Vicki Marie’s Sexy Summer Reading Series: One Chapter A Day
THE BACHELOR CHAPTERS: A THINKING WOMAN’S ROMANCE
Chapter 73: The Last Cahpter
“You have fun now, little lady. And see if you can avoid breaking hearts in my hometown.” Katsu gave me one of his samurai hugs after pulling my bags out of the trunk.
“Thanks for the ride, you’re the best, baby. And don’t worry—your homeboys are safe. I’ve imported my date for the weekend.”
“Right.” He rolled his eyes. “Like that could limit your swagger, Miss Bachelorette.”
“Bachelor, dude. Get it right.”
“Whatever.” Katsu slapped my butt. “You’re still just a slut to me!” I turned fast enough to land a punch to his shoulder as he retreated from the curb, laughing like a little kid. “Have a safe flight! Gimme me a call next week! Drinks on me—I want to hear the latest chapter!”
The plane took off into a crystal clear September morning. Fall color was hanging from the trees, and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains were bare and sharp against the backdrop of blue sky. I was flying to New York City to meet Paul Sever, one of my favorite people on the planet. We had met early in 2008 at a private fundraising event hosted by a customer, Flying House, to raise money for our city’s two gay choruses, Seattle Men’s Chorus and Seattle Women’s Chorus.
Paul Sever was a chef, writer, television personality, and the culinary director for one of Washington State’s gold medal wineries. His company was donating both the wine and the menu for the evening, and Paul was leading the kitchen. The guests were some of the city’s most active philanthropists in support of gay culture. Flying House had organized the first gay men’s chorus in 1979. At that time, singing in an openly gay chorus was a risky and even dangerous activity. By 2008, Seattle Men’s Chorus had become the largest community chorus in the country, with a three million dollar operating budget, and their event carried social and political clout to compete as a must-do for the city’s progressive elites.
This was a wine event, and Trish was in town after working her second season in the vineyards of Napa. I invited her, hoping there might be matchmaking potential for her favorite flavor: socially active, athletic, lesbian professionals. She signed on for the ride, but ninety-five percent of guests were gay men; I had completely blown my prediction of eligible women.
After an hour of schmoozing for business, I wandered into the kitchen, and found Trish with her nose deep in her wine glass, talking shop with the chefs.
“Baby, what’s in your glass?” I asked. I held my nose in the bowl: chocolate and tobacco. I took a sip, and handed it back.
“The good stuff,” she replied, in a stage voice for the chefs, “I finally got them to open a bottle.”
“The bottle was open the second after she walked in the room,” one of the crew chimed in.
“Yes, she has a way of getting her way,” I said to the handsome man in the apron, “You’re not the first.”
“I was thinking more about being the next,” he smiled back.
“I don’t know you—but I do know her,” I cocked my head toward Trish, keeping eye contact with the delightful stranger. “I would be careful about what you ask for.”
“I never ask for more than I can handle,” he wiped his hands on a towel, keeping his eyes locked into mine.
“You strike me as a man who can handle quite a bit.” I was charmed by his game.
“I give it all I have.”
“I’m sure you do.”
I guessed his heritage was Italian, with small, dark features that had been chiseled into masculine perfection. The smile lines around his spectacular blue eyes and the whisper of gray in his abundant and wavy hair held evidence of his maturity. He looked like he was in his early fifties, but that didn’t seem quite right; he seemed wiser.
“So, is this your party?” I asked. His demeanor and confidence broadcast celebrity chef material.
“I call the shots—they make it happen,” he gestured over his shoulder to the two men in the kitchen.
“But he has the key to the cellar,” Trish made clear.
“Give me that,” he took the glass from my hand, and picked up a fresh stem and an open bottle from the sideboard. He described the wine while pouring, a casual commentary on the red. The grace of his mannerisms matched the cool comfort of his eyes. He was old world and he was classy. I was enchanted.
Trish and I left the event not long after, but not before Chef Sever had my card in his wallet.
“I liked that man,” I said.
“Forget it, Vicki Marie,” Trish rained on my parade. “You only date black men.”
“Not quite, girlfriend.” The truth was much more interesting. “I only date cool men. They come in all colors.”
