“Douglas, if you could, would you mind checking on G-ERTI? I’ve got to see about these blasted NOTAMs...something about thunderheads over Dresden…”
“Certainly, Martin. No rush.”
Douglas closed the door. Walking down the ramp, he muscled a luridly-yellow safety vest over his shoulders. As he headed for the hangars, he absentmindedly ran the thin mesh between his fingers.
This, admittedly, ranked high in the listing of Strange Arrangements. Martin, though finally able to fly for a living, still considered aviation as a hobby —thus, the Arrangement. On the off chance that Swiss Air wasn’t busy sending him off on tours to the corners of God’s green earth, Martin would wheedle a jumpseat to England from a colleague, bring his royal girlfriend along, and fly with OJS to give Herc some semblance of time off.
Douglas frowned a little as he passed by the first set of hangars. Speaking of...where was Theresa, anyhow?
He shook his head. She’d slipped away with a safety vest, expressing a desire to wander around the airfield. Douglas and Martin, meanwhile, had devoted themselves to filling out paperwork for the day’s flight—just like old days.
Passing the last hangar, Douglas looked both ways before crossing onto the apron. G-ERTI was on stand outside their hangar, gleaming in the morning light. Before, Douglas had definitely been the type of pilot to joke that he didn’t care so much about the plane’s exterior aesthetics since he spent most of his time inside of it, but now he had to admit: something as simple as a new paint job really did wonders. The old bird was nearly unrecognizable, looking half its age. Flying like it, too, if anyone was asking Douglas.
He crossed around to the fore of the aircraft, to start his inspection at the radome. As he went to face G-ERTI head-on, he noticed another figure in a safety-yellow vest, examining their number two engine.
Douglas peered intently at the figure before abandoning his walk-around and stepping closer. “Your Highness. Grüezi .”
Theresa whirled around and blushed a little. “Oh! Hello, Douglas.”
“You were interested in the engine?” Douglas indicated it with a jerk of his head.
Theresa nodded, looking back at it. She seemed a little embarrassed —or at least uneasy. The two of them hadn’t talked in person much since those terrible days when they’d thought that it was all over. And of course, he couldn’t forget the first time they’d spoken—over the phone at this very airfield—when he’d had a bit of a laugh at her expense.
But he also remembered that she—barely hours after they’d first met face-to-face—had covered for them when they were burning off fuel. She’d been there for the auction, gamely climbed into the back of Arthur’s van, and was currently here for Martin.
He sought to make her feel a bit more comfortable. “Martin’s told you about how we got this engine, yes?”
Her eyes lit up. “St Petersburg? Of course. Many times.”
Douglas stifled the urge to laugh a little. “I can imagine.”
“He also loves to talk about you. How you tricked...erm. Carolyn’s ex-husband.”
“Oh. Yes.” Douglas chose not to analyze too deeply, and managed a noncommittal shake of his head. “Well, I. You’ve seen it. I do have some tricks up my sleeve for such occasions.”
She smiled and turned her attention back to the engine. “You seem to have plenty of tricks up your sleeve for all occasions. Such is...such is what Martin tells me.”
Silence fell between them again. He focused on a Gulfstream taxiing to the runway.
“Yes.” He pulled his gaze away from the plane and looked back at the princess.
“Is it okay if I touch it?”
“The...er. The blades?”
“You want to see if they spin?”
She blushed again, and this time the embarrassment was evident. “Yes.”
“Go on ahead.”
She reached up and pushed against one of the blades, startling a little when the fan began to spin slowly.
“Didn’t expect that?” Douglas smiled at her surprise.
“No, I didn’t. It’s that easy?”
“Yep. Now imagine it spinning at God-knows-how-many-revolutions-per-second at thirty-five thousand feet.”
She must have taken the command literally, because after a few long seconds, her eyes widened. “Wow.”
“Do you think of that...when you fly?” Theresa turned back to him curiously.
“Want to find out?” Douglas shot back. She looked a little confused, so he clarified. “Want to learn how to fly?”
