Saturday, 23 February 2019

F Fic, Non-fic

Airport Romance

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My eyes shift to the seats opposite this couple. An attractive, thirty-something lady is absorbed in a book, impervious to the blonde, curly-headed girl of about six sitting beside her and sliding down in her seat until her swinging feet touch the floor. The little girl slides back up in her chair and begins the process again. The lady is definitely not the girl’s mother…no, she’s the…aunt who has been awarded custody of a child she has no desire to raise. Ms. Book Reader has already contacted a boarding school. Poor little girl. Perhaps someday you’ll win the love of this cold-hearted caretaker.

I look for other stories. Anything to keep my mind occupied. Anything to keep from thinking about the man—Tony Moretti—who will come through the portal that allows passengers to exit the airplane. Why did I answer that ad? “Successful bachelor looking for a soul mate.” The usual singles ad and an email address. If he’s so successful, why is he running an ad to find a soul mate? And why would a reasonably attractive advertising executive—me—answer an ad? Too late to ask sensible questions. I’ve already committed myself to meeting this guy.  Am I that desperate for a relationship? Okay, so I am. I’m almost thirty-five, and I haven’t had a date in almost a year.

I tell myself that it’s because I’m too busy to meet interesting, available men. My mother has her own theory. She says it’s because I’m still pining over David. Ha! I wouldn’t waste my brainpower thinking about that jerk. But Mother Dear is convinced that I am driving men away by the hordes with these I’ve-been-jilted vibes. “When are you going to get over David and fall in love with that wonderful man who’s waiting for you to notice him?” I think she’s referring to Sam, who lives next door to her—with his mother.

My married friends are almost as relentless as my mother. After a dozen fix-up dates, I began to refuse their kind offers to meet “the perfect man for you.” Why do married women get myopic when trying to get their single friends to settle down? There couldn’t possibly be many losers left in this city that I haven’t met through my well-meaning friends. When I saw this ad—anonymously circled and left on my desk—I couldn’t resist answering it. Now, I’m standing in the airport having major second thoughts about my sanity.

When I checked myself in the mirror before leaving my apartment this afternoon, I said: “Jackie, you are not ugly. In fact, you’re almost pretty. Look at the mystery that lurks behind those green eyes. Any man should be intrigued. And your brown hair may not be as alluring as a blonde’s, but it’s far from mousy.” I smiled at myself and noticed red lipstick on my front teeth. “That’s not cool.” I rubbed it off, then stuck my index finger into my mouth and pulled it out against my lips like I’d seen Cindy Crawford do. She was instructing viewers how to avoid the lipstick-on-the-teeth dilemma.

I turned to the left, then to the right, checking my image. “Figure’s not bad. Still a size six.” That’s when I noticed a dark stain on the side of my red skirt. “Oh, great.”  I checked my watch. The plane was due in an hour, I live forty-five minutes from the airport, and snow had been falling all afternoon.

I rummaged through my closet, then rechecked the formerly-discarded items already lying on the bed. “The red dress or the black? Vivacious or demure?” I asked my calico cat, who had assumed her royal position on my pillow. She began to groom herself, as if to say, “You’re on your own, babycakes.” I held each dress up to my body and studied my image in the mirror. Demure, I decided.

Now, I’m standing here in my demure black dress waiting for a plane that’s delivering a guy I’ve never met. The photo Tony emailed could have been a fake. Probably was. It happens all the time, people pretending to be someone they’re not. But the guy in that photo was gorgeous. Wavy black hair. Dark, sultry eyes. Perfect white teeth in a suntanned face—handsome, but rugged. Definitely my type. He’s an entrepreneur, owns a chain of restaurants. Italian restaurants. I love Italian food and Italian men. I’ve never actually dated an Italian man, but I’ve heard they’re terribly romantic. I wonder if he has an accent. It’s hard to tell when communicating with someone via email.

