The farthest Josh had ever traveled before was Magaluf. He glanced at his boarding pass again as he headed to the departure lounge, still not quite believing what it said.
Nine hours on a plane.
At least I can have a nap.
Josh trundled his cabin bag through Duty Free and left with aftershave and sunglasses that he wasn’t sure he needed. Then he found a café, the perfect place to camp out with a book and kill time before the flight. Half-asleep, Josh clambered over other people’s luggage to join the queue.
Nine hours in steerage.
The cafe’s prices seemed only slightly more reasonable than the eye-watering first-class ticket that Josh couldn’t afford, but he could treat himself at least. An array of elaborate, decadent pastries filled the glass-fronted cabinet, tempting any travelers who were about to submit to airline food, and Josh was happy to surrender to their charms. It was a nice way to start the holiday, after all.
Where are all these people going? he wondered idly as he waited to be served. Screaming babies, excited gaggles of students with packs on their backs, stressed-looking business types and children zooming around making plane noises, all of them ready to escape the autumn drizzle.
Josh ordered a latte, then selected a cinnamon bun from the pastries on offer. It was the last one, a complicated twist of pastry zigzagged with icing and dark with cinnamon. He’d never seen a bun like it.
“If that’s really the last bun, you’d better hope you’re not on my flight,” a plummy voice announced from behind Josh. “Or I’ll make it a bumpy landing.”
“It’s the last one,” the young woman who was serving Josh said with a comical pout, a red flush creeping over her throat. “Sorry, Cap!”
When Josh turned to face the man behind him, his fringe swished into his eyes. He brushed it away with the back of his hand as he looked up.
There behind him in the queue was a pilot clad in the sort of immaculate uniform he could only have dreamed of—every button shiny, every seam straight, his hat at a perfect angle on his head. But Josh barely noticed because his gaze was drawn to the pilot’s handsome, chiseled face.
“I…erm…sorry! I don’t mind having an almond croissant instead, if you’ve got your heart set on a cinnamon bun.”
“Well it is my birthday,” the pilot told him, his expression somber. Then he blinked his blue eyes and smiled. “But I’m a nice fellow, so take it. It’s my treat.” He looked to the woman behind the counter, who was beaming at him, Josh entirely forgotten in the wake of the Cap. “Throw me something nice with pistachios into a bag and a huge cup of tea, please! I’m paying for His Cinnamon Munching Majesty here, too. And something for you as well, of course! Happy birthday to me, eh?”
Josh smiled. A stranger—a pilot, no less—was footing his bill. “You really don’t have to!”
The bright lights of the café picked out discreet flecks of silver in the pilot’s hair and Josh couldn’t look away. The man was so effortlessly confident and self-assured. Radiant. And at this time of the morning, too. “But…if you insist. And—happy birthday, by the way.”
“Thirty again.” The pilot grinned. “I’ve been thirty for about nineteen years now, but don’t tell anyone.”
“Do you keep a portrait in your attic or something? You’re never—” Forty-nine? Josh stopped himself before he announced the man’s age across the café. “I’m thirty next year,” Josh volunteered, though he had no idea why.
“Happy early thirtieth.” He chuckled, handing a note to the woman. “Take my advice and always claim to be thirty next birthday. It’s a good age to be, even for nineteen years.”
Josh chuckled. “And what if I claim to be twenty-nine again next year? Then I’ll always be a year younger than you!”
Always? Josh glanced away. You don’t say always to the man stood behind you in the queue, who’s about to fly off to God knows where. Josh looked instead at the bottles of syrup along the shelf and caught the pilot’s reflection in the mirrored wall behind.
What a smile.
“It’s a deal,” was the reply. “Maturity is vastly overrated, after all.”
“Oh, I don’t know about that.” Josh turned back to the pilot with a grin. Why not? If he was straight, the bloke wouldn’t notice he was flirting. “Maturity can be very nice indeed.”
He heard the tinkle of coins as the pilot dropped his change into the tip cup. “Well, this birthday’s getting better. No cinnamon bun this morning, but you’ve more than made up for it.”
They stood at the end of the counter, waiting for their drinks.
“Is it your favorite?” Josh asked. “I honestly don’t mind relinquishing it. Seeing as it’s your birthday. That bun does look amazing, but so do all the others.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it!” The pilot nodded toward a brightly decorated paper bag on the counter. “Whatever’s in there will be just as tasty. Besides, I can always have something special when you and I go out to dinner. If you’d let an old reprobate like me take you to dinner, that is?”
Stunned, Josh rubbed his tired eyes and blinked. “I’m not imagining things, am I? You did just invite me to dinner?”
“Don’t tell me you’re flying out of Blighty for good?” The pilot’s grin grew more mischievous. “I’m off on a bit of a jolly once I clock off but I’m safely back on British shores in a fortnight. What do you say?”
“I’d say very definitely yes. I’m going to my friend’s wedding, but I’ll be back in a week. So…once you’ve returned from your jolly, let’s meet.” Josh’s face began to ache from smiling. He added, “I’m Josh, by the way.”
“Guy,” he replied. Guy. How well the name suited him. Guy the pilot. Guy with the immaculate uniform and blue eyes. Happy birthday to Guy. “Hello, Josh!”
Not knowing what else to do, Josh held out his hand to shake. “Hello, Guy.”
Who was about to hop into the cockpit and fly off who knew where.
Guy took Josh’s hand in his own and shook it. Josh was barely aware of the drinks arriving, his placed on the tray with a clink of crockery, Guy’s in a takeaway cup. When Guy released Josh’s hand, he reached into the well-cut jacket of his uniform and took out a silver pen.
A fountain pen, Josh noted. Just right.
“Let me give you my number,” Guy said. Josh resisted the urge to tell him he could put it straight into his phone, because there was something about that dark blue ink and the swirl of handwriting as Guy wrote on one of the napkins, something wonderfully traditional. Romantic, even. “There you go!”
“Thanks.” Josh carefully laid the napkin on his tray. “Enjoy your flight. And your jolly, Captain Guy.”
“Enjoy the wedding.” Guy gave a little bow. “And my cinnamon bun.”
“I intend to!” Josh said. “We’ll speak soon.”
With another flash of that brilliant smile Guy picked up the cup. He raised his cap momentarily to Josh, then picked up the bag and said, “Happy flying!”
“Bye!” Josh waved.
Why did they both have to go their separate ways so soon after meeting? But Josh had Captain Guy’s number. They’d meet again, he knew it.
He watched Guy stride away across the wide expanse of gleaming floor. He wasn’t the only person watching, Josh knew, but he was the one with Guy’s number.
Dinner. How could I say no to that?
In a daze—partly brought on by an early start, but mainly due to the last few minutes of his life—Josh took a seat at a table. He put down his tray and tore a piece from his bun. It really was delicious, the pastry melting on his tongue and the—
His table jolted as a little boy in a striped T-shirt accidentally barreled into it.
“You okay?” Josh asked, but the child ran off. Josh shrugged and went back to his bun, only to discover that the child’s impact with his table had sent his coffee sloshing over the side of the cup.
And it had saturated the napkin.
Guy’s phone number, written with such crisp elegance in fountain pen, was nothing now but a smudged, smeary watercolor. Josh carefully peeled the napkin off the tray and stared at it, trying to decipher the blurred mess. He could just about see a seven… It definitely started with a zero. And there was a three…or was it an eight?…at the end.
The number had gone. Lost. Just as suddenly as Captain Guy had entered Josh’s life, he had left it.
It had been a nice little fantasy while it had lasted. The HR manager and the airline pilot. And now a fantasy was all it’d ever be.