Oh, I have slipped the surely bonds of earth
And danced the skies on laughter silvered wings
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun split clouds and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of
from High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
"That's it, Sandy. Just follow me on the controls and get the feel of it this time."
The voice came clearly through my headphones and my hands moved to rest lightly on the second stick. No yolk in this one. An old fashioned stick. For a few seconds we traveled straight and level and then the horizon rose slightly as we started down to pick up speed. Then it dipped once again as I felt myself begin to be pressed back into my seat. I could feel Sam's gentle pressure on his controls as we passed through level and the horizon continued to fall. I was forced more deeply into my seat as the horizon dropped totally out of sight and we began to claw our way up, up, up, all the while continuing to arch over further. Then we were passing the top, our heads now pointed towards the earth below but centrifugal force pulling us towards our feet as though we were still flying straight and level, until our continuing smoothly curved path brought our nose downward as we screamed down the back side of the loop until finally we were once more flying level with the horizon right where it should be in front of us.
I heard Sam's voice in my headphones and returned to the reality of the cockpit. I pushed the intercom switch. "Physically I'm fine. But otherwise I'm high as a kite." I gave a quick laugh. "Actually, quite a bit higher. I loved it, Sam. I want more."
"All in good time, all in good time. OK, we'll try another one. This time move the controls along with me. In fact, I'll just follow you and take it if you overdo anything."
"Roger." I took a deep breath and let my hands relax on the stick, my feet just touching the rudder pedals. A little forward pressure and I watched the air speed indicator begin to pick up as we started down the shallow slope.
"That's it. Let it gain another ten knots or so."
I didn't answer but when we reached the right speed I started back on the stick and we began to climb. "Good, good. That's just right." I held a smooth pressure and we made our way around the big circle until we once again reached the bottom and leveled out. "You are a natural at this, Sandy. I'd say there must be some bird in your genetics somewhere."
"I did say flying was in my family, didn't I? Really, Sam, did I do that all right?"
"More than all right. Best I've ever seen from a beginner. Really."
We spent another half hour with Sam taking me through several more maneuvers and letting me get the feel of them. I wasn't ready to try any of them completely on my own, but I could see that I might be before too many more lessons. At last he said, "OK, Batgirl, bring us back in."
I made a slight face at Sam's way of addressing me, but I wasn't going to say anything. He seemed to like the nickname and it really didn't bother me. It was better than Junior Birdwoman, anyway.
I turned back towards the airport and made my approach. This plane was designed for acrobatics and handled a bit differently than those I had flown before. Even though this was my first time in this type I had picked up a feel for it fairly quickly and my approach and landing were pretty smooth. I taxied over to the hanger and made an orderly shutdown. As the engine died the silence replacing the torrent of sound which had been engulfing us for the last forty five minutes seemed to lift a physical weight from my shoulders and I felt them relax as I removed my headphones. Actually with modern noise canceling headphones the sound isn't overwhelming but you are still aware of it and if you lift the phones for any reason it becomes a physical assault.
We climbed out and I helped Sam move the plane and tie it down before we headed inside to his office. Sam was in his fifties, an ex-Air Force fighter pilot, and had been my flight instructor for the last two years. He had seen me through my commercial license and Instrument rating and I couldn't imagine a better flight instructor. Always ready to guide me but never pushing too hard or being overly aggressive. After the last lesson I had said something about "milk runs" and Sam had replied, "Getting bored? Maybe you'd like to try some acrobatics. Come on out Friday and I'll give you a taste for free." He knew I was on a tight budget. Flying is expensive, especially when you have to pay an instructor also.
"You mean in that low wing job over in the next bay? I'd love that, Sam."
"OK, then Friday, say about two. That sound all right?"
"Perfect! I'll be here."
Now as we went into his office I think my feet never touched the ground. He moved behind his desk and I took a seat in front of it. "Well, how did you like it?"
"Fantastic! I loved every second of it."
