A Chance Encounter... or Was It?
The Regent Hotel, Singapore
A personal hand-written note in Kevin's suite reminded him of a guest reception that evening in the lobby bar. This weekly tradition at the Regent was well known and well attended by the invited VIP guests and hotel management. Kevin stayed at the Regent several times each year and was always welcomed like a close friend by the hotel limo driver at the Changi Airport. The doorman greeted him by name as he arrived for check-in. They knew him well.
Unlike at most hotels, the reception staff welcomed him with completed documentation that required only his signature before walking to his suite. It was usually the same suite each time because he mentioned a few years earlier how much he liked it. From that moment, it was his if at all possible. Such was the way of the Regent. Their customer service was legendary and Kevin always knew they appreciated his business and that of his customers and employees.
Arriving at the reception, Kevin was greeted by Sharon Tan, the customer service manager whose enthusiastic welcome was accompanied by a prepared name tag and quick introductions to the other guests and staff. Sharon had been in that role for at least three years, having risen through the hotel management hierarchy. Mr. Lim, the hotel manager, always greeted Kevin with a warm handshake. His English name was also Kevin and they had enjoyed that common bond over the past few years.
The reception was well attended that evening and Kevin spent time networking to learn who there might be a future customer or, heaven forbid, a competitor. As he worked his way among the guests, he glanced down the bar to a woman sitting alone and chatting with Ramon, the bartender. She appeared familiar but he couldn't remember how or where he had met her. Even as he chatted with other men and a few women, he continued to glance her way and struggle with his 58-year-old memory bank.
Kevin was positive he had met her and it frustrated him to have forgotten the details. Her beauty was breathtaking. Her very long and lustrous blonde hair reached the small of her back. Her profile revealed a curvy body that was fit, even athletic. She wore a long cocktail dress, maybe a little too dressy for this evening, with a slit up the side that revealed most of her tanned shapely leg. He worked his way closer and finally could hear her East coast American accent and easy laugh that he should recall, but from where?
Erin first noticed him as he approached. She recognized him but it had been years and she couldn't remember the details. He was very handsome, like the Marlboro man, tall and fit with snow-white hair and the easy mannerisms one has from self-confidence rather than ego. She turned to face him and smiled.
"Excuse me," he said. "I know this is the oldest pickup line of all time, but have we met before?" He grinned as she smiled with the sexiest dimples he had seen.
Erin glanced at his nametag. "We have met, Kevin, but I'm struggling to remember where," she replied. "My name is Erin Johnson." She gazed at his eyes, easily the most sensitive and expressive she had seen. She remembered them but from where?
"I'm delighted to see you again, Erin."
She offered her hand, which he took before continuing. "Now let's figure this out. You're obviously American and so am I. I live in Alexandria, Virginia."
Erin grinned and replied, "Now we're getting closer. I live in Bethesda, Maryland. Have we met at a party? For some reason, in the fog of my memory I see you in the company of a young lady." She pointed to the bar stool next to her. "Please have a seat."
Kevin sat and turned to her. "A young lady? Hmm, let me think. My daughter and I often did things together on weekends when I'm there. She's now 26."
"What are some of the things you did?"
"We went to museums, concerts, restaurants and on photo outings. We both have the photography bug."
"That's it!" Erin exclaimed with wide-open eyes. "You two were in a photography class I taught a few years ago."
Kevin jokingly slapped his forehead. "You're right. You're the National Geographic photographer that blew my mind for two days about four years ago. I think I learned more about lighting and positioning for a shot from you than I thought possible. Laura, my daughter, and I still talk and try to remember all the little tips you shared that weekend."
Erin smiled. "Thank you. It's good to know that someone paid attention."
"What brings you to Singapore?" he asked.
"Assignment. The yellow book hasn't looked at Singapore in many years and the editor sent me to shoot for an article that was recently written. It'll be published in three months. What about you? It's a long way from Virginia."
"I have business interests that require my presence several times a year."
"This was my first visit here. It's a lovely country. Almost like living inside a greenhouse; but the heat and humidity saps my energy. Do you get used to it?"
"I don't but obviously the locals do. How long have you been here?" Kevin asked.
"This is my sixth day. Headed home tomorrow night."
"You came all this way for one shooting assignment?" he asked.
"Oh no, I've been in the region a month. Spent five days in Kyoto, seven in Hong Kong, and nine in Vietnam before coming here. We have articles on each of those coming out within the next nine months."
"You must have a fascinating life." Kevin replied.
"I suppose. How much longer are you here?" Erin asked as she locked onto his eyes. They were alive with energy, she thought.
