Terminal

"And you?" my old college pal asked as she picked at her indifferent meal in an airport bar.

Which was the obligatory follow-up to my standard query: "So what've you been obsessed with since we last met?" Because Rikki Hendrahan had a tireless, questing intellect. She was predictably, enviably, enthusiastic about whatever big idea she'd encountered most recently. And I was out of the loop—we hadn't seen one another, hadn't even touched base, for far too long.

Still I'd gone running when she called. She had a two-hour layover at Lambert International and I had no choice. Because I'd loved the woman for decades. Quietly. Desperately. Hopelessly. I'd die loving Rikki. But I couldn't compete with her intellect, the onslaught of engaging anecdotes, that restless energy. Had never even understood why someone so captivating had befriended me.

Awash in adrenaline and unrequited longing, I raced north on I-70. We'd have just enough time to catch up before breathless life reclaimed her. And maybe too little for me to make an abject fool of myself. I spotted Rikki the instant I entered the crowded terminal. Waving in the distance, standing out from the crowd. As always. We found a darkened bar, took a secluded table there, ordered cocktails. While she talked, I mostly smiled and nodded. Drinking in her sculpted cheekbones, that olive skin, the warmth shining from her dark eyes. But ultimately she insisted on an update of my recent history. "And you?" she'd asked.

I put as much spin as possible on my mundane Midwestern life, aware that everyone from our social group with a minimal quotient of coolness had fled St. Louis at the earliest opportunity. While filling Rikki in, I tried to persuade myself that I'd chosen to bloom where planted. To her credit, she made a convincing show of interest, seemed to be glued to my words. A kindness, I thought—she'd never been anything but kind. She could afford that courtesy, of course. Hendrahan was so much more charismatic, so much more attractive.

Far too soon we exhausted the window of connection allotted us by American Airlines. After paying our bill we found ourselves in the bustling concourse, blinking in harsh artificial light. I was caught off-guard by the intensity of Rikki's farewell embrace, embarrassed by the heat that flared through me. With typical reluctance, I let her go, watched her sprint for the designated gate, wondering whether we'd cross paths again. My beloved, energetic executive, dashing headlong into another European adventure.

Her plane was angled toward the sky and I was headed homeward before revelation struck. Jesus! When Rikki said, "And you?" she wasn't asking a question. That was a statement—a naked invitation, in fact. Almost an appeal. But I was so mired in my own inadequacy it sailed right past me.

Heart pounding, I replayed our exchange: "What've you been obsessed with since we last met?"

"The usual," Rikki'd replied. "Work. Politics. Golf." Then, after a long, suggestive pause, "And you."

The End