Her eyes lit up again. “Really?”
“Yeah. I’m sure I’ve got enough knowledge to indoctrinate—of course, I mean educate—someone who wants to learn.”
“Really?” She turned up the voltage in her eyes. “I’d love to!”
“Well, but I can’t start now…” Douglas tried to bring her back down to earth. Enthusiasm . That was what she and Martin seemed to have in common when it came to aviation. No wonder, then, that they’d become close. “For starters, I’m not an instructor yet. A few classes, and I think I’ll be able to add the qualification to my license.”
Theresa nodded, looking a little chastened. “Of course.”
“And—well, there’s the arrangement,” he pointed out. “You’re not going to get a very consistent education, seeing as you and Martin only come here every so often.”
“Yes. That’s right.” She looked down.
“Oh, don’t look like that!” He hadn’t meant to discourage her, and he attempted now to rectify his mistake. “We can figure something out. There’s multiple ways to get a transport license, assuming that’s what you want. You could go about it in a modular fashion—no need to come into a classroom a set number of days per week or anything like that. In any case, you’d be smashing as a pilot. You’ve got Martin , first of all—I think he’d be happy to coach you through revising for theoretical examinations, so you’re basically set on that front.”
She nodded, fidgeting with the hem of her vest.
“We’ll figure it out.” Suddenly, Douglas remembered the task Martin had delegated him. “Actually, we could even start now, if you’d like. Have you ever been on a walk-around?”
Some months later, Martin and Theresa were back in England. By this time, Douglas had a flight instructor rating, a night instructor qualification, and a multi-engine piston instructor qualification added to his transport pilot’s license and a fuel tester in his pocket.
They met in the main lobby of Fitton Airfield, fluorescent lights gleaming off the glass counter where logbooks and charts were sold. As Douglas warmed his hands with a styrofoam cup of coffee, Theresa picked out a black logbook with green pages. After bidding farewell to Martin, she followed Douglas out to one of the Cessna 152s the airfield kept for instruction.
“It looks so small up close,” she observed as they approached the plane. “So light.”
“That’s why we tie the wings down,” Douglas gestured. “The plane could, quite literally, fly away in a wind.” Noticing her shocked look, he smiled. “Yeah. The wings work, even on the ground. It’s not that noticeable in a bigger plane, like G-ERTI, and even more for the biggest planes. But the wings are working all the time.”
He walked her around the plane and explained what he was looking for, similarly to their last meeting. She pulled off the pitot cover as he explained to her that if the pitot was not adequately protected, the airspeed indicator could fail. Douglas pulled out the fuel tester and drew out some liquid from the bottom of the tank. He held it to the sky and called Theresa over to look for water with him, cautioning her against allowing water into the fuel tank. She nodded, eyes wide.
Finally, he opened the plane’s door. “Watch your head.”
Theresa climbed in eagerly, and Douglas set about untying the wings before following her inside. Until that point, everything had gone smoothly, but he somehow had a more difficult time squeezing himself into the small plane than usual.
“It’s not exactly G-ERTI,” he excused himself as he tried to find the room to place his legs without bumping into the yoke. Whoever had used this plane before was, evidently, either a hobbit or an instructor much shorter than he.
Theresa stifled a laugh, sliding on a pair of sunglasses.
Once he’d finally gotten settled, he got on his headset, handed the other to Theresa, and quizzed her on the instruments. Evidently, Martin had prepared her well—or she’d been waiting for this moment for most of her life.
They whipped through a checklist and had the engine started in no time, and Douglas decided it was about time to get into the air. “Let’s check the brakes. Push forward a little.”
“The throttle? I can touch that?”
Theresa reached down for the throttle and gave the plane a little bit of power.
“Rolling forward. Good. Now take the power back. Brakes.”
Theresa did as she was told. “Good,” Douglas complimented her, and she smiled. “I’ll check the brakes on my side.”
They went over how to transfer control to each other, and at last, Douglas directed her to get the power up and turn onto the main taxiway.