"Two days, then home. I was in Germany last week and France the week before. Can you join me in this little reception at the end of the bar? Drinks are free down there."
Kevin called Ramon over and arranged to cover Erin's bar bill. Leaving a S$10 gratuity assured the drinks would be listed on his account where they always disappeared at checkout. Erin was surprised by this gesture but knew not to argue. She smiled and took his arm as they walked to the VIP end of the bar. Her next few hours were now going to be interesting she thought.
"Sharon, I have a friend from the States. This is Erin Johnson. Can she join our little party?"
"Of course, Mr. Larkin. Let me prepare a nametag."
Erin accompanied Kevin as they worked the room visiting with others there on business or pleasure. The other men admired this lovely lady who wore a revealing black dress and wished for Kevin's good fortune to be in her presence. Her 5'9" stature was rare in Asia, as was her impressive figure and natural blonde hair.
Kevin's 6'2" frame towered over the Asian businessmen and travelers. His white hair was unusual in that society, as was his ramrod straight back and muscular physique.
Erin glanced at Kevin many times as they walked and talked with the others. She was enamored by both his appearance and genteel personality. He had that same effect on her four years earlier and even though that feeling had slowly faded, it roared back to life this evening.
After an appropriate time of meeting and greeting, Kevin turned to Erin and whispered, "How about dinner?"
"I'd love it; but I must warn you I promised my niece I'd bring home a Hard Rock Cafe t-shirt from each country I visited. This is the last one for this trip."
"You're in luck. It's just a quick walk from here."
"We don't have to eat there if you prefer another place," she responded.
Kevin replied, "It's actually a good place for burgers, BBQ and sandwiches. It's been a couple of years since I was last there. Let's go."
"Can I run up and change into jeans? That might be more appropriate."
"Of course. I'll just wait here."
She smiled and walked away as he admired her departing visage. Kevin was smitten, just like four years earlier when she walked into the classroom. Although she was several years younger, maybe many years younger, her style and grace and the way she focused her full attention on him as they talked reminded him of his late wife.
Erin returned shortly, smiled and said, "I'm ready. Which way do we go?"
"Out the front door and straight down for a couple of blocks."
He led the way to the lobby entrance where the doorman greeted them and handed Kevin an umbrella. "Mr. Larkin, there's rain expected shortly."
"As usual," Erin added.
Kevin smiled as she took his arm. He caught a whiff of her perfume as they walked through the hotel door.
During their walk, Erin asked, "What happens when you get home this week?"
"I was hoping you might have dinner and see a show with me. Andrea Bocelli is in town at the Kennedy Center and I have tickets if you'd like to go."
"Oh my. He's one of my very favorite singers but I've never seen him live. That would be a dream come true. Do you go to many concerts?"
"Not as often as I'd like. My wife and I had season tickets years ago and I've continued buying them to support the concert series."
"So you're married?"
"She died from cancer. Melanoma."
"Oh no. That's sad. How long ago?"
"Six years. I miss her, especially when I return home from these long trips. It was always like our honeymoon all over again. What about you? Are you married?"
"I was. After six years, we gave up. My travel commitments killed our marriage. I wasn't there more than half the time and he needed more than that. In the end, I had to choose between him and the job. He made it an easy decision by seeing another woman while I was away."
"How long ago?" Kevin asked.
"Eight years and three months."
"It still hurts?"
"Yes, it does. Like you, I have no one to go home to. At least you have a daughter."
"I do but she's married and on her own now."
"She still lives in the D.C. area?"
"Richmond. She was married three years ago and is expecting a baby in five months."
"A proud granddad, I'm guessing." She grinned.
"Exactly. I just wish her mom was here to see it."
"Maybe she is, who knows."
He paused and then replied, "Your right, of course. Who knows?" Kevin and Erin glanced at each other and smiled.
They were quickly seated by a young lady who took their orders for Tiger beer. The local brewery was only a few miles away in Tuas. They chose appetizers of three different kinds of satay and chili crab dip with tortilla chips, both specialties in Singapore. Wisely, they held off ordering other dishes. The finger foods served at the hotel combined with the filling beer, chips and dip made it easy to forego anything else. After another round of Tiger, Kevin and Erin shopped for that perfect t-shirt before returning to the hotel.
"How old is your niece?
"Eleven, going on 16."
"Yeah, they grow up fast."
"She's my brother's daughter. They live in Frederick, Maryland."
"Is he your only sibling?"
"Yeah. He's in real estate. My dad owns an agency and he works there."
