Wine Coolers And Chocolate Chip Cookies
Christmas day in southern California was probably one of the best days of the year as far as the weather was concerned. Sunny, warm, breezy, it defied the traditional depiction of a snowy plane with trees or sunlight or the moon glistening innocently against the snowy backdrop that could be found on many postcard images of the season. Most people in the surrounding areas didn’t complain about that type of christmas. Anne was no exception. Today she would be heading over to Angela’s for christmas dinner about 2:00, so she had the morning to do some last minute cleaning or organizing, or christmas rapping.
She sat down at her desk and opened her phone book. She liked to call her friends and leave messages for them, leaving “Merry Christmas greetings on answering machines across the country was something she really liked doing. She usually got some nice messages in response. “It was nice to come home and get your message…Happy holidays.” She flipped through the pages of her phone book, thumbing through the As, Bs, and coming to the Cs. Her eyes fell on the listing: Crance, Andrew. She stopped. What a story that was. She would see him later today. He had been scheduled to return on the 23rd of December, so Christmas Eve would be spent sleeping. He always slept the day after coming back from long flights, and their agreement was that they did not get together so he could fully recover from the sometimes hectic schedule imposed on him by his job. Their relationship had taken on deeper existence after his stunning revelation last May, when neither of them had stopped to analyze the consequences, but had just plunged into it, and both were happy about it. They wanted to see where it went. Would their relationship end up in marriage? Would it end up stranded on the rocky shoals of love? Well, they would do their best to steer away from the dangers. Both of them were old enough and secure enough in their identities to employ some basic rules: the biggest one, communication. At the moment, they were both in agreement.
“Look, Andrew,” she said to him once in a phone conversation while he lay on his bed in some distant motel while waiting for an engine part replacement, “I’ve had too many men try to drag me to the altar before I was ready and those almost ended up in disaster. Can we take this thing slowly?”
He was amenable.
“I want to see you, Anne. You fascinate me.”
He was silent.
“You do. You’re a lot different from any other woman I’ve known. I’ve known a lot of hard drinking, rough-edged women. And you are certainly different than Elizabeth” He had sighed wearily. “I’ll have to tell you about her sometime, Anne.”
“Okay, when you’re ready, Andrew.”
“Anyway,” he continued, “you’re no spineless creature, that’s for sure, not with telling the head of your English department what you think of the new reading selections. You don’t let people and things run your life. You run it. You have boundary lines. I respect them. I’m not ready to settle down anyway, so if we’re both agreeable to taking this slowly, you have no arguments from me.”
After their sudden decision to steer toward something deeper than friendship, their relationship had taken on the atributes of comfort, like an old pair of slippers. Both still deeply committed to their work, somewhere in the midst of both hectic and sometimes draining schedules, they made time for each other. Anne had to admit it was nice to tell Mark Whitney with the curious hands that she was spoken for, thank you very much, and it gave her other reasons to avoid John McGuire’s Steinbeck discussions and an occasional date. She was willing to offer a refuge for Andrew to escape the demands of passengers and flight and paperwork and odd hours, and he was willing to tag along with her when he was in town.
Today, they were planning to go to Angela Stanley’s house for christmas dinner. Angela lived with three other women in a house. The other room mates had all flown off in different directions to be with family and friends. Angela, much like Anne in temperament, if a little more interested in finding Mr. Right, was the hostess of the bunch and so she had invited a few of her work and social colleagues over for a grand feast. Andrew and Anne were planning to make an appearance. Anne picked up the phone and dialed Andrew’s number. She waited for a while before the phone was answered by a sluggish voice.
“Oh, Annie! Oh, man, what time is it?”
She heard him sigh and imagined that he turned to see a clock on the nightstand.
“Andrew, it’s 9:30, honey. What’s the matter? You didn’t get in till last night after all?”
“Oh, no, I got in when I was supposed to.”
