Posted on 2010-03-20
Author's Note: It is a universally acknowledged truth – okay, maybe it doesn't quite go that far, but let's settle for "a reasonable probability" - that when an author of Jane Austen Fan Fiction spends an inordinate amount of time in any particular setting, he or she will eventually develop an idea for a story involving that context. This time it was the airport's turn.
Working at Athens airport suited Vetta Venetidi's penchant for observing all the varieties of human behavior. In fact, serving coffee, sandwiches, pies, and other items at the stand in the arrivals terminal was even more conducive to observation than she would have expected: departing travelers tended to be somewhat more uptight, more focused on the details of wherever they had to go and what they had to do to arrive there. When people finally reached their destination, it seemed that they decided to be themselves. Besides, there were also the regular customers, all the various people who worked at the airport, from the security officers to the baggage handlers to the shop employees.
It was no surprise to her that travelers' outward appearance rarely seemed to match their character. Although her mother fretted daily about scruffy tourists – or even worse, immigrants – giving her a hard time, and tended to go into rapture over the possibility that she might catch the eye of a rich businessman, the fact of the matter was that if any customers were rude to her, they were more likely to own an expensive suitcase. One month ago, for instance, a member of the European Parliament had asked for her phone number and threatened not to pay for his order if she wouldn't give it to him. She had simply opened her eyes wide and said "My father is a journalist and he would love to write a story about a politician getting arrested because he wouldn't pay for his coffee."
As she saw a group of about six or seven formally dressed men and women converge on her coffee stand, Vetta realized that the time for contemplative thinking was over. However, her mind did register the fact that they were speaking English with British accents, and judging by how they spoke to one another and stayed close together, they probably all worked for the same company.
The first customer to reach her was a heavy younger man with oily hair wearing a rather ill-fitting mustard-yellow suit and a Bart Simpson tie. His bulbous eyes and broad cheeks brought the picture of a toad to her mind. He also seemed rather hungry, which wasn't surprising, since airplane food was very transitory in quality and rarely sufficient in quantity. He wasn't looking at the food, though, he was looking right at her.
"Hello, baby," he said in a voice that was clearly an imitation of a film actor, although Vetta was not going to waste her time trying to figure out which. "I'd like a ham sandwich, and one of those potato pies down there-" (his eyes telegraphed immense disappointment when she managed to reach the items in question without bending over) "and a cup, no, two cups, of hot filter coffee."
Vetta managed to suppress the feelings of disgust that were coursing through her and retain her professional demeanor. After all, she needed this job to help support her family. "And how would you like the coffee, with sugar or milk?"
"Just like you, lovely," the man said with a somewhat glazed-over expression in his eyes, "short, sweet, and very hot with plenty of milk. In fact, I wouldn't mind a sample." And he actually leaned over the counter for a closer look – or more accurately, a closer stare - at her figure.
Vetta's cheeks flared and she engaged in several thoughts involving a spontaneous demonstration of taekwondo skill. She was starting to count mentally in order to keep her temper in check when she saw her customer pulled backward by a tall man with curly black hair, also in a suit and tie, but much better fitting and more tastefully chosen, who promptly told him, "Collins, you're fired."
"Excuse me, Mr. Darcy," the man named Collins said in an offended tone, "I was merely engaging in some pleasant banter with the girl. Don't tell me she was offended, all females enjoy being complimented on their appearance. I am Lady Catherine's personal assistant, so you are not my boss. Besides, just look at her and don't tell me you wouldn't be thinking the same exact thing!"
"You underestimate my aunt's feminism, Collins," the tall man seemed to strike a more imposing pose. "She suggested that you get married and start a family, but she did not give you a blank license to leer. All employees of Fitzwilliam Security are expected to show correct behavior at all times – and what you were just doing, which I've actually seen you do before, was far from gentlemanly. As the CEO of this company, I have full authority to act. Your contract is rescinded as of this moment and your hotel reservation is canceled. I suggest you go upstairs and get yourself on the first flight back to London – it's included in your severance package. Once I tell aunt Catherine what happened, she will be most seriously displeased, so you might not want to be around to face her wrath when her plane lands two hours from now."
Collins began to wheeze and sputter. "But I-"
Mr. Darcy moved a step closer to him. "Save it. You're fired. Get out of here." Which he did, although temporarily leaving behind a distinct and unpleasant odor.
Mr. Darcy turned towards Vetta with a contrite expression on his face. "Miss, I apologize for the disgraceful behavior of my former employee," he said, emphasizing the second to last word. Now that she could take a closer look at him, he was definitely the sort of man she would like to have as a regular customer. He was as tall as a goalkeeper and his formal clothes couldn't hide that he had the build of one: broad shoulders, a thin waist, and long legs. His dark blue suit and his pinstriped shirt fit him very well. His eyes and the shape of his face gave him a dignified air, but also a certain handsomeness. He didn't have the swagger of the pilots and cops, whose every bodily gesture seemed to say "I can do something you can't, take that." He reminded her of – what was the name of that English actor with the wet shirt?