"Want to come back tomorrow, say about ten, and try some more?"
"Oh, Sam, I'd love to but I don't know if I can afford it."
He sat back for a few seconds in thought. Then he slowly said, "Suppose I throw in the instruction for free and you just pick up the regular wet rental cost?"
My eyes opened wide. He was making me quite an offer. Almost shaking I replied, "For that I'll manage somehow, but, Sam, that isn't fair to you. You should get paid for the instruction."
His face turned a little more serious. "Sandy, you are the kind of student who comes along only once in a blue moon. You have a potential I've rarely seen and it wouldn't be right to let it go to waste. I know you aren't planning on flying for a living but flying is a deep part of you never the less. Having a student like you is reward enough for me."
I felt my face go warm at this unexpected high praise. "Thank you, Sam. I don't know that I'm quite that good, but I really would like to learn some acrobatics." Then I hesitated for a few seconds. "I would love to take you up on the offer for tomorrow but I'm afraid it'll be another two weeks before I can even pay the rental."
He smiled at me. "Don't worry about that. You can owe me. Sandy, honestly, I've never had a student take to acrobatics like you just did. I think you must have been born with wings."
Was I born with wings? Maybe not really but as I had told Sam there was aviation in my family. My dad had been Air Force and flew F-16s. His Dad had flown F-105s in Nam. My mom's grandfather had flown P-38s in Europe and his brother had piloted B-29s over Japan. I was never interested in a military career but the flying always did fascinate me. I remember my dad took me flying in a Cessna when I was six and even let me move the yolk a little. From then on I was hooked. Like all the other kids I got my driver's license when I was sixteen but I was less excited about that than starting flight lessons. Before my seventeenth birthday I had soloed and now, at twenty-two, I had private and commercial license and instrument ratings.
As Sam had remarked I wasn't going to earn a living flying. I had graduated the year before with a degree in Information Technology and I had a job running the IT department for a small biotech company. But flying was still a major factor in my life. I flew whenever I got a chance. Somehow when I climbed into the cockpit and left the earth below I became more complete. On the ground I was a cog in a machine - a very successful cog, I'll admit, but still a part of something over which I had no control. In the air I was complete. Just myself and the aircraft and sometimes it felt hard to separate the two. Alone, up in the sky, far away from everything else, I was complete. Complete, fulfilled, and happy.
Perhaps this had something to do with my less than successful love life on the ground. I'm not unattractive. I'm five foot seven, slim, in quite good shape physically. I have shoulder length auburn hair, deep green eyes and a figure most men find quite attractive. Maybe a little small in the boob department, but not really too small. I've been told my face is quite nice and I have seen a number of men closely watching my long legs and enjoying the view as I walk past them. No, the problem is not in getting men to notice me, but rather in keeping them.
It's not like I don't want more. In fact, quite the opposite. I've tried meeting men in a number of different ways. I've even tried the bar scene a couple of times but while I had no trouble meeting men there, there weren't any I wanted to see anywhere else. I have tried a couple of on-line dating services, looking for someone with some interests in common, especially flying. I tried meeting men around the airports. OK, picking up men around the airports, but not with the idea of taking them home to bed. Just to hopefully find someone I can get along with and who can get along with me.
I think a lot of it was just that most men don't know quite how to handle a girl who flies planes as much as I do. Even a lot of the male pilots I knew seemed to be a little touchy about it. One of them once hinted that it was because I had a lot more in my log book than most of them even years older than I am. Once I mentioned that comment to Sam and he agreed that might bother some of them. Then he added, "It also might be because you are a lot better pilot than they are or will ever be." Did he really think that? Well, I know I'm pretty good even if I haven't had much chance to compare myself with many others.
Whatever the reasons it seemed that men didn't keep interest in me for very long. Still, I wasn't about to give up flying for any man: I loved being aloft too much. I was most happy when alone with just myself, the aircraft, and the open sky.
