“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome aboard.”
Drina had almost no recollection of her first flight, just a vague memory of trying to remain calm when inside her heart wouldn't stop thumping. It was madness to get married in the morning, and then take her first ever flight in the afternoon. Her mother, the famous dancer Elizabeth Ivory, had died in a plane crash when Drina was only 18 months old.
Now she had a ritual to perform at the start of each flight. She would check her bag for Hansl, her black cat mascot; check her watch, make sure she knew what time it was at her destination. Check the position of her lifejacket; count the rows of seats between her and the nearest exit. Every so often a new element would be added. Her grandmother had hated superstition, but the ritual helped Drina to relax. It had always been the take-off Drina found most difficult, the landing was the exciting part. She loved going to new places, discovering new things.
“In the event of an emergency, place the mask firmly over your nose and mouth, breathe normally.”
Mrs Chester had been such a constant in her granddaughter’s life, it was hard for Drina to take in what Miss Volanaise was saying. "Heart attack... possibly a stroke... they won't know for a few days, until after the..." She paused and Drina mentally filled in "post-mortem".
"Grant, I have to stay with grandfather for a few days, just to help him get organised - he's never looked after himself before, I'm not even sure he can boil an egg!" Drina's laugh was slightly hysterical.
"Of course, honey." said Grant. "Make me a list of everything you'll need, and I'll bring it over right away."
The phone was silent.
"Are you going to be okay?"
"I just can't believe she's gone."
"When the seatbelt light is on, remain seated with your seatbelt firmly fastened. We suggest that you keep your seat belt fastened throughout the flight, as we may experience turbulence."
Ten days after the death of her grandmother, Drina flew to New York with the Dominick. She stared at the route map in the back of the in-flight magazine, and imagined her life plotted out in the same way. Tragedies leading to flights; flights leading to tragedies. There were happy moments such as her honeymoon - but everything always came back to what she thought of as the first flight, although of course it was her mother’s last. The flight that had sent her whole life on its current path.
“If you have any questions about our flight today, please don’t hesitate to ask one of our flight attendants.”
"Well, I thought you’d know by now!" Rose laughed as she bent down to do up the buckle on her sandal.
"Engaged!" Drina exclaimed.
Both sandals buckled, Rose stood up and grinned at Drina. Her face, once pale and unhealthy looking, had filled out (just a little) with age and an improved diet, and she was now acknowledged as the most beautiful dancer in the company.
“Oh Rose - I’m so happy for you! I still can’t believe it!” Drina gave her friend a hug.
“Alright, no need to sound quite so surprised!”
Drina laughed, and gave Rose a playful shove, almost knocking her off balance.
"Oi! Mind out, love! Almost knocked me over! Now let's hurry, I'm starving!"
The two girls picked up their bags from the changing room bench and walked briskly out of the theatre, and along the street. Years ago they would have run, but now they were in the Company they had to remain dignified. As they walked, Drina considered what Rose had just told her.
There was a time when Rose and Drina had had no secrets from each other. For a long time Rose was the only one of Drina's friends who knew the secret of her birth. But after Drina had become engaged to Grant, and Rose and Igor had started going out, there had been a few years of awkwardness while they all dealt with their changing relationships. Drina and Igor were perfect dance partners. While Rose was a great dancer she excelled in traditional roles - her Sugar Plum fairy had been very well received by the critics - whereas Drina and Igor were in their element with more contemporary ballets. The Breton Wedding had been the performance which cemented their place as the lead couple in the Dominick. In any case Rose and Igor’s relationship had not lasted, and now Rose was engaged to another Dominick dancer, Jan Williams.
"Rose," asked Drina, almost shyly. "Can I ask something?"
"It's just... why you didn’t tell me earlier?"
Rose considered. "You seemed so wrapped up in your own life. I meant to, but you weren’t around until now, and we decided to tell people last week."
"I guess I've just been so busy..."
"You guess? That's definitely Grant's influence."
Drina gave a small smile. “Touché.”
“Please stow your carry-on baggage underneath the seat in front of you, or in an overhead bin.”
Drina did sometimes wonder what would have happened if she had married Igor, instead of Grant... well, not married, but at least gone out with him for a while. She sighed as she remembered those wasted years, constantly checking the letterbox, or working out what time it was in New York. No, it wasn't that she regretted marrying Grant, but it seemed a shame that her teenage years had been so chaste considering the many attractive boys who had pursued her. If she could go back in time, knowing that she would marry Grant anyway, who would she have chosen? Handsome Igor, with his sports car and fondness for expensive restaurants? Brown-skinned Jasper, so beautiful as he sunbathed by the pool? Maybe even Jenny's brother Philip, less good-looking than the others, but so eager to please…
"Relax and enjoy the flight."
“Drina! Over here!”
Drina turned her head and scanned the station platform. She spotted Jenny waving furiously with one hand, and towing along a small blonde girl with the other. Robert was there too, ready to carry Drina’s suitcases.
“Wow Drina, you look amazing! What a fantastic suntan! Did you enjoy Italy?”
“It was perfect! Sunny, warm - I had a week off before the festival, and stayed with my Italian grandmother. I’m tired now though, I really need a break.” Drina smiled down at Mary Andrina, who promptly hid behind her father. “I brought you a present.”
The little girl came forward shyly, and carefully unwrapped the parcel. She gasped in delight when she saw the beautifully carved wooden cat. Drina had found the most amazing toy shop just near her grandmother’s apartment, and hadn’t been able to resist filling her suitcase with toys.
“Thanks Aunty Drina! It’s lovely!”
After a week on the farm Drina felt refreshed, as if she could breathe more deeply than before. Jenny and Robert were friendly as usual, but both seemed to sense that Drina needed some time to herself. And they always excused themselves when Drina called Grant on the kitchen telephone. He was in New York, and would arrive back in London just a few days after Drina.
When it was time for Drina to travel home, Jenny embraced her more tightly than normal. “Have a good trip back Drina. And - if you want to talk about anything, ring me anytime.”
“Gypsy Jenny!” thought Drina warmly as she sat watching the countryside flash past the train windows.
“Flight attendants, prepare for landing please.”
Drina could see Grant’s plane landing, it came down with a thump and she felt her stomach lurch slightly, almost as if she were on it. She felt nauseous again too. As she waited by the gate, she felt she couldn’t wait for Grant to arrive. Her mind went back to the time Grant had come to see her just after he moved to London - she had been so excited. She still remembered that mad rush into his arms. Five years later, how nice it was that she still felt so happy to be seeing him again.
“Grant! I’m so glad you’re back!” Drina leant up and kissed Grant. They were aware of a few people recognising Drina, but were used to it by now and mostly able to ignore it.
“I’m mighty glad to be back too!” Grant said. “I can’t wait to get home”.
“Sure.” said Drina. “But I’m really hungry, let’s pick up lunch on the way.”
“Of course.” said Grant. “You’re eating for two now!”
They smiled at each other and started to walk through the airport, hand in hand. All the worries they had once had about her career seemed so far away. Drina felt content knowing that whatever happened to her in the future, she would always have Grant with her on life's journey.