For complete disclaimers see part 1.

If you’d like to tell me what a wonderful writer I am or that I royally suck, feel free at: XenaNut@hotmail.com

Control

by

Kim Pritekel & Alexa Hoffman

Part 11

I turned the truck off and opened the door, as did Keller. Cars were already at the hangar, as it should be. Jerome would have gotten there at his usual retardedly early hour, and Reggie and Peggy not long before us.

"You okay?"

I was surprised to hear Keller’s quiet voice, but I nodded and smiled at her. She gave me a hint of a smile back, and we started walking toward the building.

In the office, Penny, Reggie and Jerome all were standing around talking, which immediately stopped when we walked through the door. I became suspicious at once. Looking from one compassionate set of eyes to the next, I went over to the coffee pot and poured the tar into my mug. Some things will never change. I kept my back to them as I added a packet of powdered cream. This stuff was even too black for my taste.

With a sigh, I finally turned to face my employees.

The only one who didn’t look like they were going to give me a huge hug was Keller. She had gone to the cleaning schedule page, and was looking to see what she needed to do. There was an uneasy silence in the room, a tension of uncertainty as each of the three Musketeers tried to decide what was the best course of action. I sipped my coffee, trying to act as normal as possible. Finally Penny broke the silence.

"Monk, Dave Carr called from Bruce Grocery on the Vineyard." Everyone expelled a breath of relief, especially me. We all got down to business, and I managed to escape a kettle of brewing sympathy that I wasn’t prepared to swallow.

The office was quiet, the computer off. I flipped the switch, and the ancient Apple came to life. Sort of. We really needed a new one. I sensed someone on the doorway as I got ready for the day. Looking up, I was surprised to see Reggie standing there, ball cap in his hands. He was looking down at the floor, uncomfortable.


"
Hey, Reg. What can I do for you?" I pulled my flight suit out of the closet, tossing it over the arm of the couch. I glanced over my shoulder at him when there was nothing forthcoming. "Reggie?" Finally, he cleared his throat.

"Um, I’m really sorry, Garrison." He met my eyes. "Frank was like the dad me and Tommy never had. I miss him."

I smiled, soft and kind. "Me, too. Thanks, Reg." I walked over to him and gave him a hug, nice and tight. He hugged me back, and when I tried to pull away, he wouldn’t allow it. Resting his head on my shoulder, I felt his body shake. Stunned, I drew comforting circles over the broad back, letting him grieve silently. "I know, Reggie. I know," I cooed, squeezing my eyes shut. Within a few moments, my mechanic had gotten himself together, and stepped back from me, quickly swiping at his eyes with the backs of his hands. He reminded me of a young boy. I gave him a warm smile. "You okay?" He nodded.

"I have to get back to work." He plopped the cap onto his head, pulling the blonde ponytail through the opening in back. Without looking at me, he walked away.

Walking into the main hangar, it was odd. Though dad wasn’t always around, off on a flight or doing whatever the hell he did during the day, the place seemed empty somehow. Everyone was doing their job, what they did every single day, but still – no dad.

The atmosphere was definitely much quieter than it had been four weeks ago. I think everyone felt the loss acutely. I could only hope to be half as well loved.

###

The day went on, as they always do. We were busy, and I was up in the air for a lot of it. As I climbed higher into the clouds, a smile broke over my features. This was where I had wanted to be over the past month. The sky was my freedom, flying like any bird. Alone and in control. I had missed it.

Feeling better than I had in a month, I walked into the hangar with a bona fide smile on my face. Keller was working with Jerome on the Hercules. I could tell she was glad to be back in the saddle with the mechanics bit.

"Keller." Once I had her attention, I nodded toward the office. She wiped her hands on a rag, then followed.

"What?" she said from the doorway. I looked up from the computer where I was typing in my report from the flight. I nodded to the chair in front of the desk.

"Have a seat. Be with you in a sec." I typed a few figures in, seeing the janitor sit out of the corner of my eye. Finally done, I turned to her. "You’re getting a raise," I said matter-of-factly.

"What?" She looked as though she hadn’t heard me.

"You’re getting a raise. Normally that would happen during your annual review, which in your case is in March, but since we’re close, I’m giving it to you now."


"Why?"

I chuckled. "You do like to look a gift horse in the mouth, don’t you?" She looked sheepish, eyes dropping to her fidgeting hands in her lap. "You’re an excellent worker here, and have been very helpful to Jerome. Just about every day I hear about what a wonderful worker you are, and how quickly you learn, and how much of the load you’ve taken from his shoulders. He thinks you’d be ready to try for your certification by summer." Surprised blue eyes met mine.

"Really?"

"Yep, and I think that’s a great idea. You interested? To try for it, that is."

"Yes."

