Generation Three, Chapter Nine
"Was it a good wedding?"he asked, with his gorgeous Italian accent, as he pointed toward the bouquet sitting in the seat between us. We'd made brief polite conversation while waiting for take off, but otherwise I'd said nothing to anyone on board – least of all the attractive man sharing my row. I must have taken too long to reply because he nodded awkwardly before returning his gaze toward his window.
"No," I said finally, grimacing as I recalled my own, stilted non-wedding in vivid detail. "No it... it didn't go so well," I offered with a shrug.
"Couldn't be so bad, you caught the bouquet," he suggested. For a brief moment, I considered correcting him but pushed the thought away quickly. After we landed in China, I wouldn't see this man again – no reason to burden him with all my drama. "I'm Lochi by the way. Lochnivar actually," he said, "but thankfully everyone calls me Lochi." He extended his hand across the empty seat for me.
After a slight hesitation, I shook it, "Lazuli – but everyone calls me Zuli. Nice to meet you."
"This may sound odd, but would you like to switch seats with me?" he asked, after a long silence. "You see I rather hate flying and I thought the window seat would be better but, in truth, it's making me feel awful and anxious...."
"You hate flying?" I asked, trying to hold back a chuckle. Unable to, I clamped my hand over my mouth. "I'm so sorry," I stammered, still giggling.
"Are you laughing at my very rational phobia of planes and flying so high above the Earth – because I really don't think that's fair," he scolded. The corners of his mouth turned up though and soon he was grinning at me as I doubled over with laughter. "Well what do you know anyway?" he smirked.
"Seeing as I'm a flight attendant and fly for a living – I like to think I know a lot actually," I said as the laughter finally died down. "But I encounter people with a fear of flying all the time actually."
"So what do you recommend then? As a professional?" I stood up and opened the overhead bin. After rooting around toward the back, I emerged with two pillows and two plush blankets – like the ones offered in first class. I handed one of each to him with my patented SimAm smile. "A pillow and blanket? Is this like a lovey?"
"No," I said, as I resumed my seat with my own set. "It's traditionally used for sleeping. But, shh, these are first class pillows and blankets," I whispered as I spread my own blanket over my lap. "I asked a friend to stow them for me – you're lucky I'm sharing."
Lochi looked down at his bedding set and smiled, "well thank you – though I have to ask – why would you need two blankets?" I offered him a faint smile in return before closing my eyes and pushing the seat as far back as it would go in the back row of the plane. Beside me, Lochi followed my lead, curling up under his own blanket and drifting off.
I woke up as the plane began it's descent. The sensation was subtle at first, most passengers didn't notice it unless they were seasoned flyers. To my left, Lochi barely moved, nestled under his blanket. The flight from Caramel Canyon to China was nearly twelve hours – had we both really slept the whole time? As quietly as possible, I repositioned my seat and got to my feet. After stowing my own blanket and pillow, I picked up the bouquet and examined it for a long moment. I glanced back toward the rear flight attendant cabin and considered throwing it away but I couldn't bring myself to do it.
"Are we there yet?" Lochi muttered, slowly opening his eyes and peeking around. "Oh, we're still in the air..." he said, sounding disappointed. Nevertheless, he sat up and stretched, his blanket slipping to the floor. Welcoming the distraction, I tossed the flowers back into the seat and scooped it up to fold and tuck away as well.
"We'll be landing soon, the plane has already begun to descend," I said, collecting his pillow as well and putting it in the overhead bin.
"Is it?" Lochi asked. He glanced out the tiny window and then back at me. "Are you certain?" He was eyeballing the thick clouds we still had to break through.
I nodded as I took my seat again, "I am. We'll be on the ground soon. I promise."
Lochi's phobia kicked into high gear as the plane began its landing maneuvers. His knuckles were white from his grip on the armrest and he made no attempt to speak but his breathing stayed regular and, to an untrained eye, he merely seemed like a grumpy, weary traveler. Once the wheels were fully on the ground and the plane had slowed down, he released his death grip and grinned. "Well... that was..."
I shook my head, "it does get better," I offered. "Fly more often and soon you will be a pro."
"No, no I don't think that's necessary. I wonder if there's a train that runs from China back to Italy..." he mused. "May be worth looking in to at any rate."
Within a few minutes, the plane was nestled against the airport and everyone ahead of us began to rise and shuffle to grab their stuff from the overhead. It was a large plane that would take at least thirty minutes to deboard so I remained in my seat and watched one older gentleman struggle with his too large carry on while a queue of irritated passengers built up behind him. Finally the bag dislodged and fell forward, causing several people to jump away. When almost all of the plane had cleared, I retrieved my single bag from the bin and offered my traveling companion a smile. "Enjoy your stay in China Lochi," I said, as my stomach growled. "I suppose I shouldn't have slept through the meal offering," I said with a chuckle, before falling in behind the exiting row of passengers.
Having fled directly from the church to the airport, I had no checked luggage and proceeded, instead, directly to customs. By the time the familiar passengers from my flight arrived, I was already near the front of the queue and on my way. Which would have been great – if I had any idea where I was going from the airport. I lingered just outside the airport doors long enough to attract attention before finally picking a hostel ad off the nearest board and summoning a cab.
After a two hour drive through the countryside of China, the driver pulled up alongside a hill. A dirt path curved up toward some way before disappearing into a grove of trees. The driver turned toward me expectantly and motioned out the window. "No, I'm looking for the..." I fished into my bag for the ad I'd yanked from the board and started to mutilate the name of the hostel before pushing it toward him. "This is a hill... not a hostel."
"Is hostel," he said with a big grin. He jabbed repeatedly toward the path and then pointed at the paper. "Is here."
