It’s not. It can’t be. It bloody well can’t be! Oh my goodness; it is! It’s Latino heart-throb, Emilio Caliente! Why is someone like him sitting next to someone like me on this flight to Ibiza? He should be up front, behind the curtain, hidden away in first class. Why now? Why him? Why me?
Without so much as a glance in my direction, he’s short-circuited weeks of life changing, positive affirmations. Hiding behind my hair, I clench my fists, shut my eyes and silently recite, “My name is Gemma Talbot. I’m a beautiful, intelligent, newly single woman and I’m taking control of my life”. Yeah, right. What a joke! I’m sweating. I’m fidgeting. I’m finger combing my hair, smoothing my eyebrows and wishing I’d retouched my makeup before boarding.
Can’t he go away for a few minutes and come back when I’ve had time to pull myself together, both mentally and physically? Planes should have an emergency hatch with a twisty staircase from the passenger area down into the hold, so you can get to your suitcase, grab a change of clothes, a more appropriate pair of shoes, and maybe even a change of underwear. There should be a decent sized bathroom with pink, soft-tone lights to flatter your complexion and boost your self- confidence, not that vile, green, fluorescent glare that only emphasises your enlarged pores, your premature lines, your facial hair. There should be baskets of complimentary upmarket cosmetics, sample freebies of the greatest and latest scientific breakthroughs in moisturisers and makeup. Yes, even on a forty-minute flight from Barcelona to Ibiza. On this flight especially.
As it is, the bathroom has just been vacated by a podgy, sweaty, sick looking man, and the thought of following in his footsteps does not appeal. I rummage through my bag, praying that I won’t accidentally pull out a bedraggled tampon instead of a bruised and battered lip-gloss. I don’t usually look like this. Should I explain to him that, actually, I am quite a babe, even if I’m old enough to be, if not his mother, then at least his big sister? I’m usually impeccable. It wasn’t me who spilled Coca-Cola on my white linen trousers. It was the woman sitting next to me on my previous flight from Geneva. Her fiery Iberian origins led to loss of body control once she got started on the subject of her exasperating Scandinavian daughter-in-law. As for my T-shirt, it seemed to possess that casual, worn-in look when I left home earlier today, whereas it’s clear to me now that it should have been retired months ago and used as a duster. What on earth was I thinking? Oh, thank goodness; here’s my lip-gloss!
My lips taken care of, I fumble through the pocket of the seat in front of me, searching for an in-flight magazine, but there isn’t one. So I grab the emergency procedures card and start studying it with exaggerated interest, then get all flustered again, as though I’ve been caught reading the Special K cereal package.
What must he be thinking? I’m no first time flyer. I’m an air-sophisticate. I shake my long brown hair over my face and sneak a sideways glance at el divino, as the women’s glossies call him. Maybe it isn’t really him. Maybe I’ve just imagined the whole thing, and in reality, seat 12B is occupied by an obnoxious lager lout with spots and halitosis.
But no. It’s him, pop music’s Latino superstar, looking a little dishevelled and not quite as glamorous as on his album covers, calendars and posters, and obviously wearing some kind of hastily thrown together disguise. However, if the other passengers on Iberia flight 243 to Ibiza are fooled by the navy blue baseball cap, the wraparound sunglasses, and the prickly, chestnut coloured, three-day beard, a connoisseur like me is not. I am the princess of pop music, the FM queen. I know my pop stars.
It may seem sad that at the ripe old age of 37 I’m still addicted to bubblegum music. At my age, most people seem to have either moved on to cooler, more sophisticated musical spheres or remained faithful to the likes of Céline Dion, Phil Collins and Sting. Not that I dislike Céline Dion, Phil Collins, or Sting. They’re great. But when it comes to music, I’ll always be a teenybopper at heart. Boy bands may be passé, but they still do it for me. I’m a sucker for cheesy harmonies and all those slick, over-choreographed, step-step-shrug moves.
Crazy as it may sound, my taste in music was one of the irreconcilable differences that destroyed my marriage. I think it was an overdose of step-step-shrug that finally pushed my husband a step too far. He went and dumped me for an older woman.
Richard left me for Wilhelmina, a poker-faced, peroxided tart from Munich, whom I only ever saw from a distance, yet whose sense of style made quite an impression nevertheless: black leather trousers, sequinned sweaters featuring cartoon characters, daredevil heels and a hairstyle presumably influenced by lion tamers in circuses. Interesting choice for a conservative stick-in-the-mud like Richard. They probably have sex while listening to Metallica. “Yawohl, mein schnitzel, das ist SO gut, ya, ya schneller bitte, schneller."
