Megan Forester stared out the smudged window as the small plane touched down and taxied along the short runway toward Gate Five, all the while wondering why anyone would want to live in such a godforsaken dust bowl. The view below for miles before reaching the city just south of the Texas Panhandle had been nothing but flat, dry land, row after row of massive, white wind turbines, and cotton fields.
Several years had passed since Megan last returned to her hometown. Her family had moved away when she was in middle school and, until this weekend, she’d had little reason to return.
Her cousin, Maureen Reynold, was getting married and Megan was one of her six bridesmaids. She and Maureen, born three months apart and both only children, had been inseparable growing up. However, with the exception of Facebook, they had kept in touch very little over the last several years.
The instant the plane came to a halt, almost everyone on board jumped up from their seats, including the passenger in the middle seat next to her. He had plopped his large body in the seat upon boarding the plane and making his way down the aisle to her row near the back of the plane, had grunted some version of “hello” in her direction, then promptly made himself comfortable by stretching out in the small seat—arms, elbows, legs and all. For the full duration of the hour-long flight from Dallas, Megan had quietly endured her lack of space.
The doors of the storage bins overhead began popping open as passengers retrieved their carry-on bags and other belongings. Megan remained in her seat, preferring to wait for the crowd now filling the narrow aisle to make their way out, especially since she now had room to stretch out.
She was in no rush, dreading the events ahead of her—events where she would be surrounded by people she either didn’t know or didn’t remember. She would be the outsider.
She cursed her cousin under her breath. Surely five bridesmaids were plenty. Did Maureen really need a sixth one? Perhaps she had felt an otherwise latent family obligation to include her. She should have just politely declined the invitation.
She remembered her mother’s words. “Of course you tell her yes. She’s your cousin,” her mother had said. “The two of you used to play dolls together for heaven’s sake. You should be pleased she wants to include you in her wedding. You really should make an effort to be closer to the family, Megan. You’re such a loner.”
Like her mother had made an effort. Where was she now? She wasn’t on this plane attending her niece’s wedding.
Megan immediately regretted the negative thoughts toward her mother, well aware of the unfairness of them. Her mom had every intention of making the trip with her, had been excited about seeing her sister and attending her niece’s wedding. Her mother loved weddings. Megan’s dad always teased that her over-emotional, over-sentimental Mom liked them because they gave her a reason, an excuse, to cry. Unfortunately, he had become ill a few days earlier, and her mom had canceled her plans. Megan wished that she’d had a reason, an excuse, to cancel.
Once the door finally opened and the passengers began to exit, she stepped out into the aisle. Standing on tiptoes, she reached to retrieve her bag from the overhead. Normally she wore high-heeled shoes to compensate for her height but, conscious of the amount of walking she had to do, she had chosen flat sandals with her sundress.
“Let me get that for you.”
She turned to the tall gentleman offering assistance. “Thank you,” she said, her mother’s constant prompt to“smile” ringing in her ears. “Show those teeth,” she would say, “after all, they cost enough.”
After taking possession of her bag, she made her way down the narrow aisle, stopping at the exit long enough to grab her garment bag from the hanging rack before continuing down the ramp and into the airport.
Her first stop was the ladies’ restroom, where she checked herself in the mirror. She pursed her lips together to fill in where lipstick was missing and fluffed her hair with the tips of her fingers. She leaned in closer, checked her teeth just as someone exited one of the stalls and joined her in front of the long mirror.
“Meeting someone special?” the woman asked as she fluffed her hair just as Megan had.
“No,” Megan replied, shaking her head. “Killing time, actually. In no hurry to get where I’m going.”
“I’ve been there,” the woman said. “Too bad; you look lovely.”
Megan watched as the woman exited, then turned back to the image in the mirror. “You can’t spend the whole day in the airport ladies’ room, Megan. Time to move on.”
She planned to rent a car if one was available. If not, she would grab a cab. She had chosen not to ask anyone to meet her at the airport, preferring the freedom to come and go during the weekend as she pleased. Descending the escalator she noticed a tall, slender, attractive guy holding a sign in front of his chest. He was dressed in classic cut khaki shorts, an orange University of Texas t-shirt, and dark brown leather flip flops with the signature Abercrombie and Fitch logo. His hair, just touching the top of his ears and turned up slightly at the nape of his neck, was a dark brown, almost black. The sign read Megan Forester.
She approached him tentatively. “Are you waiting for me?”
“Megan!” His face lit up at the sight of her.
“Have we met before?”
“Aww, Megan! Don’t you remember me? After all we meant to each other?” His dark eyes teased. Holding the sign in one hand at his side, he touched his heart with the other. “I’m hurt. Deeply crushed,” he said.
Megan studied him. The smile was familiar, as were the dimples, but she couldn’t place him.
“Maybe this will jog your memory.” He leaned over and planted a firm, quick kiss on her lips. “Kissing cousins. Behind the barn. Ring any bells?”
“Oh my God! Little Bradley Bosley?” Except Little Bradley wasn’t so little anymore, she noted as she stared up at him in amazement.“You’ve grown!”
“And you haven’t,” he said, laughing and looking down at her.
“I didn’t even recognize you!”
“I haven’t changed that much, have I?”
“Yes! What are you doing here, Bradley? I wasn’t expecting anyone.”
“Mom sent me to fetch you.”
“To fetch me?”
“Her words, not mine.” He smiled, exhibiting his own perfect teeth as well as his deep dimples. “And it’s Brad, no one calls me Bradley anymore. Except Mom and Dad.” He reached for her bags. “Let me have those. Is this everything?”
“Yes, this is it.”
“Wow. You travel light for a girl. So, how was your flight?” he asked, leading her outside.
“Those are usually the best kind.”
As they stood on the wide curb outside the airport waiting for traffic to pass before heading out to the large, open parking lot, she removed the lightweight sweater she had worn to fend off the usual chill inside airports and draped it over her arm.
Looking up at the clear sky, she remarked, “It’s hot out here.” She rummaged through her handbag in search of her sunglasses.
“Yep, pretty hot,” he replied, the enthusiasm clear in this voice. Turning to face her, he added, “Damn, you look good.”
She chuckled as she slipped on her retrieved sunglasses. “Not sure how I should take that, Brad,” she said, turning to face him. She paused before repeating his name, making sure to say Brad and not Bradley. “While certainly a nice compliment, it implies you expected something quite different.”
“No. Not at all. Well, maybe a little. You used to have freckles,” he said, rubbing his finger across the bridge of his nose. “And pigtails, and—” He pointed to his teeth.
“I was twelve years old!” she said, surprised how much he remembered about her. The pigtails and crooked teeth were gone, but the freckles were still there, hidden under a thin layer of foundation.
The walk to his vehicle was short. As he opened the back of a brand new Tahoe SUV and placed her bags inside, she asked if it was his.
“That it is.”
“Glad you approve, Megan Forester. I aim to please. Always.”
He opened the passenger door for her. “Welcome home, cuz. Good to see you.”