by Ann Roberts
Adrift for years since her partner’s death and her son’s estrangement, Lenny Barclay isn’t sure what she wants. Her friends despair of cheering her up. Even making her mayor of their idyllic Colorado mountain town doesn’t awaken the joyous, passionate Lenny they once knew.
But the arrival of the corporate planners from the Wilderness Campaign brings back some of Lenny’s fire. They already act like they own the place, including the arrogant Sloane McHenry. Pinedale—and her fractured family—does not need a Fortune 500 fix.
Sloane is always hunting for the complete package and she’s got it in Pinedale. The mayor is a spineless pushover, the site only holds a dilapidated shop owned by the aforementioned mayor and Sloane has a secret weapon that will prove useful should she meet resistance. This project’s not just about profit, either, for reasons she can’t explain—not even to herself.
Multiple Finalist — Lambda Literary Award; Golden Crown Literary Award.
Alice B. Readers Medalist for her Body of Work
When the call came Sunday afternoon, Lenny Barclay excused herself from parenting. Her son Seth provided a logical reason to sever their relationship and she didn’t fight it. For Lenny, who always believed she was an inferior parent at her best moments, it was like someone showing her the exit door in a dark theater after a long movie. A really long movie.
She’d given up analyzing why she wasn’t a good mother, willing to accept the easy explanations she’d heard endlessly throughout his childhood from countless sources. Her own mother faulted herself for Lenny’s free spirit and inability to create proper boundaries. The counselor at Seth’s school suggested Lenny and her son were growing up together since his conception was the surprise present she unknowingly received at her eighteenth birthday party. A friend-of-a-friend had got her drunk and convinced her—at least for fifteen minutes—that she wasn’t a lesbian. At first she’d thought the counselor might be on to something…until the woman propositioned her during their second session.
It was the other parents, though, that she encountered during Seth’s childhood who displayed open disdain for her, whispering behind her back, snickering at her ideas during PTA meetings and refusing to allow their children to attend his yearly birthday parties (even the pirate-themed one) that convinced her she was a terrible parent. She didn’t fit the mold and never gained acceptance, no matter how hard she tried.
She and Seth had endured mainly because she found a partner who was a natural parent. She attributed Seth’s fine qualities to Pru, a woman who was everything she was not. Then after high school graduation, he announced he was leaving, moving to South Carolina to be near his father, a man who’d actually been a worse parent than she had.
He’d made the statement blithely at the conclusion of Christmas dinner, and she doubted he’d noticed the dropped jaws around the table, particularly hers and Pru’s. There was no foreshadowing, no emotional swell behind the words, no tears. Sometimes he could be such a boy, and at those moments during his life, she’d found herself wishing for a daughter, someone who was like her and possessed a greater level of empathy and foresight.
A girl would never have announced such a life-changing decision as the homemade pumpkin pie was being served. A girl would have realized guests and extended family were prepared only to discuss lighthearted anecdotes, the weather and the follies of past Christmases. Such an emotional hairpin turn was more than they bargained for when they agreed to attend a meal on Jesus’s birthday, not that many of her friends or family were religious. A girl would be cognizant that once the words were spoken, the pie would cease to be the center of attention as everyone reflected on what Lenny had done to drive her child away. Girls got it. Boys did not. She had a boy.
So, the last week of January, she’d driven Seth to the airport and dropped him at the curb. He’d given her a hug and the perfunctory “I love you” as he got out of the car. He’d disappeared through the sliding doors, and she’d circled the terminal five more times searching to escape the numbness that enveloped her. She wanted to feel an emotion, any emotion.
Then a homeless person stepped in front of her Jeep and she slammed on her brakes to save him. After he’d flipped her off and she’d returned the gesture—totally pissed—she’d gone home. Anger. It was something.
That was over a year ago. They’d been reduced to phone calls on Sunday, and he continually kept her waiting, as he was doing now. He is such a boy.