Six months later, I was in the center seat of a Boeing 757, with Vogue’s six hundred page fall fashion edition pressed into my lap. I hated center seats, but it had been a last minute booking on American Airlines, and I had scored a fair price. Paul had a couple of guest-chef events in Manhattan, and he had asked if I was interested in a four-day trip.
“Paul Sever—for the record—I am always interested in four days in Manhattan—and it’s September! Fall Fashion! Fifth Avenue! Yes, baby, yes!”
I simply adored dating Chef Sever. He could hold a table or an entire room captive with his story telling finesse. He had produced and starred in a successful cooking show long before there was a Food Network, and he had traveled the world for decades, cooking in the finest hotels and estates. He was born in Seattle, but his parents were immigrants: his spirit and soul came from the old country. He was a gentleman, a man’s man, and a romantic. He was sixty-one, seriously fit, and just about finished parenting his second son. Two years out of a long-term relationship, Paul Sever had his eyes open and his heart healed, and was wondering whether he might be ready for love again. That’s when he met me.
Paul Sever stretched himself when he decided to date me—not because he didn’t want me, but because he did. I’m sure the man would have preferred an exclusive ride with the hot blonde in the snakeskin pants. However, when he learned on our first date that I was a bachelor, Paul had nothing but respect for my lifestyle. And lucky for me, Paul was a man’s man and he acted like one; he let his dick lead. Paul’s desire overruled his love-bias, which gave me the incomparable pleasure of dating not just another sexy man with a big brain, but maybe the funniest, and classiest man I would ever know.
Paul had left for New York the previous day, and I was due in at JFK about five that evening. His first event wasn’t until the following night, so he had picked out a new restaurant he wanted to try for dinner. We were planning on a 9:00 p.m. sitting.
We were almost three hours into the flight, when the flight attendant, a tall brunette with an elevator smile, stood at the head of the aisle and shouted—yes, shouted—for our attention.
“We’re going to be making an unscheduled landing at O’Hare Airport!” she reported, her smile contradicting any potential danger in the information. “There is an electrical problem—which is why I’m not on the microphone—and the captain has ordered a change in flight plan!” Unscheduled landing? Electrical problem? I knew enough about aviation to know this was not good. But she was smiling. She seemed so calm.
“So, please, put your tray tables up and your seats back into an upright position! We will be landing immediately! Thank you for your cooperation!”
I looked left and right at my seatmates, and the few people I could see across the aisle. Everyone was following instructions. No one looked the least bit concerned, but my heart rate shot up and my mind was racing. I knew the role of electrical on aircraft. My husband Jon flew a small Cessna, and I had taken some classes. Electrical ran the flaps, the landing gear, the instruments, and the radios: electrical could also mean fire. I looked out the window and saw one puff of cloud in a deep and serene blue sky. I sat up taller and stretched my neck to get a view below. I saw Illinois, from ten thousand feet. This descent had been in the works for a while.
I pushed the magazine into my bag and pulled out my phone, debating the pros and cons of powering on my cell. The man in the window seat reached into his bag and pulled out a sandwich. The man in the aisle seat turned the page of his Robert Ludlum novel. Were we on the same aircraft? How could they not understand that “unscheduled landing” was code for fucking life-threatening emergency? I clutched my phone in my wet palms, the smell of tuna salad invading my nostrils; no, this couldn’t be happening. I was about to die, and my final conscious moment would be the scent of canned fish? That was just wrong.
I was sitting several aisles in front of the wings, so I had no idea if the flaps were responsive. I kept listening, waiting for the familiar sound. Was I close enough? Would I hear it? I wanted to call someone, but I was terrified that my cellphone would interfere with the radios. I hoped there was a backup system in the cockpit. O’Hare was one of the busiest airports in the world. They better have some way to talk to the tower. I tried to be conscious of my breathing. I needed to reverse the escalation of panic. My body was soaking from terror. I’m sure I smelled rank—but how would I ever know when there was a tuna sandwich twelve inches from my nose? I knew too much about aviation. Unlike my neighbors, I knew the truth and the truth was cruel—I was trapped—trapped and helpless in the middle seat of a Boeing 757 in an emergency descent into O’Hare with a seriously malfunctioning electrical system—was this how I was going to die? Shoulder to shoulder, with two clueless strangers, who were treating an emergency landing like a coffee break?
