The first time Caitlyn Crieff flew on MJN air, it had been a complete accident.
As a treat, her husband Terrence had booked a vacation in Vienna for the two of them. It might’ve been an anniversary, but the chances of him actually remembering the date were slim, so it was probably an apology. Not that she really minded. Having a semi-successful consultant for a husband was good enough for her. To avoid the hustle and bustle of a major airport, however, he looked up and chartered MJN to take the two of them, plus her best friend and her husband, to Vienna without any stops or layovers. It would’ve been a fantastic flight, had the captain never spoken to them.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your captain speaking.”
Within the first breath, she knew exactly who it was. Her glass of chardonnay hit the cabin floor.
“Cloudy skies from here to Vienna with a slight chance of turbulence, but I’ll do my best to avoid it. Enjoy your flight.”
Caitlyn hadn’t heard from either of her brothers in a long while. Simon, the eldest, was too busy being important in some firm in London to talk to the family he’d left behind. They had never got on, really. Simon had inherited all the worst qualities of their father: impatience, ill-tempered, a superiority complex, the works. They saw each other for Christmas, and for dad’s funeral, and that was the extent Caitlyn would see him. Any more than that, and she would be compelled to smack him.
Martin, however, had simply dropped off the face of the earth.
Not that Caitlyn could criticize her little brother for it. Everyone, including, to her great shame, herself, had given him a hard time about his dream to be an airline captain. It hurt, it had to have hurt, but Martin never once gave up. That last Christmas, before Dad died, had been the worst. He’d spent all of his savings on flight school and manuals and taking (and failing) his flight exams. As it happened, Martin had come home with good news: he had finally passed. Dad was supposed to be proud, finally proud, of his youngest son. Instead, the half-blind dying man had sneered.
“You’re still not a pilot. And you won’t be, not ever. Not with a record like that. You failed, Martin.”
The second time Caitlyn flew on MJN air, it was going to New York City.
She had to explain what she was doing to Terrence, of course. Her trip to NYC was to visit an aunt and there had been no reason why she would have to use such a small private plane when she could go on a commercial airline. He’d understood the reason, bless his heart. She arrived at the airfield much earlier than she had to, just to get a glimpse at the pilots. Sure enough, there he was, proudly wearing a captain’s outfit, red hair jutting out from the bottom of his gold-braided hat. Caitlyn felt a surge of pride. He looked so happy, so sure of himself….and then it was gone, as the First Officer said something to him that made him blush, stutter, go red faced and raise his voice, and Caitlyn just had to laugh. That seemed more like the Martin she’d known. Even after all this time, he had to prove himself.
The third time Caitlyn flew on MJN air, Arthur recognized her.
Caitlyn quite like this quirky, irrepressibly happy steward a lot. He was always cheerful, even if he was a little slow. His face broke out into a wide grin upon seeing her. “You’re back! Well, obviously. But it’s just that we don’t get much repeat business, and well, here you are!”
She smiled kindly at him. “Well, I happen to like the energy here.”
“Ah brilliant!” He had bounced a little, utterly thrilled. Arthur, as she learned his name was, spent the entire trip making sure she was nice and comfortable, much to the annoyance of the other passengers and his…mother? is that who the old woman was? He certainly scampered and obeyed her like she was. Still, he would come back every half hour and talk to her.
It was around the five hour mark, when they had finished playing a quick game of charades as the other passengers slept (or pretended they didn’t exist), that Arthur tilted his head to the side and squinted. “You know, it’s funny. You look just like Skip.”
Arthur nodded. “Yeah! Our captain! Oh he’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant. You should meet him!”
Caitlyn felt her chest tighten slightly, but she merely laughed. “What’s he like, Arthur? Is he a good captain?”
Arthur grinned so widely that it seemed like his head would split in half. “Oh miss, he is brilliant. He’s funny, and sort of uptight about the rules, and mum says he’s sort of a rubbish pilot, but that’s not true at all because he landed a plane on one engine once!” Caitlyn’s heart rushed to her throat. Martin almost crashed? “And he’s not as smart as Douglas is—oh, that’s our first officer—but then again NO one’s as smart as Douglas, but Martin’s really really clever when he wants to be, you know? He’s just….brilliant.”
When they landed, she disembarked the plane and disappeared into the crowd before Arthur could find her again.
