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 2

The nights were getting colder, the days losing heat quickly. Yesterday I pulled my electric blanket out of the closet. I was so excited.

Tonight was the coldest so far this year, and my boys were gathered around me on the bed. How two mangy mutts can take up so much room is beyond me. If I ever did get a steady, or even have someone move in here, they’d be hard-pressed for room. Hell, I was!

Snuggling deeper into the blankets and pillows, I finally fell asleep. Almost two hours later, I was woken up by my father’s voice.

"Hey, Garrison? Where are ya?"

I heard his heavy boots clomping around downstairs and sat up. Immediately the boys were up and pounding down the stairs to grandpa. I heard his excitement as he was bombarded by the happy canines.

"There’s my boys! How are ya?" Both Tut and Roy were whining for a better position under those big, gentle hands.

Tugging on my sweats, I padded down the cold, hardwood stairs. Staring down at the picture of my dad laying on his back with two dogs atop him, I almost forgot my irritation.

Clearing my throat, I waited for someone to notice me. Tut ran over to me, wagging his tail. It was almost as if he were saying, "Look, mom! Grandpa’s here!" Running back to join his brother, I was again alone.

"Okay, boys. All children off the floor." I stepped down from the final stair and helped my father stand. He grunted, and a few joints cracked, but for a sixty-seven year old man, he did pretty well.

"Hey, Monk. Glad to see you were up." He grinned, the deep lines around his smile gave him a decidedly rugged look

"I wasn’t." Glancing at the grandfather clock in the hallway, I saw that it was a quarter after midnight. "Which leads me to the next reasonable question, what are you doing up?" Dad followed me to the kitchen where I promptly began to make a pot of coffee.

"What, can’t I stop in and see my daughter?" He plopped his Levied butt in a chair and watched. Those old-fashioned men – can’t do a thing to help out.

"If that were true, it wasn’t after midnight, and you hadn’t helped yourself into my house, maybe I’d believe you." I set a large mug in front of him and glared at my dogs, who were draped all over his boots. Traitors.

"Yeah, well." He grabbed the sugar container I’d stolen from a restaurant years ago, and readied it to load a ton-and-a-half of the white grains into the black stuff.

"Yeah well, what? Dad, we’ve had this talk before. You can’t just use your key whenever you want, you know." Pouring us both coffee, I joined him. We swapped the sugar and cream back and forth, the sounds of steel hitting ceramic filling the air.

Dad sighed, staring down into his coffee. I knew what was going on with him, even if he wouldn’t admit it.

I reached out my hand, covering his much larger, calloused one. "I miss her too, dad." I looked into his tanned face, hoping he’d meet my eyes. Finally, watery blue did. I had never seen him cry in front of another living person, not even mom. He sniffled quietly, bringing up a hand to swipe at his eyes before they truly sprung a leak.

"Yeah," he said, looking back into his coffee. Knowing what would do the trick, I walked over to the counter and grabbed the box of raspberry-filled doughnuts I’d bought. His eyes lit up, and without a word, he began to gobble one up. I watched him, knowing he had something to say, but couldn’t quite find the words or the courage. Maybe both.

My father was the best man I knew. I had followed him around like a lost puppy dog since the day I was brought home. He was big and tough and could crack a whip like the best of them, but underneath it all, he was filled with so much love, given so freely to mom and me for so long. Now he had no idea where to direct that leftover love now that she was gone.

"So you were saying something about the light switch in the back bedroom the other day."

I was torn from my thoughts, surprised by the randomness of his comment.

"Oh, um, yeah. It’s about to short out again." I nibbled my own doughnut, trying valiantly to avoid the big, brown eyes looking up at me, and big, pink tongues licking furry chops.

"I’ll look at it this weekend." He dunked the doughnut into his coffee, the white powdered sugar making a thin layer on top of the brew. Wrinkling my nose, I turned away. I had never understood that practice.

