Short fiction by KJ Cartmell
Table of Contents
1. Things Preacher's Daughters Say
2. Jessica Fromm's Second Kiss
3. a story from our boyhood
4. The Synthia
6. Meeting Joan Osborne
This this most of the first chapter of my novel, The Gospel of Thomas. The manuscript was so long, that I am publishing it in two volumes. The first volume, Revelation, is on sale now at Amazon.
Before it was a novel, it was a short story, this little incident, two teens meeting at an airport and falling in love on a late night plane ride to Houston . . . .
The first time Thomas saw Adeline, he thought she was an angel. She appeared beside him suddenly, in a flash of light - blond hair, fair skin and eyes of pale blue.
The light had come from her phone. She was taking a picture with it.
It was just after eleven in the evening. They were at the airport in Oakland, California. Beyond the thick glass window in front of them was one of the large jetliners. Adeline held her phone out in front of her and clicked the button. There was another flash, and an electronic noise, mimicking the sound an old-fashioned camera would make. She gave Thomas a quick smile before checking the result on her tiny screen.
For the rest of his life, Thomas would wonder where he found the courage to speak to such a beautiful girl. “The flash is going off,” he told her. “It’s reflecting in the glass and wiping out your picture.”
“Oh,” she said, “I think you’re right.” Her voice was high and girlish.
“If you turn the flash off, you might get a better shot.” He held up the digital camera strapped around his neck. “If you have something like this, with a bigger lens to capture more light, it would help, too.” He had just taken a similar picture with his camera. He had been so focused on taking the picture that he hadn’t noticed Adeline there until her flash went off.
“Here,” he said, and turned his camera screen towards her. The display showed the plane clearly visible against the darkened runway.
“That one came out so nice!” she said. “I wish my camera took pictures like that.”
“Give me your email,” he said with a grin, “and I’ll send you this one.”
The two shared a blushing smile. “I’m not allowed to give my email out to strange boys.”
“Well, tell me who you are,” said Thomas. “I’ll tell you who I am, and then we won’t be strangers anymore. I’m Thomas Reeve. I’m seventeen, and I’m bound for Florida.”
“I’m going to Houston,” she said.
“I'm switching planes in Houston. We must be on the same flight.” The girl had turned and looked behind her. Thomas feared that in a moment she could slip away from him as suddenly as she appeared. “You didn’t tell me your name.”
“I’m Adeline,” she said, flashing him a bright smile.
“Do you live in Houston?”
“No, we live in Peace Valley.”
Thomas gazed keenly at her. They lived in the same town, yet he had never seen her before. “Do you go to Cooper High?”
“No,” she answered. “I go to Calvary.” Thomas nodded. He knew the name of the Christian high school. That explained why he didn’t recognize her. “Do you go to Cooper?” she asked.
“Yes! I live on Marigold, off of Rose Avenue. I walk to Cooper High, most days.”
“How funny! We live on Willow.”
“Willow Lane? That’s right next to Cooper High! How come you don’t go to Cooper?”
“Tuition’s free for us at Calvary. My father’s a pastor, and he's Vice Principal there.”
Thomas grinned, thrilled that the pretty girl was still talking to him. “Weird, meeting here like this, isn’t it? We’re practically neighbors, and we didn’t know each other.”
Adeline nodded. “God works in mysterious ways.”
That must be one of the things that preacher’s daughters say, thought Thomas. Adeline took another nervous look back at her family. Thomas could see, not far away from where they were standing, a mother and father looking in their direction, the mother anxious, the father stern.
“Where’s your family?” asked Adeline.
Thomas shrugged. “I’m here by myself. My dad will meet me in Florida.”
"You're here by yourself, in the middle of the night?" Adeline's face was wide with shock.
"My mom dropped me off," said Thomas, evenly. "She'd be here, believe me, but they won't let you through security unless you're getting on the plane." He shrugged. "This place is really safe, even at night."
“It’s ‘cause you’re a boy,” she said. “My parents don’t let me out of their sight. I’m surprised they’ve let me talk to you this long.”
Adeline’s mother was walking their way. She had blond hair, too, though it was cut shorter than her daughter’s. She wore a light blue skirt with matching jacket. Her shoes were the same shade of blue as the rest of her outfit. Their heels clicked on the tile floor as she walked. “The flight’s been delayed,” she said to the two of them. “There’s bad weather in Houston.”
“This is Thomas,” said Adeline. “He’s from Peace Valley, too. Isn’t that interesting? And he’s here by himself!”
“I’m catching that same flight. I’m changing planes in Houston, then I’m off for St. Petersburg.”
Adeline's mother gave him a warm smile. “You must come and sit with us for a while, then. It’s nice of you to keep our daughter company.”
