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Fly Me to the Moon
By Alyson Noël
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2006 Alyson Noël
All rights reserved.
PREPARE FOR DITCHING
When an airplane makes an unscheduled landing into the ocean, it is important to don a life vest.
So there I was, awkwardly reaching for the USA Today left outside my hotel room, determined to ignore the fact that my black, opaque, control-top pantyhose were seriously impairing my ability to breathe, when I heard the muffled sound of the phone ringing from the other side of the door.
Now, on any other day, I would have just grabbed the newspaper and made a mad dash for the elevator, since a ringing phone at 3:55 A.M. can only mean one thing: that some overbearing, micro-managing, type-A Flight Attendant in Charge is trying to track me even though I still have thirty-two perfectly good seconds before I actually have to be in the hotel lobby.
But today was different. Not only was I a full five minutes ahead of schedule, not only was it my twenty-eighth birthday, but I also knew that by the end of the day I would be engaged to Michael, my boyfriend-slash-roommate of the last four years.
It had all started the day before I left on this trip. I was cleaning the bedroom and singing along to the latest U2 CD, and just as Bono and I shouted "Uno, dos, tres ... Catorce!" my right hip slammed into Michael's flight bag, sending it soaring off the dresser and crashing to the ground.
Now I admit, up until that very moment his bag had never held much interest. I'd always thought of it as a briefcase, or a man purse — something completely benign but totally off limits. But as I stared at the wreckage spilled all around me, I instinctively dropped to my knees and examined each artifact as though it were the gateway to a secret world I never knew existed.
Oh sure, there were all the predictable items, like well-used navigational maps, half-eaten protein bars, his company photo ID, and a big yellow flashlight to be used in case of emergency. But there were also a few surprises, like the brand-new tube of Rogaine that landed next to the half-empty bottle of Levitra that was covering the red plastic card from a video store that obviously didn't cater to families.
And just as I lifted his bulky, FAA-mandated flight manual I discovered a small, robin's-egg blue box with a crisp white ribbon tied snugly around it.
My breath grew shallow, my heart beat faster, and my hands were actually trembling as I lifted that tiny box to my ear, shaking it ever so slightly as I imagined Michael kneeling before me, eyes misty with emotion, asking me to be his wife. ...
And I was almost positive I would say yes.
So, anticipating an early-morning birthday greeting from my almost fiance, I frantically slid the key card back into the lock, hurdled over the mound of soggy white towels I'd left piled on the bathroom floor, and grabbed the receiver conveniently located next to the toilet. Before I could even get to hello, a disembodied, Southern-accented male voice said, "Hailey Lane? This is Bob in scheduling." And the fourteen words that followed were the ones that flight attendants around the globe live to hear: "The rest of your trip has been canceled. You are scheduled to deadhead home."
But even though I was expecting something great doesn't mean I wasn't skeptical. "Come on, Clay, quit fucking around. I'm on my way down," I said, peering in the mirror and smoothing my out-of-control auburn curls while checking my teeth for lipstick tracks.
"Ms. Lane, let me remind you that all scheduling calls are recorded," said the unamused voice on the other end.
"This isn't Clay?" I whispered, my breath caught in my throat.
"You are scheduled to deadhead on flight 001, nonstop from San Diego to Newark," he continued, in a crisp, no-nonsense tone. "You will arrive at fifteen hundred."
"Are you serious? You mean I don't have to fly to Salt Lake, Atlanta, and Cincinnati before I get there?" I asked, still not totally convinced I wasn't dreaming.
"I still need to contact the rest of your crew," he said, beginning to sound annoyed.
"Okay, okay. Just one more question: Can I deviate?" I asked, fingers frantically reaching for my flight schedule book, trying to spin this into an even better deal for me. "Let's see, there's a nonstop landing in La Guardia an hour earlier. Can you put me on that instead?"
He sighed. "Your employment date?"
"Three, twenty-five, ninety-nine," I told him, listening to the distant sound of his fingers tapping on the keyboard.
"Really? Oh my God, thanks Bob! I mean really, thanks. You have no idea how much this means to me! It's my birthday, you know, and, hello?" I said, staring at the receiver, listening to the steady hum of the dial tone.
Tucking the newspaper under my arm, I dragged my roll-aboard all the way down the hall to Clay's room, where I knocked twice, paused, and then knocked twice more, which had been our secret code for the last six years, even though it was kind of lame and all too easy to crack.
Clay and I had met the very first day of flight attendant training, and I give him full credit for getting me through it, because without him, I would have bolted two minutes into the creepy, overly peppy orientation. But every time I mentioned escape, he'd remind me of all the guaranteed fun and adventure that awaited us once we earned our wings: The long layovers in chic foreign cities; unlimited duty-free shopping; and the hordes of handsome, successful, single men all jockeying for a shot at the free first-class standby travel enjoyed by airline employees and their significant others.
