By the time Ben and I made it back to our gate, our flight was boarding.
We squeezed through the back of the line, eliciting harsh stares from travelers believing we were unfairly moving ahead. I was going to utter an apology, but Ben tugged at my arm to keep walking and glowered at the sour old white lady.
He really didn't care what people thought of him.
"There you guys are," Eric commented. He was carrying Ella now, and at this point, she was just being lazy. I did admire the way she could get her parents to always carry her through a bat of her thick, long lashes and a small, high-pitched whine. Too bad that didn't work when you were twenty. "Ben, are you alright?" His stone-blue eyes fixated on Ben's paler complexion and downturned lips.
Ben quickly nodded and stood up straighter, but Eric sensed he was feigning confidence. He put down Ella in front of me and gave his younger brother a tight hug.
Ben and I had many things in common, but predominantly, our sibling dynamic. We each had siblings of the same gender ten years older than us who believed they were always right. And who, most of the time, acted like replacement parents.
I supposed more so in Ben's case than mine...
"Can you all stop acting like I'm a fragile doll?" Ben snapped, stepping backwards and rubbing a hand down his face. "You baby me more than Ella sometimes." Ella peered up at him at the mention of her name, but even at three, she knew not to bother talking.
None of us tried to converse with him after that. I spent my time staring out the window at the grounded plane, admiring the golden glow of the newly-risen sun on the wings. I thought of Ben and how I should just leave him alone. How I try my best to be sensitive. How I should act like nothing is wrong and stop babying him, just the way he wants it.
But how could I dance around the fact his own parents died in the same mode of transportation our feet were inches away from?
The best part about traveling with family was the fact you usually weren't going to be stuck sitting next to an utter stranger.
We took up a good part of the middle of the cabin. My mom sat with her purse in the middle seat and my dad next to it, claiming a whole row. Eric, Ella and Leila occupied the three seats in front of them, and Ben and I were seated in the row to the left of my parents. Neither of us liked the aisle seat, so I curled up against the window and he sat back in the chair in the middle, tapping his fingers against the armrest that hadn't started an ownership war just yet.
The plane had just taken off, and we were still low over the Earth. The scenery below reminded me of Ella's toys. There were cars which were hardly moving specks and picturesque houses that were simply missing a few porcelain dolls and a coat of pastel paint.
I rested my fist against my chin and darted my eyes towards Ben every few moments, just enough so he wouldn't notice me staring. He was stiff in his chair, his eyes set ahead and his hand formed into a slight fist against the unshared armrest. The other one hung there rather limply.
I don't know why or when it happened, but my right hand reached towards his and grasped his cold left hand. The gesture was supposed to be comforting, but when his head slowly tilted towards me and his gaze burned into my face, it felt somewhat more intimate: a feeling we hadn't experienced in years.
He bit the inside of his cheek and placed his fingertips against his mouth, staring away from me now. I glanced at his hand which felt almost detached from him. It was as if I was holding just a body part; that was until he lightly squeezed it and then closed his eyes.
I turned my attention to Eric in the aisle seat diagonal to us. His reaction to being up in the sky was nowhere near his brother's. He was laughing at something Ella was telling him and slouched in his chair, his hands folded behind his head.
Maybe it was an older sibling thing. The more responsibility someone had growing up, the less time there was to show emotions.
It seemed like a realistic conclusion since I'd never seen my own sister cry.
"Ben," I breathed, tilting my head closer to his. His eyelids fluttered and he gave me a "mhm" for a yes. "Do you remember when we were kids and I asked you how airplanes were built and you told me that they were actually a giant species of bird and were born that way?" As absurd as this sounded, Ben wasn't the brightest soul at seven.
The corner of his lips twitched until they formed into a full smirk. "Could you imagine the size of the egg?"
We both fell asleep afterwards, though I barely drifted off while he didn't even stir. I glanced at my phone every ten minutes, as if it would make the time pass by faster. We had an hour and a half left, and I didn't download any music for the flight.
By the time we hit the hour mark, Ben was beginning to lightly snore. His body grew less firm and his head began to progressively tilt to the left, until it landed on my shoulder. Apparently, I made a comfortable pillow since he curled up a little more and rested a hand against my chest, just shy of my boob.
When a flight attendant passed by to pick up our drinks, I had to suppress bursting into laughter at the way she lovingly smiled at us. The reality was far different than what the situation presented.
The only thing that could awake Ben was the jolt of the plane as it skidded into a landing. He immediately shifted from me and cleared his throat, tugging a hand through his tousled hair. I kept a neutral face, though, I wish I hadn't gotten a picture of how he looked sleeping on top of me.
"Do I snore?" he questioned, fiddling with his seat belt. "I think I'm a pretty decent sleeper."
"Not at all, Ben." You just drooled a little on my shoulder and nearly grabbed my boob like a teddy bear in your sleep. "I hardly noticed you."
"Good," he began, nodding to himself and pursing his lips. "Good." He stood up from his seat and stepped into the aisle along with the other Usain Bolts of air travel. I didn't understand why people sitting rows behind us already had all of their carry-ons in their hands and were standing in fight mode, as if there weren't two-hundred people away from the front.
"We're here," my dad announced to us as he pulled his suitcase from the overhead bin. "I can almost feel the warmth." My whole family abhorred the cold, and I didn't blame them. According to my mother, summers where she grew up as a kid were hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk.
Back home I didn't even bat an eyelash at snow in April.
"Eric and I kept trying not to laugh at the way Ben slept," Leila told me when I made it to her row. "You guys are so adorable."
I rolled my eyes. "I was just trying to be comforting. You know how he feels."
She nodded, placing a hand on my shoulder. Her long nails slightly dug into my sweater. "I know, Samar. You've always been good about this."
"Did Eric mention anything?" I asked, quieter, since he was only standing a few feet back with my dad. "I know he's never seemed to take it as hard as Ben."
Leila sighed and placed her hands against her hips. "He internalizes it more. Very rarely will we be sitting alone and he mentions it, but if he does... He has emotions, Samar." She was about to tell me more until she realized that Ella was shoving her way through the people in front of us and beginning to run through the line.
"Ella! Ella, habibti, come here." She muttered apologies and squeezed her thin frame through the crowds of people until she picked Ella up underneath the shoulders and hauled her up. She began to grumble reprimands in Arabic in her ear and shoot smiles at the people staring simultaneously, until Ella pursed her lips shut. She sounded just like my mother when she was disciplining.
Ben smiled at the whole ordeal and turned to me. "Does Ella actually understand what Leila's saying?"
I nodded. "She does. She just doesn't speak it. Leila thinks it'll make Ella smarter to know two languages, but I think this girl is already smart and cunning as it is." I paused and glanced at him. "Do you understand what she's saying?"
He smirked. "Oh, trust me, Samar, I've caught onto more than you think over the years."
YOU ARE READING
After an abrupt end to her steady college relationship, Samar Karam is back at square one: Benjamin Butler. Her childhood friend, mortal enemy, neighbor, and ex-boyfriend all wrapped up in one, Ben is all but a permanent fixture in Samar's life, wit...