Marcus smiled down at Destiny. “May I buy you a drink?”
“I have one, thank you. But we can talk.” She held a glass filled with icy clear liquid and a wedge of lime.
Marcus sat next to her. Each table stood in its own intimate alcove, perfect for conversation. Most of the tables were filled with travelers reunited or saying their good-byes.
Destiny smiled. “My name is Destiny.”
She was the most beautiful woman Marcus had ever seen.
Destiny offered her hand and he took it gently. Her touch thrilled him. Destiny smiled at his feigned formality.
Conversation was exactly what Marcus sought. Good old anonymous, meaningless conversation. These days, that was hard to find. And he needed it so much. If they moved on from small talk and actually got to know each other, all the better. But his dream was to indulge in cheap, face to face, small talk.
Marcus became wealthy by investing his lotto winnings in a forward-thinking tech start-up. He didn’t know AI from AZ. But he had the money and his friend, Patel, had the knowhow.
What an ironic curse that all became. His financial security bred a simmering insecurity. Now, he felt he could only risk getting to know anyone by hiding his identity. How he longed for his days as a nobody.
Marcus took comfort that he didn’t look to be a person of note. He never adopted the sartorial cues which set the rich apart. Marcus knew he could travel under the radar, but it wasn’t easy.
He yearned to buy a drink for a woman knowing she wanted his smile and not his pocketbook. Marcus felt human connection becoming rare in this age of anti-social media. People were lonelier than ever.
“Are you a local? I just flew in… for a business meeting in the morning. I saw this place and thought I’d unwind from the flight.”
Destiny held her look. “No, I’m flying out tonight. Family business.”
Marcus had exited the airport and saw this lounge, Flight Risk. The edgy/classy name intrigued him. It promised to be better than the typical sports bar. He found it had the perfect ambiance, subdued recessed lighting, warm wood and low, easy music.
And now Marcus found himself with the perfect conversation mate, Destiny. Though dressed for travel, her fashion style hit the mark. She looked great.
Marcus dared to overstep. “I hope it’s not a crisis.”
“Thank you, but no. It’s just an annual trip, kind of a reunion.”
“Mind if I ask where to?”
“I’ve been there. Wonderful people.”
Her accent was charming, more English than American. She paused sometimes, seeking the correct word.
They danced around specifics and lowered their guards. Destiny listened with genuine interest. She enjoyed his sense of humor. Her laughter was a fountain of joy.
Destiny asked some serious questions too. Her eyes sparkled with interest. She made Marcus feel safe to talk with authenticity.
Marcus felt seen. Heard like never before. He wondered if one can fall in love in an instant. Destiny seemed too perfect. He liked that. How sad their time was so limited.
Marcus entertained Destiny with a story about his co-workers. He left his part in it on the periphery.
“They had a pool. A betting pool of sorts where every week they would join forces and funds to buy lotto tickets.”
“The boss knew about it?”
“He didn’t care. It was fun anticipation and harmless, as no one spent too much. Until…”
“Well, they hit it big.”
“Really big. Like half a million each.”
“Wow! What happened?”
“They quit. En masse. Thought they had it made. Our office was decimated. Those who stayed got promotions for pulling the slack and keeping it from going belly up.”
“And the winners?”
“They blew through it in less than two years. Like a sieve. They each came back crying. But it was too late.”
“Watch what you wish for…”
“It was funny, only it wasn’t.”
Destiny saw the time. “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I need to catch this flight. I have to go.”
It was over. Too soon. He’d never felt so connected to anyone. So intimate. So brief.
“Let me drive you? My rental is just outside.”
“Thanks. But I called Uber.”
They stood for an awkward moment. Marcus moved to embrace Destiny. She responded for an exquisite moment. They held each other longer than either expected. He would never forget the scent of her hair.
Destiny pulled away, flustered. She smiled up at him and then took his hand shyly. “I must go.”
“Wait!” She stopped. Marcus fished in his wallet. “Take my card. Perhaps we’ll meet again.”
Destiny took his card. “Perhaps.” She brushed past him.
Marcus was alone. He gathered his wits and went to his hotel.
The next morning, his partner, Patel, picked him up for an early lunch. It was a happy reunion. They had much to discuss. Things were going great. Patel wanted to show him his latest projects.
“Marcus, you are going to love this. Our set up costs were astronomical, of course. Unavoidable. That’s tech. But with labor overhead being next to nil, we’ll easily amortize it in less than a decade. After that, pure gravy, Marcus.”
Patel drove them toward their lunch meeting. Airport traffic slowed the flow. Patel made a sudden turn into the round-about in front of Flight Risk. Patel took the valet ticket.
Marcus shook his head. “What are you doing?”
“Patience, my friend. I have a surprise for you.”
They entered the lounge together. It was busy for midday. Patel spread his arms with a grand smile. “Brilliant, yes? What do you think?”
Marcus noticed the company logo. “This is yours?”
“Ours, my friend. Surprise!”
Marcus’s mind reeled. A musical laugh drew his attention to one of the tables. The woman leaned back and clapped, just like Destiny had.
It was Destiny. Marcus stared. He scanned the room. Had he gone mad? Every woman was Destiny.
They had different hair. Different clothing. But each had that manner, the off-kilter smile, that presence.
Patel intruded. “Marcus, isn’t this amazing? Of course, we’ll mix the dolls up. This is our test location. Right by the airport. Perfect for a steady flow of upscale but transient customers. It’s the cutting edge of AI, Marcus. We couldn’t have done it without you.”
Destiny approached them and smiled her signature smile. “Welcome Patel. Hello Marcus.”
Patel laughed. “You two know each other?”
Marcus stammered. “I didn’t know. I came here last night.”
“I love it. Flight Risk… Isn’t it great?”
Destiny offered her hand to Marcus. “I’m your Destiny.”
“My Destiny? But…”
“Yes. You completed me. Last night.”
Patel touched Destiny’s elbow and whispered, “We met.”
Destiny paused, re-directed herself to Marcus and repeated. “Yes… we met.”
Patel beamed at Marcus. This was too good.
“We keep them on a cycle of sixty to ninety minutes. No funny stuff.”
Marcus looked at Destiny intently. It was her. With that voice, it had to be her. But it couldn’t be.
As a test, he said, “May I buy you a drink?”
“I have one, thank you. But we can talk.”
She held up a glass filled with icy clear liquid and a wedge of lime.
Patel laughed. “Fantastic! I have to hear about this! Find a table. I’ll get drinks. What are you having?”
Dazed, Marcus said, “Bourbon. Straight.”
Destiny took Marcus’ hand and led him to the same intimate alcove as last night. She sat and patted the cushion, inviting him to sit.
Marcus hesitated. “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.”
A wave of nausea drove Marcus staggering to the men’s room. He leaned on the counter while staring into the mirror. Then he became sick.
A few minutes later, Marcus called a cab and returned to his hotel without speaking to anyone else in the Flight Risk.