All we had to do in return was get through six weeks of unmitigated, soul-destroying, personality-quashing hell that only someone who's survived a brutal military boot camp can relate to.
The flight attendant training regime is something rarely discussed outside the industry. Too many soft-core stewardess movies have dwelled in the public's consciousness for too long, making it impossible for us to get the respect we deserve. But truth be told, there is nothing sexy about a system of such carefully calculated, institutionalized paranoia, where forgetting to smile can result in an immediate charge of insubordination and a one-way ticket home.
Over a span of six long weeks, two trainers eerily resembling Stepford Wives taught us the art of surviving days adrift at sea with nothing more than a couple of flares, a bailing bucket, and a lone box of ancient, fruit-flavored candy bearing a label never seen in stores. We learned how to deal with an in-flight death (never use the word "death"); how to handle an alleged in-flight sex act (offer a blanket, look the other way); how to secure an unruly, irate passenger to his seat using company logo plastic tie-wraps; how to deal with head injuries, burns, profuse bleeding, childbirth, vomiting, urination, defecation; and how to clean it all up afterward by donning a "one size fits most" plastic biohazard suit and using club soda for stains and coffee bags for foul odors.
We fought fires; crawled through dark, smoke-filled cabins; and even evacuated a mock airplane by sliding down an authentic, double-lane inflatable slide, resulting in three pairs of torn pants, numerous rub burns, and one broken arm whose owner was "dismissed" for having weak bones.
They restyled our hair, reapplied our makeup, vetoed our jewelry, fed us propaganda, and actively discouraged questions, jokes, comments, and any other signs of freethinking individuality.
And once our spirits were deemed suitably broken and our formerly vibrant selves sufficiently rehabbed into paranoid automatons, they pushed us out into the world, onto an airplane, and reminded us to smile.
"Happy Birthday, doll," which came out "duaawl" in Clay's lazy, Southern-accented impersonation of an old lady from Staten Island, which isn't very good but always makes me laugh. "You look great," he added, opening the door and slipping into his navy blue blazer.
"Four A.M. and no undereye puffiness," I said, pointing proudly at my face. "See, being a slam-clicker and not going out with you guys last night paid off."
"Yeah, but you missed out." He shook his perfectly tousled, blond-highlighted head and closed the door behind him. "We met downstairs in the bar, and when the check arrived the first officer divided the number of chicken wings each of us ate and split the bill accordingly."
"You're making that up." I walked alongside him and laughed.
"True story. He wears this calculator watch that does fractions. My share, including the glass of wine, was eight dollars and eighteen cents."
"Did that include tip?"
"You think he tips?" Clay looked at me, one eyebrow raised. "I waited until he left; then I paid the tip. So, are we deviating?" he asked, following me into the elevator.
"I am," I said, pushing the L button and watching the doors close.
"Good, because I told scheduling I was just gonna do whatever you do."
"That sounds pretty codependent." I raised an eyebrow at him.
"It's way too early to make an important decision when I know you can do it for both of us. And this way we can share a cab to the city." He smiled.
"Fine, but no detours this time." I gave him a stern look. Clay was well known for running all of his errands on the way from La Guardia Airport to whichever apartment he was staying in that week. "No ATMs, no Starbucks, no wine stores, no video rental drop-offs, and no gay bars," I said, dropping my key card at the front desk. "I have a big night ahead, and now that I'm gonna get home even earlier I want to take a bubble bath, and maybe even get a pedicure."
"So is tonight the night?" he asked, handing our bags to the van driver.
"Definitely," I said, smiling brightly in spite of the nervous ping I felt in my stomach.
"Are you gonna say yes?" he asked, eyeing me carefully.
"Probably." I nodded, avoiding his eyes and biting down on my lower lip.
"Probably?" He raised his recently waxed brows at me.
"Well, yeah, I mean. It makes sense, right?" I said, suddenly wondering which one of us I was trying to convince. "I mean, we live together, he's good to me, he's normal. ..." I shrugged, unable to come up with more good reasons, though I was sure they existed — didn't they?
"Perfect. So, what's the problem?" he asked, peering at me closely.
"I guess ... I don't know. I guess I just thought it would be more exciting." I shrugged.
"Hailey, he's a pilot. How much excitement do you think you're gonna get?"
"But he's not like the others!" I insisted. "He lives in Manhattan, not some tax-free zone in Florida! He doesn't starch his jeans, doesn't wear white tennis shoes with dress pants. And he's taking me to Babbo tonight for my birthday, where I know he'll leave a very generous tip, thank you very much." I climbed into the van.
