They were sixteen years old when they met at an Air Force Base in Germany, two wide-eyed teenagers, far from home, unsure of what life had in store for them. They held hands and stole kisses whenever they dared before parting friends. They knew each other for less than a year before their paths diverged, seemingly forever.
Each went on to live. She went on to college, choosing a practical major over pursuing her passion. He served twenty years in the military, his nomadic life an adventure but bereft of any sense of stability.
They experienced deaths, divorces, and all the things that come with the human experience. They lived full lives but more than half-a-century in, had experienced a full life’s worth of heartbreak.
And once again, each was alone.
Nearly forty years had passed since the foundation of their friendship and brief romance had been laid. Then one evening, sitting in her apartment in Texas, the message and a picture flashed across her screen: “People You May Know.”
Oh, she knew him, alright. Or at least she used to.
She clicked the “Add Friend” button.
Less than an hour later, the friend request was accepted.
He was in Florida, more than a thousand miles away. They chatted online for more than a month before he suggested, “How about we talk.”
“You mean like with our voices?”
He typed “LOL” into the message box, a smile creasing his face.
“Yes, with our voices. I mean, if you’re comfortable giving me your number.”
She worried her nerves would prevent her from having anything to talk about. He worried that his nervous chatter and recent life drama would cause her to scurry away, like a frightened deer from a loud noise.
But they spoke. With their voices. And somehow, they and their friendship managed to survive.
The connection was renewed. She was a teacher now, just as her brother and his Father, both now gone, had been. He worked in IT, though his passion was writing. They shared common values, life philosophies, politics. They laughed easily and often. They grew close. The feelings that had begun in a faraway land all those years ago were rekindled.
But how could that even be possible?
Before they reconnected, he had already planned to leave Florida, seeking a fresh start in a climate more to his liking. He’d narrowed the list down to five cities: Dallas, Austin, Santa Fe, Carson City, and Boise. Dallas topped the list, as it would present the greatest likelihood of employment in his field. His only question was the climate and someone who knew the area to show him around.
She had lived in the Dallas area her entire life, save the ten months she spent in Germany. She would be happy to show him around if he decided to come.
Secretly, she hoped he would, so they could see each other and, if nothing else, enjoy the fond memories they had from their youth and to share some time together as old -- and new -- friends.
He then suggested what just a few months earlier would have seemed absurd: Why don’t I come out there next month?
Four months after they began chatting online, he was packing in preparation for the trip that would transform their lives.
He purchased a new travel bag, a Vintage Leather rucksack that would hold his four-year-old MacBook and the rest of his carry-on sundries.
Little did he know that she had recently purchased a leather bag from the same company, a Vintage Leather laptop messenger bag.
As he packed his new bag for the flight west, she dug out the old yearbook, the one in which he had written something that had never been far from her mind over the years.
Not just any bags. These were Vintage Leather bags, seemingly appropriate, given that they first met so many years ago. Their friendship was, you might say, vintage and, also like the bags as it turned out, enduring.
He arrived at Dallas’ Love Field, picked up his rental car, and drove to the small town of Denton, arriving after midnight. He dropped his bags just inside the hotel room doorway and fell onto the bed, asleep seemingly before he was fully horizontal.
She had to teach the next day but they made plans to meet in the lobby of his hotel after school. Before she left her apartment that morning, she packed the dusty old yearbook into her laptop messenger bag, intending to surprise him with it that evening.
They made plans to go to the town square, built around the original courthouse from 1892. The independent coffee shops, bookstores, and locally owned businesses that frame the park at the center of the town square seem to be a perfect setting for the two old friends to reunite.
As his mind raced between the memories of the past and the possibilities of the future, he packed bottles of water, cheese, and crackers into his leather backpack and tossed it over his shoulder before heading to the lobby to wait.
She arrived in the parking lot, slips the gear shift into park, then said to herself, out loud, “What the heck am I doing here?” After five minutes or so, she finally mustered enough courage to leave her car and walk into the hotel lobby.
He saw her as she walked through the automatic sliding doors, the late afternoon sun creating a halo of light behind her. He stood on surprisingly wobbly legs and walked toward her. They met in the center of the lobby, just in front of the registration desk.
They smiled and hugged, their bags dropped to the floor, as forgotten as the decades between their last embrace and this one. The hotel staff watch the scene unfold and smile, not knowing the details of the reunion but clearly seeing the warmth and affection shared between the two.
They picked up their bags and as they walk to her car, their fingers easily find, then intertwine, completely devoid of the awkwardness and self-consciousness of their youth.
They arrived at the park, grabbing their bags from the back seat and chairs from the trunk. They set up the chairs in front of the bandstand and he pulled water and snacks from his bag.
They shared the snacks sit and listened to contemporary arrangements of Beatles covers, updated versions of the past. After the concert, they walked across the town square to a local burger joint.
She laid her bag on the booth seat and pulled out the yearbook. She shows him the inscription he penned all those years ago. “I really do love you, Diane.”
He looked up at her to see her staring back at him, gauging his reaction. Tears formed in his eyes and he smiled, the crags of time and grey hair reminding her that their time together began a long, long time ago. She smiled back, amazingly looking exactly as she had in 1977 when they first met.
He looked back down at the inscription. “I really do love you, Diane.” He sat back in the booth and looked across the table.
Words were neither spoken nor needed. He really had loved her then.
And he was beginning to suspect he still did.
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