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 past 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 for some reason Megan still couldn't fathom, she had been asked to be one of six bridesmaids. She and Maureen, born three months apart and both an only child, had been inseparable growing up, but hadn't kept in touch much over the last several years, with the exception of the popular Internet social media known as Facebook.
The instant the plane came to a halt outside the small airport almost everyone aboard jumped up from their seats, and doors popped up as the 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, choosing 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 that 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. She knew she wasn't being fair. Her mom had every intention of making the trip with her, of attending 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 her tiptoes, she reached up to retrieve her own bag from storage. Normally she wore high-heeled shoes to compensate for her height — or lack of — but this day she had chosen to wear flat sandals with her sundress, aware of the amount of walking required of her in Miami and Dallas, having to change planes in both airports.
"Here, let me get that for you."
She turned to see who the deep voice and the long arm reaching for the only bag left in the compartment 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 a bit violated. At least he had slept quietly, and she'd been spared 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. And the perfect hint of a 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 bag to her.
After taking possession of her bag, she made her way down the narrow aisle, stopping at the exit door 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. Whatever. He probably would have been boring anyway.
She continued down the ramp and into the airport, stopping for a second to spot 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 wasn't expecting anyone to meet her at the airport upon arrival, had planned to rent a car if one was available, or take a cab if not, not wanting to inconvenience anyone, or to be at anyone else's mercy. She preferred the freedom to come and go during the weekend as she chose. She was both surprised and confused when she stepped off the escalator and immediately 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, 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 sparkled 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 for a moment. 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 down, 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.
"You've grown!" she said, staring up at him in amazement.
"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. Oh, here, let me have those." He reached for her bags. "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 she experienced inside airports and the planes themselves and draped it over her arm.
"It is hot out here." She glanced up at the clear, bright blue sky.
As she rummaged through her handbag in search of her 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 at how much he seemed to remember about her. The pigtails and crooked teeth were gone, but the freckles were still there, hidden under a thin layer of foundation.
Halfway through the parking lot, he stopped, opened the back of a brand new Tahoe SUV, set both her bags inside.
"Is this yours?" she asked.
"That it is."
"Glad you approve, Megan Forester. I aim to please. Always." He opened the passenger door for her. Before she could step in he bent down and kissed her for the second time.
"Welcome home, cuz. Good to see you again."