"Okay, so he's a metrosexual pilot." Clay shrugged. "But let me just say, you'd be a lot more sure of your answer if you'd just looked inside that Tiffany's box."CHAPTER 2
I had just spent the entire flight making a mental list — I couldn't make an actual written list, as I'd been feigning sleep for the past five and a half hours in order to avoid conversation with the two smelly size-XXL men I was wedged between — of all the reasons why I should marry Michael.
The "Just Say Yes!" side consisted of pretty much all the same, solid, concrete reasons I had given Clay, while the "Run Away!" side was mostly a list of adjectives with not one single noun. And as I performed a mental review, poring over it again and again in my head, it became painfully clear there was no way I could base a decision that was supposed to last forever on a list of flimsy modifiers.
Having spent the first part of my adult life running around and traveling the world while leaving a trail of unfinished projects in my wake — e.g., college, boyfriends, the novel I started writing seven years ago, hell, I couldn't even keep the same hair color for more than six months before I longed for something new — it was no wonder I was having doubts. I mean, the only thing I'd ever really completed was flight attendant training, and that was due more to Clay's determination than mine.
So clearly my nervous stomach had nothing to do with Michael and everything to do with, well, me.
But things really were different now. So far I'd been working for Atlas Airlines for six straight years (a record), not to mention that I'd been with Michael for four (a major breakthrough!). True, we both traveled so much that if you counted the actual number of days we'd spent together it'd probably add up to no more than six months max. But even that measly amount of time still qualified as a personal best.
Not to mention how I'd exhausted the last few years moonlighting as a bridesmaid, standing on the sidelines in one demeaning pastel frock after another while the last of my single female friends walked down the aisle (with no discernible hint of panic), where they received a ring from a guy that somehow qualified them to start tossing all kinds of unsolicited advice my way. Because clearly, having allowed myself to creep dangerously close to thirty with my left hand completely barren meant I was in desperate need of their newly acquired matrimonial wisdom.
And now it was my turn.
Besides, during my six years of flying, hadn't I been told over and over again that the plane won't wait"? That if I'm late to the gate, I'll be immediately replaced Well, I was beginning to think maybe the same rules applied to life. I mean, maybe Michael wasn't the most exciting person, or the most creative person, or even the person who made me laugh the most, but he was presentable, dependable, made a good living, and treated me well. And I was beginning to realize that hanging back and waiting for someone more exciting would only result in me, stranded on the middle of the runway, way past departure.
So by the time we were on final approach, I'd decided I would look surprised and excited when he presented me with the small blue box and say "Yes!" with as much enthusiasm as a not-at-all-surprised person could muster.
The second the wheels hit the runway I tore into my carry-on bag, turned on my phone, and listened to the sound of Michael's cell go straight into voice mail. "Urn, hi Michael," I whispered, never one to partake in yellular. "Good news! My flights were canceled and I deviated, so 111 be getting home way earlier. I know you're probably at the gym or something, but I just wanted to say hi, and I can't wait for tonight!"
I tossed the phone in my bag and was concentrating on breathing through my mouth, trying to avoid the awful onion breath emanating from the guy on my left, when the captain came on the PA and said, "Uh, ladies and gentlemen, we seem to be having some difficulty attaching the jetway to the aircraft door. It should be taken care of momentarily. We appreciate your patience."
That's all it took.
The guy on my right poked me hard in the arm and asked, "What'd he just say?"
Now, I know that we both heard the exact same announcement at the exact same volume. So why was it that just because I was in uniform he thought I'd heard something more'? "Well, uh, I think he said there was a problem with the jetway," I told him, smiling politely while watching his face turn from a sallow beige to bright red, like he was seconds away from a heart attack.
"Goddamn airline!" he screamed, glaring at me as though I was personally responsible for everything from the stingy seat pitch to the stale pretzels. "Goddamn-piece-of-shit-airline! That's the last time I'll ever fly this piece of crap!" he yelled, scowling, demanding a response.
I glanced furtively around the cabin in an effort to see if my supervisor or anyone from management was on board, in which case my immediate response would be to calmly defuse the situation while instilling the merits of our exemplary service.
But not recognizing anyone, I just shrugged and turned on my iPod.
Hurrying outside, I found Clay already in the line for yellow cabs, as I figured he would be. "Hey," I said, squeezing through a crowd of people all toting identical black bags with identical red ribbons tied around the handle for easy spotting on the baggage claim carousel.
"What took?" he asked, squinting at his watch.
"I was in coach, remember?" I rolled my eyes. "So how was first class?"
Clay was three months older than me, which in this case had been all the seniority required to get him comfortably seated up front while I was crammed in the back between the two surly "squishers" (flight attendant speak for people who'd clearly be more comfortable using a seat belt extension).
Excerpted from Fly Me to the Moon by Alyson Noël. Copyright © 2006 Alyson Noël. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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