|Publisher:||Open Road Integrated Media LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x (d)|
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Out of a Dream
By Jennifer Rose
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1981 Jennifer Rose
All rights reserved.
All week long Eileen had been dreading the plane trip to Geneva.
Night after night the dark-haired gamine had raised her huge, elfin eyes heavenward and sent up childish wishes. Please let her boss change his mind and send someone else in her place. Please let her come down with the flu. Something. Anything.
Shameful wishes, she knew, when the other secretaries in the advertising agency were all turning various shades of green over Eileen Connor's glamorous assignment. Not only was she getting a paid trip to sparkling Switzerland in the middle of a dreary, slushy New York January, she was going to be working one-on-one with Alan Scott, who was the hands-down typing pool nominee for Most Gorgeous Account Executive on Madison Avenue.
But Eileen had trouble cranking up enthusiasm for Geneva, no matter how many pictures she looked at of the famous Jet d'Eau geyser spouting up out of Lake Geneva, or of handsome young couples gazing rapturously at one another over a fondue pot. The very notion of traveling — especially by plane — conjured a wealth of steamy notions she'd been doing her best to frost over.
She felt even less enthusiasm for Alan Scott. Carefully styled blond hair, insinuating blue eyes, a come-hither smile, and an all too apparent belief in his own charm didn't happen to add up to her personal definition of "gorgeous." Alan Scott, to Eileen's private thinking, looked as though he'd melt in the rain. And if he cared about anything in the world besides advertising, tennis, and keeping up his image as a womanizer, she had yet to find out what it was.
No, the idea of two weeks abroad with Alan Scott most assuredly failed to set Eileen's heart racing — except with anger and anxiety. She would much have preferred sticking to her routine of the past eight months: dizzying herself in her hectic job by day, numbing herself in thick, complicated novels by night.
Anything to keep from remembering. Anything to keep from thinking: Keith.
Alas, her fairy godmother had been out to lunch for a long, long time now. Eileen's wishes to be spared the trip to Geneva were resoundingly ignored.
Her boss did not change his mind about sending her on the "Swiss Mission." He kept congratulating himself, in fact, on having in his employ a secretary who spoke near-fluent French and more than a smattering of German, the two principal languages of Switzerland. He seemed to think that Eileen's destiny in life was to bring greater glory to Marsden Advertising in general, and to help Alan Scott land the Mont Blanc Watch Company account in particular.
Nor did Eileen come down with the flu. The robust health that her delicate bones and milky skin belied continued to keep the virus at bay, although half of New York was coughing.
Now Eileen was aboard Swissair flight SR 111, sitting in a window seat in an otherwise empty row, growing ever more anxious as the plane started slowly taxiing down the runway at JFK International Airport.
At least, she thought with a small sigh of relief, she would have the comfort of solitude. When she'd checked in for the flight, she'd asked the Swissair ground attendant to give her a window seat in an empty row; then she'd kept her fingers crossed that the row would stay empty. The flight was going to be hard enough without having to fight off the advances of some self-styled Romeo. She'd have ample work in that department when Alan Scott joined her in Geneva two days hence.
Flight attendants moved up and down the aisles of the jumbo jet checking that the passengers had their seatbelts fastened and their seat backs and trays upright. As Eileen looked at the relaxed, smiling hostesses in their crisp yet inviting red-accented navy and white suits, she rather repented of her own choice of traveling costume.
She was dressed all wrong for a seven-hour flight, she knew. All wrong, period. Her severe, figure-disguising gray wool dress was expensive and perfectly fashionable — if the wearer happened to be a forty-five-year-old woman with big bones. Eileen was twenty-four, size five, and getting hot under her mandarin collar. She noticed that the other young women on the flight were all wearing terrific-looking designer jeans and brightly colored shirts open at the throat. But ever since Keith had left, the great thing had been to hide: hide her body inside formidable clothes, hide her forehead under long bangs, hide her body and spirit any which way she could.
Keith, why did you do it to me? she would ask herself over and over. Why did you do it to us? Are you happier now? Do you ever think about me?
Eileen shook her head, to no avail. She couldn't disperse the unbidden, unwanted thoughts. She peered out the small window, at the rich "blue hour" tones of the early evening sky and the delicate dusting of snow on the silver wings of the plane, but she couldn't blot out the still-sharp image of Keith's face.
"Are you all right?" inquired a female voice, interrupting her reverie. "Can I get you anything?"
Eileen started and looked around. To her dismay, a stewardess was standing there looking solicitously down at her.
Mutely Eileen shook her head and prayed for the woman to go away.
"If you have some medication with you that you'd like to take, I can get you a glass of water before takeoff." The stewardess — a tall, slim, crinkly-eyed redhead whose nane tag identified her as "V. Lenke" — flashed a genuinely warm smile, not the plastic grin Eileen was steeled for.
