Jack Hooper turned in all his gear to the quartermaster at Fort Benning, Ga. He would not need it anymore after today as he would be a civilian again. The last three years took him from being a high school graduate to the fighting in Afghanistan. Ultimately Jack spent most of his time as the company clerk for his unit with the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army. Jack was 21 now and was finally a man in every sense of the word. Jack experienced many firsts since joining the army. First time getting drunk, getting laid, shooting a rifle, living away from home and many more. His ultimate destination was Cleveland, Ohio where his family lived and where he would make his own home. Jack broke up with his girlfriend a month before he left for boot camp and had not been concerned with finding a replacement while he was in the service.
He collected his final payout and got a ride to the airport at Columbus, Ga. He then caught a hop to Atlanta where he waited to board his plane for Hopkins international airport in Cleveland. He didn’t tell his parents he would be arriving today. They knew he was due to get out very soon though. Jack wanted to surprise them. He didn’t want them making a fuss and having a party.
Nancy sat at the gate waiting to board her final connection home to Cleveland. It was very hectic the last few days. She dropped her daughter, Anne, off with her mom and flew to Las Vegas to attend her father’s wedding to his new wife Mary. This was the first time she had even met Mary. She knew Mary was only 22 years old and only slightly older than her, but she looked so much younger in person. She didn’t know what dad was thinking marrying a girl 18 years younger than him. Nancy missed her little girl Anne. This was the first time they had ever been apart. However, trying to take Anne to Vegas for the weekend would have been too much trouble. The flight time was one hour and fifteen minutes. Her mom would be there to pick her up.
The plane landed at the gate and the passengers disembarked. After a short time the attendant announced the flight to Cleveland was ready for boarding. It was a small jet with 22 rows of seats, two on each side. The attendant announced the flight would be full that day and passengers had to sit in their assigned seats. Jack saw the pretty young brunette sitting in 16B and felt lucky, he dreaded being crammed in a seat next to a fat old person even if only for an hour.
Nancy had noticed the young soldier in uniform back at the waiting area. He was handsome and confident looking. She wondered where he was going. She imagined maybe he was going home and had a girl waiting for him. Now he was walking toward the seat next to her. She felt a slight flush come over her because she had been thinking about him before he boarded.
“Hello,” Jack said giving Nancy a nod before he pushed his bag under the seat in front of his and sat down.
“Hi,” Nancy responded with a polite smile before turning to look out the window.
Jack noticed the slightest hint of fragrance from the brunette and thought to himself “Damn, she is good looking and smells great.”
Nancy continued looking out the window. She often found it awkward to talk to strangers.
The stewardess gave her obligatory safety speech about the air mask, exits, and seat belts. Then the Captain came over the intercom and welcomed everyone and told the weather in Cleveland and the flight time. The plane was proceeding to the runway while he talked. The stewardess was checking seat belts, when she came to Jack she said, “Welcome aboard soldier. Are you going home or heading out?”
“Going home ma’am, I just got out today!” Jack said with a smile.
“Good for you, congratulations,” The attendant said with a friendly smile before moving on.
Jack saw the brunette smile at his statement.
“Hi, my name is Jack.” He said looking at her.
“I am Nancy, congratulations from me too,” Nancy said looking into Jacks deep blue eyes.
“Do you live near Cleveland too?” Jack asked her before looking at her left hand and noticing she had no wedding ring on.
“Yes, I went to a wedding in Las Vegas and am on my way home.”
The plane engines roared and the plane left the runway and was steeply climbing and banking to head in the right direction. Nancy watched out the window as the ground started to fade away and Jack looked around her head so he could see too.
Her hair was so pretty and smelled herbal he noticed while he was looking. Nancy felt Jacks attention to her while as he looked out the window. She was not surprised, she was attractive and he had been sequestered with mostly men for a while.
The stewardess came down the aisle with a beverage cart taking orders and handing out peanuts or crackers. Jack and Nancy both ordered coffee.
“My parents don’t know I am coming today. I am going to surprise them.” Jack said while sipping his coffee.
“I bet you’re excited,” Nancy said making conversation.
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about this moment for a long time now. There is a whole big world out there waiting for me. I am stoked!”
They finished their coffee in silence. Nancy opened her notebook computer to read for a little while. Jack noticed the picture of Anne as it was set as the background on the desktop.
“That is such a pretty little girl, she looks a lot like you, is that a picture of you when you were a child?” Jack said and immediately though maybe he was out of place asking that.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be nosey.” Jack said right away.
“That is my daughter,” Nancy said proudly.
“Oh, I didn’t know you were married.” Jack said innocently and thoughtlessly.
“I am not married, and it is a long story.” Nancy said annoyed at the question.
Jack felt a lump in his throat and he felt embarrassed for being so bold.
“I’m sorry. I should learn when to keep my mouth shut.” Jack said looking away from the notebook screen.
Nancy knew she sounded annoyed and Jack felt bad.
“It is alright. Just one of those unfortunate mistakes people make when they think they’re in love.” Nancy said while peeking around to see Jack’s face.
Jack looked at Nancy and gave her a polite smile.
“Your daughter is beautiful, just like her mother.” Jack said without hesitating.
Nancy blushed but did not try to hide it.
“Thanks Jack, for the nice compliment.”
They sat there in silence for a long time. Suddenly the Captain spoke and announced that they would begin their descent into Cleveland and everyone should make sure their seat belts were securely fastened.
“Do you have a girl waiting for you?” Nancy asked out of the blue.
“No I don’t.” Jack said with a huge grin.
Their eyes met and they looked long into each other’s eyes without speaking.
“May I call on you sometime, just to go out for coffee maybe and talk?” Jack asked with a hopeful look.
“Sure why not, let me write my number down for you.” Nancy said shrugging her shoulders.
They talked for a few minutes while they exited the plane about where they lived and Cleveland in general. Jack had no checked luggage so he said goodbye and told Nancy he would call her in a few days. While Jack was riding home in the cab he smiled to himself when he realized it was Valentine’s Day that he met Nancy.
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