"Great! Now, for your evaluation. I’ve got only one thing to say to you – you kick ass." I laughed at the look of confusion on Keller’s face. "You’re the best worker I’ve ever seen, Keller. You’re extremely devoted to what you do, regardless of what it is. You’re detail-oriented, never call off, always do whatever is asked of you, and give it one hundred percent. In short, Keller, you are an excellent employee, and very deserving of a dollar raise."

"A dollar?"

I laughed again. "Why are you repeating everything I say? Yes, a raise. Yes, a kick ass employee, and yes, a dollar." I gave her a smile and lowered my voice. "You deserve it, Keller. I also want to thank you. For everything." I looked into her eyes, hoping she’d get what I was trying to say without me having to explain too much. I wasn’t really into the sensitive chat thing. She stared into my eyes for a moment, almost as though she were reading my thoughts through my soul. So eerie how she could do that. Finally, she nodded.

"You’re welcome."

"Well, that said, I also want to do something once we get home tonight. This giving me your entire check routine is bullshit." Keller opened her mouth to protest, but I stopped her with the raise of my hand. "It’s not necessary. You don’t use that much in bills. I’ll show you tonight. Even if you were just some tenant off the street, which you’re not, you wouldn’t be paying that much. Especially now with your raise. So, that said, be ready for a losing battle." I grinned and winked. She smiled slightly, but looked down as she stood. I could see the consternation in her body language. Putting a stopping hand on her arm, I looked at her. "Keller, you will still be paying your way, you just won’t be overpaying anymore. ’kay?" She nodded and was gone.

###

The intent for the day had been to keep myself so busy that I’d not have time to think about it. Well, with there being no business coming from Davies Hangar for more than a month, I couldn’t have had a moment to reflect if I’d wanted to. I was glad for the burst of business, but was utterly exhausted when the three of us got home.

Keller made dinner, and Parker and I brought in the groceries we’d picked up on the way home.

"Hang on, sweetie." I hurried to grab the door for Parker, who was struggling with the gallon of milk she insisted she carry. Smiling down at her as I opened the screen door, she grinned up at me, all squinting blue eyes and bouncing curls as she got a better grip on the gallon of moo juice. "Honey, we’re home!" I called out as we nearly threw the last of the groceries around the kitchen. Keller glared at me over her shoulder as she stirred the spaghetti sauce at the stove. "I’m kidding, I’m kidding!" I exclaimed, putting my hands up in supplication. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. I laughed and tickled Parker, who squealed like a little pig.

"Dinner’s ready," the janitor said quietly, bringing a bowl of noodles to the table.

"Great. I’m starved. I had absolutely no time for lunch today." I helped Parker get situated on her phone books, then sat down, Keller following suit, setting the pan of sauce on a hot pad at the center of the table.

"Why not eat those hideous energy bars you’re always munching on?" Keller asked, preparing Parker’s plate for her.

"Hideous? What are you calling hideous?" I said, mock hurt on my face. She smirked. "I love those things, and I ran out." I finished lamely. "But, have no fear. I picked up three boxes at the store, so there." I stuck my tongue out at her, feeling in a glorious mood. She looked at me, raising a brow. Parker giggled.

"You are a strange duck," Keller muttered, then turned to her own food. I smiled, glad to have us all together again. I had missed them during my self-imposed isolation. Little Parker always made me feel better.

A couple of hours later, after I’d gotten out all the books, copies of old bills, and all that, I called Keller into the office.

"Yeah?" She peeked her head just inside the door.

"Come in," I said, tossing my reading glasses to the desk and sitting back in the big, leather chair. Keller walked in, cautiously eyeing me, and sat down. "Here’s the deal. This is what you’ll be making as of your next check." I shoved a piece of paper over to her, numbers already written in pencil. She looked at those, and I had to laugh. Her eyes bulged, though she quickly tried to hide it. "This is what your monthly bills are." I showed her another figure. Again, surprise. "They don’t add up, do they?"

"No. Let me see." She looked at me.

"You don’t believe me?" She shook her head. "Alright, alright." I got all the bills, prepared for just such a reaction, and showed her copies of the bills from the past couple of months." Keller scanned the bills, looking for any sort of deception on my part. Finding none, she tossed them back to the desk and studied me. "What?" Chewing on her bottom lip, finally she spoke.

"Okay. Then that is what I will pay you every month, no matter what." She fingered the second figure I’d given her.

"Really?" What, no more argument? Keller nodded. "Great!" I grinned from ear to ear, more than pleased that it had gone over so easily. But then, I had gone over and over those numbers, leaving no holes for her to fight me on. Keller got up, finished with the conversation and negotiation. I called to her at the door. She looked at me. "I’m really glad you guys are here," I said, my voice filled with nothing but truth. She looked surprised at my earnest words, then looked down at her sneakers. She gave a curt nod, quickly scurrying from the room.