Six months. That’s how long we’ve been communicating. Tony says he’s never married, even though he’s thirty-six. How did a guy who looks this good escape the clutches of the single females in Chicago? I wanted to ask him this. In fact, I typed the question several times, but always deleted it. He could be wondering the same thing about me, I guess, except that I’m not gorgeous.

Tony Moretti. I like his name. I also like the idea of dating a man who can cook, since I couldn’t exactly put great cook on my résumé. Also, Tony’s from a large family. That will be nice on holidays. I can picture us surrounded by his brothers—there’s three of them—and his two sisters—all married—plus all the nieces and nephews, aunts and uncles, cousins. We’re all laughing and talking over each other. And Mama Moretti smiles at me. She’s so happy that her son finally found his true love. Later, Tony and I take a walk, stopping often for a kiss. I sigh audibly. I’ve watched too many romantic movies.

The surrounding noises invade my reverie, and I realize that I must look like an idiot, standing here alone, grinning at nothing. I check my watch again. Thirty minutes late and counting. Where the heck is that plane? I feel dampness under my arms—nervous perspiration, the worst kind. I head for the restroom so I can check the odor in private. Stinky underarms, that’s all I need for a memorable first impression. I reapply the deodorant that I carry in my purse for emergencies like this one. Next, a couple of sprays of Black Orchid. Perfect. Better than a rose any day. I smooth my hair and check my teeth again. Thanks for the tip, Cindy.

When I return to the waiting area, I notice an elderly couple who has joined the other passengers. They’re holding hands and smiling at each other like newlyweds. Maybe they are. No. I decide on a more sordid story for them. They’re running away together. They’ve carried on an affair for forty years, but they finally ditch their mates in a nursing home, and at last, they can be together. But what about the grandkids? What will they tell the grandkids? Much too complicated. I’m getting a headache.

I check the flights on the Arrivals/Departures display again. Flight 240 from Chicago, delayed, no ETA. This is ridiculous. We never have this much snow in November. I could be waiting here all night. Then my dress will be wrinkled, and I’ll have dark circles under my eyes. I’m feeling a twinge of conscience about my photo. I used Photoshop to touch it up. I made my eyes greener, with lovely long eyelashes—the kind I’ve always wanted. And I added a touch of auburn to my hair—just a touch. What was I thinking? He’ll notice right away, of course. I’ll have dark circles under my ordinary green eyes. And a wrinkled dress.

I decide to distract myself with friendly conversation. I look over the prospects. The elderly couple, old people usually love to talk, so I sit down next to the gray-haired lady. She smiles at me. “Hello,” I say. “Are you flying to Little Rock?”

She doesn’t answer but looks at the gentleman. He’s the spokesman. “Yes. We’re taking a second honeymoon.” His voice is gravelly. “We got married in Little Rock sixty years ago.” He smiles and winks at his wife. “We decided to return to the scene of the crime, so to speak.” They both laugh. Hers is more of a youthful giggle.

“Wow. That’s wonderful. Sixty years. That’s rare these days, to be married that long.”

“Oh, dear,” the lady says and looks at her husband.

“Well, truth be told, we haven’t been married for sixty years. We divorced after five years. Then we both married other people. My second wife died two years ago.”

“And my husband died last year,” she says in a soft, southern voice.

“We met up again at a political rally for George Bush. Couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw her face in the crowd—still as beautiful as ever,” he says, gazing at his wife’s face. “We didn’t have to date very long before we knew we wanted to be married again.” He squeezed her hand. “Now, we’re going back to that same hotel to celebrate.”

I can think of nothing profound to say, so I wish them luck and go back to my spot at the wall, but my eyes wander back to them. She’s leaning her head on his shoulder, and he’s patting her back. I couldn’t make up a story to top that one.

