THE swirling snow shifted through the lights outside the huge plate glass window. A few people idled about listlessly in the large room, but it was the sort of night most people were snug at home in their beds. A man huddled in a chair by the window, eyeing the falling snow morosely. A harsh voice cut across the silence.
“Attention Northwest passengers. Worsening weather conditions have delayed the following flights: 435 to Atlanta, 678 to Boise, 125 to Los Angeles, and 448 to Raleigh-Durham. Passengers on these flights are asked to report to the check-in gates for further information.”
“Shit,” Jonah mumbled, sliding down lower into his seat, the collar of his leather jacket effectively obscuring his vision of the falling snow. He felt dangerously close to tears.
It had been more than a week since he had been home. Usually the team caught a break as they got closer to Christmas, but this year he had volunteered for extra duty reading to homeless kids in Chicago and visiting a pediatric ward in Boston. The final stop was to have been here in Detroit, performing at a fund-raiser for a fledgling wrestling school. He hadn’t counted on being stranded.
In his youth he’d had many delusions of grandeur. He was going to be a football player, or a rock star, or maybe even a professional skateboarder. Instead he was the top star with IEW, a third-rate independent wrestling promotion that hardly caused a blip on the radar of the sports entertainment world. Jonah Bratton was the daredevil, the man who had no care for his body or well-being. He was the star because night after night people ooh’d and ahh’d over his death-defying leaps from the top rope to the hard floor below. He took chair shots to the head like they were nothing. He flipped and turned his body with the ease of a gymnast. But he was only “on” when he was in front of the crowd. Nights like this, he sank lower than low after the release of adrenaline.
As this impromptu charity tour of his wrapped up, several of the other boys on the roster had joined him at the fund-raiser. At times he could be a regular Houdini, and he’d slipped them all and gone on to the airport on his own. Sure, they’d all be heading for home tonight, it was Christmas Eve after all, but if he could avoid their grasping hands, he would. None of them were flying back to North Carolina anyway, and he didn’t want to end up under the mistletoe with any of them. Or so he thought.
The irritating sound of a cell phone behind him caused him to sit upright and prepare to move, but the sound of the voice froze him in his seat.
“Yeah. Well, looks like I’m stranded. What? Detroit.” There was a silence and then a short laugh, “Tell me about it. I don’t know. Soon, I hope.” After another brief silence, he heard a whispered “I miss you.” After a pause the phone snapped shut and the voice whispered softly, “Wish you missed me too.”
Cautiously, Jonah turned in his seat, taking in the profile of the man behind him. He looked pensive, a muscle tensing in his jaw, seemingly unaware of Jonah’s scrutiny. At last he pocketed the phone and started to stand up.
“Hey, Max,” Jonah said softly.
Max turned, a scowl marring his handsome features. He looked at Jonah, not recognizing him.
“Look,” he said in irritation. “I don’t have time to give you an autograph right now.”
Jonah sat up, his face emerging from the jacket, and he smiled. “I don’t want your autograph, Max.”
As he realized who it was, the scowl left Max’s face and he grinned. “Jonah. Jesus, son, you look like hell.”
Jonah shrugged. “You ain’t looking that good yourself,” he said.