Suddenly, there were terrible loud, clunky noises. I stiffened in my seat. I felt my ass contract. They stopped, and then started up again. SHIT! I HATE THIS! my mind screamed. Was it the engines? The flaps? “This is so not good,” I said out loud, and felt for the first time the dryness in my mouth. No comment from window man or aisle man, but the sandwich was gone, and I could smell myself now. Please, please, please get the wheels down. Pull the nose up. Talk to the tower. I had to make a decision. I had to do something. But there was nothing. There was nothing I could do. And so I stared at the seatback in front of me, fixed my eyes on one spot, and made my breath my focus.
I thought I could be dead at any minute, and I thought about the reason I was in that seat in the first place. Dying en route to a four-day weekend seemed about as foul as canned fish. So this was how it happened? One minute, you’re paging through six hundred pages of Vogue, and the next minute you’ve taken your final breath? New York City was the destination, and Paul Sever was my date, and I definitely felt shortchanged if it was going to cost me my life. No, that was just fucked up. I had to find another script fast. I didn’t know how much time I had, but I couldn’t look at it that way. I would not leave this life in terror, with my mind fixed on such a shallow view.
The trip was not just a four-day weekend; it was another chapter in my life. This one was four days in New York City, but it could have been five days in Chicago, or three days in Miami, or any other city in any other country. I was a woman with a passion for adventure, and I found men who had lives that lined up with mine. This is what I did. I wouldn’t be in this seat if I were still married to Jon, or if I were acting my age, or if I had stuck with the expectations of my culture, and dated only one man at a time.
I had followed my heart. That was risky business, and I had a fifty-year biography that confirmed it. Almost everything worth doing was a risk, and I had done so much. Even having fun was a risk, sometimes just because you were born female, and your idea of fun stepped over a line; and other times just because you were human, and adventure called your name. All of these episodes flashed through my mind, crowding in at the same time. The thirty mile scooter ride in Vietnam when the monsoon turned the road into a river; the driver who picked us up when we were hitchhiking to San Francisco and held us hostage for miles; the fall on Mount St. Helen’s that dragged our rope team down the slope; the guy with the gun who cornered me when I was jogging and told me he was going to kill me.
I had been scared before, and I had felt like I was going to die before. All of those dangerous episodes affected me, but not one had the force to erode my courage. There was just too much to gain from living a life aimed at passion, and too much to lose if I had not. When I measured the possibility of my sudden death, against my entire life—instead of a four-day weekend—I could see clearly that I had reason to be on that plane. I was living my life. I had given it everything I could, and I’d never stopped. I wouldn’t be leaving finished, but who ever did? As long as there was passion, and breath, the dreams would just keep coming; there was no stopping that train. If this was it, I was leaving on track. No matter what I’d done—and I’m not saying I didn’t have periods where I’d lost my way—I had always found myself exactly where I needed to be. Over time, that had brought me peace of mind. I’d stretched so far for so long to find the peace that was mine.
All of a sudden, the aircraft slammed onto the tarmac, jumped up, crashed down, and then slid to the right. We were thrown in our seats; without seatbelts, bodies would have flown. We were moving fast, too fast; it didn’t feel right, it just didn’t feel right—I thought this might be it, then—“BOOM!”—a huge explosion. The cabin shook violently, and then we were perfectly still. I looked out the window and saw three, four, five fire engines, with their lights flashing, racing across the field, their hoses already spraying great arcs of water. I powered on my phone and waited for the signal, watching the carts as they closed in around us. Were we on fire? Were we fucking on fire? “Sis—?” I heard my brother’s voice. We’d hardly spoken since the letter. This was a long time coming.
“Yeah—it’s me. I need you.” Of course he was the one I had called. He loved me. I had a lifetime of evidence. “I’m in a plane at O’Hare, and we just made an emergency landing. There are fire trucks surrounding us, and they’ve got hoses going—it looks bad. I’m scared. Rick, help me. I’m really scared.”
“OK, OK, I’m here, stay calm. Tell me more, which airline?”