She checked her watch and refilled her iced tea in the kitchen, carefully stepping over the three dogs that had parked themselves on the cool ceramic tile. Pru, the love of her life for the last seventeen years and her son’s second mother, busied herself with work from the office. She casually tossed her long, graying ponytail behind her shoulders and studied the spreadsheets in front of her. She was fifty-four, but hardly looked a day over forty. She attributed her youthful face to her vegetarian lifestyle, something Lenny couldn’t embrace but apparently didn’t need to because at thirty-seven she was still getting carded.
Pru was a flurry of paper, shifting her attention between the multiple stacks covering the dining room table. When she worked, it was a whole body experience. She scanned the pages with her pencil, sometimes shaking her head in disagreement or murmuring an “uh-huh” when a projection was spot-on. She would often crosscheck figures, transferring documents over the table in the complicated ballet that had assured job security and thirty years of success at a company she’d helped establish. Her retirement was set, unlike that of Lenny, who’d spent her entire adult life avoiding a boss, too busy looking for the next cause to support or underdog to defend.
Lenny loved watching Pru work, and over the years Pru’s industry often inspired her to be a better person or at least get a better job. She’d never graduated from college, unable to accumulate enough classes to complete a program of study and gain a diploma. Yet, she had one hundred and seventy-five credits and was rumored to be the only UNLV student to have taken courses in every discipline. She viewed it as a point of pride, but the slew of academic advisors who’d met with her over the years had shaken their heads and talked with her about focus and goals.
The focus part she understood. With Seth’s arrival shortly after high school graduation, she’d balanced school, a job and parenting, relying heavily on her own parents for support. She’d started as a business major but took a philosophy class for fun and loved it. Then there was psychology and marketing and computer graphics. She loved learning but nothing seemed to click.
Equally intriguing were the university’s student organizations. She’d always sought justice, and as a child she’d found herself in the principal’s office more than a few times for protecting the weak or refusing to abide by an unfair school policy—such as the one that forbade her from asking a girl to the school dance. She’d always been on the outside until she got to college. There she met entire groups of people who wanted to save the earth, defend helpless lab animals and feed the starving children in third world countries.
She’d throw Seth on her back and go to sit-ins and protests. He’d learned quickly, and she had a great photo of him as a two-year-old, shaking his fist at a pro-choice rally. All the while, she worked jobs like “Customer Service Coordinator” or “Comptroller II.” Work was something that happened after classes in the morning and before evenings of playing with Seth and studying.
When she turned twenty-one, she went to work on the Vegas strip as a blackjack dealer, making ridiculous money at night and taking courses during the day. It was the ideal life—until her mother had invoked some tough love and refused to care for Seth anymore. He was three by then. Lenny made plans to move to Reno, but fate stepped in the night Pru slid onto a stool at her blackjack table. They flirted for two hours until the end of her shift, and when Pru’s accounting convention concluded at the end of the week, Lenny packed up Seth and went to Arizona with her. Just like that.
“Why don’t you call him?” Pru suggested without looking up.
It amazed her how Pru could be so invested in her work and cognizant of her surroundings at the same time. “He’s supposed to call me. It’s his turn.”
“He probably forgot.”
She settled in the chair across from Pru, cell phone in hand. She checked to make sure it was on and had juice. It was fine. “He’s probably too involved with his new girlfriend.”
“Could be,” Pru agreed.
“You know, he went to church with her last week. Did I mention that?”
Pru looked up. “You didn’t. What religion?”
“I didn’t ask.”
Lenny laughed. “I love you, you know?”
Pru returned to her numbers. “You’d better. As your accountant, I can tell you you’re stuck.” When Lenny continued to fret, Pru grabbed her own phone and hit speed dial. “This is bullshit.”
Lenny heard it ringing and her anxiety grew. A part of her didn’t want him to answer, but it was always that way. She hated phones and he wasn’t any better, so their conversations were a series of short phrases and questions. Pru, on the other hand, was a master of dialogue and could engage anyone in long conversations, even their son.
When he answered, Pru said, “Talk to your mother. Shame on you for forgetting it was your week to call. You owe us another fifty bucks in the Lousy Son Jar.” She handed Lenny the phone.
“Hey,” she said.
“Are you busy?”
“No, not really.”
