Red Shoes Reconciliation

Written in response to: Write a story that includes the line “We’re just too different.”... view prompt

9 comments

Fiction Drama Gay

Jacob Arlow, on the second leg of a routine trip to Singapore, expected an uneventful flight from Tokyo. About half an hour after take-off, the plane shuddered violently as if a horrific blast had struck it. The roar from the rip in the triple seven’s fuselage was deafening. With a death grip, Jacob held tight to his armrests. His knuckles turned white. The icy wind tugged and whipped all around him. In the torrent, oxygen masks danced and bounced about. Passengers, as if reaching for dangling sunflowers, desperately went for them.

Jacob screamed as loudly as he could, but the noise from the rush of air and the swirling debris drowned out his voice. Glancing all about, he realized a golden aura surrounded him. Standing before him was a man robed in white with towering snowy feathered wings. Feeling like he was in another world while still in the airplane, the sweet scent of jasmine and vanilla filled his nose. Plastic cups and water bottles, drawn toward the gaping rupture, swirled around, bouncing off his protective cocoon. 

Shooting a glance through the golden haze to the aisle seat, where the man he’d been chatting with just seconds before had been. The seat was intact, but the man was gone. Jacob wondered if he had been siphoned away into the abyss of the jagged puncture. 

The airplane was descending at an accelerated rate. Three rows behind, people were torn from the plane while fastened in their seats and sucked through the raging breach. A crackling voice was speaking on the cabin speaker, but Jacob couldn’t tell exactly what was being said. Something about a safe altitude, but he wasn’t sure. The map on the flickering screen in front of him showed they were in the middle of the ocean.

***

Jacob always found it exhausting to travel to see his team in Singapore. This trip was incredibly tiring; on the thirteen-hour flight from Dallas, he had the misfortune of sitting beside a relentless talker—a young man, in his early twenties, on his way to spend a month in Japan. Having never flown far before, he nervously chattered for the entire trip. 

Trapped in a window seat, Jacob was given no option but to listen. Each time he peered out the window, the young man would nudge him to ask another annoying question. Whenever he wasn't asking questions, he'd share details about his plans to stay with a family in Japan. Even pretending to be asleep didn’t save him from the endless jabber. 

Catching a fearful gaze, Jacob said, “Only turbulence, nothing to worry about.” He’d flown so many transpacific flights that he’d learned to tell whether something was seriously wrong. “All flights over water are usually smooth, but they can be bumpy sometimes.” 

Jacob fell back onto his seat and stared into the emptiness that consumed him. The endless jabbering faded like a bubbling brook in the distance. Jacob drifted back to what happened as he readied to leave for the airport. He’d had another bitter fight with his roommate.

***

 Six months earlier, Jacob met Spencer Johnson, a twenty-seven-year-old sandy blond with arctic blue eyes, ten years Jacob’s junior. Jacob had stopped on his way to work for a coffee. Jacob spotted Spencer behind the counter when he stepped into the Starbucks. 

Spencer's smile was intoxicating, and Jacob’s heart melted the second their eyes met. Seemingly, it was love at first sight. Not long after they started dating, Jacob asked Spencer to move in. Spencer jumped at the chance to live with such an attractive, mature professional. The relationship went well until Jacob revealed an incident from his previous trip to Singapore. 

“You wouldn’t recognize real work if it got in the shower with you.” Jacob snapped, standing in the bedroom and tossing boxers into his suitcase. Stomping to the bedroom doorway, he shouted down the hall, “Spencer, come back here. All you do is run away from conflict.” 

Spencer ignored Jacob's calls to return to the bedroom. Soaring into the living room, he plopped down hard on the sofa. Dropping his face into his hands, he began to sob. Through the tears with spittle flying from the corners of his mouth, he shouted, “Baristas work hard too!”

“Yeah, well, I’m the one who pays the bills around here. News flash, earth to Spencer, travel is part of my job. Why don't you grow up?”

“How can I be sure you won't sleep with another handsome flight attendant?”

Jacob slowly walked into the living room and stood in front of Spencer. Staring down at him with his chest heaving and brow furrowed, he exhaled heavily. Spencer peered up. His eyes glistened with tears. “Spencer, I could have kept that fling to myself, but I wanted to be open with you. Shit happens, okay?” 

