He stared at her picture in the waiting area, in the skybridge, during takeoff. He kept having to re-touch the screen of his phone: it kept going to black to save battery. Eventually he went into the settings and changed it to 'always-on'.
"Girl troubles?" The woman next to him: mid-thirties, professional. She was vaguely familiar, but maybe she just had one of those faces. She coughed, covering her mouth with her fist, then leaned over to steal a closer look. "She's pretty. If you like that type. Which I guess you do. What happened?"
He didn't want to talk about it. "She cheated on me."
"Terrible. But everybody does it, take it from me."
"I never did."
"Well, maybe you'll cheat on the next one, or the one after that."
"That's an awful way to look at it…"
"I'm just being realistic. Listen," she gently took the phone, turned it off, slipped it into his shirt pocket. "My husband cheated on me. After ten years together, faithful the whole time. And then he gets home, and he's suddenly a rock star, and the fans are everywhere he goes and they're young and pretty and willing, and he's apparently having them two at a time. He still loves me, and I'm sure he'll get over this, but right now…"
He didn't know what to say. "Your husband's a sudden rock star? What's that about?"
"Figuratively speaking. He's an astronaut. He just got back from the Mars mission."
That's why she looked familiar. "Oh, I remember you. You were the pretty one. At the White House. The other three looked sort of frumpy. The wives."
"They are sort of frumpy. And thank you." She coughed again, just once, then smiled. "Anne."
"Ricky. I mean, Rick."
"But she called you Ricky."
"Want some of my booze? You missed the cart."
It was a four-hour flight, and they were only an hour into it. The plane climbed as it passed over the coast and out over the ocean; the cart came around again, and once again, and they got pleasantly drunk, her treat.
"So here's my question," she said, conspiratorially. "Have you thought about getting even with… what was her name?"
"Oh, no, no; Missy?" She laughed dismissively. "Rick, you definitely need to get even. And you know what? This is your chance." She was close, leaning closer. She was attractive, though older than him, which would be a first. She smelled very good. But…
"I don't need to get even. I'm over it."
"Which is why you stared at her picture for more than an hour? No, Rick, you… listen, sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind. Sometimes you just have to let go of all the stupid rules that you told yourself were important. You know what I mean?"
He stared at her. She stared back, she raised her eyebrows and grinned. She got up, slid past him into the center aisle, and headed towards the front, clearly expecting him to follow after a respectable pause. He watched her all the way, he saw her whisper something to the stewardess and press something — money, perhaps — into her hand, he saw her slip quietly into the lavatory.
He would never have done this before Missy, never. He couldn't believe he was doing it now. He got up, avoiding eye contact with the people around him and spectacularly avoiding eye contact with the stewardess. He stepped into the lavatory with… Anne. She reached past him to flip the lock to 'occupied'.
"Have you ever done this before?" It was a nervous whisper.
"In an airplane? No. Cheating? Well…" she was undoing his belt as she spoke, "I told my husband that if he gets to play around, so do I. He doesn't care. He's getting his."
Missy had cheated just the once. Maybe she wouldn't do it again. She'd said she wouldn't, she'd said she was sorry. Maybe they could work it out. And then he was in Anne's hand and he couldn't think any more.
It wasn't the most comfortable sex he'd ever had — they were cramped, and he was awkward and hesitant — but he couldn't remember ever being that turned on in his life. Everywhere she touched his skin tingled like lips during a first kiss. He struggled not to make noise; she was absolutely silent.
He thought about Missy the whole time; it's how he knew he had made a mistake. Afterwards, Anne left the lavatory before him. The stewardess winked at her as she passed. He felt like throwing up. The feeling stayed with him the rest of the flight.
So did the excitement of it. He wanted her again, Anne. He didn't suggest it, but it was distracting. She switched seats after a while, to chat with a young woman three rows back, a college girl going home for winter break. When he looked back again, both seats were empty. Oh.
When they landed, he rushed to deplane, rushed to the bathroom, threw up, masturbated. The nausea didn't lessen, nor did the arousal. He got a strange look from a businessman in a cowboy hat when he was leaving.
In the cab, he called Missy. He forgave her, he wanted her back, he had to have her. "Meet me at the apartment. Just meet me." It was a forty-five minute drive. He had to have the driver pull over so that he could dry-heave by the side of the road. Oddly, there was a woman on the other side of the highway throwing up also.
By the time he got to the apartment, he understood everything.
You're an invader. You're a virus, or a bacteria, or a parasite. A parasite; I'm a parasite. I'm smart. I need to spread to as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time, before they can react. I'll give them something they want, that all of them want.
He waited for Missy.