Her hand instinctively went to her yoke.
“Rudder. Use the rudder,” Douglas advised gently.
“Oh. Yes, right.” She took her hand off.
“Good. Stay on the center.” He slung his left arm over the back of her seat and directed her.
They taxied around the airfield until Theresa could comfortably turn and stay on the centerline without confusing the rudder pedals and yoke. “It’s not like driving,” he advised at one point. “The yoke looks a little too much like a steering wheel, granted, but that’s something you’ve got to overcome. Rudder pedal. You turn with the rudder.”
“So yoke for roll, rudder for yaw?”
Finally, Douglas directed Theresa toward the main runway, got in touch with Carl, and asked for clearance to take off.
Carl granted it with the bare minimum of dallying, and Douglas grinned. “Okay, Theresa, we’re going up. Follow the yellow line.”
“What! Already?” Her eyebrows climbed up her forehead as she looked at him.
“Yes. You’re doing wonderfully. I’ll help you. Keep following the yellow line.”
They checked that the horizon was lined up, and Douglas directed her to push the throttle forward. “Full power. Keep looking outside. Stay on the center line.”
Their speed climbed. Forty knots, fifty knots…
“Sixty, sixty-five—Pull back. Pull the controls back. Gently. Go on.”
Theresa pulled back on the yoke, and the ground peeled away from beneath them.
“We’re off!” In Douglas’s headset, he heard a distant cheer from Carl in ATC—and, from the sound of it, Martin.
“I’m doing it!” Theresa’s exclamation sounded not unlike one Martin would make, and he suppressed a grin. He could feel them rolling a little, but before Douglas could tell Theresa to do so, she was correcting it.
“Good. Now adjust your pitch angle. We’re a little too steep and might stall. And as interested as I am in seeing how you handle your first, I’m not keen on doing it so low and so close to the airfield. Not to mention this is your first lesson.”
“Okay.” She lowered the nose.
They climbed to a thousand feet and went through the climb checklist. Douglas put his hands on his own yoke and adjusted for her. “Don’t forget to fly the plane, Theresa.”
“Oh, yes, right. Sorry.”
“It’s okay. Just keep flying. Our goal now is to get this plane stable enough so that you could take your hands off the yoke, and the plane would just keep going on its own. They’re designed to be stable.”
They climbed further to about fifteen thousand feet, and after a good round of coaching, Theresa managed to keep the plane stable enough to take her hands off. After congratulating her, Douglas had her turn a few times, climb twice, and descend twice before taking control and bringing them back to Fitton to land.
Martin was there to meet them at stand, smiling in his luridly-yellow vest. “How’d it go?” he asked as soon as Douglas and Theresa had finished shutdown and piled out of the plane.
“The landing was smooth,” Douglas lazily passed the pitot cover to Theresa.
“ You landed,” Theresa retorted, grabbing it out of his hand. Douglas laughed a little.
“Really, though,” he stopped her before they all went back to the portakabin. “You did well.”
Over their next productive (albeit sporadic) meetings, Douglas managed to help Theresa master slow flight. Though she was not what others might call a “natural” at flying, she could certainly absorb information better than most. After their sixth or so flight, Theresa could talk to Carl, work the trim wheel, manage a stall, recover from a spin without too much difficulty, and land visually.
Douglas, overall, was quite pleased with Theresa’s progress, especially for someone who was mostly restricted to ground schooling.
He’d told her that she could very well find an instructor in Switzerland that could help her better—one who could teach her in German and be more regular with flight lessons—but she’d insisted on staying under his tutelage for the time being, which slightly flattered Douglas.
And—more importantly—over the past few months, they’d gotten to talking between teaching moments, and by this point Douglas could, with certainty, call her a friend.
They were going up today, in slightly poorer weather than usual, to review some of the concepts they’d covered thus far in less ideal conditions. As far as Douglas was concerned, and based on the relative ease with which Theresa had been able to manage previous challenges, this was going to be a simple review flight.