###

It was a beautiful early April morning, the snow at a minimum, and the air warm and calm. I wanted to go take some pictures, and I wanted to show my roomies a bit of Warwick and the surrounding areas.

Knocking on their bedroom door, I waited, bouncing on the balls of my feet until finally a sleepy Keller opened the door a crack.

"Hi." I smiled, she just stared at me. "I know it’s a little early, but I was planning to go do some shooting today, and wondered if you and Parker wanted to go?" I gave her my best hopeful look.

"Shooting?" She looked unnerved for a moment.


"
With a camera. I do some photography on the side," I quickly clarified. Visibly relaxing, she closed the door for a moment. I could hear her murmuring something to Parker, then the door opened again. She nodded. "Great! I’ll meet you guys downstairs." I scurried back to the bedroom, finishing packing the camera bag and a bag for us for the day. I’d also bring us a picnic.

The truck loaded, Mitchum sisters strapped in their seatbelts, I got us on the road. I was so excited. It had been months since I’d been out shooting. Tut and Roy were in the back of the truck, Roy bounding from side to side, looking at everything we passed and sniffing the air. His little brother was a little less active in his curiosity. He sat on his haunches near the cab, eyes squinting at the wind blowing his ears around.

I drove us to my favorite stretch of wooded area. I loved the trees and animals that played there. "Have you guys ever been here?" I asked Keller, trying to make sure I wasn’t stepping into no-no territory. She shook her dark head and I was relieved. "Good. Get ready for perfection."

We hiked through the ankle-deep snow, bare, skeletal trees pointing the way through their maze of limbs and trunks. Tiny footprints of small animals littered the ground in places. I pointed these out to Keller and Parker, explaining what they belonged to, as well as the winter habits of each creature.

Keller held Parker on her shoulders so the kid wouldn’t have to step in, what to her, was mid-shin-deep snow. Parker, loving the much added height of her tall sister, reached up, touching the brittle limbs, knocking snow onto Keller’s dark head. This, of course, made me laugh. Keller glared at me, dusting the wetness from her locks.

The dogs frolicked in the snow together, running after each other and scaring birds out of the trees with their excited barks. I took lots of pictures of the sisters, watching as Keller helped Parker make a snowman. More like snow creature, as the warm day was making the snow very wet and not hold its shape too well.

Grinning like the evil, mischievous child I once was, I set my camera aside and balled up a bundle of snow in gloved hands. Waiting for an open opportunity, I let loose. My skillfully shaped snowball hit its mark, and Keller looked at me with murderous intent as she wiped the remnants of snow off her cheek. I smiled innocently, then screamed as I ran for cover, a barrage of snowballs chasing after me.

Parker’s giggles echoed through the air as she and Keller found their own shelter. The janitor showed the kid how to make a snowball and throw it. They usually fell quite short of their target, me, but it was cute all the same. Keller and I pelted each other with them, and I’d run out every now and then so Parker could hit me as well. And she did! That little shit had quite the arm.

The dogs even got into the fray, barking and leaping at the airborne missiles, yelping when they’d get pelted, only to rejoin with the next batch. Finally, the fun came to an end when Parker got hammered in the head by a stray. She was knocked down, Keller automatically kneeling by her side. I ran over to them, snow blowing out from my harried steps.

"Is she okay?" I asked, skidding to a stop next to the kid. Keller nodded, looking through Parker’s blonde locks, making sure there wasn’t an injury. I looked into the small face, seeing dazed blue eyes looking up at me. "I’m so sorry, honey," I said, placing my hand on a narrow, coat-clad shoulder. To my immense surprise, Parker never cried or once made any noise. Most kids her age would be howling in rage or pain and fear.

"She’s okay," Keller said, helping her sister to her feet.

"Come on, guys. Let’s eat, huh?" Both nodded, and we made our way back to the truck.

###

The drive from the woods was relatively low-key. The radio was on quietly, and the sisters talked amongst themselves. I was lost in my own thoughts, smiling fondly at the day we’d had. Who knew they could be so much fun?

I came to a traffic light. One way would take us home, the other to the hangar. Flipping my turn signal, I looked behind me, then made a right turn on red. Keller’s perceptive gaze looked around, then at me in confusion.

"I want to show you something," I said quietly, in lieu of explanation. She nodded, but remained quiet. I pulled up to the large, metal building that I knew so well, the large, proud sign announcing the business inside. Cutting the engine, I got us inside, turning lights on as we went. Keller followed, holding Parker’s hand. The kid looked around, having not been there for a little bit.

The duo followed me wordlessly to the port where the two planes waited patiently for their daily attention. I flipped on the light in that huge room, and Keller’s eyes immediately went to the planes there. I smiled, satisfied with her unspoken interest.

