Don't Panic

This week's 3WW words - grimace, phase, stumble.

"Hi, is this seat free? Thanks... Phew glad I got through that safely, last time I was here I stumbled over the top step and fell. My briefcase burst open and my papers went flying all over the departure lounge... Eeeh, do you mind if I smoke."

He followed the eyes of his newest neighbour and victim to the large white sign with a red circle around the circumference. Inside, a cigarette and a thick, diagonal, black stripe.

"Oh, of course. Wouldn't do to smoke here, now would it. I'm Michael by the way, Michael Glasdon."

No reply.

"Aaare you flying for the first time? ... Well, there's nothing to worry about you know. They know their stuff, these pilots. They'll have in Mallorca in no time. Of course, there was that time the navigator left his map at home. We were in the air for three hours before anyone realised we should have landed half an hour ago. It was when I saw the river I realised we were going the wrong way. Still, from there it was easy. The pilot just had to turn the thing round and follow the river down to our destination. So we got there in the end."

"At least, we're not late today. Not that I'm in a hurry but I do so hate waiting round. The worst part's once you get in the plane and are waiting for take-off. They have to put the plane through all these different phases before they let it loose. Mind you, good job they do to. I was in Africa once... didn't check on anything. Fastest take-off and landing you ever did see. We were in the air just one minute and twenty-two seconds. Turned out we were overloaded. Some bothersome official insisted on loading a truck full of goods into the hold. That's why we came down so quick. Perfect landing though. They're so well trained, pilots nowadays."

"Would you like a polo? No! OK. Course, I love a polo myself, love sticking my tongue through the hole in the middle. Nothing like it. Hang on, I'm just going give those kids opposite some... Cheeky little blighter that little one. Offered him a polo and he poked his tongue out at me. Never had anyone give me a grimace like that before. Took the polo though. Mind you, mustn't suck a polo on the place. Dangerous with all that turbulence. Here I was one minute enjoying a nice little suck when my stomach came up into my head and the mind got lodged in the back of my throat. Turned green I did. My wife had to give me a good thump on the back to get the thing out. Said she should do it more often, but I've never had anything stuck since."

"Here, look at the guy over there. There, look. Right in front of the phone boxes. Long grey hair, that's the one. Don't you think he looks a bit suspicious. Better keep an eye on him. Might be a terrorist. Never know, do you? That time I was flying to Moscow they had one. Mind you, never have noticed to look at him. Seemed perfectly normal. But when the police came to get to him, he swore at them in who knows what lingo. That's how they found out, he really was a terrorist. Thirty minutes more and the plane would have gone sky high. Not that anything like that is can happen to us, today."

"No. With you around I'll be quite safe."

"What's that? Did you say something."

"Yes, I did. I said with you on the plane then the rest of us passengers will be quite safe. If anything's going to happen, then statistics dictate that it's going to happen to you. We're all in the clear."

The wink he gave to the grimacing monster opposite was one of great relief at the sight of his panicking neighbour fleeing through the departure lounge as fast as his legs would carry him.

Loud And Clear

This week's Fiction Friday challenge: The conversation took off when Louise mentioned Bruce Willis.

We had to wait almost ten minutes to get a seat under the parasol protecting us from the searing sun. We could have gone inside or even elsewhere but I was not going to miss my moment of glory. I'd waited three months for Louise to accept to go out with me and I didn't want to hide away from any passers-by.

In the corner I saw some people get up and raced to claim the table. I pulled a seat back for Louise as she approached. She accepted without a word and I took a seat opposite. I was about to say how happy I was to be with her when the Perfect Stranger theme rang out of her bag. Without a word Louise glued her cell phone to her ear. The silence that followed was punctuated only by the occasional shot fired from her lips: a single word or two at best, presumably hitting its target as it took two or three minutes before the next shot rang out. My mind went back to the warning Ted had given me. Something about Louise not being right for me. To be honest I'd not paid that much attention. I wasn't going to let him spoil my afternoon.

Over the next five minutes she shot out another few words whilst the server hovered in the background. I'd already waved him off twice and he was getting impatient. Several times I tried to get her attention before deciding to get her a glass of white wine. I took a nice, cold beer. I stared over the table at the face that had beguiled every member of our class since she arrived in April. The enticing, blue eyes seemed cold and distant today. A flicker of a smile appeared... something she'd heard, or did she notice me staring? It was not a welcoming smile. I raised my glass but again no reaction. It was another few minutes before the next volley rattled forth; louder, more questioning.

"Bruce Willis...?"

Now the conversation took off. Her voice softened. The occasional utterance built up to a steady stream. She was obviously warming to the subject... or to her partner. I was beginning to feel like number three in a proverbial crowd. With nothing to say, I soon finished my beer and got up to order another; just to give me something to do. I sat down again beer in hand. This time she actually acknowledged me, giving a thumbs up sign as she picked up her wine. I stared across at the gentle curves through the tight t-shirt she was wearing. Just an hour ago I'd persuaded myself, she'd worn it for me. Now I realised she had. Those words printed across the back:
My attitude your problem

I got up and fished in my pocket for a few coins to pay my beers. She didn't even look up as I threw them on the table and walked away just in time. Out of the corner of my eye I saw Luap and Annie coming down the street. The last thing I wanted was for them to see me with Louise.

This week's 3WW words: joke, leverage, remedy

The jokes were flowing just as easily as the wine was. What more could we ask for: a clear, blue, a three-star picnic table, more than enough to drink, and the prospect of some excellent music ahead. I leant back in my chair, closed my eyes and tried to forget the cloud.

Juliana crept up and put an end to my disquiet with a finger of comté: subtle and fruity With a touch of maturity. I nibbled the cheese down to Juliana's fingertips; with Robert here, I dare not go any further. I wondered if I would ever again have the opportunity...

The fingers returned to wherever they had been previously and I sat up to see her flitting from one guest to the other. Juliana's parties were always special and this one had been perfectly stage-managed. To think that in just 24 hours...

Juliana was an old friend and had been a client long before becoming an occasional mistress. And it hadn't taken me long to catch on to her game. The deal was simple. I kept the bank off their backs warning them only when their spending became critical. And I was a willing player even without the leverage she championed over me. In return, I got invited to all the best parties. I could indulge with impunity.

I watched as Juliana got up to make her usual little speech. She didn't even know it would be her last. Everything blurred as my eyes started to water. This had all seemed so real. Was it just the circumstances that had changed? I tried to work out how to put it to them. Actually, I spent the past 24 hours trying to work out how not to have to put it to them. I clutched at any and every straw remedy that passed through my roaming mind. But the moment I got a grip on one, it slipped away I know not where. So tomorrow, I was going to have to tell them: all about the shareholders' dissatisfaction, the takeover, my getting replaced as manager. Can anyone think of a kind way of saying:

"I'm afraid the first thing the new manager will do is an audit on all our accounts in the red. Bankruptcy is the inevitable consequence."

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