Wednesday, August 15, 2012


         When my plane landed at the airport late in the afternoon, the stewardess came to fetch the bright-eyed little boy sitting next to me and take him to his parents, no doubt. He was six. We'd been pals from St. Louis to Cedar Rapids, an hour.
         “Thanks for giving me the window seat,” he said, shaking my hand—a little gentleman. "And for talking to me.
I think you're a nice lady."
         "And you're quite a young man."
         Later, I was skittering along with the rush of people to the baggage-claim area when I saw him again, standing with a tall dark-haired man. “There she is, Dad! The nice lady on the plane.” Jamie rushed over and grabbed my hand. “Didn’t I tell you she’s pretty? Her name's Lynn.”
         An awkward moment passed before the man said, “I’m so grateful to you for looking after Jamie. He’s been visiting his grandparents in Dallas. It's the first time he's traveled alone."
         “My mom died,” Jamie said solemnly, still clutching my hand. “She’s in heaven. I was close to her when I was flying, wasn’t I Dad?”
         “Yes, you were, son.”
I couldn't help but smile. The handsome man with startling blue eyes, black hair, and a soft smile said, "I'm Michael O'Brien. What brings you to the Cedar Rapids airport? Passing though?"
On the way to claim our baggage, I explained that I had I'd quit my job as a tax accountant with a big firm in St. Louis . “Tired of the rat race,” I said. "And my parents are always begging me to come home. I just want to get back to my small-town roots, Clear Creek. Start over after five years. I left because I felt there was nothing here for me. And now, well—I'll just wait and see.”
He glanced quickly at my left hand, didn't see an engagement or wedding ring, and he could obviously see I didn't have a boyfriend tagging along with me.
         “I'm form Dexter," Michael said. "I took over the Ace Hardware dealership in Clear Creek. Sure could use a good tax accountant.”
Clear Creek was fifty miles from the airport. I decided to ride with Michael and Jamie. I hadn't told my folks I was coming home. I knew the surprise would thrill them. As Michael drove us over the two-lane blacktop meandering through rich farmland, Jamie fell asleep in the back seat.
         "I'm sorry about your wife," I said.
         He sighed. "Been two years now. Icy, winter roads. She spun her car around, slid into a ditch. Hit a culvert. That simple." Then he asked, “How long has it been since you’ve been home?”
         “Last summer.”
         “Want to see the town?” He laughed. “This year it suddenly jumped to the big leagues. We’ve got a Kentucky Fried Chicken and a McDonald's.”
"Wow! That is big-league."
         He showed me the newly completed wing on the high school and the new football field. I marveled at the new blue paint job on the water tower. When we passed the fairgrounds, Michael said, “Fair starts in two days.” He gazed at me shyly. “Suppose you’d like to go?”
         I blinked. Dating someone when I returned to Clear Creek was the farthest thing in the world from my mind. I had to decide where I was going to live—I didn't want to live with my folks. Decide what to do with my future.
         “Dumb idea,” Michael said the instant he saw me hesitate. “I know you must have a million other things on your mind.”
         “It’s not a dumb idea, Michael. It’s just that—”
         “That’s the Ace Hardware store. ” He pointed at a small brick building on a corner as we drove into town.
"My folks have been trading there forever," I said.
         “Something to eat?” he asked. “It’s nearly five. You must be hungry. You awake back there, Jamie?”
         “I’m starved,” the boy said through a big yawn.
         We ate at the Main Street Café—a home-cooked meal of stuffed pork chops and mashed potatoes and gravy topped off with apple pie and ice cream. “This is great, Dad!” Jamie beamed. “We should take Lynn here again.”
         "We'll see," Michael said.
         In front of my folks’ house, Michael hauled my luggage to the porch while I peeked in through the car’s back window and said good-bye a second time today to Jamie. "Why won't you go to the fair with Dad and me?" he asked. "I heard him ask. I wasn't sleeping all the time."
Suddenly my folks stood on the front porch eyeing my baggage—laughing—I think crying, too.
"Will you puh-lease go the fair with us?" Jamie said.
I looked at Michael. Smiled. "Call me," I said and rattled off my cell phone number.
"I will," he said, grinning. "I promise."
"You finally coming home?" Dad yelled from the porch.
"Yes, I am," I called back. "And a wonderful homecoming it is."

The End
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