"Your parents in good health?"
"Very good. They're in their late sixties. No health issues so far."
They exchanged cell phone numbers and agreed to get in touch once Kevin returned.
As they entered the elevator, Erin turned and thanked him for a lovely evening. She leaned in and kissed his cheek, much to Kevin's surprise. Arriving at her floor, she took his hand and led him off toward her room. She wanted more time with him, he thought.
"Erin, I should go."
"Can't you come in? The night is still young."
"As much as I'd like to, I think that'd be a mistake. Don't get me wrong, you're absolutely gorgeous and I'd love to be with you. But I'd like to build on tonight and see what comes of it."
Erin looked down and nodded.
Kevin took her hand again and added, "I'm very interested in you and I sense you might have an interest in me."
She looked up and smiled.
"I am interested. You make me feel like a woman, not an object."
"Most men aren't interested in more than a night or two."
"I'm not that way."
"I didn't think so but I wanted to make sure."
Kevin smiled and asked, "I passed your test?"
He raised her chin into a tender kiss.
"Erin, I promise to be honest with you. You don't need to test me. Just ask me."
She gazed at his smiling face and nodded.
"What time is your flight?" he asked.
"Very late. The plane takes off at 1:10am so I have to be at the airport by 11:30. It goes through London and on to Dulles."
"Oh, so you have all day tomorrow?"
"If I could wrap up my business tomorrow, would you mind me going along on your flight?"
"I'd love to spend that time with you. But I'm in coach and I think it's full."
"Let's make a call and see what's possible. Now, I will go to your room."
Erin smiled and led him there. Once inside, he found the number for Singapore Airlines and called.
"Hi, this is Kevin Larkin. I'm on flight 306 leaving at 1:10am Friday morning. Would it be possible for me to go a day earlier?
"Sure, I'll hold.
"Yes, that'd be fine. Good.
"That's excellent. Thanks.
"Could you also move my traveling companion to the seat next to me? Her name is Erin Johnson and she's booked on that flight.
"Good. Yes. That's fine. Oh good.
"Thanks very much. You always take good care of me.
"I appreciate you and your company.
Kevin smiled as he cradled the phone.
"It's all arranged. I had to move you to first class. Hope you don't mind."
She giggled, "Are you joking?"
"No, of course not. I'm flying all the time and only go first class for these long hauls. She gave us two seats together and you got a free upgrade."
"I can't believe this. I'm always in the cattle car section."
"Not on this trip."
Erin stood and playfully pushed Kevin onto his back on the bed. She sat beside him and leaned in to kiss him fully on the lips. It was just a slow, gentle kiss that delivered energy like a bolt of lightning to both.
"Thank you," she said. "I think I'm going to enjoy hanging out with you."
"Let's have breakfast in the morning," he said. "Call me when you get up."
Kevin walked to the door, bid her goodnight and found his way through a haze of emotions to his room. He had a tough time getting to sleep.
Erin woke and immediately thought of the previous evening and the excitement of meeting Kevin again after four years. She recalled that class because of him. He sat on the front row with his daughter and their eyes touched many times as she covered the material, sometimes losing her train of thought as he gazed at her. There was a magnetism she couldn't resist.
At the morning and afternoon breaks, they talked about some of the detail points she'd made; but she had the impression he really just wanted to talk to her. That easy manner of his and the fact he wasn't wearing a ring thrilled her but nothing came of it. Erin would have jumped at the opportunity to have dinner with him; but maybe because his daughter was there, no invitation was forthcoming. She remembered how disappointed she felt when the class ended, leaving a sense of emptiness and missed opportunity.
She reached for the phone and asked the operator for Mr. Larkin's room. On the second ring, Kevin answered.
"Good morning," he said.
"I'm up and starting to stir."
"I've been up a while. Had trouble sleeping."
"Yeah, I had a special lady on my mind."
"Anyone I know?"
Erin smiled and responded. "I had sweet dreams."
"About anyone I know?"
"I think so."
"Good. How about we meet in 45 minutes in the lobby restaurant?"
"Perfect. I'm surprised I'm actually hungry. I ate way too much last night."
"Me too. I never should have had that second beer."
"Yeah, that stuff is filling. Okay, see you in 45," Erin said before disconnecting.
Kevin arrived a few minutes early and was seated so that he could watch the entrance. The coffee was very rich and bold, requiring a small amount of cream to tame it to his taste. He always enjoyed watching people and this hotel was good for that with many beautiful women working and staying here. The traditional dresses often worn in Singapore were sarongs of colorful fabric representing the flowers and trees that were always in bloom on this tropical island just 85 miles from the equator.