“Golf Mike Bravo,” Carl told Theresa from ATC, “Piper Cub three miles on final approach. Cleared for immediate take-off.”
Theresa flicked the transmit button. “Cleared for immediate take-off, Golf Mike Bravo.”
“Good,” Douglas rubbed his hands together as Carl signed off. “Right, Theresa. Let’s get ourselves out of here before that Piper comes in.”
In no time at all, they were in the air—but today, Theresa seemed to have a little trouble getting the Cessna into stable flight.
“Trim back,” Douglas advised her. “The plane wants to go up; notice how you’re trying to fight to keep the nose down? Remember, we can’t get any higher and enter Bravo airspace.”
“I know that. I’m sorry.”
“You’re porpoising,” he said gently a few minutes later, noticing how the nose kept rising and dipping. Theresa was probably still fighting the aeroplane. “Now you’ve got to trim forward.”
“Right! Right. Got it. Sorry.” Her tone had grown a little more prickly, and he noticed that the hand that reached back for the trim wheel was shaking slightly.
“It’s okay,” he tried to soothe, “relax, just correct yourself and keep on flying.”
He had her climb, descend, and turn for a while, then had her complete a checklist while he kept a hand lightly on the yoke.
“Theresa, we’re rolling a little. Watch your attitude indicator. I didn’t ask you to bank.”
Theresa nodded, but kept going through the checklist.
“Theresa. You need to scan.”
“Right, I’m going to.”
“One of your wings is higher than the other.”
“What?” Her hand flew to the yoke, and she corrected the plane.
“You need to scan,” Douglas admonished. “Remember the T.” He pointed to the instruments he’d drilled her on months ago, forming a T on the controls.
“Right, okay, I’m going to.” The prickle was back, and Douglas tried to stand down.
“Okay,” he directed in what he hoped was a calm tone. “I’ll have you do one last climbing turn, and then we’ll go and find a field we can practice spin recovery over.”
He’d thought it would be easy enough—she’d certainly done plenty of them before. But for some reason, today was different.
“Theresa! Your climb angle is too high. You need to scan! ” he turned fully towards her in alarm as a stall warning began to blare.
Evidently startled by both his outcry and the stall warning, Theresa abruptly let go of the controls and screamed.
The plane, being a Cessna 152 and therefore the epitome of stalwart reliability, corrected itself and carried on happily scuttling across the English sky as if nothing had ever happened. Douglas was left to stare at Theresa, who’d buried her face in her hands, completely ignoring the panel in front of her.
He stared at her for what felt like thirty nautical miles before he cleared his throat, something like disappointment curdling in his chest.
“My controls. We’re going back to Fitton.”
“What?” She looked up at him, her eyes wide with shock.
“We’re going back to Fitton. I have control.”
And without waiting for her to confirm the handover, Douglas took hold of his yoke, dialed up the Fitton beacon, and began navigating back to the airfield.
“Hey, Martin.” Douglas opened the portakabin door, poked his head inside, and knocked on the wall—all while blocking Theresa from entering.
“Douglas, what—” she yelped from behind, bumping into him.
Martin took off his headphones and looked up from his charts, face brightening. “Douglas! You’re back? Where’s Theresa?” His face took on a confused expression. “Everything all right? That was rather quick.”
“Martin, get me my jacket.”
“What?” Martin stared, mouth agape.
“Douglas, let me in!” Theresa tried to squeeze past him. Finding that difficult as he’d wedged himself between the door and the doorway, she thumped him on his back. “I’m not a child .”
“Theresa?” Martin called out. “What’s happened?”
“I’m going to borrow your girlfriend, Martin,” Douglas said calmly. “Get me my jacket.”
“ What! ”
“ Borrow me—Douglas, let me in—”
“Douglas! What do you mean, what do you want—”
Douglas sighed heavily. “I need my jacket.”
“You’ve said that already, something like three times. Will someone please tell me what is going on? And did you just say you wanted to borrow my girlfriend? ”
“I’m going to debrief the flight.”
“What do you mean? You can do it in here.”