Perhaps part of it is that I'm kind of a loner. I don't mean I try to avoid people or anything. No, it's more that I don't seem to really NEED people most of the time. I'm largely self contained, doing things on my own. That doesn't mean I don't want friends. Or lovers. Sometimes I feel terribly lonely and wish so much for someone to share my thoughts and feelings. In fact, a lot of the time I feel at least somewhat lonely. It may seem strange, but the only times I seem to not be lonely at all is when I'm by myself up in the totally empty sky.
Saturday at a quarter of ten I pulled up and parked. The air was cool and the early September sky was perfectly clear, a flawless blue in the morning light. I made my way inside to Sam's office where he was just finishing some paperwork. "Hi, Batgirl," he greeted me.
"Hi yourself, Blue Fox." He had once told me that "Blue Fox" was his call sign when he was flying F-16s.
He grinned in response and said, "OK, want to go tear up the sky a little?"
I smiled back at him and made a ripping motion with my hands and we headed out to the hanger bay. I helped him pull the stunt plane out into the open and then he surprised me by saying, "Why don't you do the preflight."
"You trust me to do that?" I asked. It takes a lot for one pilot to let another preflight a plane for which he is going to be responsible.
"Sandy, I've watched you do preflights for, what, over two years. I definitely trust you. You are careful and complete. Never take any shortcuts and always make sure of everything."
"I guess I got that for some of the stories my dad told. He told me one he heard around the aero club at Wright Patt. Must have happened long before he was there but they still told it. Seems one day a guy came in to do fly and when he went out to do his preflight there was an old guy doing one on another plane. The first pilot finished his, went back inside, checked the weather and talked a little while with the guy behind the counter. Then he looked out the window and saw that the old guy was still taking his time and doing his own preflight. He made some remark about how that old guy must not know much about flying. The man behind the counter looked rather surprised and asked, 'Know who that old man is?' The pilot shook his head and the counter man said, 'That's Charles Lindbergh.'
He smiled at the story and I added, "I've also often heard that there are old pilots and bold pilots but no old, bold pilots. Dad always said that came for Chuck Yeager, but no matter who said it, I believe it."
"That's true. If you get careless they - the Fates or whoever - are always waiting. Now go ahead and preflight the bird."
I did that, carefully checking fuel and oil and control movement. When that task was finished we climbed into the plane, Sam in the rear cockpit and me in the front. For the next hour and a half we tore holes in the sky. Loops and rolls and stalls. Even an Immelmann. Sam would guide me through a maneuver and then have me try them, correcting any mistakes.
When we landed I was again more excited than ever. I found I loved this and longed for a time when I could try them solo. Well, someday. As we walked back towards the hanger door I commented, "I love it, Sam. The gees don't bother me at all and my stomach never even quivered. The only thing that would make it nicer would be if we could get rid of the engine noise. Looping around the sky in silence would be truly fantastic."
He stopped and looked up out over the end of the field. "You've never been up in a glider, have you?" I shook my head. He nodded in the direction he had been looking. "Watch."
I looked where he indicated and saw an aircraft in the distance. From that range I couldn't really tell anything about it but I watched for a couple of minutes as it came closer to the field. Then it dawned on me that I didn't hear any engine noise. The craft made a pass overhead and then a steep banking turn, reversing direction to some around and settle on an approach. However it didn't look like he was lined up with the runway. Instead the pilot made a sharp change in direction at the last second and brought the craft onto the grass parallel to the paved runway, letting is slow to a stop less than a hundred yards from us.
Sam said, "Come on over and I'll introduce you." We started walking towards the plane as the canopy slid back and the pilot started to climb out. As we approached more closely I saw that the pilot was a young man, probably no more than three or four years older than me. He was tall - near six feet - and had a thick head of medium length light brown hair which swished as he shook his head back and forth after removing the earphones and a baseball cap. I couldn't see his eyes through the gold framed flyer's sunglasses he wore but his face wore a wide smile as he turned towards Sam and said, "Hi, Sam. Lovely morning for flying. I saw you stunting out there."
