Just a Short Hop
Eileen snuggled in close, her perfume was an intoxicating scent from an extinct flower called a Jasmine. She whispered platitudes that only true lovers share before having to be separated for an extended period. Eileen had a way of making me feel her words. If she said the word pain, my body would suddenly hurt. When she told me that she loved me, I could feel all the tingles and warmth of the first moment we kissed.
Her red hair brushed the side of my neck as she whispered in my ear. Even the feel of her hair was intoxicating. Wonderful wicked thoughts ran through my head for just a moment. Nearly on cue she laughed with that low dangerous sound she reserved for when she was having an amazingly wicked thought of her own. I reached out with my hand and ran it gently down her arm. Her complexion was so fair except for the odd freckle here and there. I always told her she was marked as a herald of the universe with her star patterned skin. The stark Whitesuit of a pilot stood out in a world of vibrant colors. The strict requirements and reverence given to pilots seemed to fit the color. I looked at her crisp white short sleeve and let my gaze drift further down the contour of the suit on her body. We sat in the terminal like that for a few stolen moments before take off every time she went on a flight. Sherry stayed with her grandma so we could spend the last few moments alone. I know it wasn’t forever until I saw her again but it felt like I was having to say good bye instead of good trip every time. She worked hard to achieve her dream and I would never hold her back from that, not that I could if I tried. She was a fierce woman who knew what she wanted and she got it.
She definitely made me aware of it when she set her sights on me. She saw me across the bar while I was talking to my best friend Tommy. Tommy and I were lowly uni students, forced to drink proto-alcohol since it was cheaper. She was a first year scientist drinking real bourbon. I glanced to my left and saw the curve of her lips then I locked eyes with her. That was all it took. I felt addicted to her presence ever since. Her beautiful light pink smile wore a twist of devilishness in it. From that look I knew she was always prey and predator and could switch with a moments notice. It was her eye’s that fascinated me at first. Real green eye’s were a throwback, like the red hair. The intensity of any look from her could lock me in place and make me forget to breathe, make my heart forget to beat, and turn my brain to slag. Tons of women color shifted their hair color and used color changing optics to appear to have green eye’s, but she was the real deal. I’ll never be able to figure out what made me so lucky. She said I was funny, charming, and smart. I could debate all of those things, but not with her unless I felt like losing the argument.
She fought to pilot the Denver since the day we started dating. True to her nature, she didn’t stop trying until she got it. Even in today’s society women pilots were rare. The monthly pregnancy tests, the invasions of privacy, the continual reminder of the danger seemed be set up to weed out women more than men. We were forced to plan Sherry’s conception and birth around her flight schedule so she wouldn’t miss this chance. Male pilots didn’t have to worry about any of those things. It seemed wrong, no matter how many times they justified it in the brochures and recruiting. I found life as a husband, dad, and reporter were all I had time for so I was proud of her extra drive. I created streams. Some were about being a space widow and how many “well meaning” neighbors offered to “help me deal” with the mission times. When I showed my streams to Eileen, she would laugh hysterically at the thought of anyone else trying to get my attention. I loved how well she understood me, and how good she was at reminding me why no one else could compete with her even when she was sixty million kilometers away.
The chime went off to signal the pilots that the preflight time was about to start. That meant I had five more seconds with her. There was a twinkle of excitement in her eyes. Mine were already beginning to get a little wet, betraying my calm facade. They said it was a four month round trip at the most now. Four months is a lifetime. Four months of continual long distance hello and goodbye’s.
