If this didn’t work, Laura knew she was going to leave him. She sat, making herself even smaller in the narrow space of an airplane seat, looking out at the clearest water she had ever seen as they made their approach. It wasn’t anything like the small Midwestern town where she grew up. She should have been excited, but it was fear she felt curled up in a ball in the pit of her belly, and she put her hand there, as if rubbing it could make it go away.
“Are you cold?” Rick leaned over and tucked the blue blanket around her thighs. She smiled at him, not saying anything as she turned back to the window. As they neared the island, she could make out the coastline. She leaned over and started packing things back into her carry-on—her Kindle, a pair of headphones, the uneaten bag of peanuts.
“Here.” She handed their tickets to him. “We’d better start getting ready.”
Rick took the tickets and stared at them for a moment. “Maybe you should keep them? In your purse?”
Laura sighed, took them back and tucked them neatly into her handbag. “Do you even know the name of the place we’re staying?”
He shrugged, putting the Nintendo 3DS game he’d been playing into his carry-on bag. “You’re the one who planned this whole thing.”
“Yeah.” Laura sighed again, curling toward the window and watching the ground swell, as if it were rising to meet them. They were over land completely now, and she had a brief desire to be swallowed up by it. A crash wouldn’t be like that, of course, but that was the image—the plane just continuing its descent, plunging into the earth below until just its tail emerged and the passengers inside were all buried alive.
What’s the difference? I feel buried alive now.
The dry, stale air of the plane made her feel like she was suffocating.
“Are you all right?” Rick touched her shoulder.
She gave him another half-hearted smile. “I’m fine… Just fine.”
“This guy is an asshole,” Rick reiterated, swallowing his orange juice in three huge gulps and signaling the waitress.
Laura pierced a grape in her fruit dish with her fork, watching him spread butter on his toast. Then it was on to the jelly. He ordered another orange juice, and she watched him squirt ketchup onto his ten dollar omelet. Lunch and dinner main courses were included in their retreat package, but breakfast and any extras were on their own.
“You know, orange juice is three dollars.” She crushed the grape between her teeth and made it squirt into her mouth. It was a bitter one, and she thought that was just about right. “Each.”
“So?” Rick shrugged, smiling at the waitress and thanking her when she set the juice in front of him. “We’re on vacation right? Why shouldn’t we have what we want?”
“Do you need anything else?” The waitress smiled at Rick. She was a tall girl, with short, stylish blonde hair tucked behind her ears. Laura grimaced at the girl’s clothes—a colorful blue sarong that matched her eyes, and a solid blue bikini top that barely contained the flesh spilling out of it. Clearly island-wear, and Rick was admiring it, while trying to look like he wasn’t.
“Could you possibly bring me a lemon wedge?” He held up his water glass, as if that explained his request.
“Sure.” The accommodating blonde reached for Laura’s empty plate. She had been through her egg-white omelet before Rick had even started eating and she was slowly working through her small fruit bowl.
Laura looked over the railing and down at the beach—clear water, like blue glass, with a white sandy edge that looked as if it belonged on a postcard. Probably was, somewhere downstairs in the gift shop, with the words “Welcome to Elysium!” on the front. She felt far from paradise.
“So why is he an asshole?” Laura pierced a piece of cantaloupe.
Rick, pouring syrup over his pecan pancakes, answered through a mouth full of eggs. “Because he is. I’m surprised you like him. He wants to send women back to the stone age. Is that what you want? You wanna be my Wilma? So I can be your Fred?”
She thought about the facilitator who had started the workshop last night. He wasn’t an exceptionally good-looking man—balding and rather scrawny—but there was something about him. When he looked at her, she felt like she was being seen into, seen through.
“It doesn’t have to be the Flintstones.” She sipped her water. “And yes… if men who live that way are like the guy who lectured last night… it is what I want.”
“Thanks.” Rick smiled at the waitress as she set a plate of lemon wedges next to his glass.
The blonde smiled back. “No problem—I’ll take this up when you’re ready.” The waitress slipped the leather case containing the bill in front of Laura, who looked at it with her lips pursed.
“I thought this was what feminism tried so hard to fight against?” Rick squeezed lemon into his water. “Men in control, women being subservient. You really want to be subservient to me?”
She sighed and pushed her chair back from the table. “I have to pee.”
Rick signaled the waitress again as Laura made her way to the bathroom. She closed the stall door and swallowed a scream. Her face felt hot and dry, her throat constricted—her whole body felt like one big clenched muscle. How could he not understand what it was that she wanted from him? How could he be so blind?
When she left the stall, she washed her hands, glancing at her reflection in the mirror as she held them under a dryer. The air blew her long dark hair over her shoulders. There were two rosy spots on her cheeks, the glow that always crept in whenever she was angry or upset. Straightening her blouse and tucking it into the waistband of her long flowered skirt, she wondered if this was just as good as it ever got. Maybe it was.
The check was still sitting there at the table, untouched. Rick used his last sausage to clean the syrup from his plate, smiling up at her and winking. On a whim, she pulled her chair around and sat next to him, her thigh rubbing up against his under the table.
“Hey, there’s my girl.” He put his arm around her and leaned back with a little groan, his hand covering his belly. “That was a good breakfast. You ready for another day in Bedrock? Maybe the Great Gazoo will be able to help us, huh?”
Laura laughed in spite of herself, letting her body relax against his side. Maybe good enough just was—good enough.
“Why are you here?” The question stopped Laura, and she felt herself recoiling from it. She stared into the dark, penetrating gaze of the facilitator, who Rick called “The Great Gazoo,”—when he wasn’t calling him an asshole—and found she couldn’t keep the truth from him, as much as her rational mind tried to stop her.
Not in front of all these people! What are you thinking?
“My husband doesn’t know this…” She glanced guiltily over at Rick. “But I told myself that if this workshop didn’t change things between us, I was going to leave.”
“So is this your ultimatum?” Gazoo asked. Laura couldn’t help thinking of him as Gazoo now—especially since they had to choose “fake names” for themselves, and Rick had dubbed them “Wilma” and “Fred.”
“The Great Gazoo” looked down at Rick. Laura felt the eyes of the entire room on them—a thousand people, all watching.