Dan bit his nails pacing back and forth in the airport lobby. Each time he reversed direction he checked the electronic schedule on the opposite wall. Jay’s flight filtered to the top as his arrival time approached.
“How much longer, Dainty?” Faith stretched across four seats, threading herself under three armrests. “Why’d we have to get here so early?”
“His flight should be here in half an hour.” Dan wiped condensation off the window to scan the misty morning skies for the shape of an airplane. The landing-strips were frosted and dewy. “I wanted to beat traffic.”
“There’ll be no beating traffic on the way back,” said Faith. “It’ll be rush-hour. Maybe I should drive us all home, so you don’t have to worry.”
“I can drive us home.”
“Are you sure?” Faith now crawled on top of the armrests. She wore a heavy green sweater, as the clouds were colored an auspicious rainy gray. “You always bite your fingertips when you’re anxious, Dainty. If you have to drive through stop-and-go traffic you’ll bleed on the steering wheel.”
Dan kept pacing. He almost put a finger in his mouth, but refrained. “I’m not anxious about traffic.”
“Oh.” Faith slid into one seat. She crossed her ankles and joined her hands in her sweater’s front pocket. “I miss Beatrice, too, Dan. She was my girlfriend. It’s gonna be okay. We can talk about it.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He stopped pacing, but wouldn’t look at her. He walked to the windows opposite the airstrips to survey the streets of Burbank. Before he could stop himself he found his index finger between his lips.
“Well, is there anything I can get you? Maybe breakfast?”
Dan checked up and down the airport corridor. A few restaurants and sports-bars had been open since sunrise. “Nothing here really appeals to me.”
“A bag of chips? Some gum?”
“No, no.” Dan sighed and looked outside. “A cinnamon bun sounds good.”
“Oh? Where do you see them? I’ll buy three, so Jay and I can have one.”
He pointed out the window. Across the street from the airport, through a foggy veil, a diner served breakfast until noon. They advertised cinnamon buns dripping with thick white icing. “Here, let me give you some cash.”
“That’s okay! I’ve got enough.” Faith stood and pranced to the escalators. “If JayJay gets here before I’m back, tell him I missed him, okay? And tell him breakfast is on its way.”
As soon as she was out of sight Dan bit one of his fingernails and tore it with his teeth. He tore too hastily, and took more than the white crescent. The skin he exposed under the nail was magenta. He knew the nail would take a week to regrow, and until then the finger would be sore and sensitive. He rubbed the raw area to salt the wound.
If Faith saw the nail she’d throw a fit. Well, no, but she’d coo sympathetically, which was just as bad. Dan jogged to an airport convenience store and bought a pair of black gloves. He didn’t put them on right away; he sat near Jay’s terminal and ate the skin around each of his nails, counting the calluses he removed. Each of his fingertips now wore purple streaks where the skin was thin. When he saw Jay’s plane break through the overcast clouds, he finally put on his gloves to hide his bite marks.
Jay’s plane docked with the airport at the jet-bridge. Jay was among the first to disembark, having only his backpack. Dan waved at him. “Jay! Jay!”
“Dan! Oran dora!”
“How was the flight?”
“Not great, but I survived.” The two hugged. “Is Faith with you?”
“She’s outside getting breakfast. She wanted me to tell you she missed you. Did you get any good pictures?”
Jay showed Dan his camera’s digital screen. “Look, these masked dancers lead you to this circle of hundreds of people. They walk, they chant—it’s like the Kaaba, but there’s a bird in the middle. That’s why my framing is wonky, because there are massive birds everywhere and the Sheridanians are really emphatic about not taking pictures of them. Here, this statue is actual size, maybe even a little small.”
“Whoa.” Dan compared the bird statue to the pine trees in the background. “It must be eight feet tall.”
“It represents the Biggest Bird, a local folklore hero who was twenty feet tall. That’s not a statue of a toddler it’s cradling, it’s a full-grown man, the first man, Nemo. It’s just not-to-scale.” Jay skipped to a picture of Virgil Jango Skyy. “I’ve never seen anything like Sheridan, Dan. You’ve got to go. You know more about religion than I do. Let’s explore this, together.”
Dan tried to manipulate the buttons of the camera, but his black gloves were too cumbersome. “I need to finish graduate school eventually. Maybe I can write my thesis about Sheridan. I’ll run it by my professors.”
“Here, I got you a souvenir.” Jay gave him the orange plush fledgling he bought on the first island. “I bought some interesting seashells, too, but they’re being mailed to me. Hey, I wanted to tell Faith about a story I heard from Virgil Skyy. Where’s she getting breakfast? Can we join her?”
“She’ll be back soon. She’s bringing cinnamon buns from across the street.” Dan led Jay to the window and pointed to the diner. “There she is. See?”
“She looks happy,” said Jay. Faith bounced on her toes waiting at the crosswalk with a bag of buns. “How have you been, Dan? Are you feeling alright?”
“Oh, you know.” Dan sucked at the fabric of one gloved finger. “Not great.”
As Faith crossed the street she noticed Dan and Jay talking in the airport window. “Hey! JayJay!” She waved and smiled at them. In the distracted moment a speeding bus almost hit her head-on mid-stride. Faith leapt to safety with a frantic yelp, dodging the bus as it ran the red light. When her adrenaline rush wore off, she laughed and finished crossing the street.
Then she was struck by lightning. She left only a scorch mark on the sidewalk.