"Hi, Tom. Yes, beautiful morning, but it wasn't me you saw. I was just along for the ride. Let me introduce you to Sandy, one of the best students I've ever had." He turned towards me and said, "Sandy, this if Tom Larson. He flies that silent kite but he also flies other things, including a Lear."
I smiled and stuck out my hand. "Hi. Sam is exaggerating a little. This was only my second time in a stunt plane and Sam was showing me a few things."
Sam put in, "I let her follow me once for each maneuver and then she mostly did everything after that."
I felt a little embarrassed but before I could say anything Tom said, "I'm certainly pleased to meet you, Sandy. If Sam says you are good you might as well not try to defer. Even if you were just a passenger I would still be very pleased to meet a lovely woman who appreciates flight like that." With a smile he added, "I can tell you appreciated it because you are not throwing up."
We all laughed and Sam said, "Sandy was just saying how she wished she could avoid the engine noise when I saw your little kite coming in. I told her she should try a glider sometime."
Tom looked at me more closely. "I would be honored to let you have a ride some time, Sandy. It's like nothing else in the world."
"Would you really? I'd love that." I was finding I was becoming very interested in Tom, not only because he had a glider and was offering me a ride but also I was finding him very attractive as a man. Not just physically although he certainly was that. But mostly because he still seemed interested in me and very friendly even after he knew I was a pilot and, from Sam's comments, a good one.
"As I said, I would be honored. I'll even let you play with the controls if you'd like."
Sam glanced at his watch. "I'll leave you two to work out the details. I've got a student coming over in twenty minutes and this one is not nearly as good as Sandy. I'd better go take my tranquilizers to get ready." We smiled at his kidding and as he turned away he added, "Sandy, let me know when you're ready for another lesson and Tom, nice seeing you again."
Tom turned towards me and said, "OK. When would you like your ride?"
"Anytime. I mean I do have a day job but I can probably work that around the time that's best for you."
"Well, I have a day job, too." He didn't say what it was but He looked up at the clear sky in thought for a couple of seconds. "This high pressure should stay around for a couple of days. It will be sunny and we should get some nice thermals by the afternoon. Are you free tomorrow?"
Surprised I quickly answered. "Yes, just tell me when."
"I'll set up a tow for two tomorrow afternoon." Then he stopped a second before saying, "So why don't you meet me for brunch at the Falcon Club at eleven. That will give us time to eat and get to know each other a little better and let me tell you a little about gliding."
The Falcon Club was a small restaurant just off the field. Surprised again, I hesitated a second and then surprised myself again by saying, "I'm not sure that will be enough time. I'll agree to your schedule if you'll let me take you to dinner tonight." I was most interested to see how he would react to such an invitation from a woman. Many men would turn and run - well, maybe not literally, but many would certainly be put off. I really hoped Tom wouldn't be one of them.
A wide smile crossed Tom's face. "I would be delighted. It's a rare thing for a beautiful woman to be so decisive so soon. I believe we are going to get along quite well."
The same thought came into my mind also and I hoped we would still feel the same way after we spent a little more time together. I smiled back at him. "Perhaps at the Brown House?" I'd have to work that into my budget but I felt sure Sam would be happy to let me go more than two weeks to pay for today's flight.
"That would be perfect. Tell me where you live and I'll drive."
I gave him the address of my apartment and we agreed on a time of six. With smiles and handshakes we parted company and I headed back to my car and home. I wouldn't have a lot of extra time if I was going to finish the few things I needed done today and still have time to get ready for tonight.
