John Herzog hated air travel, but he loved reading, and because air travel allows for little more than waiting around (be it standing or sitting), Herzog always found his flights more bearable if he brought along a paperback.  And so, as he sat in a plastic chair, sipping a can of orange juice, he read. 

The old lady (seventy five if she was a day, John judged) seated next to him had other ideas, though. 

"Where you going?" she asked.

Herzog pretended to ignore the lady.

"I think he's wrapped up in that book," said someone, most likely female and sitting within close proximity to the elderly lady to John's left. 

"I'm sorry," John said, taking a look at the woman seated next to him. 

She had a sweet, kind face that emanated goodwill and cheer, with perhaps a dash of loneliness thrown in. 

Live long enough, John thought, and loneliness is probably a given. 

"Oh dear," she said. "I didn't mean to interrupt you." 

He looked to her right, spied the blue eyes and blond hair of a much younger female, then smiled. 

"You're not interrupting anything, Ma'am," he said, in his best mid-western American Aww Shucks tone, folding over a page in his book.    

"Well, aren't you sweet?  Are you from St. Louis, too?"

"Yes Ma'am.  You?"

"Yes," she said.  "I mean, no.  I'm from Pennsylvania.  We're having a family reunion and I'm waiting for my grandson to get off the plane.  He's taking me rollerblading."

"Get out of town."

"No son," she said.  "That's your job."

And then the three of them talked.  In that boring, "Hey where you from, I'm from here, oh yeah, I've been there and I knew so and so from there and have you ever been here?" kind of way that people do when they're traveling. 

Normally, this line of conversation would have bored Herzog right back into the friendly embrace of his spy novel, but there was a pretty girl involved. Pretty girls tended to keep Herzog more interested in conversations. 

And when the grandson found his grandma (Grandma, bless her heart, was not sitting in the appointed meeting space) and the two moved on, Herzog eyed the pretty girl and asked, "How long you lived in Tampa?"

And the pretty girl practically jumped into the vacated seat. 

"I just moved here a few months ago."

And then there was one of those moments, those primal, stupid, youthful moments where the surroundings are muted and only eyes and lips and smiles and the voice of one person is present.  Her words seemed to slide out of her body through his ears and down his spine.  Her eyes seemed as complex and beautiful as a photograph of Earth taken from space.  He couldn't stop smiling.  He tried to, but his body wouldn't let him.  He was locked in.   

And then the absurdity climaxed as they both realized they were smiling like drugged, drooling puppies while swimming in each other's eyes.  And that neither was listening to a word the other said, and as such, could not continue the conversation. 

And a kiss seemed inevitable, but only because it was. 

As the miniaturized worlds of air travelers zoomed around Herzog and the beautiful girl, they kissed.  As the kids pointed and laughed and the women muttered their "awws" and the guys muttered "get a room", they kissed.  As the people literally formed lines to board the 402 to St. Louis, they kissed. 

Herzog felt a tap on his shoulder.  He awoke from his embrace to blink up at the stubbled face of an old man in a trucker's hat that advertised a feed store. 

"You and your girlfriend are gonna miss the flight," he said, pointing to the plane just before the voice on the loudspeaker announced final boarding for their flight. 

"Oh shit," said Herzog. 

And they ran to their plane, holding hands like children on a playground. 

Because Southwest is philosophically opposed to assigned seats, the two got to sit next to each other. 

"Can I ask you a personal question?" she asked as they took their seats in the third to last row of the plane.

"Sure," he said. 

"What's your name?"

"John Herzog," he said. 

"Amy Miller," she said.

"Nice name."

"It's boring."

"It's beautiful," he said. 

And they kissed again. 

For almost the entire flight they embraced, kissed, necked, rubbed, smiled and laughed.  At one point, the display of affection having reached levels deemed obscene even when performed by attractive young people, a steward threw a blanket over Mary and John.  The passengers laughed.  They told them to get a room.

People aren't very original, Herzog thought while trying his best not to blush. 

Despite the steward's issue with the kissing, the two continued, until the captain made them stop. 

That's right, at one point in this little adolescent joyride, the plane's captain, while informing the passengers that it was time to put tray tables to their upright positions, also requested that "for the safety and sanity of those around you, all public displays of affection should cease at once."

Herzog felt a weird combination of embarrassment and pride try to fight through the blushed and sweaty anticipation of new romance.  The combination made him want a glass of wine, which was weird because he favored beer. 

They tried their best not to make eye contact with anyone as they de-planed.  Amy may have succeeded, but John was treated to the typical locker-room accolades that stupid men feel other men need to hear.  One guy even tried to shake his hand. 

"Sorry about the display," he said, brushing off the stranger's handshake offer. 

"No problem," he said, putting down his right hand and asking, "How long you two been together?"

"We just met today," Herzog said, pulling his carryon bag from the overhead compartment. 

"Now you must shake my hand."

Herzog looked at his fellow traveler:  overweight, polo shirt-wearing middle-aged guy in sandals and white socks. 

"No thanks," he said.  "It's not like that."

"You are so awesome, Jay," Amy said. 

"It's John," he said… and the laughing voices crowded the cabin.

They walked to the terminal holding hands.   

John smiled and waved when he saw his mother. 

"Is that your mom?"


"Well she's standing next to my mom."

"I guess this is goodbye then," he craned his neck down to kiss her. 

"Not in front of my mom," and she patted him on the stomach.  "I just met you."

And so they dropped hands and walked toward their respective parents. 

"Oh shoot," said John's mom as Herzog hugged her.  "You ruined the surprise."

"What surprise?" he asked. 

"You already met your cousin."

The world actually seemed to stop for a second.  For one second, a blanket was thrown over all movement and all action as John's heart rate set off to break a record. 

"My cousin…" he looked at Amy.

"Well, second cousin anyway.  Amy's mom is Sally, my cousin who lives in Miami.  I told you about her."

"Oh?" he almost couldn't get out the word. 

"Well yeah, silly," said Mrs. Herzog.  "I figured since she's attending your college this year, it'd be a good idea if you met."

"Well, we sure met," said Amy, through an expression that could have passed for physical pain, had she been bleeding. 

"You know it's amazing, Susan," said Sally to Mrs. Herzog.  "If these two weren't related, they sure would make for one real cute couple."

The walk to the parking lot was, to say the least, freaking awkward.