Matt slipped into the noise sanitized environment without a sound, coffee cup in hand. “You know, those work better if you aim them the other direction.”
Logan had been caught red-handed. It wasn’t the first time, and it wouldn’t be the last. The binoculars on his desk were intended to pinpoint the planes aloft, not the people on the tarmac below.
“You could just ask her out,” Matt continued as he set the coffee cup down on the table, preparing to take over the next shift for his colleague.
“Yeah, I know,” admitted Logan. Even though it should’ve been a simple action, asking a girl out, Logan felt challenged. In an ironic way, he lived up to his name. Logan let people roll over top of him, like a log. He always seemed to be at the mercy of others, which was even more ironic since he served as a tower controller who was paid to give orders and enforce regulations in the airspace around the airport.
Nicole Evans. That was her name. Logan had found out that much. She was the newest flight instructor on the staff. The binoculars rose to his eyes every time Logan saw her feet hit the tarmac. Sometimes he felt like a stalker, even though he was the furthest thing from that. Logan just thought that if he could see her smile once more, like he’d seen in the parking lot when they had first met, maybe he could summon the courage to take the next step, ask her out. Their paths had crossed many times since, casual conversations shared between the two, but nothing beyond trivial nuances of the weather or flight conditions for the day.
Caught in a momentary lapse of concentration, a dangerous passivity for an air traffic controller, Matt’s urgent voice finally registered. “You have an incoming.”
“Tower, November Two Niner Five Oscar Lima, on base for runway five, over?” The panicked voice came through the headset with a little more emphasis as his first request was seemingly ignored. Logan scurried to the appropriate microphone switch, depressed it, and replied, “Niner Five Oscar Lima, cleared final runway five, winds zero four zero at five knots.”
Logan redirected his binoculars skyward, watching the Cessna Skyhawk bank left on to final approach, then scanning the adjacent area to be sure there were no obstacles interfering with the plane’s final maneuver before landing.
Matt continued to offer up words not requested, “Dude, you turn twenty-eight tomorrow. Why don’t you loosen up a bit, take a chance for once in your life?” Logan was thinking, but not answering. Matt continued, “I’ve known you now, for what, five years? I’ve never seen you on a date, let alone a steady girlfriend. I’ve never seen you so taken with anyone like you are with Nicole.”
Just the way her name traveled across the space between them and alighted on his being made Logan smile. “Dude, you’re caught, hook, line, and sinker. Just ask her out. If you don’t do it, I’ll do it for you. Consider it my birthday present to you.”
Logan considered letting his colleague do the asking for him, but something struck a chord in him at that moment, the commitment to his course of action solidified. It was that voice again. Not Matt’s, but the one echoing in his left ear. “November Four Two Niner Lima Sierra, at runway five, ready for takeoff, departure to the southeast.”
How could a voice spoken through a cheap headset with a deafening propellor sound spinning in the background be so intoxicating? “Two Niner Lima Sierra, cleared for takeoff runway five, departure to the southeast approved, good day.” He already knew the response, partially because Logan knew the rules, and also because he’d come to know Nicole better than she might know, even if they had never spent any significant time together.
“Two Niner Lima Sierra, cleared for takeoff, departure to the southeast approved, keep smiling.” It was required to confirm receipt of the commands given, and customary to reply with ‘good day’, an informal thanks for services provided. Nicole always took it a step farther, her ‘keep smiling’ reply was unique, just like her effect on Logan.
“So, are you gonna do it?”
“I will,” replied Logan, and he meant it, even if it wasn’t the most direct route towards his goal.
It was like it was meant to be. Her car was parked right next to his. Logan fumbled through his wallet, looking for any scrap of paper. Scribbling his message and number on the back of the grocery receipt, Logan tucked it under her wiper and departed, feeling victorious, yet anxious.
The drone of the plane’s engine lulled Nicole into complacency as her student navigated over the open waters to practice the required disorientation maneuvers. The final words she heard, ‘good day’, seemed to carry with it a tiny inflection that she wished, or hoped, was something more. That was it, she thought. If he didn’t make a move by tomorrow, she’d muster up the courage to do it herself. She knew it was his birthday tomorrow, and she had a perfect way to ask him out. Nicole smiled with anticipation.
“I’m sorry,” Matt humbly offered as Logan walked into the tower the next day. Logan parked next to Nicole’s car, still in the same spot, still with his note safely tucked beneath the wiper blade. No one could have predicted the wind shear that arrived in the most untimely moment, midway through a forty-five degree bank. There was never any way for the plane to recover with the limited altitude at the pilot’s disposal.
Months later, Logan could still hear her final words reverberate through his headset on that November evening, keep smiling. Logan forced himself to do just that, however difficult it was, in memory of the relationship with a different November Echo that never came to be, a reminder to live life and take chances while you have the opportunity.