In honor of this weekend’s local balloon festival, here’s a short romance for all that have oversized, helium-filled dreams.
Shifting her glasses up the bridge of her nose, Cathy huffed her disappointment. She slipped her phone back into her purse and considered making a U-turn. Today’s hot air balloon ride was her birthday present from Becky. She didn’t know if she wanted to do it alone.
The reservation was for 4:00. She had a picnic ready for some girl time, but Becky had a last-minute meeting with her boss.
“You only live once,” Becky had said. “You might as well enjoy the ride.”
Since the tickets were nonrefundable, Cathy decided to take the chance.
Pulling onto the long red dirt street that led to the enormous balloon, she was both excited and scared. She had never been on a skyscraper or in an airplane before. This would be her first experience higher than the fifth floor of a hotel.
“I’m glad you found us okay!” the woman at the check-in booth said. “It’s a reservation for two, right?”
“My friend can’t make it, so it looks like it’s just me and a picnic for two,” Cathy said with a smirk.
The lady smiled. “And Derrick.”
“Derrick?” Cathy asked.
“My son will be on board too. I have to get home, so Derrick will be in charge from here. He is over there waiting for you.”
Cathy wasn’t sure she felt comfortable being alone with a strange man for the 90 minutes her friend had paid for. Her nerves must have been obvious.
“Don’t worry,” the lady said. “Derrick is a nice guy. I can vouch for his gentlemanly upbringing. Just go and have fun. It’s your birthday, right?”
Cathy blushed. “Yep. We are going with 21 again.”
“Enjoy!” she said as she got into her car. She waved and pulled away.
Cathy walked to the balloon and did a double-check for her mace.
“Are you my four o’clock?”
Cathy heard the deep voice, but the sun behind him haloed his built frame and she couldn’t see his face.
“I am. Solo now. My friend had something come up.”
“Well I’m Derrick,” he said as he extended his hand.
When he stepped toward her, the haze cleared and she could see that his eyes were as blue as the sky, and his loose curls and five o’clock shadow made him strikingly handsome.
“I may just reschedule,” Cathy said.
“I’m not very fond of being alone with a strange man several hundred feet up in the air.”
He smiled. “Well you are already paying for the time. Do you want to sit and talk? We have 90 minutes. Surely I convince you of how great I am by then.”
Her tense shoulders dropped. “Talking it good,” she said. “I’m usually a good judge of character.”
“So what would you like to know about me, Cathy?”
“Everything,” she said. “But we can start with your criminal record and why you like taking women hundreds of feet in the air in a hot air balloon.”
“No criminal record to speak of,” he smiled. “A handful of speeding tickets from my teens, and one time I double parked in a crosswalk because I was going to be late for jury duty, but that’s about it. And the balloon, well, that’s a long story.”
She looked at her watch. “I’ve got 82 minutes.”
He let out a light laugh. “I took my first ride when I was 10 and I got hooked. My mom caught on to the love of the ride and bought this business when she retired from the bank. I just help her out in the evenings.”
“So you have a day job too?” she asked.
“I work at Luther & Luther. I’m a manager there.”
Cathy’s jaw locked. “You’re Betsy’s Derrick?” Her friend that stood her up had been trying to set her up with a handsome man at her office for months. Betsy had become somewhat of a matchmaker since she got married. Cathy was the last single woman in their circle of friends, and she was perfectly content to stay that way.
Or at least she had been.
“Derrick Holiday,” he smiled. “Betsy has been talking you up for months. This set up was her idea, not mine. I’m not much of one for blind dates, but the way she talks about you, I couldn’t resist.”
“So she didn’t have a meeting after all?” Cathy laughed.
“Nope. It was all part of the plan.”
“Sounds about right,” Cathy smiled.
“Are you mad?”
“Mad? No. Impressed… absolutely. She sure doesn’t give up.””
“From where I’m sitting, I’m glad she was persistent,” he said with a smile.
“This could be fun,” she said
“So you’ll go?”
“Let’s do it,” she said.
They gathered the picnic and he helped her load into the balloon. She left her anxiety behind and allowed herself to thoroughly enjoy the view both inside and outside the balloon.
“I’m glad you decided to take a chance,” he said.
“On you or the balloon?” she flirted.
“Both,” he said. “I hope.”
“You only live once. Might as well enjoy the ride,” she laughed.