A/N: I just had to include the infamous Gatwick fog in my writing somewhere. It suuuuucks!
Chapter 17 – Angels Can Fly, Why Can't I?
March, six years earlier
Gatwick South Terminal, London
The four members of Strange Angels, closely followed by their manager James and their new tour manager Al, meandered into the seating area next to Gate 17.
"I still can't believe you're making us fly commercial," Blackie groused to James as he slung his leather duffel bag to the carpeted floor. "Why can't we tour in a Cessna like last year?"
"Yeah, it was smallish and fookin' terrifying in turbulence, but still, we had it to ourselves," Tony chimed in, glaring around at their fellow passengers, most of whom were trying to ignore the clan of longhaired men. "I bet they don't even chuck us any fookin' peanuts today."
James gave the flame-maned bassist a reassuring smile. "Now then, I had good reasons for arranging our travel this way. You just need to trust me."
From three seats away, Jon snorted derisively. "D'you know how they say 'fuck off' in Hollywood?"
"Trust me!" the entire band shouted as one.
"Oh, there are times…" James quipped, but his Bhudda-esqe smile stayed in place.
As he pulled a book out of his bag, Jon glanced at the empty tarmac outside the floor-to-ceiling windows. "Speaking of our flight, shouldn't it be here by now?"
"It may be here for all we know. Can't see beyond ten bloody feet with all this fog," Nick muttered. "Typical Gatwick. I bet every other airport in England is fine."
"Not the most auspicious way to start out, I agree," Al added.
"It can only go uphill from here." Despite James' reassurances, nobody looked convinced. Nick slumped in his seat, staring at the far wall as he drummed his fingers against the armrest. Tony began flicking through a men's magazine. Blackie put on earphones. Jon tried to engross himself in the novel.
For the next fifteen minutes, nobody spoke. The gloomy silence was suddenly broken by the sound of the desk phone ringing. The British Airways-uniformed gate agent picked up the phone, listened briefly, then replaced the handset and made her way to the seating area. "Your plane is arriving at the gate," she announced chirpily.
Most of them glanced up at the same time the streamlined shape of an airliner began to emerge from the deep fog. Nick bolted straight upright, squinting with disbelief. Tony dropped his magazine. Blackie pulled his headphones off in a daze, eyes riveted to the windows. Only Jon remained engaged with his book, oblivious to the scene unfolding outside.
"Jon. Jon!" An urgent elbow shot to his ribs got the singer's attention.
"Fucking what?" he snarled, giving Blackie a glare for the physical violation of his private space.
In response, the guitarist merely pointed outside. Jon's gaze followed, focused. Then his jaw fell open, book instantly forgotten.
"Are you fucking joking right now?" he asked rhetorically, getting slowly to his feet.
Pulling up to the jetway, its twin Rolls-Royce engines keening loudly, was a black Boeing 757, the Strange Angels logo proudly emblazoned in grey and white down the side.
"Gentlemen, say hello to Angel Force One," James proclaimed. "I told you to trust me," he added sotto with the tiniest hint of smugness.
Their fellow travelers also began to move closer to the windows to get a better look. Even the jaded English businessmen couldn't resist pointing and gawking.
Blackie turned to his bandmates, his face wholly lit with a gleeful grin. "I'm pretty sure you'll get some fookin' peanuts on this flight, Tony."
The Present Time
After throwing her bag into one of the jetliner's overhead bins, Jasmine settled into her first-class seat with a short, anxious exhalation. OK. Halfway there. Everything's going to be fine. But she knew that until Jon was at her side, her mental assurances were wasted effort. She glanced at the empty seat beside her, then pulled her portable CD player out of her purse and hit the Play button. One of the new, still unreleased Strange Angels songs flooded her ears and she closed her eyes for a moment as her boyfriend's voice came in from the left channel.
Her attention soon drifted from the music as she relived the last few hours in her mind. The day, which was barely half over, had begun with a well-orchestrated predawn escape. Once again, Jasmine had found herself hunkered down on the floor of Martin's Jeep, hiding from prying eyes. This time she was avoiding the more tenacious members of the UK tabloid press staking out the house. She wasn't happy about traveling without Jon but wisely kept her opinion unvoiced. He had been on the phone late into the night with Martin, his manager James, and their in-house travel agent, working to create the plan that was now in motion. They had decided that in order to keep everything on the down-low it was best to take separate flights to Dallas; he on the band's private jet, she flying commercial. At DFW they would meet again on their connecting flight bound for Cancun and – they hoped – freedom from the press for the next ten days.
Everything had gone perfectly until this moment. Nobody was waiting as they left the house, nor was there a photographer in sight at the Phoenix airport. During the flight and her trek through Dallas airport, no one spoke to her except a handful of airline employees. At the connecting gate, she sat cross-legged alone in a far corner and kept a lookout for Jon even though she did not intend to speak to him before they boarded. The terminal was too public. The first, second, third, and final boarding calls were announced and there was still no sign of him. Jasmine found herself alone in the gate area, fielding questioning looks from the gate agent. With a sinking heart and sweating palms, she stood up and trudged toward the doorway, throwing one last searching glance over her shoulder before going down the long, mobile jetway.
Now the voice of the flight attendant making pre-flight announcements over the 737's PA system was dimly intruding into the music. Jasmine took off the headphones, resisting the urge to gnaw on her fingernails. Shit. Jon, where are you?
"We'll be pushing back shortly, so at this time you should have your seatbelts fastened and all your personal belongings stowed securely underneath the seat in front of you," the male flight attendant said in a dulcet voice. When he strode past Jasmine's row a moment later, Jasmine leaned over and waved to get his attention.
"Excuse me, but someone was supposed to be on this flight with me and he's not here yet," she told him breathlessly. "Do you know how long we can wait for him?"