“You’re such a selfish ass!” Spencer got up and stared at him briefly before dashing into the kitchen. Jacob followed close behind, “There you go again, running away.” 

Spencer turned his head away and held up his hand, “You can talk to my hand because I’m not listening.” 

“I wish I’d never told you about it.”

“Should I expect to hear how you humped on this flight too?”

Jacob stomped down the hall. Over his shoulder, he snapped. “Now I’m the one not listening.”

Spencer darted to the kitchen sink and stood with his arms folded, staring out the window. Jacob rolled his bag, parked it at the front door, and walked close behind Spencer. Wrapping his arms around him, he whispered, “My Uber’s here.” Spencer didn’t move. “Look at me, Spencer. I’m about to leave.”

Keeping his back to Jacob, he quipped. “So why don't you go already?”

“Spencer, it doesn't have to be this way.”

Spencer huffed aloud.

“People make mistakes. That man didn’t mean anything to me. The whole experience has given me—” Jacob dropped his embrace. Spencer stayed frozen in place.

Jacob sighed. Sadness tore at his chest. “Okay, Spencer, I’m not sure about our relationship. I’m not sure about anything anymore. We’re just too different. You shouldn't be here when I come back.” 

Spencer turned to see Jacob walk back into the living room, “What did you say?”

“You heard me.” Opening the front door, he flashed a glance back. Spencer stood frozen. “Jacob?” Jacob stepped across the threshold and jerked his roller behind him. The door drifted shut with a click.

The Uber driver took Jacob’s luggage and opened the back car door for him. Bouncing into the back seat, he slammed the door. The driver stowed his luggage and hopped back in. Peeking out the sidelight, Spencer wiped a tear as the car sped away. 

***

Jacob felt a sense of relief at the squeal of tires on the runway as his plane from Dallas touched down in Tokyo. The chatty travel companion stepped off the jetway with him. Jacob had to do a double take, his heart raced, and a chill ran up the back of his neck. The youthful man he’d been sitting beside for thirteen hours was a mirror image of Spencer. How had he not noticed?

His jaw dropped as the younger man extended his hand and said, “Thanks for being there for me. I was a little nervous and frankly scared.” Jacob took his hand and shook it without breaking eye contact. 

Jacob sighed at a total loss for words, “I hope you have a pleasant stay in Japan.” Standing with his hands at his side and his unkempt hair hanging over one eye, he saw what appeared to be Spencer walking away. The young man didn't look back as he waved goodbye in the air behind him. Jacob’s eyes welled with tears. I know I’m doing the right thing––It’s over.

Jacob turned and headed into an airport bar. While sipping his third beer, an announcement came over the loudspeaker, “Passengers for Asia-Pacific Flight four-sixty-three to Singapore, please proceed to gate thirty-three for immediate boarding.” Jacob chugged the last of his beer and slammed his mug down. Heads turned. The solitude of the lounge had been shaken. For some reason, it was always eerily quiet in Tokyo’s Narita airport at this time of night. Scrambling, he grabbed his bag and dashed for the gate. 

He hoped the final leg of his trip to Singapore would be his chance to relax and sleep. Jacob had a significant challenge ahead; he faced the daunting task of laying his team off. This was to be his final trip there. The gravity of such a mission gave him pause to reflect on his regrets in life. If only I’d never looked in that room.

Boarding the plane to Singapore, he crossed through the business class. With his airline status, he could board early and was among the first to take a seat. After stowing his carry-on, he quickly settled in. 

 A twenty-something, handsome Japanese flight attendant appeared from nowhere. “Can I bring you something before take-off?” 

Jacob gazed into his dark eyes, feeling a twinge of excitement and a jab of guilt. A sense of remorse hit him. It was him. “Thank you, I’ll have a double Irish and ginger. I want to be left alone and get to sleep quickly.” 

“Absolutely.” He hurried away to the galley.

