A law professor gets a family and a bookstore owner offers advice.
Previously in "Par Angusta Ad Augusta":
After his brother and sister-in-law are killed in a car accident overseas, NYU law professor Jefferson Thomas flies to Berlin to collect his young nieces and nephew to bring them to live with him in Manhattan. Meanwhile, local bookstore owner Monique Vasquez continues running her family's business while training a new employee.
"Guten tag," the flight attendant said as Jefferson and the kids approached the plane's doors.
"Hello," Jefferson returned, hoping that, mixed with his lack of a German accent, would indicate his lack of any German speaking capabilities.
"Welcome aboard. Can I help you find your seats?"
"That would be great. We're in row twenty-eight, seats A through E."
"Where's the pilot?" Matthew chimed in, looking around as he followed Jefferson onto the plane.
The flight attendant laughed.
"The captain's in the cockpit," she explained, pointing at the nearby, vault-like door. "He's making sure everything is ready for us to leave on time."
Matthew stared at the door and Jefferson wondered if he was actually figuring out how to open it.
"I'll show you folks to your seats," the flight attendant said. She took two steps and stopped again.
"Oh," she said, noticing Presley for the first time. "You have a service animal as well. She is beautiful."
* * *
the group had the two seats by the window and three of the four seats across the right-side aisle. Thankfully, the airline had been able to block off one extra seat to give Presley room to curl up and lie down. This wasn't a courtesy Jefferson received often simply because the plane was full and no seat could be blocked. Then again, he didn't fly much. When he did, Presley usually just took the foot space in front of him.
"Here you are," the flight attendant said as they reached their row. "I can help put your bags in the overhead bin."
"We'll start with these," Jefferson said, indicating his briefcase and overnight bag.
"I can take those," the attendant said as she opened one of the overhead bins.
Jefferson paused to consider the best seating arrangement.
"Taylor, Abigail," he said, "you take those two seats."
He indicated the two seats by the window.
"Matthew," he continued, "you're with me and Presley on this side.
He would take the aisle seat with Matthew right next to him and the empty seat for Presley on the boy's other side. His legs were short enough that she could stretch into his foot space as well. Jefferson figured, with this arrangement, he'd be able to keep a sense of control over all three kids.
As the twins decided amongst themselves about who would get the aisle seat, Jefferson and the flight attendant loaded everyone's bags into the overhead bins.
"We have some activity kits your children would enjoy," the flight attendant said. "I'll go get those."
She left, though Jefferson wasn't sure how she'd gotten around him and the kids, the group successfully blocking the narrow aisle. He was still processing what she'd said. "Your children." He supposed that was true ... in a sense he was still absorbing.
Abigail and Taylor seemed to have decided that Abigail could have the aisle seat while Taylor took the window seat, seemingly so she would be left alone by anyone passing their row. Jefferson was surprised and relieved when their agreement was struck without apparent conflict. They settled into their respective seats and buckled up at his urging. Their compliance further helped him relax a little.
Meanwhile, Matthew decided he wanted a better view of what was going on outside the plane and stood up in his seat.
"Sit down," Jefferson encouraged, finding and tugging on his shirt.
It took a few tries, but Matthew finally complied.
"There's a very important airplane rule that you always need to remember," Jefferson told his nephew. "Always do what the flight attendants and pilot say. You need help buckling up?"
"They said to buckle up?" Matthew asked as Jefferson buckled his own seatbelt.
"They whispered it in my ear," Jefferson said, thinking quickly to cover himself. Matthew seemed to accept this as his uncle helped him buckle his seatbelt and the flight attendant returned.
"Here you go," she said, handing each of the kids a bag. "We've got some coloring books and crayons, stickers, and activity books ... all kinds of fun things. You can do some of them with your Dad."
Jefferson froze, again absorbing her words. The kids might have missed what she'd said before, but they couldn't have missed it now.
"He's not our Dad," Abigail said. "He's our Uncle Jeff."
"Oh," the flight attendant said. Jefferson sensed her pause. He didn't encounter it often, but he understood its meaning.
"Well, 'Uncle Jeff'," the attendant said. "My name's Lauren. Just hit the call button over your head if you need anything and I'll come right down. Have a nice flight."
She walked away and Jefferson was sure he was right. Seeming to draw the conclusion from his title "Uncle Jeff" and the lack of a ring on his finger, this woman was now interested. Had he been flying alone, he might have responded accordingly to the underlying flirtation in her final statement.
Jefferson's luck with the opposite gender varied. Some women couldn't get past his blindness while others seemed fine with it. Eric had once told him he looked like the actor Titus Welliver, which Jefferson figured was a good thing. Too bad it wasn't enough to keep Nancy around.