Thomas knew she meant: Come over here, so we can keep a closer eye on the two of you. “I’d love to join you,” he said.
Near the gate counter were rows of seating, black vinyl cushions with chrome metal frames. Adeline's family sat together. All of them were fair-haired. There were two more blond girls sitting side by side on what could be considered a sofa. The one who was awake was watching him, eyes shrewd and curious. She had her arm outstretched around her younger sibling, a diamond ring on her left hand.
Adeline's father was tall and slender. Thomas guessed that the man spent regular time in the gym. He gave Thomas a hard, intimidating stare. Thomas looked away.
The mother sat down beside her husband and put her magazine in her lap, but she didn't open it. Instead, she asked Thomas, "How did you come to be here at the airport, all by yourself, so late at night?"
"I'm visiting my dad."
"So, you live with your mother?"
Thomas nodded. "I live with Mom, but I see Dad pretty regularly, too. Spring Break, Christmas, Summer. He hasn't always lived in Florida."
"You're taking it well. Were you young when they separated?"
"My parents have been divorced for as long as I can remember. It's no big deal."
"Divorce is hard on children, particularly older children. You were lucky they separated so early." Satisfied with Thomas' account of himself, she opened her magazine. Thomas spared a quick look over to the Pastor, who had a laptop open, balanced on his knees. Thomas pulled in a deep breath and turned his gaze back on Adeline.
She was smiling brightly at him, a faint blush on her cheeks. Despite the late hour, she seemed wide awake. "So," she said, "you're seventeen, and you go to Cooper High. Are you a senior?"
"Yeah, I'm a senior now."
"So am I." She lowered her eyes a moment, and Thomas took the chance to gaze at her more fully. She wore a green sweater over her pink dress. The skirt was calf length, and there was no hint of curves from the dress' conservative cut. It was her face that held his attention - the pale skin, clear complexion without even freckles, her bright eyes and engaging smile.
"Those your sisters?" He nodded his head towards the other girls.
"Yes. Cassidy is nineteen and Faith just turned fifteen. I'm the middle child."
Thomas wanted to say, "Nineteen and married already? Where's her husband?" But, he thought it rude to ask, so he filed those questions away for later.
She asked him, "Do you have any brothers or sisters?"
"Nope. It's just me."
Adeline gazed off for a moment in the direction of the terminal counter. Two stewardesses were walking by in matching navy dresses. "I was trying to think of a senior boy from Cooper who goes to our church. Do you know Neil Baker?"
"Sure, I know Neil. He was in half my classes last year. Never heard him mention you," Thomas added wryly.
"Well, I don't know him that well," said Adeline, blushing. "But, the Bakers have gone to our church for many years now. I know Neil and his sister Missy."
"I've known Neil and Missy since we were all little kids."
"Did you go to your prom?" The Cooper High Junior Prom was only a few weeks previous.
Thomas let out a derisive snort. "Yeah, but I was working."
"What do you mean?"
"I had a date at one point, but we had a fight and broke up about three weeks before the prom. She ended up going with someone else. So, I went and took pictures for the yearbook."
"You didn't dance with anyone?" She sounded sad, as if she had known him forever already.
"Oh, one of my friends took pity on me at one point and danced with me."
"Her boyfriend wasn't jealous?"
"No." Holly's social life was too complicated for this discussion, Thomas decided. He turned the question back on the girl. "Did you go to your prom?"
She shook her head. "We didn't have a prom. The church elders don't approve of dancing."
Thomas guessed that Pastor Vice Principal was one of those church elders. Figuring that one or both of the adults were eavesdropping on the conversation, Thomas didn't push the issue. Adeline quickly changed the topic. "Are you planning to go to college?"
"Yeah, but I'm not sure where. Mom wants me to do pre-law, and then go to law school. I don't know if I'm that smart. I'd love to study photography, but, when I get out, I'd also like to eat."
"You must have some choices."
"I took a drafting class last semester that went pretty well. I might see where that leads me. How 'bout you?"
"My parents want me to go to Bible College. I'll probably end up a pastor's wife, like my mom."
"Is that what you want?"
He hadn't meant the question to be aggressive, but it made her blush and bite down on her lip. Just then, the father closed his laptop, set it in his bag, and went up to check the schedule on the wall.
Thomas whispered to Adeline, "How 'bout that email?"
Her blush deepened, but she slipped her hand inside her carry-on bag and pulled out a spiral notebook. She wrote out her email in purple ink, in a loopy, feminine cursive. She tore a strip of paper out of the notebook, and Thomas quickly pocketed it.
"Thanks," he said. "I'll send you that picture as soon as I get to St. Petersburg."
The father was back. He spoke, his voice low and even, “We'll be boarding soon."