Several people passed by Jacob as he rummaged through his duffle bag for his Kindle. A startling flop on the aisle seat. A man in his mid-thirties wearing a sports coat and jeans tossed down his backpack. He paused momentarily to glance at Jacob and then looked back into the overhead bin. Slamming it shut, he said, “Didn’t think I was going to make it. My plane got delayed coming out of Houston.”

Jacob just grinned and kept his eyes on his Kindle. 

The dark-haired stranger plopped down and glanced over. “What are you reading?”

Not wanting to be bothered again by another chatty travel for seven hours, he said, “Oh, just a book.” 

The attendant returned with Jacob’s drink. Handing it to him, he said, “My pleasure.” Their eyes locked. Jacob took it and smiled. No, not this time. I’ve had a change of heart.

“Whoa, that looks good!” The man said with a bright smile.

Breaking eye contact with Jacob. “May I bring you something, sir?”

“Yeah, one of those. What is it?”

Jacob piped up, “It’s a double Irish and ginger.”

“That’d be perfect.” The attendant stepped away. Caleb leaned over. “Now, he's certainly a friendly one, right?”

“Yeah, somehow they're drawn to me. It’s my fault. But I'm a regular on this flight. I think he recognizes me.”

There was a line of passengers opening and slamming overhead bins. Most looked to be Japanese, with the occasional weary American making a connection. The seat between them remained open.

The flight attendant returned with his drink, and the pilot came on the cabin speaker, “Welcome to flight four-sixty-three to Singapore. I have some good news. We have a tailwind. Our total flying time will be less than seven hours, arriving at the gate at approximately midnight Singapore time. Thank you for choosing Asia-Pacific.”

“Great.” A weight lifted from Jacob.

Raising his glass, the new-found travel companion said, “Cheers!” Jacob mimicked the gesture. He patted the seat between them and said, “Maybe we’ll get lucky, and no one takes this seat. We can spread out and get to know one another.”

Jacob looked up at his screen, “Yeah, maybe.” Hoping someone who didn’t speak English would take the seat between them—no such luck. The line of travelers subsided, and the center seat remained open. 

The attendants began their routine for take-off. Jacob took one last gulp of his drink. 

“Would you like a blanket or anything, sir?” The attendant asked, reaching for Jacob’s glass with a coy smile.

“No, I’m fine, thanks.” 

“Me too.” The stranger interrupted, handing him his glass. Relaxing, he crossed his legs in a figure-four, touched his ankle, and drew a long breath. Jacob couldn’t help but notice his bright red-brushed leather loafer, unsure if the color or size caught his eye. One accentuated the other, and neither was inconspicuous. “Those are some attractive shoes.”

“Thank you.” Breaking a broad smile, he said. “I wore them just for you.” Rubbing the side of his shoe, he locked eyes with Jacob. “I got them in Rome.” His gaze pierced Jacob’s soul, and inwardly, Jacob winched. 

Jacob panted and stammered. “They’re quite impressive.” 

The plane pushed back from the gate. A few minutes later, the adrenal rush of take-off had subsided. Jacob glanced over, and embarrassment coiled around him. The man was staring back at him. They had no more than lifted off when an unexpected violent shudder shook the plane. The plane’s left wing dipped and bobbed like a cork in turbulent water. Jacob recognized it as out of the ordinary. Dropping his Kindle, he grabbed the armrests of his seat. The man uncrossed his legs and bent down to pick it up. Handing it to Jacob, he said, “Don’t be afraid.” Reassuringly, he put his hand over Jacob’s. “By the way, I’m Caleb Devine.” 

Jacob’s chest rose and fell rapidly, “Thank you, I wasn’t expecting that. What do you suppose it was?”

Before Caleb could respond, a ding in the cabin, and the captain came on the speaker above. “Sorry about that, folks, one of our left engines had a hick-up, but it’s fully operational now. Sit back, relax, and enjoy the rest of the flight.”

Caleb extended his hand. “See, nothing to worry about. Everything's going to be fine, trust me.”

 Jacob looked down at the hand, then back into his eyes; he clutched his hand. “Pleasure to meet you. I’m Jacob Arlow.”

Caleb’s hand was warm, his smile reassuring, “Yes, I know who you are.” An awkward moment passed before Caleb relinquished Jacob’s hand. “I know quite a bit about you. I’m delighted to make your acquaintance.” Jacob combed his fingers through his ginger locks and dropped back into his seat. 

