In which our duo faces another challenge – but takes measures to win it.
“He can’t be serious!”
“That’s a bad joke!”
“Why’s he doing this to us?”
“I don’t want to fly with this guy, I don’t even know him!”
Adelie listened to her unhappy classmates as the two squadrons trickled out of the assembly hall. Major Payne had just announced a wing exercise, grouping every cadet with their sister squadron counterpart according to their ranking, and it didn’t sit well with a lot of them.
“Hey, Princess! Looks like we’re going to share a cockpit for a day.” Nate had fought his way through the throngs of people heading for the exit and sauntered along her, all smiles and smirks. He didn’t seem vexed by the prospect of flying with someone else, like many others.
“Hi, English. Lucky us, huh?” She followed him outside, where a sunny afternoon greeted them.
“Extremely lucky. D’you have time for a soda at the Lemon Tree? We should discuss our strategy to win this game.” He waggled his eyebrows at her, half-way turning around as he descended the steps leading up to the building. Crisp white shirt, dark blue slacks. The black eye had faded to a faint grey shadow and the cut on his lip was merely a thin line. He was almost back to his usual level of devastating perfection.
She adjusted the strap of her bag over her shoulder, tilting her head to the side. “Are you sure you do not just want to spend the afternoon with me?”
He laughed, not at all ashamed that she apparently had seen through his little scheme. “That too. Now that I actually have a valid reason to do so and neither of us needs first aid in one form or another.”
Adelie shook her head. “You are impossible. But, okay, you’re right – we need a strategy if we want to win. And the exercise is in three days.”
They found a quiet corner in the back of the diner and after receiving their sparkling lemonades, Nate indeed came right down to the matter at hand, but not in the way she’d expected.
“You’ll fly,” he said, flashing his trademark megawatt smile.
“What?” With a heavier than planned thunk, she set down her glass. “You don’t want to fly?”
“No, ma’am. You’re the much better pilot.”
“Don’t be stupid. I’m not.”
“Oh yes, you are. Don’t sell yourself short.” He smiled sheepishly as if he was about to confess something. “See, I analysed you. Nah, don’t get upset. I wanted to know why I couldn’t beat you unless you seemed to have an awful day. I compared results, from our own interactions and with others.”
Now he had tickled her curiosity. “What did you find?”
He laughed softly and made eye contact. “We’re on par when it comes to hits, but your reaction time is much faster than mine. You’re excellent at anticipating your adversary’s next move. I guess your racing days give you an advantage here.”
Baffled, she blinked at him. “My racing days? Nate, driving a race car has nothing to do with flying a jet…”
“Ha, that’s what you think!” He scooted to the edge of the bench. In his excitement to get his point across, he nearly knocked over his glass. “When you race, you need to make split-second decisions. You need to anticipate what the guy in the car in front of you is going to do next, to figure out how to overtake him. All of that while driving at neck-breaking speeds and trying not to get off course. You’re simply used to think a step ahead of the game a lot longer than any of us is. Add your discipline and your will to go the extra mile, and it’s no wonder you’re leading the ranking by miles.” He beamed at her. “And that’s why you’re going to man the stick, and I’ll happily take the gunner’s position.”
His reasoning was solid, she had to give him that. “Nate, it’s not that I don’t want to fly, but… aren’t you afraid they’ll make fun of you when you let the girl pilot? You got yourself a split lip because of me already.”
His blue eyes became serious, and he took her hands into his. Her mouth went dry for no reason. “Excuse my French, but I don’t give a flying fuck what these twats think. I want to win this, and I know our chances to win are much higher when you pilot. And they won’t laugh when we’ve blasted them out of the skies.”