We pressed our foreheads together again and just held each other. Breathing in the air the other was exhaling, trying to keep something precious with us when we were apart. She put her hand tightly in my hair, pressing my head, and pulled my face into the most delicious of kisses. A kiss that said “You complete me, I adore you, I love you” all at the same time. Her lips were soft but hungry for more. I couldn’t make myself break this sheer bliss to say anything else to her. The second chime. She was almost late. She pulled back and slowly kissed my forehead, both hands were still on the sides of my head holding my hair like a pair of handles. When she let the handles go, it was the last touch I got as she whispered “I adore you” and turned to make her deadline. It wasn’t surprising that she left so abruptly, she was never late to anything in her life. She cut it close for one last moment with me. This was her tenth flight, so the parting wasn’t any different. The excitement of being the pilot after all this time, made it much more exhilarating for her and terrifying for me. I didn’t doubt her abilities as a pilot, it was just different for some reason.
I stood in the observation booth and watched the Denver go through it’s long fire up and ionization processes. I swore I could see her in the cockpit grinning like a cat with its paw on the mouse it was hunting. I knew it was impossible with the shielding, but in my minds eye she was plain as day. I watched as ten thousand people filed on board, then I watched as ten thousand shrunken packages were placed in the cargo hold. The entire process was only an hour but it was a lifetime for me. Finally everything was in place and the Denver began to move. It taxied and launched as smoothly as ever. I stood pretending to still see it in the sky long after I am sure they were already docking with the main ship in orbit. The hardest step to turn from the window and go back to our home. At first my feet didn’t want to move, then I remembered I was supposed to be home before three pm to get Sherry. It was two forty-five and the tubes would be congested this time of day. I rushed for my tube not daring to be late.
The tube ride was uneventful and amazingly clear of traffic. I made it home in plenty of time. The house always felt so empty with the light blue walls and sparse furnishings. We could afford much more but with Sherry getting ready to walk we wanted a runway for her to practice on. Even the light red couch was overstuffed for maximum bounciness. I refused to call it pink and admit my hyper intelligent wife convinced me to get a pink couch. I even found a moment to sit on it for a moment before Eileen’s mom arrived with my rock star. Sherry wasn’t one yet, but she tested very high for her age group. Her mediscans were at the top of the charts just like Eileen’s were at that age. Mine weren’t low by any normal measure, but compared to both of these amazing women in my life, I was a beyond slow.
Eileen’s mom was usually as radiant as the day I met her. She was in her sixties now, though she showed no sign of being much older than Eileen. Red hair, green eyes, and an amazing smile that lit the room. She didn’t approved of me at first. The burning looks I used to get could make any man tremble. She slowly changed her mind about me and now she was as warm as the summer sun. I won a few accolades for my streams and investigations. I guess that showed her I wasn’t just trying to attach myself to her superstar daughter to ride her coattails. Today she wore a look I’d never seen. Her perfect features were sagging under a vast pressure.
“You ‘aven’t seen the newsbursts today ‘ave you?” Though it was a question, Just by the way she was looking at me I could tell she knew I hadn’t.
I pressed my wrist and was flooded with information, usually a newsburst was two or three major sources, this was something else. The images and feelings transmitted were more than overwhelming. I sat back down, pressing my wrist to stop the constant deluge.
“The Denver exploded taking all of it’s passengers with it”…and it’s pilot, they left that part off. I just saw her, I just touched her, I just breathed her, I just, oh fuck what…, I couldn’t hold a thought. I fell to the floor holding my stomach, shaking like a newborn and vomited all over the floor. I tried to touch where her hand cupped my head, but I kept shaking and rocking back and forth. I knew my face was touching some of the sick and it didn’t even register. I couldn’t focus my eyes and my head was pounding like I was performing fifty tasks simultaneously. Nothing felt real, my heart felt like it was on fire, and my stomach was aching in pulsing rhythms. I knew the floor was a steady seventy degrees but it felt like it was freezing under my skin. I lay there rocking not able to think. My brain shut down and I couldn’t string two words together in my head, let alone from my vocal chords. My voice only seemed capable of making one sound continuously. The next thing I remember was the medipod around me. I was groggy but awake. Someone cleaned my face, I was in a hospital transport tube. I don’t remember what my thoughts were at the time. The only thing that existed was my body and the meditube.