Generation 3, Chapter 7
"Are you alright?" Claret asked softly. Her arms were full of blankets, ready to be distributed and I was stooped over the lavatory bowl trying to suppress the urge to throw up once again.
I nodded hesitantly, and then slowly got to my feet. "Fine," I murmured. My ashen face betrayed me and she immediately set the blankets aside to place her hand against my forehead. "I don't have a fever Claret," I protested, meekly pushing the hand away. "My stomach is just unsettled."
"Not the best way to begin a sixteen hour flight," she said with an apologetic grimace. I shook my head and immediately regretted it as the motion seemed to set the nausea on edge again. As I lunged for the toilet, she muttered something unintelligible and retrieved her blankets. "Passengers in ten Zuli, take something alright?"
"Mmhmm," I mumbled in agreement. In truth, I suspected the only thing that would stem the nausea would be to actually throw up but that didn't seem to be happening. I was still bent over when I heard Claret directing someone my way.
"Zuli?" He asked, placing his hand on my shoulder. "What's wrong?"
"Nothing," I said, jumping to my feet too quickly. My head swam and I tumbled into his arms gracelessly. "I'm peachy," I whispered into his shoulder, my cheeks flaming with embarrassment.
He chuckled warmly as he set me right and began examining my face. No amount of make up could hide the bags under my eyes from lack of sleep and I sensed he detected the hint of sweat on my brow but he leaned forward and kissed my cheek anyway. "You should call off if you're not feeling well."
I shook my head again, "I'll be fine," I lied, plastering a fake smile on my face. "Thank you for your concern captain."
"I'm less concerned as your captain and more concerned as your..." He hesitated a moment before saying, "your partner," he whispered. On habit, we both looked around the small crew cabin and I peaked around the edge of the curtain but no one was around.
"I appreciate your concern on either front," I said, mustering a tiny smile. "Now I should probably get to work... And don't you have a plane to fly Sir?"
He smiled and nodded. "I do indeed, and we have a couple VIPs on board tonight. Be sure to treat them with extra care eh?"
I furrowed my brow, "who are they?"
He shrugged, "don't know, I haven't seen the manifest. But I got a call from higher up to be sure they got off the plane happy." He kissed my cheek once more and gave my hand a gentle squeeze before disappearing to the other side of the curtain.
I was hunting for the passenger manifest when Claret threw open the curtains, her face beaming and her body twitching with excitement. "Did you hear? About the VIPs?" She was practically bouncing off the walls as she threw the tablet in my face and started jabbing at the list of names. "Can you believe it?!"
Though she attempted to point out the source of her excitement, her finger had pointed to half the list and I could hardly read the names as it danced around the page. Finally I ripped it from her grasp and twisted away, skimming the list quickly. "Oh my sweet berry no." The tablet nearly tumbled out of my hand as I stumbled back a couple steps.
Claret's excitement died immediately and she wrapped her arm around my shoulders, "what Zuli? What's the matter?"
"Can you switch with me? Take first class?" I asked, not daring to look at her.
On my shoulder I could feel her hand twittering again with joy and she nodded eagerly, "of course! I mean I'd love to! What do you think they're like?" And she was off and running again, her concern for me disappearing in a flash.
"Well I've never met Ms. Rosette, so I couldn't say," I muttered, slowly stooping to retrieve the clipboard.
"Do you mean," she gasped, grabbing me by the shoulders and spinning me to face her, "that you've met him?"
"Once or twice," I said with a shrug of indifference. "Don't let him drink too much," I suggested before twisting away from her. "Passengers in three," I called out, halfway to the front door. How could I avoid seeing him when he boarded? My only plan, to duck into the cockpit as the first class passengers boarded, was squashed when I saw both the Captain and co-pilot standing eagerly at the door as well. Apparently he'd checked the manifest as well.
Even they wanted to catch a glimpse of the famous celebrities; Calia Rosette and Mirage Kashmir.
I paused in the aisle and pinched my eyes shut as I counted to ten. With each number, my courage rose until I readily took my spot in the receiving line at the door. "This is pretty exciting huh?" The co-pilot said, leaning in a little too close for my comfort. I gave him a non-committal shrug.
The chatter and noise of on-coming traffic filtered down to us.
First were the suits. Most of them had cell phones pressed to their ears and paid us little notice as we smiled and waved them aboard. They were in first class because they had rich clients or partners who paid for them to be and thus felt like they couldn't "waste" the flight - no matter how much they might want to. Most of them would spend the majority of the time on their laptops, with papers and I-devices spread around them in some sort of organized chaos.
