Stewardess Yvonne and pilot Clint had to hide their relationship, but could they fly the same routes forever?
The ceiling fan whirred in the wainscoted hotel room with its gilt-framed pictures of elephants and exotic palaces. The Indian morning was already growing warm.
Yvonne sucked in her stomach to zip up her navy-blue pencil skirt – and then realised that she couldn’t breathe out again.
She’d have to be careful. Air hostesses were never issued with larger uniforms. If you failed the pre-flight weigh-in you’d get a warning letter and if you didn’t lose the unwanted pounds in two weeks you’d be grounded, probably in the stockroom or somewhere else out of the public’s gaze.
The official reason was that a hostess had to be slim enough to escape through the emergency window. But the real reason was that everyone on board had to look like a fashion model.
As an A-girl, or chief stewardess, Yvonne was supposed to set an example, but she didn’t know how the crew was expected to resist the abundance of local cuisine when the airline put them up in luxury accommodation on their lengthy layovers.
Taking her fitted jacket with its stylish white piping from the four-poster bed, she passed the window with its hazy view of Bombay and went to the dressing table mirror for a final check of her make-up.
A full week of her training course had been devoted to applying the company’s regulation shades of lipstick, blusher and eyeshadow under the tutelage of a top beauty consultant.
Most of the rest of the time had been devoted to mixing the perfect cocktail. Heaven help the stewardess who confused a Tom Collins with a John Collins at 30,000 feet.
There’d also been a day or two on first aid and safety, but that had been treated as almost an afterthought.
From the moment Yvonne arrived at stewardess school the emphasis had been on providing passengers with just three things: glamour, glamour and glamour!
Judging that she’d delayed her entrance long enough, Yvonne tilted her hat at a jaunty angle, pulled on her white gloves and picked up her case.
As she daintily descended the stairs to the grand colonial-style reception hall (catwalk deportment had been another module of the training course) Yvonne saw the steel-haired Captain Rogers at the desk, trademark pipe gripped between his teeth as he signed them out.
With him was Judy, the other hostess, and Clint, the tall, square-jawed co-pilot, resplendent in his shiny-peaked military-style cap and navy-blue blazer, dripping with gold braid.
“Late night, Miss Smith?” Clint’s teasing Californian drawl sent a delicious tingle up Yvonne’s spine.
You should remember, she thought, as she boldly met the conspiratorial twinkle in his eyes.
“Ah, I wondered where you’d got to, Miss Smith.” Captain Rogers glanced suspiciously from co-pilot to hostess.
“Sorry, I’m late, sir.” Yvonne hoped he’d put her guilty blush down to her tardiness.
Inter-crew relationships were frowned upon and Rogers was a stickler for the rulebook.
“Time to ship out of paradise,” Clint grinned. “Carry your case, ma’am?”
His fingers enclosed Yvonne’s as he took the handle.
How she wished they could hold hands all the way to the airport.
Flying above the clouds at 600mph, Yvonne hardly noticed the sensation of movement as she carved roast beef on her heated trolley in the aisle.
The thrum of the engines was barely audible above the clink of glasses and the buzz of conversation.
“Can I get you anything else, sir?” She placed the heaped roast dinner, gravy boat and mustard pot on a crisp linen tablecloth in front of a corpulent first-class passenger.
“I wouldn’t mind your phone number!” The red-faced businessman elbowed his equally plump associate in the next seat and they both guffawed.
Yvonne tittered politely, as if she didn’t hear the same line ten times a week.
“More wine, sir?” She topped up his glass and pushed her trolley to the galley.
Judy was preparing sherry trifles in the narrow space.
“Not much more of this for me,” the glossy brunette said as she worked. “I’ve decided to accept Tom’s proposal. I’ll hand in my notice as soon as we get back to London.”
“Congratulations!” Yvonne squeezed her colleague’s arm. “I’m sure you’ll be very happy together. You’re really going to hand in your notice, though?”
“You know the rules. Hostesses must be single.”
“Some girls keep their marriages secret,” Yvonne whispered, with a glance towards the open cockpit door.
“I know, but it would be hard, wouldn’t it? You couldn’t tell anyone. Besides, Tom won’t want me jetting all over the world when we’re married. He’s always afraid I’ll meet someone else.”
Yvonne nodded sympathetically. She’d been out with civilians and her globetrotting had made it difficult.
Not that her jet-set lifestyle made relationships with fellow airline workers any easier.
“Be sure to invite me to the wedding.”
They hadn’t flown together for long, but bonds formed quickly above the clouds.
Yvonne poured a couple of strong black coffees and carried them through to the cockpit. She thrilled as always at the sight of the open sky and the vast expanse of the distant horizon.
“You read my mind, honey.” Clint’s perfect white teeth gleamed as he turned from the bewildering array of instruments to take the cup.