Vetta had to blink to get her thoughts back to business. "No, you don't need to apologize, I'm fine." She smiled at him to show that no harm had been done. "He was just ridiculous, that's all."
"He was right about one thing, though." Mr. Darcy also smiled, showing a pair of dimples that slightly raised Vetta's body temperature. "You are polí ómorfi. (very beautiful) Could I have a frappé glykó me gala?" (sweet, with milk)
"Thank you," she said with another smile. "Just a moment. You said that very well. Are you learning Greek?" Before he could answer, she prepared his coffee quickly.
"I'm thinking about it," he said, "since it looks like my company is going to have some major projects in this area, I'll probably be a frequent customer of yours. That is, unless I decide to live here, like my colleague who has been doing a lot of the groundwork. I hear that he fell in love with his tutor."
Vetta quickly put two and two together, and then two more, and came up with "You are Charles' boss?"
Apparently Mr. Darcy did some intensive mathematics of his own. "You are a friend of Tzeni's? I met her on my last trip here."
"Not just her friend, I'm her sister, Mr. Darcy." Vetta said decisively. "I see them every two or three days, and believe me, she is just as much in love as he is."
"That's good," Mr. Darcy said in a somewhat distracted voice, "and my name is William."
Vetta held out her hand to him over the counter. "Nice to meet you, William, I'm Vetta."
He held her hand gently, as though he'd been given a gift that he was afraid of dropping and breaking. Then a deep voice from behind him interrupted them "Darcy, I can understand you forming an acquaintance with the young lady, but some of us back here would like to order some food." The voice in question came from a man about forty years old with a rotund body and a twinkle in his eye.
William and Vetta both blushed for a couple of seconds and only then remembered to release each other's hand. Vetta instantly smiled at the older man, who didn't really seem malicious or rude, and said "I'm sorry, what would you like?"
"Charles is dating Vetta's sister, Thurston." William said to the other man.
"Oh?" Thurston raised an eyebrow. "Well, Vetta, Charles' sister is my wife! I'm Thurston Hurst, and I suspect you and I are going to be thrown into company together rather often. Very glad to meet you, young lady." He thrust out a large muscular paw but enveloped Vetta's hand without squashing it at all. With his other hand, he quickly pointed to three food items. "That one, that one, the one over there on the right, and a large bottle of water, please. That flight made me dehydrated."
"Blast you for getting to her first, Darce," said a man about William's age who vaguely resembled him but was slightly taller, with reddish hair, with a smile, while Thurston took out his euros to pay for his food, which Vetta had wrapped and placed in a bag. "You just met the first tourist attraction of our trip."
"No need to snark, Ricky," Vetta heard William say. "she might have some beautiful friends. Besides, once we start our meetings with the Ministry and the subway company, we're not exactly going to have time to scamper up the Acropolis."
While Vetta dealt with an order from another company employee, a sensible-looking young woman who answered to the name of Eleanor, she couldn't avoid overhearing the conversation between William and Ricky, in part because the noise and crowds in the airport made everyone speak a bit louder than usual.
"And do you know what the best part of it all is?" Ricky said.
"Sure," William answered with a certain look in his eye, "the fact that Charles and her sister are together, so we can see each other again."
"You really are the limit, mate," Ricky answered, and his attempt to keep himself from laughing made the next part come out much louder than expected. "You forgot to pay and she forgot to charge you!"
Both Vetta and William blushed simultaneously in mortification and said "I did?" Then with a quick stride William came back to the counter and asked Vetta how much the coffee cost. He gave her a twenty-euro note and indicated that he would also pay for Thurston's order, and Ricky's, as well as those of two ladies that were with them, who he called Eleanor and Emma.
"Boss's treat," Ricky said jovially, "time for mass consumption, everyone!"
William then looked at his own coffee cup briefly and asked Vetta "Is this the kind of coffee that you can read the future in?"
"I don't think so," Vetta gave him a quizzical look while she served Ricky his cup of tea. "You can only read the future in Greek coffee, and definitely not in a plastic cup! Besides, nobody really takes that seriously any more."
"Oh, I take the future very seriously." William said. He gestured inside his cup and said "This bubble right here, Vetta, tells me that I should suggest that you and Tzeni have dinner with Charles and me tomorrow evening."
"He takes everything too seriously," Ricky quipped, "especially himself."
"That would be nice," Vetta said, "but I need to call Tzeni to ask her. She can talk to Charles, and we can agree on something."
"Great," William said. He seemed genuinely happy, or maybe it was too soon to draw conclusions. As William's colleagues began to drift away in search of seats, shops, or ways to occupy their time until their other colleagues' flights would arrive, but he stayed close to the coffee stand to chat with Vetta, she began to think that the future might be a subject worth exploring, even without looking into coffee grounds.The End