Adeline's family were flying first class, so they boarded first. Thomas had to wait a while before they called his number. When he walked by Adeline's row, she smiled at him. As he settled in his seat, on the aisle, towards the middle of the plane, he felt that the conversation had gone pretty well. He would email her the picture when he got to his dad's house, and maybe, when they got back to California, he would ask her out. With any luck, her parents might even allow it.
The stewardess gave her demonstration about the emergency procedures, even though this was a red-eye and no one was awake enough to take it in. At 12:30 am, the plane began to taxi, and soon they were in the air. Thomas settled in, a blanket across his lap and his iPod playing soft music in his ears.
He was about to fade into a light sleep when a movement in front of him caught his eye. Into his part of the plane came Adeline. Thomas took in a deep breath and pulled the buds from his ears.
"Hey," he said, when she reached him.
"I'm sitting by myself," she told him. "Would you like to come and sit with me?"
"I'd love to," said Thomas, grinning. Suddenly, he was wide awake. "Is it okay with them?"
He meant her parents, but she answered, "I already asked the stewardess and she said you could."
"All right then." Thomas stood up and wrapped the blanket around his shoulders. With his camera case in his left hand, he inched out into the aisle.
As they walked, he reached out and caught the girl's hand. She flinched, startled by the gesture, but she smiled back at him. "Don't let Father see you holding my hand," she warned.
Her hand was warm, soft, and thin. They walked through one partition, down another aisle to a second partition. Here, Adeline deftly pulled her hand away. Down the aisle they walked, past her parents. Mother was asleep, leaning against the window. Father was on the aisle, watching them, the laptop open on the tray in front of him.
Too bad for you, thought Thomas, that you bought tickets in first class. The seats are too high for you to look over and spy on us.
Adeline's sisters were on the row opposite, on Thomas' left. They were both asleep now, leaning against one another. He turned away from them. Adeline took the window seat. Thomas sat beside her and pushed up the armrest that was between them. She was blushing, nervous. He smiled calmly back at her.
"We were worried about you," she whispered, "Mother and I, that you were all alone. I hope you don't mind me dragging you up here."
"Sit in first class for a few hours with a beautiful girl like you? Don't mind that at all."
"I don't think I'm beautiful," she answered, softly, "but, thank you."
She pulled the blanket from its pouch in the seat in front of her and spread it on her lap. "Goodness, it's late," she said with a yawn.
Thomas stretched out his blanket so that there was some overlap between them. The girl was nervous and sleepy, but she had brought him here to be with her. He decided to test his luck. He eased his hand, under the blanket, across the space between them until he touched her knee.
Her hand dropped quickly upon his and held it tight. "I'm not a public school girl," she said reprovingly.
"Let me hold your hand at least," he said.
"You can hold my hand." She yawned again. "I'm getting sleepy."
"It's all right," he whispered. "Just relax."
"Thank you for keeping me company." Her voice trailed off and her eyes closed.
Thomas gazed at the sleeping girl. There was no makeup on cheeks or eyelids, only a little gloss on her pale pink lips. Her eyebrows were blond, almost invisible against her pale skin, and her eyelashes were light brown. Stray strands of blond hair fell across her face. Her hand still clutched his tightly. He reached out with his left and pushed her hair back behind her ear. Then, he leaned in and gave her a soft kiss on the cheek. "Good night, Adeline," he whispered.
Holly's words came back to him then, her voice in his head as clear as if she were sitting next to him, "She's right around the corner."
Holly had gone to the prom with Erin, the coolest girl that Thomas knew, one of Cooper High's resident rock stars. The two girls wore matching sheath dresses. Holly's was purple while Erin's was green. There had been some nervousness at first. Would the administration even let them go to the prom as a same sex couple? But no one said a thing, not even when they slow danced together.
Thomas had been sure to capture that moment with his camera. Holly was the taller of the two, and they were nicely paired with their coordinating colors and their gazes of relaxed, happy love. Now, Thomas was standing on a table at the back of the room, trying to get the whole of the dance floor in the frame. Erin, he noticed, was dancing with Ben, her long time platonic male friend. And so, Holly had come looking for Thomas.
"Tommy, come down. I want you to dance with me."
It was a sign of how long she had known him that she still called him Tommy. "Hang on," he told her. "Let me get this shot."
"Hurry! The song will be over."
Thomas carefully got down from the table. Holly tugged on the camera strap. "Put this down for a minute."
"I can't," Thomas had told her. "It's Mr. Hendrickson's and it's worth a thousand bucks. I can't let it out of my sight."
"Give it to Cody. He'll watch it."
Cody was the tough guy in Erin's circle, the enforcer. No one dared make a slur when he was around. They found him sitting at a nearby table, his arm around a wispy brunette. "Watch the camera for us, will you Cody?" asked Holly. "Thank you dear," she added without really waiting for an answer.