"I thought maybe you’d like to look around a bit," I said, walking over to the Cessna. Blue eyes looked curious. "I mean, after all, you did put the model together, so why not explore the real thing?" I gave her an encouraging smile. I could see Keller’s excitement just below the surface, though she seemed afraid to show it. Not pushing the issue, I opened the electronic panel on the Cessna’s side, exposing all the entrails that Keller had been briefed on by Jerome. I also unlocked the side door to the little plane, opening it.

I took Parker, hefting her up to my shoulders, and let Keller explore unhindered. The janitor walked around the plane, running her fingers over the smooth, white surface with a reverence that I understood so well. Wide blue eyes took in everything, the paint, the wings and propeller, the mechanics that made the plane work.

She walked over to the open door, peeking her head in. She looked at me, unsure, biting her lip. I nodded, indicating she should go in. Without further ado, she disappeared inside. There were two seats up front for a pilot and co-pilot if need be, then two more for passengers in back. I couldn’t see what Keller was doing, but figured it was looking around. There was no key in the ignition, so I knew she couldn’t hurt anything.

Parker and I made our way over to the little door, and I smiled when I saw the janitor sitting in the pilot’s seat, looking up at all the gadgets and controls above her head, fingering some, one hand on the stick between her legs.

I was so enchanted as I watched her expressions, wonder and awe. The girl seemed so happy to be in the plane, more life in her than I’d ever seen, save when she’s with Parker.

"You want to go in there with Keller?" I asked a squirming Parker. She nodded vigorously, so I lowered her from my shoulders and set her at the threshold of the plane. The kid scuttled over to the other seat, grinning like a fool at her big sister, feeling pretty big herself.

"Careful, Parker," Keller said. She watched the kid, who had found the stick. She moved it around like it were an Atari game. Keller’s gaze caught mine over the kid’s head, and we both gave knowing grins.

Thinking it the cutest thing I’d ever seen, I ran and got my camera, as well as an old pair of aviator goggles that were in the office.

"Okay, Parker. Put these on, hon." I handed the kid the large goggles. She looked to Keller for help, and eventually I laughed my ass off. The goggles were so big for the kid’s face that half of it disappeared behind the tinted lenses. Her huge grin was all that was visible, other than the little point of her nose. I raised my camera. "Smile!" I said, both sisters looking at me. Parker’s grin stayed firmly in place, while Keller held basically a smirk on her lips.

###

Our very active day was rounded out by stopping at the video store and renting Ice Age and Finding Nemo. I picked up popcorn with plenty of butter, and other treats for the three of us. Keller insisted on buying soda, and who was I to deny her?

It was nice. Keller and I held down either side of the couch, and Parker sat between us, grabbing huge handfuls of popcorn, doing her best to get it all in her small mouth, pieces falling all around her small body, and into the space between the cushions.

I’m not sure where my attention was more – the movie or the kid. She was too amusing for words. But, finally she was yawning, and quite frankly, so was Keller.

"Time for bed," I said quietly, getting up to start taking things into the kitchen. I heard Keller turn the movie off, and saw her, with Parker gathered in her arms, heading upstairs. I followed, turning lights off as I went, the squeaky stairs moaning under all our combined weights. At the top, Keller turned to me, a sleeping Parker resting snugly against her chest.

"Thanks for today," she whispered, eyes shifting, still not totally comfortable to look me in the eye. I nodded.

"You’re very welcome." I gave the biggest smile I could, and went to my bedroom.

###

"Nah, I’m serious! That chick was all over me." Reggie grinned, wiping a greasy hand across his forehead, leaving a most interesting smudge. I saw this from the window in the office, and had to chuckle. Jerome and Keller were nearby, although I don’t think either was fully listening. I could see the janitor’s jaw clenching once in a while. She could not stand Reggie, and had never made any bones about it.

"Reg, do your work," Jerome grumbled, squinting his eyes to better see the part he was working on. Why he didn’t just put on the reading glasses that I knew were in his shirt pocket, I’ll never know.

"Nah, come on, Jerry!" Reggie exclaimed, getting excited now. He jumped up from his perch on top of the ladder, where he’d been working on the wing of the Hercules. "She was hot." The young mechanic gave Jerome a knowing smile.

"I’ll bet," Jerome said absently, asking Keller for a tool.

"Come on!" Reggie whined, getting agitated that no one was listening to him, or taking him seriously. I had a bad feeling, so got up from behind the desk and stood in the doorway. The blonde mechanic turned his sights to Keller.

"Oh, shit," I muttered.

"Come on, Keller. You know guys like me score, huh?" Keller ignored him, but she visibly tensed. Jerome glanced up at her, then over at Reggie, shaking his head at the kid. "What? Keller’s hot. I bet she likes it real hot and fast, don’t ya?" Reggie grinned, especially when Keller stood from her spot on the floor, where she’d been handing Jerome tools. The brunette looked at him, hands balling into fists at her sides.