“Did you forget it was your week?”
He paused and the anxiety returned. He knew it was his turn to call. He knew it, but he hadn’t done it. He was avoiding her. Pru’s eyes darted from a file to Lenny’s face. Although she couldn’t hear Seth’s part of the conversation, they had decided Pru was the phone monitor, and it was her job to keep Lenny’s tone in check so the call didn’t devolve into a shouting match as it had in the past.
“Look, Mom, I’ve been thinking these weekly calls are a bit much.”
There it was. “Oh. How often would you like to speak on the phone? Were you thinking every two weeks?”
“Um, well, I think I just need some space.”
“You need space? You’re in South Carolina and we’re in Arizona. How much more space can you need?”
“No, not that kind of space. More like mental space.”
“You need mental space?”
Pru dropped the file and rested her chin on her clasped hands. She was squeezing them tightly to control her anger.
“What’s going on, honey?” Lenny asked evenly. She’d learned it was impossible to lecture him across the country. He either hung up or set down the phone and started doing something else while he said, “Uh-huh,” when she paused at appropriate points.
“I’m having concerns about our relationship, or, well, actually your relationship with Pru.”
“Excuse me? What about my relationship with Pru?”
“I’ve been going to church with Jennifer—”
“Is that your new girlfriend?”
“Mom, she’s more than that. We’re in love.”
“You’re nineteen and you’ve never had a girlfriend. You’ve fallen for the first girl you’ve met. Are you having sex?”
“Mom, that’s none of your business! Anyway, Dad likes her. He even went to church.”
“Your father is going to church with you? The man who said Nietzsche was right and God was dead?”
Pru started waving her hands, their signal for Lenny to back off.
She heard paper rustling in the background. He cleared his throat and said, “Mom, I know this is probably difficult for you to understand. I’ve been reassessing my relationship with my Lord and Savior, and as much as I love you, I can’t approve of your lifestyle.”
Lenny hung up the phone.
A three-and-a-half million-dollar deal depended on the next twenty-six minutes. Racing through Midway Airport, Sloane McHenry was almost certain she would miss her connecting flight to Portland, which was scheduled to leave in twenty-six, no twenty-four minutes. Leslie, her travel agent, always allowed for at least an hour between connections so Sloane could work her routine. But even Leslie couldn’t control the weather or the unpredicted snowstorm, the first of the winter season.
She’d have to do everything twice as fast. Thank god she was wearing her two-inch heels and not her stilettos. First stop was always the terminal restroom, since she refused to use airplane lavatories. While her niece constantly reminded her about the studies on bacteria from the toilet spray, Sloane found it abhorrent that men and small children couldn’t hit the hole in such an enclosed space. Fortunately, there wasn’t a line, and she was an expert at the fast pee. Nineteen minutes.
She barreled onto the moving sidewalk, muttering “Pardon me” repeatedly as she wiggled her carry-on past the passengers who didn’t understand that the left side was reserved for people in a hurry. A few travelers gave her a sharp stare when her carry-on failed to navigate the human obstacle course and crashed into a hairy leg that should not have ever worn shorts and, worse, a large woman’s derriere that clearly stretched beyond the halfway point of the walkway. When Sloane’s bag rolled over a child’s dropped teddy bear, she caught the glare of the appalled parents.
“What? It’s not like it’s real,” she hissed as she ran past.
The sidewalk ended and she turned left, ignoring the father’s threatening reply. Whatever. Seventeen minutes. She charged into a news shop and grabbed a Wall Street Journal and a Red Bull. There was only one person ahead of her, a middle-aged woman fumbling through an oversized bag covered in a gaudy floral print. On the counter were the woman’s purchases: a bottle of water, a pack of spearmint gum and a People magazine.
“I know my wallet’s in here somewhere,” she said while her hand groped the depths of the purse.
Sloane glanced at the zoned-out salesclerk, who couldn’t have cared less about the woman’s scavenger hunt. Unlike most everyone else in the airport, he was going nowhere. The customer seemed to be moving in slow motion and recognition crossed her face each time she realized whichever object she was touching in the bag. It reminded Sloane of a similar game in school where each person had a chance to guess the identity of something placed in a sack based on how it felt. She thought the game was pointless (Just take out the damn thing and look at it!), and she didn’t have time to wait now.