Well, they’re welcome to it. They can have Metallica and schnitzels, with or without noodles. Screw them! I’m going to Ibiza to get myself a new life. But please, God, right now, give me something cool to say to Emilio Caliente. Send me instant smooth moves, oodles of charm, irresistible flickety hair.
I try to arrange myself a little more prettily, cross my legs. I’d offer him my best profile, but doing so would require odd contortions, since it’s the one against the window. I rub my nose, making sure there isn’t anything embarrassing hanging off the end.
He takes off his baseball cap and his sunglasses, removes his brown leather sandals (hairy toes, I notice), checks his phone for messages, then switches it off and puts it in the duty-free bag by his feet. He then turns to me, gives me the once over, let’s-see-what-we-have-here, oh-yes, oh-well, never-mind-then, graces me with a quick smile (Yes! This is good! Initial contact established!), puts his sunglasses back on and closes his eyes. So much for contact...
It’s almost eleven when we take-off. The flight has been delayed for nearly two hours. Most of the other passengers are either dozing or flicking through the kind of magazines you tend to buy at airports when you’re bored and need cheap, easy distractions. Even I have a copy of OMG! magazine in my duty-free bag. But now, with Emilio sitting next to me, I’m a little embarrassed to pull it out and have him think I’m mentally deficient.
A bored, exhausted flight attendant passes down the aisle with a basket of boiled sweets. I smile at her smugly, willing her to believe that I’m travelling with Mr. Caliente, that we’re a couple. But as she reaches our level and I lean over to grab something to combat potential gorilla breath, the plane hits turbulence, causing me to knock the basket and most of its contents all over Emilio Caliente’s crotch. Both the flight attendant and I freeze, but Emilio doesn’t stir. Is he asleep or is he deliberately ignoring what he thinks is a desperate plea for attention from his moronic, past-her-sell-by-date neighbour? What kind of a person doesn’t acknowledge an unfortunate accident? Why can’t he just smile politely, say “no harm done”, and offer me a cellophane wrapped windfall?
It’s now obvious to the flight attendant that we are not an item. She pulls a face at me, suppresses a giggle and discreetly points to the multicoloured sweets decorating Emilio’s khaki clad, drawstring secured, rather impressive crotch. "Do we leave them or pick them up?" she articulates silently.
I shrug, mortified, then shake my head. Better to leave them there than disturb the sleeping demigod and have him open his eyes to find four unfamiliar hands groping his testicles.
Grinning, the flight attendant carries on down the aisle, offering what’s left in her basket to the other passengers.
I glance at Emilio again. His eyes are still closed. Contact is over and out. Bummer. What will Celeste say when I tell her? Knowing her, she’d probably have gone straight for the strategically placed sweets and she’d have got away with it. Celeste makes friends with everyone she meets, a characteristic apparently linked to her bright pink aura.
To pass the time I decide to read all about the latest happenings in celebrity-land. As I flick through the pages of OMG! magazine, skipping over so-and-so’s latest fling, I spot a small, fuzzy and rather unflattering photograph of a scowling Emilio Caliente. Below it the article reads:
“Latino heart-throb Emilio Caliente doesn’t have a whole lot to smile about these days. His latest single, Corazón Loco, has flopped miserably, barely reaching number 54 in the charts before sinking without a trace. Rodrigo Del Fuego and Alejandro Tampoco, founders of record label Latin Hard Beat, have announced that they are not satisfied with Caliente’s new album, Solo Yo, scheduled for release in September, which the gorgeous Emilio insisted on producing himself. They stated that the album will not be released unless el divino agrees to re-record eight of the tracks under the direction of hot-shot Miami producer El Gordoncito. Could this compromise Latin Hard Beat’s long-standing collaboration with the hip swivelling Latin lover? Will Emilio swallow his pride and do as he’s told? Watch this space!”
"Bastards," mutters a sexy, throaty voice in seat 12B. "They know nothing. It’s crap. Bullshit."
I turn to look at him. His eyes are still closed but he’s unwrapping a pink sweet, which he pops between a set of flawless white teeth, flashing a teeny, utterly delectable morsel of pink tongue at the same time. How come even his tongue is perfect? I thought they airbrushed it pink in his photographs...
