Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Private Air

When Sienna Harris joined the Australian Air Force as a flight attendant for the Prime Minister, she thought she’d hit the glam-job jackpot. But three years of weapons training, outback destinations, and a cheating fighter pilot fiancé, and she’s realized it’s not so fabulous after all. Time to embark on a new adventure, this time to the prestigious world of international VIP aviation. 
Sienna and her best friend leave behind their small-town lives for a glitzy career flight attending on a Saudi prince’s private jet. Money, parties, designer clothes, and exotic locations fill the job description, while the sexy pilot, Ted, makes it hard for Sienna to obey the “no fraternizing” rule. 
But even the most opulent of journeys can hit turbulence. Sienna’s boss, the appearance-obsessed chief stewardess, issues diuretics and Botox with the uniforms and catering orders, and the prince is a man who’s never told no. Underneath its lush appearance, could this desert oasis be more of a muddy puddle? 
The Devil Wears Prada meets Pan Am in this fun frolic to the glamorous side of air travel, inspired by the author’s own experience as a VIP flight attendant in Saudi Arabia and Europe. 


A glow of excitement washed over me as I jumped in a cab. Mike still didn’t know I was in town, so my arrival would be a sweet surprise. We’d been doing the long distant thing for three years, which wasn’t terrible, since I only had to worry about shaving my legs once every two weeks. But now that we were engaged and my contract was up with the RAAF, the plan was for me to discharge and move here to be with him.
I’d always imagined taking time out to travel the world after my military contract ended, but life didn’t always turn out as planned.  And even if giving up flying and living in Williamtown wasn’t quite the jet-set life I’d envisioned, being the wife of a fighter pilot wouldn’t be terrible, either. What girl didn’t want to find a fun swoon-worthy man to love and settle down with? I pushed aside the niggling thought that I was giving up on pursuing my dreams, and focused on nicer thoughts, like bubble baths… and reenacting love scenes from Top Gun.
Fifteen minutes later, the taxi pulled up next to Mike’s black Nissan 350Z. Beyonce blared from the living room. Beyonce? Other than the Top Gun soundtrack, I usually couldn’t get him to listen to anything but AC/DC.
                I stepped through the front door to his townhouse and called out over the music, “Mike? It’s me, babe, where are you?”
                I needn’t have asked.
                Mike sat in the living room in his boxers, his hands behind his back in fluffy pink handcuffs, while a flame-haired Glamazonian, complete with leopard print thong, gyrated on his lap to Crazy in Love.
                I froze, halfway through the door, with my hand still on the doorknob and my jaw on the floor. My initial thought was I’d just seen my first pair of bare, silicone boobs. Not a common sight in the circles we hung with.
Mike, although stunned, didn’t look nearly as worried as I thought he should. “Sienna, what are you doing here?” he asked.
My stomach lurched into my throat.
                Big Red got off his lap, apparently bored, but didn’t attempt to clothe herself or to un-cuff him. She switched off the music with the remote, looked me up and down (or just down, considering she stood six feet tall), and swaggered to the bedroom. “Let me know when you’re done,” she called over her shoulder.
                “Sienna, it’s not what it looks like,” Mike said.
                “That’s original.” What I really wanted to say was, So you’re not getting a lap dance? You’re just having your crotch polished and her panties are the Shamwow? But the saliva build-up in my throat only let me swallow.
                He sighed. “Why don’t you un-cuff me, then we can talk. The keys are over there on the coffee table.” He nodded in the direction of the table. The table I’d given him as a housewarming gift. In a daze, I inched over.
                He took my silence as a cue to continue. “Arizona is a stripper, okay, but it’s not as sleazy as it looks. We’re old friends.”
I thought over a list of activities I participated in with old friends. Lap dancing didn’t come to mind.
“There’s no easy way to say this, sweet-thing…” He tilted his head in pity. “Arizona and I have fallen in love.”
                My heart stopped.
                I didn’t know which was more insulting; that he’d paid another woman to gyrate on his groin, or that he was in love with another woman who’d been gyrating on his groin.
                The blood that had drained from my face returned with full force. “You’re in love? You still call her by her stage name and you think you’re in love? You have a fifteen thousand dollar ring on another girl’s finger, and you think you’re in love?” My voice didn’t come close to matching my internal meltdown.
                “Sienna, I’m so sorry, babe, this is hard for me too, you know. I was waiting for the right time to tell you. I guess the heart just wants what the heart wants...”
                I stared at his bound and pathetic self and felt an overwhelming urge to kick the chair from beneath him. “No Michael, in your case I think the dick just wants what the dick wants.” I picked up a lipstick from the table and examined the base. Final Seduction. How appropriate.  Mike sat jaw clenched as I wrote the word DICK across his forehead in hooker-red lipstick, then turned and walked out the door.
“I’m keeping the ring,” I called over my shoulder as I left.