“Let me get that for you,” Sloane said in her electric PR voice, the one that energized entire rooms of people to do exactly what she wanted. It was always accompanied by a dazzling smile and a stare that was slightly hypnotic.
“Oh, I couldn’t,” the woman said. “I have the money but somehow my little leather wallet manages to get buried in the cracks and crevices, like it’s hibernating for winter,” she added. Her roly-poly face brightened. “I think I found it.” She pulled out a small red billfold and frowned. “Oops, these are my pictures.” She dropped it back in the voluminous bag and swirled the contents some more.
Sloane dropped a twenty on the counter and held up the Red Bull and the newspaper. “This is for me, and in the event that anyone else walks up who has to catch a plane sometime today, I’ll pay for them too but not her,” she added, motioning to the woman.
Her jaw dropped and Sloane heard her say, “Well, I never!” but she didn’t hear the rest. She’d already passed two gates down the concourse.
They announced last call for her flight. She scowled. She’d make it, but she’d have to read the newspaper on the plane rather than at the gate. She didn’t like that. She needed to prep for her meeting while the plane was in the air.
She sailed down the gangplank and into the shiny silver tube. She found her first-class seat next to a young butch in an ill-fitting black suit and purple silk shirt. She looked as if she were playing dress up, and when she smiled, Sloane felt the corners of her mouth turn up automatically. Whatever she did and wherever she was going, Sloane imagined, the heavy hitters were going to eat her for lunch. I’d like to eat her up as well.
The butch returned to the SkyMall magazine she was reading, and Sloane dug her mint tin out of her briefcase. Although the container hadn’t held any candy for a long time, the faint smell of peppermint lingered and disguised the true contents—her stash of Vicodin. She popped two in her mouth and washed it down with the Red Bull.
“Worried about your breath?” the butch asked. Her gaze remained on the magazine, but she wore a knowing grin.
“Very,” Sloane replied. She leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes, waiting for the chemical combustion to occur. The energy drink kept her going at full speed and the vikes lessened the inevitable stress of work. It was her version of yoga without the sweating and stretching.
She ignored the requests of the flight attendants to read the pocket brochure on water landings, preferring to scan the Journal instead. She wasn’t about to ruin her pleasant buzz by watching the ridiculous oxygen demonstration for the twelve hundredth and fifty-fourth time. She’d kept track and knew she’d accumulated millions of frequent flyer miles, which she occasionally used for vacation jaunts but, more often than not, transferred to friends or Regina, her “adopted” niece and vice president of new accounts. Regina was her pride and joy, a young woman whose drive and determination rivaled her own. Maybe someday she’ll take over—if she doesn’t wander off down the trite route of mother and wife. Now that there’s a man in the picture…
The takeoff was uneventful, and she was amused at the sight of the butch gazing through the tiny window, studying the disappearing landscape below. Sloane remembered a time when she regularly claimed the window seat and spent the first five minutes enjoying a bird’s-eye view of the world, but that was about a thousand flights ago. She’d realized that from the sky most every city in America was an unoriginal collection of rectangles and rhombuses topped by gray roofs.
The customary ding traveled through the cabin, and the pilot gave the okay for electronic devices to be turned on. She wistfully abandoned the newspaper, unwilling to squander too much time away from work. She reached for her iPad and noticed the butch doing the same. The flight from Chicago to Portland was four hours and nineteen minutes long, which meant she could get all of her weekly reports read and annotated without any increase to her blood pressure, thanks to the calming effect of the Vicodin, originally prescribed for a neck injury she’d sustained during a fall at an indoor climbing facility. She’d feigned pain long after it was gone, and the prescriptions from her understanding and ancient physician kept coming. It just felt too good. Once she discovered the Red Bull, everyone around her benefited.
No longer did she rip off castigating emails to employees for innocent mistakes or fire people at will for fumbling company protocols. When she was high on vikes and Red Bull, her empathy for the human condition soared and music played in her head like a soundtrack for her life.
