Charlotte would never understand men. Or, rather, she would never have enough patience to understand them. She came to this conclusion on February 13, sitting in an uncomfortable window seat on a crowded red-eye flight from her busy life in New York, back to the place she used to call home. Twin Lakes, New Mexico. Back to him.
A sudden dip of turbulence caused the plane to shudder downwards and then back up, making Charlotte’s teeth clack together. The passenger next to her, a young man in a business suit, was sitting rigidly in his seat, knuckles white from gripping the armrests. Charlotte carefully leaned as far away from him as she could. Flying didn’t bother her anyway, though it always reminded her about his irrational fear of heights. She always used to tease him about it, even though it annoyed him to no end.
But, it seemed like everything Charlotte did annoyed him in the months before their fight, before she became too angry to think straight, before she booked the earliest flight to New York City and stormed out of the house with a tiny suitcase and orders for him to mail the rest of her things later. Before she left, and never looked back.
In the five years following her departure, the only things they exchanged were cheap hallmark Christmas notes and an occasional gift card for birthdays. He never called, so neither did Charlotte. But a hole was left inside her, a broken shard of hurt that she could never fix. So, she threw herself into her work, spending nights crammed in her barely affordable apartment making calls, writing papers as she survived off of black coffee and cheap bagels, filling her schedule with meetings and appointments, and before long, she found herself editor-in-chief of a popular current events magazine and website, raking in hundreds of thousands of dollars and regarded highly in the industry. She was finally able to afford a spacious apartment and good food, and still, she felt lost. Without him, she realized she was lonely. And sad.
It was Charlotte’s pride that restrained her from running back to New Mexico, kept her chained to New York, to live the dream life that felt more like a nightmare. Every day she would wake up, and vow that she would forget him, finally let herself move on. She never did keep those promises to herself. It was a strange feeling, to miss someone so much that it hurt, and one that Charlotte had never known before New York. She took him for granted, and she regretted it so much that her heart ached.
She stayed that way until one cool, crisp day, as she stood before the long, glass wall of her office and watched the clouds settle comfortably in front of the sun, creating a gray haze of light, she made a decision. It wasn’t difficult, or emotional, or a struggle in any way. She simply searched inside herself and no longer felt the selfish resolve that had gripped her for so long. A flight was scheduled, a bag was packed, and an announcement of her permanent resignation was made to the company. Everyone she knew was appalled at her choice, but she couldn’t stop smiling. She would not miss the life she had worked so hard to build.
And then Charlotte was flying, wondering why she had made such a spontaneous decision, regretting the way she let him control her life, but all the same, feeling so much lighter. She was going to see him. Even if he yelled, or cried, or sent her away, she would get to see him, and that was enough for her.
Before long, the flight attendant’s voice crackled through the speaker, wishing the passengers a happy Valentines Day. Charlotte felt her fists clench together and mentally chastised herself for being so rash in her decisions. She had a life in New York, never mind that it wasn’t a very good one, and she couldn’t throw that all away for him. But a tiny voice seemed to whisper from behind her thoughts, why not?
Before she could start justifying the reasons as to why this reunion would never work, the captain gave the notice that the plane would begin its descent. And once again, Charlotte was overwhelmed with the simplicity of her act. This didn’t have to be life-changing; she just needed to know how he was. Her choice continued to fade in and out of clarity as she collected her luggage and called a cab. One moment, and she would be perfectly at peace and understanding, and the next would cause her to hyperventilate as the faced her worst fear, her biggest torment, the person she loved the most.
The car ride was mostly silent as Charlotte watched the tall grasses sway past her window, the sun gazing down hotly against the soil. She never did get the cab driver's name, but she did remember his thinning gray hair and piercing blue eyes filled with wisdom as he said, “I think I know why you’re coming out to this house. He’s a friend of mine. You should know, all he ever does is talk about you.” He paused, his weathered face taking on a faraway look. “Love is greater than distance, or time. Remember that Charlotte.”
Charlotte looked at him in surprise and felt her eyes prickle.
“I don’t under-” She began, but he cut her off with a nod of his head towards the pebble driveway that led up to the house she knew so well. Memories floated back to her like clouds in the heated blue sky, and her hands trembled with anxiety. What if he hated her? What if the cab driver was wrong?
He opened her door and gently helped her out, handing her her suitcase. For some bizarre reason, Charlotte wanted him to stay. But he knowingly shook his head and tipped his hat.
“Best of luck Charlotte. It’ll be alright.” And then he got in the cab and drove away. Feeling so unbelievably small and fragile, she turned to the house once again and startled when the front door creaked open.
It was him.
He looked older, his face more beaten by the sun, the wind, and...sadness? He was frozen to the porch and wore the same leather hiking boots Charlotte had gotten him ten years ago. His signature flannel shirt flapped in the wind, and the ragged baseball cap on his head was slightly lopsided. And that was what broke her.
Tears that had waited so long to be shed dripped down her face, a force so much greater than anything she had ever felt gripping her. The cab driver was right. Love could withstand anything.
She only had time to say one broken word before he ran down the driveway and pulled her fiercely into his arms.