Erin arrived and was escorted to the table. Kevin stood as she approached and watched as the manager seated her.
"You're lovely this morning," Kevin said. She was wearing a colorful summer dress with lots of flashy jewelry.
"Thanks. I'm going to walk once more along Orchard Road and check out a few shops. It's expensive here so I'll probably just look."
"Yeah, the prices in town are for tourists and wealthy shopping visitors from Japan and China. Great merchandise but twice the price of the same item in the States."
"Where do the locals shop?"
"Outside of town, over in Jurong and Tuas on the western end of the island. My plant is over that way."
The server came and took their orders.
"What does your plant make?"
"Plastics. We supply various types of polymer chips that are melted and formed into auto parts, toys, electronic cases, etc."
"Are there many customers here on the island?"
"Only four. Most of the product made here goes to China, Vietnam, South Korea and Japan."
"Why did you build the plant here?"
"Taxes are lower and shipping capabilities from here are world class. Labor cost is not bad but there's not a lot of labor required in making our products."
"You mentioned Germany and France. Do you have plants there?"
"Mostly customers there but we have a large plant near Munich and one near Rotterdam."
"Any other locations?"
"Yeah, two in the States, one in Canada, one in Mexico and two in South America."
"No wonder you travel so much."
"Yeah, too much."
"Is your business structure a corporation?"
"Yes, based in the Netherlands for tax purposes. We're closely held. My dad, who is now 88, owns 30%, my brother Trace owns 10%, my sister Jane owns 10% and I own 40%. The rest is owned in small portions by a number of our most valued employees. Except for dad, we're all heavily involved in the business."
"How old are you?" she asked.
"Now hold on. Did I ask your age?" Kevin frowned as he joked. "Isn't that a little too personal?"
"Then I'll go first. I'm 39, for the first time," Erin replied.
"I'm 58, old enough to be your dad."
"Also young enough for other things," she replied with a devious grin.
"Oh, I just remembered. I need to check out of my room by noon. Darn it."
"That's no problem. Here's my room key. Have them take your luggage there when you check out. The hotel always lets me keep the room until time to go to the airport ... so make yourself at home. Sharon Tan saw you with me last night so she won't have a problem with it. If she does, have her call me. She has my cell number."
"Jeez, you do have pull. Thanks. I need to work on editing my photos so that'll give me a nice quiet work place."
"Exactly. Just put my work papers to the side and I'll organize them later."
Breakfast was over quickly and it was time for Kevin's driver. He would spend the morning at the plant and the afternoon visiting customers before returning that evening for dinner with Erin. They agreed that Kevin would call the room when he was on the way so she could be ready. They briefly hugged when his driver arrived in the lobby.
Erin returned to her room and dressed in conservative shorts and a chic t-shirt for the shopping excursion. She also packed her belongings and computer to be moved later.
As predicted, she found very few items that were unique, stylish and affordable. One pair of sandals, however, fit her budget and looked great on her. She could wear them with any dark colors and they highlighted her toes and ankles that many men had admired. As the heat of the day and the mid-day pattern of rain clouds approached, Erin returned to the hotel and approached guest services.
"Could I speak with Ms. Sharon Tan, please?"
"Of course, Ms. Johnson." Jeremy called and Sharon arrived shortly.
"Good morning, Ms. Johnson. How can I help you?
"My friend, Kevin Larkin and I are flying very late tonight and he suggested I move into his suite and check out of my room. He gave me his room key."
"That's fine. The hotel policy is that I must get his personal approval for that. Can you wait just a moment? I'll call him."
She returned quickly and instructed the bellman to move Ms. Johnson's luggage to Mr. Larkin's suite. Sharon printed the itemized invoice and Erin checked out of her room before walking with the bellman upstairs.
The transfer occurred quickly and a nice tip sent him away smiling. Sharon had given Erin a second magnetic key just in case it was needed.
She was struck by the size and opulence of the suite. The live orchids, beautiful art, premium furniture and oversize bed were amazing. The bath and Jacuzzi were gigantic. Her employer would never pay for digs like this.
After a quick nap, Erin unpacked a few things needed for the evening and pressed a dress that she wanted to wear for dinner. It was the shortest one she had; and it allowed a perfect view of her long legs that were still firm and fit, a leftover from her swimsuit modeling days when she was in her early 20s. It had taken hard work and many hours in the gym to maintain herself to her standards.
It bothered her for years when men stared at her with obvious lust on their minds. Now she enjoyed their attention at an age when most women's bodies were slipping into middle age sag.