Two days later, I was back in Canberra freezing my butt-cheeks off on the rifle range. Weapons handling only came around twice a year, but I couldn’t stand it. Raw blisters in the webbing of my thumbs and bruises on my hipbones from shooting in the prone position, weren’t my idea of a fun day out.
“Harris!” The Sergeant’s voice bellowed out over the range. “Unload your rifle and get to the shelter! Your Commanding Officer’s on the phone!”
                Thank God. They probably needed me for a flight, which meant I’d get out of spending the rest of the day firing (or misfiring). Although, picturing Mike’s face on the target had me shooting with much higher accuracy than usual.
                I unloaded my rifle, handed the sergeant my magazine, and pulled my camouflage-pant’s pockets inside out. “No live rounds or ammunition in my possession, Sarge!” I barked.
                He nodded abruptly and kept the line-up waiting while he addressed me. “You flight stewardesses think you’re above military requirements just because you jet around the country with the Prime Minister,” he said. “Harris, I want you back on this rifle range before the month is out or I’ll write you up as un-current and therefore grounded. You won’t be flying anywhere!”
                “Yes Sergeant, I’ll report back as soon as I land.”
                “Dismissed.” He scowled at me, then turned back to the line-up. “Ready! Instant! Fire!”
                I skipped inside and took the receiver from the admin clerk. “Wing Commander Worthington? This is Corporal Harris.” I rolled up my camo-shirt sleeves, so relieved to be out of the cold.
“Sie, it’s me, Kendi. I had one of the boys pretend to be Worthington. Look, I’m heading over to Betsey’s Pizza Kitchen, you have to come and meet me ASAP. I have some news you’re gonna freak over!”
                “Of course, sir, right away.” I shrugged to the admin clerk as I hung up the phone. “Duty calls,” I said, which wasn’t entirely untrue.