"Reggie, I’d drop it," Jerome said, his voice quiet but stern.

"Come on, Keller. Come get some." Reggie grabbed is crotch in an undeniable gesture. The air in the hangar seemed to grow very heavy as Keller walked toward him, blue eyes nailing him to the spot, though Reggie was too stupid to realize trouble was walking his way. Without word or warning, Keller drew her fist back and brought it forth, making solid, painful sounding contact with Reggie’s jaw. He went down like a ton of bricks, and Keller stalked off, her eyes like little blue beacons of warning.

"Moron," Jerome muttered as he made his way over to his co-worker, kneeling beside him. I considered going after Keller, but figured she needed her time to cool off first. I knew she had one hell of a temper, especially when she felt she was being cornered.

Shaking my head again, I headed to the office to get the First Aid kit.

It wasn’t long before Keller could be spotted, puttering around the halls and main office, with Penny watching the dark janitor. Keller rarely spent her time there, usually preferring to be as thorough in the hangar area as possible. The girl loved being around the planes, not the office staff.

I leaned out of the office. "Keller? Can you come in here, please?" Heading back to the desk, where I sat on the edge, I watched as the janitor made her slow way inside, lingering in the doorway. She looked more than sheepish, though ready to go on the defense at any moment. "Have a seat," I said, indicating the two chairs before me. Wordlessly, Keller sat, body slumped, holding her right hand in her left. I was sure it had to hurt. "How’s the hand?" Keller shrugged.

"S’okay."

"Let me see." Hopping down from the desk, I sat in the twin chair to hers and took her hand in my own. At fist she was stiff, as though she were going to yank the hand away, but then thought better of it. The knuckles were already showing signs of bruising and swelling. "Can you move your fingers?" She nodded, demonstrating this to me. "Good. Stay here."

I snagged some ice from the small fridge near the coffee maker in the main office.

"What happened?" Penny asked, looking over her shoulder to see if Keller was behind me. I grinned.

"Reggie finally got what was coming to him." Wrapping the ice in a few paper towels, I headed back to the office. "Put this on your hand and keep it there." Keller nodded, placing the cold bundle on her swelling hand. Sighing, I perched back on the desk, running a hand through my hair. "Are you okay?" I asked after awhile, Keller never looking at me, her gaze fixated on either the floor or her lap. She nodded. "You sure?" She nodded again, then looked up.

"Sorry." Her voice was very quiet.

"What for?" I asked, an amused smile on my face.

"Because I was fighting in your place of business."

"Don’t sweat it, Keller. Reggie asked for what he got. Yes, I would prefer you find alternate means of getting your point across, you know, I don’t want blood on the planes or anything," I winked at her, "but Reggie got what he deserved."

Keller finally actually met my eyes, looking wary and uncertain. "Really?"

"Yes. He knew better than to do that or say those things to you. You’ve worked with him long enough for him to not be such a numb skull." I smiled reassuringly.

"So, you’re not going to fire me?" There was a hint of hopefulness in her voice. I shook my head.

"Not a chance. This place has never looked so good." This got an itty bitty smile, but I’d expect nothing more. "Go on. Why don’t you get out of here for the day. Take a load off." Keller nodded and stood. She raised her ice-covered hand.

"Thanks."

"No worries." I watched her go, then turned to my own tasks.

###

I tossed and turned, then tossed again. I felt like a salad, and the dogs weren’t any happier with me. They looked at me, groaning their irritation at the bed constantly moving and bouncing.

"Shit." I sat up, running a hand through very messy hair, and looked at the clock. It was nearly one in the morning, and I was having a hell of a time sleeping. Every time I closed my eyes, visions of dad would dance before them. With a sigh, I grabbed the phone and dialed. A very sleepy voice answered. "Gabe? Are you sleeping?" I was incredulous.

"Yeah. It’s called having to be at work retardedly early in the morning." He was irritated.

"Since when did you become so damned responsible?" My voice was harsher than I had intended. He was always up late. Growling in the back of my throat, I told him to go back to sleep. Hanging up the phone, I looked around my room. I was now totally awake. And craving ice cream.

Checking the clock told me that two minutes had passed, and I was restless on a Saturday night. I needed a friend. My head snapped toward my closed bedroom door, realizing I had two friends just beyond.

I waited patiently for the door to open, and when it did, it was just a crack. A blue eye peered out at me. Realizing what crazy woman stood outside her door at one thirteen at night, the door opened wider.

"Hi." I smiled. "I was thinking we’d all go out and get some ice cream." Those blue eyes blinked at me, for some reason looking at me like I was nuts.

"Uh," was all she got out. I looked beyond to see a sleepy Parker looking at us, rubbing at her sand-man coated eyes with little fists.

"Ice cream," she muttered sleepily. I grinned, knowing that the grand poobah of decision makers had spoken.

