Airplane Parts
by Lady Grey

There are days when Francie Calfo would show Jack Bristow fun alternative uses for his "airplane parts", if he came stalking into her vicinity. True, these are often the same days when nothing helps her mood except ibuprofen and a half-pint of Baskin-Robbins Chocolate Mousse Royale, but not always.

She still remembers Sydney, anticipation written in the half-cant of her skinny little body (a white girl with no boobs her best friend in college, how' d that happen?), waiting for a father that despite his alleged promise, did not attend her dramatic reading of Shakespeare, while Francie suffered untold hours of "forsooths", followed by letting Syd sniffle on her shoulder and into her cookies. The message on their answering machine was brusque, something about an unavoidable buyers' conference in Florida. That was the first time Francie considered putting Jack Bristow into the path of one of his airplane propellers.

The first time she saw him, she thought of frost. The silver-grey rimming his hair, the clipped edges of his voice as he addressed his daughter. Even his hand, shaking hers with impersonal efficiency, was cold despite the California spring warmth. The frost was reflected in Syd, and the two Bristows stood with their arms folded the exact same way. Syd was also looking at him from under her brows, a disconcertingly charming expression that had no parallel on Jack's harsh features. That probably came from her mother. Which was probably why Jack left in under a minute, lips pressed into a narrow line. Icing over, Francie thought, and cordially (mentally) wished him a turbulent flight and lousy coffee.

Visitations once a semester, if that, and monthly calls. Calls that left Syd biting back tears, or occasionally snapping terse sentences right back into the phone that sounded scarily like his speech patterns. Francie never told her about that; she didn't think it would help Syd's state of mind. Those were the days her friend tended to vanish for a few hours and return with bruised knuckles--or, once, a visible bruise on her shoulder. Francie never commented on those, either. Warning lights on. She was glad when Syd started dating Danny seriously, and she could let the answering machine deal with Bristow's monotone.

The fact that Syd continued to make an effort (token but real) to keep him in her life amazed Francie. So far as she could tell, the man had no redeeming qualities. Workaholic to the tenth power, the social skills of one of the computer lab techs, all the human warmth of a loaded gun, and a near-complete lack of interest in his only child. Add it all up, it meant that Syd went home with Francie a lot over holidays, and was absorbed into the Calfo clan's boisterous cooking and talking and laughing with the ease of milk into coffee. She still took a call from him, in the middle of a holiday round of Scattergories no less, and wished him a merry Christmas with something that sounded like hope.

She told Francie later that night, in the privacy of a dark bedroom and the comfort of smuggled-in rum cake, about little things. About the smiling man she remembered up until she was six years old, who swung her around in the air, then did the same to her giggling mother. About strange associations of burnt toast with safety and love. How he'd let her keep her mother's valuable books after her death, although he'd systematically removed everything else about her from the house. And (to touch a chef's heart), about the plate of cookies he'd brought out to her without comment one day after she had announced her plan to run away, and was setting up house amid the rhododendron bushes. Little nuts and bolts that held their strange and strained life together.

So when Jack Bristow makes his infrequent stops to see Sydney, Francie tries to be tolerant. She smiles her best keep-the-difficult-customer-happy smile at him, offers drinks (neither spiked nor poisoned, though the temptation comes), and plays the hostess. We're happy you're with us, Mr. Bristow, and hope you'll fly with us again.

If he ever softens, she'll soften. Until that unlikely day, she'll just make Sydney giggle with comments about the madcap, death-defying life of a heartless airline parts exporter.


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