Once ironing was done, Erin opened her computer and moved Kevin's work papers to the bed. Her natural curiosity forced her to glance through them. It was mostly financial investment proposals for the various plant sites and a draft of a legal agreement written in French that appeared to be a sale of some property. Erin's French was rusty, especially when legal terms were involved.
After two hours of editing her shots of Singapore, she e-mailed them to headquarters and saved a third set on a memory stick, just in case her computer failed. It had happened one time ... a total hard drive failure and many days of work had to be repeated.
Shortly after Erin emerged from the shower, Kevin called and said he would be there in twenty minutes. This gave her the impetus to quickly dry, dress and apply appropriate makeup. She wanted to be beautiful when he arrived.
When the knock came, Erin rushed to open the door after confirming it was Kevin. He walked in and they briefly hugged.
"You look fantastic," he said.
She smiled. "Thank you. Did you have a good day?"
"Very good. I'll give you the details later. Can I take a quick shower? The humidity here is brutal."
"Of course. Do you have anything that needs to be pressed?"
"Yes, if you don't mind. That white long sleeve shirt is a little wrinkled and I'd like to wear it tonight. We're going to Morton's The Steakhouse over near Raffles Hotel."
"Oh. Lovely. Am I dressed appropriately?"
"You're perfect for that place. Your legs are amazing."
She grinned once again. "Thanks."
Fifteen minutes later, Kevin came from the bath wearing only his trousers. Erin watched as he walked to the closet for the fresh-ironed shirt. His chest and back were muscular with light hair ... just enough and not too much. She had dated several men who were not this well maintained although they were twenty years younger.
Erin asked, "How do you keep in such great shape?"
He smiled and replied, "You mean for my age?"
"No silly. I'm serious. You obviously work out."
"Yeah, I usually hit the gym every morning but wasn't able to do it today. But speaking of working out, you're in wonderful shape. You must exercise."
"Not every day but a few times each week. I don't want to be too muscular."
"Right." He grinned and reached for a tie.
"Since we're going to be near the Raffles Hotel, let's stop at the Long Bar. You need to see it."
"I'd love to. I think that's where the Singapore Sling was invented, right?"
"Exactly. The bar is huge and dates from the late 1800s. They serve peanuts in the shell and encourage you to throw the shells on the floor."
"That must be the only place you can litter here."
"It is. Singapore's littering laws are legendary for how much you get fined. That's why you never see litter on the streets or sidewalks. You can't even spit on the ground, if one is so inclined."
"In the article I'm illustrating, it says that if you're caught possessing or distributing illegal drugs, you get the death penalty."
"That's correct. They hang a lot of people here for crimes that would be punished by short prison time in the States."
"They still hang people?"
"Yep, on Friday mornings at dawn in the prison."
"That certainly keeps things under control."
"I imagine so. Are you ready?"
"I am," Erin replied.
They took a taxi to Raffles, which was opened in 1887 under British control of the island. It was and still is one of the great hotels in the world and no trip to Singapore is complete without a visit to enjoy its colonial ambience.
When entering the Long Bar, Erin gasped. "This bar is huge."
"That's why the name. Lots of famous people have imbibed here in the last 120 years including Hemingway, Hitchcock and Kipling."
"Yes, but not Erin Johnson," she added with a smirk.
He replied with a smile, "Now, their history is complete."
They sat at the bar and were quickly approached.
"Welcome to the Long Bar. What can I get you?" asked a smiling Cher Tong, the bartender for their section.
Erin replied, "I've got to have your Singapore Sling."
"Of course, and for you sir?"
"Macallan 18 on the rocks."
"Very good, sir."
Both reached for peanuts and began dropping the shells to join dozens of others. Erin glanced around the room and noticed peanut shells everywhere.
"I like this bar. It's just a classic English Pub on a grand scale. Look at the old wicker leaf fans and this ancient dark woodwork."
Kevin replied, "I always enjoy coming here. So much history."
"Are you a history buff?"
"More American and European than Asian. Leaned much of it from reading your magazine."
"Let me guess ... you're a life long subscriber."
"No, just 20 years or so," Kevin replied with a grin.
"Please don't tell me you have them all on shelves arranged in order."
"No, of course not. They're in boxes in the basement." He grinned again as she laughed.
"I'll get you an electronic subscription. No reason to keep the hard copies."
"You're so nice."
"I am." Erin flashed that devious grin. "This drink is good. First Singapore Sling I've had since I arrived."
