Shared by the Pilots
Ten Years Later
The sky was a perfect cobalt blue outside the wide windows of the Cessna 172, and totally cloudless—since we were above the clouds. The drone of the single propeller engine drowned out all other sound, but I could hear my co-pilot’s voice thanks to the headsets we wore.
“What do you say?” I asked. “Want to give it a spin?”
“It’s already spinning, mommy,” my daughter Charlotte said in the co-pilot’s seat. She pointed at the propeller. “If it wasn’t spinning, we wouldn’t be flying!”
I laughed at the way the seven-year-old took everything literally. “Give it a spin is a phrase that means to try something. Do you want to try flying for a few seconds?”
Her eyes were round as she turned toward me. “Are you being funny right now?”
“Nope. I’m serious.”
“But we’ll crash!”
“I promise we won’t,” I replied. “I’ll be here the entire time.”
I smiled while watching my daughter work through the logic in her head. She was so damn smart for her age, and had already learned the invaluable skill of considering something before answering. She got that from her father, along with her black hair and dark eyes.
“Okay,” she finally said. “But only if you’re helping me.”
“That’s the spirit. Now, take control of the wheel. Do you remember what it’s called?”
“The yoke! Like an egg!”
“That’s right. The yoke. Hold it with both hands.”
She did as she was told.
“Now, push the yoke upward very gently,” I explained with my hands still on my own yoke. “That will cause the plane to pitch forward. Good! Just like that!”
She gasped as the plane leaned into a gentle dive, bringing the ground below us into view. In reality, she had no control at all—her yoke was locked to my yoke. Even if she yanked on it, nothing would happen unless I unlocked hers. It was far too dangerous to allow a seven-year-old to control a plane, even for just a few seconds.
But she didn’t know that, and the wonder on her face made the fib worth it.
“Okay!” Charlotte blurted out in a panic. “That’s enough. I want to be done. Take over!”
“Taking over,” I said. “That was really good, Charlotte! I’m proud of you!”
She frowned in concentration. “I was a little scared. I can do better next time.”
“I’m sure you will. Practice is the way to become good at something. I was terrible at flying when your uncle Taylor first taught me, but now I’m an expert.”
“Why did you wait so long to get your pilot’s license?” she asked. “Uncle Taylor was flying when he was fifteen, but you waited until you were a billion years old!”
“Hey now, I started in my late thirties,” I replied.
Charlotte turned to me with deadly seriousness. “I know that. I was rounding up.”
I chuckled. “I waited so long because when I was a little girl, I didn’t know I could become a pilot. There weren’t a lot of women pilots back then. I started off as a flight attendant first, because I loved to travel. But after meeting your daddy, and Uncle Taylor and Uncle Adam, I learned to try new things. And now there’s lots of female pilots, not just me!”
“I want to be a pilot,” Charlotte said after a few seconds of consideration.
“Daddy will be very happy to hear that,” I replied, “but you don’t have to be a pilot. You can do whatever you want.”
“I know. Being a pilot sounds like a very good idea. Maybe someday I can even fly planes into space.”
“Maybe so!” I replied. “But you’re still young. You have a lot of time to think about it.”
“Mom, I’m seven,” she explained condescendingly. “I’m pretty much an adult.”
“It sounds like you’re rounding up again.”
She nodded. “Now you get it.”
I grinned while pushing the plane downward to bleed altitude as we descended toward the airport. It had been a good decade since fate—and Dexter’s bullying—had pushed me into the arms of Luke, Adam, and Taylor. VAULT Airlines struggled for the first two years, but then business suddenly began skyrocketing. We expanded to three jets, then to five, and had to hire more personnel to keep up with all the extra flights.
And then, two years ago, someone offered to purchase the business from us.
That was a difficult decision, but in the end I was still confident that we made the right decision to sell. Now the four of us were comfortably wealthy and could live our lives outside of the constraints of money.
Taylor still performed one private flight per week on his seaplane, the one I was currently flying Charlotte in. He had never really loved flying private jets, and had frequently complained about the lack of personal touch being cooped up in a cockpit away from the passengers. Now that he was back to flying deep-sea fishermen out to the gulf again, he was happier than ever.
Luke had decided to keep flying for VAULT even after the sale, if only to give himself something to do a few times per week. But he still got to choose his own schedule, which allowed him to attend every single one of Charlotte’s soccer or softball games.
Adam was the most restless out of all of us, and had moved back to one of the major airlines after the sale of VAULT. “I still want to travel the world,” he had said at the time. “And, more importantly, I want it to be on someone else’s dime!”
Then there was me. When Charlotte was born, I took about a year of maternity leave before returning to the business. But the sale of VAULT came when she was five years old, and I decided I didn’t want to go back to taking care of an airplane full of children when I could focus on my own. So now I was a stay-at-home mom, something I never imagined being.
But it was so much more fulfilling than I ever expected. Charlotte was in second grade, which meant I had plenty of time to myself during the day. I used that time to get my pilot’s license, to run a half-marathon, and to grow a garden in our backyard, as well as taking care of hundreds of other plants around the house. I even had an app to help me keep track of what plant needed to be watered on which days!