"Okay." We sat in silence for a moment, both lost in our thoughts. I would have been willing to bet money that he was lost in memories, just as I was. Every time I looked around the kitchen, I saw my mom. She used to hum as she’d cook. I always wondered if she was aware of it. When I was young and stupid, it used to annoy me. I’d actually leave the house to escape the incessant humming.

Now I’d do anything to hear it again.

"Dad?" I stirred my coffee, avoiding eye contact on purpose.

"Hmm?"

"Did you even get to bed?" I chanced a glance, seeing the small smile quirk up the side of his chapped lips. He shook his head.

"Couldn’t. I watched TV for a little while. That house gets cold at night, you know?" He tried to give me his most believable look, but I didn’t believe him for a second.

"Uh huh."

"It does."

"Dad?"

"Yeah, Monk?"

"You’re a chicken shit."

He burst out laughing, throwing his graying head back. The sound was deep and filled me with warmth.

"You’re right, Monk." He reached across the table and slapped me playfully on the shoulder, nearly knocking me over. I’ve had to get tough over the years. Hanging out with my dad and all his flying buddies, a girl’s got to turn into a son.

My mother used to just shake her head at us. She never understood why I wasn’t interested in the finer things in being a woman. For instance, when I was twelve years old, and about to go flying with my dad, she stopped me with some "great news." Excited, I asked what. She told me I was allowed to start wearing make-up that year, her brown eyes twinkling with excitement. I know she had pictures of us having makeover sessions together dancing in her head. Giving her the best smile I could find in my arsenal, I said that was great, then scurried off to be with the boys in a Cessna Caravan 675.

I remember begging him to go upside down all the time as a kid. I couldn’t get enough of that feeling of weightlessness, if even for just a moment.

When I returned to my kitchen, I saw that almost half my doughnuts were gone, and dad needed some more coffee. I nodded toward the pot on the counter, and he nodded. Giving us both a refill, I sat again.

"So I was thinking," he said, pouring the allotted amount of cream and sugar into the cup.

"Oh, scary."

He raised a brow at me and turned back to his coffee. "Yeah, well it happens from time to time. How’s about you and me go up this weekend?"

My eyes instantly lit up. "Really?" I wanted to bounce in my seat like a little girl.

"Yeah." He grinned, my excitement catching.

"Hell yeah!"

My father smiled at me, nothing but pride shining in those beautiful eyes.

###

Pushing open the door to the office, I closed my eyes at the feel of the warm air that met my face.

"Colder than a witch’s tit, huh?" Penny grinned from behind her computer.

"I don’t know. Is your tit cold?" I walked over to the coffee pot, a strawberry power bar in my other hand.

"Come find out."

I rolled my eyes, knowing full well that I’d walked right into that one. "It’s definitely cooling down out there. Feels like snow." Taking a sip of the hot brew, I smiled as it warmed my insides.

"Where are the boys?" Penny looked around, trying to eye my babies.

"They saw dad on the tarmac and took off."

"Traitors."

"Exactly. Thank you." I perched on the edge of her desk. "I see it, but no one else seems to."

"Eh." The red head waved me off. "Your mom probably felt the same way about you."

I looked at her, feeling suddenly heartbroken. "Do you really think so?" I set my cup down, looking into a very ‘oh shit’ face. No matter how blunt Penny may be, she knew better than to mess with the memory of my mom.

"Well, hon, I mean, you were always so close to your dad. Anyone could see that." She was struggling now. Putting her hand on my arm, she looked into my eyes, which were about to fill. "Garrison, go get yourself some Midol. You’re PMSing, girl. You’re so sensitive lately."

"How the hell do you always know when my period is coming?" I swiped at an errant tear, angry with myself. I do not cry.

"Eh, not hard. You get all sensitive and shit." Penny grabbed her purse and began to dig around in it. "Here." Handing me two white pills, I rolled my eyes.

"You can shove those up your ass." I raised a brow, grabbed my coffee, and hopped off the desk. "Some of us have work to do."

The boys were all gathered on the tarmac, looking at dad’s new toy. I was utterly amused as they all oohed and ahhed over his OH-6A Cayuse light observation helicopter. He had had it refitted with one of those nifty bubble windows, where it looks like you’re sitting in a giant snow globe.

