two weeks later

“I found it, I found it, I found it…!” The little girl galloping around the square of benches, maybe five or perhaps six, pulled on her frizzy double braids and pointed up at a tired clock hanging on a support pillar a hop and a skip away. “Mommy!”

Her frazzled mother, slim and petite like the oak saplings right outside the airport terminal window, huffed as she closed the lid of her laptop- sleek, overpriced, and probably just as overloaded as the senses of its owner. “What did you find?”

“What? Nothing. I found nothing!” She bounced her way over to her mother, who slipped her laptop into its protective case in her bag. “A big old pile of absolutely nothing!”

“That’s absolutely wonderful,” her mother groaned. She rolled her eyes at Miranda, who was silently observing the whole situation with his suitcase beside him on the floor, and didn’t bother to disguise her disdain as she shifted to the other end of the bench that the two shared. “You be careful that you don’t tear that dress with the way you’re running about. I didn’t spend twelve hours sewing that perfectly for you to tear it just before our big trip.”

“So you’re going somewhere too?” Miranda laid his hands in his lap and glanced over at the irritated woman a few feet away from him. “Where are you going?”

“That’s none of your business, ma’am. Come on, Lucille.” She flung the strap of her messenger bag over her shoulder and pushed herself off of the bench. Lucille’s hand disappeared in hers as the mother led her charge to the boarding station and disappeared through the revolving doors. The terminal around Miranda hushed into an uncomfortable murmur, fading into a dull roar as the passerbys went on with their own travel plans and boarded their own planes in sequence.

A few minutes passed in silence as the androgyne stared down at his shoes, being that nothing else was catching his eye. He didn’t want to be caught by anybody else’s eyes either, for if a stranger were to approach him and chat him up, the void that his mind was would offer nothing of value in response to the trap.

A soft patter of feet somewhere behind him signaled the dreaded arrival of somebody to pester him. Miranda squinted over his shoulder, and his hand made the habitual motion of stroking back a lock of hair- but any dread was unnecessary and melted off when the familiar face of blonde-haired Lainey took her place besides him.

“So I see that you made it to the terminal okay.” Lainey clenched her jaw, unsure of how to interpret the palms dropped open in Miranda’s lap- was he out of his mind? Insane, perhaps, to have left home all by himself without a warning? “Do you have your plane ticket?”

“It’s right here.” Miranda unzipped the right pocket of his leather jacket halfway for a moment, allowing Lainey a glimpse of the paper ticket folded and nested inside. “My luggage is already on the plane, correct?”

“Correct.” Lainey laid back on the support pillar inside of the square of benches and closed her eyes, allowing a deep breath to escape her lungs. “What’s between us should be the last of it.”

“That’s comforting.” Miranda downturned his eyes and folded his hands in his lap. A small line of ants was marching resolutely a few inches past the toes of his boots. “I worry that I’m making a huge mistake, though. Like-” he waved one hand in the air for emphasis- “like I’m throwing something away.”

Lainey yawned and slipped off the scarf around her neck. A few beads of sweat collected at the collar of her plain blue shirt. “You have nothing to worry about. Your house is transferring to the hands of a new family with a newborn baby who will take very good care of the property.”

“No, I mean-” Miranda dropped his hands to his sides. The memory of him and Anders lying on the deck and watching the clouds go by floated past his mind. He shook his head to clear his sight before adding, “I mean that, well, I could have been in a family if things hadn’t gone to hell. I could be with Anders right now, decorating a baby’s room. I could be showing the first signs of having a baby bulge.”

“Miranda…” Lainey laid a hand on Miranda’s shoulder, which was shivering despite the rising heat in the terminal. Her face heaved a heavy sigh as she pleaded, “Please stop blaming yourself for Anders’ death. None of it was your fault. This is supposed to be a new beginning for you, remember?”

His voice cracked, and he wiped away the tears forming before they could blur his vision. “It just seems ironic to me that I’m trying to achieve peace by purposefully disrupting my life.”

Lainey grappled with a proper response before blurting out, “But there’s going to be peace on the other side!” Sensing that this wasn’t nearly adequate enough to stifle Miranda’s shuddering, she leaned forward and laid one hand on his shoulder. “Are you almost ready?”

Miranda pulled away from Lainey, allowing her hand to drop back down to her side before he snuck a glance at his watch. “I have five minutes.”