But the smile wasn't enough to thaw Eileen. "I'm quite all right," she announced coolly. "I'm not going to be sick or anything like that."
If V. Lenke felt brushed off, she didn't show it. "I'll check on you later," she promised Eileen cheerfully and moved on down the aisle.
As the 747 taxied into position for takeoff, Eileen breathed deeply in and out. She knew what the stewardess thought — that she was afraid of flying. But she wasn't, at least not in the usual sense. Her father had been an Air Force career officer, and — like many other Air Force "brats" — she could boast that she had flown before she had walked. The thrum of the powerful Pratt & Whitney engines and the crunch of the giant wheels over the Tarmac were pleasant, almost musical sounds to her ears.
It was V. Lenke herself who was making Eileen feel like a volcano about to spew lava — V. Lenke and all the other carefully made-up, trim, easygoing hostesses.
Keith had left Eileen for an air hostess he had met on one of his many business trips around the United States. Two years of marriage had vanished into thin air, like the bright exhaust trail of a jet fading into the blue of an afternoon sky.
She wondered if he missed her, if he remembered the good times they'd had. She thought their nights were so special. Were they anything special to Keith?
A male voice came on over the loudspeaker system to give the final pre-takeoff safety instructions, and for a moment Eileen's attention was diverted. She couldn't help feeling proud of her ability to follow the steward's words in French and German as well as in English. Then the stewardesses paraded up and down the aisles pointing out emergency exits, and Eileen tasted bitterness in her mouth again.
Keith, she thought, as the jet roared into the sky.
Keith, she thought, as she glimpsed the white-capped Atlantic Ocean through a sudden clearing in the clouds.
Keith, she thought, as the NO SMOKING/DEFENSE DE FUMER/NICHT RAUCHEN sign went off, and the captain modified the steepness of his ascent.
Once again she was snapped back to reality by the brisk voice of V. Lenke.
"We'll be serving dinner shortly," the smiling redhead said, handing Eileen a menu card. "Would you like to purchase a cocktail first?"
Eileen had never been much of a drinker. In the good days with Keith, she'd been too high on life to want more than a glass or two of wine with dinner and an occasional light gin and tonic at a party. Then, when Keith left, she saw alcohol as a potential enemy that could make her relax her guard and get swept off her feet again, and she stayed clear of it altogether. On the few occasions she'd gone out after work with a group from the office, she'd usually ordered a Coke. Now, on impulse, she invoked the spirit of Madison Avenue and said:
"I'll have a martini, please. Extra dry."
V. Lenke's smile widened, and the lines at the corners of her eyes went deeper. Eileen grudgingly had to admit to herself that the other woman's weathery looks were somehow attractive and reassuring.
"I'm afraid our martinis are premixed," the hostess replied. "The most creative I can get is to give you an extra olive."
"Oh, that's fine," Eileen said hastily. "I don't usually — That's fine, really."
"Well, you seem to be feeling a bit better," V. Lenke announced perkily, and moved on to get other drink orders.
Eileen realized to her amazement that she was indeed feeling better — less angry, less tense. Maybe her friends back in New York had been right, after all, about the tonic effect of getting on a plane bound for an exotic destination. Or maybe staring out the window at the whooshing sky and wallowing in memories of Keith — a sweet torture she'd denied herself for months — had let some of her pain escape, like steam whistling up out of the safety valve of a pressure cooker.
And, she had to admit, V. Lenke had helped. In the eight months since her husband's abrupt departure, Eileen had developed almost a phobia about air hostesses, as though they were all the enemy, as though each one of them individually had engaged with Eileen in a tug of war for Keith's love — and had won. But it was just not possible to feel threatened by V. Lenke.
After a second martini, Eileen felt even better. She felt better yet after dinner — veal cordon bleu and a half bottle of Neuchâtel, a Swiss white wine which reminded her of a sweet, clear mountain stream, but which packed a bit more punch.
V. Lenke came along with a steaming pot of coffee. "May I refill your cup?" she asked.
"Please," Eileen said, and put her cup on the small tray the stewardess carried in her left hand. For the first time Eileen noticed the stewardess wore a gold sliver of a wedding band. The sight of that ring moved her to add, "I'm sorry if I was rude before."
"I understand," the redhead said, without a moment's hesitation. "An awful lot of passengers are edgy before takeoff." She extended the tray with Eileen's refilled coffee cup. Outside, the pitch of the engines changed slightly as the jet cruised along through the Prussian blue sky.
"Oh, it wasn't that at all," Eileen riposted. "I grew up flying. It's just —"
Suddenly, her tongue loosened by the two martinis and the wine, Eileen was pouring out the story of her marriage to Keith — and its shattering collapse when he fell in love with a stewardess.
"Well, you poor dear," V. Lenke said. "No wonder you gave me the fish eye!"