Having no interest in this, I turned, intending to head inside. My baby was also on the tarmac, ready for me to load the mutts in and go. Sweeping by it, I saw the maintenance girl.

I had been stunned to find that someone had worked here for so long and I hadn’t even noticed her. I always got so involved in my work, and was usually gone for a good part of the day, that I was quite oblivious. Deciding that it was about time to meet one of the people whose checks I signed, I walked over to the girl.

"Hey." I stood maybe seven feet from her, but she kept sweeping, her head down, fingers tightly grasping the broom handle. "Hello?" I tried to keep the sarcasm out of my voice, and wasn’t so sure how well it worked. But, it got her attention. The girl turned to look at me. When she did, her fingers tightened on the broom, and for a moment, I thought she was going to swing it at me.

I was surprised at how thin she appeared. Her long, dark hair shone in the sun that angled into the hangar, but looked thin and brittle. Her face was full of sharp angles, extremely high cheekbones looking as though they were threatening to break free of the skin. Her jaw was very prominent and proud. Her body was devoured by the loose coveralls she wore, so I had no idea what that looked like. She was a bit taller than me, her tanned fingers and hands long and also thin.

I realized I was staring at her, and cleared my throat as I felt like an idiot. "Hi. Keller, right?" She just looked at me, eyes hidden behind cheap sunglasses. "Okay, well, I’m Garrison. Or you can call me Monk, Grease Monkey, moron, whatever. Anything goes here." I smiled, hoping to get one in return, but the face remained stony and expressionless.

I ran a hand through my short hair, apparently the motion for the sleepy and the uncomfortable. I decided to try a different tactic.

"You’re the maintenance person, right?"

"Janitor," she said, her voice low, very quiet.

"Oh. Janitor, right. Okay. I just figured that people in that position prefer the PC version." Again my smile was met with stony silence. "Right-o, well, nice to meet you. Sorry it’s been six months."

Turning away, I headed toward my plane, wondering what the hell was up with that. It pissed me off. How dare she be so rude? I pay her damn wages! Deciding it wasn’t worth talking to dad about, I climbed into the Cessna. After all, the girl had done a beautiful job with the hangar. It had never looked so good.

###

The sky was my place and my time. This is where I came to think, to feel, to dream. Mom used to tease me that I was a bird in my past life. She may have been right.

For now, I took my own bird higher up, watching as the clouds got closer and closer, before finally enveloping the plane. We were lost in a haze of gauze, with only instruments to get us through it safely.

I loved to fly.

Turning to Roy, I got his attention. "Get me a CD, boy. Go on." I unsnapped his harness, and he scurried toward the back of the small plane, nosing the travel case open. Within a few moments, he hurried back up to me, tail wagging, as he was proud of himself. I looked at the jewel case that was clamped between his teeth.

"Good taste, big guy." I slipped Avril Lavigne’s "Under My Skin" into the player, and listened as the first strands of "Take Me Away" began. Blaring the music in the portable CD player I always brought with me, I made sure Roy was secure in his harness again, and turned back to face the white wonderland before me.

I thought back to my first memory of dad letting me fly:

"Alright now, Garrison. Grab onto that stick in front of you."

"Like this, daddy?"

"Good job, kiddo. Use both hands, now." He watched as my five-year-old self grabbed onto that stick for all I was worth. My little fingers were straining at the knuckle in my attempt to do it right. "’Kay, you holding it straight?"

"Yes, daddy." I drew my brows, concentrating as though I were being asked the next question in a spelling bee.

"Good girl. That’s it." He was quiet for a moment, then turned to me. "Hey, Monk?" I chanced a quick glance at him, knowing that helping him fly was of the utmost importance.

"What, daddy?"

"You’re flying the plane," he whispered. I turned huge, surprised eyes on him, then realized the importance of what he had just said.

"Yay!" I jumped up and down in the seat, nearly taking the stick with me, the plane jerking in my excitement.

"Whoa, now. Pay attention."

"I will, daddy."