"The airline also makes good ones. Just have to be careful. They sneak up on you and after a few, you're looking up at the ceiling or down at the floor wishing you could find a bed."
She smiled. "What time is our reservation?"
"We have another 30 minutes. So tell me about your assignment here."
"The article focuses on the industrial development on the island so I took hundreds of shots of the commercial district at all hours of the day and night. I shot the harbor at sunrise and sunset and visited several of the industrial parks. But I also took the night tour of the zoo and a tour of the bird park. The airport is fascinating with the indoor gardens and koi ponds and I received permission to shoot there."
Kevin said, "The entire island is like a garden. No matter when a person comes, there are trees, shrubs or plants in bloom. Where's your next assignment?"
"Ireland, in two weeks. We're doing an article on the ancient castles and ruins. I'll be hiking through the countryside for several days."
"Is someone going with you?"
"Not with me but I'll meet up with a guy and a woman who'll be helping lug equipment and meeting with the property owners. It's always good to have locals with you to smooth the path."
"I'll bet. Did you have anyone to help here?"
"No but I did in Japan and Vietnam."
"What will you do before you leave for Ireland?"
"I work as a contractor so I'm free to do anything I want. I often hang out with friends, research the upcoming assignments, and do free-lancing work for other publications, just whatever comes along. That course I taught was a one-off deal with NG.
Kevin glanced at his watch. "Let's walk over. It's in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on the fourth floor. That's only a few blocks."
"Good, I'm hungry. Only had a salad for lunch."
"You won't be hungry after this meal. Morton's is as good as it gets for beef."
The next two hours saw one indulgence after another as Erin and Kevin started with jumbo shrimp cocktail and baked escargot, which they shared. Next was a very tender three-inch thick center cut filet mignon for Erin and prime ribeye for Kevin. They completed their feast by sharing a piece of Morton's special hot chocolate cake and coffee. Moaning and groaning was all they could do as they stood to leave. Each was stuffed and wishing they could just go to bed. Unfortunately, 26 hours of travel awaited them before they would see a real bed.
After a taxi ride to the Regent, they walked to Kevin's suite and relaxed for an hour until it was time to leave for the airport. They lay on the king size bed and faced each other, talking about the wonderful meal. Erin moved closer to Kevin and rose on her elbow to kiss him with a passion not yet shared between them. Kevin pulled her onto his chest and returned the kiss. Their silent eye contact said much more than words.
The bellman arrived shortly after 10:30pm and took their luggage down to the waiting hotel limo. Kevin dropped off the room keys and bid farewell to the reception staff. They would later e-mail his invoice and hold it open until he reviewed and approved it by return e-mail.
Arrival at Changi Airport was efficient. The limo driver had a baggage handler waiting and the luggage was out and checked at the first class counter in just a couple of minutes. The agent greeted Kevin by name as he approached and a quick flash of their passports was the only requirement. Within minutes, they were on their way through the VIP side of security and on to the first class lounge to await the flight.
Once seated, Erin said, "I've got to travel with you more often. Never have I been treated like this. I would have been in line for an hour out there."
Kevin smiled, then walked to the bar for their drinks ... more Tiger beer for each. "This will help you sleep," he told her. "Do you have any sleeping aids?"
"Just some Tylenol PM. That works well for me."
"Me too, but you shouldn't drink alcohol and take it."
"I'll wait for a few hours and let the beer clear my system."
"They'll offer us premium champagne when we board. You should try it as it's always top quality."
"You first class guys always have the best."
"On Singapore Air, you're right."
Approximately 15 minutes before takeoff, an announcement was made for all first class passengers to meet at the lounge door. Kevin and Erin joined six others and followed the flight attendant to the gate and directly onto the Boeing 777-300ER for the flight to London. They were in the center section of row one, Kevin's favorite seat.
Elizabeth Lim, the first class attendant, welcomed them with a glass of bubbly and a warm smile. "Mr. Larkin, it's great to have you with us again."
"Thank you, Elizabeth. Let me introduce you to my friend Erin Johnson."
"Good evening, Ms. Johnson. Welcome aboard."
"Thank you. It's great to be here and sitting with Kevin. It's my first time in this class so you'll need to help me with this seat, I think. It looks complicated."
Elizabeth smiled, "I'll be glad to."
The announcements were made and the massive plane took off on time, fully loaded, for the long flight to London Heathrow. It was scheduled to land at 7:35am GMT more than 14 hours later.
Erin gazed at Kevin. Reaching to take his hand, she said, "I'm glad I met you again. The last 24 hours have been very special."
