“Finally!” Mark sat down in his comfy first class seat about three hours after he was scheduled to. His plane had been delayed for weather, and then technical troubles, and then weather again. Just when he had gotten frustrated enough to try and book a hotel room for the night and fly back home the next day, the boarding call for his flight sounded over the loudspeaker. He couldn’t wait to get home. He smiled to himself…home…he never thought he would consider Utah, of all places, home. Hawaii was his birthplace, his actual home and always would be. But right now…she was in Utah, so Utah was home.
Mark yawned and stretched while he waited for take-off. He was getting tired of all the travelling and promotion since winning the show. It had been wonderful to be able to meet his fans from around North America and the tour had been fantastic, but he almost felt like his dancing wasn’t his anymore. From the day the show ended, the travelling had been non-stop. Mark had been able to return to Hawaii for about a week and then he hit the talk show circuit, discussing his win and then tour rehearsals started in LA. Then the month long tour. Now, he needed to get back and just relax and recharge. And to dance…for him…and for her. This last gig was it for a while. He laughed to himself again. He never would have imagined he would be dancing in Times Square on New Years Eve, freezing his ass off while all the drunks partied the New Year in. But what were you going do to? He had to go where they sent him. It was all part of winning.
Winning. Mark thought back to that moment. It had been totally unexpected. He knew he had a good fan base, but he also knew the judges weren’t too keen on him and didn’t really want him there. And to be standing up there in the final two with her. Chelsie. Mark sighed as he pictured the moment in his mind. He'd wanted her to win. He had been willing Cat to call Chelsie’s name as the winner. Her life had been so screwed up; so much different from his, winning would be the best thing for her. She could get away from her family and be on her own. But, much to his shock, Cat had called his name out. Chelsie grabbed him around the waist and looked up, into his eyes. “I knew it!’ she beamed. “I knew from the first time I met you, that you would win.”
Mark had known something from the moment he met the blonde spitfire too. He loved her. Their initial relationship was like brother and sister. She would hit him, make fun of his quirks, tease him about his pinkie fingers – anything to try and rile him up. But slowly, they became closer. His heart had broken when they reached the top ten and they had to change partners. His dancing that week had suffered; he was missing her so much. Her dancing didn’t, but she still agreed to meet him after hours and run-through their routines, standing in for each other’s current partner. Then they would go to the nearest coffee shop and talk for hours over steaming cups of latte and one cinnamon bun that they would pick apart and feed to each other.
“Good times, good times.” Mark yawned again and flipped on his Ipod. He picked the music mix Chelsie had made for him. She’d selected all the songs they’d danced to on the show, plus the ones they had danced to when they were alone. At the time, he teased her about the song she’d put on the CD player the first time they’d gone back to her hotel room.
“You want to dance to this…with me? I’m no Patrick Swayze.”
“No…you’re better. This song means everything to me right now, please dance with me.”
“Isn’t it kind of cheesy?” He’d regretted that the minute he said it, she was younger than him, more impressionable. He shouldn’t have teased her.
Chelsie pouted for a minute. “But this is the time of my life, Mark. I’m dancing every day. I’m learning every day. I’m working with the most amazing people. I met you…”
Her voice trailed off as Mark captured her lips with his.
“Sir, sir, wake up please!”
“Huh?” Mark shook his head, he must have fallen asleep and been dreaming. “Hmmm. I’m awake. I think. What’s the problem?”
“The captain will be making an announcement momentarily, but we need all personal belongings securely stowed away.”
“It’s just an Ipod.” Mark gestured to the small gadget.
“Everything.” The stewardess said firmly and moved to the next traveller.
Mark shrugged and shoved the Ipod into the pocket of his backpack and stood to stow it in the overhead bin. As he did, the plane lurched and knocked him back into his seat. The captain’s voice soundly loudly over the speakers for everyone to fasten their seatbelts and remain seated.
“What the hell?” Mark peered out the window as the plane lurched again, his forehead hit the glass with a dull thud, and he leaned back, firmly buckling his seatbelt.
A brief, staccato burst of white noise came from the planes speakers and then the captain’s voice once more filled the plane.
“Folks, this is an announcement a pilot never wants to make. We are having major instrument troubles up here and with the storm going on outside; we’ve gone way off course. We can’t pick up the tower and nothing is reading properly. To make it plain and simple we are lost in the mountains, with nowhere to land. We are trying our best, but it looks like a crash is imminent. I suggest calling your loved ones, if you can, while you have the chance and prepare with the crash procedures the stewardesses went over at the beginning of the flight.”
