Our very first short story submission comes courtesy of Cynthia King from Upstate New York. She’s a reading, writing, mom of two (mostly) functioning adults, with dreams of one day publishing a full-length novel. Love Delayed is a romance story inspired by Prompt #14. Be sure to leave a comment and show her your support! Great job, Cindy. Keep it up!
*This story has been edited for grammar and clarity – all changes have been approved by the author
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she said to the gate agent. “I get up at 4 am to make sure I’m not late. I go through security. I check my bag. I walk a half-mile to get to the gate, and then you tell me my flight’s delayed? Couldn’t you send a text? I confirmed online; I left my email. But I have to do all this to have you tell me my flights been delayed? This sucks.”
“Yes, ma’am.” The gate agent blinked at her in acknowledgment and called, “Next?”
She stood there, eyes narrowed. “Next? NEXT? That’s it?”
“Yes, Ma’am. Please step aside.”
She thought about making a scene, but she was too tired. Coffee first. Hysteria later. She looked down the concourse for the closest coffee shop. Oh God, it was so far away. So far, far away. She looked through her bag for some money.
“Excuse me,” said someone from behind her. In surprise, she turned quickly to see who was speaking, and the change she had dug out of her bag went flying. It was a man: she couldn’t see his face as he bent over to pick up her change.
“Sorry about that,” she told him, “I guess you startled me. I wasn’t expecting anybody, and until I get a cup of coffee, I won’t be myself.”
“Good,” he said. “I was in line behind you, and I’m on the same flight, so it looks like we have some time to kill. I was on my way to get coffee and wanted to ask if you’d like me to pick up one for you, too.”
Now that he stood up, she was able to get a good look at him. He was tall, about six feet, with black hair and blue eyes. The color of his eyes startled her, they were in such contrast to his hair, and they weren’t any old blue. His eyes were the color of blue you’d see on nature documentaries of Antarctica, where the ice met the water. He smiled at her, a nice friendly smile with straight white teeth.
She smiled back and looked at the coffee shop down the way. Deciding she’d rather not walk all that way, she handed him her change. “Sure. Just go heavy on the cream and put some sugar in it. I don’t like it if it’s too strong, and airport coffee tends to be really strong.”
He looked at the money she gave him and handed it back. “I can expense this; that way it’s free for both of us. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
She watched him walk away. He had on a polo shirt and a pair of Levi’s, but Levi’s pressed at the dry cleaner. He had on a pair of well-worn sneakers, which contradicted his whole presentation. Usually, when men seemed starched and pressed, they wore tasseled loafers or, at the very least, Topsiders.
She looked down at what she was wearing: a pair of nondescript black pants and a black t-shirt. She carried a black leather jacket and a black leather tote. He must think I’m going to a funeral, she thought.
She saw him coming back, smiling at her. She wondered why he was so happy at this time of day. The sun wasn’t even up yet. Did he smile because, despite all the black, he thought she was cute? She had streaky sandy blond hair she pulled back in a ponytail. Her eyes were brown. The bones in her face were strong and created interesting planes on her face. Did he have a weakness for full lips and white teeth?
He brought her the cup of coffee in a to-go container and watched as the plastic piece on top popped up every time she tried to snap it back in place. He put his cup down and took hers.
“Here,” he said, pressed it into place, and gave it back. He picked his up and sat next to her. She took a sip. “Good job on the coffee. It’s perfect. Thank you.”
He nodded. “You’re welcome.”
“Coming or going?” He asked her after a while of drinking their coffee in peace.
“I’m headed to my cousin’s wedding.” She told him. “So, I guess I might not be going. Maybe coming, I don’t know.”
He offered her some of his bagel with cream cheese, and she accepted.
“Thanks again. You don’t have to be so nice,” she told him.
“The only reason I’m nice is that it’s just the way I am, or else my mother beat it into me when I was a child. I’m not sure, but being nice takes so very little energy, so it’s no big deal.” He explained.
They drank the rest of the coffee, ate the bagel, and just sat next to each other on the floor. He grabbed a newspaper someone had left on a nearby seat, and they both read it, switching sections back and forth. She opened to the crossword puzzle and took a magazine and a pen out of her purse.
“Like crossword puzzles?” She asked him.
“As a matter of fact, I do. You do them in pen? You must be pretty good,” He noticed.
“Not really,” she replied. “I just like to live dangerously.”
They spent most of the morning totally engrossed doing the puzzle together. They were both pretty good, but the puzzle was hard. By the time they were done, they had most of the puzzle filled in. He had learned her name was Gretchen, and she learned he was Mike.
She got up, saying she had to stretch her legs and harass the gate agent. He watched her speak to the woman at the gate and, by her body language, judged it wasn’t good news. She came back, mentioning some mechanical trouble, and shrugged her shoulders as she sat back down.
“My turn to stretch my legs. I’ll be right back.” He said. He went back towards the coffee shop, and she looked again at the puzzle. He came back fifteen minutes later with another bag. He pulled out a bottle of water and tossed it to her.
“Let’s sit over here.” He was pointing to a couple of chairs with a fixed table. He reached out his hand to help her up. She took it, and he smiled at her. She smiled back.
She sat in the chair he selected. He sat in the other and put the bag on the table. He removed a sandwich and a bottle of water for himself, offering her half of the sandwich.
