When I stepped off the plane at Heathrow, I was prepared for what was ahead of me. Long hallway after long hallway after long hallway after long hallway. Some with moving walkways, some without.
I wore flat boots; not heels. I carried one light carryon and checked a bigger bag instead of lugging around two heavy, overpacked totes busting at the seams. I walked slowly and dreamily, half because I didn’t want to show up with pit stains again and half because it was 10 am London time and I hadn’t slept a wink.
I turned to see a girl about my age round to corner only to see another never-ending hallway, dragging a broken bag behind her and readjusting the strap to her overflowing shoulder bag. I sympathized. That was me 8 months ago. Pit stains and all.
“Yeah, and you’ve got about six more never-ending hallways ahead of you,” I said, trying to prepare her so she didn’t have an anxiety attack when she rounded the next corner.
“Are you serious?” She looked at me with pleading eyes. She wanted me to laugh and say I was kidding.
I strolled into one of the many bathrooms in one of the many hallways to freshen up. I was grateful for the expansive stalls, big enough to prop your luggage against the wall and stretch your legs all the way out, instead of spending 5 minutes trying to maneuver the door shut with your bag taking up all of the space between the door and the toilet. Hell, I could have done a cartwheel in there if I wanted to. I looked around the floor and realized it was also clean enough to attempt said cartwheel. British people could teach Americans a thing or two about restroom design and cleanliness.
I set aside my thoughts of gymnastics long enough to pee, wash my hands, and touch up my make up. I pinched my cheeks to make them look more alive. My usual Cuban glow disappeared in the winter, and pale just didn’t look good on me. I added extra blush.
My short brown hair looked extra voluminous in the back from constant contact with the headrest for the past 8 hours. It sort of worked, though. I was going for the messy look. The front of my hair hung longer than the back, with loose spirals and random waves completing the look. I called my I-just-got-out-of-the-shower-and-let-my-hair-air-dry look. I could never pull off that look when my hair was long.
My eyes looked a little bloodshot from the lack of sleep, but behind my black-and-royal-blue rimmed rectangular glasses, it was hard to tell. I rubbed a layer of Blistex raspberry lemonade chapstick on my lips. Then I reached for my Victoria’s Secret lipgloss, but I put it back in my bag when I remembered Cayden hated the taste.
At the thought of his name, I broke out in goosebumps. I was minutes away from seeing him, but I couldn’t sprint down the hallways to get there faster or I’d show up looking a complete mess. I rubbed my lips together to activate the tingling feeling of my chapstick and then I thought of Cayden’s lips. My stomach flip flopped. I had to get to him. Fast.
I took a deep breath, shouldered my bag, and headed back out into the maze of hallways.
“How long with you be in London?” the uniformed man behind the desk at immigrations asked.
“One week.” I answered.
“What brings you here?”
I wanted to answer, “An airplane,” but instead went with, “My boyfriend.”
The man jotted down notes on the back of my immigration card.
“What will you be doing while you’re here?”
I wanted to answer “My boyfriend,” but decided he had no sense of humor. “He’s taking me to Rome,” I said, instead.
The man looked up at me, annoyed, then back down at his paper. He scratched out the notes he’d written, then scribbled down some new notes.
“What’s in Rome?”
Did this guy live under a rock? Had he ever seen Spartacus? (The Starz series with the sexy, mostly naked actors. Not the old one with the uglies.)
After incessant questioning, I was finally free to make my way to baggage claim, which was down another long hall, down a lengthy escalator, and into a huge room of carousels. I darted my eyes around for Cayden before I remembered I still had to go through customs and four more long hallways before I’d walk through the doors that would lead me to Cayden.
I yanked my red, white, and blue rolling bag off the carousel and rolled it along beside me. My heart went out to the girl in the hallway with the broken bag. She probably hadn’t made it to immigration yet, and her pit stains were probably the size of dinner plates.
I made it through customs. My heart started beating faster. I made it through another hallway, and another. My heart slammed against my rib cage, my breathing wavered. I saw the doors. Knowing he was on the other side made me want to tackle everyone in front of me and throw my arms around the first person on the other side of the door out of pure excitement. Even if that person wasn’t Cayden.
I pushed the door open and felt 30 sets of eyes on me. Coming through that door is like walking the red carpet, only with fewer camera flashes. Everyone lines up along a roped-off walkway and watches for their friend, family, or long-distance loved one to come through those doors. I looked around and watched all 30 sets of eyes go from hopeful to disappointed when they saw I wasn’t their someone.
I kept walking, confident Cayden would step out from behind one of them and pull me into his arms, into his mouth, into his pants where I’d spend the next 7 days.
I made it to the end of the hallway without seeing him. Had I skimmed over him on accident? I pulled my bag over to the seating area and stood on a chair, scanning the room for Cayden’s navy blue sweater jacket, his 6’2” frame, his big brown eyes.
I pulled out my phone and turned it on to see if he’d called or texted me, but soon remembered my phone didn’t work internationally. I pulled out my laptop to see if I could pick up a free Wi Fi signal. No luck.
I sat down and kicked my feet up on my bag. Cayden would have to come find me.
Ten minutes passed and I tried to stay calm. Twenty minutes passed and I started to worry. Was there an accident on the Underground? Did two trains collide and Cayden was trapped down there on his way to get me? Had he slept through his alarm? Was he still cuddled up warm in his bed while I was sitting on a rock-hard bench trying to fight off the inevitable fatigue?
Thirty minutes passed and I started to panic.