Thinking about the flight attendant again, Jefferson wondered what Eric would have to say about her. His friend usually described women around them and flirtatious hints were usually a good cue to get him started. This woman, Lauren, did have a nice-sounding voice. But, Jefferson knew that, even with the aid of Eric's descriptions, things were different now. The kids around him were the strongest evidence of that.
* * *
As other passengers filed through the aisle, Abigail greeted as many as she could while Taylor seemed to be trying to stay occupied by browsing through her new activity kit and then the SkyMall catalog she found in the magazine sleeve in front of her seat. While she had some reading capabilities, the catalog quickly had her stumped and she took to just looking at the pictures. Jefferson prayed she wouldn't stumble across anything inappropriate, though he wasn't too sure about what could define "inappropriate."
"Hi," Abigail continued greeting the other passengers, a few of whom greeted her back.
"Settle down," Jefferson finally told her. "I think you've greeted enough people."
"Okay," Abigail said and also began going through the magazine sleeve in front of her seat, soon discovering the safety information card. She perused it, admiring the diagrams.
Jefferson texted his parents and Eric and Amy. The messages were virtually identical. He and the kids were on the plane and it looked like they'd leave Berlin on time. Putting his phone away again, he thankful that all three kids were being quiet for now. But he was sure it would still be a long flight.
* * *
"Lunch time," Frank announced, entering the bookstore with several small plastic bags which bore the logo of the local Subway sandwich restaurant. Both Kathy and Monique looked up as he came over to them.
Since the store was kept open through the daily lunch hour, the routine was that one person would go and get lunch for everyone or they would order in. Either way, they'd be eating while they worked. No one had ever complained or cited New York's laws about lunch breaks.
Kathy reached beneath the counter by the register and emerged with a plastic tumbler identical to the one through which Monique had drank her coffee that morning. She secured it to the wheelchair and poured in the Coke Frank had brought back for his boss. Monique took her sandwich and they all began eating.
"How's the hiring process coming along?" Frank asked after a while, taking a break from his meatball sub.
Kathy withdrew from taking another bite of her veggie sandwich and looked up with apparent interest.
"Slowly," Monique said. "I haven't found anyone human enough yet who will accept what comes with the job."
She gestured at herself.
"I had one person ask if I even worked here," She continued. "That was the end of that interview."
"You'll find someone," Kathy assured her, setting her food aside as a man came towards the register with two books clutched in his hand. Monique only nodded as she watched the transaction being completed.
* * *
"Uncle Jeff," Taylor said from across the aisle, bringing Jefferson out of his dozing state, "can I go to the bathroom?"
"Sure," Jefferson replied, rubbing his eyes. "Just go to the ones right in front of us and come right back."
The lavatories were just two rows ahead of them. Taylor promised she would and got out of her seat. Matthew was asleep and Abigail, who had gotten her backpack from Jefferson, was busy coloring with her crayons. Jefferson couldn't help thinking that the flight was going pretty well so far. They only had about three hours left before they were due to arrive in New York. All three kids had eaten the meal that had been provided earlier, though Abigail had asked about a million questions about what was in it before she began eating, and he'd be sure to have them take the snack that would be coming around before they landed. So far, everything was going just fine.
Then Jefferson realized it had been nearly ten minutes since Taylor had left. as far as he knew, she wasn't back. He didn't hear voices up ahead by the lavatories, so he didn't think there was a line where she was waiting.
"Abigail," he said, getting his other niece's attention, "do you see your sister?"
"No," Abigail replied, "but she went to the bathroom, remember?"
Great, Jefferson thought. How on Earth was he going to search the plane for this girl? What if she was locked in a lavatory? He knew that he couldn't just sit there and wait.
"Abigail," he said, "take my seat and watch your brother."
As Jefferson got up, Presley began to get up as well, believing he needed her
"Stay," Jefferson told her.
Presley was quick to settle down again, Matthew's feet dangling over her back.
"Hey," Abigail protested as Jefferson walked away. "I'm too young to baby-sit."
Jefferson didn't respond. He reached the lavatories and looked around.
"Taylor?" he asked. "Taylor? Are you around here?"
The only response he got was from a nearby flight attendant.
"Sir," the attendant asked, coming over, "is everything all right?"
It was possibly Lauren, the flight attendant from earlier. Jefferson couldn't be sure now.
"My niece is missing," he explained. "She's seven years old, has red hair, and she's wearing a purple sweater and jeans."
Thankfully, he'd memorized what the kids had put on that morning.
"All right," the flight attendant assured him. "We'll go through the cabin. I'd like you to sit back down in your seat and we'll bring her back when we find her. She can't have gotten far."