Holly led Thomas out to the dance floor. They were close to the same height now that Holly was wearing heels. She kept him as far as she could from his ex, Monica, but the sight of
her dancing with her new boyfriend was making Thomas depressed. He shuffled his feet with a glum look on his face. He couldn't look Holly in the eye.
"Cheer up, Tommy," she urged. When he wouldn't meet her eye, she bent her head low and looked up at him. As she leaned forward, her dress gapped. His eyes followed it, soaking up her pale pink skin. "Oh Tommy," she said with a laugh, and turned his head with her hand. "They haven't changed since the last time you saw them." Seeing him finally smile, she had kissed him firmly on the mouth.
It was a familiar enough gesture, but that night it made him shiver. "God, I wish you were straight," he whispered.
She set her head on his shoulder. "You'll find her, Tommy," she told him. "I promise you will. She's right around the corner. A beautiful blond girl, just like me."
And, here she was, a beautiful girl who lived, literally, right around the corner from the school. She was even blond.
Courting her will be tricky, he realized. Thomas had not had that many girlfriends, but he figured his experiences would dwarf Adeline's. She had never even gone to a dance, much less had a guy's hand on her thigh. Even when everyone around them was asleep, and they were shielded from prying eyes by the blanket and the high-backed chairs. She still couldn't allow it.
Her parents were sure to be strict and conservative. The mom had seemed nice enough, but what girl calls her dad 'Father?' Thomas didn't know what to make of that, but it sounded vaguely ominous.
Her head nodded, and in her sleep she moved closer to him. Thomas leaned forward and kissed the top of her head. He closed his eyes, and an hour slipped away from him. A subtle change in pitch to the white noise of the plane let him know they were beginning their descent. He eased himself back into consciousness.
Adeline was still asleep, her soft hands still holding his. She had turned again in her sleep and was now leaning more towards the window. Her throat, long and slender, was, besides her face, the only part of her skin that he could see. Gazing at her, he felt an ache across his chest, like the echo of a climax. Leaning forward, he kissed her once more on the cheek.
Adeline stirred, opened her eyes, and flushed. "I fell asleep!" She let go of his hand and rubbed her eyes. "I'm sorry. I dragged you up here and then fell asleep."
"It's all right. You're beautiful even when you're asleep." She tucked her chin down and let her hair fall over her face, but she didn't dispute him this time. "We're almost to Houston." She gazed at him, her eyes bright and shy. Under the blanket, he found her hand again. "When we get back home, I wanna see you again," he told her.
She nodded, “Do you go to church?”
“No. Is that a problem?”
"I hope not." Her eyes drifted towards her parents, shielded from them by the tall blue seats. When she looked at him again, the longing in her gaze stopped his breath in his throat. Her lips quivered, but she stayed silent.
"I'll send you an email, with my number, and you can call me."
Again, he thought she was about to say something, but then stopped herself. Suddenly, Adeline shirked and pulled her hand away. Her mother had appeared in the aisle behind him. She checked first on the two sisters before turning her gaze on Thomas and Adeline.
"Were you up the whole night talking?" she asked.
"No," Adeline answered. "I fell asleep."
"That's good. We have a busy day ahead of us."
Once Adeline's mother was back in her seat, Thomas fished from his bag two sticks of cinnamon flavored gum. He offered one to Adeline. "You want some?" She nodded and took a stick. He gazed at her as she began to chew. She blushed and turned away. The shade was down over the window. Adeline lifted it.
His hand crept back over to Adeline's thigh. She set her hand on top of it and held it tightly. Thomas looked over Adeline's shoulder and watched the Texas desert give way to the Houston metropolis.
The plane landed with a soft bounce. The engines gave a high-pitched screech as the plane quickly decelerated. As it eased up to the terminal, Adeline let go of Thomas' hand and gathered up her things.
They hadn't spoken in several minutes. There was only a moment of privacy left before her parents stood up and moved into the aisle. "Thanks for bringing me up here," said Thomas. "It was nice to fly first class, at least for a leg."
"I hope I didn't bore you."
"I wasn't bored."
She suddenly stretched her arms out and gave him a hug. "God loves you," she said.
He set his hands against her ribs and held her still. "Do you love me?" he asked, cheekily. She didn't answer, but trembled, blushing.
Then, they were standing up. Her sisters, and then her parents, moved into the aisle. The Pastor pulled a large carry-on bag down from the overhead compartment. Adeline's family moved slowly towards the exit.
Thomas grabbed his camera and slid it up to his shoulder. He backed into the aisle and let Adeline slip out in front of him. Their hands brushed once more. He followed her out of the plane, resisting the temptation to press his hand against her bottom as they walked.
As they reached the terminal, she turned and looked back at him. He gazed wistfully at her. She smiled broadly, her face as warm and bright as dawn's light.