I cranked the heater in my old silver MX5 and waved to the security officer as I drove off the RAAF base.  Don Henley’s Boys of Summer came on the radio. I turned it up to sing along at full volume, trying to push away memories of a road trip to Sydney I’d taken with Mike. The same song had blared from my stereo, and he’d covered his ears in pretend protest against my off-key singing.
I just couldn’t get my head around Mike’s snap-one-eight (fighter pilot jargon for one hundred and eighty degree turn). One minute we’re talking marriage, kids and me giving up my career to support him in his (something that had taken a lot of convincing for me to be onboard with, might I add). The next minute he’s in love with Tacky Jacky. I mean, seriously, leopard print thong? And Kendi thought I was stuck in the Eighties!
I’d really underestimated Mike’s immaturity, or else my wanker-radar had been turned off for three years. I felt like a peanut shell crushed into a dirty bar floor. Mike was the foot. I guess that made Arizona the dirty bar floor.
                  I slid into an empty parking space outback of Betsy’s, then switched my camouflage shirt for a black, Roxy zip-front sweater.
                Inside, Kendi sat in a corner booth with her laptop, a maxi mug of mochaccino, and what I hoped was a latte for me. She wore a pink cashmere sweater and black skinny jeans, her golden mane pulled back in a ponytail. Kendi always looked put together, even when casual. Unlike me, who always looked casual, even when put together.
                “Sienna, you’ve got to get a load of this,” she said, throwing her tiny size-two frame around me for a hug, then dragging me down in front of her laptop.
                I took my latte and scrolled through the article she’d pulled up.
                Life in the Fast Plane, the title read. Beside it, a picture of a handsome, clean-shaven Arab man. He waved from the stairs of a gleaming white Boeing 737 private jet. Two stunning flight attendants stood at the bottom of the stairs wearing black ‘60s-style baby doll dresses, knee-high boots, and sailor caps.
Gone are the days of wealth being rated by the number of Ferraris parked in one’s driveway or the size of one’s home in St Tropez. The new Jet Set make their status known by racking up air miles in their private ‘homes with wings’.
Leading the pack with his ostentatious display of wealth is Arab billionaire playboy, Prince Mohamed Al Saif, whom is often snapped at celebrity events with a different glamazon under his arm each time. Prince Mohammed Al Saif, 46, is a distant relative to the King of Saudi Arabia and has reportedly been pulled over the coals more than once by the Royal family for his overtly ‘Americanized’ lifestyle of excess.
               He most recently made headlines for winning the Celebrity Car Race for Cancer last fall (a wild card entry since he funds 60% of the event), and rumors abound that his personal trainer, chef, and aircrew, all have salaries that equal that of a Chief Executive Officer…
My heart palpitated. Aircrew on salaries equaling a Chief Executive Officer? Okay, so it referred to Aussie CEOs, not quite Enron, but I didn’t need to read any more. I felt punch-drunk as I imagined a world of glamorous uniforms, exotic locations, and tax-free dollars. My very own Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.
Kendi always joked that I needed an upgrade to Cribs, since Lifestyles was so last decade, but I thought it a poor imitation. And even though I’d never tried caviar or champagne (the real stuff, at least), there was something in the way ‘champagne wishes and caviar dreams’ rolled off Robin Leach’s tongue, that made me think I should want those things more than anything in the world.
                Kendi grinned at my salivating and clicked open a new window. The title read Van Hutton VIP Crew Agency. Below it was a photo of an immaculately groomed woman in her fifties. She had a silver bob and sat with her diamond-encrusted hands laced in front of her.
                Crewing privately owned aircraft in Europe and the Middle East since 1988.
I scanned the contact information. The phone and fax numbers were British.
I didn’t know which was more shocking, that enough private flying existed to justify a crewing agency, or that we didn’t know about it.
                “I FedExed my résumé while you were away last week,” Kendi said. “Moira Van Hutton called me herself, Sie! She’s the one who told me to look the Prince up on line, to see if it’s someone I’d care to work for,” she said, imitating posh English. “And that’s not all, she was so impressed with my work history she asked if I could recommend any other girls for her books, ‘only slim and attractive ones’ though. Sienna, we’ve got to get your résumé to her.”
                This caught me off guard. “She really said ‘only slim and attractive’? Isn’t that breaking the discrimination act?” I didn’t know if I’d tick the ‘slim’ box. ‘Strong’ maybe. And next to Kendi I probably looked stocky. And how attractive did she mean? The girls in the photo looked like models.
Kendi’s blue eyes narrowed, possibly mistaking my deep thought for hesitation. “Sienna, this is your dream job. Hell, throw in the ridiculous salary and it’s better than your dream job. You’d have a first-hand glimpse at the life you fantasize about every bloody time you watch re-runs of Lifestyles. You’d be like Robin Leach in a dress. A cute, sixties style, baby-doll dress.”
I exhaled, blowing my chocolate bangs off my forehead. “No, I know. Trust me, I’m actually so excited about this I feel sick.” I looked down at my trembling hands. Goose bumps and my hands are shaking, I thought, which meant I wanted this bad. “I’m just in shock. Mostly by my first reaction, which was, thank God I’m not tied down with Mike.” Maybe I was more like my mum than I thought. That could’ve been why I felt sick. She’d run off when I was twelve for a chance at her own champagne wishes and caviar dreams.
“Oh shit, hon, I’m sorry. We’ve barely talked about how you’re doing with the whole Mike screwing you over thing.”
I circled the base of my cup on the table. “I’m doing okay. I just can’t decide what’s more insulting; Mike leaving me for a dirty bar-floor, or Aunty Pearl suggesting it was because I’d let myself go.”
Kendi raised an eyebrow. “Peanut-shell analogy?”
“Yeah…” I looked at her inquisitively.
“You used it once about your mum, except she was the foot.”
“Actually, she was the foot, and the dirty bar floor.”
    My Dad had died in a fighter-jet crash when I was twelve. Aspartame induced flicker vertigo, the coroner’s report read. Go figure, diet cola killed my dad. Six months later, Mum met an LA movie producer on a SYD-LAX flight and famously got fired for joining the mile high club with him. She dumped her Qantas uniform in a trashcan and never came back. Hank, the movie producer, married her but didn’t like kids, which is how I ended up living with Aunty Pearl and Uncle Stan.
“And Pearl really asked if you’d let yourself go? That’s gotta be the shittiest thing she could have said! Short of asking if you’d been giving him enough blow-jobs, that is.”
I stifled a laugh and shrugged it off. “You know what she’s like. A sweetheart, but old fashioned as hell.” I mindlessly folded my paper napkin into an airplane. “Private flight attendant for a Saudi Arabian prince.” Just saying it out loud sounded beyond exotic. I took a deliberate breath then swigged down the last of my latte. If there was a flying position out there even more prestigious than the one we already had and paid ten times as much, I wanted to be doing it. No, I had to be doing it. Just knowing about it made my little military gig now seem mediocre.
I returned to the previous window and traced my finger along the wing of the BBJ 737. Pure, giddy excitement overrode any lingering sadness about Mike.
       I squeezed my hands into fists to stop them shaking. “I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t do to get this job.” A smile curled the corners of my mouth. “Let’s do this.”


Review Rating: 3.5 LIGHTNING BOLTS

Review: Private Air is a fun, light read to pass the day. I curled up on my swing and prepared for some laughs, which I got. Sienna is an interesting character that had a lot going on. She definitely does have some growth in this book.  The writer's style is breezy and enjoyable, making me fly through the pages. I do wish the characters were developed a bit more, and sometimes things went on and on, but overall, Private Air is a story I enjoyed! I'm interested in what else the author has written.

Author Bio:  

Billie Bates grew up in Australia with unquenchable thirst for travel. After exploring the world as a VIP flight attendant for seven years, she finally settled in the quiet Midwest of the USA, where she now lives with her husband and two children.

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