Sunday, December 20, 2009

I arrived in the Las Vegas airport before 6pm and made my way slowly along the corridor's blue pattern carpets to the bathrooms, where I meticulously hung up my purse, laptop and heavy coat on the small metal door hook. The bathroom visit was a triumph of creativity over frustration; having to wash my hands without all of my belongings swinging full force into the soaking wet, hair-covered counter-top. Afterwards I wandered slowly along the busy terminal in search for a sandwich shop, which I found in the shape of a Subway very near to my departure gate. I paid for the sandwich and walked a few gates down to mine, where most of the gate seats were empty.

It didn't take more than a moment to spot him. Black wool jacket, newsboy wool cap, cool retro sneakers, carved Italian face with a five o'clock shadow. Probably 28-33, at least 6'2". I sat four seats down from him and imagined all the beautiful and interesting conversations you could have with a man like that.

By the time I began to eat my sandwich, however, any fantasy of two travelers thrown together by winter and fate disappeared as he gathered his book and laptop, got up, and moved down to the end of the row away from me.

I was startled by it, but didn't outwardly acknowledge any of it. After finishing my sandwich, I picked my stuff up and headed away from the gate to the bookseller to see if there were any cheap reads available. It took me easily 30 minutes to choose a book and walk back to the gate, at which time I rounded the corner to my gate and found the seating area stuffed with waiting passengers. There were no seats open.

No seats, that is, except two next to "him."

I stood there stupidly for almost a minute, scanning hopefully across the room for any break in human heads. No such luck. But part of me wanted him to see me having no other option and wanting one desperately.

So I sat down, not next to him, but in the only other seat, leaving a space between us. Even as I sat there adjusting my belongings and preparing to read under imagined scrutiny, noticing my fingernails were dark blue and dirty looking from rubbing against the indigo in my jeans, I had to admit that he was gorgeous. Even without looking I could sense it by the way his dark jeans looked out of the corner of my eye. I also noticed that I was holding my breath and beginning to sweat.

Within two minutes of settling in, he again gathered his belongings and rose out of his seat to find seating elsewhere. There being no available seats, he chose to stand over by the windows, looking out into a darkness as black as his unfriendly soul, I imagine. I searched for answers within myself: Do I know him from somewhere? In the minute possibility that we had met before, was there also some strange possibility that we had bad blood between us?

I would have remembered him. I would definitely remember knowing him.

Time passed and I looked over to see where he was and he was talking on his cell phone, pacing and talking. He caught my glance and stopped in place, and I felt caught like a petty criminal.

But inspite of myself, even caught like that, I looked away and smiled sheepishly. I don't know where he went or what he saw after that, because I decided to content myself with my book and let him be himself all by himself wherever and however he wanted.

But curiosity and women being what they are, I lifted my head and looked for him. My gaze immediately met his, as he was standing less than ten feet away from me to my right, facing me and only me, staring deliberately at me. So shocked was I that I laughed out loud, pulled my head directly back to my book and let my lips mouth the word "wow," as my eyes opened wide in amazement.

I didn't dare turn back around, for he looked serious rather than playful.

Before ten minutes had passed, the seat to my right became the only seat available and I saw his tall frame amble over and sit down next to me. I couldn't help myself at the awkwardness of it. I smiled so big that my my lips felt chapped. He didn't look at me, didn't turn even slightly, and as good as I am at feigning indifference, you can imagine how easily I showed no response one way or another.

The crew began loading for the flight from that gate to Milwaukee, at which point the seating area began to empty out completely while everyone lined up by letter and number by metal poles along the window. Finally he stood up. I didn't look up. He turned around and faced me. I didn't look up. He buttoned his beautiful wool coat. I turned the page. And because I am what women generally are, I lifted my head and looked straight up at him. And he was staring at me. Motionless. Somehow imploring me. For what? I don't know.

He must have expected that I was on his flight because I had been there for an hour and a half. But when I looked up at him in all of his ferocity, knowing full well that I neither knew him nor would ever know him, I smiled politely and dropped my head back down to my book and started back at the top of the page.

Sometimes one gets the impression that they are an integral part of a story that doesn't really involve them.

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