I swallow. Come on now, say something, Gemma. Something that will start a decent conversation. Something interesting. What would Celeste say? "I loved Corazón Loco,” I hear myself squeak. My face heats up. I feel a blush spread from my ears to my chest. Not exactly celestial. More Minnie Mouse on helium.
He smiles, shakes his head. Static electricity makes his dark brown hair cling to his paper headrest. Then he yawns loudly (more pink tongue...), lazily runs his fingers through his hair, musses it to a sexy, spiky style, pushes his shades onto the top of his head, and looks at me.
His eyes should come with a warning from the Surgeon General: “Gazing into Emilio Caliente’s eyes can seriously damage your mental health.” They are the colour of warm caramel and edged with long, thick, black lashes. Is that the outline of a gold flecked star etched within the pupil of his right eye? How amazing is that! He looks as though he’s wearing eyeliner, but of course he isn’t. Is he? What’s more, his eyes are almond shaped, giving him a slightly mysterious, slightly naughty look. He does have dark, purplish circles underneath them, and, I notice happily, a couple of blackheads on his nose. But he’s very good looking. Very. Maybe a little too pretty. Maybe not. On second thought, definitely not. How old is he?
"I thought it was pretty good too," he says, sucking noisily on his sweet. Anyone else making such a noise would cause me instant gross-out. I have a hang-up about noisy eaters. The sound of someone biting into an apple always makes me cringe. It’s as bad as chalk squeaking on a blackboard. But Emilio’s sweet sucking technique is quite mesmerising…
"Hola, I’m Emilio," he says, holding out a surprisingly small hand for me to shake. What is it they say about small hands? Or, is it small feet? Crap, for sure.
"Hi, Emilio, it’s nice to meet you. I’m Gemma," I say. And I, Gemma Talbot, 37-year-old teenybopper, shake Emilio Caliente’s hand. Small it may be, but he has a nice, firm, manly handshake, not a mushy wimpy one. It’s definitely not eyeliner, I decide. Now what do I say?
I manage to curb a suicidal urge to lean over, place a hand on his shoulder and say in a dorky voice, “I’m your biggest fan,” causing him to grab the vomit bag and gag.
Say something, Gemma.
"Are you going to Ibiza?"
Duh. No, actually, I’m going to eat pizza. In Miami. But via Ibiza. Shit, that’s it. Ten years from now, I definitely won’t be remembered as that rather sexy, rather interesting, somewhat older woman he spent ages chatting to on a flight to Ibiza. You know; the person who brightened his darkest hour, made him see that things can only get better, who spent ages showing him around the island with her cool friends. No. Typical. Had my chance and blew it.
"Actually, I’m on my way to another island. I’m planning on heading out to Formentera in a couple of days," I hear him say. Saved by a detail! I could kiss him. In fact, I’d love to smooch him senseless.
"You?" he asks coolly, unwrapping another sweet while my stomach does a series of back-flips like Croatian tumblers in a circus.
"Hoy!" I grunt absent-mindedly as the tumblers land.
"Uhm, yes. Ibiza. I’m moving there. To start my own business. I paint. Old chandeliers, not pictures. In bright colours. Well, mostly chandeliers, but I paint old furniture too.” I’m cringing because, suddenly, painting chandeliers sounds like a really strange, pseudo-artistic thing to do. But he’s looking at me with what I hope isn’t just polite interest, so I blunder on.
“I’m staying with my friend. Celeste. In Santa Agnes. Well, Santa Inès, depending on how you spell it. Or how you pronounce it. In the campo. That’s Spanish for countryside. But you knew that." Am I excessively happy to meet him or is it excessively hot in here?
"Where were you living until now?"
Is he just being polite? Why is he talking to me? Actually, why wouldn’t he be talking to me?
"Switzerland," I reply, in a tone I hope sounds worldly. "My ex-husband and I lived in Geneva, but he left me. For an older woman." I throw in the “older” just for good measure. To let him know that it’s possible for men to leave bimbos for older women. Not that I’m a bimbo. But I’m older than Emilio. Anything is possible. I want him to know that.
"You don’t look old enough to be married, let alone divorced." His voice is like raw silk. "Candy?" He selects a blue one from his crotch and hands it to me, grinning.
What’s going on here? Is he just being himself? Is he flirting with me? Pff! Flirting? No way. I’m hot enough to steam up the plane windows. Why do my sweat glands go ballistic when I’m with men I fancy? My earliest memory of excessive sweating dates back to when I was 16. I had a crush on an ultra gorgeous 29-year-old with a black Golf GTI.