“I mean , Martin,” Douglas burst out, suddenly losing patience, “something happened up there today, and we need to talk about it like adults, so I am going to bring Theresa somewhere nice and relaxing to have something to eat and drink and then we’ll talk it out.” He held out a hand. “Won’t take more than an hour. Now please. I need my keys. Get me my jacket, will you?”
Theresa stopped trying to worm past Douglas, and Martin’s expression changed into one of stunned shock. He rose, grabbed Douglas’ jacket off a hook, and handed it to him.
“Thank you, Martin. Theresa,” he turned to the princess. With a single shocked glance at Martin, she followed him down the ramp.
“What exactly are we doing?” she dared to ask as he walked over to his Lexus.
“Exactly what I’ve just said to Martin. We’re going somewhere nice to have something to eat and drink and then we’ll talk about what happened today.” As he unlocked his car he realized that he was commanding a Princess; the humorous irony of this moment, however, would have to wait for another time. “Have a seat.”
“You realize this looks a lot like you’re kidnapping the princess of Liechtenstein.” She gaped at him over the roof of the sedan.
“You’re the one walking into the car, not me,” Douglas pointed out. “I am, in fact, very courteously unlocking the door and opening it for you as you gracefully sit in my car. Now come on. We should go. We have much to talk about.”
A former colleague from Air England had set up a coffeehouse a town over that sold food and drink at a reasonable price, having been declared unfit to fly by his GP due to worsening astigmatism.
Which was where he was heading now.
As he turned into the car park, he remembered that he was not in an aeroplane and wrenched off his tie, tossing it into the back seat. “Let’s go,” he said without looking at Theresa.
They silently crossed the car park and Douglas opened the front door for Theresa.
“Douglas! Haven’t seen you in ages.” The man was drying a mug behind the counter and waved eagerly as they walked in.
“Morning, Jeremy. Just dropping in.”
“Sure. Who’s this?” Jeremy indicated Theresa with a tilt of his head.
“A student.” Douglas kept his replies short. “I’m debriefing our flight.”
“Gracious, you’re teaching now?”
“On a limited basis.” Douglas offered a chair to Theresa in the back corner. “If you don’t mind…”
“No problem.” Jeremy turned away.
Theresa nodded distractedly and sat across from Douglas.
“I’ll get you something. What would you like?” Douglas turned to Theresa. “Something to drink, something to eat…”
She twisted around a bit to look at the display case of various baked goods. “I think...erm. An éclair?”
“Nothing to drink?”
Strangely, Theresa paled a little. “Just water.”
“Just... water ,” she glared lightly, and Douglas was vaguely reminded of her barking, “ I am Theresa Gustava Bonaventura, Countess of Sponheim and Protector Extraordinary of the Cantons of Nimes!” into G-ERTI’s satcom.
“Okay. Okay, sorry.” He put his hands up in a gesture of deference and headed to Jeremy’s post to get some food.
Some minutes later, he sat back in front of Theresa and handed her the éclair and water she’d requested. Jeremy went to talk to another customer in order to give them some semblance of privacy.
Douglas waited until they were both about halfway through their respective coffee/pastry before he started speaking.
“So. Let’s unpack what happened up there today,” he kept his tone low and calm. In front of him, Theresa clammed up a little, but he forged on. “Can you tell me, in your own words…”
“Who else’s words would I use?” Theresa interjected, then her ears turned red. “Well…” She thought for a second, then continued. “I didn’t have a problem getting off the ground, but I was having trouble...I was having trouble getting the plane trimmed to...to equilibrium. Then I did some climbing and turning, and that was okay, but then you asked me to do a checklist…”
“Right, and what happened then?”
“I wasn’t watching the plane, and it came out of its equilibrium.”
“That’s correct. And then?”
“You asked me to do a climbing turn, and I did, but I made a stall warning because I wasn’t scanning, and then…”
She trailed off.
