by Lorna Garano

I was in the middle of placing my order for what the menu called

 a “scrambled egg rocket” and what the rest of us would have called

 scrambled eggs in a buttered hot dog bun when Ron interrupted me to tell

 the waitress to put my order on a separate check.

            The waitress tore off the piece of paper she was writing on and started another one without even looking at him.

            “The scrambled egg rocket,” I repeated, and also ordered a coffee.

            A couple walked past our table holding hands and Ron pulled his vinyl suitcase closer to him to make room. It was pre-rollerboard design that he had purchased at a thrift store and had attached a leash-like strap to it. The suitcase wobbled and fell over against his leg.

            “Tell that thing to heel,” the man said and the three of us laughed while Ron steeled his face.

            “He's usually so good on the leash,” I said.

            Ron crunched his face into a rictus, which made the man half of the pair and me laugh louder. They walked away trailing their easily maneuverable luggage behind them.

            We were at the airport waiting for our flight to Tacoma. We had gotten here early because Ron could get us a ride with a neighbor who worked as a baggage handler. We had breakfast at the cheapest place he could find, which happened to be the Take Off, a restaurant with faded airplanes and rockets painted on the walls and flight-themed menu.  

            Ron dumped one of the miniature tubs of grape jelly that was on the table alongside the sugar into his water and swished it around with his fork. He took a deep gulp. He reached over to the next table for a newspaper someone had abandoned and started reading it. I took out my new Kindle and read the crime novel I'd purchased the night before.

            The food was quick to arrive, and neither of us stopped reading while we ate. Ron had ordered a bowl of Cheerios and downed it with his usually gusto, consuming nearly the whole bowl with three or four massive spoonfuls and then drinking down what remained. I watched his Adam's apple bob up and down as he held the plastic bowl to his mouth. He took a toothpick folded into a piece of paper out of his pocket and started digging out the post-breakfast detritus from between his teeth. He smeared what he extracted on his napkin and burped.

            I was barely finished with my scrambled egg rocket when he started counting out the money for his bill. I waived over the waitress and she tore off the two tabs. She went to take away my plate, but Ron stopped her so he could grab tomato slices and lettuce leaf left on it. When he was done with them he rubbed his hands on his pants, took out the plastic baggie full of change that he always carried in his backpack and counted out to the penny a 10 percent tip, which he had always said was generous given that it was voluntary. I calculated my tip up to 25 percent and then rounded-up.

            We checked in, went through security, and found a couple of seats by the gate.

            Ron took out the calendar he had made for the trip, the purpose of which was to care for his mother after her knee replacement.

            “You're taking her to the doctor on the Friday and to physical therapy on Tuesday,” he said.

            “Yes, you mentioned that to me,” I answered and flipped on my Kindle.

            We returned to reading for the next hour while we waited for the plane to arrive.

            When it did Ron was one of the first on line to board. He had used his soon-to- expire frequent flier miles to buy a position at the head of the first boarding group. I was in the third.

I watched Ron and the rest of his group disappear into the plane knowing full well that he would not save me a seat.

            The second group assembled and boarded the plane,then the third group converged and headed down the jet bridge.

            The seating area was empty except for me, and a stillness descended on it.  I waited until they called my name over the loud speaker once and then a second time with the warning that it was final chance to board. When the woman who had taken the boarding passes looked at me I smiled and looked down to my Kindle. Out of the window I could see the aircraft and I watched as the jet bridge was pulled away from it and the door was secured.

            Then I packed away my Kindle, grabbed the suitcase I had not checked, went down the escalator, and ran toward the terminal exit.