Whatever Had Been

In less than three minutes he walked through Gate 2 and into the morning. A breeze blew right to left. The warmth already radiated off the surface as he followed the green highlighted path past one plane and beyond it to where his plane waited. He felt the pull of the laptop on his shoulder, the vibration of the garment bag wheels rolling over the imperfections of the tarmac. He told himself to notice, to mark the setting for future reference when time dulled the events of the week. The clouds opened enough to let the morning sun play on him at full force.

He hesitated at the top of the portable boarding stairs, just a second, and stepped inside. Safely in his seat, he suddenly had nothing to do. Maybe he should have looked back. Maybe she waited for it. He tried to scan the terminal out his window but found it obscured by the plane he’d walked past to board this one.

The flight attendant welcomed them aboard and went through the usual instruction for all possible emergencies. She ended her presentation by explaining that in the event of an emergency they should locate the nearest exit, keeping in mind that the nearest exit might be behind them. He’d have laughed if he could have managed it. His nearest exit was behind him all right. So far behind him he’d never be able to locate it again.

He had it all ahead of him now. Monday would come soon enough. But first he’d see Max. If Max felt like it they’d muse over the Braves as long as he wanted. He’d ask to see the photograph of Max’s sons. He’d look at them. Really see them. Ask their names and remember them. He’d tell Max to put his house up for sale, pack for Pepsacola, and take his wife for long walks on the beach.

The plane blocking Rudy’s view of the terminal began its taxi. When it rolled forward it revealed the gate doors and the windows of the Last Call Beach Bar to the left of them. A form darkened the window farthest left. Didn’t it? Yes. Maybe. Just a shadow, visible through the glass. But in the changing light he couldn’t be sure. He decided to humor the notion that someone stood there. Someone with long hair falling in a familiar way onto shoulders that carried its curve down the rest of her body. Her body, standing motionless in the window, too far away for positive identification. So why did he think it was her? Because, he told himself, he saw what he wanted to see. People did that all the time.

Her phone number. He took the slip from his shirt pocket and unfolded it, a paper triangle with one jagged side where she’d ripped it from the journal. There was no phone number. Only the words: Your mother knew you made it. He folded the scrap and tucked it back in his pocket. He supposed he could accept that.

The plane lurched into motion, began to taxi away from the terminal. The stirring of the plane drove a sudden impulse within him to wave. Why? It isn’t her. And even if it is, she’s too far away to see. With that settled he surprised himself by putting a hand to his window and pressing his palm against it. He watched the far left window across the tarmac and for just an instant felt the warmth of the sun on his outstretched fingers. The plane swung away from the terminal onto the taxiway and whatever had been or had not been in the window was gone.

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