“Right. That’s all true.” Douglas took a sip of his coffee. “Now. I know you knew how to do everything I asked you to. This was supposed to be a review flight, remember? I wouldn’t have let you go up in today’s conditions if you didn’t know how to do what I asked you to—the bit of cloud and all. So.” He put his cup down. “What’s going on that you don’t want to tell me about?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean what was on your mind? Has anything happened between...has anything happened between you and Martin?” He dreaded to hear the answer.
“What? No. No, we’re fine! Everything’s fine with us.” Her tone had abruptly grown defensive.
“Okay, okay.” Douglas tamped down the relief. “What I’m saying is, something’s probably set you off...Theresa. It’s like driving.” A thought occurred to him. “Wait, do you know...do you know how to drive?”
“For emergencies, yes. I was taught the basics a long time ago.”
“Well, you know how you wouldn’t—you shouldn’t drive when you’re unwell? Not just physically. Emotionally, too? Mentally?”
“Same with flying. You shouldn’t be flying if you’re not well. You shouldn’t have been up in the air at all today on that logic. Which begs the question.” He leaned forward. “You seem physically well. You’re mentally sound. Theresa...what’s wrong?”
Suddenly, she couldn’t meet his eyes.
“Come on, Theresa,” he urged. “We’re friends—at least,” he tacked on hastily, seeing the look that passed across her face, “a friend of Martin’s is a friend of mine, and you’ve—you’ve really been here for us, on quite a few occasions…” He sensed that he wasn’t getting his point across. “What I’m trying to say is…” He took a breath, reached across the table, and grasped her hand, which was lying limply next to her éclair. Her gaze whipped to him. “You can trust me. You can trust us. What’s happened?”
“Oh. Oh...I... Scheisse. ” Theresa ripped her hand away and covered her face again. Douglas sat back and bit his lip, letting her talk when she wanted to.
Finally, she gulped, sat on her hands, and looked at Douglas. “Douglas. I…”
“Take your time. It’s okay.”
“Douglas...I think... I’m not saying, but I just think... I might be...Martin and I...well. I...might be pregnant.”
His jaw dropped. When the realization kicked in, he gasped and then grinned. The thought of a mini-Martin or a mini-Theresa was, frankly, incredibly endearing. “Oh my God! Congratulations—”
“No!” She shook her head rapidly. “Wait, no, I meant, not that I don’t want the congratulations, I mean no, it is not good, this is not good. Even though I’m only thinking I might...oh, it’s just bad! It’s really, really bad!” With shaking hands, she clutched at her curling hair like she was about to pull it out and looked at him, her hazel eyes desperate.
“We’re...Martin and I aren’t married! If we’re having a child, right now, it’s going to be regarded as an illegitimate child since we’re not married! And my family’s already angry enough at me—”
“Why would they be upset with you, for God’s sake? You’re running a microstate in your teenage brother’s stead , I’d say that’s more remarkable than a given person of your age—”
“Let me finish! ” Theresa hissed. Douglas knew her frustration wasn’t directed at him, but his interruption wasn’t exactly helping. He fell silent with an apologetic, deferential nod. “Sorry. Yes, I know I run the country, but I’m just waiting for Maxie to finish his education and take it over—there was a constitutional crisis just to allow me to become his regent—they were going to give the state to a ten-year-old! I couldn’t possibly let them do that—but there are older...more...more conservative members of the royal family that...that don’t like that I’m doing this. And...I’ve never actually wanted to be...listen, I just don’t want to be…I don’t like politics. I never have, and you know I wanted to be a pilot. But I do...what I do! Because I have to…”
Shakily, she picked up her paper table napkin and began to fidget with it. “And what’s worse...Swiss Air...Martin tells me they’re debating expanding to a hub in London, and...I want him to apply to be domiciled there. There’s a good chance they’ll let him, since he’s—he’s English, no matter how many times he reassures me that he’ll try to gain Liechtenstein citizenship…”
“Hold on. Citizenship?”
