He wouldn’t care, anyway. All that he cared about was flying. His absorption had begun when she’d started explaining to him the mechanical workings of an airplane; and before she knew it their casual meetings had blossomed into sub-rosa flying lessons, of which she knew that his family would heartily disapprove. If they had known. They wouldn’t have allowed him up in the tower, either, working as a controller, if he had given them any choice in the matter — but he had a way of getting what he wanted. Eddie, like her, was moneyed Newport, and his parents didn’t want him to forget it.
“Okay.” If he was disappointed, his voice didn’t show it. “November Seventy-seven Kilo, call field in sight.”
The field was shining in the distance, the hangars catching the gleam of the sun on their glittering metallic walls, the runways crisscrossing one another, the rows of landing lights ready to be lit at dusk. She had impressed their importance on Eddie. “There are colors for a reason, you know.” And she taught him the silly rhyme that someone, somewhere, had made up for the benefit of all novice flyers: “White on white, you’re high as a kite. Red on red, you’re dead. Red on white, you’re just right.”
She pressed the button down. “Newport Tower, this is Seventy-seven Kilo, field in sight.” Banking gently, she lost more altitude and throttled back. There were five runways; and the short squat tower, glassed on the top floor, sat smugly in the midst of them. A few small single-engine planes, not unlike her own, were parked near one of the two hangars on the edges of the tarmac. One was sitting on a runway, presumably awaiting clearance for takeoff, though Caroline hadn’t heard any requests being made over her headphones. She circled and lost some more height, lowering her undercarriage — it was extraordinary, really, how many pilots forgot that they were flying with retractable gear and tore off the underbellies of their airplanes when landing — and adjusting her flaps and ailerons, watching her timing as she turned onto her final approach. The runway was gleaming straight and wide ahead of her.
The flaps were down and she was still losing altitude. The plane was buffeting slightly in the air as she played with the controls, sensing rather than calculating how much rudder to give, how quickly to go down, how to come in to her landing without stalling out. Eric’s pilots had taught her well. And then the runway was flashing beneath her, closer and closer, as the wheels touched down, bounced up, and then touched again, holding as Caroline applied the brakes. Slowly, the airplane came to a stop. She taxied over to the fuel pumps on the other side of the tower and parked it there, collecting her charts, maps, and leather flying jacket before jumping down from the cockpit.
The mechanic was watching her, ready to refuel the airplane and begin the preparations to get it ready for the next person who took it up. It was Caroline’s plane and she had priority when it came to using it, but she had extended the privilege to other pilots as well. Harry took pride in keeping the little monoplane in good condition. “Nice day to be up, Mrs. Asheford,” he observed laconically, his eyes already trained beyond her on the plane.
“Lovely day, Harry. Thank you.”
The mechanic didn’t bother to look at her; his priority had always been, and always would be, the airplane itself. “Wouldn’t happen you have any problems with the altimeter, Mrs. Asheford? Craig was complaining about it.”
“No problems, Harry,” Caroline said cheerfully with an impish grin as she turned to go back to the tower to sign in. She left the maps and charts at the sign-in desk and, slinging her leather jacket over her shoulder, ran up the stairs to the controllers’ room.
Eddie was sitting in front of the huge green radar screen, only recently acquired by the airport — and at great expense, too, though well worth it in terms of safety, or so Caroline had argued when Eric first told her about radar. The Newport Airport Council was unconvinced, and she had ended up paying for the screen herself.
Eddie was drinking coffee. Absorbed like that, he looked incredibly young. His sandy hair was cut in the crew cut his father favored, and he had the same piercing blue eyes as the rest of his family. He was tall and a little thin, and might have been very attractive were it not for the acne that marred his complexion. Caroline had heard about that at great length, as well as about all the girls he was too timid to date. There was more to giving flying lessons than met the eye. What she didn’t tell him, what he wasn’t ready to hear, was that one day the acne would disappear and the power and intensity of his personality would attract girls like a magnet. He wouldn’t have believed her anyway.
She watched him over his shoulder for a moment, and then bent to kiss his cheek. “I’ve got to go, Eddie,” she said lightly. “I’ll be here on Thursday, if you want to — uh — talk.”
Without taking his eyes off the screen, he nodded. “Great, Caroline. See you then.” He pushed down his own transmitter button: “Golf November Alpha, you are cleared to take off.”
Caroline smiled and left, thinking as she skipped down the stairs and out to the car that the young were more resilient than one thought. At his age, she would have at least thrown a fit of pique over a missed opportunity. Or would she? There were so many things that she hadn’t been permitted at his age. Even by herself.
Especially by herself.