“Beef sandwich, gentlemen?” Yvonne offered. The crew needed regular snacks to keep them fresh.
“You’ll make someone a wonderful wife some day,” Clint teased with a big grin. “Wouldn’t you agree, Cap?”
“I’d swap her for mine,” Rogers smirked as he puffed on his pipe.
Back in London, the terminal echoed with lively conversation as the crews from half a dozen airlines came and went, renewing fleeting acquaintances and swapping tales from their travels.
With 1,000 planes flying in and out each day, at a rate of one every two minutes at peak times, the staff passed like ships in the night, nevertheless everyone in an airline uniform felt like part of the same big family to Yvonne, regardless of whether she really knew them or not.
“Ah, Miss Smith.” Her breathless manager blocked her way, clipboard in hand. “I’m sorry this is short notice, but we’re an attendant short for Flight 801 to Cape Town. You’ll have to stand in. Please report to Captain Hargreaves in Briefing Room 2, immediately.”
“Cape Town?” Yvonne gulped.
“I know you’re due some time off, but you’ll have to spend it in the sun. It’ll be a nice long layover.”
“Sounds great,” she grinned, weakly.
Clint was waiting a discreet distance away, a concerned frown on his tanned and handsome face. Yvonne trotted over and broke the bad news.
“Nature of the job, honey.” Clint sighed. “We knew we wouldn’t be on the same plane forever.”
“I was so looking forward to a few days in London with you.” Tears welled up in her perfectly made-up eyes. “There’s not even time to say goodbye.”
“Quickly, in here.” Clint opened a door and shooed her into an empty office.
The moment the door was closed, he pulled her into a passionate kiss. She clung to him and wished it could last forever.
Now this is the life I signed up for!”
Yvonne’s new best friend, Arleen, was a raven-haired hostess with a strong Australian twang. She was wearing a blue one-piece swimsuit as she reclined in the back of a small sailing boat with the South African coast bobbing on the horizon behind her.
Yvonne would have normally agreed wholeheartedly.
But as she perched on the side of the dinghy, soaking up the sun in a floral one-piece, her mind was in another hemisphere.
She’d phoned Clint from the hotel, only to learn that he’d been transferred to a transatlantic flight path. She, meanwhile, was being assigned to the Cape Town flight for the foreseeable future. They were hardly going to see each other.
“It’ll be all the sweeter when we do,” he’d assured her.
“I’m counting the days,” she replied, but all the longing in the world didn’t make the separation any easier.
“Would you give all this up to get married?” Yvonne asked Arleen in a thoughtful tone.
“If he was a millionaire or a film star – like a shot!” Arleen giggled. “Did I tell you I was on a 10-hour flight with Warren Beatty last month? Mmmmm, what a dreamboat!”
She closed her eyes and puckered her lips as if dreaming of a torrid affair.
“What about you?” Arleen asked. “Did you become a hostess in the hope of meeting a rich husband in the first-class lounge?”
“No, nothing like that,” Yvonne laughed. “I just wanted to fly to places my parents could only dream of.”
She remembered as a girl poring over magazine pictures of stylish air hostesses in exotic locations.
Their life was literally a world away from her mother’s humdrum routine of shopping, cooking and washing.
Her mum had warned her not to get her hopes up because only a tiny percentage of applicants were successful. When she’d been accepted her mum had been so proud that she’d phoned the local paper. They sent a photographer to take her picture in uniform.
When she saw herself on the front page beneath the headline: Yvonne Joins The Jet Set, she’d felt like a film star, and for all the hard work and jet-lag behind the scenes, that dizzying feeling had never quite left her.
She wondered how Judy could give it up so easily when there was still so much of the world left to see. She only wished that her adventures didn’t make her relationship with Clint so complicated.
The boat bobbed her out of her thoughts as Jake, a muscular airline navigator, burst from the glassy green waves and clambered aboard in a pair of black trunks.
“Why don’t you come for a swim?” he beamed, glistening and exhilarated.
“You’re sure there aren’t any jellyfish?” Yvonne asked, nervously.
“Why don’t you see for yourself?”
Yvonne squealed giddily as Jake grabbed her ankles and tipped her backwards into the drink.
The Beatles’ Twist and Shout was blasting loudly as Yvonne and Jake danced in a huge crowd on the beach, him in a multi-coloured Hawaiian shirt and shorts and her in a cotton sundress, her feet in sandals on the white sand. With a blood-red sun setting on a blissful day, it would have been impolite not to join him.
When Jake tentatively leaned in for a kiss, though, she put a hand on his chest to stop him.
“I’m sorry.” She said awkwardly. She didn’t want to hurt his feelings. “It’s not you.”
“A lucky guy back home, eh?” He stepped back, politely.
