather hear what you’ve been doing. I’m sure it’s much more – you know – engaging.” This was not necessarily true, but it bought Cate a few minutes. Time to think, to impose a filter on her brain, to compose her jumbled thoughts.
Jace steadied himself, Cate thought. “Well, you know,” he began. “I just got back to the U.S. a few months ago. Before that I was in Africa for three years, and in France for awhile before that.” He smiled, paused, remembering. “Do you remember – I was thinking that my entire life would be like an extended Peace Corps stint.”
She nodded and smiled too. “Yes, I remember. I remember you talking about it.”