Gary Brand’s face and neck burned, his stomach knotted and the hairs on the back of his neck stood up and shivered when he saw Jenny Stein sitting in the Southwest Airlines Gate C-3 boarding area.
It had been two years since they split and she had moved to Raleigh and he stayed in Albany. What were the chances he’d run into her making connections with the same flight he was taking to Orlando?
“Shit, now what do I do?” Gary said under his breath. Should he lay back in the Gate C-4 waiting are across the way or maybe park with his back to C-3 in the nearby bar? No, that would be the coward’s way out and he’d proven himself a coward when he told her he didn’t love her anymore. His fear of committing was greater than any sense of love he had. Besides, it was only 9:15 AM and the bar was closed.
He knew Jenny’s seeing him was inevitable when they began lining up the boarding groups to select their seats aboard Flight 3385 at 11:30.
Let’s prolong the inevitable for as long as possible, Gary decided. So he wheeled his carry on to the outer edge of the waiting area, Jenny sitting closer to the gate with her ear buds in and a book on her lap.
But Gary hadn’t considered Nature’s call and looked up to see Jenny’s seat by the gate no longer occupied. Startled, he swiveled in his seat and saw he had placed himself between Jenny’s seat and the Ladies’ Room. Gary grasped his hood of his jacket and pulled it over his head, hiding his face and gathered his carry on and laptop bag and hustled to a seat by the window at Gate C-4.
“Oh, man, oh, man, I hope she missed me,” he said as he peered from beneath his hood. Jenny came out the restroom entrance and walked by the seat Gary occupied minutes ago. She looked around and walked back to her seat.
Now what? Gary wondered. He knew he had an early boarding pass, so he wouldn’t have to stand in line long, mitigating any uncomfortable meeting.
At that, the gate attendant called for all pre-boarding and early boarding passengers. Gary waited until all but the last early boarding passenger had been waved through and then hustled to the gate, hood up and boarding pass in hand.
Sure that no one would willingly take one of the rearmost seats, Gary moved swiftly down the aisle and selected a window seat in the second-last row. He stuffed his carry on in the overhead bin and placed his laptop bag beneath the seat.
He looked up as more and more Orlando-bound passengers boarded, filling the aisles like waves reaching closer and closer to him as if the tide was coming in. In the mix of men in anticipatory golf shorts, women in leggings and flip-flops and kids either squealing or blindly walking ahead with their eyes on their mobile devices.
And there, approaching like Venus riding upon the ocean foam, came Jenny. He secured his hoodie and dropped his chin to his chest.
“Is this seat taken?” Jenny said.
Garry mumbled in a deeper voice, “Yeah, I’m holding it for my girlfriend. She’ll be down here soon, sorry.”
“Cut the shit, Garry, you coward. I gave you that custom laptop bag sticking out under the seat for Christmas three years ago. What say we talk. We’ve got nowhere to go for the next hour, do we?”
The story for Day 10 of my Story-a-Day challenge was inspired by a prompt from thriller writer Sarah Cain. She asked for a story about a chance encounter. I was short on time today, but I think this one might work.