Confessions of an Airport Terminal

by Andréa Southern, from Stockport, Cheshire 

It had been a long time since Macy had been home. Except really, it had been a long time since she’d been to her hometown, because she didn’t think the picket fence suburb with all its perfect buildings and perfect people and perfect gossip counted as her home any more. Too much had happened, and even as she was on her way there with the same two suitcases she’d taken when she left she knew she couldn’t stay. It had taken her this long, nearly a year, to muster up the courage to agree to come back at all, and it was only because it was Christmas by now and her mother had cried down the phone. Macy had never claimed to be brave.

She’d told her parents her flight was delayed and to not bother picking her up from the airport because she’d get a taxi back. The flight was not delayed, but she was desperate for time before she had to face everything, had to sit in the car as they drove past the houses lined with fairy lights and the softly glowing church and the shops that were all so familiar and yet so foreign. She watched her powder blue suitcase circle the luggage claim three times before she finally took it, and then she ordered a latte at the coffee shop in the airport terminal and told herself that she’d go home soon, really. She’d been saying that for the better part of a year.

Two tables away from Macy was a girl, a little younger than her maybe, one hand stirring sugar into a cappuccino and the other pressing a rose gold phone to her ear. She was frowning as she listened to the other end, and then Macy heard her say,

“But that’s not fair. I told you my flight was getting in today. Why would you make other plans when I specifically came back from the Alps early so we could spend time together?”

Unlike Macy, who had dressed for camouflage and comfort in a knitted jumper and leggings, the girl was in a red cocktail dress with matching lipstick and heels, a look that Macy would never have dreamed of wearing on a plane ride. But even from where she was, she could see dark circles underneath the girl’s eyes from where her foundation had rubbed away. She supposed that no one was really as perfect as they looked, not the girl, not Macy, and certainly not Callum.

            There was something familiar about her, though. She would have brushed it off as nothing, just a misplaced familiarity, if the girl hadn’t looked at her then as she hung up her phone, her eyes widening in surprise and, Macy thought, a little bit of horror. It was the same look she’d seen whenever she showed her face in public after it had all happened, and it was the same look that had chased her away.

            Everyone said that Macy breaking it off with Callum and refusing his proposal was the biggest mistake of her life. It wasn’t. Her mistake was not doing it earlier, as soon as she saw the ring box in the pocket of his blazer as she hung it up a week before he asked and felt a chill run through her. Her mistake was convincing herself that she was going to say yes, right up until the moment he was down on one knee and all their family and friends were around them, all so expectant like there was no possible answer other than an ecstatic yes. She couldn’t say it.

            The other thing that people got wrong was thinking that she broke it off because she didn’t love him. She did love him, had done since she was sixteen and overjoyed when the handsome and athletic and distressingly smart boy in the year above had asked her out. She knew she was lucky, so she ignored how uptight he was and his little criticisms. They were the perfect match, she told everyone. She was such an airhead and daydreamer that she needed him to ground her, and he needed her to massage his shoulders and tell him to let loose.

            Except, god, those little criticisms had worn her down. She’d seen that ring and known that she couldn’t spend the rest of her life standing next to him when he made her feel so small, and it had struck her later in the middle of the night that maybe he loved the idea of her more than who she actually was. Maybe he loved who he could make her be, by changing one small thing at a time, rather than the mess that was Macy. Maybe if it was easier to accept this, that they’d wasted ten years on each other, she would have ended it sooner. But there was some tragic and desperate glimmer of hope that they could work after all, except when it came down to it, to saying the magical yes, she knew there wasn’t.

At first, everyone had just blamed her for shattering the heart of the town’s golden boy, the beautiful and clever Callum who was surely every girl’s dream. But four days later two cars collided and the golden boy’s heart really was shattered, all over tarmac, and it was all Macy’s fault because Callum wasn’t much of a drinker and he never went to the bar and he was certainly too responsible to drive drunk, except when he was trying to fix what his childhood sweetheart broke. She didn’t even wait for the funeral before she took off on a flight to far far away because she couldn’t face the whispers and glares a moment longer.

She was a different person now. She’d still never claim to be brave, but maybe starting her life over in an unfamiliar country had taught her to be a little bolder, so, for the first time, she decided to confront the whispers and glares head on.

“Do I know you?” She said to the girl in the coffee shop, forcing her voice to come out as hard and confident.

“I…” the girl looked as though she wanted to be anywhere else. “You’re Macy.”

