John Douglas Tomlinson pulled up to the pale green house on the Alafia River and noted the boat trailer in the yard, an old Suburban in the horseshoe-shaped driveway.
Yup, he was at the right place.
He'd found it mostly by intuition. He hadn't been there in about 25 years — not since he was 10 years old, when he moved away to South Carolina.
He knocked on the door.
"Do you remember me?" he asked the tall man with reddish-blond hair who answered the door.
"Nope, I don't have any clue who you are," Randy Hann, 57, replied.
John reminded him of the times they'd spent fishing for bass in a phosphate pit long ago with John's father and the man's 5-year-old daughter, Gina. Randy, a Riverview veterinarian, had been like a second father to John.
As recognition spread on Randy's face, John noticed a family portrait on the wall. Randy's 5-year-old daughter had grown up. She sure was beautiful, he thought.
Their families reunited at Fat Willie's Fish Camp in Valrico a few weeks later. As their parents reminisced, John and Gina sat at the end of the table.
"I'm Gina," she said.
"I know," he said.
She'd been kind of annoying when he was 10. When they went fishing, she always got bored and threw the bait overboard. When he played video games with her dad, she always grabbed at the controls and messed up the game.
Gina didn't remember him at all. What had he been doing?
John had spent 14 years in the Navy, been stationed in Texas, California, Virginia, served overseas in South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia.
He had so many stories. He'd broken his neck in a helicopter accident in Texas. He'd been a ballroom dance instructor. He'd had a professional photography business.
He'd come back to Hillsborough County to be near his family in Plant City. His mother had survived breast cancer and was undergoing treatment for larynx cancer. He wanted to spend time with his parents.
John and Gina got up from the table and walked outside onto a porch overlooking a set of railroad tracks. Gina told him her dad had had leukemia. He'd gotten a bone marrow transplant and was doing well.
She said she still worked at her dad's veterinary office on weekends like she did when she was a teenager. She didn't tell him that all eight of her best girlfriends had married, that she was the last one left, that she'd been wondering when she'd meet someone. She told him she had a master's degree in human resources. (Now both of them work as human resource managers.)
John had to leave. He had a side job providing security at the Dallas Bull, a country line dancing club in Tampa. He was late for work. But she was so interesting. Later he would consider it ironic that he'd travelled the world, only to find his future wife where he began his life.
Are you coming? his boss texted him.
John asked Gina if she would meet him for lunch the next day, got her number. Then he raced out the door to his car.
He texted Gina: I'm glad we got back in touch even though you don't remember me! Lol. I'm looking forward to seeing you and getting to know you better.
Leonora LaPeter Anton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8640.