All bundled, we climbed into the truck, the midnight air really cold, harsh winds blowing snow over the roads. I knew this was crazy, and didn’t need the near-constant looks from Keller for verification. But damnit, I needed the company.

We got to an all-night grocery store and prowled the aisles until I found what I was looking for. Grabbing a container of vanilla fudge ice cream, I then got us a bottle of the hardening chocolate syrup, sprinkles and whipped cream.

Keller continued to look on with tired, wary eyes. Parker, however, was totally getting into this. We’d found that she adored ice cream.

Winnings in hand, we headed home and had an ice cream picnic on the living room floor in front of the fireplace. Parker happily munched away at her dessert, and even Keller got into the groove.

"So, guys. Good?" I asked, looking from one to the other. Parker grinned, chocolate covering the entire lower half of her face and a sprinkle or two sticking out between small, even teeth. She was out eating both of us, and I was stunned she was still awake. I was beginning to feel sleepy.

Sitting back, I leaned against the couch, dropping my spoon into my empty bowl, a satisfied smile on my face.

"I think I’ve had enough fun food," I said, eyes becoming droopy.

"Tired," Parker suddenly announced, her energy slipping out through the cracks. It was nearly three in the morning, and I felt so very guilty for keeping the kid up. Definitely not something I’d be repeating often.

"Ready for bed?" Keller asked her sister quietly. The blond nodded, holding her arms up for her big sister. The janitor quickly scooped her up, then looked down at me. "Thank you," she said, and headed up the stairs. I threw all of our dishes into the sink, knowing we’d worry about them in the morning. Well, later in the morning, at least. Flicking lights off as I went, I finally collapsed into bed for a dreamless sleep.

###

I smiled at the man who held the glass doors open for me, then headed out into the warm, late winter sunlight. April was upon us, and I was glad. I was getting tired of the snow, and was ready for the trees to sprout new life and new green to line the roadways instead of snow and gray sludge.

Calvin Humphreys had been dad’s lawyer since the beginnings of the hangar. It was nice to see him again, as he didn’t really say much at the funeral.

A smile spread across my face as I recalled, once again, just how lucky I had been having my dad for a dad. His generosity didn’t even end after he was gone.

Keller and Parker were working on a masterpiece from the little tyke. Fingerpaint was everywhere, in the blonde locks, under a blue eye, and gritty under short, chewed nails. The sisters looked up at me, and Parker smiled. She jumped up, showing the little patch of yellow on the knee of her denim overalls. She grabbed the picture they were working on, nearly toppling the glass of water used to clean the brushes. Keller caught it, shaking her head at her sister’s enthusiasm.

"Look." Parker showed me the wet, half finished picture. It was of the three of us, and what looked as though it would eventually be an airplane in the sky.

"Tell me about this," I said, kneeling down so we were on the same level. She pointed to the fat blobs that were Keller and I.

"This is Keller, you and me. Tut and Roy are over there." She pointed to two stick figure-type things that I thought were squirrels.

"It’s wonderful, Parker." I smiled at her, giving her a quick, one-armed hug. She smiled, then ran back to Keller, plopping herself back onto her stomach to finish. I tossed the mail I’d collected onto the coffee table. "Keller, when you and Picasso are finished here, I need to talk to you."

Making my way up the stairs, I noticed that Keller had already cleaned everything. The polish could be smelled on the wood, the vacuum marks indicative of her time spent with Hoover. The bare mattress on my bed looked at me, the sheeting being pulled by me that morning. Sitting on the pillow-top, I tugged off my boots and socks, flexing my toes against the area rug that peeked out from under the bed.

"You needed to talk to me?"

I looked up, seeing Keller standing in the doorway, one hand tucked into the pocket of her jeans. I nodded.

"Come on in." I motioned toward the entire room. The janitor stepped in, looking for a place to sit. Despite the queen sized bed that nearly swallowed me, she chose the chair in the corner – the same one she’d sat in while telling me the story of Trudy Mitchum. She eyed me with wary blue eyes. I couldn’t wait until the day that she would trust me. I didn’t know if it would ever happen, but I certainly wished.

"Is there a problem?" she asked, her voice quiet and steady. I shook my head.

"No. Absolutely not." I smiled to let her know I spoke the truth. "I went to the lawyer’s office today." She nodded, my having told her that earlier in the day. "Keller, dad left something for you." I decided to just be blunt and straightforward with it. Her expression did not change, though I did notice her fingers grabbing a little tighter to the arm of the chair. "Now, we’ve had multiple discussions of just how proud you are, and how you hate taking what you perceive to be charity." I took a deep breath, wanting her to really hear me. "Keller, this is dad’s last wish for you. He cared a great deal for you and Parker, whether you realized it or not. He wanted to see the best for you both."

"Why?"