I was watching as a few of the more idealistic suits debated stowing their laptops in the overhead bins. Even if they convinced themselves they could get away with it, by the time the seat belt sign went off, they'd be up retrieving them for sixteen hours of work. Deep in reflection, I almost avoided his entrance but my colleagues wouldn't have allowed it. I was jostled about as they pressed forward, eager to shake their hands or take their tickets. Ms. Rosette was gracious, smiling at the captain a little longer than necessary, but kind. Mirage, on the other hand, looked through them all. While he nodded to each in turn, he said nothing and didn't offer even the barest smile to anyone.
"It's good to see you again Zuli," Mirage said, offering his hand. I may have stared at it in disbelief too long because he soon withdrew it and shoved it into his pocket. "How is Cobalt?"
"Not really any of your business," I said, giving him my biggest SimAm fake smile. "Welcome aboard," I added, as my coworkers stared at me in horror and shock.
Rejected, he nodded and followed his companion to their seats. I could sense Claret's eyes on me and knew I'd be assaulted with questions later. Instead I focused on the continual flow of passengers. The last of the first class were always the comps - those who were upgraded by some ticket agent for some reason. Though they enjoyed their unexpected gift, I always suspected they felt out of place in first class, like interlopers who weren't truly invited to the party. I jumped at the chance to escort one, a soldier traveling home, to his seat, if only to get away from the anxious eyes of Claret and my captain.
Finally free of first class, I jerked the curtain closed behind me and took several steadying breaths. I didn't have long; that much I knew, I could already feel the shift of the plane beneath my feet as it powered on. I imagined Felix in the cockpit and let this thought wash over me. “One, two, three...” I whispered, counting away my anxiety. By the time I reached ten, I was able to smile and head into business class. Most of the passengers were seated – some fussing with their seat belt. “Welcome aboard SimAm flight 671, nonstop to Isla Caramello. The Captain has turned on the Fasten Seat Belt sign so if you haven’t already done so, please stow your carry-on luggage underneath the seat in front of you or in an overhead bin.”
The speaker beside me cackled to life and I heard the co-pilot's voice, “door closure, cabin crew, prepare for gate departure.”
The first rumble of the plane beneath me sent my stomach rolling again but I steadied myself against the wall. “Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Lazuli Dust and I’ll be your flight attendant today. On behalf of Captain Killarny and the entire crew, once again, welcome aboard SimAm flight 671, non-stop service from Caramel Canyon to Isla Caramello.” In the few minutes between the welcome and the full safety spiel, I ducked into the lavatory as the nausea reared up once more.
Claret was waiting as I emerged and I stumbled away from her just before we collided. “What was that about?” she hissed, her eyes blazing with curiosity. “How do you even know him?” She'd turned away from me, peaking out the curtain toward the subject of her interest.
“Through my mother,” I whispered, choosing to leave it at that in spite of her piercing glace. “I was serious before though,” I cautioned, “don't let him drink too much or we will have an incident.” Before she could question me further, I motioned toward the back section of the plane and retreated to the safety of the economy section. I had foolishly hoped that would be the end of the ordeal; that I could remain hidden at the back of the plane and avoid him indefinitely but just after the second service, Claret cornered me once more. “I told you everything I'm going to Claret,” I argued, trying to duck around her.
“He wants to see you,” she said, stubbornly jumping in front of me every time I moved. “He asked specifically for you – by name.”
“Well I don't care,” I protested meekly. She raised her eyebrows incredulously but said nothing. “He's my father,” I hissed, “and a horrible one at that. He's knowingly ignored my brother and I all our lives and only comes out of the wood work when it serves him – so you'll have to forgive me if I have no interest in doing anything Mirage Kashmir wants.”
Claret nodded in understanding, “alright, I'll tell him you're busy then. And I'll take care of the cockpit service so you don't have to go up there.”
“No, no I'll go see him,” I said. “He's my problem...”
“Are you certain?” Claret asked, as she began loading a tray with mugs. Before she was finished, I'd pushed through the curtain.
“You wished to see me?” I asked, wearing a bright, fake smile as I looked down at him. “I hope your flight's alright.”
The sour expression he'd been directing at the snorer across the aisle disappeared when he heard my voice. “I wanted, I mean, I thought we could talk. Do you have a moment?”
“Only just,” I said, grinding my teeth as I resisted the urge to scowl. “I am working after all.”
“I seem to recall you interrupting me on the job once,” he said with a chuckle. Though he meant it as a joke it brought forth a wave of painful memories and I had to look away from him. “Oh, I...that didn't come out the right way...” he stumbled over an awkward apology as he got to his feet. “I am sorry,” he said, extending his arms as if he intended to hug me. “For everything...”
“I have to work,” I muttered, backing away quickly until I was against the cockpit door. I fumbled with the keypad and disappeared into its safety – only to have a couple of curious pilots look at me expectantly. “Um, Claret will be here in a moment with your service,” I offered, taking several deep breaths as I leaned against the door. Now I just had to get back to economy.
