FIRST PAGE: Unpublished Contemporary
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“I still can’t believe you won this trip!” Barbara Douglas said to her younger sister as they made their way through crowded London Heathrow International Airport. Fifty-three-year-old Kathi Mancini had won the 2014 Paragon Theatre and British Broadcast Service (BBS) Sweepstakes: a trip for two to London and a five-day tour of locations where some of their top-rated TV shows were made.
The five-foot-six brunette was tired, and glad the 11-hour flight from San Francisco was over. A single career woman, Kathi had wanted to see London since she was a kid and the Beatles were popular, so she was excited about this trip, even though her traveling companion was her sister. She would much rather have brought a boyfriend or husband – if only she had one.
As they descended the escalator to a meet their BBS host in the crowded baggage claim area, Barbara said, “It looks like the U.N. in here. We’ll never find her in this crowd!”
“Let’s try, before we give up,” Kathi sighed, scanning the crowd and wishing Barbara had left her negative attitude at home. “We exchanged photos to help us find each other, but if we don’t in a few minutes, I’ll call her cell phone. I mean, mobile.” Kathi wanted to use British terms when she could, to show respect for their hosts.
Barbara had developed a tendency to see the negative side of things in recent years, perhaps because of the three divorces that dashed her vision of how life should be. Their mother had always been a pessimist, until dementia stopped her from thinking anything for more than a minute. Kathi thought, Please, Barb… don’t turn into Mom.
Kathi’s feet hurt, despite the fact that she always wore comfortable, athletic walking shoes. With blue jeans and a comfortable shirt or sweater, they were her “uniform.” She shifted her carry-on bag from one shoulder to the other. “I wish I was tall enough to see over some of these people!” Just as the baggage carousel began to move, she spotted a woman with short, salt-and-pepper hair, gray-blue eyes, and a slight overbite, who could have been professional tour guide Iris Cavanaugh. Kathi waved to get her attention, and her look of recognition confirmed the match. Iris appeared to be in her mid-60s and her welcoming smile and enthusiastic gait reminded Kathi of her favorite high school counselor. The fact that she had once been a writer at the BBS made her the perfect person to lead this unique tour.
Barbara was relieved to see their host was in her own age group. She knew from experience that a much younger guide wouldn’t have much empathy for the inevitable aches and pains common to people over 60, nor for Barbara’s reluctance to climb four flights of stairs for any reason short of life and death.
Kathi stopped, having just noticed an unusually tall man taking pictures of them. Neither she nor Barbara appreciated having their picture taken immediately after the long flight, when they probably looked as tired and disheveled as they felt.
Iris introduced herself and Alasdair, the 6’ 6” photographer who would document the tour, then Doug and Lisa Tomlinson, a couple who had won the same drawing in Canada and would be with them the next four days.
Doug was in his mid-50s, balding, of average build, and was just a couple inches taller than Kathi. His tall, thin, pretty, blonde wife, Lisa, looked like she could be his daughter – or the comic relief in a sitcom about twenty-somethings. She eyed Kathi and Barbara suspiciously, standing with her weight on one foot and a hand on the other hip.
“You don’t look like Californians,” Lisa declared, flipping her hair back over her shoulder. Doug elbowed her surreptitiously.
The remark took Kathi and Barbara by surprise. Kathi straightened up as she assessed the young woman and bit her tongue. The response that came to mind might have made the next few days uncomfortable for everyone. Lisa’s comment poked at old wounds inflicted by a society that favored skinny, blue-eyed blondes over women and girls like Kathi, who had Rubenesque figures and dark hair and eyes. She gave Lisa a look that made it clear she was not the passive type who would let such challenges slide. However, she wouldn’t show her ire – for now.
“Well, we’re off to a fine start,” Iris said, without a hint of sarcasm in her voice. While they waited for the Californians’ baggage, she went over the itinerary for the next five days. “We’ll get you checked into the hotel, have some lunch, and visit one show location. Tonight, we’ll have a nice welcome dinner with Ned Bettencourt.”