Looking forward momentarily, Jacob said, “What do you mean, you know quite a bit about me?”

“I know what you and your uncle did while he was staying with your family when you were twelve. You were playing in the basement just outside his makeshift bedroom.”

Jacob’s eyes widened, and his brows snapped together. Turning with glassy eyes that bore into Caleb. “I’ve never told anyone about that.”

Speaking almost in a whisper. Caleb said, “You could hear him moaning and peaked in through the crack in the door.” 

Jacob’s eyes squinted, and his nostrils flared. “I only watched for a second. Once he noticed me looking at him, he asked me to come in. I shouldn’t have. It was my fault for being there.”

“You’re wrong, Jacob. Evil has a way of turning innocence into guilt.”

Jacob’s expression sobered. “I’d never touched a man before or seen pictures like that. I didn’t know men did those sorts of things.”

Caleb took in a deep breath. “Jacob, what you saw and what your uncle did to you was intended to taint your soul. It’s not who you are.”  

Jacob shoved the hair from his face. “That’s where you’re wrong. I’m gay and proud of it. My uncle only showed me how. It’s what I wanted.”

Caleb’s eyes turned luminous. “I know you regret what you said to Spencer, and you should never respond to anger with anger. But your instinct was right. Let him go and change your way of life. I know it weighs heavy on you.”

Jacob’s eyes filled with tears. Rubbing his hands on his thighs and staring forward, he said, “No, it’s what I want. It’s who I am.”

Caleb stared passionately at him. “Evil used your uncle to get to you, and none of your actions are your fault. God has forgiven you. He’s about to prove his love for you. He sent me to protect you and to give you a second chance. Have faith.” The plane shuddered violently as if a horrific blast had struck it.


February 01, 2023 22:25

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9 comments

17:16 Feb 20, 2023

Great story, well written, it held my attention until the end, although I am old, so I had no idea of the references you refer to! I'm sure I would enjoy it even more if I was familiar with red shoes and films from the 1940s.

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Chandler Wilson
19:57 Feb 20, 2023

Sharon, thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my story. I mentioned the 1940s movies only to reference where I draw my creative inspiration from. I admire Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. In my opinion, they were together creative geniuses at story telling. I'm writing a series of short stories about Red Shoes, Caleb Devine, a supernatural being that comes to the assistance of individuals in need with a profound message. In Meeting Red Shoes, it was that we're never really alone, if we only open our eyes to those around ...

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21:05 Feb 20, 2023

I appreciate the explanation. Can't wait to read Unshackled!

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Lily Finch
22:15 Feb 03, 2023

Red Shoe, Trapped, Endless jabber, have faith, Caleb's hand, Devine LF6 Am I on the right path?

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Chandler Wilson
18:14 Feb 04, 2023

Wow! Lilly, I'm impressed, not only with your line of thinking, but your curiosity. The story has religious overtones that tie back to my personal life experience. The character, Red-Shoes (Caleb) is an angel. The associated 'Easter Eggs' are tied to two films by the 'Archers'. A pair of British filmmakers Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, who made a series of influential films in the 1940s. Two of which are the motivation for my new Red Shoes series. They are 'The 'Black Narcissus', 1947 and 'The Red Shoes' 1948. Life is about choices ...

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Lily Finch
18:33 Feb 04, 2023

I knew about Red Shoes being from the 1948 series. Your writing is good. Nah, many people, like myself, are knuckleheads! Don't change a thing. LF6

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Lily Finch
22:47 Feb 02, 2023

Chandler, that was a great story. The beginning threw me a bit. I liked the ending. Thanks for the good read. LF6

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Chandler Wilson
14:58 Feb 03, 2023

Thank you, Lily, for taking the time to read and comment on my story. My goal was to start with the peril and end with the explanation. The center was to build the characters while hiding some Easter eggs. There's even one in the title. I have a few more Red Shoes tales in the works. Thanks again!

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Lily Finch
21:56 Feb 03, 2023

I'll have to go back now and have a look. Thanks for the tip. Lf6

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