“American, bound for JFK, we left at nine. They said we had no electrical. The fire trucks are out there—they’re spraying. I’m afraid we’re on fire—I can’t see—I don’t know—I don’t know if we’re going to make it.” There was too much I didn’t know, and only one thing I did know—I wasn’t alone. I had my brother.
“Can I have your attention, ladies and gentlemen?” The flight attendant emerged at the front of the cabin.
“Hold on, Rick, hold on—I’m gonna hear something.” She wasn’t smiling, but she was poised. Her manners were surreal. Didn’t she know we were going to die? “We are safely on the tarmac, but the captain is having a problem shutting off the right engine! Once the engine is down, we will begin deplaning! Please remain in your seats!” I sure didn’t feel safe. I repeated her instructions to Rick.
“I got it now—it’s online.” He read to me, “Emergency landing at O’Hare…two minutes ago…plane went off the runway…let’s see—blew a tire…first responders are on the scene.”
“Is it on fire?” God please tell me. Fuck the attendant.
“Doesn’t say anything about fire, just that the emergency crew is on the scene. Are you OK?”
“Yeah—terrified—not hurt. Coming down was awful, Rick.” I didn’t tell him I thought I was going to die. I still wasn’t convinced I was not. “It was so fucking awful,” my voice was soft, almost a whisper. I needed to be private with my terror.
“Sis, I can’t imagine. But it looks like it’s under control. I’ll watch it from here, and call you if they’re any updates. You call me when you get off the plane—or before. I’m here. I’m not going anywhere. I love you.”
“I love you, too.”
I switched off the phone and immediately regretted it. I was alone again, and I wanted the comfort of someone I knew. Then it hit me—Kyle! I dialed his number, and got his recording, with the samba intro, followed by his relaxed, casual greeting,
“Hi, hello there, sorry I missed your call. Leave me a message, ciao.”
“Kyle—it’s me—Vicki Marie—I’m on the tarmac—I’m on the plane that went down at O’Hare—baby, are you there? Are you at the firehouse? I’m OK—just call me—I need you, now— call me.” I hung up and looked out the window again. Kyle was a Chicago firefighter. O’Hare was his firehouse. My baby might be out there. Dear God—dear Kyle—please be here, Kyle. I need you.
Five minutes passed, and then ten. I was alive, but the engine roared on, and we all stayed strapped in our seats. Finally the attendant reemerged. She stood only a few aisles away from me, and her shouting had become just a bit too much to bear. I wanted to shout too. “Get me off this fucking plane!” would be my opening line.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are still having difficulty turning off the engine! FAA rules prohibit deplaning while the engines are running! We appreciate your patience!” Not even possible. First, no electrical: then no way to kill the engine? Who the fuck maintained this piece of junk? My terror had hardly abated, and now I felt fucked with. I couldn’t take much more. How long could this go on?
It was a long twenty minutes before the engine was silent. There was applause in the cabin, but I didn’t clap. I exhaled my relief, but I had nothing but contempt for these bastards. I’d had twenty minutes to conclude that this plane never should have left the ground. Seconds later, a Chicago firefighter, suited up in emergency gear, stood at the front of the cabin. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m Lieutenant Swan, with the Chicago Fire Department. The aircraft is secure, and we’ll be deplaning immediately, one aisle at a time. I know you want off, but I need you to stay in your seats. I’m going to come through the cabin now. Let me know if you’re injured.” When he came past, I reached across aisle man and grabbed his arm.
“Is Kyle Ross on duty—is he out there?”
“Huh? Yeah, Ross’s here—he’s driving an engine.”
“Tell him Vicki Marie is on the flight—Vicki Marie from Seattle.”
“Sure. You OK?”
“Yes, thank you. Thank you. Please tell Kyle.”
Moments later, I stood at the top of the cabin door, a carry-on in each hand. The steps to the tarmac were inflatable, blown up like a beach toy, white and puffy like a giant marshmallow. I was stunned, and for a minute I froze. It just seemed wrong; like a cartoon sequence in a movie; my brain didn’t trust it. Where the steps ended was a line-up of firefighters, maybe fifteen or twenty, outfitted in ER gear, sentries at their stations. They formed a human fence on two sides, creating a path to the buses that were parked on the tarmac. Everything appeared foreign. My brain wasn’t working right.