The man frowned thoughtfully. "I believe everyone's on board. Let me check the manifest and see if we have any last-second requests to hold."
He came back thirty seconds later, shaking his head sadly. "I'm sorry, but we are fully boarded and ready to go. Are you sure your, err, traveling companion was taking this flight?" When Jasmine nodded morosely, his look softened. "I'm really sorry," he repeated. "Our agents in Cancun will definitely be able to track him down. I'm your Purser, Miles. Please let me know if there's anything else I can do for you, OK?"
"Yeah. No. I mean, I'm sure it's just a misunderstanding." Jasmine turned her face to the window so he wouldn't see her quivering chin. There was still time for Jon to make it, she told herself, trying to stay calm.
"Cabin crew, please prepare doors for departure and cross-check," came Miles' maddeningly smooth voice again. Jasmine knew all too well what that meant. They were leaving. Without Jon. She forced herself to not yell obscenities and let her head fall heavily back against her seat with a thud.
Don't cry. To cry is bad. And lame. Jon will catch up with me in Mexico. I hope he's OK. A sudden wild image of his plane crashing invaded her head, causing her fingers to rake her jean-clad legs.
No, she couldn't let her monkey mind go there, or she'd be certifiably insane before they even got off the ground. Jasmine gritted her teeth and replaced the headphones. As she fumbled with the CD player's controls, she became aware of someone sliding into the seat beside her.
She turned her head just enough to cut a slanting glance at the interloper out of the corner of her eye, fearing it might be another first-class passenger intending to claim her company. But it was Jon Fox, grinning as slyly as the animal that had inspired his stage name.
"YOU!" Jasmine shrieked, more loudly than she intended. She didn't know if she wanted to throw herself into his arms or deck him. She settled for a light smack on his shoulder.
"Sorry, Jas. We were held up by ground traffic in Phoenix and I had to run like hell the entire way from the private terminal to the gate. That was cutting it a bit too close even for my liking." Jon was breathing hard, giving truth to his statement.
Miles stepped back into the first-class section and spotted Jon. "Another thirty seconds and you would have been out of luck," he quipped. "Normally we hear from the other plane's flight deck when they're sending latecomers our way."
"I flew here by private jet," Jon explained in a vaguely apologetic voice.
"Ah. I see. Well, you had this young lady on needles and pins here," Miles told him reprovingly, although the warm smile remained fixed on his face. "I thought she was going to chain herself to the jetway to keep it from retracting until you boarded."
Hearing that made Jon laugh aloud. "I'll make it up to you somehow," he promised Jasmine, who just huffed skeptically.
Miles gave her a broad conspiratorial wink. "Well, sir, we have a policy that the last person to board has to help us with our safety demonstrations. And that means you. So come on up!"
Jon turned to Jasmine and shrugged. "It's a fair cop. Here, stow my messenger bag whilst I do penance."
Jasmine watched in rapidly growing amusement as Jon stood up in front of the entire first-class section and demonstrated the exit locations and usage of the safety gear, taking his cues from Miles' speech. He performed not only willingly but gracefully too, with movements as practiced and perfectly timed as any veteran flight attendant's. When Miles got to the part of the speech about smoking being forbidden on all flights, Jon deftly retrieved a pack of Marlboro Reds from inside his jacket, held it high and shook his head in an emphatic no gesture, drawing scattered chuckles from the other passengers. Then Jon took a cigarette out and put it between his lips before pretending to light it up. Without even looking at Jon or missing a beat, Miles reached over and flicked the cigarette out of his mouth. This time their audience roared with laughter mixed with scattered applause.
By the time the demonstration was over, the plane was taxiing away from the terminal. Jon reclaimed his seat and fastened his seat belt before leaning over and brushing his lips discreetly across her left temple. "Next stop, paradise. Can't fucking wait."
"God, yes," she agreed emphatically as the Boeing poised itself at the start of the runway, engines spooling up.
As the jet hurtled into the sky, Jasmine stared down at the Texas landscape as it grew ever more distant below. Out of the corner of her left eye, she saw Jon pull a paperback book out of his bag then tilt his seat back to do some reading.
Even though she tried to refocus her thoughts on white sands and blue ocean, Jasmine couldn't quite unspool her wound-up mind enough to sit back and relax. Instead, her gaze stayed pinned to a point just outside the slightly warped acrylic window pane.
"Xanax?" Jon's murmured query snapped her out of her brown study.
"Umm, what about it?" she replied confusedly.
"D'you want one? You seem a bit anxious."
"Oh. Uh, that's ok. I'll snap out of it soon."
Jon leaned back in his seat. "If you say so. But let me know if you don't. I've got loads."
She was tempted to ask if he had taken any himself, but decided not to pry. Instead, she asked, "What does it do, anyway?"
"Xanax? It makes you less anxious, that's all. As Benzos go, it's mild."
"Benzodiazepines." Jon pronounced each syllable with care. "If you're going to go into Psychology, you certainly need to know about them."
"I'll be sure to get right on that when the fall semester starts," Jasmine replied lightly before turning her gaze to the window again. As if I'm going to become a psychiatrist, she thought peevishly. There's no way I can stay in college for eight plus years!
Before long they were over the Gulf of Mexico, which stretched to the southern horizon as far as the eye could see. The sight of the sparkling navy blue water below made reality hit home for Jasmine – they were on their way to a foreign country for a real vacation, away from business, school, television, phones, the media, everything. Alone. Together.
The realization caused her to slump with relief against Jon's shoulder as joy flooded through her. In response, he slipped his arm around her to pull her close against his side.
"So we're all good?" he murmured into her hair.
"We are very good," she replied with a dreamy smile. This trip was going to be awesome, she resolved. And nobody was going to screw it up, herself included.