Saturday, October 20, 2007

For Your Birthday, Starr Ann, The Sky

"Scary little bastard, when he looks directly at you, isn't he?"

I had just broken the news to Celia Susan that she would be puppy-sitting Bates while Jodie, Starr Ann and I were in the air enjoying Starr Ann's birthday present. The plane just had four seats.

Starr Ann still didn't know where we were going. She gave Bates the most loving pat on top of his tiny head and said, "You'll learn to love his evil eyes, Celia, just give him a little time to worm into your heart."

Celia Susan looked doubtful, but patted Bates real nice anyway.

When our mystery ride ended up at the airport, we could tell Starr Ann was almost afraid to hope what her gift might be. She was doing a great job of holding in her excitement, but it was time. No more suspense.

I pointed upward at the dazzling October sky and said, "You're going to be up there soaring among those clouds in a few minutes, Starr Ann. Happy Birthday."

When Starr Ann hugs you, you never know whether it's going to be the kind that almost breaks your ribs or the kind that's so tender and loving your eyes fill up with tears. This one was of the second form.

There was nobody around the office at first, then an older man rushed in from the hangar out back and asked what he could do for us. When I said we had a flight scheduled, he pointed out to the flightline and said, "Erin's finishing your pre-flight right now. She'll come in to collect you when she's done."

I hadn't even dared hope Erin London would be our pilot. Happy Birthday, Starr Ann. Happy Birthday, me.

Erin was all smiles, and when I say that about that woman, what I mean is all beautiful smiles, when she came in to get us.

On the way to the airplane, Erin focused on Starr Ann, since she was the birthday girl. Erin said, "You'll sit up front with me, Starr Ann. You're going to be my co-pilot."

Starr Ann shot us a big smile over her shoulder, then turned back to Erin and said, "I've always wanted to do this. I'm a little nervous, though, too."

Goddess, I love it when Starr Ann forgets to be audacious!

Jodie put her arm through mine and dropped us back a few paces. She said low, "You sit directly behind Erin, where you'll have a clear view of Starr Ann's face during this."

I said, "Make you a deal. I'll sit there the first half of the flight, then we trade seats, so you can watch her."

I got a kiss on my cheek for that. "Deal, Margo."

When that plane picked up speed going down the runway, it felt like it was going to shake apart. I swear I almost peed my pants. Soon as the wheels broke free from the pavement, though, everything went smooth and quiet. I got myself together by the time Erin banked us up over a bunch of trees and straightened the plane out real level. I don't think Starr Ann felt one bit of fear. It was easy to see that girl was one hundred percent living in the moment.

We were barely up high enough that roads started looking stringy and the ground colors were fuzzy, when Erin took her hands off the yoke and said, "All yours, Starr Ann. Have fun."

Starr Ann about choked. "I thought you were kidding about that."

"Not at all. Go ahead. You can't hurt us up here." Then Erin showed Starr Ann how to make the plane bank and turn, gain a little altitude, lose a little, tip the wings, and poke holes in the clouds."

Jodie and I held hands and I think we were both memorizing the moments, making them so they'd never get out of our hearts. After a while, Jodie stirred some quick circles in the air, universal symbol of switching places.

I said, "Erin, are Jodie and I allowed to change places for the rest of the flight?"
Erin said sure, that'd be fine.

Jodie lost all consciousness of my existence as she watched our Starr Ann pilot the plane, so I treated myself to the sight of Erin London sitting there, easy as all get out, letting Starr Ann fly us wherever she pleased.

At one point, Erin turned to say something and caught me looking at her. I smiled, and I swear she skipped a beat, let those beautiful brown eyes take their measure of me, and then recalibrated her gaze before turning to Starr Ann with whatever it was she was saying. After that, Erin addressed me as much as she did Starr Ann. Just when I had had her pegged for straight, something so honest and so direct came shining through and I suddenly could barely breathe, I was so hopeful. Don't remember a damn thing about the rest of the flight or the landing. I'm sure we did land, though, because we were suddenly walking back across the flightline, almost to the office.

I snapped myself out of my daze and started plotting how I'd wait until we'd left and tell Jodie and Starr Ann I'd be right back. Then I'd run back and ask Erin London if she would go to lunch with me tomorrow. No use in being opaque. Just express my profound interest and, if what I saw in those eyes was what I thought it was, life was about to get mighty innerestin.

There was an understated, very expensive car pulled up on the grass and sitting right outside the office door. We had to walk around it to get inside. Over in the office's lounge area, a man, a different one from earlier, this one all decked out in fancy leisure clothes, was watching the Weather Channel. He broke out in a big grin when he saw us. Well, when he saw Erin.

The guy was a doctor. Apparently Erin's boyfriend or something. He was polite to us, but couldn't keep his eyes off her. Nice looking guy. Seemed plenty friendly and all. They were going to lunch. No big deal. Really.

Starr Ann and Jodie were still thrumming from the plane ride. I was kind of thrumming, too. But, listen, straightness happens. Right? Main thing was that my Starr Ann had an unforgettable time.

On the way home, we teased her about the packages she still had to open, her gifts from Jodie and Celia Susan. Later on, we would eat cake and Starr Ann's favorite hideous meal - fried potatoes, fried veggie burgers, fried zucchini, and fried banana peppers. If there were such a thing as fried birthday cake, believe me, she would have asked for it.