I sat down and wrote this (mostly) fictional short story in 2010 after my third date with a girl I cared for very much. On December 31, 2012 we celebrated our one-year anniversary. I love you, Abby!
As he walked towards the baggage carousels, the young man looked at his watch. Her flight didn’t land for another forty-five minutes. He had taken the MARC train from Union Station once before and remembered it taking a lot longer. At least he wouldn’t worry about missing her.
He was comfortable at the airport. Here there was an ecology, many different types of people all acting predictable ways. He enjoyed the anonymity, like Jane Goodall. Unbound by identity and its accompanying social norms, he was free merely to tolerate the presence of other people. Over time he learned that unlike the famous scientist he wasn’t very fond of his subjects.
There were exceptions. As a teenager he had been drawn to artists, actors, and musicians, those who seemed to be getting the most out of life. He wasn’t one of them, but he knew they had it right and he wanted to be near them. In college, he discovered a small lot who argued passionately about the history of socks. Standing at the airport, watching the dead-faced majority wander about, he missed his old friends.
He stared down at the small bouquet of flowers in his hands. Dating came easy to him, but he was constantly let down. He couldn’t articulate what he was looking for precisely, but armed with a desire for something more he had walked away from some truly decent women. He had been hurt too, once, but it was a long time ago.
Three dates in, it was clear this girl was different. She was poised, beautiful, and smarter than him. Though warm, she was careful not to give away too much of herself, so he often found himself doing most of the talking. He knew that it was okay, that she preferred it that way. They shared a serious disposition, which helped them not to take one another too seriously. They laughed a lot when they were together (sometimes at the expense of others).
He sat down on a bench and glanced again at his watch. Twenty minutes still to go. A man sat down next to him.
“Flowers, huh?” the man asked.
“Yea,” he responded, feigning an embarrassed laugh and trying to avoid small talk. Not everyone was as charming as him.
“Don’t let my wife see those,” the man said.
He breathed a quiet laugh and imagined the man’s wife.
She would be tired, busy with all the stuff of life, just trying her best to keep up. Based on the man’s appearance, it seemed neither was very successful. They loved one another, he supposed, but as a memory. Their love was too old to be thrown away; it was stowed in a shoebox in a closet in the guestroom.
He thought about his girlfriend. She wouldn’t be expecting him. Their kiss – if they kissed – would be just their second. They had spent the last few weeks basking in the newness and possibility of their just-discovered affection. The flowers were a prop, a redundant symbol of something that would be written all over his face.
He handed the flowers to the man sitting on the bench. “I got them at the grocery store.”
The man took them slowly, but without hesitation.
As passengers began emerging from the secured gate area, they both stood and watched for a familiar face. His girlfriend appeared, but turned without seeing him. She stood, looking around for a sign to direct her to her luggage. He walked slowly towards her, anticipating the moment to come.
She saw him and froze for a moment as her synapses caught up with what was happening. Then she smiled. “What are you doing here?” she asked in amusement.
“I came to pick you up,” he said.
They walked hand in hand to the right place for her luggage, experiencing their young love in another new way together. As they waited, she saw the man from the bench hugging a woman who had just been handed a bouquet of flowers.
“Aww,” she said.