The stewardess came to my seat as soon as the plane landed. "Are you Laurie?" She asked, bent over me in her crisp navy blue uniform.
I looked up from my book. "Yes?" It came out as more of a question than an answer.
"I'm going to have to ask you to collect your carry-ons and come with me."
"May I ask why?" I inquired, placing my bookmark between two pages as I slowly closed the book.
"I'll explain," she said sweetly, "just come with me."
So I did as I was told and gathered my things: My purse, my book, the garment bag I brought aboard containing the dress I planned to wear to my boyfriend's All Academy Military Ball. My stomach felt like it was full of bricks. All I could think of was the winter Idaho weather outside, and the possibility that David and his family were victims of it.
As I followed the flight attendant through the plane's clogged aisle, she began to explain, over her shoulder, why I was exiting the plane when the rest of the passengers were being told to please remain seated.
"It seems there was a problem with your luggage," her sharp profile told me, "during your connecting flight in Colorado." I watched her bobby pin-secured bun move through the cabin.
"My luggage?" I was partly relieved, partly terrified. The reason I flew every Christmas from Milford to Boise, ID was to attend my boyfriend David's military ball. I carried my dress with me on the plane because I didn't want it to get lost or ruined, but the rest of my evening paraphernalia was crammed into the one black bag I'd entrusted to United Airlines. My shoes, my makeup, my underthings. I was listing all of the things I'd have to do without on my trip when she stopped.
"This is Mark," she said, gesturing toward a white mustached man in front of us. "He'll fill you in on the rest. Just follow him."
The door of the plane had been opened, and first class passengers gathered behind me, hoping to exit when I did. Mark escorted me through the doorway and into the corridor connecting the aircraft and the airport.
"Did you have a good flight?" Mark asked, attempting to make small talk.
"Not really," I mumbled. I had worked myself up so much that, in my head, I'd have to attend this function naked. I was already on the verge of tears.
"This is the situation," he said. "Two luggage carts in Colorado collided, and the tops of a bunch of bags were shaved off. So we have to match tops and tags to their rightful bags..." He continued to explain the situation, how the carts were loaded, how they collided, but my mind was elsewhere. We had crossed the threshold of the corridor and stepped into the reception area at the gate. Tons of families looked over my head, searching for their loved ones behind me. I looked through the crowd, searching for David and his family, but of all the faces I saw, none of them belonged to David. My pace slowed as I looked for my normally punctual and thoughtful boyfriend, who would surely not forget to pick me up at the airport.
"Miss, I'm going to need you to pay attention to me here," Mark said.
"I'm just looking for my boyfriend..." I said, distracted.
He gently took my arm and led me to the right. "You need to come this way with me," he said, pulling me toward the ticket counter.
Just great, I thought. My first flight of the day is cancelled, then I catch a flight only to miss the connecting flight. Then I get another flight, only to be told that because of severe winter weather conditions I have to stay seated the whole flight, making the hour in the plane both miserable and terrifying. Then we have a rough landing, after which they tell me they've lost my luggage, and NOW David's not even here to meet me. This is just perfect. I could feel the tears pushing at my eyes.
Mark had placed me in front of the ticket counter, and walked behind it. He made his way to his computer while I continued to scan the airport for David's face.
"Miss," Mark beckoned. "I'm serious. You're going to have to pay attention to me."
I whipped my head around and looked at him. "Fine. I'm paying attention."
"I need you to describe your bag for me." He positioned his fingers above his keyboard, ready to type the details of my luggage.
"My bag? It's about this high," I said, putting my hand and waist level, "and it's black. It's one of those pulley bags. You know, with the handle?"
"You're going to have to be more specific than that. Were there any identifying characteristics of the bag? Any colors on it? Any stickers, patches?"
"No," I said, frustrated now. "It's a black pulley bag. It's big and it's black and it has wheels and a collapsible handle. Just like a million other bags that go through here every day. It doesn't have stickers or patches on it. It's just plain black, like I told you already." I could hear the bitchiness in my own voice, and I immediately checked myself. "I'm sorry," I said. "It's been a really long day. I didn't mean to snap at you, it's just that I've been either in an airport or flying since five o'clock this morning, and now my luggage is missing and my boyfriend's not even here and that's so unlike him, because he'd never forget about me, so I'm worried because I know the weather's bad out there..."
A stranger walked by and dropped a rose on the counter next to me, forcing me to stop in the midst of my rambling excuse. I looked at Mark, my face questioning. He just smiled. By the time I turned to look at the rose again, another stranger set one beside the first. Then another, and another. Six people walked by and placed roses next to me, either avoiding eye contact altogether or offering me a barely-hidden smile. My hands on the ticket counter were still exactly where they were when I saw the first rose, my face still confused and uncertain. Then David's best friend walked up, carrying a dozen red roses. He hardly even looked at me, just laid them on the ticket counter with the rest of the blooms and stems. I looked again at Mark, eager for an explanation. His mustache curved above his grin.
I turned my whole body around to see David there, in his sharp gray suit, crisp white shirt, bright red tie. His whole family was splayed out behind him, their winter coats resting over their arms, cameras in hand. David walked toward me, a half smile on his face. I could tell he was fighting to keep a straight face but losing.
We hugged when he reached me, my laughter loud and inappropriate. "I was so worried," I said, oblivious. "I thought you guys were in an accident or something..."
My words halted completely when he dropped down on one knee and pulled a tiny black box out of his jacket's pocket.
He took my shaking hands in his own and looked up at me. His green eyes were so happy beneath his black brows. "Laurie, you've made me so happy, and I love you so much." I looked at David's mom, her eyes filled with tears, her manicured hand covering her mouth. "I want to spend the rest of my life with you." My eyes found David's. "Will you marry me?"
I was barely nineteen years old, dressed in clothing that I hoped gave the impression that I was at least of legal drinking age. I was a teller at a bank. I had been dating David, a junior at West Point Military Academy, for over a year. I was crazy about him. He was crazy about me. We had talked about marriage and both of us knew it was the next step in our relationship. But I was still happily surprised when the words fell from his lips.
The whole terminal had stopped to watch what was happening, and erupted in applause when I said "Yes!"
"Ladies and gentlemen," Mark announced over the airport's intercom. "She. Said. Yes."