On his end of the line, Andrew drew in a sharp breath and let it out in a tight, deep cough that made Anne wince out of compassion.
“Hold on,” came the sleepy voice of the pilot, who sat up, and reached for a bottle of cough syrup and swallowed a mouthful of it before resuming his conversation.
“Andrew, you sound like you’re dying!”
“I am. One of my passengers on the last flight home was sick, very generous. Gave it to me and when I got home I went to see my doctor and he said I have the flu. He sent me home and said to take medicine if I was too uncomfortable. Uncomfortable? I’m dying!”
“Andrew,” she said almost rebuking him, “you should have called me.”
“Couldn’t,” he said dejectedly, moving his hot head on the pillow, kicking a blanket off him, “I barely got myself home from the doctor on Monday before collapsing into bed. I’m sorry.”
He was contrite.
“It’s alright, my drifter pilot,” she said, truly repentant, “poor Andrew, sick, and I didn’t even know. I just thought you were sleeping off the flights.”
their plans would be forgotten. She felt a momentary sense of disappointment.
“I don’t have to tell you there’s no way I’m going to Angela’s with you for dinner.”
“Andrew, don’t even worry about that.
He lay back on his bed, with no protest, reluctant to hang up even though his teeth chattered from a chill.
“Have you ever been sick on Christmas before?” she asked into the silence.
“Not like this! My head hurts,” he moaned in exaggerated memory.
Anne was laughing now, he was being funny.
“Oh, I’ve heard that one before,” she crooned back in mock sympathy, “sounds like you haven’t lost your sense of humor! So I’ll tell Angela you’re not coming to dinner.”
She waited while a coughing fit interrupted their conversation.
“I’m giving up this business,” he proclaimed, not meaning it, “yes, tell Angela she’ll just have to tease you today. I’m sorry, honey. I am.
The silence grew comfortable between them. She heard his quickened breathing, another cough, and a faint sound of discomfort before she spoke into the silence.
“You were asleep then when I called you?”
His voice was soft, kind.
“I have to ask you something,” she said in that way that two people who are comfortable with each other have of communicating.
“Why is it that every time I call and get you at home you’re either sick or sleeping?”
The pilot emitted soft, shy laughter, plainly amused by her question.
“Because,” he tried to smile, visualizing in his head the exact location of the drugs he was going to use to nurse his headache as soon as he finished this conversation, “it’s the only time I’m ever here!”
“Well, I can still come and see you if you are up for it.”
“What time is her party?”
“3:00. I’ll come about 7:00 if that’s okay. I need to finish rapping Angela’s present, and besides, I saw this cute…” she almost said it, “present for you. I have to rap it.”
“I have yours,” he said easily, softly, “it’s in my flight bag. Where is that thing?” he mused, “I’ll find it sometime today.”
“Don’t worry, Andrew. I can help you if you don’t get around to it.”
“Oh, God,” he groaned, “I haven’t even gotten the mail. I’m afraid to see what downstairs looks like. I swear I’ve forgotten.”
“Andrew,” she chuckled, “oh, Andrew, I’m glad you’re back, even if you are sick. I miss you. Anyway, I’ll come at 7:00.”
“You still have my keys?”
She had checked his mail while he was gone on his last trip.
“I’ve got them. Do you want me to bring anything?”
“Just you. And, well, how about those chocolate chip cookies?”
“Cookies? Are you well enough to eat them?”
“Probably not. But I’ll get better. And since the planes are in the shop I have about two weeks to eat them.”
“Both planes,” he affirmed, his voice crackling with congestion.
“I have to go. I need to take my medicine or I’m going to die!”
“Okay, Andrew,” she said, laughing, “well, at least you weren’t out all night, partying.”
He laughed at that, starting another coughing fit.
“Oh, Annie. You know how to make my day. I think that might have been better! Merry Christmas, Annie.”
Anne presented her hostess with a bouquet of red and green ferns, in a traditional christmas arrangement. Angela stepped aside to let her in.
