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“Attention, passengers—“ the pilot’s voice crackles through the speaker. I am at once stunned and expectant at the intrusion. I’ve spent the flight wrestling with the ebb and flow of excitement mingled with the emotional fatigue of the mess I am leaving behind. I need to get as far away from my life as possible. Just for a little while.

“We have arrived at our destination, Key West International Airport. We hope you enjoyed your flight and thank you for flying Delta.” I crane my neck to glance through the small window, but there’s not much to see except for the baggage handlers and crew scurrying about on the pavement below.

The woman in the seat next to me touches my arm gently. “We can go now,” she urges, nodding toward the open space in the aisle. “Are you okay?”

I think she must hear my heartbeat pulsing in my ears. My knees feel wobbly and I adjust myself, grabbing the headrest in front of me for support. “I’m fine, just a cramp in my leg”, I muster, shuffling across the narrow passageway past the row of impatient expressions. “Sorry for the holdup.”

I smile sheepishly—small beads of perspiration forming on my upper lip. My body feels strangely feverish and cold all at once. Hands trembling, I make my way through the exit line.

I fidget impatiently in baggage claim, scanning the room for a familiar face. Moving like a school of fish with the other passengers toward the lobby, I feel safe– insulated by the humid mass of bodies, easing me forward.

The crowd spills out through the exit door as I stop for a moment, considering which way I should go. And then I catch his eyes. The eyes I know so well and yet I’ve never truly seen before. That smile of their own accord, laughing with adorable crinkles in the corners. His grin opens and I am overcome with a mixture of joy, desire and sweet relief.

He is wearing a loose-fitting striped linen shirt,  and linen shorts with loafers. I can’t help but note that the move to the west coast agrees with him. His skin is clear and healthy looking and it is evident that he has been working out. I see a trace of shyness followed by pride pass over his face for an instant. He has caught me checking him out. But I can’t help it. He can look in my eyes and know what I am thinking.

I pick up the clean fragrance of his aftershave as I drape my arms around his neck for our first embrace. He lifts my feet off the ground with his enthusiasm, hugging me close to his warm body.

“Christ, I’ve missed you! Can I get your bags?” He kisses me on both cheeks.

I feel suddenly shy as we make our way past the long line of yellow taxis idling in the thoroughfare. He is holding my left hand, grasping my bags with his free hand. He guides me along purposefully, glancing over every so often to witness my expression—a smile that I imagine could light up the world with my intense pleasure and delight in this moment. We stop on the pavement and I feel the cold air refresh the flush of my skin.

“I can’t resist”, He murmurs, dipping his head to kiss me again– this time full on the mouth. His lips taste warm and sweet– and vaguely of cinnamon. I sense the restraint and the surrender all at once in this simple gesture that makes my stomach twinge with butterflies.

I hop in beside him in the black Lexus. Lowering  my window I catch the sunny, salty breeze off the water.  The shapes of the waiting city emerge as we ease into the afternoon traffic.

My shoulders soften as the tension of the day begins to evaporate. I smile over at him and realize I am breathing. I am here. This is good. And it is real. It is finally real.

 

To be continued…

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