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“If you’d like to re-test me in the same way,” I said, returning her business card and tucking it into her front pocket, “Let me know. However, contrary to what you so adamantly said seconds ago, you will swallow every result...”



New York (JFK)

“This is the final boarding call for Flight 1487 with service to San Francisco.” “Passenger Alice Tribue, please return to Gate A13 for your passport as soon as possible.” “American Airlines Flight 1781 with service to Toronto will now depart from Gate 7.”

The familiar sounds of John F. Kennedy International welcomed me home as soon as I stepped off the jet bridge a week later. Despite two sixteen hour flights, I hadn’t slept well since my interview in Dallas, and I didn’t feel the slightest hint of exhaustion.

I walked through the terminal, pulling my luggage close behind as the most cliché song in the history of aviation sifted through the speakers. A cover of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly with Me,” complete with an orchestra, was inspiring the most tone deaf of passengers to sing along as they rushed past the gates.

Pilots from other airlines walked on the other side of the hallway in their freshly-pressed uniforms, giving slight nods as they passed me by. The flight attendants at their sides blushed and smiled, offering me small waves and winks that went unanswered and ignored.

All I could think about right now was how today officially marked the lowest of lows in my career. A fresh start of all the bullshit I thought I’d escaped.

When I first started flying gliders at sixteen, everything in regards to aviation was an art. Every facet, from the engineering of a plane, to the actual flying itself, held intrigue, creating a perfect balance of craftsmanship and allure.

Newly designed aircrafts were something to clamor over, new routes were planned and praised for pioneering the unthinkable, and each move an airline made received its rightful due in the press. Spectators stopped and stared at the new Boeings and Airbuses in complete admiration from below, passengers acted like they actually gave a fuck, and flight attendants were more than pretzel serving waitresses at thirty thousand feet. For pilots, there was even an art to effortlessly jetting from city to city, landing in hotel after hotel, and fucking a different woman every night.

Yet, somewhere between new regulations, greed, and even with the advanced technology, all of that changed. Now, a pilot was nothing more than a bus driver who shuttled ungrateful-ass passengers across the sky. And that perfect balance of craftsmanship and allure was no longer seen; it wasn’t even remembered.

“Excuse me, Captain?” A man wearing an ‘I Love NY’ shirt suddenly stepped in front of me. He held up his cell phone, extending it toward my face. “Would you mind taking our picture? We’ve tried to do it ourselves, but I keep cutting my head off in the frame.” He laughed and pointed to his family—two young boys and a woman in a yellow dress. They were laughing and posing in front of a blue “Welcome to New York” sign.

I didn’t take the phone from him. I stared at his family, their laughter becoming more and more unbearable with each passing second. One of his sons waved at me, holding up a toy plane in his other hand, smiling and waiting for me to smile back.

“Captain?” The husband looked at me. “Can you please take our picture?”

“No.” I stepped back. “No, I can’t.” I noticed a flight attendant walking toward us and nodded in her direction. “But I’m sure she’d be happy to help you.”

I didn’t give him a chance to respond. I walked away and headed straight for the parking garage.

I needed to get the fuck home.


Later that night...

I parked my car in front of my condo, The Madison at Park Avenue, and waited for one of the valets to approach the window.

“Good evening, sir.” An attendant dressed in a grey tuxedo opened my door. “How long do you expect to be in town this time?”

“Four days.” I stepped out of the car and tossed him the keys. “Keep it close to the front, please.”

“As you wish, sir.”

I walked up the stone steps that led into the building and glanced up at the night sky. For the first time in as long as I could remember, the stars weren’t shrouded by a film of grey clouds. They were bright and blinding against the darkness, probably giving false hope to some optimistic dreamer who was falling in love with this city.

“Welcome home, Mr. Weston.” The doorman, the one constant in my life, opened the door for me. “How are the skies treating you these days?”

“The same as always, Jeff. The same as always.”

“Coming back from anywhere interesting this time?”

“Singapore.” I pulled a small satin bag out of my pocket and handed it to him. “Currency. For your collection.”

“Thank you, sir,” he said, smiling. “By the way, there were five business class tickets to Belgium in my mailbox here last week. I don’t recall ever mentioning my birthday wish to you, so would you know anything about this secret gift? Who I need to thank, perhaps?”

“I have no idea,” I said, moving past him. “But those should have been first class tickets, not business, so whenever you figure out who gave them to you, tell him he needs to make the airline fix that mistake.”

“I will.” He laughed. “Have a great night, Mr. Weston.”

“Thank you.” I walked into the lobby and stopped, slowly letting my eyes adjust to the harsh light from the new chandeliers. The owners were always renovating or unnecessarily adjusting something different every month, and that was the main reason why I never felt like this place was truly home. The popular chain hotels I spent nights in during stopovers always seemed far more familiar and welcoming.