Authors: Mike Coe
FLIGHT TO PARADISE
A novel by
Flight to Paradise
Please visit author’s website for current and future works.
To my wife, for showing me the way to paradise.
To my God, for leading me to my wife.
Four centuries ago, John van Linschoten (1563-1611) wrote about the beautiful birds of Paradise (God’s birds) during his voyage to the East Indies. He wrote, “…no one has seen these birds alive, for they live in the air, always turning towards the sun, and never alighting on the Earth till they die.”
By Alfred Russell Wallace
.” Carl N. Degler (Social Historian)
The hot shower poured over Keri’s naked body, engulfing her in a therapeutic cocoon, numbing her thoughts to everything but the pain deep within her heart, in her bones, in her head. For months she had begged God to do something—anything—to stop it, but He’d done nothing.
Imprisoned by her youth in a society of economic rules and social etiquette, she saw no escape. Nothing short of a miracle could free her from the unavoidable sentence of four painful years of separation from the one she loved.
Ryan Mitchell was her prince. The thought of him made her tingly all over. When they were together, nothing else mattered. The world even looked different: pinks were pinker, blues were bluer, and her favorite foods were yummier. He fulfilled her every dream about love, and more. But how could she ensure time would not change the man she believed to be her soul mate, robbing her of her dreams?
Ryan’s acceptance to the United States Naval Academy meant tonight was their last date of the summer. Tomorrow he would be gone. Keri couldn’t blame him for her pain. She wanted him to have his dreams and be happy, but the thought of not seeing him or being with him—possibly losing him forever—was more than she could bear.
Stepping from the shower, she wrapped herself in an Egyptian cotton towel and cleared the condensation from the fogged mirror above the vanity. Taking her comb, she worked the tangles free from her shoulder-length brunette hair. Her thoughts turned to her mother, and resentment boiled in her chest.
Only yesterday her mother was planning the wedding, but with the death of Ryan’s father and Ryan’s subsequent change in socio-economic class, things changed. Ryan Mitchell was struck from the Hart’s studbook of acceptable prospects faster than the coronary had choked the life out of Mr. Mitchell. The way Barbara Ann saw it, the Southern culture consisted of two classes: Us and Them, and Ryan Mitchell was now a Them.
At first, Keri tried to blame Ryan’s father. Mr. Mitchell never exercised and should have taken better care of himself. In addition to his poor personal habits, he died with no life insurance and no money. He left Martha Mitchell broke, with no way to pay the mortgage on their Buckhead house or the tuition for Ryan to continue attending the private school on West Paces Ferry Road. His death forced Ryan and his mother to move into a small rental house in a much-less prestigious area of Atlanta. Ryan transferred to a nearby public school.
Unable to find satisfaction blaming the dead, Keri turned her resentment toward God. If God had not let Ryan’s dad die, her life would still be perfect—Ryan would
be living in Buckhead attending her private school; they’d
be attending the same college as planned; and she’d
be having her fairy tale wedding after college. Ryan would fly jets in the Navy, eventually landing his dream airline job, and they’d both live happily ever after—traveling the world and eventually starting a family.
But blaming God didn’t help, either. It was her mother’s fault. After Mr. Mitchell’s death, her mother insisted Keri stop dating Ryan. She said it would never work—he’d never make her happy. Arguing with her mother only made things worse, pushing her outside her country-club-cool comfort zone. Surprisingly, Ryan’s acceptance to the Naval Academy caused her mother to back off from her “dump Ryan” campaign.
But Keri wasn’t buying her mother’s fake change of heart. She knew the idea of Ryan being locked up in a military academy over six-hundred miles away was why she’d, so willingly, decided to call off the dogs. Whatever the reason, she and Ryan were able to spend the last few months together in peace.
With her hair wrapped around pre-heated rollers, Keri moved to her dresser and selected a bra and a matching pair of lace panties. She had preselected and laid out everything she planned to wear, days before.
As she let the towel fall to the floor, the wall of mirrors revealed a beautiful young woman with a proportioned body. She stood five-six, was full-breasted and had a flat abdomen. Her toned legs and arms reflected the results of years of dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading.
She slipped into a silky pink bathrobe and strode into her bedroom filled with memories of her last two years with Ryan. Every item held special significance, from the movie-ticket stubs from their first date to the now-wilted mum she’d worn at the senior prom. Sitting at her dressing table, she began applying her makeup.
Keri dreamed of the fairy-tale wedding set in a romantic location surrounded by all who were dear to her. She imagined the reception would be the best night of her life, filled with dancing and being admired by everyone. Her mother fueled Keri’s dreams with promises of her having a wedding Atlanta would never forget. However, with every storybook image of a glorious wedding came the usual undertones laced with warnings concerning
she would marry. If Keri had heard it once, she’d heard it a million times: “Now, sugah, when you get
, you must remember that you’re not just marrying a
, you’re marrying the
.” Her mother had made it clear that Keri was to set her sights on marrying up, never down, and God
she should marry a Yankee. Barbara Ann Hart was emphatic in her belief: “It’s all about roots—Southern roots.”
Raised as a privileged child in Buckhead—the trendy, upscale section of downtown Atlanta—Keri had been schooled by her mother in the importance of pedigree. When Keri was younger, her mother would say, “Now darlin’, you should always remember, golf and tennis are good, but huntin’-n-fishin’ are bad. Those that kill the little animals are cruel. We call them rednecks.”
Barbara Ann ensured that Keri was seen in all the right places. Every outfit was selected for her. Potential friends—and their parents—were pre-screened. In her subtle yet manipulative way, she coerced Keri throughout her childhood, usually against her will, to participate in a pre-selected menu of activities designed for one sole purpose—preparing her to become Atlanta’s most desirable catch.
Each activity—ballet, dance, gymnastics, piano, voice, beauty contests, cheerleading, and especially that ridiculous four-week finishing school in Virginia—was undoubtedly a concerto conceived in her mother’s mind and carefully orchestrated long before Keri’s birth. For eighteen years, Keri had been nothing more than a puppet dangling from the strings of a masterful puppeteer.
Keri asked herself why she’d let it happen and submitted that it was the child in her trying to earn her mother's approval. She wanted her mother to love her and was afraid if she didn’t do exactly as she insisted and listened to every word she spoke, she wouldn’t love her—something Barbara Ann had proven to be true.
A light knock came on her bedroom door. “You busy?”
The door eased open. “So, are you and Ryan doing anything special tonight?”
“Not really…other than saying our good-byes.” Keri knew her mother loved hearing that. “I’m not sure when we’ll see each other again.”
“Darlin’, that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.
Keri’s mom crossed the bedroom and sat on the bed. Bed talks always ended ugly. “What did you want to talk about?” She braced for her mother’s words.
“I…well, actually, your
and I…think tonight would be a good time for you and Ryan to say your good-byes.”
She struggled to process the
meaning of her words—then it hit her. Like a hammer, pounding a spike into her heart. She faced her mother. “What are you talking about?” Finally the truth: her dating privileges with Ryan had been granted in exchange for his exile to the Naval Academy—and now, from her life.
“You can tell him you think it would be best for both of you not to be tied down during college. I’m sure he’ll understand.”
“Best for both of us! Understand! You’re asking me to dump him the night before he leaves, and you think he’ll understand!” She stood from her dressing table and paced the room—her heart pumping red into her face; her jaw locked. Tonight of all nights—her last night with Ryan. Now she had to deal with