It was amazing what became exciting when you got older.
We landed at the Sugar Land Regional Airport, where Taylor’s hangar was located, and then drove home. After selling the business, we had purchased a big house in the Houston suburbs on a two-acre lot. The kind of house that had two stories, a wrap-around porch, a white picket fence, and way too much grass to try to keep watered in the Texas heat. It was the perfect home for the five of us.
“You still haven’t told us what you want for your birthday next week,” I said on the way home. I checked the clock in the car—it was two in the afternoon. Right on time.
“I don’t care,” Charlotte replied. “A new softball glove.”
“We’ll get you a new glove if you need it. But you don’t want anything else? Something special?”
She shrugged. “More books?”
“We can do more books. Nothing else comes to mind?”
“Hmm. Not really.”
I tried to suppress my grin. She was going to be so excited.
We pulled into the driveway of the house, which sat up on a hill overlooking the street. I sent another text to Luke; he hadn’t responded to the one I sent before leaving the airport.
“I want to tell daddy that I flew the plane!” Charlotte suddenly blurted out. Before I could delay her, she hopped out of the car. “I think I see him in the back yard.”
“Hold on,” I said, panicking. “Let’s go inside first and… Charlotte, wait!”
It was too late: she was already sprinting around the side of the house to the back yard. Wincing, I followed.
She was squealing with excitement when I caught up to her. Our back yard had three huge oak trees in it, and one of them was surrounded with ladders and boards of wood and sawhorses. Luke was climbing down from one ladder while Adam stood with his hands on his hips.
“Mommy, look!” Charlotte said. “They’re building me a tree house!”
Twenty feet into the air, the floor of the tree house was completed and the walls were starting to go up. But the project was supposed to be done by two o’clock, which was when I would get home after distracting Charlotte so the guys could work on the project.
“I texted you to ask if you were done!” I told the guys.
“Had the phone on silent. Was focusing on the work.” Luke slid an arm around my waist and kissed me.
“I ruined the surprise,” I said.
“Heck, nothing was ruined. If anything, it’s our fault for taking so long. We got delayed along the way by some… changes.”
Suddenly, Taylor emerged from the branches up above. He was hanging with his legs wrapped around a thick branch, and had a hammer in one hand and a cluster of nails between his teeth. Spitting out the nails, he grinned at me. “Let me assure you the changes are for the best. I’m not going to let our little girl have a substandard tree house.”
“The original designs weren’t substandard,” Luke replied. He sounded like he’d been having this argument all morning. “Simpler is better.”
“Now on that, we generally agree.” Taylor grabbed a branch and swung down to the floor of the tree house, boots echoing on the fresh wood planks. “Charlotte, baby girl, why don’t you come on up and take a look at what we’ve got so far?”
“I love it!” she shouted while climbing up the wooden ladder that was nailed into the trunk of the oak. “I’m going to have slumber parties up here!”
“Be careful!” I hissed at her. “Taylor, are you sure she should be up there before it’s finished?”
Adam put an arm around my shoulder and pulled me close. “She’s fine. Taylor won’t let anything happen to her.”
Taylor picked up Charlotte by the armpits and lifted her the rest of the way up into the tree house high above. “There will be walls all around here, but I’m adding a little deck for you to walk out on, too.”
“I don’t need walls!” she insisted.
“Tree houses should be like regular houses,” Taylor replied smoothly. “And regular houses have walls. That’ll keep the rain out. And the bugs.”
“I like the bugs!”
“Me too, but I don’t want them biting me while I’m having a slumber party up here.”
“You’ll have a slumber party with me Uncle Taylor?”
He grinned down at us. “Well, of course. I’m the coolest guy here, and you have to be real cool to attend a slumber party with you.”
Luke cleared his throat. “Self-proclaimed coolest guy. If you put it to a vote…”
“Check this out, Charlotte,” Taylor interrupted. “We’re going to put a rope on this branch, so you can slide down to the ground.”
I wrapped Luke in my arms and hugged him from behind. He was taller than me, so I had to press my cheek against his upper back. “She loves it.”
“Yeah,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice. “She’ll love it even more when it’s done.”
“Can I help finish it?” Charlotte asked.
“Maybe,” Adam chimed in. “You can hold the nails while I drive them into the tree.”
“I can do more than just hold nails!” she said defiantly. “Mommy let me fly the plane today.”
All three of my lovers turned to face me.
“I sure did,” I said. Then, in a lower voice, I whispered, “She thought she was controlling it, but I never unlocked her yoke.”
“I would assume so,” Luke said. “You’re far too protective to let her actually fly.”
I let go of him and scoffed. “I’m not too protective!”
“Mommy, look! Taylor’s letting me swing the hammer!”
“Don’t lose your balance!” I insisted, taking a step toward the tree. I forced myself to stop and turn back to face Adam and Luke, who were smirking at me. “Okay, maybe I’m a little protective. But I’m her mother.”
“Don’t worry, Veronica,” Luke said. “Between the four of us, Charlotte has plenty of protection.”
“Here,” Adam said, handing me a saw. “You can help me cut the boards to length.”
Together, as one big happy family, we set to work finishing the tree house under Charlotte’s careful supervision.