Gordon sat in the Buffalo Niagara International Airport terminal and considered his glory as he awaited boarding for his flight home. A warrior returning from battle.
What a summer! Gordon had totally ruled camp. Well, he was very popular at least. In fact, a whole butt-load of people knew him by name. That had been a big thing this summer, saying "butt-load" of something. Gordon was even semi-involved in its origin. Sometimes Gordon would simply sit and try to figure out how many people in camp he was friends with, and that alone tells you the number is a lot. He played some important roles this summer, too. For example, although he hadn't been officially appointed captain of his color war team, the Red Barons, it was understood that he was pretty much the "power behind the throne." His contributions to the official song and final skit had surely been major factors in the Barons' surprise victory.
Fifteen minutes ago, he was touching base with his mom, calling collect from a payphone while keeping an eye on his carry-on, and that's when he first saw her: Blonde. Two or three years older. Grey hooded sweatshirt, hood up. Headphones. Blue cropped sweatpants. Pink-and-black striped knit gloves with the fingers cut out. Black fingernail polish. And was that an eyebrow ring? Yes, it was. She was at Gate B9, his gate, bundled onto a chair, legs and everything. Her sandals were on the floor beneath her and her feet were bare. She looked cold.
Now he was back at his seat, keeping an eye on her. Casually. He could be very nonchalant.
Then she just got up and walked right over to him, blunt and attractive in that way a girl in her pajamas can be. Frumpy hot. (This concept had been discussed in Gordon's bunk one night. He had listened from bed with acute interest.) Gordon pretended not to notice. Played it cool. I am busy reading the tag on my luggage, he expressed. It is a very interesting tag.
"Excuse me," the voice said. He looked up and she was right there and that was definitely it, frumpy hot. "Sorry to bother you."
"So," a coy smile, "you look like someone who might have some warm socks."
"Yeah, like thick sneaker socks. My feet are fucking freezing, and I get cold on planes, too. So, ya know, I had a hunch about you..."
Gordon liked that she swore in front of him, like she trusted him not to go tell. And that she had a hunch about him. Also exciting. And he did have an extra pair of sneaker socks in his carry-on. He liked to take off his shoes during flights, and then sometimes--on his way to the lavatory, usually--he would step in something wet and it would drive him nuts for a long, long time, so he began taking the precaution of packing an extra pair of clean socks just in case he'd have to change. The other reason was just in case an intriguing and sexy girl might appear one day in need of some socks and he could play the hero. This very scenario that had played itself out in his head so many times before was actually coming true.
Gordon continued to act like this was no big deal.
"Socks… like these?" Gordon asked, pulling out his pair, as if from a magic hat.
"Yeah. Wow, that's great. Thanks so much. You're a sweetie."
She took the white socks and mussed Gordon's hair a bit and sauntered back to her seat, where she put them on--they were big on her and reached halfway up her calves--and then got back to her magazine, something called "BitchVerse" with a pierced and angry female face on the cover.
Gordon once saw a movie in which a man and a woman who are strangers strike up a humorous conversation in an airport terminal and then become very close. Later in the film there was a sex scene in a hotel room, with soft music and candles and sweaty bodies. Gordon decided that he would not miss this opportunity to talk with the girl.
As he got up to walk over to her, it was as though all the blood had disappeared from his veins. He was weak and shaky. But if that was what must be overcome to talk to an attractive stranger, so be it. In camp, he'd been taught to keep his eye on the prize. Perseverance and Endurance had been written on two of the columns in the dining hall.
He wondered if she'd felt like this when approaching him. Almost definitely not. He told himself to Be a Man, and then it became a chant, over and over, in his head.
His plan was to start with something light, something related to socks--that was his 'in'--and then zoom out a bit and get to know her better in a general way.
The magazine she was reading had the word SEX in big letters on the cover. Still, he stayed focused. He knew a socks-related pun and got it ready. Then he was right above her. As she looked up, he pointed at the socks on her feet and said, "Eso si que es."
She took off her hood and removed her headphones. He could hear music playing. "Huh?"
"Nothing, I just said… It's S.O.C.K.S., in Spanish, it wasn't, um…"
"Socks? You mean "calcetines"?
"Socks in Spanish, is that what you said?"
"Well, no, it was, forget it, it's nothing. What's the word you said?"