By ten of six I was ready. I had changed from the jeans and shirt into a short cocktail dress. It would probably cool off at least into the lower fifties tonight so the green velvet wouldn't be out of place. The Brown House would have a variety of dress so it wouldn't be out of place there, either. This dress was fairly low cut and came only to mid thigh. Three inch heels and a small clutch completed my wardrobe. My only really good jewelry was an emerald solitaire necklace and a pair of matching ear studs. I looked at the necklace against the skin above the low cut dress and decided it set off my eyes nicely. I had brushed my hair until it almost glowed and I was wearing it loose about my shoulders. OK, I'll admit I wanted to impress Tom Larson.
Just at six he knocked on my door. I opened it and he looked me up and down and gave a most decided wolf whistle. He must have a lot of confidence to do that with someone he had just met hours before but I was definitely pleased that he did so and simply said, "Thank you, Sir. Please come in."
He smiled and did so as I turned to get my wrap. Since it wasn't going to be really cold I had a cape instead of a coat. He reached for this and I relinquished it as he held it for me. Manners. Rare, but definitely appreciated.
We left my apartment and I locked the door behind me before turning and seeing the car at the curb in front. A Porsche! Tom Larson must have been fairly well off. He held the door for me as I took my place inside. Fortunately I had learned how to enter a low sports car. If you know how such an entrance can be smooth and even sexy whereas if you don't it will look clumsy at best. One boyfriend in college had shown me how so I put one foot inside, swung my ass into the bucket seat and pulled the other leg in after me. This not only looks smooth but shows a lot of leg - especially with a short dress - and is generally appreciated by men. Tom looked like he appreciated it.
He went around to his side and entered. He started the powerful engine with its low throated throb and said, "To the Brown House, My Lady," and put the car into gear. The short drive took only a few minutes and we soon pulled into a space in the parking lot. Once more he moved around, opened my door and reached out a hand to help me out.
I know a lot of women - especially ones who have accomplished something unusual - such as flying - feel insulted when a man does things for them like opening doors. They seem to think he is saying he thinks they are incapable of doing it on their own. I've never thought like that. I just feel honored when a man shows such courtesies.
Tom offered his arm and led me to the entrance where he again held the door. We entered and moved towards the reception desk. This would be where there would be a problem if Tom was uncomfortable with my asking him out. We'd soon see.
The maitre'd approached and spoke. "May I help you?"
I quickly spoke. "Yes, I have a reservation. Branson." I glanced at Tom's face. If he was bothered it didn't show at all. He seemed perfectly comfortable with my arranging things and made no attempt to take over in any form.
The man glanced at his list and replied, "Certainly. If you'll follow me, please."
He led the way, me following, and Tom bringing up the rear. I did notice that none of this seemed to bother Tom. Points in his favor. He had enough confidence that having a woman set things up didn't bother him. And he didn't mind that I flew. He seemed almost too good to be true.
Dinner went smoothly without a flaw. There was no awkwardness or hesitation on either of our parts. Instead we spoke freely and easily. I'll readily admit that one of the problems I have with men may have to do with the fact that I won't hide myself and play the helpless damsel. If I have an opinion I'll give it. Tom seemed the same way. If our opinions differed we were both willing to accept that and go on. We might try to convince the other of our position but if it didn't take we let it go. Neither of us felt we had to win.
Fortunately there was little difference of opinion at all. We seemed to think alike on many subjects. Especially flight. But not limited to that. I quickly found that Tom was widely read and knowledgeable on a variety of subjects. I also found he managed an air charter service. Managed and, I gather, largely owned.
Because we would both be flying in the morning we limited ourselves to one glass of wine. Thankfully. I say thankfully because I was paying for dinner and I knew it would already be straining my budget. Another thing I found I liked about Tom. I'm sure he realized from our talk that I was not loaded financially. He obviously was much better off in that department but he never made any suggestion that he pick up part of the tab. He was astute enough to realize I would be hurt if he had. The more I knew him, the better he looked.
When the waiter brought the bill I simply reached for it and handed over my credit card. Tom made no move to interfere and I could see it didn't bother him to have a woman paying the tab even though I was sure that was a rare occurrence for him.