"There's no here here," I said, peering out the window grimly. "I don't see anything up there..." Unmoved by my arguments, my driver got out of the car and opened the passenger door for me. Again he pointed toward the path with that knowing smiled. "Okay, okay..." I fished out my wallet, which had money from dozens of countries, and shoved a handful of yaun into his outstretched hand. He grinned and nodded before speeding away, leaving me in the middle of no where with little hope of survival. After a long, wistful gaze toward the road, I started up the hillside path hoping to find lodging at the top.
"Look, lady, we're all full. We only had a couple rooms unreserved this week and a flight just came in...." the berry behind the desk had grown tired of my pleas and resorted to general rudeness. "Maybe, next time you come of a vacation, you should call ahead..."
"A vacation?!" I exploded, emotions finally rippling through me. "Vacation? I'm supposed to be on my honeymoon in the south of France! I wasn't planning to be here until about a day ago when I got on the first plane I could! It brought me here – now I have three weeks – WEEKS – to get over the fact that I MAY have just ruined my life and you're lecturing me about not making a reservation at the smallest and most hidden hostel in all of China? Are you kidding me?" His eyes grew wider as my tirade continued but his fingers began flying across the keys as he searched, desperately I hope, for a room. Meanwhile, the anger dissipated to a mix of embarrassment and sadness.
"Oh man, please don't cry!" he begged, still working the computer. "I'm sorry – I... I mean... Oh!"
"Oh?" I asked, brushing away a few stray tears.
"There is a room... well I mean, a bed? One of our guests has a double room and indicated they would be willing to cost-share. Is that doable? In a few days, I'm sure someone will check out...." he trailed off.
I smiled weakly, "I can do that. I think that's a good plan."
"Let me just call up to the room and make sure he's okay with this," he'd already picked up the phone when he realized my face had fallen again. "The guest is a male... is that still okay?" he asked, his fingers hovering over the buttons. I considered for a moment and then slowly nodded.
Within a few minutes, I was directed to the top floor, room 306. Though the front desk had given me a key, I hesitated outside the door and opted to knock – just in case the occupant wasn't quite ready for his new roommate. When my flying partner opened the door, I took an unconscious step back. "Oh! It's you," I said with a frown.
"Disappointed?" Lochi asked.
"No!" I practically shouted. "No, not disappointed. Just surprised is all..." By now he'd stepped aside and beckoned me in. From the door, I could see a small sitting area with a couch and a double bed. "Oh, umm..." I scratched my head nervously. "The guy at the desk indicated this was a double room." I glanced toward the tiny couch nervously. "I don't think..."
"There is another bed Lazuli," Lochi offered. He lead me around the corner and pointed toward a massive wooden structure mounted on the wall. Though I knew what a murphy bed was, it took a few minutes of staring to make sense of the thing. I blame the jet lag. "Feel better?" he asked, barely trying to suppress a smile.
With the bed now pulled down and looking tolerable, I nodded. "Thank you. If you only knew..." I trailed off, trying to shove thoughts of home, of Felix, away. "Thank you," I repeated as I sat down on the edge of the bed.
"Happy to help," he said. He settled down at the end of his own bed and offered a reassuring smile. "So what brings you to China – I imagine it's not your first time, being as you're a flight attendant."
"It is actually," I said. "My crew – before, when I still flew – we mostly covered the European routes. I've been to France and Germany and Spain at least a dozen times each but never China, or anywhere in Asia. That's why I picked here – that and it was available last minute..." I said, recalling my mad dash through the Caramel Canyon airport as I fled from my not-quite-wedding. Shaking the thought from my head, I offered Lochi a shrug, "I needed to get away."
"You said before, you don't fly anymore? As a flight attendant I mean?"
"Not so much. I was offered a position in Media Relations – basically a press secretary to handle reporters and the occasional 'face of SimAm' ads," I said.
Lochi's nodded and then he jabbed the air with his finger excitedly. "I knew I recognized you from somewhere else!" Inwardly, I groaned and silently prayed he didn't read tabloids – or I wasn't a name in Italy. "You were on a massive poster in the airport while I was waiting to board!"
"Ugh! Yeah – it's terrible really. I mean, it's a fine picture but I'm not ten feet tall for one," I said with a sad chuckle. "What about you? What are you doing in China? Business or pleasure?"
"Business I think – mostly anyway. I hope to enjoy some sight seeing while I'm here but I have a few contacts I need to meet," he said. Reading my confusion, he added, "I own a vineyard – there are a few farmers here I'd like to possibly get product from to experiment with." We chit chatted for a bit longer before we could no longer resist the call of hunger. "How about we head into town and grab some dinner... is it dinner? I'm not really sure what time it is?" He started hunting for a clock before I could pull out my cell phone to show him the time. "Dinner-ish then," he suggested with a chuckle.
"Town?! It took me two hours to get here from the airport! I can't wait that long," I argued, trying hard to keep the shrill whine out of my voice.
"There's a village market about twenty minutes from here. And you'll have to tell me how it took you two hours though – that's crazy. It was only about forty minutes for us." Lochi was rooting around in his luggage for a moment before he turned toward me again, "you have no luggage?" he asked, raising his eyebrows.
I shrugged, "I travel light?" I offered by way of explanation.
"For three weeks? Do you even have a change of clothes?"
I considered the wedding dress, which I'd checked onto the flight though I never intended to retrieve it. It was probably sitting at the airport being sniffed by dogs right now. Eventually they'd attempt to track me down for it. "No, come to think of it. I left in a bit of hurry."
"Perhaps you ought to look into purchasing a few things in town," he suggested. When I didn't argue, he nodded and then stood up. "Shall we?" he extended his arm expectantly but dropped it after an awkward moment.