I heard the echoes of that long ago day, and a smile came to my face. Thousands of flights later, here I was.

Tapping my fingers to the beat of "Together," I got us headed toward Pennsylvania to pick up a load.

###

Belch’s was a hopping place on Friday night. It was cold out, so everyone wanted to come inside to warm up with good music and lots of liquor. I was no exception. I agreed to meet the boys here from time to time.


Walking into the smallish bar, I tried to stand on my tip toes to see if I saw anyone in my party. Sometimes it really did suck to be short. There were swarms of people in the place, and most were men, blocking my view. And, by the way, did men every bother to take baths? The place already had the stale smell of smoke, alcohol and sweat.

Grimacing, I weaved my way through the maze of bodies, standing, sitting, dancing, whatever.

"Hey, Monk. Over here!" I heard the invite, and looked around. Tommy Ashford was waving his arm as he stood on his chair, trying to get my attention. He sat with his brother, Reggie, and a few of their friends.

"Hey, boys." I took the offered seat, right next to Reggie, of course the only one empty, and ordered a beer. The waitress hurried off, managing to push her way through the throng. I was always so impressed with the wait staff in places like this; they just had a knack for getting through the sea of humanity without much of a paddle.

"How goes it, skipper?" Tommy asked, clinking his glass of Guinness against my newly arrived Coors.

"Not bad. How about you, tall, dark and smelly?"

Tommy put his arm around his fiancé’s shoulders, his dangling hand playing the sleeve of her sweatshirt. I wasn’t terribly pleased to see Angel with him. As a rule, I always get along better with guys. I find women to be entirely too catty and, well, a real pain in the ass. Except in bed. Then they’re just fine. The dark-haired woman smiled politely at me, then turned back to her bar gazing. She always looked so bored when Tommy brought her. I think he more like dragged her there. It was obvious she didn’t want to be there, or perhaps, more aptly, didn’t want to be around me.

Reggie had told me some time ago that Angel had been raised by strict Baptist parents, and had little tolerance for those who were not Christians. What a hoot, and a load of crap. People like her made me sick.

"What?" I hadn’t even realized that Reggie had been talking to me.

"Wanna dance?" he said again. He had his long, blonde hair down, and the thin strands fell around his face and shoulders. He was trying for the Brad Pitt, Legends of the Fall look, and certainly fell . . . short.

"Did you get the plane done?" I asked with a raised brow.

He looked surprised. "Yes," he drawled.

"Oh." I glanced out over the dance floor. There were about a dozen or so couples out there dancing their booties off to some Eminem song. Great dance stuff, if nothing else. Turning back, I looked into his very hopeful blue eyes, and finally nodded. I took a swig of encouragement from my bottle, then pointed it at him. "You behave," I warned, then got up to the snickers around the table.

I led us to the middle of the floor, trying to elbow us some space. I hated feeling like I was pinned. Too much claustrophobia in the blood. Reggie followed like a little puppy, just happy to be seen with me. I may sound bitchy or full of myself, but ask anybody – the guy was hooked.

"So, you look really good tonight," Reggie said once we got ourselves situated. We were not touching, the song fast and pulsing. He matched his movements to my own, though he was awkward and jerky. I looked up into a mostly handsome smiling face.

"Thanks, Reg, but I gotta tell you, buddy, you see me in this stuff all the time." I motioned to my jeans and ribbed tee. I never bothered with jackets in this place, no matter what time of year. I always fried.

"Yeah, well then you look good all the time." He grinned, proud of himself for his quick compliment.

"Thank you."

"So you still boinking that chick up in the city?"

"What?" I asked, hard to hear him over the even louder song by Tupac that followed Eminem. Reggie leaned in closer, saying in my ear,

"That chick you bang, are you still?"

I laughed, knowing why he was asking. He usually did at least once a week or more. Since he’d found out about Celeste, he’d been infatuated with the idea. Once, he’d even gotten the nerve to ask if he could watch. I’d told him to fuck himself, and he’d said he would probably do just that. This time I answered,

"Yes, and no, you still can’t watch."