“Right. Heard about me?”

“I’m Hanna.” She said it like it was supposed to mean something to Macy. She tilted her head to the side when she didn’t get a reaction. “You really don’t know me? He never mentioned me?”

Macy didn’t have to ask who he was. She frowned, raking back over memories with Callum she’d buried along with him, and finally landed on one.

            “You worked with him? I think I remember you from the office parties.”

She’d hated those parties. Rooms full of people just like Callum, all so much smarter than her and making sure she knew it. She’d done her best to play her part, laughing along with jokes she didn’t understand and excusing herself to the bathroom instead of crying in public. It was fine, she told herself, because at least she got to be there, on the arm of the smartest and best looking guy in the room, and at least she always got that coveted smile at the end of the night, his lips on her ear whispering about how good she looked and how jealous his colleagues were. She didn’t want his colleagues to be jealous, she just wanted Callum to love her.

            Hanna nodded, still staring at Macy, her expression unreadable.

            “I’m sorry for your loss,” she said finally, “I know you weren’t technically together when he died, but still. It must have sucked to lose him like that.”

            “No one’s ever said that to me.” Macy realised, saying out loud without meaning to. She’d loved Callum for a decade, and yet when he died everyone seemed to forget about the sacrifices she’d made for him and the perfect future together she’d planned. The only thing they remembered when they saw her was the silence at her birthday party as he knelt on one knee and she whispered that she couldn’t marry him.

            “It’s unfair, isn’t it.” Hanna said, her voice bitter in a way Macy didn’t understand. “People never appreciate how much Callum took when you loved him. He was everything, but it was so damn hard to be enough for him. He couldn’t just love you. You had to fit in with his idea of a perfect life.”

She was talking like she knew it first hand. And suddenly, like flashes in her mind's eye, Macy remembered Callum’s late nights at work, his business trips, his faraway expressions and absent smiles when he looked at her and-

            “He was having an affair with you, wasn’t he?” She whispered, and she had never felt such a complicated rush of feelings.

            “He loved me.” Hanna said, gently but not apologetic, and Macy’s heart stuttered as she began to realise why. Callum, who had dated her in the first place because she balanced him out. Callum, who had done every sport and academic club in school and university he could. Callum, whose parents had always expected the most, had expected perfection, and he had never once let them down. He’d proposed because he was supposed to marry his childhood sweetheart, not the bold mistress from his law firm. And maybe he didn’t expect her to say no, but it hit her that it wasn’t heartbreak over Macy that had driven him to the bar that night and not let him drive all the way home. It was heartbreak because what a waste of a life, to always do what’s expected. It was heartbreak that he loved Hanna and didn’t love Macy, and loved English and didn’t love Law, and loved driving fast down the motorway and didn’t love following the rules his whole damn life. Which meant, and the realisation of it felt like the dawning of the sun, it wasn’t her fault he had died.

            “Macy,” Hanna said softly, “I’m sorry. For everything, but mostly for letting everyone think you were to blame.”

            “It wasn’t my fault?” She hadn’t meant for it to come out as a question.

            “It wasn’t your fault. And,” Hanna took a deep breath, “it wasn’t mine. I thought it was but, Macy, Callum was his own worst enemy. We both know that. You and I… we both just got caught up in his life.”

            In another universe, Macy might have stood up and stormed away from the little coffee shop, called a taxi and gone back home and proclaimed to the whole town that Callum was a cheat and his little mistress admitted it herself. She might have been content to hate Hanna for what she’d done, because the last year had tormented Macy and this whole time she had known the truth. But, for all her ditziness and daydreams, she could see it from Hanna’s point of view. She’d loved him, probably more than Macy had, but she never once had him for herself, and in the end he had chosen Macy over her. In the end, he’d left them both in the same situation: confused, heartbroken, and utterly blaming themselves. Hanna had connected all the missing dots, and had connected herself to Macy as the only person who could ever understand. It would be nice to be understood.

            “Do you want to split a taxi back to town?” She asked, pushing back her chair. Hanna looked at her for a moment and then broke into a smile.

            “Yeah. That’d be nice.”

Macy waited for her to grab her suitcase and they headed out of the airport terminal together, frost biting the ground and the air cold on their faces. So much had changed since she’d been back home, so much had changed since she landed back in the country, but for the first time in forever, she felt like she could breathe. She felt like, maybe, she could go back home.