The One That Got Away

Writing Prompt:  You bump into an ex-lover on Valentine’s Day—the one whom you often call “The One That Got Away.” What happens?

Par for the course, I’m travelling again. Nothing special, except that this is Valentine’s Day, 1985. I’m young, strong and on a mission. Fly from Minneapolis to Dallas to Houston for the company.  Interview some sales candidates over the course of two days, and then fly home. No big deal, been there, done that a million times.

I’m in my “serious” suit—navy blue blazer, khaki skirt, red silk scarf that serves as my tie. Sensible navy pumps, so practical for running through the airport, cutting it as close as I can before the gate closes. This isn’t my best suit—I usually save that one for the occasional lunch with executives or senior leader meetings. No, this one is a working suit—a bit threadbare on the elbows, the imitation brass buttons lacking their original luster. The seat of my skirt a bit shiny from wear, the heels of my pumps worn on the outside edges—all things I’ve noticed in the past, but not worried about for my day to day work life.

Lugging my leather briefcase and carry-on clothes bag is just one of my daily workouts. I stay fit by hitting the gym after work and playing tennis. My long black hair’s tied back in a chignon—a fancy word for a low bun—and the natural toned make-up, eye shadow and mascara are all part of my uniform. The only jewelry I wear is a gold Seiko watch, pierced earrings (small and gold, nothing dangly) and my new engagement ring.

The moving walkway is brand new, and there are still people having trouble getting on and off. I step on blithely, and take a quick glance at my watch. Got time, but not much. I start walking on the left, passing people standing on the right. There’s a woman with three squirming kids and all their paraphernalia halfway blocking my attempt to pass. I step over their gear. I skim past two business men, probably day-trippers, they have only their briefcases. There’s a tall guy ahead of me, a framed backpack leaning on his left leg—I figure I can skirt him before the walkway ends.

I’m mentally planning my day. Land at the sprawling DFW. Pick up rental car. Drive to Plano—someplace in the middle of nowhere—when the guy shifts left. His backpack tips in front of me. He’s turning to reach for it but too late. I hop to avoid it, my left hand drops my briefcase to grab the rail, my right reaching out to grasp the first thing it meets—the guy’s left arm. Shit! So graceful.

My knee’s on his backpack, but at least I didn’t hit the ground. We’re both saying, “Sorry, sorry,” and then I am back on my feet, scrambling to find the handle of my briefcase to retrieve it before the end of the walkway.

The guy says, “Are you OK?” and then I realize, with a skin crawling foreboding, that I recognize the voice. He’s tall, so I haven’t seen his face yet—I mostly saw the buttons on his chamois shirt and his hiking boots. The end of the walkway is upon us, so I still haven’t seen his face; I’m so focused on not crashing again.

I step off the walkway, my briefcase back in hand, my clothes bag back on my shoulder. We take a few steps away from the end and then I look up.

Ten years fall away. I’m back in college. It’s spring, the sun warms me as I walk to class. Wesley is walking beside me. We’re making a conscious effort not to touch each other as we approach the Quad. It’s Valentine’s Day. Thirty minutes earlier we had been lying in each other’s arms, the world only as big as my dorm room.

The recognition is immediate for both of us. The reaction is visceral. I can almost feel his arms, the weight of his body. But we do not touch. I say, “Wesley.”

It’s strange. I live in Minneapolis but am travelling to Texas. Wesley lived in Texas but is here in Minneapolis. I realize I don’t know where he lives anymore.

He asks me how I am. I don’t know if he means right now, after my fall, or if he means how am I in my life. I say, “I’m fine,” an answer that would apply to either question.

We look at each other—I try to keep my eyes on his face, but they drift over his body. He was lean in college, not so much now, but still clearly fit and still clearly active, if his backpack is any indicator.

He holds my elbow and directs me to the first gate we come to. I sit, he sits beside me. He’s got a grin on his face; it is clear he’s happy to see me. I am much more reserved. I am, after all, a professional.

I make my living training, hiring, selling for my company, but for once I am at a loss for words. I know we are speaking, pleasantly, intensely, our bodies leaning into each other, but I am not aware of what I am saying.

The gate we are at is in the final stages of loading. Its destination is Puerto Vallarta. The voice over the loudspeaker announces final boarding. We look at each other, this man who at one time was as familiar to me as myself, and we simultaneously stand and go to the gate agent to change our tickets.

We are on the beach, the sun is intense. I’ve somewhere along the way abandoned my business suit and have a two piece bikini on with a wide brimmed hat. I have Jackie O sunglasses on, and generous amounts of tanning lotion. I feel so relaxed, so calm. We’re lying on loungers that the resort puts out, side by side, our heads turned to look at each other. We have umbrella drinks in our hands—the hands that aren’t intertwined with the other’s. Wesley’s nose is already beginning to burn, but I hardly notice since the smile hasn’t left his face, and I can’t seem to get beyond his smile. I feel lighter, tuned in, turned on. The colors are intense, the sky so blue, the water so aqua marine, the sand golden, the palms like emeralds twinkling above us. The background noises are dim—there’s music playing in the distance and voices nearby—those sounds barely register. But I can hear his every breath, I hear him say my name. My breathing is shallow, my heartbeat rapid. I feel flush.

Of course that didn’t happen.

I blink, and suddenly I am back to the real world. Two people sitting side-by-side, talking intensely, travelers passing them without looking, destined for points unknown. I bring my wrist up to look at my watch, flashing Wesley with my diamond engagement ring. It looks enormous. It actually is but for some reason it looks even bigger right now. I’m late. I’ve got to hurry to get to my flight. I give Wesley a quick hug and say, “It was great running into you…hah! No pun intended.” It’s lame, but that’s all I can think of. And then I’m gone—down the concourse to Dallas, then Houston, then home. Just in time to make my flight, make the meeting then the next meeting and then hundreds of meetings after that.

But never back to Wesley.

 

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