I stood inside the small shack near the beginning of the flight line. Different colored vests hung on the walls along with over-the-head earmuffs, goggles and other safety equipment. Neat stacks of papers with Layla’s handwriting lay on the desk next to service manuals and a few extra pairs of ear protection.
I peered through the window onto the flight line and watched Layla with her students. The Airmen who trained here would eventually work as aircraft mechanics, electricians and a number of other positions in support of the Navy’s air fleet. Donned in earmuffs, protective eyewear and different colored vests they were going over aircraft launch procedures.
The brown vest Layla wore over her blue camouflage uniform designated her as the line member directing the plane – the one person the pilot focused on. One crew member manned the back of the aircraft. Two others stood on either side of the plane, next to the huge wheels. They waited for the signal to pull chocks. Once they received it, they’d retrieve the safety blocks surrounding the wheels so the plane could move forward.
Layla wore confidence and authority as if they were the latest fashion trends. She gave the signal pull chocks – both hands extended in front of her at waist level, facing upward; when she moved her hands outward, both linemen unsecured the wheels by removing the chocks. Every step was well coordinated and performed according to standard procedure. One of the reasons I loved the military – uniform procedures for every task. Everything ran smooth and efficiently, down to the last detail. It’s what made us the best, and ultimately, what saved lives.
Layla gave the all clear signal followed by the command to move forward and then slowly stepped backward. The plane advanced slowly according to Layla’s hand signals.
It only took a few seconds for me to realize something was seriously wrong. Fuck. The lineman on the starboard wing hadn’t moved away from the plane. Didn’t he know he needed to haul ass after he pulled chocks? My heart began to pump wildly as the realization of impending disaster set in. When the plane turned, the discharge of exhaust and fire would blast the lineman, potentially killing him.
Did Layla even see him? Why didn’t she say anything? Why didn’t she do anything to get him out of the way? I hastened toward the door, then back to the window. Even if I called out, no one would hear me over the roar of the engines. Shit. I needed to get out there. I had to save that kid’s life, save my team. Adrenaline shot through every muscle as I grabbed the earmuffs from the desk and raced outside. A slow trot increased to a sprint when I realized the plane was about to make it’s turn. Holy fuck. The kid stood there as if he was in a daze. What the fuck was he doing? I ran faster. My heart pounded fiercely. The plane began to rotate as Layla commanded. Shit. Shit. Shit. This kid was going to die on my watch.
Ethan thanked the host and picked up the microphone. and a hush settled over the room and all eyes were on Ethan. I expected him to choose a song and start singing, but instead, he addressed the audience.
“I hope you’re all having a good time.”
The crowd applauded.
“You’re in for a treat this evening.” He looked directly at me and continued, “Visual as well as musical – as my girl, Layla takes the stage.” The crowd cheered instantly as Ethan extended a hand in my direction
“Come on up, Baby.”
In two gulps, I downed the remaining wine in my glass and joined Ethan on the stage. Although I loved music and enjoyed singing, I was nervous as hell.
“Ladies first.” Ethan whispered the words as he held the microphone out to me.
“You’ll pay for this.”
He flashed the sexiest, dimpled grin and at that exact moment, I knew I was in love with him.
“Get off my stage.”
“As you command, Beautiful.”
Within moments, my foot was tapping to the opening drum beat. My head bopped to the bass of the Pretenders’ Mystery Achievement. Hair swung about as I shimmied seductively and sang “On my mind, on my mind, on my mind.” My body came alive as the music surged through me. I rocked and wiggled and sang my heart out. Since I’d sung along with this song on numerous occasions, I knew every word and every stroke of the guitar. At the instrumental parts the audience participated by clapping along. By the end of the song, I was jumping up and down, making eye contact and connecting with the audience as I approached their tables and sang directly to them. At the final beat and the last fierce swing of my head, the audience roared.
“Holy, fuck! That was orgasmic.” Laughter accompanied the applause.
Ethan clapped the loudest and gave me a quick kiss. “I could get you a cigarette if you like.”
I gave him a playful push as I handed him the microphone.
From our table I watched Ethan’s performance. His eyes locked on mine as his song started. When he sang the first line in acapella, my heart laughed, danced and cried. The music started and the audience cheered. UB-40’s version of Can’t Help Falling In Love featured a slow reggae beat that everyone wanted to move to. I watched transfixed as he sang to me. Me. He was singing to me. Was he saying he was in love with me?
Ethan was beautiful and so darned sexy as his hips rocked to the reggae beat. He sang and danced like he could feel the music. As if it flowed through his body the way it did mine. His eyes, his movements and his words seduced me. As if he was making love to me, from right there on the stage. When he stepped off the stage and came close to our table, I swooned like a groupie. With a hand extended, he sang ‘take my hand’, and guided me to my feet. Like a professional performer, Ethan continued bellowing the smooth notes, rocking his hips while he held my hand. With a gentle hold, he pulled me close, guiding me to move to the sultry beat with him. When the music ended, everyone applauded.
“That was amazing!”
“Ready to go?” He didn’t wait for my answer. Instead, he pulled out his wallet, left a few bills on our table, and ushered me out the door.
“That was so much fun! Why are we leaving already?”
“I want to hear you sing… in private.”
“What do you think?” Layla strutted and twirled like a runway model.
“Wow! You look amazing.”
The slinky black dress was simple but elegant. Cut just low enough in the front to allow her breasts to tease, and low enough in the back to draw my eyes to her perfect curves.
“I love it. This is the one.”
“I haven’t even tried the other one yet.”
“You can try it if you like, but this one gets my vote.” As Layla examined her reflection in the mirror, I placed my hand on her ass, sliding it up and down over the velvet fabric “If you do get this one, I won’t be able to keep my hands off you.”
Her luscious lips curved into a flirtatious smile. “Then maybe I will get it.” Her gaze flicked to the price tag. “Or maybe not. Ethan this dress is ridiculously expensive.”
“And you’re worth every penny.”
“I should at least give you half. Or we can go to a less expensive store.”
It was time to put my foot down. “Layla! I’m buying the dress. Now go try on the other one if you want to, but we’re leaving here with one of them.”
“And when you’re done, pick out some shoes.”
She darted back to the fitting room.
“And lingerie,” I called after her. “Do you know they have panties that you can actually eat?”
While I waited for Layla to try on the second dress the sales clerk who’d helped us earlier showed me a necklace with matching earrings. “These will go nicely with whichever dress she chooses.”
I looked over my shoulder to see if Layla was ready to model the next dress. She hadn’t come out yet, but what I did see caused a knot to form in the pit of my stomach. What. The. Fuck.
My heart pounded, forcing panic through my veins with every beat. I stood paralyzed with fear as Commander Murphy strode right toward me. Where had he come from? What was he doing here? In a mall located several miles away from the base, I hadn’t considered the possibility of running into someone who knew us. What a stupid mistake.
“Parker! How’s it going?”
I shook his outstretched hand and prayed he didn’t notice the sweat on my palm.
“I’m good, Sir, how are you?”
“Not bad. What brings you to this neck of the woods?”
“Oh. I um… I’m picking up a gift. For a friend.” That not a lie… except Layla was much more than a friend. I tried to appear relaxed in spite of the alarming thoughts flooding my mind. Reduced pay, reduced rank, Captain’s Mast, dishonorable discharge, confinement.
I stole a glance toward the fitting room, hoping Layla would stay put for a while. Please let the zipper be stuck.
A squeaky door hinge set me on edge. Holy shit. This was it. The end of my career.