“I don't know Cobalt – he was just there, on my flight. And the way he was acting – I don't think he was surprised to see me at all,” I said, glancing anxiously around the airport lobby. As soon as I'd gotten off the plane and changed, I'd called my brother to regale him with the saga of the flight.
“That may be my fault,” Cobalt admitted after a long silence. “He called a couple weeks ago...”
“He called you?!” I shouted, earning more than one glare from the people around me. “How did he know your number? How did he...” I trailed off, chewing anxiously on my lip as I spied Claret and Felix coming my way. “What do you mean it might be your fault Cobalt?” Cobalt's silence told me everything I needed to know. For whatever reason he'd told our father about my job. Mirage, no doubt, had taken it upon himself to find out my schedule. “Whatever. I have to go,” I muttered, snapping the phone shut just as my coworkers reached my side.
“Share a cab to the hotel?” Claret offered, hooking her arm in mine immediately. I shrugged, still seething about my brother's admission.
The ride to the hotel was mercifully short and Felix made up some excuse to send Claret to our shared room ahead of me. “So, you gonna tell me what's up?” he asked after she'd disappeared around the corner.
I shook my head and mustered up a small smile for him. “There's nothing up. Just been a long flight,” I lied. He saw through me of course but he didn't push. Instead he pulled me closer for a light kiss before turning to desk clerk to check himself in. I started to walk away – to follow Claret to our room – but I didn't want to face the barrage of questions that she'd have thought up during our flight. Felix, though, was oblivious and willing to let me keep my secrets awhile longer so I followed him to his room and fell into his bed in a heap of exhaustion.
“Won't Claret wonder where you've got off to?” Felix asked, even as he covered me up with silky comforter.
“I don't care,” I murmured as the pull of sleep overwhelmed me. His laugh rumbled against me as he snuggled under the blankets beside me.
“I can't believe we slept most of our first day away,” I giggled as I nestled against him in the hot tub. Our flight had landed around six in the morning and our impromptu nap had seeped away almost all of the island sunlight. “Stupid jet lag.”
“You do this every time – how can it still surprise you?” Felix teased, stroking his finger along my shoulder playfully.
I shrugged, “I don't know, guess it just seems like a waste of paradise. We only have a couple days.”
“We could come back on vacation some time,” he offered, flashing me a bright smile.
“Vacation? What is this thing you speak of Captain?” I smirked. “I've been flying with you for two years now and you haven't taken a vacation yet.”
“That's not true,” he protested. “I took that week off back in January.”
“You had the flu,” I pointed out. “I don't think it counts if you're grounded so you don't start an international epidemic,” I teased.
“Fair enough,” he conceded before leaning in for a kiss. “But I could hang up my wings for a vacation with the right person.”
"That almost sounds like a proposition," I smirked.
"Almost? Well, maybe I need to be clearer," he said, stroking a finger along my cheek. "I'd hang up my wings for you any day of the week Lazuli Dust." I shifted awkwardly in the water, unsure of how to respond, but smiled back at him sweetly. He didn't seem to notice my discomfort.
I was barely awake when the bellboy rapped on the door the next morning but Felix was already up and mostly dressed. "This fax came for you Mr. Killarny." I heard a slight ruffle of paper and pulled the blanket tighter around me, unwilling to face the morning just yet. "And this was left at the front desk for this room..." Now the bellboy sounded uncertain but apparently put him at ease with a generous tip because I heard the door click a moment later.
"Rise and shine sleepy head," Felix said, dropping onto the end of the bed and nudging my feet under the blankets. "I know you're awake under there ya know."
Reluctantly, I pushed the blanket away from my face and squinted over at him. "The day star is bright," I murmured.
"It's called the sun and it's a beautiful day to fly," Felix said, glancing over the fax finally. "Or not," he said, his brow furrowing as he read it again. "Apparently there's a severe weather advisory and we're delayed for the day," he said, glancing toward the window. Beyond the sheer curtains, the sun was shining in a cloudless sky.
"Apparently someone got confused. There's no weather out there..." I muttered. "Maybe it's on the receiving end." Felix was already on his phone, checking the weather in the Chempedak Province where we were due. "If we're grounded and have another day in paradise – why don't you come back to bed?" He grunted in response but didn't look up from his phone. "Right, okay then," I said, throwing off the covers completely. The discarded tabloid the bellboy had confusedly handed over, slipped to the floor and there, splashed across the front page, was a large picture of Mirage Kashmir.
And a smaller picture of me. With Felix. In the hot tub. "Oh. My. Berry," I said, sinking to the floor and scooping up the paper with resignation.
"What is it? What's the matter?" Felix asked, discarding his phone immediately and dropping to his knees beside. "Are you okay?"