“Is Kyle Ross here? Do you know where he is?” The fire fighter was young, and his smile, too bright. I understood from his face that the crisis was actually over. The first responders had contained the emergency. He had reason to smile, what happened from here out was just mop-up.
“Yeah—Ross is here. He’s got the engine at the right wing— other side.” I turned toward the direction where he pointed, and could only see the wheels of the rig, the rest blocked by the plane.
Tell him Vicki Marie’s on the flight—from Seattle. Vicki Marie.”
“Will do. You OK?”
“Better now.” I walked between the wall of men, pulling my bag behind me, relieved to be out of that tuna trap and on solid ground. I boarded the bus and sat down, hugging my luggage in my lap, and looking out the window for Kyle. It was unbelievable. He was right over there. When would he know I was here?
I was in the terminal by the time my phone rang. I looked at the display and saw the familiar photo that always took my breath away; Kyle’s naked body, in my kitchen, ironing.
“Vicki Marie, baby, you OK?”
“Kyle! Yes, I’m OK now. But it was awful, baby, the worst.” Tears stung my eyes. Hearing his voice was like having his huge arms around me. In a split second, I understood how brave I had been.
“You in the terminal?”
“Yeah, baby. They’re getting us another plane. It’s so good to hear your voice. Are you on the tarmac?” I wanted him here, with me. Right now.
“No, I’m back at the firehouse. You’re sure you’re OK?”
I told him again, and then unbelievably, he burst out laughing. I was instantly disoriented; what could be funny right now? “I’m so sorry to laugh, baby,” he said, chuckling. “I’m glad you’re OK—it’s just that—you’re not going to believe this!” I don’t know what I believed, I just knew his delight was too much too absorb. Laughter was like a foreign language to my brain.
“When the passengers were deplanin’, I was sittin’ in the engine, holdin’ my position, and monitorin’ the radios.” I was listening, but I felt numb. Was the story funny yet?
“I’m listenin’, and the crew in the gauntlet start goin’ off on the radios wit’ each other,” Kyle chuckled, “talkin’ ‘bout one of the lady passengers, and how she was lookin’ all fine in tight jeans, with a sharp ass.” Was he rambling? Did I miss something? What was the point?
“And I’m hearin’ all this, jus’ chillin’ and I think straight up, ‘Well, I sure do like Vicki Marie’s fine ass in jeans,’ and jus’ then the lieutenant’s at my rig, an’ tells me there’s a blonde on the plane from Seattle who knows me. Next thin’, straightaway on the radio, the whole tarmac is talkin’ about my girl—she’s the fine ass in jeans—an’ she’s askin’ about me—swishin’ off the flight, and askin’ about me!” He was really laughing now. “Can you believe that, baby? I’m so sorry for laughin’, but it was just too amazin’—there I was thinkin’ about you—and then it was you! I tell you, it was amazin’, Vicki Marie—amazin’ how it could roll out like that!”
In my memory, I can see the smiling firefighter, the one I talked to when I first hit the tarmac. I remember the perimeter of men, the receiving line of safety—there were so many, there had to have been twenty. I attach Kyle’s story to the scene, move the pieces around in my head; and I see the picture.
The team of first responders is on the field, the emergency is clear, and they’re just mopping up; the crisis is over. Twenty men are done with their duty, and they’re chilling after the rush of the battle. Like soldiers after a conflict, like men everywhere being men, they see the blonde hair and her blue jeans and her eye-candy ass, and the unit decides—it’s playtime! And suddenly, there’s a game, they make it up on the spot, the radios are the mitts, and they start tossing the image of the sharp ass between them, an improvised game of catch on the tarmac at O’Hare. These are men, just being men—looking at a woman, and liking what they see. I get it now, because I get men.
And then I start laughing too.
Copyright Vicki Marie Stolsen, 2014, Forever Forty-Four Publications, Publicity Rare Bird Lit, Tyson Cornell, Tyson@rarebirdlit.com, Distribution by Ingram, Available online and in bookstores in paperback, eBook, and audio format.