The pilot’s voice crackled off and the plane filled with screams. Mark tried to wrap his head around what the pilot had just said. They were going to crash. He wasn’t going to see his family again; he wasn’t going to dance again. He wasn’t going to see Chelsie again. The plane was going to crash and he was going to die. He broke out in a cold sweat and sat motionless, trying to remember all the good things he’d encountered in his life. He didn’t want to think about all the things he’d miss, but he couldn’t stop his mind from drifting to thoughts of Chelsie and marriage and children. He stood slowly, firmly grasping the back of his seat to prevent himself from falling, and scooped his cell phone from his coat pocket. He collapsed back down in the seat, as the place bounced again, and dialled. “Please pick up.” He prayed. “Please pick up.”
Chelsie entered the small apartment she shared with Mark and dumped her dance bag on the sofa. Mark would be home any time now and she wanted to shower and change before she started their special dinner. The last time she’d seen him had been just before Christmas, which really wasn’t that long ago, but she missed him so much, she couldn’t wait for him to get home. “God..not another delay, please. I just want to see him again.” Chelsie pronounced as the phone rang. Mark had already called her several times over the course of the night, filling her in on the delays and on his performance.
“Mark! I just got back from dance class. Did you get another delay? Maybe you should just stay in New…”
“Chels. I just wanna hear your voice, okay? Just talk to me.”
Chelsie settled on the arm of the sofa. Something about his voice didn’t sound right. “Mark…what’s wrong?”
“Oh sweetheart…the plane…shit…can you still hear me?”
“The plane? Mark what’s wrong?” Chelsie let herself slide down the arm to sink into the cushions of the sofa.
“The plane is going to crash. They’ve lost instruments; the weather is wrecking havoc with the signals. We’re in the mountains and we’re gonna crash.”
“Mark! That’s nothing to joke about.”
“Just talk to me Chels. I’ve probably only got time to make one call. I love you..”
Chelsie tried to stop herself from sounding hysterical. “I love you too, but…Mark…you’re joking…right?”
“We’re going down, I can feel the pressure changing.”
“How was dance class?”
“Not now, Mark!”
“Sweetie, I love you, please, just talk to me, keep talking. Tell me about dance class.”
“It…was…fine…fine. Little Kimmy Brubacher partnered up with Richard tonight, they did well.” Her voice was so shaky; she could barely get the words out.
“Good, they’ll make a good pair.”
Chelsie could hear some loud crashes, something that sounded like plates breaking and then screaming.
“The oxygen masks just fell.”
“Oh my God.”
“I think we’re going down.”
“Mark!” Chelsie gripped the phone tightly in her right hand. This couldn’t be happening.
“Hey, I might make it, you never know.”
“Don’t joke, Mark, not now.”
“I love you, I think I have to go now.”
“No Mark, talk to me, please.”
“You don’t need to hear this, it’s gonna be bad enough for you after.”
Chelsie gasped. “Don’t say that.”
“If they find me….”
“No, Mark, don’t talk like that.” Chelsie sobbed.
“Chels, if they find me, there’s something for you in my right pants pocket. I should have given it to you for Christmas, but I didn’t have the guts with your folks there. Hopefully it will still be there.”
“No, no, no.” Chelsie begged. “Tell me this isn’t real.”
“Chelsie, the pilot just warned us to get into crash position. I’m gonna go now. I love you.”
“Mark!” Chelsie screamed into the phone, but all she could hear was static.
In the days since the crash, Chelsie had basically become a recluse. People visited her, came to mourn with her, but she just sat on the couch, barely acknowledging their presence. Her eyes only focused on things that reminded her of Mark - a photo of Mark and herself, Mark’s shirt left hanging on the chair in the dining area, his shoes scattered in the front hall - occasionally a small smile would flit across her face, before the tears fell again. She left the TV on the local news channel, one of her visitors had put it on to get updates on the crash and Chelsie didn’t have the energy or desire to change it. The telephone still lay in the corner where she had thrown it that night. She was afraid if she picked it up she would still hear Mark’s last, strangled words to her.
“I can’t br...breathe. Chels…love…you…good…b…..”
Then…sound of the plane…God…she would never forget that sound. She could still hear it in her sleep. Based on initial searches, and what they’d found at the scene, no one had survived the crash. The plane had flown directly into a mountainside and exploded on impact. She’d listen to the news faithfully every day, hoping for a miracle, but she knew there was none. Mark was gone and all she could do was wait for the search and rescue team to find him.
Two weeks after the crash, Chelsie finally got the call she’d been waiting for and dreading at the same time. To go to the morgue and identify a body. Mark’s body.