“Where’s Andrew?” she asked, surprised not to see him.
her tone was incredulous. Anne shook her head.
“Called him this morning. Caught something from a passenger he was transporting. He said to tell you you’d just have to find someone else to tease today!”
“Oh, well now,” Angela immediately brightened, “I can do that! So what are you bringing him for christmas? A bottle of rum? That will cure your little pilot. He’ll be flying alright!”
“Okay, so you’ve chosen me as the object of your teasing. I knew that! No, Angela, darling,” she said, in mock dismay, “Andrew does not prefer rum! We’d like some Champaign to go with that nasty cough, please!”
Anne was a teacher, most of the time very serious, and Angela worked for an insurance firm, soothing the ruffled feathers of accident victims and perpetrators, so to let loose in absolutely hilarious laughter defied the conventions of their professional constraints. Perhaps that’s what made it all the better and what had Anne feeling happy and in a grand mood as she slid into the kitchen to help her friend put the final touches on the turkey dinner.
“Andrew’s going to miss this.”
The house, despite its chaos with little children running around, watching videos, playing with trucks and video games, did seem a bit quiet without Andrew’s sparkling laughter and constant unmitigated teasing of Angela. Angela came and spoke conspiratorially to her friend who was cutting canned cranberry sauce into little pieces.
“Come here when you’re done. You see that man over there? The one by the christmas tree?”
Anne observed a quiet man sitting in a fake leather chair looking through a magazine.
“what about him? Kind of looks like a priest.”
Angela shrieked with laughter, causing heads to turn in the room.
“Him? OH, dear God, no, he’s not a priest! He’s a high level manager at the insurance company where I work. I think he's got eyes for me! So I invited him.”
“Angela,” Anne breathed in mock disappointment, “I was going to suggest I set you up with Mr. Steinbeck now that I’ve broken his heart.”
Angela gave her a look that said “no way” and they both turned as a hint of flowery perfume wafted its way to them. Angela welcomed Joan into their confidence with a smile, handing her a spoon.
“Here, Joan, help stir this gravy. “It’s almost time for dinner.”
“Where’s Andrew?” Joan wanted to know, acknowledging Anne’s greeting.
“At home. Sick. On christmas.”
“Oh, no,” the receptionist wailed, “that’s not good. Not good at all!”
“Well, he’ll be better soon,” Angela winked, “she’s bringing him cookies.”
“Cookies?” Joan remembered something, “are those the cookies that you brought to Angela’s birthday party and you dragged Andrew with you and he kept asking who brought them because he liked them so much?”
That had been August. August had been the last time Anne and Andrew had seen each other for any length of time. He had dropped in and informed her that Rachel and David had an extra two tickets for a baseball game and could she come?
“The Yankees and the Dodgers,” the pilot informed her very seriously.
“And who are you routing for?”
“The Yankees,” he admitted, sheepishly.
“No way! Here?” She shot him down with a look.
“Okay then, be different. If you weren’t’, well, I suppose that’s what’s attractive. Ok, what time are we leaving!”
And then she had exacted her revenge.
“Angela Stanley my best friend from college is having a birthday party. If I have to sit with you while you route for the out-of-town team, you owe me one!”
Now, Anne smiled, remembering that.
“He didn’t know I made the best chocolate chip cookies this side of the Mississippi. Now he constantly asks for them.”
Anne carved turkey, Angela stirred yams, and Joan patiently worked the lumps out of the gravy.
“But I’m not only bringing him cookies. I’m bringing him a cute altimeter clock.”
Joan worked feverishly over her gravy, one particular lump proving especially recalcitrant.
”You’re giving a pilot a clock? Doesn’t he just kind of live by the clock? Here, there, everywhere, red eyes, no sleep, whackey schedule.”
“Catching diseases from passengers,” Anne chimed in, adding to the already growing list of offenses against his profession.