I check my watch again. An hour overdue. I glance out the window. The snow has finally stopped, so surely the plane will be landing soon. I gaze around at other passengers until my eyes lock with the sky-blue eyes of David. What’s he doing here? He knows that I’ve seen him, so hiding in the restroom would be too obvious. I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of seeing that I’m flustered. He smiles and nods his head, and I smile back, nonchalantly, I hope. He’s coming over, and I’m glued to the floor.

“Hey, Jackie,” he says and pulls me into a hug. “How’s this for a coincidence? I’ve been thinking about you a lot these days.” His voice is soft and sexy, a technique he’s spent years perfecting, and one that had always worked on me.

“Really? And how is Susan?” I can feel my face tighten. Susan was a close friend before she and David decided to become an item.

“Things aren’t going too well. You know Susan. Sometimes the claws come out.” He chuckles as though he’s said something clever. “She’s been visiting a friend for a few weeks. Giving each other some space.” He moves in close, invading my space. I feel trapped against the wall. He’s waiting for a reply, but I just stare. He’s incredibly handsome, and his cologne is heady—still wearing Obsession. I have to admit that I find him attractive. But he dumped me for Susan. Five years down the drain. I don’t want to go there again.

“So you’re waiting for Susan?” I ask. He nods. Yeah, and I’m supposed to believe he’s been thinking about me. “How nice. Hope you two can work it out. You’re such a well-matched couple.” I push him away and walk to a nearby kiosk and pretend interest in a magazine. When I look up from the magazine, he’s disappeared.

I notice that people are gathering near the gate, and I see through the window that a plane is positioned for depositing its passengers. Seeing David is a bad omen. Maybe I should forget about a new romance. Just get into my car and drive back to my apartment and my cat. But that would be rude. After all, he’s flown all the way from Chicago to meet me. My pulse is racing, my palms are sweaty, and I can barely swallow. I take a deep breath and roll my shoulders to release the tension.

Passengers are beginning to arrive. Those with young children and those who have disabilities are the first to exit, but I don’t focus on them. My eyes are searching the crowd behind them, looking for the man who matches the photo. He didn’t mention his height, but I imagine him as tall, over six feet.

I’m so intent on searching the crowd that I almost overlook the guy nearby, staring at me. But I sense his eyes on me. Then I see him. I recognize his face, those sultry brown eyes looking at me. The photo he sent wasn’t a fake. He’s gorgeous. When our eyes meet, he grins and moves toward me. He didn’t tell me, but there’s no time to think. I smile and make a conscious effort to hide my shock. I hope he didn’t notice.

“Hello Jackie?” he asks when he reaches me. I look down at the man in the wheelchair. “Ciao, cara,” he says, his voice soft. “I hope you’re not disappointed about...” He looks down at his legs, then searches my face. “I know I should have told you, but—”

My mind is racing. But, he says? Of course, he should’ve told me. What should I say? I can’t pretend that I’m not Jackie. In the midst of my confusion, I hear David’s voice above the din, greeting Susan. My eyes stray in the direction of his familiar voice. He’s hugging Susan, but eyeing me and grinning. My gaze returns to the man beside me. I already know so much about Tony Moretti. I thought I did. During the past six months, we’ve shared many details of our lives. But apparently there’s still more to learn.

I’m not sure I’m ready for this, but what can I do? He’s here—and he’s waiting for me to say something. I glance over at David and Susan again. He has his arm around her as they walk away, and I remind myself that he’s a dead-end street. It’s time to move on.

When I turn my attention back to Tony, I find that he’s wheeling toward the baggage claim. I’m disappointed that he didn’t tell me about his disability. I wanted the perfect man, but I realize how silly that is. I have my own list of imperfections that I’ve always hoped no one would notice.

A story is waiting to unfold. And not one that I’ve fabricated from my imagination. Maybe better than I could imagine. “Tony, wait.” I walk quickly to catch him. I put my hand on his shoulder, and he stops. Kneeling down in front of him, I smile and take his hand. “I’m glad you’re finally here, Tony. Let’s get your bags. Can you believe this weather?...”




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