We left the restaurant about a quarter of eight and walked over to his car. Tom once again held the door for me as I entered - and watched my legs as I swung them inside - before going around to his own side.
"It's still early. Is there something you'd like to do now?"
It was a lovely night. Warm for September with the temperature in the upper sixties and Tom had the top down on the Porsche ... The sky was still perfectly clear and the evening stars had begun to appear. I looked up at them and on impulse said, "Maybe we can just go somewhere where we can look at the stars and talk."
My hand almost came to my mouth as I realized what I had said. On a first date - well, not even really a date - and I was suggesting something like this. However the suggestion didn't seem to phase Tom at all. Instead he replied, "Sure. How about up at Indianhead Park? The parking lot at the top of the cliffs."
I smiled at him. "Perfect."
He started the throaty engine and pulled out of the parking lot. In another few minutes we were heading through the outskirts of the town towards the park in the foothills above the river. The sounds of the town faded behind us and by the time we turned into the park entrance the traffic had diminished to only an occasional car. It was Saturday night, classes at the college had begun, so it wasn't surprising that there were a few cars parked at various places in the park but most seemed to be in small side roads or parking areas and as we climbed to the high ground overlooking the river they became fewer in number.
The lot at the top was fairly large, serving both the viewing area and a medium sized picnic area. Now the picnic area was empty and only three other cars were parked where they could look out at the view. These were separated and besides I think the couples inside were too busy to notice anyone else.
Tom pulled into a space near one edge, looking out from the top of the high cliffs. He turned off the engine and silence seemed to flow over us. Not really quite total silence. We could still hear distant sounds from the roads and the town below as well as closer the rustling of leaves in the gentle breeze. We were facing northeast and in the darkened sky I could see Ursa Major and Cassiopeia circling the North Star. Off to our left the bright spot of Jupiter out shown the lesser stars. I leaned back in the leather seat, just looking up, for long seconds. Almost under my breath I quoted, "and a star to steer her by."
Tom turned his head towards me and from the corner of my eye I saw him smile. "Yes, that would do, but sometimes GPS helps."
I gave a slight laugh. "True, very true. But still there is something about the stars that no digital display can match. Sorry, Tom, I've always loved looking up at the stars."
"Nothing to be sorry about. I've always loved that myself." He was silent for half a minute. "Sometimes I wonder if traveling out there might be like the glider. You know, big and open and quiet. To where you are almost one with your craft and can almost become part of the universe itself."
"I've never been in a glider but I get the same feeling when I'm alone in a Cessna. After the last couple of days I think it would be even better in a stunt plane."
"Maybe tomorrow you'll see the best of both. I'll admit that sometimes I love the throb of a powerful engine but the silence of a sailplane is something else. There's also that you almost have to become part of the plane because you don't have an engine to provide brute force to get you out of trouble. Sort of the difference between a powerful motorboat and a kayak."
I smiled at him. "Do you use a kayak?"
"I have one and try to get out in it as frequently as I can, but never enough. What about you?"
"One of my few possessions. A twelve foot Wilderness Systems. I'm not really into white water but I would love to have time to make a long trip - maybe a week or two - down some river. Mostly just paddling with the current, camping at night. Just me and the boat and the wilderness. That sort of thing."
"Yes, that does sound nice. It's not like flying in an empty sky but, then, it's hard to just pull a plane over and camp for the night."
I gave a small laugh. "True, true."
We were silent again for a couple of minutes, just gazing out at the incredible celestial display. Then without looking around Tom said, "Tell me some more about yourself. I mean I can almost see the wings that should be showing at the back of that lovely dress, but tell me a little more."