"Um...." my throat was dry as I tried to formulate a response but all I could do was shake my head and thrust the paper at him. "I'm sorry," I whispered, burying my head in my knees.
Felix skimmed the proffered paper quickly and stammered a few moments before asking, "your father is Mirage Kashmir?!"
Unable to hold it in, I burst out laughing. "That's it?" I giggled uncontrollably, "that's your response?" Felix, dumbstruck by my fit of giggles, sat against the bed and waited quietly for the laughter to fade. "S-sorry," I said, swiping away the tears on my face. "Sorry, I just thought you might have a different reaction... I mean, our super secret relationship is now headline news so... but let's be worried about who my father is..."
"I never cared about keeping our relationship a secret Zuli," Felix replied calmly.
"Of course not – why would you? You're a pilot, they're not going to fire you – they're going to fire me," I said bitterly. I got to my feet and grabbed at the clothes I'd been wearing the day before. "Or I could be transferred to another crew and we could be flying opposite schedules all the time. We'll be lucky to see each other one day out of the month!" Now fully dressed, I rounded on him, "is that what you want? If we're in a relationship – we can't fly together. Those are the rules Felix." I snatched the tabloid from his hand and thrust the picture in his face. "And now, everyone will know..."
"You can't even see my face in that picture," he countered, sparing it a quick glance.
"But they know your name... 'On a related note, Miss Lazuli Dust was spied getting chummy in a resort hot tub with her coworker and pilot Captain Felix Killarny.'" I read, throwing the paper on the bed. "So, I'm sorry, the cat's out of the bag and that's that," I said as I started throwing my things into my duffel bag.
"That's what exactly Zuli?" Felix caught my arm mid-toss and spun me around to face him. "So it's out – all the better! I want to tell everyone that I'm in love with Lazuli Dust! And I want to meet your family. And I want to go out on a date with you, in public, without worrying about who might see. And if that means I have to quit SimAm – then I will. I can fly for someone else or I can do something else. None of that matters! What matters," he said, running his hand along my cheek and silencing my rebuttals, "is that I'm in love with you and that I want to spend every moment I can with you."
I started to reply but the words died in my throat. In my heart, I knew I should resist as he pulled me closer for a long kiss. But I didn't.
"Good evening ladies and gentlemen, I'm your captain for this flight," Felix said, standing at the front of first class with the comm mike in his hand. "Rest assured, our co-pilot has the controls well in hand right now," he added, with a grin. He earned a few chuckles from the passengers. "I have a very special announcement to make but first I need one of our lovely flight attendants..." He glanced curiously toward Claret, who nodded toward the back of section. My hands trembled, rattling the tray I held so much I had to duck behind the curtain to set it down. "Yes! There she is..." Felix pointed toward me, grinning like a fool. "Lazuli, would you please join me up here?"
My cheeks flushed and I tried to shake my head but he persisted. I couldn't resist his puppy dog eyes and the mischievous smile on his face. "What are you doing?" I hissed as he clutched my hand and tugged me closer to him.
Though he still held the comm mike in his hand, his eyes locked on mine and I knew the rest of his speech was for me. "I fell in love with this woman two years ago....two years we've been flying together and two years we've been keeping our secret. But the secret is out.... And I, for one, am glad of that. It gives me the chance to say it, in front of all you fine people. I love Lazuli Dust. I love her with every fiber of my being and I want her to be my wife." The passengers seemed to let out a collective gasp, followed by a handful of awws. Felix dropped the mike and it clattered against the wall as it dangled from its cord. "Lazuli, will you marry me?" he asked as he dropped to one knee and produced a ring from his pocket.
My heart clamored in my chest and my attempts to suck in oxygen seemed to fail as my head swam. This isn't what this moment was supposed to feel like was it?
Several of the first class passengers leaned forward in their seats while heads of passengers from economy class peaked through the curtain, eager to watch the scene unfold. I heard the distinct click of camera phones and wanted nothing more than to remind them to turn their electronics off. Somewhere at the back of first class, I knew Mirage was there - taking my flight once again. I could feel his deep blue eyes on me as I hesitated and I wished, for one moment, that I could gouge them out with my nails. Why did he have to be here for this moment? It shouldn't be like that....
I couldn't be sure how long I kept them waiting, how many seconds or minutes of tension were recorded by those camera phones as I battled my own thoughts. "Y-yes," I finally whispered, a lonely tear slipping from my eye. As the ring slid over my finger I felt the rush of nausea and as he lifted me up into his arms I bit back the urge to take it back. I imagined the video clips being included in a Berrytube collection of Failed Proposals every second of the next five minutes of clapping from the passengers.
But no one realized any of that. Because I smiled through it. With the brightest SimAm smile of all time.
I smiled through it.