"Because that was just the kind of person he was." I smiled softly, remembering him so clearly. "He opened a college account for Parker. Her schooling is paid for, should she decide to go. She can’t touch it until she’s eighteen." Keller swallowed heavily. I wished so badly that I could know what she was thinking. "And for you, he’s sending you to flight school."

I watched her, waiting to see what her reaction would be to this news. I hoped that she appreciated it in the spirit that dad had intended. I had been utterly stunned when Calvin Humphreys, dad’s lawyer of more than twenty years, had read this to me. Dad had to of done this very recently to include my two charges.

"Flight school?" she said finally. I nodded.

"Yeah."

"I, I don’t understand." She looked down into her lap. "He didn’t even really know me. He doesn’t owe me anything."

"No, he doesn’t, but that doesn’t matter. Please understand, Keller. Dad tried his best to look out for you, even before you came to live with me. He’s also left you his truck. He wanted to make sure you were able to drive safely in the winter . . ." My voice trailed off as Keller shoved up from the chair and left the room. Stunned for a moment, I heard her hurry down the stairs, and the front door open and close.

Sighing and running a hand through my hair, I stood. Walking over to a front window in the hall, I saw her make her way down the walk, hands shoved into both front pockets of her jeans, and down the sidewalk, away from the house. Letting the drapes fall back into place, I went downstairs to start dinner.

Parker hadn’t missed a beat. Now, instead of painting, she was playing with a set of building blocks given to her by Jerome for her birthday. The painting had been put on the dining room table to dry. Looking down at it, I felt my heart lurch. In the plane flying overhead was dad, open cockpit showing his gray hair and blue eyes. He was smiling and waving. I couldn’t help but translate it as him being our guardian angel now.

"The painting is beautiful, sweetie," I told Parker on my way to the kitchen. She grinned up at me and continued with her building.

###

Parker was dressed, recently bathed locks quickly springing into life as they dried. She happily ate her Cap’N Crunch, sipping from her glass of grape juice. Keller had been eating hers, but then jumped up and ran to the washer and dryer. I watched as she came back into the kitchen, folding her freshly washed coveralls.

"You won’t need those today," I said, pointing at them with my spoon. She looked down at the clothing, then at me with confusion. "Trust me on this." I grinned.

Keller had come home late last night, leaving me to get Parker ready for bed. The kid had asked no questions, but instead had crawled into bed, little Scooby Doo covered butt up in the air as she did so. I hadn’t mentioned it since yesterday, and neither had she. I figured when she was ready to talk or deal with whatever was bothering her, she would. I didn’t take offense, figuring that she had been overwhelmed with dad’s generosity. I knew she couldn’t possibly be angry.

"Why not? You expect me to do that in these?" She looked down at herself, sweatshirt and jeans, both new from Christmas. I shook my head.

"Nope." Saying nothing more, I finished my breakfast and took all of our dishes to the sink to rinse and load in the dishwasher.

Parker safely dropped off at school, Keller and I headed for the hangar. I was excited, nearly buzzing in my seat. I glanced over at her often, earning a gruff, "What!?" I had no answer in return, opting to keep grinning like the Cheshire cat.

"Hey, girls." Penny smiled as we entered the main office.

"Howdy." I smiled, grabbing my mug for my morning cup of tar. Keller continued on after a brief nod of acknowledgement to the secretary.

"Friendly, isn’t she?" Penny rolled her eyes, chewing on the end of a pen.

"Leave her be," I said, sipping, automatic grimace wrinkling my nose just at the strong smell. "You know, just one of these days you’ll actually learn how to make a decent cup of coffee," I said, raising my cup.

"And maybe just once you’ll give me a reason to." The redhead’s grin was evil, and I matched it.

"Dream on, Nickel."

"Oh, that was lame." She rolled her eyes again.

"Yeah, yeah. It’s early. I can’t exactly be expected to have great comebacks before ten." She chuckled as I made my way to the office. The flight schedule was already on my desk, and I flipped through it, making sure this would work, that there were no unexpected flights to do today. With such a heavy load now, I had to be very creative in my planning.

Getting some paperwork finished that had to go out that day, I turned the computer off, changed into my flight suit, grabbed my surprise, and went in search of the janitor.

Keller was sweeping up a mess made by a careless UPS guy.

"Hey," I said. She glanced at me over her shoulder.

"Hey." Turning back to sweeping, I rolled my eyes.

"Stop sweeping, will ya?" She eyed me as though I’d lost my mind.


"
Why?"

"Because you need to put these on." I tossed the bundle I held in my arms at her, which she caught easily. Letting the long garment unfold, she held it before her, raising it to her eyes. The gray garment lowered, and she looked at me in confusion.

"This is a flight suit, and it has my name sewn onto the patch."

