Staring Contest

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Courtney Shepard was squashed.

The gentleman to her left was interesting; he was a pen salesman. He had given her his number, which she had stowed away carelessly in the back pocket of her dark-wash denim jeans. The woman on her right was in hysterics due to the six year old tugging at her baggy argyle sweater.

Neither had proved to be very compelling conversation starters, and the flight was far from over.

She glanced over at the perky flight attendant that was bounding down the aisle, countless bags of pretzels tucked neatly under her arms. [i]Airplane food.[/i] Courtney gagged at the thought. [i]Disgusting.[/i] The attendant continued her voyage across the plane, disappearing through the beige curtains.

“Mooo-oooommyyyyyy!” A high-pitched squeal pierced Courtney’s ears and she glanced down at the six year old that was currently on a sugar high from too many Pixi Sticks. She preferred the red ones, as Courtney had heard several times in the past hour.

“For the last time, I’m not your mommy. She just went to the bathroom, and she’ll be right back.” The impatient little girl raised her fists and continuously punched Courtney in the stomach until her mother came running down the aisle, arms flailing.

“I am so sorry. ALLYSON! You can’t just hit people! That’s so inappropriate.” The woman scooped up the small girl and tossed her gently into her seat. Courtney watched as she crossed her arms and pouted her lip, and had to stifle a giggle. The little girl was highly reminiscent of Courtney at that age, and she had to admit, it was cute.

“It’s no problem. Although, I’m not sure a 6 year old knows the word inappropriate.”

The woman stood up, clicking the compartment above her head open. She tossed a bag into her seat and flipped open a compact mirror, looked around to see if anyone was watching, and reached for a little white pill. At first glance, this looked like one of those mystery drugs that people pass around at parties. Courtney soon released the thought from her mind, and reminded herself that people take prescription drugs. Nonetheless, she shouldn’t have secret pills in her purse. Her eyes continued to follow the stressed-out mom, but Courtney flinched when she looked up at her calmly.

“If she doesn’t know the word by now, I’ll be surprised.” Courtney’s eyes wandered back down to the compact mirror that was now shut, but still in the woman’s hands. “Vicodin.”

“W-what?”

She chuckled, and tossed the case back into her oversized bag. “Vicodin. That’s what I just took. You know how it is.”

Not really. “I guess.” The surly, frail man with the pocket protector full of pens who had been sitting next to her at the beginning of the flight strolled back to his seat and plopped back down next to Courtney.

“I hate coach. I usually fly first class, but all the seats were taken up this time, so I was practically forced. I could have taken the red-eye, but I need to be somewhere, you know.”

This was a lie, and Courtney knew it was a lie because early on in the flight, she had major bladder problems due to not using the restroom since eight at night the prior day. There weren’t many people in first class, and a lot of seats were open. However, she decided to spare the poor man, and not mention anything. As an alternative, she gave a nod and a small mumble to show that she acknowledged him being there and speaking.

“Buckle up passengers, because we may be experiencing some slight turbulence within the next hour. It’s nothing to be worried about, but we’re just being safe.”

She groaned and buried her head in her hands. This flight was certainly not getting any shorter.

---

“Nipote! Ahh!” Both of Courtney’s cheeks were attacked with pinches and kisses. “Come on now.” Her grandmother gestured for her to follow. “All your cuginas are waiting. Ah. Mi manchi tanto!”

Courtney tried to figure out what she was saying, but she hadn’t been to Italy in over a year, and she was less than fluent in Italian. Of course, she knew that “Nipote” meant granddaughter, and “cuginas” meant cousins, but the last phrase that was spoken was more than a mystery to her.

She scanned the rest of the airport, and her eyes came to focus on the mother of the little girl. Allyson was sitting on a barstool that was much too high for her, and she was drinking out of a cup, swinging her legs back and forth, oblivious to her mother.

The mother was on the phone, probably with her husband or boyfriend, complaining about the flight. “No, they rerouted me! I know! So I won’t be home in time. I know that it’s important to your family, but I can’t control these things! I’ll call you when I finally get there. Okay. I lov…” The woman pulled the phone away from her ear slowly, and closed it.

“I have this boy I’d like you to meet…” Courtney had almost forgotten about her own grandmother, who had been rambling on for the past ten minutes. She had missed every single word, yet she caught the last sentence.