“Well, I don’t’ think he’s that busy though he does have a pretty rough schedule sometimes. He was flying off somewhere for a few weeks, just got back from that. But anyway, if it has to do with a plane he likes it, so I found this clock and got it for him.”
“Well, we’ll leave you to him you can handle him.”
Angela pronounced dinner to be ready, and then they all sat down to eat.
There was food, and dessert, a football game, little children who all seemed to flock to Anne who kept showing them a supply of quarters she had, christmas music, and soon, she said goodbye to her hostess and quietly slipped away into the cooling Christmas evening to spend the rest of it with her friend.
Hello from a very cold New Mexico town. I had to stay here for a day because my plane experienced a loose connection and we had to take the engine apart. So I’m holed up in a local motel, and I suppose it’s a good thing, because it’s snowing like crazy and that means on top of the plane needing some TLC, the weather is atrocious. That means I'm socked in here till we achieve better conditions. I am a pretty experienced pilot who got lucky across the street from your house, but perhaps I was lucky in more ways than one! Well, I won’t contemplate that one at the moment as my fingers are cold and I want to keep writing.
It was nice to see you at the airport the day I went back to work after the first of the year. Both planes and I were in top condition, a good thing considering my Christmas and the week after it. Thanks for staying around there, too, you didn’t have to do that, I could have languished all by myself and survived, but I was happy you were there to help. I don’t know that I’ve been so sick in my life. Thank God that’s over. Yikes!
Well, anyway, let me give you the scoop on this IFR and VFR MEL rated pilot. I’ll make you look up those terms, though I’m sure you know them by now. If you don’t know it, I am allowed under FAA rules to fly single engine and multiengine airplanes that don’t’ land in the water. In other words I can’t fly seaplanes. I’m a comercialy rated pilot which means I can take passengers, but, of course, you know that.
My parents and Rachel and I came here from Missouri. We were born in Sullivan, Missouri, it’s about 68 miles from St. Louis. I’ll take you there some day if you’ll let me. My sister, Rachel, is two years older than me. I’m 35 years old. We both came from Missouri with our parents when she was 12 years old. We lived all over the place in southern California, Corona, and river Side and Norwalk, and San Diego, till finally when I was sixteen my parents died in a car crash, one of those holiday ones that you always hear about in the news. They were caught in one of those I-5 infamous pile-ups, you know the ones that they make movies about. Well, I don’t like watching those movies because they remind me of my parents dying, both in one day, and both instantly. So Rachel and I went to live with my dad's brother and sister. My uncle's name was Ray and he liked to fly planes. I was always fascinated by planes since I was old enough to watch birds fly, and whenever I would see a plane in the sky I always wished I could be in it. My uncle saw me languishing one day after some little plane had swept madly across the sky and so he took me down to the airport and signed me up with this instructor who was kind of a leftover from the sixties, taidai shirts and things like that. But he had his head together and he knew what he was doing, so he crammed me behind that little Skyhawk and taught me how to fly it. When I took my first lesson I was hooked and there wasn’t any looking back. I think we had a conversation, you and I, once about relationships and giving up planes and you said if I gave up planes it would be giving up part of myself. I think you are right. I wasn’t really a troublesome kid or anything like that, but I was kind of drifting for a while, not really sure what I wanted to do, and so when Uncle Ray dragged me to the airport it put me in a direction. Somehow you have come up with this name for me “drifter pilot” kind of fits, because I do like to go to different places, and before Uncle Ray got me, I was probably really headed in any direction. This one was a good one. Uncle still flies them. I’ve promised my niece, Sara, a few lessons. She has the bug, too! After my accident she would stay with me during the day because Dr. Gregory was still a bit concerned about internal bleeding because of my headaches, so she’d just stay in case we had to go to the hospital or something. Anyway, when I was feeling better we would go through all the magazines and identify all the planes and she’s very good at it now. Can you identify all the planes on my wall? Probably. We’ll have to see. I know about planes and you know about books. You can show me good books, I usually read pilot books and aviation books, so I think we have a lot of material to work with, not including we both like roses and John Wayne movies. How many movies did he make? One hundred and something; some huge, long list! Anyway, I’m supposed to be talking about me, right?
