"Hello, Jack."

I stopped in the aisle of Flight 614 and scanned the faces to my left, then to my right. I knew who I was looking for because you never forget some voices.

Anna Hayes was sitting in a window seat, an amused half-smile on her face as she waited for me to find her. My ticket was for several rows back, but I was the last passenger to board the Chicago-Washington flight, and the seat next to her was empty.

I put my bag in the overhead storage bin, then leaned down and kissed her on the cheek. Her perfume was still the same, and I've never forgotten it because I think of her every time I smell that scent on another woman. I'm glad that my wife has never worn it, for I would have asked her to change. You don't want to confuse the present with the past.

On physical beauty alone, it would be easy for any man to fall in love with Anna Hayes. Slender, with dark-brown hair and blue eyes, she was wearing jeans and a work shirt that didn't emphasize her figure, but couldn't hide it either. She often got the same compliment from men: "Hey, you're working on the wrong side of the camera." They were wrong, of course. There are a million beautiful women in this world, but only a few great news photographers.

I sat down in 22B, put on my seat belt, and leaned back. Anna turned her face to me, I turned to her, and it was as if our heads were on the same pillow again.

"It's nice to see you," I said.

"It's been a long time."

"Six years. Missed me?" I smiled at her.

"I haven't thought of you once," she said, with a mock dismissiveness. "I didn't think of you when I was back in Ankara or Haifa or Beirut."

"What about Belgrade?"

"No," she said, "definitely not Belgrade -- but I almost thought of you in Prague."

"Out of sight, out of mind?"

"Absolutely," she said, with a nicely exaggerated carelessness.

I looked into the eyes of the woman who I once knew better than anyone on this earth. Do you ever really stop loving someone? If there was enough kindness and passion, I don't think the warmth ever goes away completely.

For three years, we traveled the world together. After I left, she would have bumped into memories everywhere she went. I had gotten off easy; there were no memories of her in Washington.

"I always knew where you were," I said. "I followed you through the newspapers. 'Photo by A. Hayes.'"

"I knew you would," she said.

"A few times, when you were in war zones, I called the photo desk in Chicago to ask if they'd seen anything from you."

"I took some chances I shouldn't have," she said. "I had more luck than I deserved. Some of the others … you read about Andre and Lawrie …"

I'd seen the stories last year about Andre Filmont and Lawrie Wilson, about their kidnapping, the ransom negotiations, and the payoff, but the Frenchman and the Aussie were never seen again.
I looked into Anna's face and saw a weariness that was more than just the difference between 28 and 34. She read my thoughts. "I'm not looking too good these days," she said.

"Not at all, you ..." but she touched a finger to my lips and shook her head. "I hear you have a family now." Her non sequitor was firm and deliberate. "Tell me about them."

"Marie is four, and Jonathan's two, and my wife's name is Elizabeth."

"Writer or photographer?"

"Neither. She's a civilian -- a normal, everyday person."

And, I thought, sitting here now, how easily it all could have gone the other way. Then there would have been no Marie, no Jonathan, and no wife who loved me daily, even while admitting she did not understand me.

(End of excerpt)