Thursday, June 19, 2014

Mr. Average

As I settled into my sat on a DC9, ready for takeoff from Tampa's International Airport, a blond woman perhaps thirty—my age—eased into the aisle seat next to me. Tall, athletic-looking, beautifully tanned, she was dressed in a blue blouse, white shorts and sneakers I lowered my eyes. 
I didn't want her to think I was staring—she was absolutely gorgeous.
While she buckled up, she said, "Hi."
She had to be somebody's wife, somebody's girlfriend. Nobody that beautiful walks around unattached. "Hi," I said. "Been vacationing?"
"My folks retired and moved to Largo two years ago. I try to visit them every summer. You?"
She was actually talking to me! Asking me a question? Me! I couldn't believe it. Hardly any awesomely good-looking women ever strike up a conversation with me. I'm what you'd call average, I guess. My whole life I've simply blended it.
Not tall, not short. Not fat, not skinny. Not handsome, not ugly. Brown hair and eyes. "My mom's a widow," I said. "My folks used to winter in a condo at St Pete's Beach. When dad died, she sold he place back home and moved there. I always visit for a couple of weeks."
"Same here. Golfed every day."
"I wish I'd golfed more as a kid—too busy with football. But I still play some."
I couldn't believe how easy she was to talk to. Is this my lucky day?
But once we were airborne, she plucked a thick paperback from a tote bag and started to read. Still, after she'd read a chapter or two, she'd stop, cast a glance at me, and smile. Every time, my heart tumbled.
Our flight was headed for St. Louis, two hours away, where after a forty-five minute layover, I'd board a plane for Moline, Illinois, my hometown. Miss Beautiful Blonde was probably headed for Detroit or Minneapolis or Anchorage.
When we landed in St. Louis, while pushing up from her sat, she said, "Nice to have talked to you." She offered me another smile that seemed to say she was sorry we didn't have a chance to know each other better.
I must be dreaming. "Same here," I said.
I lost sight of her in the terminal and gave a deep sigh of regret. It was noon, so I grabbed a bite to eat from an airport vendor and then nearly fell over when I spotted her among the passengers waiting to board the flight to Moline.
Her face lighting up, she said, "What are you doing here?"
"Waiting for a plane to Moline International. You?"
"Me, too. I live in Rock Island. We're practically neighbors." And then she smiled, apparently pleased.
"I'm the assistant parks and recreation director in Moline," I told her, hoping she'd be impressed. "Mark Hanson."
"Lexi Flynn," she said. "Physical therapist, Saint Luke's Hospital in Rock Island."
We shook hands, her grip warm and firm; my heart picked up beat.
"Are you the Mark Hansen who beat Rocky High in football five or six years ago, throwing three touchdown passes in the final quarter?"
I nodded sheepishly. "I was third string. Your guys flattened our other two QBs. That game was the highlight of my athletic career." The highlight of my life I almost added, but was glad I didn't.
"My boyfriend played for the Rocks. He was totally bummed. So was I, a cheerleader."
"Sorry about that."
We laughed. Then I asked, "Did you marry the kid from Rocky High?"
"Haven't married at all."
"Me, either. Dating?"
"No one special."
Just as I fancied she was looking at me with interest, the call for Moline passengers to board their plane squawked over the loudspeaker. I hoped I'd be lucky enough to sit next to her again. But my seat was near the tail, and she slipped into a seat near the front.
After the plane landed in Moline and we headed together toward he baggage carousel, she said, "Funny how things work out. Our flight, I mean—that we should have this tiny connection."
"When I first saw you," she said, blushing a little, "I thought I saw something special, something different about you—I don't know how to say it."
"Something special about me? You're kidding?"
"Not at all. A look about you, such a nice-guy look."
"I'm a very good judge of character. I hope I'm not embarrassing you."
"Not at all." The smile on my face felt huge. Boldness gripped me. "After we get out luggage, do you need a ride? Friends of mine left my car here."
"Great." Her blue eyes surveyed me. "How about a round of golf tomorrow. Or the next day?"
"I'd love that."
As Kathy and I stood in front of the carousel with other passengers, waiting for our luggage, my heart refused to slow down. I jiggled my car keys in my hand. I decided that when I got home, first thing, I was going to stare into a mirror really hard, trying to see what she saw. Maybe I wasn't Mr. Average at all.