"Well, you can hardly go flying without a flight suit, now can you?" I winked and headed toward my Cessna. I listened to see if she was following, and I could hear her hopping around as she tried to put the suit on while walking. Reaching the plane, I turned to see her zipping it up. Looking at her, I adjusted the collar, patting her shoulder. "Are you ready for this?" Nodding toward the plane, I studied her eyes, smiling as understanding entered them. She nodded slowly, dumbly, as though she wasn’t quite comprehending what I was telling her. "Good. Climb in."

Keller climbed in the plane before me, making her way to the seat next to mine. Her fingers were trembling as she tried to get herself belted in, missing the latch several times. Without a word, I gently took the buckle from her, re-strapping it across her chest, and listening for the comforting click of the mechanism that would let you know you were safe.

Jerome and Reggie, who kept a far pace of distance between he and Keller, opened the bay doors completely, and the plane was slowly pushed out. Once we were out in the open, I got the engine started, the propeller whisking to life before our eyes. Keller watched with wide-eyed amazement at everything I did. She followed my fingers as they danced over the panel of buttons and switches.

I radioed to the tower my intent to take off, waiting for clearance, as I got us to the head of the long runway. Keller looked outside her window, watching as the scenery slowly passed by, reminding me of Parker as she took in everything she saw.

Cleared, I looked to Keller, waiting until her gaze met mine.

"You ready for this?" There was a devilish gleam in my eye. She nodded, though still looked a little shell shocked. Putting some thrust on, I got us really moving, trucking down that paved way to the skies. Puling back on the stick, we were airborne.

Keller grabbed onto the seat beneath her as she realized we were no longer on the ground. She nearly broke her neck trying to crane it, watching the earth get further and further away.

"Hey, Keller." She looked at me. "Look down to your left, that’s the hangar."

Her head immediately snapped in that direction, straining to get the very last glimpse of the large, metal building, until it was out of sight, disappearing through the gauze of clouds.

I flew all around the city and state, wanting her to get the full view of Massachusetts from fifteen thousand feet in the air. Never in our short acquaintance had I seen Keller so excited, her body a veritable bundle of energy and childish glee. As far as the harness would allow her to go was as far as she’d take it, neck and body straining to see more. I took us out over the Atlantic, letting her see the glory of the ocean, blue and hazy from the air quality so far above.

"Hey, grab that stick in front of you." It took a moment for the janitor to realize I was talking to her, but she immediately grabbed hold of it. We stayed like that for a moment, me slowly, carefully taking my hand off, making sure the plane was steady. "Keller?"

"Yeah?" She glanced over, her eyes trying to stay on me instead of everything else around her.

"Don’t look now, but you’re flying the plane." I nodded toward the stick in her steady hand. She looked down at that hand, then back up at me. Her eyes grew wide as realization struck, and the corner of her mouth started to quirk up a bit, but she stopped it. It was like trying to keep a bucking bronco down. "It’s okay to smile, Keller." I smiled at her to prove my point. "Come on. Let it out." I quietly pleaded. She looked away, but when she looked back at me, my heart nearly stopped. The most radiant thing I’d ever seen. Beautiful, even white teeth filled her face, reaching her eyes to make them sparkle an even more devastatingly beautiful blue than ever before.

"Wow," she breathed, looking back around us, that smile still firmly in place.

"Wow, indeed." I turned away, stunned by just how gorgeous this girl really was. If only she’d show that smile more often. I decided in that moment to make it my goal and job to make it reappear as often as possible.

"Can I move this?" she asked, not taking her eyes from the skies around us.

"Sure."

Keller slowly moved us around, though I made sure to keep us on the right, general course.

"What kind of stomach do you have?" I asked, mischief in my eyes. She met my look, and smiled, reading my thoughts. Without further ado, I got us going in a corkscrew, the world turning into a whirlpool swirly before our eyes.

"Whoa!" she exclaimed, holding onto whatever she could, though the harness she wore wouldn’t allow her to go anywhere. Getting us steady again, I relinquished control once more, and guided her toward New York, keeping a very close eye on everything, and helping her out of turbulence trouble.

I took over when it came time to land, but she watched my every move, eyes transfixed on the runway, then to the controls I used, then to the radio in my hand as I announced our presence.

Once we were stopped, and the door was open, I helped Keller down from the Cessna. She looked around.

"We’re in New York?" she asked, wrapping her jacket a little tighter around her.

"Pretty amazing, isn’t it? You go into the plane in one state, and come out in another." I smiled at her, and she smiled back. Keller was glowing, and I loved it. "Come on. We have to see about getting her unloaded." I pointed to the plane over my shoulder with my thumb. She nodded and began to follow.

"Oh, Al had his prelim two weeks ago," she said quietly. "Judge said there’s enough evidence to go to trial."

I smiled up at her, patting her arm with a gloved hand. "That’s wonderful, Keller. Really wonderful."

Continued...

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