Caitlyn waited a month before calling Martin. He had sounded very surprised, confused, a little wary, but over all very pleased to hear from her. They made small talk for a while, and when he asked about her children, Caitlyn could almost see him smile through the phone, his voice getting soft and affectionate. He apologized for not coming to visit, she apologized for not calling sooner, and their conversation turned to their childhood. They laughed together about stupid things they’d done as kids, about that one time Martin broke his leg trying to fly off the roof, the time Caitlyn had gotten stuck in the chimney and needed to fire department to get out…brief, stupid moments that carried so much happiness. She hadn’t realized how much she missed him.
Somehow, the topic turned to how he was living. Here he got hesitant, quiet, even though he insisted he was fine. “Martin, you can’t fool me. How are you really? Are you eating?”
“Yes, caitlyn, I’m eating.” He chuckled a little. “Well I mean, I’m eating like a college student, but it’s still food.”
“How much do they pay you?”
She hadn’t meant to bring up MJN, or knowing he worked there, but there was no hiding it. “Martin, I….I took a trip on that plane you captain, and…and how much do they pay you?”
The other end of the line got very quiet for a minute or two, then Martin replied, sounding very sorrowful. “And you didn’t say hello?”
“I…didn’t know if you’d want to see me.” She bit her lip to keep from crying. “I mean, after the way we left things…after dad’s funeral…”
“I’d always want to see you.” If Caitlyn could see Martin, she didn’t doubt that he’d be looking at the floor, eyes shut tight, the way he did when he didn’t want to cry. His voice wavered slightly. “Um, I don’t get paid, as such. But—But it’s what I want to do, so it’s worth it.”
She coughed a little to hide her surprise. “But then, how do you make money?!”
“Dad’s old van.”
More silence. “I’m not unhappy, Caitlyn. No matter what anyone thinks. It’s hard, but…but I’m happy. I promise.”
She smiled slightly. “I know, Martin. I saw you. You looked so…grown up.” Caitlyn wiped her eyes. “I want you to come have dinner with me and Terrence, alright? Please? I miss you.”
“Well….” For a second, she was frightened he’d refuse. “I’ll have to see when I’m free, but….I’d love that.”
“So would I.”
The fourth time Caitlyn flew MJN air, everyone knew who she was.
Douglas had gone out of his way to be especially charming, kissing her hand and offering her the chance to come up to the flight deck as often as she wanted. Martin had been very upset and threatened Douglas with death several times for even looking at her. Carolyn was a bit uptight, muttering something about there being too many Crieffs to handle. Still, she’d been polite, even motherly. And Arthur…
“Why didn’t you say you were his sister?!” He had Caitlyn locked in an overenthusiastic bear hug, bouncing with excitement. “Oh Skip! Your sister is BRILLIANT!” Caitlyn shared a bemused look with Martin, and their hands joined together briefly before he disappeared into the flight deck to prepare for take off.
It wasn’t a perfect flight. The bickering over the intercom, the bad jokes, the “who can name the most monosyllabic destinations in one hour” word game (to everyone’s shock, Arthur had won), and a batch of turbulence rocked them around for about 20 minutes…Caitlyn had a headache by the end of it. Upon asking Carolyn if every flight was like this, she got a very tired look on her face and replied, “More or less, Ms. Crieff.”
Still, it had been worth it. Ten years of animosity wasn’t completely erased, but it was a start, and Martin embraced her as she left, promising to visit.
“Well. She was lovely.”
Martin glared at Douglas. “Shut it. don’t even start.”
Douglas grinned, shrugging. “Why, whatever is wrong, sir? I merely stated that your sister left a very good impression on me.”
“Did you have to act like that?” He folded his arms, pouting a little. “I mean, for god’s sake, she’s married for one. And for two, she’s my sister!”
“All the more reason for me to be charming. If it makes you uncomfortable, it’s worth doing.” Douglas clapped a hand on Martin’s shoulder. “Cheer up captain, it could’ve gone worse.”
Martin relaxed a little. “You’re right. I didn’t know what to expect, seeing her again.” He smiled slightly. “We got on just fine as kids, but then she married Terrence and thought she was so grown up and sensible, so she tried to tell me what to do with my life.” He sighed. “We….haven’t talked in years. Years, Douglas. And she’s flown with us several times, and just now got up the courage to speak to me. I’m glad she did, though. I don’t want to leave things like I left them last time.”
“Certainly not.” Douglas got a strange, sort of proud smile on his face. “That’s very mature of you, Martin. Most adults don’t ever see that, and they walk around angry and bitter all the time. And she really is lovely.” He winked.
Martin simply smiled.