Back to me. I worked at a pilot shop for a while, washed planes an such things, and then got my license. After I got my private pilot license then I went for my CFI rating, and then my ATP, and now, well, now is where you know me. I only fly passengers for hire in small planes, multi-engine and single engine, no jets. I don’t want to fly jets. I like the down-to-earth existence of the small plane pilot. It’s a little precarious financially, sometimes, but I do okay. But I think you know all that, don’t you, besides the fact that I’m a Yankees fan! I know that puts me in the wrong camp in SC, but, that’s just how it is.
Oh, yeah, while I was getting my private pilots license I went to school and got a degree in meteorology. It helps to know something about the weather when one is flying small planes. Or any kind of plane I suppose. I am an airplane man, though, not into bike racing or car racing or any of those adventure sports. My car is practical, it gets me around when I’m at home, but the plane is a different story. It takes a lot of work to be a pilot, have to pass a lot of tests and exams and stay healthy, so I try to keep healthy. I know a lot of pilots who really let the guard down when they’re not on flight detail. I like to go out with friends an drink beers sometimes, and wine, I like wine, but not much and not often. I like two things: wine coolers and chocolate chip cookies. Strange combination, you think? When I get back, we’ll celebrate with them. If you can come with me to Rachel’s house for Easter dinner, then perhaps you can bring the cookies. We’ll leave the coolers for later.
I'm probably more shy and quiet than people think I am. I like all this adventure, been rock climbing a few times, too, but at night I like to come home and be quiet, recharge the batteries. Are you bored yet, aviation queen who teaches English? Are you running in dismay from the pilot you thought never ran down? It's not quite true. Please don't think I'm trying to push things, or seduce you, (I'm only writing this because I know I won't be there when you read it), but if you let me, I'll come running to you. I know you're pretty active, too, you do so many things, but sometimes (it must be the cold making me say this), I think that when I get home from flights I would just like to come to you and sit with you and watch John Wayne movies, and hold you. I’m blushing! My sister would never believe I’m writing this. But it’s true, Anne.
Anyway, I do remember my parents. They were good to us. We had a pretty good life. I was a child then, I didn't worry much about bills or food. Dad was a carpenter and mom was a housewife. I don't think she ever worked out of her home, she liked cooking and cleaning and things like that. I don’t’ know. Do we ever really know these things? I was always getting hurt as a kid though, climbing trees. One time I was riding a bike and I fell in a rosebush because I looked to my right to see who was across the street and I fell in that bush and we were picking thorns out of me for a while. That hurt! I knocked someone’s tail lights out of my neighbor’s van once on a bike. Again, I wasn’t looking! We paid for them. I broke my arm falling out of a tree once. I had to have nine stitches when I ran through a plate glass window. I jammed my hand on a wrought iron fence once, kind of like the one in front of my house. Missed a tendon by an inch, jammed the end of the post right into my hand. I was about fourteen when I did that. I’m accident prone, aren’t I. Still want to hang out with me? Still want to fly in my Cessna? Still want to maybe love your pilot? Please say yes to all of them!
Wow, I’m glad this letter is ending! I’ve said a lot of things in it! Please hide it so no one sees it. I’m trying to tell you how I feel. I don’t do that very easily. I don’t’ know what you’ve done to drag it all out of me, but you are doing that. Keep trying.
Oh, by the way, thanks for the altimeter clock! It’s sitting here at the moment blazing the time. 5:30 pm. Oops, the phone is ringing, probably the mechanic, will have to end for now. More next time. I’ll look forward to getting back to you and wine coolers and chocolate chip cookies!
Your drifter pilot,
Copyright © 2002 Shelley J Alongi