“I hope you like turkey,” he said. “If you don’t eat meat, just take it off and eat the rest. She just made it, so it’s fresh.”
“Didn’t we just have a bagel?” She asked.
“That was hours ago. It’s lunchtime now,” he said and took a bite. She watched him chew and swallow. He took a napkin and wiped his mouth. “What? Something wrong?”
“No, I’m just not used to eating so much.” She told him.
“There’s nothing else to do when you’re stuck at the airport,” he informed her. “Eat or shop, and I hate to shop.”
“Me too,” she confessed. She took a bite. The sandwich was gone before she realized it. “That was a good sandwich. Thanks again, Mike.”
She used his name, and he smiled. “A woman who hates to shop? I don’t believe you.”
“Well, it’s true. I buy all my clothes off eBay. The dress I’m wearing to the wedding I bought off eBay.” She confessed.
“Is it pretty? Your dress?” He asked.
“I hope so. I didn’t try it on, so it better be.”
“That’s pretty risky.” He answered. “What if it doesn’t fit? What will you do then?”
“I don’t know. I told you I like to live dangerously.” She used her napkin and cleaned the table. He didn’t say anything. He just looked at her. “It’s a little black dress,” she continued. “How can I go wrong?”
“Your cousin,” he asked. “Are you close?”
“Jessica? When we were growing up, we used to live around the corner from each other. We hung out a lot. We moved when my dad got transferred here. I was in eighth grade, so we lost touch. It’s been a couple of years.”
“So you’re just winging it? No plus one?” He asked her.
“Actually, I did have a plus one but didn’t have anyone I wanted to bring.”
“Alright,” she said. “My turn to ask the questions. Why do you seem so at home in airports?”
“I travel for work. This week was a training seminar.” He explained.
“Teaching or attending?” She asked.
“Attending. Sensitivity and Diversity,” he said.
“Sounds like it was a blast.” She said. A little sarcasm crept into her voice.
“It was a ball,” he said with a little bit more sarcasm.”
“Do you like traveling all the time?” She asked.
“Not really, it can be a grind. I’ve been offered a job in the home office a couple of times, but I can’t see myself chained to a desk talking to the same people over and over every day. Now, if I had a good reason to be home, that would be different, but I don’t. Not even a dog.”
She pulled out her phone and showed him a picture of a large mixed-breed dog. “Her name is Betty after my mom.”
“I bet your mother is pleased about that. She looks like a nice dog.” He said.
“My mom would be pleased, but she died a few years ago. I miss her terribly, so I named my dog after her.” She explained.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” he said sincerely. “Thanks.” She replied.
He pulled a deck of cards out of the bag. “I bought these at the bookstore. Would you like to play cards? Gin Rummy? Pitch?
“Sure,” she told him. “I need to go annoy the gate agent first. I know it’s not her fault, but it makes me feel better. Be right back.”
He watched her approach the gate agent. He could tell by her body language there was no change.
“What’s happening?” He asked when she returned.
“Now they have to bring in another plane,” Gretchen said. “Deal. Let’s play Gin, Mike.”
They spent the afternoon playing cards to pass the time. It was starting to get dark. “Look, Mike. They’re starting to get mad at me. You go see what’s the story.”
He got up, and she watched him walk away. She saw him talk to the woman briefly and return. “Grab your things. We’re going to eat at the restaurant. When the plane lands, they need to find a flight crew, so it’s still going to be awhile.”
They walked to the sit-down section of the food court.
“In the mood for anything special?” He asked her.
“Maybe a burger,” she answered. He found them a seat. He asked her if she wanted a drink, but she only wanted a soda. The server came and took their order. He ordered a soda, too. They had an unhurried dinner. Her quick wit impressed him and made him laugh.
His self-confidence and curiosity impressed her. He knew a lot about a lot of different things, and conversation flowed freely. They sat a while after they finished eating, still talking, before deciding to walk back to the gate. There was finally a plane, but now they had to wait for the crew. She was starting to get antsy.
“I’ll go check,” he said. “You wait here and try not to bite anyone’s head off.”
“I’ll try,” she replied, “but I can’t promise anything.”
His conversation with the gate attendant was longer this time. There was an overhead page for another passenger.
“What was that all about?” She asked him when he finally came back.
“Nothing important. Here, why don’t you lean your head on my shoulder while we wait? Maybe you can take a nap.”
“Thanks, I think I will. I have a limit, and then I get cranky. You don’t want to see that.”
“Why not,” he asked.
“Trust me.” She replied. She must have drifted off because the next thing she knew, he was shaking her.
“Come on. We’re finally boarding.”
“Do you know it’s about 24 hours late?” She asked.
“Yeah. This is the longest I’ve ever had to wait.” He agreed. They finally got on the plane, and to her surprise, he was seated right next to her.
“Wait a minute. I thought you were in first class,” she said.
“I was, but I switched seats.”
“Why?” She asked him.
“I was trying to move you up to first class, but I couldn’t get you a seat. So I traded with this guy to sit back here next to you.” He explained.
“But again, why?” She questioned him.
“I wanted to ask you a question.” He said. “I wanted to know if I could be your plus one.”
“What? For the wedding?”
“For the wedding, yes, and for everything else. I am asking to be your plus one.”
“Really?” She sounded stunned.
“Yes.” He reiterated. He looked at her, waiting. “Well?”
She smiled a huge smile. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She kissed him, and it was better than he ever imagined.