“Another problem. We talked to the archbishop of Vaduz. Martin’s not Liechtensteiner or royal, so one of those has got to give if we’re going to marry—and if any of our children are going to have any sort of claim to the throne. It’s not like I care about that last part, but the family’s going to make us suffer for it…”
“Wait, why would you want Martin to be domiciled here if Swiss Air opens a hub?”
“Because...I think it might be better for him. He’d be close to family, away from the worst of my relatives...not to mention close to you all.”
“And what about you?” Douglas stared across the table at her.
She sighed. “I...I would want to come with him if that happens. I've had...I have plans set up but I’ve never told anyone about them, not even Martin…I haven’t told anyone except Martin about me possibly being pregnant...”
“Again. Theresa. You can trust me.”
She gazed at him, openmouthed, then gave a “ might-as-well-get-it-over-with” sort of shrug and continued. “Well, my next sister—she’s only a few years younger than me—she actually wants political life, she’s actually interested in running a country. She’d be overjoyed if I passed the regency to her. But after instating a constitutional crisis, I’d be expected to see the regency through, and that wouldn’t happen for...a few years yet. My God, it’s all so complicated, and I’m making no sense at all…”
By this point, the paper napkin was worried to bits on the table.
Douglas sat there for a while, trying to figure out how to respond.
“Theresa,” he began at last.
“Whatever happens...whatever you choose to do, and whatever you and Martin choose to do. You...you have a home here. Both of you. Really.” It wasn’t about flying now, this conversation. It wasn’t about mistakes, it wasn’t about pilot licenses or anything of the sort. This was different. This was family. “And if certain family members are being horrible...who cares about them? We’ll be your family. You have a—you have a refuge with us. You’ll be fine. You and Martin both.”
She looked dubious, for just a second, and then she looked relieved.
“That’s better,” Douglas soothed. “You’ll be fine. You will be.”
“It’s the least I can do.” He stretched across the table and grasped his friend’s hand again—and this time she didn’t pull away.
A week or so later, after Theresa and Martin had returned to Zurich, he received a message.
I’m not pregnant. I’m okay, turns out it was a scare after all. I am truly sorry for the dramatics that day. Theresa
I’m glad to hear you’re okay. You are fine. You can always talk if you need it. Douglas
Thank you. Theresa
“She’ll be fine.”
As Douglas scanned the horizon on the day of Theresa’s first solo flight, Carolyn elbowed him lightly in the side. “Hello, Captain Richardson? Do you happen to be in? She’ll be fine.”
He looked at Carolyn, who had endeavored to put on a reassuring look. “You’ve taught her well. She’ll be fine.”
“If I can say,” Herc interjected from Carolyn’s other side, “she’s done well for someone whose flying education has been so sporadic.”
“Yes. Loosen up, Douglas,” Carolyn admonished. “She'll be okay.”
Douglas had let her take him up around Fitton twice before leaving her in the training Cessna to complete her first solo around the traffic pattern. In the distance, he saw her talking to Martin through the open door of the aircraft.
Since their conversation a month or so previously, Theresa had made the decision to maintain her regency until Maxie’s coming of age. She and Martin were still discussing the idea of the domicile and marriage, but Douglas had faith that they would make the decision that was best for them.
But that wasn’t important now, not when Martin had leaned inside and kissed Theresa, his vest stirred by the breeze, before he closed the plane’s door and walked over to meet the rest of the group, standing on the apron in front of the main lobby.
The setting was ideal—commanding a view of both the apron and the main runway.
“How is she?” Douglas asked a Martin anxiously.
“Relaxed, mostly.” Martin had his hands shoved into his pockets as he came to stand next to him. Douglas resisted the urge to laugh—Martin’s face was still a vibrant shade of crimson. “I suppose...mo-more relaxed than me.” He laughed nervously.
Arthur came trotting over as best he could with a plastic bucket in his grip. Water sloshed over the rim.
“Arthur, dear heart—pray tell me why you’ve got that, ” Carolyn turned and pointed at the bucket of water.
“Ah. Well...I may have told Arthur of the tradition of a pilot’s first solo,” Herc replied a bit sheepishly. “The Americans cut off the shirt-tail—but we douse the pilot in water.”
