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 dustbowl. 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 moved away when she was in middle school, and until today, she’d had little reason to return.
Tomorrow was the wedding day of her cousin Maureen, and she was one of her six bridesmaids. She and Maureen, born three months apart and both an only child, had been inseparable growing up. With the exception of the popular Internet social media known as Facebook, they had kept in touch very little over the last several years.
The instant the plane came to a halt outside the small airport almost everyone aboard jumped up from their seats. Doors popped open as these hurried passengers grabbed their carry-on bags and other belongings from the bins overhead. Megan remained in her seat near the back of the plane, preferring to wait for the door of the plane to be opened and the crowd filling the narrow aisle could make their way toward the exit.
She was in no rush, dreading the events ahead of her this evening and tomorrow, 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 dear cousin under her breath. Did Maureen really need a sixth bridesmaid? What? Five wasn’t enough? Did her cousin feel some weird family obligation to include her? Why hadn’t she simply declined Maureen’s invitation?
Oh, yeah. She remembered. That family obligation thing, according to her mother.
“Of course you tell her yes. She’s your cousin. 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 family, Megan. You’re such a loner,” her mother had said.
Right. Like her mother had made an effort! Where was she? Why wasn’t she on this plane, why wasn’t she attending her niece’s wedding?
Megan chastised herself for having these thoughts. Her mom had every intention of making the trip with her to attend the wedding. She had looked forward to seeing her sister. But Megan’s dad became ill, and her mom cancelled her plans in order to stay home and nurse him back to health. Megan now wished she, too, had come up with a reason, an excuse, to cancel.
Once the door opened and passengers moved toward the exit, she stepped out into the aisle. Standing on tiptoes, she reached to retrieve her own bag from the overhead storage. Normally she wore high-heeled shoes to compensate for her height — or lack of — but this day she had chosen flat sandals with her sundress, aware of the amount of walking required in Miami and Dallas, having to change planes in both airports.
“Let me get that for you.”
She turned to see who the deep voice and the long arm reaching for the only bag left belonged to.
The gentleman was gorgeous. If only he had been sitting in the seat next to her instead of the bald guy who’d made himself comfortable during the hour flight from Dallas by spreading his arms and legs, leaving her feeling cramped and violated. At least he’d slept quietly, sparing her the dreaded task of making idle conversation with someone she neither knew nor cared to know anything about.
She wouldn’t have minded an hour of idle chitchat with the attractive man retrieving her bag. The perfect hint of sweet spice she caught when she turned toward him would have been much less overwhelming than the heavy musk of the bald gentleman.
“Thank you.” She flashed the handsome man a smile, her mother’s constant prompt ringing in her ears.
You should smile more, Megan. Show those teeth. After all, they cost enough.
“Thanks, Mom,” she’d always think to herself, “for never failing to remind me that before spending hours in a dentist’s chair, and tons of money, I had ugly, crooked teeth.”
“You’re welcome,” the gorgeous man replied as he handed her the bag.
After taking possession of her bag, she made her way down the narrow aisle, stopping at the exit door long enough to grab her garment bag from the hanging rack. As she stepped off the plane onto the ramp, she glanced to her left. The gorgeous man sped past her, his arm loose around the waist of a tall, beautiful blond.
She sighed. Oh, well. Whatever. He probably would have been boring anyway.
She continued down the ramp and into the airport, where she scanned the area for a sign pointing the direction to restrooms.
While in the ladies’ room, she checked herself in the mirror. After pursing her lips together to fill in where her lipstick was missing and fluffing her hair with the tips of her fingers, she stepped back into the lobby, quickly locating the escalator leading downstairs to baggage claim, car rental, and outside.
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. Two-thirds of the way down the escalator she noticed a tall, slender, good-looking guy about her age holding a sign in front of his chest. He was dressed in long, classic-style khaki shorts, orange University of Texas tee-shirt, and dark brown leather flip flops exhibiting the signature Abercrombie and Fitch logo. His hair, touching just over the top of his ears and turned up slightly at the nape of his neck, was dark, almost black. His eyebrows were bushy and his face scruffy. His sign read Megan Forester. His body faced the escalator, but he had his head turned in the direction of baggage claim. She approached him tentatively.
“I’m Megan Forester.”
“Megan!” His face lit up, his eyes sparkling, at the sight of her.
“Um...do I know you? Have we met before?”
“Aw, Megan! You don’t remember me? After all we meant to each other?” His dark eyes now teased. “I’m hurt. Deeply crushed.” Holding the sign in one hand at his side, he touched his heart with the other.
Megan studied him. The smile was familiar, as were the dimples, but she couldn’t place him though she knew she should.
“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 stared up at him in amazement. “You’ve grown!”
“And you haven’t,” he teased, looking down at her.
“I didn’t even recognize you!”
“I haven’t changed that much, have I?”
“Um...yes. What are you doing here, Bradley? I wasn’t expecting anyone to meet me.”
“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. Well, no one except Mom and Dad." He reached for her bags. "Here, let me have those. Do we need to head to baggage claim?”
“No, this is it.”
“Wow. You travel light for a girl. So, how was your flight?” he asked as he led her outside.
“Well, 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. Glancing up at the clear, bright blue sky, she said, “It is hot out here.”
As she rummaged through her handbag in search of sunglasses, he replied, “Yep, pretty hot.” Turning to face her, he added, “Damn, you look good.”
“You sound surprised.”
“No, not at all...well, maybe a little. You used to have freckles.” He rubbed his finger across the bridge of his nose. “And pigtails. And...” He pointed to his own teeth.
“I was twelve years old!” she said in defense, 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 parked 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. Before she could step inside he leaned in and kissed her for the second time.
“Welcome home, cuz. Good to see you again.”