"They have indeed. I've missed having a relationship with a woman and that feeling of excitement is now back. But there's 20 years difference in our ages. Can this possibly work?"
She joked, "Well, I've always wanted a father figure in my life." She flashed a sly grin.
"Gee, thanks." They laughed.
"Of course it can work. Kevin, ages don't matter. You're not old and I'm not young. There are plenty of years ahead of us if we want to start down that path. For now, let's live for the moment and see where this goes. I feel very good about being with you. You excite me."
He smiled and gently squeezed her hand. "I've been thinking more and more about retirement and doing some other things before I die."
"We've talked about my interest in photography and I'd like to pursue that, as a hobby of course. Just this past week, I purchased a house on the French Riviera that is just perfect for a quiet getaway. I want to spend time there with my camera. There's a wealth of history in that region and wonderful restaurants."
"It's also one of the great beaches in the world. I was a swimsuit model and was in two shoots there about 15 years ago. We had a wonderful time in Nice."
"I also enjoy working with people and have been thinking about volunteering with some of the charities."
"I think that'd be a great thing for you. You could also travel with me and help with the shoots."
"Now that's a thought. I'd sure learn from you."
"I'll even give you a senior citizen discount."
"Wow, now I've got to do it." They smiled and Erin returned the gentle hand squeeze.
"How do you go about retiring when you own 40% of the company?"
"There are several ways of doing it. The simple way is to sell my shares to someone else. Or, being closely held like we are, the corporation itself may buy those shares and use them to reward our top employees down the road. Another way is to keep the shares, continue on the board but retire from the day-to-day operational role. A fourth way is to work with dad and my siblings to determine the future direction of the company and all act together ... maybe even to find a buyer for the entire thing. We've had several suitors over the years but we weren't interested."
"Who started the company?"
"My dad. He was a research chemist at DuPont and his focus was plastics. After DuPont declined to pursue a couple of his developments, he bought the patent rights from them and went out on his own. That was in the 1960s. He found a couple of investors and built a small plant to further the development; and his products found a quick home in moldings for engineered applications."
"Those are the car parts you mentioned?"
"Yes, that's a good example. But we make product that can be molded into all types of end uses. We even sell waste and unsold, old batches for molded toys so we don't dispose of anything, to speak of."
"How did you come to own 40%?"
"Craftiness." Kevin smiled and Erin laughed.
She responded, "Please explain."
"Originally, my dad owned 90% and his two investors owned 5% each. As dad was getting older and planning for retirement, he sold 60% to us three children and even gave us the money to buy it. The company bought out the two investors. At that point, Trace, Jane and I each owned 20%. When it came time for dad to retire, we had a family meeting and I was chosen to run the company. After a few days of discussion, I offered to do it on the condition that Trace and Jane sell me half of their stock. In return, I agreed to a salary of only one dollar a year with the stock paying a nice guaranteed dividend to all owners. Trace and Jane were thrilled as that gave them a guaranteed stream of money from their holdings plus they would earn a nice salary for their work. Trace heads up production and Jane is in charge of marketing."
"That's neat. Your salary is nothing so you don't pay the huge tax rates on wages and your dividends are being taxed at a much lower rate."
"Exactly. Plus all my expenses are paid by the corporation."
"You are one sharp dude," Erin replied. "Why would you want to leave that behind?"
"To be with someone like you."
"Oh!" Erin didn't expect that and was quiet for a few seconds.
"Have you been looking a long time?" she asked.
"Only a couple of years. As the grief of losing Sarah eased, I realized my life was slowly evaporating before my eyes and I was very lonely. Even though I was with people all the time and working hard with our R&D, production staff and customers, it wasn't the relationship I had with her. I had many great friends but not the one I wanted the most."
"I know that feeling. When Rich and I divorced, I was initially relieved to have it over but then the loneliness set in. Sure, I had friends and stayed very busy, but it's not the same. I've missed genuine love. I wasn't made to be single and it's very hard."
"Have you dated much?"
"Yes, but that's even hard. I may be out of the country for a month at a time. When I come home, it's like starting over. Guys don't like that. Many of my dates end up as one-night deals that leave me even more frustrated."
"I feel the same way. I've dated several nice ladies and tried dating services a few times but nothing special happened. Many are looking for a sugar daddy and that turns me off."
"Rest assured, I'm not one of them," Eric replied. "I'm financially comfortable thanks to my work and the divorce settlement. That gives me the freedom to look for real love, not support."