“The earlier, the better.” Lainey leaned closer to Miranda and wrapped her arms around him, leaning her head on his shoulder. “Promise me that you’ll be a good person and learn what you need to as soon as possible.”

“I will,” Miranda breathed, suppressing a heaving sigh. He lurched forward, and Lainey’s arms fell away as he extended the handle of his rolling suitcase and strode towards the boarding station.

Shadows crossed the security guard’s face as Miranda pulled up the the counter of the booth. He lifted his face from the paperwork that he was filling out upon sensing a body approaching him, and, recognizing Miranda’s face, turned his back to the androgyne and pulled out a folder containing his private files- mandatory for acceptance into Miranda’s final destination. Sliding it towards him, he inquired, “are you all set?”

Miranda laid a hand on the closed folder, and the security guard pulled his away, allowing Miranda to take it and slide it into the pocket on the front side of his suitcase. “I am.”

“Then you’re all set.” The guard closed and locked the cabinet containing the remainder of the passengers’ files and abandoned his station. Once free of the confines of the booth, he gestured for Miranda to follow him.

The revolving doors squeaked as the two adults passed through them. The moment that their feet stepped out onto the tarmac, the guard turned sharply left, and Miranda’s pace quickened to a jog to keep up with the loping strides of the guard. The private plane indicated on Miranda’s ticket that he’s spent a good twenty minutes memorizing the night before- 27106- was sitting quietly on a private plot at the end of the terminal.

Once the two had reached the plane, which was silent and awaiting its pilot to show up, an employee of the airport standing next to the stairway inside held out her hand. Miranda passed off his suitcase to the woman before breathlessly climbing inside and shutting the passenger door behind him.

“And who do you think you are?” A shrill voice from towards the back of the small plane blurted out as Miranda collapsed into the nearest seat. The murmurs of the guard and the employee discussing some unknown matter- although it was obviously important from the accentuated speech of the guard- filtered through the heavy metal door.

“I’m Miranda Loyalis Shew.” Miranda held out his hand towards the source of the noise- a very obviously pregnant lady with lipstick smudged all over her face- but she refused to take his hand. Pulling it back, his mood dropping ever so slightly, he added, “I assume that we’re going to the same place?”

“Westerlyfield?” The woman scoffed and flung her cascading blonde locks behind her shoulder, which swept down the window to her back before resting on the back cushion. “I highly doubt that you, of all people, could afford to lodge there.”

If decorum was wealth, you’d be a beggar on the streets. Miranda turned his back to the snob and buckled his seatbelt. The lady who’d taken his suitcase unlocked the door and stepped inside of the passenger compartment, returning Miranda’s suitcase to where he was seated and handing a diamond-studded phone to the parvenu. Turning back to Miranda, the employee turned stewardess inquired, “Is there anything I can help you ladies with today?”

“No, but thank you.” Miranda turned his head to the window and tuned out the pestering of the snob a few seats away, which faded into a low grumble as a few meeker passengers slipped inside and took their own seats between the two.

Miranda’s eyes drifted shut right before the plane’s engine roared to life, jolting his eyes back open. The plane careened forward quite a few meters before reaching the end of the runway, at which point it took off into the air and skirted past the tree line.

Oh my god… Miranda sharply drew his breath in as the plane drew away from the treetops, unobscuring the horizon line. The white roof of the Laboratory was just barely visible near the edge of the horizon, which looked more and more like a miniature the farther away the plane pulled from the roof. I spent my entire life inside that eighty-mile radius. That… That’s insane.

The man of smallish stature who had taken a seat to Miranda’s right let out a snore, and he pulled his attention away from the window to turn to his attention. The man’s dozing head was rested against his own window, and the notebook in his lap was splayed open, revealing all the hastily inked words inside for anybody to see.

I wonder- is this what the first astronaut felt like when he gazed out at the small earth beneath him? For once these imaginary borders in our mind are crossed, they leave prints on you that say, “Hey, I was here. I left the nest. I flew. I saw the new world that lays beyond.”

Miranda reached over the man’s lap and closed the notebook, sliding it securely onto the rack under the man’s seat. Ignoring the murmurs of his fellow passengers, he returned his attention to the window, noting the swirls of pastel pink and yellow that the clouds painted across the sky, greeting him with the noon sun.

Alright, proverbial new world, what do you have in store for me?

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