“He’s a co-pilot, actually,” Yvonne said before she could stop herself. “He’s probably on his way to LA right now.”
“He’s flight crew?” Jake smirked. “And do you think he’s living like a monk while you’re apart?”
“He’d better be!” Yvonne tried to sound light-hearted.
“Well, if you ever change your mind…”
A few songs later, Jake was dancing with Arleen, who didn’t appear so resistant to the idea of a smooch.
As Yvonne watched them, she couldn’t help picturing Clint, surrounded by gorgeous stewardesses at a similar party thousands of miles away.
She wanted to trust him, but with so many temptations could she really?
As happy revellers danced all around her, she wondered how paradise could feel so lonely.
Pan-pan, pan-pan!” Arlene yelled the secret code for an emergency as she dashed towards the galley. The Australian was in such a lather that Yvonne doubted her panic was a secret from anyone.
“What’s wrong?” Yvonne demanded.
“The passenger in seat 42 has gone into labour!” Arleen blurted.
“Oh, my goodness!” Yvonne tried to remember if her training course had said anything about that amid the beauty tips.
Jake was already out of the cockpit and running his finger down the passenger list.
“No sign of a doctor on board,” he muttered in panic.
“Maybe there’s a midwife or nurse,” Yvonne suggested. “Arleen, see if you can get Mrs Samson into first class where there’ll be more room. I’ll move some passengers for privacy.”
Behind her, Jake spoke into the intercom telephone with practised calm.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your navigator speaking. Do we have a midwife or anyone with medical training aboard?”
As Yvonne hurried down the aisle to assist Arleen with Mrs Samson, a bespectacled young woman raised her hand, nervously.
“I’m a first-year medical student if that’s any help?”
“You’re all we’ve got.” Yvonne grinned gratefully. “Jake, get her the first aid kit.”
“I’m so sorry,” Mrs Samson was in tears as she reclined in a first-class seat. “The doctor said I wasn’t due for a month.”
“Just relax,” Yvonne massaged her shoulder. “This is all in a day’s work for us.”
“Do you think we’ll land?” Arleen asked anxiously as she and Yvonne held up a blanket as a screen around Mrs Samson.
“Even Paris is an hour away,” Yvonne answered.
“Maybe the baby will wait till then,” Mrs Samson said hopefully. She gasped as a contraction wracked her body.
“Or maybe not,” Yvonne muttered.
Forty minutes later, it was Yvonne’s turn to speak into the intercom. “Ladies and gentlemen, if I may have your attention, please. When we left Cape Town we had 136 passengers on board. I’m pleased to announce that we now have 137.”
Her perfectly applied mascara ran with tears of relief and joy as applause and cheers rang out the length of the plane.
“We will now be serving complimentary champagne.”
At Heathrow, Yvonne took her last chance to cradle the little sky baby, wrapped in one of the airline’s monogrammed towels.
“Born at 30,000 feet,” Arleen cooed over the little mite.
“And he’ll have free flights for the rest of his life,” Jake told Mrs Samson. “It’s company policy for all skyborns.”
Yvonne looked up as Clint came striding across the terminal, looking more handsome than ever in his pilot’s cap and blazer.
He did a double take at the sight of the child in her arms.
“I know we haven’t seen each other for a while,” he frowned, “but did you forget to tell me something?” He laughed. “Just kidding! The whole airline has heard about your heroics.”
“Oh, I didn’t do anything,” Yvonne said modestly as she reluctantly handed the baby back to his mother.
“That pose did suit you, though.” Clint mimed holding a baby.
“Really?” Yvonne suddenly felt broody.
“In the meantime, I have news,” the American announced. “We’re about to hand in our notice.”
“We’re what?” Yvonne gasped.
“I finally got a job as captain, on an American airline,” Clint grinned. “I get to pick my chief hostess, which means we can fly together forever.
“And here’s the best bit,” he went on. “They don’t have that stuffy old rule about the stewardesses having to be single!”
“You mean I won’t have to keep this in my pocket any more?” Yvonne pulled out a gold ring and slipped it back onto her third finger.
“Nor me!” Clint produced a matching band and put it on his.
“Wait a minute,” Arleen cut in, agog. “Are you saying you two are married?”
“Every girl has her secrets,” Yvonne winked. “And sometimes rules are meant to be broken.”
Looking back over the past four months, she had to admit that keeping her marriage from her bosses had sometimes been fun.
But as she slipped her arms around her husband and pulled his lips to hers, she was so glad that they wouldn’t have to keep their secret any longer.
Arleen delved into her luggage and pulled out a bottle.
“It’s a good job we have some champagne left, because this calls for a celebration!”
Our My Weekly Favourites series of lovely short fiction from our archives continues on Mondays and Thursdays. Look out for the next one.
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