Jefferson reluctantly followed his instructions. He left Abigail in his seat and took hers for the time being.
"What's going on, Uncle Jeff?" his niece queried from across the aisle. "Where's Taylor?"
He didn't respond to her inquiries.
"What's your brother doing?" he asked instead.
"He's sleeping," Abigail replied.
Jefferson figured a sleeping child couldn't cause him any grief at the moment.
Another flight attendant soon approached their row. This definitely wasn't Lauren.
"Sir," she reported, "we've found your niece."
Jefferson felt relief wash over him.
"Where is she?" he asked, tempted to just reach out for Taylor.
"Well, that's the problem," the attendant said. "She's curled up on the floor by one of the exit doors and she's refusing to leave that spot. She seems to be very upset."
bet I know what that's about, Jefferson thought as he rose and again left Abigail to watch her brother. The flight attendant led him up through another section in economy class. Most of the other passengers ignored the precession while a few looked up with mild interest. Jefferson could soon hear Taylor sniffling. They came up to where she was curled up on the floor with her head buried between her knees, which were pulled into her chest with her arms wrapped around them. Jefferson took the lead now.
"Hey," he said, crouching down in front of her. "What were you thinking, running off like that?"
"I don't want to go," Taylor said between sniffles. Her voice sounded muffled.
"You don't want to go where?" Jefferson asked, sure he knew the answer.
"I don't want to go to New York," Taylor said. "I want to go home. I want my mom and dad back."
Jefferson had hoped another episode like this would wait until they reached his house. But, he did not have Cassandra Kingman's confidence or luck. He also wasn't sure if he had her bluffing capabilities. It wasn't like he could get far away from Taylor on this airplane.
"You know that can't happen," he said.
"Why not?!" Taylor wailed. "I didn't do anything. It's not fair!"
Jefferson wondered if nearby passengers were now watching and listening. He didn't know or care if the flight attendant was still there.
"I know it's not fair," he said. "It stinks. It stinks for me too. I lost loved ones, just like you did. But we now have to make it work."
Taylor was quiet. Jefferson sat on the floor next to her.
"Listen to me," he continued. "When I first got the call and found out what happened, my first thought was what would happen to you guys. I knew your parents named me as your legal guardian, but that was a long time ago. You know what though? When I was told what happened, I said I would be in Germany as soon as possible."
Taylor stopped sniffling and looked up at him.
"It's not fair," she repeated in a softer voice.
"I know," Jefferson agreed, pulling her into his arms. "I know it's not fair. But we have to make it work. That's the only choice we've got."
He patted her head as she began to relax and uncurl herself.
"You ready to go back to your seat?" he asked after a few silent seconds.
Taylor nodded. He felt her head moving against his chest.
"Come on," he said.
He first took her to a nearby lavatory so she could wash her hands and face. With that done, they went to rejoin Abigail and Matthew, Jefferson using the seats they passed as his source of guidance.
"Can I have my seat back now?" Abigail asked impatiently as Taylor once again sat by the window.
"Wait another minute," Jefferson told her and sat down next to Taylor. Taylor looked at him, suspecting they weren't quite done talking yet.
"I need you to make me two promises," Jefferson said. "I need you to promise me that you understand that running off like that was wrong, and you have to promise me that you won't do it again."
"I'm sorry," Taylor said.
"Can you keep those two promises?"
"Yes. I promise."
"Good," Jefferson said and let Abigail have her seat back.
Soon, the flight attendants began handing out snacks, which once again prompted Abigail to begin her normal food-related interrogation. At that time, Matthew also woke up. He immediately asked how much longer the flight was going to be. It seemed the majesty of air travel was wearing off.
"Two more hours," Jefferson told him.
Yes, Monique only has a sliver of story in this chapter, but the main characters are slowly coming together ... they're almost in the same country again.
I have rearranged this story a bit. It is now thirty-eight chapters (instead of the original forty-two.)
Cast of characters:
Jefferson Thomas: a blind NYU law professor.
Presley: Jefferson's guide dog.
Monique Vasquez: a bookstore owner in Manhattan
Abigail and Taylor Thomas: seven-year-old twin daughters of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nieces of Jefferson Thomas.
Matthew: four-year-old son of Stanley and Margaret Thomas. Nephew of Jefferson Thomas.
Kathy Quigley: a long-time employee of Mnique's bookstore
Frank Norris: a long-time employee of Mnique's bookstore
Samuel Bridges: a new employee in Monique's bookstore
Stanley "Stan" Thomas: Jefferson's brother. Killed in a car accident in Berlin.
Margaret "Maggie" Thomas: Stan's wife. Killed in a car accident overseas.
Feedback is absolutely welcome. Enjoy.