"Damn." He wrapped his hands around my waist, trying to bring me closer to him. As if I wouldn’t notice. I went about a half an arm’s length, and put my hands on his chest, giving him a menacing look. "Okay, okay. I got it." He removed his hands, but we kept the current distance between us, our bodies gyrating to the heavy beat.

The thing is, I really liked Reggie. He had started at Davies Hangar about a year or so ago, and used to be a really cool guy. Somewhere along the way, he’d developed a crush. Personally, I think it was when he heard that I was a lesbian. Ever since, he’d been determined to get into my pants, or watch me get into another woman’s. I think that’s why they always invited me to the bar – maybe I’d get lucky, and by proxy, so would they.

Either way, I enjoyed my time with the boys.

Then, out of the corner of my eye I saw something, and had to look. Sure enough.

With a squeal of delight, I turned away from Reggie and ran toward the entrance of Belch’s. Strong arms wrapped around me as I was lifted into the air and held tight. I smelled that same smell that I had come to know as safety in an unpredictable world. A musky smell, mixed with male sweat.

Finally put on my own feet again, I looked up into the darkest eyes I’d ever seen, remembering the first time I’d ever seen them. There was so much mischief in those eyes, yet also a great deal of wisdom.

"How are you, my girl?" Gabe asked. He grinned at me, teeth white and slightly crooked. One of the front ones slightly overlapped the other, which I thought gave him character.

"I’m fine." I stared up at him, stunned to see him here in Warwick. "What are you doing here?" I held him at arms’ length, taking in the rumpled clothing, unshaven face and dirty hair. "Where have you been?" Not giving him a chance to answer either of my questions, I grabbed him by the hand and led him to the back room of Belch’s. There were pool tables back there, and quiet juke box music.

Finding a table, we sat, Gabe setting the small bag he had with him on the floor at his feet. I just looked at him. I had not seen my best friend in two-and-a-half years. I had missed him so desperately.

"I’m doing okay. Finally made it back to these parts." He grinned, I clasped his hand. Gabe was the only guy I could say that if I were straight . . .

"Where have you been?" I wanted to throttle him for scaring me as bad as he had. "Not a goddamn word from you, Gabe!" I accused, green eyes filled with fire.

"I know, I know. I’m sorry." He looked down at our joined hands, dark brows furrowed, a crease there that hadn’t been there the last time I’d seen him.

"What’s wrong? You look so tired." I reached across the table and tried to smooth out that wrinkle, to no avail. He looked at me with his bloodshot eyes.

"Can we go to your place?"

"Sure. Just let me tell the people I was here with." I quickly stood and hurried over to Reggie and Tommy. "I got to hit the bricks, boys. Sorry."

"Why?" Reggie was about to stand, but with a firm hand of mine on his shoulder, he remained seated.

"An old friend needs me."

"Gabe!" Tommy exclaimed, standing and offering his hand to my friend, who had stepped up behind me. Reggie’s blue eyes looked him over, then looked at me.

"How are you, Tom?" Gabe asked, pumping Tommy’s hand up and down.

"Not bad, not bad. This is my fiancé, Angel. Honey, this is wild Gabe Potestio, the Italian Stallion of Warwick." Gabe rolled his eyes. "The three of us used to tear up the town." He smiled at Gabe and me. "Everyone swore those two would be the first to get hitched."

I snorted, rolling my eyes. I felt Gabe’s hand on my shoulder. "Yeah, well, some things change," he said, his voice quiet. I looked up at him.

"Ready to go?" With his nod, we said our final farewells and left.

An hour later found us sitting on the bed Gabe would be using. I had followed him up here to help him unpack what little he had, but we ended up sitting and talking. Just like old times. My boys were scattered around us, Tut’s head laying in Gabe’s lap.

"So let me get this straight," I said, eyeing him through the haze of his cigarette smoke. I so hated smoking, and did not want it in my house, but it seemed Gabe had really needed one. "You packed up the Volks with all your worldly possessions, of which you had oh so much, and left? Just like that?" I snapped my fingers for emphasis. Gabe nodded.

