Author's Notes: Thanks to all for your patience as I recover. Inspired by the long flight home from a very fun week in Tombstone.
The flight attendant watched as the handsome blond and two young boys boarded her flight. The youngest would be a handful. He was hopping on one foot and jabbering excitedly as he held the hand of the older boy, who clearly didn't share his enthusiasm. Her practiced eye could easily spot the fear in the older boy as well as the father himself.
It was clear that the attractive man tolerated flying. He might not be afraid, but it wasn't something he was entirely comfortable with. Watching over the boys gave him an excuse to be brave and tuck away his own nagging doubts.
The older of the two boys claimed the window seat as if it were a lifeline. He pushed his face against the windowpane as the father patiently removed the child's backpack and stowed it under the seat in front of them. After a moment, the blond man reached under the seat and snagged the backpack again. Hastily struggling with the zipper, he revealed a stuffed cat, which he tucked under the boy's arm.
"Can I have Scooby? He wants to ride with me!" the black haired child pleaded.
The low murmur of the father must have given an affirmative as the little boy dug into his own backpack for a favorite toy.
The father stowed a bulging carry-on in the overhead bin, tucked his laptop case and the younger boy's backpack under the row in front of him before folding uncomfortably into the seat.
Coach seating was not accommodating to tall men. Tall handsome men.
She greeted several more passengers before her line of sight fell back to the trio. The blond was now trying to corral the boys into seat belts. The black haired child was thrilled that he was in a "big boy" seat belt, but the older boy looked like it was a death sentence as the safety device necessitated moving away from the window.
Soon boarding was complete and she made her way up and down the aisle to make sure the overhead bins were closed and that seatbacks and tray tables were in the upright position as well as seatbelts fastened. As she moved past the man with the two boys, the little boy in the middle seat waved at her and grinned. She couldn't help but return the infectious smile.
Settling into her jump seat for take-off, she couldn't see the boys over the seatbacks, but she could see the man looking at the boys, his hard edge softening as he said something. It made her smile. He had an air of authority, a toughness that could be intimidating, but concern for those two boys wiped it all away. They owned his heart.
Fifteen minutes into the flight she knew the younger boy's name was JD, the older was Vin and the "father" was Chris. The gregarious dark haired boy had explained they didn't have mommies but they had Chris and Da, and that their mommies were dreaming of angels with Mrs. Chris and someone named Adam. How the boy got it all out in one breath, she wasn't sure.
She also learned that they were going to meet "Da" because "Da" had gone to "Alberkey" for ATF School and they were going to play in a swimming pool.
The dark haired cutie had then asked for her phone number for his "Da" because his "Da" liked to play with girls.
"JD." Chris' soft warning had turned the boy's face to him.
She'd never forget the next words.
"What? Da says I's a chick maggot."
"Mag-NET, JD. Mag-NET."
"That's what I said."
The flight attendant smiled and shook her head.
The older boy had warily watched her throughout the conversation. He had yet to say a single word, but when Chris winked at him, a shy smile graced the child's face. It was clear that young Vin drew security from the man.
Too quickly the smile faded and the hands latched back onto the armrest and the stuffed cat, holding for dear life as the plane hit minor turbulence.
"Can I get you anything, Sweetie?" she had asked.
The boy had vigorously shaken his head and then turned away to look out the window.
"Can we has some more pretzels?" asked JD. "Vin spill-did his all over."
The older boy shot a glare at the younger, before huddling closer to the wall, as if he would be punished for spilling the pretzels.
"He pulled but it wouldn't open. And then he pulled and he pulled and he pulled and then 'whoosh!' they went ever-where!" JD exclaimed waving his arms wildly.
Chris grabbed JD's drink before it spilled off the lap tray.
"And then we shared mine, but I'm still hungry," the boy declared.
"The pretzels don't go very far, do they?" she asked, expecting the little one to agree that they weren't a very filling snack.
"Yahuh," said JD. "They flied over the seat and way over there. And some got in that lady's hair. They goed a long way!"
She smiled sympathetically at Vin as he slumped lower into his seat blushing furiously. He was not having a very good day.
"I'm sure they did," she replied. "And don't worry about it," she added, addressing Vin, "It happens all the time. I'll bring you some more."
The head tipped up slightly and large blue eyes met hers.
"Thank you, Ma'am."
Her heart melted at the soft Texan twang.
Chris reached across the seats and ruffled Vin's hair reassuringly.
