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"You don't know, Jenny. Maybe you'll decide you don't like Florida after all ... and come back here." Tommy Maurer gazed at her, his expression hopeful. "I mean, this is your home, right?"
Nerves or excitement, most likely a combination of both, brought a burst of laughter from Jenny Bryant. That day had had such a dreamlike quality to it, even with all the reminders that this was no dream. This was reality. It was really happening--the airport, the planes that could be seen taxiing to their gates through the huge windows, the plane ticket and boarding pass clutched between her hands.
How long had it been since she'd been that happy? Since she'd had so much to look forward to?
"This is always going to be my home, Tommy," she assured him. "I'll miss everybody. But I know I'm going to love Florida. I almost can't even wait to get there."
Again she laughed. Even to her, she sounded like a little kid that had been let loose in a toy store. Yet, she wasn't a child anymore. She was eighteen and bound for college, bound for adventure, too.
Uncle Cam and Aunt Louisa, who for all intents and purposes had been like her own loving parents for the past four years, taking her in after her father died, had thrown her a going-away party. At the last minute her uncle had been unable to drive her to the airport. No need to worry, though, because Tommy had come to her rescue.
"You're in more of a hurry to leave us than we are to see you go," he teased.
She smiled, tilting her head back to look up at her longtime friend. "Oh, that's not true."
"It's--it's not that I'm not happy for you, Jenny. I really am. I'm proud of you."
That drewher attention. She swelled, never having heard those words--I'm proud of you--from anyone other than her father and aunt and uncle.
"And this is such a great time, huh?" She sought to include him, letting him know she was also proud of him. "Look--you just graduated from the academy. I have to come back and visit. I want to see you in your uniform. See that patch on your shoulder that says," she paused to trace an invisible patch on the sleeve of his old gray sweatshirt, "WINDY HARBOR POLICE DEPT."
That at least made him laugh, the way she pronounced department as dept. She felt an unexpected ripple in her abdomen, imagining him in the full uniform of a patrolman. And something else--a wave of concern, quickly subdued. Just at the thought of her tall, lanky friend, only a couple years older than she was, possibly being injured in the line of duty. Or worse.
Tommy lowered his head and shuffled his feet. "You gonna write to me, right? Keep in touch?"
"Sure, I will!" She stopped, listening to the airline's announcement over the PA system and automatically consulting her boarding pass. "Oh--they're calling my row. 'Bye, Tommy."
The embrace was supposed to be quick, a goodbye expressed physically. But it seemed he held her tighter than he'd ever held her, for seconds longer than Jenny could remember him ever holding her ... which was rare.
They were friends. Platonic friends. There was a time--should she tell him about that? Now there was no time, with the future hurrying her--when she'd wished they'd been more.
And there was something that she could never have told him. Something about herself that Tommy Maurer, like most people, would have laughed at initially.
Or maybe, if he'd reacted as she had the first time it had happened, he would have recoiled from her in fear.
"Tommy, I have to go."
Only then did he release her. Adjusting the strap of her carry-on on her shoulder, Jenny turned swiftly and followed after a stream of people making their way through the gate's doorway. That was the gate that led to more than just a plane and her flight to Florida, where she would be staying with Holly, Uncle Cam, and Aunt Louisa's daughter, who had resided in Key Largo since she had left for college.
Responding to the urgency in her friend's voice, she turned. "Yes, Tommy?"
She noticed him swallowing hard, sticking his hands in the pockets of his jeans and pulling them out again. He looked ... lost. What was worse, if she gazed at him for too long--what?
Would you stay? she asked herself, confusion setting in.
"Jenny ... I miss you already."
Had that been a crack in his voice? And what was that moisture in his eyes?
She couldn't tell because he'd turned rapidly, his long legs carrying him fast until he disappeared in the crowd of people.
Shaken but determined, she found her seat on the plane, a window seat because she hadn't flown in such a long time, and she liked to watch the take-off and the landing, and she liked the way the earth looked, like sections of a jigsaw puzzle, from up there in the clouds.
This was exciting. Going away to school in an entirely new state, one surrounded by the ocean on almost every side of it--the Atlantic on the East, the Gulf on the West. Wherever she went in her life, wherever she lived, there had to be an ocean or a sea close by. That had been a prerequisite in her life ever since that summer morning when she was fourteen, that same year that her father had died.
Daddy. It was Jenny's turn to swallow hard, tasting the salt of tears at the back of her throat.
He was the only one missing from that wonderful day, the only one who wasn't seeing her off to chase her dreams.
This is exciting. This isn't sad! she scolded herself.
But she found herself looking through that window right before the plane taxied away from the gate, trying to see Tommy Maurer, who of course was nowhere to be found, through those airport windows.
The same Tommy Maurer she had loved for most of her teen years, though she had never shared anything more than a friendship with him. Had he known the truth about her, the secret that she'd successfully kept from everyone she knew, with the exception of her aunt and uncle, maybe they wouldn't have even shared that much.
Yet, that was a secret she would continue to keep for as long as she could.
Jenny watched as the plane freed itself from the confines of the earth, taking her away from Maine, thinking about how she missed Tommy Maurer already, and the way he'd held her with all his might.
Posted February 20, 2013
Posted February 20, 2013
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