I smiled again and then also without looking around I replied, "I guess I grew into them." I went on to tell about my dad and granddad and my mom's granddad and great uncle. " Oh, and dad's sister was in ROTC and wanted to be an F-15 pilot. She changed her mind before she was commissioned but while she was still in college she started working on a private license. She once told me that during her ROTC summer camp they all got F-16 rides. Somehow she managed a slightly longer one than usual and the pilot let her handle the controls a little and actually put it in her log book. She had only a few hours then but her book read 'Cessna, Cessna, F-16, Cessna... ' Dad first took me up - I mean not just as a passenger - when I was about six. It was in a 172. He actually rigged some kind of booster seat for me on the right so I could see and even reach the yolk. He even let me help make a few turns and a couple of altitude changes. I think I was hooked from then on. I got my license as soon as I was legally old enough but before then I actually had quite a few hours even if I couldn't log them. I now have a commercial ticket and instrument rating but only for single engine."
"Are you planning on making flying a career?"
Slowly I replied. "No, I don't think so. I love flying and want to do more and more of it, but I don't want to do it for a living. I know that might sound a little funny but I guess it just seems that if I do it every day as a way to make a living, it will become routine. No, that's not the right word. Maybe not routine but it would be like ... like the magic had gone out of it. I guess I'm not putting this very well, am I?"
"Don't worry about it, you're putting it just right. I know exactly what you mean. Look, I fly a lot as part of the business but the glider is something else entirely. I would never want to do that as a career. I want to keep it different. Special. Keep the magic in it."
We were quiet for a few more minutes, just watching the stellar display. Then Tom spoke softly once more. "Tell me about the rest of your life. Friends, boyfriends, what you do when you're not flying or working."
I let the question swirl around in my head for a minute or so. "Not really that interesting. I tend to be rather a loner. I don't mean I don't get along with other people. Rather that I just don't seem to have a lot in common with them. Parties and drinking are not my thing." Then I added, "I like to fly and I couldn't if I drank much at all. You know, no flying for twelve hours or so. Mostly when I'm not flying or working I do things like reading or just listening to music or watching a DVD or something. If I have longer I might go hiking or take the kayak out or something like that."
My voice dropped a little more. "Not really. Somehow I don't seem too attractive after the first date or so."
With surprising force he said, "I find that hard to believe."
"You can believe it. Once they find I fly most lose interest."
"What about men who fly themselves? Surely you must meet some of them."
I looked down hiding my face a little. "Mostly they don't even try the first time."
He was silent again for some seconds, then quietly said, "I'll bet that's because you're better than they are. If Sam gives you kind of praise he did, then I know you are very good. And what you've told me about your background confirms it."
I could hear the almost disgust in his voice but I didn't think it was for me. This was confirmed a second later when he said, "I can never understand men who are afraid of someone who knows more or is better at something than they are." I looked up in surprise at the tone of his voice. "Those who are really good have no fear of others who are good - men or women."
Still trying to absorb his attitude I tried to change the subject a little. "What about you? I know you said you weren't married. What about girlfriends?"
Tom shook his head slightly and then turned smiling towards me. "No one in particular right now. Want to apply for the job?"
I felt my face go warm. Maybe that was what I was thinking. Still I managed to get out, "Should I be filling out an application? Or are you just thinking about taking me for a test flight?" I tried to make it sound like a joke and from Tom's reaction I believe he took it that way.
"Well you always want to know someone's qualifications before they fill a position. However, I never take anything - or anyone - for a test flight unless it's wanted by everyone involved."
"Seriously," he went on, "I don't have much of a social life. I guess like you I'm sort of a loner." He stopped for a few seconds. "I guess it's hard for a human to compete with the open sky."
I thought about that. "Maybe. In most cases, I think. Still a lot of birds flock together."
"True," he replied. "But not all. The best birds - the exceptional ones, the eagles, the hawks, the falcons - they go solo."
"Yes," I agreed. "Although I have read that when they do find another like themselves, they mate for life." We looked at each other but neither of us said anything. I think we both felt we might be reading a little too much into that observation. I don't even know if I had been when I made it.