“Oh, for goodness’ sake, really?” Carolyn rolled her eyes. “And she’s got on a uniform for the first time too.”
“It’s a rite of passage.”
It was Martin—of course—that had suggested Theresa get a uniform for the occasion, citing his own experience going through flight school. Initially, Douglas hadn’t even considered it—until that point he’d just let her show up in whatever she wanted to wear. However, he and Herc had agreed with Martin, and they’d pulled together to surprise Theresa with a uniform much like the ones the three of them used for flights with OJS. Martin had had the honor of fastening Theresa’s epaulettes for her—one stripe for now.
Douglas knew he would not be surprised if that one stripe would grow to three or even four.
“She’s starting up her roll,” Martin announced, ever the observant aviator.
Douglas watched her initiate her checklist before pulling forward and taxiing towards the runway.
Theresa paused at the mouth of the runway, and if Douglas squinted, he could see her take a deep breath before applying power.
The Cessna rolled down the runway, leaving the piano keys behind, quickly gaining speed.
“Rotate,” Douglas murmured under his breath.
The front wheel lifted from the ground, and the little aeroplane rose into the sky.
“Good start,” Herc assessed. Douglas saw him hold up his finger to form an angle with the ground. “Good angle.” Seeing Douglas watching, Herc looked over and sent him a grin. “You did well.”
“Hurrah!” Arthur jumped up and down excitedly. “That was brilliant! ”
“Yes, well,” Martin said. “She’s got to come back down.”
Douglas nodded. The relief he’d felt upon watching Theresa take off was quickly replaced by a heavy feeling in his throat. Martin was right. For a novice pilot, taking off was easy enough—landing, not so much.
They craned their heads upward. The little Cessna was following the standard traffic pattern for Fitton, turning and coming back to land.
Theresa descended from the sky and approached the runway as Douglas had taught her. He envisioned her as he’d seen her so many times, as they practiced touch-and-go after touch-and-go after touch-and-go: correcting the side-to-side alignment, watching the PAPI lights on the sides of the runway, aiming for the touchdown zone...
“Flare,” Martin called out as Theresa tipped the nose up to increase the angle of attack.
“Come on,” Douglas muttered to himself, watching her intently. “Power through the ground effect, don’t use up the runway—!”
Finally, the main wheels touched the runway, followed by the front wheel, and he knew Theresa was pushing the rudder pedals as hard as she could to get the plane slowed down.
Martin and Douglas cheered at the same time, and Douglas felt Martin cling to him and jump up and down.
“She did it! She did it!” he chorused excitedly.
“Well done to you too, Douglas,” Herc said warmly, thumping him on the back.
“I must admit, that was exhilarating,” Carolyn added, a hint of pride in her tone.
He turned to Arthur, who shoved the bucket of water at him. Some of it slipped over the edges and wet Douglas’s shoes. “You should have the bucket since you taught her! I’ll help you if you need it.”
“Arthur, dearest, I should think one is enough for that!”
Almost as if in a daze, Douglas accepted the bucket. Theresa had done it. Of course, there was a long way to go in terms of licensing, but the truth still stood—she’d defied everything that had stood in her way.
She was a pilot now.
Finally, she pulled in to stand and, after completing shutdown checks, left the aircraft to slip on the pitot cover and tie down the wings.
Martin broke from the group and ran to her, and they followed. Douglas came last of all, heaving the bucket with him.
Theresa came to meet them, accepting congratulations from Herc and Carolyn, laughing as Arthur tackled her into a soul-crushing hug, and kissing Martin on the cheek.
Finally, she turned to Douglas with a brilliantly relieved grin, and he smiled mischievously at her. Luckily, she had her gaze concentrated on his face, and not the bucket he was trying to hide behind him.
“You’ve done well, Theresa. And now, since you’ve shown proficiency as a pilot...I’ve got something for you…”
“ Agh!! Douglas!! It’s cold!!!”