Case in point: an employee named Curtis Bean could thank the Red Bull company, Van Morrison’s “Bright Side of the Road” and the Pfizer drug company for his job, which he would not be losing upon Sloane’s return to Boston despite the sloppy quarterly report he’d submitted on the Seattle store. She composed an email to him, and instead of creating a subject line titled “CLEAN OUT YOUR DESK,” she merely wrote, “See me upon my return.” No screaming, no capital letters or ultimatums that she and Curtis would regret.
When she looked at her watch again, an hour had passed. She’d finished her reports and was about to start answering her general email, when she felt the first bump. Sparkling water sloshed out of the plastic cup on her tray table, and she quickly moved her iPad and dabbed at the puddle with her tiny napkin.
She glanced at the butch, who was wiping gin and tonic off her pants. “Damn.”
The captain announced there was some significant turbulence ahead, and he was turning on the Fasten Seat Belt sign, which would suspend further food and beverage service. While Sloane had flown often enough to experience rough turbulence, she knew it was bad if the flight attendants were ordered to the jump seats. Still, the captain’s silky voice told the passengers he wasn’t concerned. Maybe he’s taken his vikes.
She attempted to work as the turbulence increased, but she couldn’t concentrate, her mind focused on the next bump—when it would come and how hard it would be.
The butch had given up working completely. She’d put away her iPad and was gripping the armrests. When she realized Sloane was watching her, she said, “I’m not a good flyer.”
“I can tell,” Sloane replied. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Chris. I’d shake your hand, but I’m worried that a hole is going to appear in the ceiling, and if I’m not clinging to my seat, I’ll be sucked into the atmosphere.” She tried to be witty and sophisticated, but her nervous expression belied her youth.
She can’t be more than twenty-five. So young. So fresh. Just my type.
“I’m Sloane and I’ll forgive your manners.” She leaned toward her and linked their arms together, caressing her clenched fingers. “This way, if a hole appears, you won’t go through it alone.”
“That’s mighty nice of you,” she said, offering Sloane a huge whiff of her gin-laden breath. “Aren’t you even a little worried?”
“I’m used to it. Are you going to be sick? I’m not going to be happy if your gin and tonics wind up all over my Armani suit.”
Chris shook her head as the aircraft bounced twice. Both women joined the collective gasp that came from the passengers. Sloane’s stomach had just recuperated when the plane hit another bump, one so hard it felt as if they’d landed on pavement. The little yellow masks toppled from above and a flurry of arms grabbed for them. Sloane calmly affixed her own mask over her head and then helped Chris with hers. She tried to breathe normally, remembering the one other time she’d used the oxygen mask—on a vacation with Sunshine, a woman who had not lived up to her name.
A few cries for help could be heard in economy, from passengers too panicked or too stupid to stick the cups over their mouths. A flight attendant’s voice reinstructed the passengers about the masks and reminded them to put their seat and tray table in the upright position with their seat belt fastened.
A brave flight attendant hustled down the aisle, checking on the passengers. She was knocked to the floor when the next bump came and slid the plane into a sideways skid. She quickly scrambled back to her jump seat. The passengers would have to figure things out themselves.
Chris’s face was a white sheet against the bright yellow mask, her terrified brown eyes staring into Sloane’s. “How are you so calm?”
“Years of flying,” Sloane replied easily. “You need something.”
She quickly grabbed her purse and popped two vikes in Chris’s hand before the next bump came, one that made her stomach leap into her throat. Across the aisle, a man retched into a barf bag, his entire front already covered in vomit.
Chris studied the pills in her hand, a questioning look on her face.
She pulled off her mask long enough to swallow the pills. She nodded her thanks, and Sloane knew it would only be a few minutes for the drugs to kick in given the amount of alcohol she’d already consumed.
She closed her eyes and attempted to steady her breathing. She’d never experienced anything like this, and even though she was a veteran traveler, it was getting harder to keep calm. The cries and shouts from economy class were increasing and the plane didn’t sound right. A high-pitched wheezing, like metal scraping against metal, resonated above the man-made din.