Eileen let loose a whoop of laughter, the first in ever so long, and all at once both women were giggling like teenagers.
"Look," the stewardess began, "I've got to finish coffee service, but then I'd like to come back and talk to you, if I may. We had a lot of last-minute no-shows tonight — because of the stormy weather outside New York City — and so the crew can take it a bit easy."
"I'd like that very much, Mrs. Lenke," Eileen agreed warmly. "You're very easy to talk to."
"Call me Vee, for heaven's sake. My real name is Violet, if you can believe," gesturing at her flaming hair, "but all my friends call me Vee."
"I'm Eileen. Eileen Connor."
A few minutes later, the friendly flight attendant was perching on the armrest of the empty aisle seat in Eileen's row. Airline policy, she explained, frowned on hostesses sitting in actual seats in the passenger section. Eileen moved to the middle seat to make conversation easier.
"I suppose you really enjoy traveling," Eileen commented, with a bit of a sigh. "My family traveled so much when I was little that what I've always wanted more than anything was to live somewhere long enough for everyone to know my name. And now I live in New York — and I haven't even met the people who have apartments on either side of me in my building!"
"I do love to travel," Vee admitted, "even after almost twenty years of flying. Rio de Janeiro at Carnival time, Tokyo when the cherry blossoms are in bloom — you name the excitement, and I've been part of it. But now I have a two-year-old baby girl — don't raise your eyebrows, Eileen, I'm not the only forty-year-old in the world with a toddler — and, to tell you the truth, I'm really happiest when I'm at home with Pierre and little Marie."
"Where is home for you?" Eileen asked, trying to censor the wistfulness that threatened to creep into her voice.
"Vevey. It's a small town on the other end of the Lake from Geneva. Very pretty. Terraced hills with grapes growing everywhere — My husband is in the wine business."
"I wouldn't have guessed you were Swiss," Eileen said. "You speak English perfectly."
"I should hope so," Vee retorted drily. "I was born and raised in Oregon."
"Were you?" Eileen exclaimed. "We're practically neighbors. I was born in Washington State, and that's the only place I ever came close to feeling was home — my dad was posted at McCord Air Force Base near Tacoma between stints abroad. I met Keith in Tacoma, in fact, but right after we got married he decided he wanted to head for New York. And no sooner did he uproot me and plant me on East Sixty-first Street than he went to work for a photographic supplies manufacturer who had him flying off all over the States. And that," she concluded, her voice tinged with bitterness, "was the un-greening of Eileen."
"Come on," Vee said lightly. "It was probably a good thing that you ended up in New York."
"Do you think? I like my job with the Marsden Agency, and I have a sweet little apartment — even if it's in the middle of a big, anonymous building; but I'll never totally feel at home there. Sometimes I wish —"
Her voice trailed off and Vee looked inquiringly at her. Eileen just shook her head.
"You know," Vee announced after a pause, "you need to meet a new man."
Eileen felt her face grow hot and knew her cheeks were turning scarlet. When she'd first met Keith he'd said that every time she blushed she reminded him of Snow White — jet hair, milky fair skin, and outrageously red cheeks. "The fairest of the fair," he would whisper, running proprietary fingers through her dark tangle of hair, staring into her eyes until the blush grew improbably deeper. She'd had her hair cut after he left; she'd ordered her hairdresser to tame the dark tangle to a sleek, almost forbidding, helmet. Sometimes she wanted to let her hair run riot again, but the idea seemed dangerous.
Now her hand automatically went to her hair to make sure it was all in place, the armor intact.
"No," she told Vee, "I don't want to have anything to do with men at the moment. I don't need a man. I don't need anything, and I like it that way."
"Nonsense," Vee replied briskly. "You may be a bit numb around the edges, but you're not dead yet. A divorce isn't the end of the world, you know. It could have been a lot more tragic. There could have been children involved —"
"Tell me about your daughter," Eileen interrupted, not caring how blatantly she changed the subject. "Do she and your husband mind very much when you travel?"
"Oh, I think Marie probably imagines that every mama disappears for two or three days a week. I went back to flying when she was nine months old. As for Pierre — I like to think he misses me a little, but he says my traveling gives him a chance to be with Marie that very few fathers ever have with their children. We have a housekeeper, of course, our marvelous Coco, who's there when I'm away, but there's still a very special bond between those two. At her tender age, Marie already knows that you drink vin rouge with some food and vin blanc with other food!"
The 747, which had been sailing smoothly through the sky, took a couple of bumps. The steward's voice came on over the intercom and announced that there would be a few minutes of clear-air turbulence, and would the passengers please fasten their seatbelts.
Vee Lenke stood up. "Back to work for me," she announced cheerily. "But don't think I'm letting you off the hook so easily."
Excerpted from Out of a Dream by Jennifer Rose. Copyright © 1981 Jennifer Rose. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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