I gripped the handle of my carry-on rolling suitcase, following the anxious herd of passengers trying to disembark the plane. The slow walk down the jetway finally opened up to an obviously busy day at Denver International Airport. I zigzagged my way along, hoping to find a clearing on the other side of a large rambunctious group of teenage guys who must have been some sort of basketball team, judging by their matching jackets and above average height. Finally finding some space, I gathered myself for a moment, trying to calm the butterflies in my stomach. I released my death grip on the suitcase and shook my hand to get some blood back into my solid white knuckles. After adjusting my art bag and hitching it up higher onto my shoulder, I took a deep breath, looking behind me one last time, reluctant to leave behind my only means of escape. This was the first time I had ever traveled alone, and felt a little panicked at the idea of not having the ever sensible presence of my mom along to guide me. Sensible lying presence, I silently reminded myself as I searched for the luggage carousal. In my current frazzled state, I could think of a hundred reasons to turn around and jump on the first flight back to California. Right now, I could be in my garden shed-turned-art studio or at the sandy beach I normally frequented with my lifelong friends. This was supposed to be our summer. The summer we would all spend together before heading off to separate colleges throughout the country. But one lie had wiped away all my summer plans as if they had been written in the sand on that beach I was wishing for.
“But, why do you have to go now?” my best friend Carol had wailed as I methodically packed my bags the day before.
“Because, Car. My whole life's been a lie. She’s lied to me all this time,” I had answered, bitterly nodding my head toward the living room beyond my closed bedroom door where my mom sat.
“But Kim, what about our plans? You know, capturing the sunrises at the beach with our brushes, working at the art supply store and shopping for stuff for our dorm,” Car had said with a slight tremble to her lip.
I stopped my almost maniacal packing to look at the girl who had stuck by me through thick and thin. A friend I had known since we were in daycare, who I discovered the joy of finger paints with, and who talked me into tasting glue when we were four years old.
“Car, I’ll be back in six weeks. My dad asked if I could spend at least that much time with him,” I said, running the foreign word through my head. Dad. I had a dad I knew nothing about, and now he wants to meet me. Suddenly, nothing else mattered. Not broken summer plans or hurt feelings.
The high-pitched octave of a screaming baby brought me back to reality and I headed off to find baggage claim. Spotting several familiar faces from my flight, I figured I must be heading in the right direction. I was already wishing I’d packed less stuff in my art bag though. I tried to lighten the weight on my shoulder by wiggling my fingers up under the straps to help alleviate the pressure.
A long lock of hair fell across my eyes, so I veered out of the flow of walking traffic and dropped my bag to the floor in an aggravated fashion. I gathered my hair together in my hand and coiled it around to make a bun, pulling a pencil from my art bag to secure it into place.
Come on, Kimberly, you can do this, I urged myself, feeling better now that my hair was in its customary style.
Finding the right luggage carousel was a piece of cake considering the amount of people who were stacked around it. The scene reminded me of when my mom and I went “Black Friday” shopping a couple years ago. The electronics counter at Target was swarmed by a mob of people all worked into a frenzy while trying to get one of the door buster flat-screen TVs. Sighing, I stepped back and waited for a break in the crowd as the many weary passengers anxiously waited for their bags to make the journey around the carousel. I couldn’t help smiling when watching the different people claim their luggage, like they had won the lottery or something. As for me, I was okay standing here for a few more minutes, trying to untie the knot that had now formed in my stomach.
“Kimberly?” A gravelly voice asked beside me.
Startled, I whirled around, taking in the tall muscular man before me, searching for some kind of resemblance. “Rick? I mean, Dad?” I said, feeling stupid as I stuttered over the word.
“Rick is fine,” he said, smiling awkwardly through the light beard that covered half his face. “You look just like your mom,” he said gruffly.
“Yeah, so I’ve heard,” I muttered, not quite ready to forgive her for all her lies.
He raised his eyebrows at me like only an adult can do.
“It's nice to meet you,” I said, uncomfortably holding out my hand.
He reached out and shook mine with both his hands. "I'm so glad you decided to come," he said.
"Me too," I said, stepping away when I spied my bag making its way around the carousel. Using my free hand, I struggled to swing the heavy bag off the moving conveyor belt.
“Here, I got it,” Rick said, lifting the bag effortlessly for me. He knocked it lightly with his hiking boot-clad foot to get the wheels to spin in the right direction.
“Thanks,” I said, taking in his rugged clothing for the first time. I knew this was Colorado, but I had expected everyone to be dressed in more summer appropriate clothes like me. Granted, my ankle-length summer dress with full skirt was a little too eccentric for most people, but I had at least expected t-shirts and shorts since it was summertime. Rick, on the other hand, was dressed in jeans and a long-sleeved flannel shirt that was rolled several times past his forearm to reveal a white thermal shirt underneath.
“Ready to hit the road?” he asked, reaching for the handle of my bag. “We've got a long drive ahead of us.”
“We do?” I asked confused. I had assumed since I landed in Denver that he lived somewhere in the metro area. “Where do you live?” I asked.
“Your mom didn’t tell you?” he asked.