Distracted by other passengers, the flight attendant was not privy to the family's other troubles on the flight. She'd missed JD crying "Ow! Vin!" repeatedly when they hit more turbulence. Chris thinking that the cabin pressure was causing JD's ears to hurt had suggested that JD yawn. That was when the boy's yelp and pushing at Vin's hands alerted him to the fact that the seven-year-old had his fingers dug into the smaller boy's arm in his fear.
She'd also missed Vin's bloody nose when he reached for his backpack at the same time the seat in front of him reclined. Tears had come to his eyes but he did his darndest to keep them from falling. Fortunately it hadn't bled much.
She missed JD settling down to watch "Home on the Range" on the portable DVD player, while Vin pretended to sleep. His tense shoulders and occasional deep sighs gave away his lie. Chris had reached over JD's head and massaged the tense thin shoulders. Vin had leaned into the touch, relishing the contact.
The flight attendant had not however missed the lavatory incident. Her heart had gone out to the tiny, frightened seven-year-old when the lavatory door had jammed with him inside. It was every passenger's nightmare to get stuck inside the miniscule room. Even above the roar of the plane's engines she could hear the small voice pleading with Chris to get him out.
After eleven agonizing minutes, Chuck, one of the other flight attendants had pried the door open and freed the boy. Vin had rushed toward Chris' arms, stopping short in embarrassment when he realized he had an audience. The whole plane was applauding his rescuer.
The little boy was mortified.
Thinking quickly, the flight attendant pulled the father and boys into the small galley area out of the sight of the other passengers. Vin blinked back his tears as JD openly cried and hugged his brother. Chris knelt and wrapped his arms around both boys, holding them for several minutes, whispering quiet reassurances to them.
She gave the trio as much private time as she could, but the plane was beginning its descent into Albuquerque and they needed to be seat belted in. The captain's announcement of their descent was enough distraction to the other passengers that they could return to their seats without too much commotion. Still Vin's face was flushed with embarrassment.
When they finally landed, Chris and the boys remained in their seats while the other passengers deplaned. Like always, the passengers were in a rush to get off the plane, and it was less stressful if the father didn't have to worry about the two boys, their backpacks, a laptop and a carry-on while fighting a crowd.
She watched Vin's eyes seemingly get larger as the Captain approached their seats as the other passengers cleared out. She could see his fear that he was now in trouble for breaking the bathroom as well as throwing pretzels.
"I hear you had a little trouble during the flight," he said.
Chris had his arm behind both of the boys and gently caressed Vin's cheek as the Captain spoke.
Vin nodded. "I broke the bathroom. I'm sorry," he added meekly.
"You didn't break it, and I'm sorry you got stuck," said the Captain. "I heard you were really brave."
"He was brave!" JD added. "He was stuck a really long time. And he didn't cry or nothin'."
The flight attendant smiled as the Captain held out souvenir wings to pin on Vin's shirt. "We don't get to give these out very often, but if anyone deserves them you do." He winked at JD. "And your little brother, too."
Vin and JD let the Captain put the wings pins on their shirts. Both boys shook his hand and then squirmed into their backpacks while Chris retrieved their carry-on bag and his laptop. He thanked the attendant and the trio headed for the exit ramp.
The flight attendant watched them go, hoping that the rest of their trip would be uneventful and pleasant for the boys.
And the handsome blond.
They'd only gone a few steps up the ramp to the terminal when the seven-year-old faltered, his bravado finally giving out. She wiped a tear away as Chris scooped up Vin, backpack and all, and held him tight as the boy cried on his shoulder. An insistent tug on his pant leg had him reaching for the other boy as well.
Wondering how he would manage both boys and the luggage, her smile widened as JD scrambled up onto the blond man's shoulders. Somehow Chris managed to enclose Vin in a hug on his hip and grasp JD's leg with his right arm keeping him steady while pulling the carry-on topped by the laptop bag with his left.
She sighed as they disappeared from sight. Hopefully "Da" would meet them at baggage claim to help carry the remaining luggage and ease the frazzled nerves.
A few minutes later as she hailed a cab curbside at the airport, she spotted young JD bouncing and tugging at the pant leg of a tall dark haired man as he loaded the luggage into a rental car. He turned and smiled, scooping the boy up and wrapping him into a hug.
"Where to, Lady?"
She held her hand up, stalling the cabbie as she took one last look at the family. Sighing, she climbed into the cab.
Maybe she should have given "Da" her number.
February 28, 2005