by Tyler Hart

Clothing was strewn about her bedroom in disarray. The normally organized jewelry box was a tangle of earrings and necklaces, the wash-cloth which had taken her make-up off was tossed on the sink, smeared with red streaks of blush that had since been reapplied. Her foot slipped back and forth between the gas and the brake. It wouldn't do to be pulled over. She'd heard the cops in this area were anal for the law. Fifty-five… what was that? Sixty-five was acceptable, when she was in a bad mood. Her friends teased her about having a lead foot. Her car had battle-scars in it, which she'd made fun of in the many letters she'd written. Some were to friends, some were to family, but Drew was neither. She'd met him through a pen-pal service fluke, two Americans whose paths accidentally crossed.

"I can't believe I'm doing this," she thought to herself as she pulled into the parking lot. It wasn't raining, but the day was slightly overcast and smelled of springtime and newness. "This is something that I would yell at other people for doing. There's still time to get out of this." She stepped out of the car and headed toward the airport. Then she heard Michael's voice, from a long time ago. His lengthy courtship culminated with him down on one knee with an open ring box and sweet words of love. Finally the day came, and they were in the church ready to tell the world and God that they were husband and wife. It was like something dreams were made of. She'd fled that day, though, said she couldn't go through with it. She couldn't stop those ill-formed syllables from coming out of her mouth. "I can't be your wife," she said simply, and that was the end of it. That had eventually broken them up, his patience had finally run out. He wanted more out of life, more than an affair. She deserved better than that and he knew it. "You can't stand on the side of life and stick your toe in… either wade in waist-deep or don't go in at all- it's really your choice."

That seemed like years ago. Now, the mechanical voice came over the loudspeaker of the crowded terminal announcing the arrival of Flight 218, nonstop from New Orleans. Laurie sat up at the revelation, waiting for a gate number. She tossed her empty Styrofoam cup in the trash and wiped her moist palms on the legs of her jeans. "Relax, Laurie," she told herself, "There's nothing to be nervous about." But she was more than nervous. She was terrified.

Earlier that morning, she'd spent hours washing and brushing her long hair, the color and sheen of which made it her most prominent feature. She wanted to look put together, but not overdone. Her black glossy mane was pulled into a ponytail at the nape of her neck and held in place with a fluffy white bow. She couldn't seem to unwind… her sleek body was coiled up like a spring. One could have bounced a quarter off her nerves.

Drew had been her friend and confidante, there for her laughter and tears. Maybe it would have been better if she hadn't gotten so personal with him, but she was looking for a void to fill. It had been a long time since Michael. There was a bit of a tan line on her finger still, a light stripe from the sun tattooing her hand as he had left his own imprint on her heart. "Drew isn't Michael; he won't hurt me," she reminded herself. "I couldn't have prevented what happened. What if he doesn't like the way I look? I couldn't stand that. What if this changes things? If I'm too short? Too tall? Not his type?"

She tried to stroll nonchalantly but almost tripped over the strappy sandals she'd bought in an effort to look cute. "Shouldn't have worn these," she chided herself, the buckle cutting at her ankle. She didn't know how she was going to pick him out of a crowd. He'd told her to expect the unexpected. She wasn't sure what he meant.

Laurie was almost clutching the rail she was so nervous. She watched a Manson-type rocker with a non-biodegradable blond on his arm. Behind him was a heavyset lumberjack type, smelling faintly of whiskey and the mountains. She wondered what kind of business he had in New Orleans. He didn't seem the type to sit on a muggy porch drinking java as the city reluctantly came to wake. The flight attendant offered to wheel the next client off the plane, but he smiled pleasantly and declined. He was handsome, with a strong muscular jaw and twinkling eyes. It was too bad about the chair.

She walked over to the flight attendant and asked if she could point out Drew Jacobs to her. She nodded toward the man in the wheelchair and when she glanced back at him, he smiled. She wanted to run. He wasn't her Prince Charming. She didn't think the chair would fit on the back of a horse. "Umm… Drew?" Why hadn't he told her in all those letters?

"Hey baby, wanna wrestle?" he jested, his eyes laughing. He kissed her hand and told her he'd been looking forward to meeting her for the first time. And suddenly, she wasn't nervous about her looks anymore.

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A Different Kind of Love Story, 19 April 1997