After fifteen hundred flights, the hum of an airplane engine was white noise, a pleasant mask against crying babies and drunk college students, the two groups most hated by business travelers. The engine noise kept her sane, but now, she knew, something was mechanically wrong. She could hear it.
She realized the turbulence had stopped. The shrieks of the passengers subsided, leaving only the strange sounding engine. A flight attendant answered the cockpit phone and stayed on the line for a long time. When the ironically soothing ding sounded, indicating the captain would address them, the plane finally went quiet, and she knew they were in trouble.
“Well, folks,” he said, “I won’t lie to you. That was some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever encountered in my twenty-six years of flying. We’re through it now, but some caution lights have come on, and we’re going to make an unscheduled landing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, which is only thirty miles away. You absolutely must stay in your seats with your seat belt buckled as we make our descent, just in case there’s more turbulence. We are flying below ten thousand feet, so you may remove your oxygen masks at this time. After we arrive in Jackson Hole, members of the airline staff will help you with a connecting flight.”
Her throat was dry. Never had she heard a captain order the passengers to remain in their seats. The flight attendants breezed down the aisle, plastic smiles glued to their faces as they checked seat belts and offered words of encouragement.
“What’s going on?” Chris slurred. “Are we gonna die?”
She shook her head, although she wasn’t entirely convinced. Emergency landings meant something wasn’t working or could stop working at any moment.
“You finally look scared,” Chris observed.
“I am a little,” she conceded.
Chris sat straighter in her chair, her courage fueled by Seagram’s and Vicodin. She leaned very close to Sloane. “If I’m gonna die, then I wanna die kissing someone, and if I live, I’ll have a great story.”
If she weren’t so cute, she’d be creepy. What the hell.
She expected a sloppy kiss from the young and inebriated butch, not a sizzling connection with just the right amount of tongue. A tingle crept down her back and settled between her legs.
The idiot covered in vomit across the aisle uttered a homophobic protest. With her free hand, she flashed him the bird, all the while enjoying Chris’s tantalizing mouth and the swell of her left breast, which fit nicely in her hand.
Their distracting behavior lasted only a few seconds until the ding overhead broke the kiss. Sloane gazed at Chris, her eyes still closed and wearing a broad grin. If we die, I will have fulfilled her last wish. I’m a fucking saint.
“Okay, folks, we’re nearing Jackson Hole, and we’re going to ask that everyone lean forward in your seats, placing your head between your hands. We’re expecting a difficult landing.”
Chris began to cry. “Shit.”
“Take my hand,” Sloane whispered.
A chill gripped her, and she noticed her knees were visibly shaking. Chris’s grip was vise-like, but she couldn’t feel it. She was cold and numb. Perhaps this is fear.
She realized the last time she’d sat like this—bent over with head bowed—was in church as a child. Crash position and prayer. Maybe there was a reason they were identical. Maybe she should start praying now, but she didn’t believe it would really matter. She doubted God, if she or he existed, would listen to such a late arrival.
She wasn’t a religious person and couldn’t stand all of the hypocrisy, greed and judgment she felt existed in most religions. She was a straight shooter, but since she might be moments from dying, she also should admit she wasn’t a very nice person. She didn’t even think she was a good person, although she’d done a few good things in her life, such as raising Regina.
Again, though, that hadn’t started out as a good deed. Her best friend Mimi had inherited Regina after a tragic set of circumstances. For a while Sloane had resented her for intruding on the fun life she and Mimi had enjoyed. She’d laugh at Regina and call her Stickgirl because she was thin and awkward.
The resentment faded when she realized Regina reminded her of her own teen self. Regina worshipped her, so much so that when she had to write about the person she admired the most, she chose Sloane. She declared she wanted to go work for her someday at Wilderness Campaign. Sloane had never been so flattered.
She wiped away the tears falling on her shoes, grateful that Chris couldn’t see her crying. She should have done more. She should have been more supportive when Regina met Seth. She’d lost count of the number of times she’d ridiculed him and forced Regina to defend him.