"Calcetines, that's socks, I think. I lived in Mexico for six months. But that was a while ago."
"Oh, cool. That's really interesting… So, anyway, how are they?"
"What, the Mexicans?"
"No, the socks."
"Oh. Yeah. They're comfy. I like them. Thanks."
"Great. I'm Gordon, by the way."
"I'm Tricia, but my friends all call me Trish. Nice to meet you." She held out her hand, in its fingerless glove. He shook it, part clothy and warm, part smooth and cold. A busy sensation, but good.
"Is it okay if I sit over here for a bit?" He pointed to a seat beside her.
"Guess so. I'm just reading. Gordon, right?"
"Yeah. You know anyone on this flight?"
"Nope, I'm just coming back from visiting my mom. In Buffalo."
"Oh, neat. I just finished camp. It was like an hour away from Buffalo. Jamestown, New York? Maybe an hour and a half, even."
"You were a counselor?"
"Um, no, it's sleepaway camp, so the campers can be pretty old… Yeah, I was oldest bunk."
"And color war co-captain, too. So, in that way, it was like being a counselor."
"That's something. So was it fun?"
"Yeah. We won."
"It was pretty close."
"What color were you?"
"We were the Red Barons."
"Huh. I'm not a big red fan. What's a red baron? Is that a bird?"
"Well… I don't know, I don't think it's a bird. I think someone said it was the nickname of this German fighter pilot or something. I'm not sure if 'baron' means anything on its own though."
"So your team was named after a German soldier?"
"No, not really, I think it's its own thing, and that was just some guy's nickname. Like the Swamp Fox."
"What's a swamp fox?"
"Well, it's not anything. That's my point. Like, there aren't any foxes that live in swamps, but that's one of those soldier nicknames. 'Cause he was sneaky, I think."
"There was a soldier called the Swamp Fox?"
"Was he German?"
"I think he was British."
"Oh, okay. So it's like when you say gorilla warfare?"
"I… guess so. Right."
"So are you like a history buff or something?"
"No, I just remember some stuff from class."
"You're probably a really good student. You look very studious."
"I'm okay, I guess."
"Can you see without your glasses?"
"Not really." He took them off and squinted.
She took them from him and put them on her face.
"Holy shit! You must be blind!"
"Who said that?" He played blind.
"Ha ha! You're funny!" She studied him. "And you're kinda cute without your glasses."
"Yeah?" His heart raced, but he powered through. "I was thinking about getting contacts." He continued squinting.
She pushed back the hair hanging over his forehead. She turned his head to the side. "Yeah. You look a bit like a really young Matthew McConaughey when your hair is like this." For a moment, both of her hands were touching his face. Then she let go. She handed back his glasses. When he put them on, she was smiling at him. He smiled back.
The spell was broken by a loudspeaker announcing that Flight 004 to New York City--JFK Airport would begin boarding in just a few moments.
"Well that's us," Gordon said. "Where's your seat?"
"I think they said New York."
"Oh, you're on a New York flight? I'm going to Chicago.
"Yeah, I'm leaving out of Gate B10. See?" She pointed at the B10 information screen. "I didn't realize you were waiting in the B9 area."
"I thought you were in B9."
"The waiting areas kind of overlap, I guess."
"I guess so." It was like a small building inside him had collapsed.
By now, a line was forming for the New York flight. The voice announced that it was Now Boarding.
"My flight is boarding in like five minutes anyway," she said. "And I really wanted to go pee before I got on. Airplane bathrooms are so gross."
"So… I guess this is it."
"I guess so."
"Oh! Do you want your socks back?"
"Well-- Y'know what. Nah."
"Yeah. They can be something for you to remember me by."
"Oh. That's so sweet. Hey, it was really nice meeting you, Gordon."
"Nice meeting you, too." They shook hands.
She headed out to the general walkway, turned around and waved. He waved back. Then she hurried off toward the restroom. He watched her until she disappeared, along with his socks, in the sea of people. There was no kiss, no hotel room. Nothing.
On the plane ride home, Gordon stepped in something wet.
BIO: Kevin Deutsch has an MFA in Creative Writing from The New School. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and daughter. Kevin's work was most recently published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. His least favorite animal is the Portuguese Man o’ War. It knows why.