This time the cute girl sits beside me on a small shuttle jet. It's LA back to home. Home is San Jose.

I smile at her as she sits down, noting the look on her face when she realizes she has to sit next to two-hundred pounds of me. I scrunch myself against the wall, tilting sideways so my shoulder doesn't take up part of her seat as she looks for a place to stuff the carry on we both know isn't going to fit anywhere.

Note to self: learn to distinguish the difference between someone who's pained by you, and someone possibly attracted. The operative word is "possibly." Bill calls these female gestures toward men, IDMA moves. It Don't Mean Anything.

"Women do these things to men. It's torture," Bill said when he drove me to the airport. "It doesn't mean they like you, they just like watching you squirm."

I've just spent the day with Bill losing myself in remembrances of the ice. Stuff that happened. Stuff you can't tell anyone who hasn't been there because they'd either be too bored or too shocked.

"Watch out," Bill says when he drops me at LAX. "I can see it in your eyes."

I don't need to ask him what. That stupid passion has been there since the ice. Since nearly dying on the ridge.

Now I'm on the plane sitting next to someone who walked out of one of my stories. I'm sure I loved her in a story life. Probably slept with her a thousand times. I know exactly how she sounds when she sighs.

When she gets situated she shoots me an IDMA glance. "You heading home?"

She says it quickly, like something that comes out when you're punched in the gut. Then she turns away fast as if she's not interested in the answer.

"Yeah. You?"

I can't tell if she answers me. I go back to staring out the window, watching them load luggage.

"I'm taking classes at Pepperdine," I hear. She's talking to the back of my head.

When I turn we make eye contact and she looks away quickly.

I still have a lot of senses to develop. I'm not used to this sort of thing. After one-hundred thirty thousand air miles per year for my career I'm used to people sitting next to me wishing I wasn't there. Friends used to say I was unapproachable. Scary.

Now I'm different. It's that stuff Bill tells me to watch out for. That stuff that never goes away.

I try smiling to make her less nervous. Lower my head a little to make eye contact even though she's staring at her knees.

She's in an Executive MBA course. Works at a big software company in San Jose. She's with eight other students who flew down for a lesson in "corporate ethics".

Her face softens. She spends more time looking toward me. She gets cuter the more comfortable she gets.

I tell her what I know about corporate ethics. Cameras in the face capturing every word. Hot lights. A hostile lawyer trying to make you say something on the record. Your lawyer at your side kicking you under the table. The whole thing one huge game where everybody gets hurt.

That's the thing about corporate ethics. There's no such thing. Only people have ethics. When you start ascribing the trait to inanimate entities, everybody gets hurt, all the time. I wonder if they taught her that.

"You should come speak to our class," she says, excited. They've been studying the case I was involved in. In school. Parts of my life are a case study. Ancient history.

As the plane takes off she twists under her seatbelt and yells backward down the aisle to her colleagues, "Cadence Design--right next to me. My new friend." She points toward me like the ice cream flavor she's just picked.

I stare at the wall. Now I have her complete attention.

When she sits back in her seat and turns toward me, I wonder what I'm going to do with it. I'm unfamiliar with this game. This is a good way to learn, though.

I think I should tell her I wrote her. She doesn't really exist except in my brain. I can tell her what's going to happen next. She won't believe me until she does it, and if I tell her she won't. It's Heisenberg in action.

Let me tell you. Because it does.

I tell her how I'm trying to escape Silicon Valley. Tell her my trip to LA was to meet some people from Antarctica to talk about a new book. I tell her about a proposal for a documentary Bill wants me to help with.

I tell her my corporate friends think I've gone nuts. I'm unemployed. I'm free. She thinks I'm the single most interesting person she has met in months.

Out of nowhere she asks me if I'm married and I dodge the question. She knows I am but wonders if because I'm not wearing a ring it means I'm separated. In the throes of divorce. Maybe I'm available.

All this happens while we're talking about Silicon Valley business. I know much more about it than she does.

She tells me, "My first computer was a Mac Plus."

"Mine, too," I say. I mention some shareware I wrote for Mac Plus, years ago. Icon Hacker. She knows it. Used it. Was one of the people who sent me the $20. Can't believe I'm THAT guy.

I tell her I can't believe she's that old. She gives me a hint. I establish her age doing math in my head while I'm talking. She's eight years younger than me. No need to say it. She knows I know.

When she guesses my age she says, "Thirty-five," and I propose marriage. She's a little more flustered than she would be if she didn't care.

I'm starting to feel a sexual tension I hope I'm not creating. She's trumping my moves. Escalating with body language. Makes eye contact for seconds. Reaches down to pick something up and brushes her leg against mine when it's absolutely unnecessary.

We talk about movies, how I know so little about them. She knows everything.

"Ask me anything about movies," she says. Now I'm sure she's Canadian. I'm thinking Ottawa but I'm not good enough to distinguish the accents. She doesn't sound like my friends from BC. Wait. She sounds like Eric. Must be Toronto.

"How did you know?" she says, and now her eyes are sparkling. "It must be these old clothes."

"I don't know much about fashion," I say. "But you look very fetching to me." People don't say "fetching" anymore, which is why I say it.

"You have to come speak to our class," she says. "Even if you just talk about writing. Even if you just talk about getting out of the grind. The class is so depressed. You're you say you were married?"

This never happens to me so I'm going by instinct.

Once again I dodge the question. The plane's stopped and people are standing. She wants my e-mail address. I don't give it to her by changing the subject--going back to something she said before--I ask her about her job. Ask her about herself.

We're walking off the plane when she turns and stuffs a business card in my pocket. I must blush enough to see in the dark because her fingers touching where my leg meets my torso is an intimate tickle. I shake hands with her, unable to assemble words.

When I get home and get changed the card falls out of my jeans. Her phone number is on the back.

I think to throw it away.

But it's still right here in front of me.

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