The trim stewardess was older than most, though still striking in her navy Lufthansa uniform. She kept her makeup more minimal than some of the girls, knowing heavy, dark eyes only accentuated her age.
Gloria noticed the tall man boarding her flight for two reasons: The first was she recognized an agent from a mile away. Especially since hijackings and hostage situations had become so popular of late, the more seasoned flight crews had really paid attention to their trainings, and were hyper-aware of their environment. The second was more simple and obvious—he had been on her Red-Eye from the States just three days prior.
He had stuck out like a sore thumb then. His upright, uptight posture; his obvious stress. He had downed four scotches straight and remained alert and awake. His suit pegged him as a Fed: vest to cover the inevitable shoulder holster, shined shoes.
She had looked twice at him when he boarded the Red-Eye. Any female with a pulse did. Sandy brown hair shot with a few streaks of sun-kissed blond, tall and fit, green eyes you could lose yourself in. But he practically radiated tension that first night. For nine hours to Germany he did nothing but read the same few pages from a manilla folder over and over, run his hand through is hair, pinch the bridge of his nose, and frown.
Today was a different story altogether. Gloria smiled at the agent as he boarded. He gave her a half-hearted, distracted smile as he flashed his boarding pass at her, 3-B. She pitied the woman who who had the full wattage of that smile turned on her. No, today he was relaxed, a bit tired to be sure, but none of the anxious edge that had chased him eastward.
The tall agent, 'Lee Stetson' she'd noted quickly from the boarding pass, stepped back slightly to wait for the woman behind him. 'Amanda King' seemed slightly nervous as she handed Gloria her boarding pass, 3-A. Gloria smiled her most welcoming smile. Stetson's hand landed familiarly on the small of the woman's back as he guided her to their seats.
Today he wore a tweed jacket and a soft cashmere vest which complimented his hazel eyes. The brunette wore a cute, casual ensemble, but didn't seem quite what you would expect to be his type.
Now there was a delicious puzzle. The woman did not appear to be a Fed. She exuded none of the confidence; although she did seem far more observant than most, taking in the plane, the other passengers as they filed by...
Gloria often whiled away long transoceanic flights figuring out the less obvious relationships between people: lovers, affairs, mistresses and gigolos, hopeful administrative assistants, hopeful, lonely old executives... when she couldn't quite suss out the reality, she might make up stories, filling in the blanks to satisfy her own curiosity and tuck away the details for the great American romance she was planning to write when she was too old and too plump to continue as a stewardess.
Once the passengers were all boarded, Gloria returned to the pretty brunette with the Fed. As she gave out her emergency exit and crash landing instructions, she absently noted they sat next to each other familiarly, but not like lovers. They were comfortable to invade each other's space, but not intimate.
As the flight taxied, Gloria walked up and down the aisle, making sure everyone's seats were upright and seatbelts were latched. The jet turned, then paused, the engines beginning their whine as they came up to speed.
Gloria noticed Amanda King's hand grip the seat handle, knuckles showing white. "Are you OK?" Gloria inquired politely.
"Oh, yes." Amanda ducked her head shyly, her voice a bit hoarse. "I'm OK with flying, it's just the take-offs and landings that make me a bit nervous. "
Lee Stetson rolled his eyes, and smiled indulgently, but placed his hand over Amanda's on the armrest. As Gloria turned to look one last time over the passenger compartment before taking her own seat, she noticed Amanda turning her hand under Lee's and entwining her fingers with his.
They reached cruising altitude, and Gloria started with the beverage cart. Lee Stetson was flipping through a magazine, while surreptitiously glancing at his seat mate. Amanda King was falling asleep, though fighting it with a valiant effort.
"Drink?" Gloria asked.
Lee Stetson turned the wattage up on his smile. "Scotch please, on the rocks."
"Ma'am?" She asked Amanda.
"No, nothing, thank you..." Amanda gave a soft smile of thanks.
"Amanda, you should at least have some water... " Lee cajoled, softly. He nodded at Gloria, who handed him a small bottle of Perrier. Amanda's head dropped as her eyes closed.
"C'mon now... you're going to end up with a stiff neck... " Lee reached his arm around her and coaxed her head on to his shoulder. With a deep sigh she fell asleep.
Gloria glanced up from the gingerale she was pouring for the passenger in 2-A to see a look of tenderness on the tall federal agent's face. She still hadn't quite figured out the connection, but that there was one, was clear.
About an hour later Gloria was gathering cups and topping off drinks. The cabin was a bit cool. She saw the sleeping passenger in 3-A shiver as she passed, and made a mental note to bring a blanket back with her.
But as she was returning, Lee Stetson had taken off his jacket and was tucking it around Amanda King. She snuggled closer to him, not quite waking. Lee glanced around, then rested his cheek against Amanda's head, letting himself rest. His breath sighed out.
Gloria began the familiar walk up and down the aisle, as the quiet chimes of the seatbelt alert woke Lee. Amanda slept on. Lee was surprised he had slept for several hours. He didn't usually sleep on planes. The Captain's voice came over the intercom, "We're about three hours out from Dulles, and we're running into a cold front. The ride might get a little bumpy for awhile, but no worries. Please remain seated with your seatbelts on. "
As if on cue, the jet dropped suddenly. Amanda startled awake, her hand reaching for Lee.
"Shh... it's just some turbulence." His voice was low, reassuring. Hardly reaching beyond their row of seats. Gloria paused, Lee nodded at her.
"Oh." Amanda let go his sweater, rested her open palm against his chest. "How much longer?" Her voice was rough with sleep.
"We're almost home. Just a couple more hours. You'll be having dinner with the boys just like you said" The plane bounced again, and Lee allowed himself the reassuring brush of his lips to her forehead.
"Thank you, Lee." Amanda said softly. "Thank you for bringing me home." He tucked his jacket up around her shoulders, and settled her more solidly against his shoulder.
Gloria smiled. She may not have figured out all of it, but the important part had become obvious, the tall federal agent loved the woman. She doubted either of them even knew it yet. But Gloria was an experienced observer of the nuances of couples trapped together inside a flying tube. This guy had it bad.
(author's note: I know it is PC to call them Flight Attendants these days, but in 1985, Lee Stetson called them Stewardesses... )