Elizabeth returned and took their dinner orders. They wanted only a cheese tray to share with red wine and water. Dehydration is a big problem on the long flights so water was the drink of choice for most everyone on the flight. As they munched the tasty varieties offered, they continued to talk until the lights were lowered and the first movie came on. It wasn't long before Erin asked Elizabeth to help her with the seat adjustments. It made into a flat bed that was fairly comfortable with the pillows and blankets provided. Both settled down with earplugs and masks and tried their best to sleep.
Erin tossed and turned. The adrenalin from the discussions with Kevin was flowing through her. There was something very special about him and it both excited her and bothered her. She had learned from experience that if something seemed too good, then it was. She had always had to make compromises and accept less than perfection in relationships. Not once had she met someone like him and it made her uneasy, even suspicious.
Kevin pulled the blanket around him and tried to relax. Sleeping on a plane was always difficult with the noise level and ongoing work of the cabin crew. The flat bed-seat helped but it wasn't enough.
He thought about Erin. What were the odds of meeting her again half way around the world? Even if both were in Singapore on the same day, what were the odds of them being in the same bar on the same evening?
He believed in miracles although the one he prayed for the most never happened. The cancer took her. She was ready to go and was very strong in her Christian beliefs. He had no doubt she was now in heaven and maybe looking down on him. Did she have anything to do with bringing he and Erin together? Maybe so. As Erin said, maybe she'll see the birth of her grandbaby. He hoped that was true. He had prayed many times for the right partner to come into his life. Now he sees Erin again. Is she the answer to his prayers? It seemed too good to be true.
Kevin's efforts to sleep were interrupted by an announcement warning of pending turbulence. The pilot asked everyone to return to their seats and buckle up. The gigantic plane began bucking and fighting the strong wind currents coming up from the mountains below. Erin reached for his hand and said, "I'm scared."
"It's okay. These planes are tough and turbulence is common on this route. Just hold on. Everything will be fine."
"How do you know?"
"I have faith."
"I do too but I'm still scared."
Kevin smiled and wrapped both of his hands around hers. "I'll take care of you."
After a few minutes, the turbulence subsided and Erin relaxed.
She turned to him and asked, "Have you ever had a near death experience?"
"No, not as far as I know."
"I have. I was working along the edge of a rock formation to photograph a rare cliff-dwelling bird in Brazil. I was warned about loose rocks but in my enthusiasm to get the shot, I didn't pay enough attention to my footing. I fell off this high cliff but landed in a tree that cushioned my fall. The two guys with me were able to climb down and retrieve me but I was out cold for three days. I dreamed of being in heaven with my grandparents while I was unconscious. I learned later that I had medically died for about five minutes before the doctor was able to resuscitate me. Even today, I can visualize heaven and remember how happy I was to be with my granddad and grandma once again. I felt so warm and loved. It was perfect."
"I've heard about such experiences but I've never met someone who actually had one. Did it change your outlook on life?"
"I've always felt life was precious but the feeling was much stronger after that. I now know there is a heaven and our departed loved ones are there. That gives me a foundation to build on ... like a bedrock of my faith. But we have to live every moment as if it were our last. I guess that was my biggest takeaway from that experience. What we do in life is very important."
"I believe that. I was angry when my wife was diagnosed and when it became likely that she would eventually die from it, Laura and I were devastated. It was a while before we dragged ourselves out of that funk and realized just how important every day was to us. That's when we began taking all the special trips we had planned for some day in the future. We traveled to the far ends of the earth. Laura left school for a semester and we spent every day doing something special while Sarah still felt like doing it. Whatever she asked for, we did it. Parachuting, driving a racecar around the Dover Delaware Raceway, parasailing, scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, swimming with whale sharks in Mexico, helicoptering over Angel Falls, and seeing the polar bears in Alaska and the Emperor penguins in the Antarctic. When Sarah was bedridden, she told me she had no regrets. We had done everything that she ever wanted."
Tears came to Erin's eyes as she held his hand. "That had to be very difficult."
"It was but we got through it. Sarah is in a better place. She got to meet Laura's future husband and I'm very glad for that. He's a fine young man with a great future and they're very happy."
"You only had the one child?"
"Sarah lost one in her sixth month when she was thirty-two. It was a boy. Then she had some health issues that forced a hysterectomy. Laura was two and I think that helped take Sarah's mind off of her disappointment but it really hurt her and me. I stopped traveling for a few months to be with her. That was probably the wisest thing I've ever done. She had many emotional episodes following that."
"She was very lucky to have you beside her, loving her."
Kevin glanced at Erin through tears welling in his eyes. "Thank you."
They turned away from each other to attempt another nap.