She stepped quietly into the office and told them whom she was there for. As the officer led her into the small anteroom, Mark’s mother and sisters gathered around her. “Oh God, it is him, isn’t it?” Mark’s mother nodded her head sadly. “He’s not as you remember him, but you go to him to say goodbye. He loved you.” Chelsie hugged the women tightly before shuffling slowly into the cold room. As she entered the morgue, Mark’s slab was already pulled out, with a white sheet draped over the figure laying on it. She moved her hands over the sheet, noting, to her horror that it was flat against the table at points where it shouldn’t be. His arms that once held her tight were…gone. His legs were there, but there was a gap between them and his torso. Chelsie shuddered and stepped back, wrapping her arms around her waist as she did so. “Can I see him?” The attendant nodded and folded the sheet back. Chelsie gasped and reached for something to grab as her legs gave way and refused to hold her upright. She hadn’t expected Mark to look like she remembered him, but this…this was a shock. The attendant swiftly pushed a chair over to her and left to give her a few moments alone. “Thank…thank you.” Chelsie sat and stared at Mark’s remains. She gently ran her hand over his hair, his cheek. “Oh Mark, I’m going to miss you so much. You have no idea how hard this is.”
The attendant suddenly returned, carrying a battered backpack.
“Are you Miss Hightower?”
Chelsie nodded slowly. “Yes, I am.”
“This is for you, some of his belongings that were found. The family said they belong to you now.”
Chelsie accepted the pack and set it carefully in her lap. She reached in and pulled out a ring box. She could feel the tears forming, she roughly swiped at her eyes to stop the tears from falling, but she couldn’t. The ring was a beautiful diamond on a platinum band, simple and elegant. She tenderly plucked it from the box and placed it on her left hand. She pulled out a few more small items – his necklace, a sweatshirt and his journal. “Where were these?” She asked wonderingly, looking down at Mark’s body once more.
“Pants pocket.” Chelsie stared at him quizzically. The attendant stammered. “Um…the ring and the necklace…were in the pants pocket…from the legs…they found them…uh…separately. There were a few more items, but the family…”
“Of course.” Chelsie nodded, slowly understanding what the attendant was trying to tell her. She picked up the sweatshirt and inhaled Mark’s scent. No special cologne, just…him. She touched it to her cheek and slipped it back into the bag. She placed the necklace over her head, gently tucking it inside her shirt and close to her heart before picking up the journal. She idly flipped through a few pages, smiling at the doodles and the “I love Chelsie” scribbles. As she moved to place the journal in the backpack a folded note fell into her lap.
I’m on my way home, finally. I’m not sure why I’m writing this, because I’m going to see you very soon, but I want you to know how much I love you. You mean more to me than almost anything and I really hope by the time you’ve read this that you have accepted my proposal and love the ring. I know you will, it’s simple but elegant just like you. And then, once we are married, we can go back home to Hawaii, I can’t wait to show you Honolulu and have you meet all my friends. They are going to love you! And then…babies! But I’m getting ahead of myself, right? I’m going to see you soon and I can’t wait!
Miss you, love you,
Chelsie folded the note and let the tears run freely down her face. Married. Home in Hawaii. Babies. It had been his dream. It was a dream that had become their dream. And now it was nothing, buried in the rubble of a senseless plane crash. She moved the chair closer to Mark, and once more touched his cheek softly. “Mark, I don’t know if I can go on without you, this is so hard. You know I would have said yes. And you know I love the ring, it’s absolutely perfect.”
“Were you his wife, miss?”
“No.” Chelsie sniffled and held up her left hand, gazing in dazed wonder at the sparkling ring as she did so. “Fiancée.”
Chelsie’s body stiffened and she unconsciously drew her hands to her stomach. She’d found out she was pregnant the day of the crash. She had been planning to tell him when he’d gotten home, maybe over dinner. She hadn’t wanted to tell him on the phone when they’d talked earlier that day, she wanted to see his face when she told him the good news. He would have been so happy. She offered the attendant a small, sad smile. “No, no kids.”
Chelsie leaned over Mark once more, placing her lips near his ear. “Baby, I know you can hear me. I know you are looking down and willing me to be strong. I wish I had the time to tell you, I’m so sorry now that I didn’t. I wish you’d stayed in New York instead of getting on that cursed plane. I wish…I wish you were here with me, like you’re supposed to be, damn it.” Chelsie’s eyes filled with tears again. As she turned to kiss his lips for the final time, she whispered, “Miss you, love you.”