We changed the subject again and Tom asked a little about my job. I told him how I handled the IT services for the little biotech firm. Nothing really too complicated. Just keep their machines up and running and try to prevent any malware getting in and doing any damage. Mostly boring. No, not really boring. I like what I do and always found it interesting but most of my tasks were pretty routine.
"You know," Tom remarked, "we're getting to the point where we should probably think about hiring an IT person for our company. I expect a biotech firm uses more computing power than a charter outfit, but we still have a lot of computers and I'd hate to think of the mess if the whole system got messed up."
"I assume you do back up everything?" I asked.
"Certainly. But isn't it possible to get the same virus or something into the backups also?"
"That's always a possibility. Also, back ups should not be located in the same physical place, in case of a fire or something."
"Oh, we do have off site back up as well. I wouldn't want everything off site because then I'd feel we would have lost control."
"Actually, that's a very good attitude. Keep multiple back ups, but keep them in different places. Makes it harder for a real catastrophe to happen - either by accident or on purpose."
We talked some more about his system and I finally remarked, "It doesn't sound like your system is really too complicated. You could probably get by with an on call consulting company instead of a full time IT position. Who takes care of your problems now?"
"We do have a guy who seems to know quite a bit about computers and he is able to straighten out the small problems when they occur. Thankfully, we've never had a really big problem." He stopped for a second and then said, "Maybe I should hire you as a consultant."
I wasn't sure if he was kidding or not. "You don't really know anything about what I can do. I might just mess things up worse for you."
He smiled. "I doubt that very much." He hesitated a few seconds, obviously thinking. "Seriously, maybe you could come over some time and see just what we have and decide if maybe you could be of some help to us."
"Sort of taking me for a test flight?" I kidded.
"Maybe something like that. But, Sandy, I'm serious. Come out sometime. I'll pay you as an outside consultant. Or ... Maybe you'd like to take your fee as some flight time in some types other than Cessnas?"
I sucked in my breath. "He did know how to get to me. "Are you serious?"
"Yes. You have a commercial ticket. You couldn't fly if we were carrying passengers, but most of our business is moving small cargo. I could put you in the right hand seat of a couple of different birds."
"I would love that! Damn, Tom. You haven't known me twelve hours yet and you already can see right inside and know what makes me tick."
"No, I'm just seeing the surface now. But I very much like what I see. In more ways than one."
We changed the subject again to less intense topics, but before too much longer we headed back to my apartment. Tom pulled up and parked out front and came around to open my door and help me out. He walked me up to the door and when I took the key from my clutch he reached for it and unlocked it for me. I wondered if he expected me to invite him in and if so I wasn't sure what I would do. Normally I never would with someone I had just met, but I did feel quite comfortable with Tom. However as he returned the key to my hand he said, "I'll still see you at eleven tomorrow?"
"Most definitely. I look forward to it." He still had hold of my hand where he had placed the key and I started to shake his but before I could he turned my hand over, raised it to his lips and placed a kiss on the back. He then released it and with a smile turned to go back to his car. I stood watching until he rounded the vehicle and entered his side. I was still watching as the deep sounding engine came to life and he drove off.
Sunday morning I once again dressed in jeans and an open neck shirt, picked up my baseball cap and aviator sunglasses, and just before eleven drove out to the field where I parked by the Falcon Club. I saw Tom's car already there. When I went inside he saw me and waved me over to his table.
We greeted each other and the waitress brought over another menu. After making our selections Tom turned to me and asked, "Ready to try some silent flight?"
"More than ready." I answered back. "Thanks again for asking me."
Our conversation was light, nothing serious. Just easy talk, two people getting to know each other. When we finished our meal Tom paid the bill and as we walked out he said, "Just follow me over by the hanger and then I can spend a little time telling you about the differences you might expect. There are some things you can do in a powered craft that you'd better not try in a glider."
"Oh, you mean like taking off?" I quipped.