One cold evening after school I was wandering around town when I saw him hot wheel his way round a corner, bass box booming out some infernal disco anthem. I knew he was going to come to a squealing stop at a red light, so I raced over, heaving my bag, and hid behind a telephone booth. When he stopped at the light, I crossed the road casually on the pedestrian crossing, did a fake double take as in, “wow, what a coincidence!”. Then I rushed up to his car and hopped in beside him. Unfortunately, the combination of nerves and sprinting around in my down jacket had made me so hot that within seconds we were fogged in. He had to crank up the defogger to the max. I wanted to die. But I guess he just thought I was a hot young chick, because I smooched him outside my apartment building about ten days later.
Could I be a hot older chick? I take Emilio’s candy. It’s disgusting, one of those sour banana-type flavours that you wonder what whoever invented it was thinking when they boiled it up and had a taste, but I eat it anyway. We’re probably half way to Ibiza now and I urgently need to make conversational progress. I want a phone number. I want to - and now my imagination is off to a rave party - invite him for dinner!
"How old do you think I am?" I ask coyly. This is the squillion dollar question. If he guesses right, it’s not good. If he guesses younger, it’s yippedy skippedy. If he guesses older, it’s up there with natural disasters.
He studies me closely. I squirm beneath my seat belt. His eyes make my stomach fall into my panties. I’d like him to study me even more closely. I’d like him to do a project on me. Even a small one.
"Early thirties?” he shrugs. “I’ve never been good at guessing ages. And age isn’t important."
Right answer. Right answer. Right answer. Cliché, but right answer.
"I’m 36," I lie. Well, didn’t he just say that age isn’t important? Wrinkles and receding gums are. I have some of the former, but none of the latter. "And you?"
"Trade secret," he says with a sly smile. "I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you. Okay, I’ll tell you. I’m officially 27, legally 29."
This is good. He’s not even ten years younger than me! I’m beginning to relax. He’s quite easy to talk to. He has dimples in his cheeks. There’s definitely a star in his eye. Should I mention it to him? No, he’ll think I’m coming on to him, which I am. Sort of. Actually, I’m feeling flirtatious and surprisingly bold.
The fasten your seat belt sign lights up. I’m running out of time.
"Have you been to Formentera before?" I’m picturing him in a swimsuit against a backdrop of turquoise water and white sand, going gooey as the pixels connect and the image downloads in my mind. What’s going on? I haven’t felt this lecherous in years! "How are you getting there?" I can’t imagine him on the ferry. And why is he travelling Economy on Iberia?
"To tell you the truth, I don’t have anything planned. I haven’t even booked a hotel. Can you believe that? I mean, Ibiza and Formentera in July, with no hotel reservations?" He shakes his head, rolls his toffee eyes. "I was supposed to fly over with my manager in a few days, but things got a little ugly between us. I just wanted out. Too much crazy shit. Bad energy. Negative vibes. I was lucky to get on this plane. And I’ll be really lucky if I manage to rent a car."
Hence the eco fare.
Hence the possibility of giving him a lift! A room? Yeah right, Gemma! I can just see him in a tiny, seriously cluttered, converted old almond mill with no electricity out in the boonies. He probably can’t live without his hairdryer.
But I can’t help myself. "Celeste is picking me up at the airport. If you can’t get a car, we could give you a lift somewhere. Try to find you a hotel."
He smiles another slow, lazy smile. I feel like an idiot again, but do my best not to show it. He probably knows loads of people with amazing houses in Ibiza. He probably has a stable full of gorgeous, 22-year-old sun kissed blondes with tousled hair and salty skin. They’ll be tossing their manes and baring their teeth at each other, squabbling over who gets to pick him up at the airport the minute he issues a “Mayday!” signal on his cell phone.
I smile to myself, imagining Emilio Caliente squashed into the back of Celeste’s battered, filthy, red Deux-Chevaux, being bumped around as we fly along the rocky camino that leads to her little house in the hills. I see Celeste dancing in her seat to the syncopated electro beat the tinny speakers will desperately be trying to accommodate. She’s babbling away in her usual effervescent manner, her long, wind-whipped hair flapping in all directions. Nice imagery. Shame, really. He doesn’t know what he’s missing.
And as we land, I hear him say, "Did you mean what you said about the lift?"