The plane drifted lower. They would never know when impact occurred and when their lives could end. She thought of the places she’d not yet visited—Turkey, Morocco and Greece.
She’d planned a trip to Greece once, bought the tickets and then something had happened…What was it? She couldn’t remember, but it must have involved work. There was always work.
Why am I so hard on Regina? I need to do more for her.
If they lived, she was going to Greece. Maybe I’ll go there from Jackson Hole. Not likely. She’d never drop a three-and-a-half-million-dollar deal for anyone or anything. That was why they called her “the bitch.”
I can be better. I just want to live.
She chuckled at the ridiculousness of the situation. Her entire life was in someone else’s hands, and there wasn’t a damn thing she could do about it. She was helpless. She’d never been helpless, not even as a child. Her parents wouldn’t allow it. She’d been doing her own laundry at four and cooking at six. A few eyebrows had been raised when she learned to drive at twelve, but nobody bothered to report her father to the authorities. She’d been self-sufficient her whole life, which came down to the next few minutes.
We’re close to the ground. I can feel it.
People were sobbing around her, and she heard Chris whispering the Lord’s Prayer.
I will be better.
They slammed against the tarmac, but the sound was lost in the passengers’ screams as luggage flew out of the overhead bins. They spun sideways, and she jolted into the armrest. A deafening explosion followed and she covered her ears frantically. She waited for the plane to cartwheel and break in half, but it just kept spinning—slowing—until it stopped.
The screams turned to cheers. The flight attendants, tears streaming down their faces, helped the first-class passengers exit the plane quickly, their belongings forgotten for the moment. She and Chris joined the line to exit. Only an elderly couple remained motionless in their seats, the wife buried in the husband’s chest.
It’s just like any other flight now. We all have somewhere to be. This moment has past. She looked back at the couple. Except for them. They really get it. They understand.
They remained in the Jackson Hole Airport for over three hours. The cries and wails had ceased, replaced by threats of attorneys and shouts of frustrations. The airline held them hostage in the tiny terminal as local officials interviewed each one of the distraught and hungry passengers and finally reunited them with much of their luggage.
Chris remained by her side the entire time. She refused to let go of Sloane’s hand, although she said very little. She broke down when she called her parents at the airport, and Sloane had to finish the call for her, assuring the worried couple that their daughter was fine.
She called Regina and savored the sound of her voice. She was typical Regina, cool and calm. That’s my girl. I promise to do better.
They were shuttled onto buses and taken to a posh resort. An army of bellhops appeared, gathered their luggage and escorted them to registration. A sympathetic clerk greeted Sloane and Chris at the counter. She obviously knew why they were there.
“Will you each need a room?” she asked, her fingers tapping away on the keyboard.
Before Sloane could answer, Chris blurted, “No, just one.”
* * *
Sloane was always amazed by the silkiness of youth. Skin separated generations. She thought her body looked pretty good for forty-four. She exercised, moisturized and was genetically blessed. Still, there was nothing she could do, no product she could buy and no surgery she could have that would equal the unadulterated skin of youth. She would never again look as marvelous as the woman who lay in front of her.
Chris knew this. She stroked her belly and pinched her nipples, bringing them to attention. Her fingers drifted lower—to Sloane’s favorite skin on a woman. She touched herself and gazed up at Sloane, who hovered over her, watching and enjoying the show.
“Wanna take over?” Chris asked, her speech slurring terribly. She’d downed another two vikes in the airport to calm her nerves, and her fear, perhaps her entire recollection of the horrific afternoon, was gone.
Sloane imagined how few lovers had touched Chris’s body in comparison to her own. Even if Chris had a different partner every weekend, she’d never catch up to Sloane’s list of conquests. She was the one with experience. The twenty-year age difference meant hundreds of women had suckled, caressed and teased every part of her. To touch someone like Chris was always a gift, one she treasured each time she bedded a twenty-something. And aren’t they the best?
She lowered herself against Chris, grateful she’d also swallowed two more vikes. The soft lighting disguised the flaws that betrayed her age.
Chris didn’t seem to care as she reached for Sloane and said, “I’m a much better lover than a flyer.”