"Yup. Just like that." He also snapped his fingers.

"Smart ass." I sipped my water. "Why?"

"I’d had enough of this place. I wanted out, wanted a new start, wanted . . ."

My eyes flickered up to Gabe’s dark ones as he trailed off. He was looking at the black of night beyond the window, his reflection looking back at him. I was curious, and sensed that there was so much more to this than just needing a new start. He’d get around to it, and I’d wait patiently for it.

"I got caught, Garrison," he said, his voice deadly serous.

"Caught?" Okay, I’m confused.

"I lost control of it all," he said, his head now lowered, hand absently petting Tut’s head. I waited, trying to be patient. I had a horrible sense of foreboding. Gabe sighed heavily and leaned back against the headboard. "I’ve been in prison these past two years."

"What!? Prison?" I was stunned, shaken to the core. Not my Gabe. He nodded.

"Got busted with six ounces of meth on me, and they found the lab in my trunk." He finally looked at me, fear of rejection in those dark eyes. I was stunned, looking more like a guppy gasping for water than an understanding friend. "Please don’t hate me, Monk. You can’t hate me." His pleading voice and eyes touched my very soul. However, I felt incredibly betrayed. Did he not trust me enough to tell me what had happened, or even what was going on more than two years ago?

"Gabe, you have never done drugs in your life." I searched his eyes, knowing at one time that that was true. He smiled, though it was tired.

"No, you’re right. I was dealing. Selling this shit to young kids, Gar. I will never forgive myself for that." He was pleading for my understanding now. As much as my heart wanted to call out to him, I felt myself tuck in a bit.

"How did you get started in that, Gabe? Why did you never talk to me? I want the whole story."

I listened as Gabe smoked cigarette after cigarette, my emptying the ashtray more than once. He unraveled a shocking tale of which I had unwittingly lived right in the middle.

During our last year of high school together, Gabe had met a guy named Brandon Townsend, who I had met a few times, and had not liked one bit. He had just given me the chills, so I declined any future offers to go out with them, and Gabe stopped asking. Now I knew why.

So, needing a job to buy him a new guitar, Brandon had offered Gabe a crack at the money if he’d do him a small favor.

Gabe said yes.

And so, three years of selling began. I felt sick to my stomach as I realized that all those times my best friend, and one-time boyfriend, had told me he had to work, or was going to stay in with his mom, was lying. He was out doing something that I was so vehemently opposed to. Hell, he was out doing something illegal that had the potential of destroying young lives.

"I wanted to stop, Garrison. Really I did. And I almost did once. Remember that summer of the massive rainstorms? We were like, what, 19?" I nodded, moving to make room in my lap for Roy’s big head. With a deep groan, the dog settled in again.

"Yes," I said, uneasy, not sure what surprises he had for me this time.

"Well, that was the summer Billy Ling died of a drug overdose," he said, pulling from his cigarette, dark eyes squinting as smoke emanated all around him. I nodded, remembering that well. We had gone to his funeral. "I sold him that dope, Gar. He died ’cause of me." He punched his own chest, guilt written all over his handsome face.

I sighed, torn between beating the crap out of my old friend and trying to console him over an ancient tragedy. I reached out, putting my hand on Gabe’s leg, squeezing slightly.

"Gabe, what you did, dealing, was undoubtedly stupid. But you have to realize that Billy chose to buy and take that shit. I’m not condoning what you did, but I’m not going to condemn you, either. The state dealt you your punishment, and you get to live with this for the rest of your life. I think that’s the lion’s share of punishment right there." I sipped from my water, looking at him over the brim of the glass. He nodded, flicking ash into the tray.

"I know." He sighed. "I’m just so tired. Really, truly exhausted." His eyes met mine. "You know?"

"No. But I can try and imagine." Giving his leg one more squeeze, I let it go.

"How’re your parents? Why don’t they live here anymore?"

I stopped cold, ready to get up to end the evening. With a sigh, I sat back down, not looking at him for a moment. Gathering my thoughts, I turned to look him in the eye.