“What?”

“A boy.”

Almost as if it were yesterday, Courtney vividly remembered the last time her grandmother tried to set her up with somebody. It had started out promising; he was supposedly rich and owned his own business. In the end, it turned out he was already married to a woman, and he was just looking for someone to put a curb on his lustful, albeit wrong, desires. From then on, she had promised herself never to fall for a boy that her grandma set her up with.

“Nonna, I thought we discussed this already.”

She placed a hand on Courtney’s shoulder and pushed her out of the airport. “No, no. This one is [i]different[/i]. You’ll see at dinner tonight.” An assured smile appeared on her face, forcing Courtney to display one as well.

“Alright, if you say so.”

---

When Courtney was seven years old, her mother took a trip around the world, but left her with her grandmother. That was the first time that she had ever been to Italy. It was like a fairytale to her, and pretty much everything about that first trip was all that it could be. Now that she was twenty-two years old, Italy was not exactly a dream come true. Right now, Courtney was looking out the window of her grandmother’s car, and she spotted a white bird.

“Nipote, are you okay?”

“Huh?” Courtney snapped out of her daydream to respond to her excited grandmother. She didn’t blame her for being excited; after all, it’s not everyday that you get to see your granddaughter that’s been living in America for fifteen years.

“I said,” she repeated, “are you okay?” Her forehead lines became more apparent and the corners of her wrinkled mouth turned down.

“Oh, no. I’m fine. I’m just remembering the last time I was here.”

Courtney felt her grandmother’s rough hand pat her thigh, and she turned her attention back to the road. She stared back out the window, looking for the white bird again. However, it had disappeared.
---

Everyone around Courtney was speaking in Italian, and she was having a staring contest with her risotto. The risotto seemed to be winning, as she couldn’t help but stare at the quirky man--he looked to be somewhere around Courtney’s age--with his baseball cap turned sideways and baggy denim pants. Before another man came and brought out the salad, an older woman by the name of Marsha had begged him to go upstairs and change into the button-down shirt and black slacks she had stored away in her purse, but he simply went silent.

He was staring down into his risotto as well, almost identically to Courtney, but it looked like he was beating the risotto by a mile. At the same time, a man in a blue-striped shirt and black tie was attempting to have a staring contest with her. She excused herself in order to get away from the mass of the staring contests that seemed to be happening at the mahogany round table, and started toward the bathroom.

The bathroom was King Midas’ bathroom, to say the least. It seemed to Courtney that her grandmother, who was the owner of the house, really liked the color gold. She grabbed the chromatic sink handle and sent water gushing into the metallic sink. Splashing the water over her face, she took a deep breath and shut the water off. She took one of the guest towels that was hanging on the wall and ran it along her face. Carelessly tossing the embroidered towel aside, she backed into the door and let out a squeal as the door hit something.

“Hey, Courtney.” The suave voice entered her ears with no feeling whatsoever.

“How do you know my name?”

“I’m Tristan.” The staring man seemed to have a name: Tristan.

“That doesn’t answer my question.”

They fell into an awkward silence as the man pondered on what he could say to her next. “This dinner is pretty boring, huh?”

“Not really.” She just wanted to get out of the conversation as soon as possible, and go back to losing at her staring contest.

“Want to get out of here?” He beamed at her, hoping that she would say yes just so that he could put the moves on her as soon as she started to see what a “nice guy” he was. She despised guys like that. On the other hand, she was desperate to get away from her grandmother nagging her about when she would get married.

“Fine.” Tristan smiled and linked his arm with hers. He walked back to the dining room with me on his arm like he had just won the Pulitzer Prize and grinned at the whole table.

“We’re going to get out of here.” All of Courtney’s relatives looked up at the two with love-struck eyes. For the first time, the boy with the sideways baseball cap lost his staring contest and looked up at her. She noticed the expression on his face, and how his mouth drooped down just a little more than before and felt bad about leaving with Tristan. It was too late for her to stop and rethink her decision, because she was out the door and in a black BMW before she could say “amore”.

“So Courtney, what do you like to do?”

Courtney didn’t reply. She simply stared at her reflection in the rearview mirror and wondered who would win.





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