It was the Wednesday before Thanksgiving 1985. He had just boarded the Amtrak train in Bloomington, a parking lot rock's throw from the beyond ugly dorm (Watterson Tower) dorm where he lived. The train was filled with students making their way home for the holiday. He saw the empty seat first, and then this girl, who had this uncanny resemblance to Princess Diana.
She was even dressed like Diana, wearing a royal-blue sweatshirt turned inside out (it was the the style then) with a pair of skinny dark-denim jeans and burnished brown penny loafers. Her blonde-brown hair was cut short like the princess' with this great whoosh of feathered bangs that constantly fell in front of her humongous, grey-flecked amber eyes. She was sitting there with two other girls who were sitting across from her. The seat next to her was vacant. Should Kevin sit there? What if she wasn't interested in him? He'd be stuck talking to her plainer-than-Jane friends for two hours.
Kevin decided to take the gamble. "Hi, could I sit here?" he said.
"I suppose," the Di-alike said with a shrug. "We were saving a place for my friend Alison but she hasn't shown up so far. She might be in another car."
This wasn't going well. She was going to resent him for taking her pal's seat. This could be the slowest ride home. Kevin figured he better dig out something to read. He started fishing around in his backpack, looking for Truman Capote's In Cold Blood but he could only find a well-thumbed 100 Great Stir-Fry Recipes which he was returning to his mother. This was embarrassing. She'd think he spent all his time cooking inside his dorm room.
"Oh let me see that," Flo said, as she saw him turning around the book inside his pack so she wouldn't see it. "I love Chinese food. I'm going to get a wok when I get home. My mom always uses a frying pan, but I tell her the vegetables just get soggy and not cooked when you do it the way. Don't you think?"
"I'm sorry - you're going to take a walk when you get home?" he said, knowing he had just uttered something stupid the moment he said it.
Flo snorted. "Gag me with an extra-wide pitch fork. No, I'm not going on a walk, I'm buying a wok." Her friends laughed while she explained. "It's a Chinese-style cooking pan. You use to saute veggies like onions, red peppers and broccoli."
Kevin knew what a wok was. He just misheard what she had said. At that moment, Kevin would have been completely content had a trap door mysteriously opened on the train floor. He could conveniently fall out, be turned into rail kill and never have deal with being humiliated by a girl and her friends ever again.
Somehow, Kevin found the will to live. Even if it was only to find out this pretty girl's name name and what perfume she was wearing. He could smell it distinctly even though she was sitting across from her. He swears to this day it emanated from her hair. Every timeshe turned her head, he got this wonderful whiff of perfume, mixed with her own personal body smell. Turned out her full name was Florence ( she was christened Florence Abigail), but she went by Flo. Turned she was also an ISU student. And the scent? It was Forever Krystle, named after Linda Evans' Dynasty character of the same name.
That compliment seemed to shift the conversation a bit as if Flo could sense that Kevin was interested in her. She turned her body away from him. From somewhere buried in the bottom of her boxy book-crammed black backpack, she pulled out this cream blanket which look like it was missing a quadrant. Kevin was intrigued.
"What's that?" he asked.
"A blanket. I'm crocheting it for my mom for Christmas," Flo said, looking at him with a forced smile. She unzipped a pocket on her backpack to pull out this slender, spaceship blue hook. At about four inches, it looked smaller than a screwdiver. How could that thing make a blanket big enough for an adult over five feet tall?
Flo ignored Kevin, but he watched her out of the corner of his eye, whipping that hook in and out the blanket. Yarn over, in and out, she was making fabric inch by inch. Toward him and away, she'd miraculously make that blanket grow an inch or two every few minutes. Man, this was better than watching a bonfire. He even flinched when she dropped the hook and it clanked onto the floor. Oops! She probably thought he was staring at her; that he was a weirdo.
"I'm sorry I was just watching you knit," he stammered, not really thinking about what just said.
She gave him a dirty look.
"I mean crochet." He smiled. Man, did he know how to dig himself into a hole!
And so it went the rest of the trip back to Chicago. As the train creaked into Union Station rail yards, passengers started collecting their things. Flo put away her crochet to Kevin's great disappointment. He started to put on his jacket, she slipped off a beige trenchcoat from the upper racks, making small talk with her girlfriends. When the train inched to a complete stop, everyone began moving in slow motion off the car, moving stiffly with their overcoats, purses, suitcases, backpacks strung over their arms. Kevin wanted to say something to Flo. Anything! He felt like he'd been a dork the whole ride back. He wanted to say something intelligent.
Before he knew it, they were moving en masse down the steps, he was stuck in the crowd. He and Flo were separated. Suddenly these train passengers parted like a mini-Red Sea, and he saw Flo wearing her trenchcoat. She smiled and waved, a quick flick with a cupped hand. Then - poof! - she disappeared.
Kevin stared in the direction he last saw her, and then noticed something on the ground.
It was the blue crochet hook. Size E Susan Bates.