"Mom died, Gabe." My voice was soft, quietly speaking of the beloved dead. His face nearly crumbled before me.

"What?"

"Lung cancer. It took her within a year and a half of being diagnosed."

"Oh, Garrison." He leaned forward, extinguished his cigarette, then took me in his arms. "God, I’m so sorry." I rested my head against a too-thin shoulder, closing my eyes at the familiar smells and feel of him. "When?"

"Nearly two years ago."

"And Frank?"

I smiled at the mention of my father, pulling away. I saw the shimmer of a tear in his dark eyes. Reaching up, I caught it on the end of a fingertip and wiped it away on my pant leg. Gabe and my mother had always been so close. She was the surrogate for a mother that had abandoned him and his father when he had been a young boy.

"Dad’s fine. He’s still at the hangar with me. We’ve expanded a bit since you were here last, though. We got us another plane, and dad got a helicopter. One of those crazy ones with the bubble-like observation window?" We both laughed, remembering my father’s musings of always buying one. He finally did. Gabe’s laugh faded, the smile falling from his face.

"Where’s your mom buried?"

"Oak Creek." I took his hand. "Want to go say hi sometime?" He nodded, looking much like a little boy. "Okay. But for now, sleep." I stood, shooing the dogs off the bed, both jingling from tags and collars as they shook their fur free of the sleepies. Gabe nodded, not even bothering to complain. "We’ll talk more tomorrow." I gave him a soft kiss on the lips, and left him to himself.

As I padded down the hall, and finally the stairs to let the dogs out, I thought of my friend just upstairs. Gabe had meant so much to me at one time. Still did, truth be told. He had been the first and only guy I’d ever dated and slept with. Through no fault of his own, it had been that intimate time with him that had made me realize that women were where my carnal interests lay. He had been kind and gentle, but just wrong.

The morning after our night of . . . er . . . passion? I sat him down and explained my feelings to him. He had been devastated at the time, thinking the sex between us had been the greatest thing since sliced cheese. To him it had. To me it had been slightly painful, uncomfortable to be sure, and I had felt like a total fraud. As I had kissed him and held him to my naked body, I kept trying to picture my then friend, Kylie. Somewhere in there I knew that had to be against general heterosexual policy.

Turned out I was right.

Eventually Gabe had come to be very understanding, and had stood up for me on more than one occasion. Since we had been seventeen at the time, the kids at school had been cruel in their reaction to my newly-discovered sexuality. I had gotten into fights, Gabe had gotten into fights. All over little ol’ me.

I smiled at the memories, still stunned that he was in my house. I wanted so badly to grab the phone and call dad to tell him the good news. It was late, and though dad’s sleeping times were getting more and more erratic, I didn’t want to chance waking him up.

Letting two very excited dogs out to pee one last time for the night, I filled the coffee maker and set the alarm on it, waiting for my boys’ return. Tomorrow I’d talk with dad about getting Gabe a job and place to stay. I knew my old friend would want a place of his own. Like me, he loved his privacy. Maybe we could find him some over-the-garage type of apartment or something.

The dogs ran ahead of me, claiming their spots on the bed early so I’d have to shove my way in to get some sleep.

"Mongrels," I muttered.

###

I squealed as, yet again, dad soared down, making it look as though we’d crash. My body thrilled at the adrenaline rush.

"How you doing, Gabe?" I asked, grinning like a fool over my shoulder. I laughed, seeing just how green my friend really was. He held up a hand, the other on his stomach.

"Fine. Just peachy."

Turning back, I looked over at my father, who winked at me. He was going to punish Gabe any way he could. Dad was thrilled to see Gabe back, but immediately took to the fatherly role of concern and discipline. I did not envy Gabe the two hours in the office with dad, that’s for sure.

Another few dips and we were on our way home.

Dad had offered Gabe a job in the office, working alongside Penny. This was temporary, as we couldn’t really afford to hire another worker, but my friend needed it. Tomorrow, Gabe and I were going apartment hunting for him.

Getting us to the ground safely, Gabe scurried out of the Cayuse. Needless to say, he didn’t share my love of flight and weightlessness.

I threw my arm around Dad’s waist as we headed into the hangar. I noticed our janitor, Keller. I have no clue how I had missed her over the months. Still felt like an asshole for that. How many of her paychecks had I signed? She was scrubbing at a grease spot just outside the huge bay doors, on hands and knees. I was surprised to see that as she bent over, I could see just about count every vertebrae in her spine through the material of her coveralls.

"Thorough, I’ll give her that," I said, turning to see dad looking her way and nodding. "How old is she anyway?" We disappeared into the shade of the hangar, which I was grateful for. That helicopter got so hot, considering the cockpit was mostly glass.

"Seventeen," he said, unzipping his flight suit. I followed the example, letting mine hang around my waist. Reggie glanced up at me, still not a happy boy. Since Gabe had come back, he was decidedly avoiding me. I was slightly bummed, as Reg was my buddy. But, I figured he’d get over it. Not like he had a choice.

As we headed toward the office, Gabe was coming out of the bathroom.

"Okay, big guy?" I grinned, smacking him on the shoulder. He glared at me, but nodded. With a chuckle, I sat across from dad, both of us leaning back in our chairs, one ankle crossed over opposite knees.

"He going to live?" Dad asked, pulling a fresh toothpick out of the stash in his drawer. He tossed me a power bar, which I gratefully ripped into.

"Yeah. He puked. He’ll be fine now."

"Good." Dad nodded, dancing toothpick between his lips.

"Seventeen, huh? What’s her story?" I glanced over my shoulder, seeing the pony-tailed girl pushing her mop bucket in front of her into the hangar.

"What do you mean what’s her story? She’s seventeen-year-old kid who needed a job. The end."

I glanced at him under my bangs, seeing the merriment in his eyes.

"Nicely done, dad. Maybe in your next life you’ll be a bard."

"Could be."

"Doesn’t she eat? Is she one of these damn teenagers who think the Lara Flynn Boyle, I’m starving look is in?"

"Doubt that." As he got up, a myriad of joints popped and creaked in protest. "I got to meet with that group from Iowa," he muttered. We were getting more and more tour business, and that was good. Besides, dad loved to prattle on and on about all the history of the area and the hot spots. Especially if he happened to get a fellow vet on the plane.

I grabbed a cup of coffee from the front, glad to be able to escape Penny’s gossip mill. She was more than thrilled to have someone to talk to all day long. Gabe was patient and a hell of a listener.

Standing in the doorway of my office, I sipped the strong brew, grimacing at the old taste, and watched the guys at work. They laughed with each other, tossing good-natured barbs back and forth. According to Jerome, Reggie couldn’t get it up if there was a strong wind. And from the wisdom of Reggie’s lips comes the startling revelation that Jerome’s father was an ass, and his mother an ostrich.

Shaking my head, my gaze landed once again on Keller the janitor. She was rinsing out her well-used mop, ready to slap it on the concrete floor of the hub. She looked at no one, talked to no one, and no one really talked to or paid much attention to her. In fact, it almost seemed as if Reggie and Jerome avoided her. It was almost as if it was an unsaid thing – Keller went near them to mop, sweep or whatever, and they’d automatically move out of her way.

Noting a slight limp in the girl’s gait, I watched as she headed back outside. Following, as I needed to get my baby ready for a run later in the day, I saw her look up into the sky. She ran a hand over her dark hair to smooth the ponytail back into place, then lifted her sunglasses, and I froze.

Before me were the most beautiful eyes I’d ever seen. She still looked up into the sky, watching, I imagined, dad’s helicopter up in the air, loaded with a bunch of Iowa people in it. The sun shone through the light blue of those eyes, seeming to make them glow. It was almost eerie.

Sensing she was being watched, Keller turned and looked at me. I was stunned yet again, as those eyes, so vibrantly blue, were dead. There was nothing living in their depths, no character, no life, no spark. Nothing.

Shivering, I hurried over to the Cessna.

Continued....

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