Authors: Sadie Mills
Copyright © Sadie Mills 2013
All rights reserved
This book is for sale to adult audiences only. It contains language which may be considered offensive. The characters featured in this book are entirely fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely imaginary.
Apart from the Chow Chow. The Chow Chow was real. Bite me.
First published 2013 Copyright © Sadie Mills. The right of Sadie Mills to be identified as the author has been asserted by her under the Copyright Amendment (Moral Rights) Act 2000. This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced, copied, scanned, stored in a retrieval system, recorded or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the author.
nce you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return."
Leonardo da Vinci
TABLE OF CONTENTS:
For Mum and Dad, who always support me even when I do things they'd probably rather I didn't.
I love my life - thank you for that. And I love you, very much.
The cold metal hurt her knees even through the padded jumpsuit as Lucy knelt at the door of the plane. The stench of diesel cloyed at the back of her throat. The roaring wind stole the breath from her mouth.
She'd watched the lifts going up before hers, the black Cessna hurtling down the runway, climbing higher and higher until the plane was just a tiny glint in the blue. She squinted up, fingers outstretched, shielding her eyes from the dazzling sun. Watching tiny pinpricks falling, slowly growing bigger, bursting into colour as their parachutes unfurled.
It all seemed so surreal. It was surreal. It was Lucy's turn now.
She tried to get her breath, looking down at North Devon, a higgledy-piggledy patchwork of greens, golds and reds rolling off to the shimmering sea. The view from that height was spectacular. Lucy suddenly felt very humble.
We all think we're so important in our day-to-day lives. Our hopes, our fears; dreams and our woes. Behind the wheel of a car, we're invincible:
"Out of the way, cretin!".
From 15,000ft, you can see the curve of the earth. You can see that we're actually nothing.
They weren't kidding about sensory overload. It was too much. She couldn't take it all in.
It was somebody's birthday on the plane. Lucy had no idea what he was called. They all sang Happy Birthday
. The rushing wind; the engines; her throbbing pulse; that silly rubber hat. She couldn't hear a thing.
'Are you OK with flying?' Joshua shouted in her ear. They were banking sharply, trying to get to altitude. Lucy had been sitting bolt upright, anxiously staring out of the window ever since the wheels pitched off the runway.
'Good. Fine. No problem,' she nodded, talking a little too quickly. 'I've flown lots of times.
'...It's just that normally, well, you know,' she added quietly, with a hesitant shrug. 'I'm used to landing and getting off at the other side.'
She felt Joshua's broad chest jiggling against her shoulders as he laughed. Her stomach fluttered. She hadn't been expecting this.
There were no comfy seats on the plane, no foldaway lap trays, no Duty Free or trolley dollies. Just two long benches, one either side of a narrow aisle. The plane was already half-full by the time they clambered aboard.
Lucy used her last trace of
cajones to give a brave wave to the photographer from the steps, her face etched with anxiety as she turned and looked into the Cessna. Between the rows of jumpsuit-clad skydivers, the crash helmets, the weird, head-mounted camera gear, she saw straight into the cockpit, the pilot and co-pilot sitting before a huge swathe of dials, switches and lights.
The drone of the engines was deafening, the smell of fuel overwhelming.
...Should it smell that strong? Is this right?
Joshua was sitting facing her, his back to the pilot, crushed against the others, legs splayed either side of the bench. He looked up at Lucy, gesturing for her to sit in front of him. She gingerly swung her leg over the bench, back to him, lowering herself down, sliding between his knees.
A big middle-aged guy promptly flopped in front of her. She had to widen her legs as far as they'd go to accommodate him. He shunted her hard, his rig digging into her chest, her back soon pressed against Joshua's front.
It was all very intimate. They were rammed in like sardines. It all felt a little obscene.
She felt a tug and looked down. She saw Joshua's tanned hands; watched his long fingers working expertly. He was adjusting her shoulder straps. She heard clinks and felt a pull. He was fastening their harnesses together.
The engines fired. Lucy looked up.
The plane was moving. She looked out of the window; they were going faster and faster. They were hurtling. She felt the nose lift. Her stomach dropped.
Joshua went over the drills again as he fastened himself to her. Lucy nodded blankly. She'd been listening intently back on terra firma, but she was at maximum capacity now. She couldn't absorb anymore. It was just spilling over.
These harness rings can hold 10,000lbs,
That's about the weight of three VW Golfs...
Lucy flinched as Joshua took her hands, placing them on his thighs. His muscles felt tight through the acrylic jump pants.
'Stand up and lean back against me.'
She felt awkward, embarrassed. He jostled her, tightening up the straps, checking and re-checking. A pang of guilt; misplaced loyalty.
...There's no easy way to say this, Lucy. I just don't love you anymore. I'm not sure I ever did.
'OK. That'll do.'
She slid down onto the bench, squeezing her hands in her lap, fingers knotted together. She could feel Josh's soft stomach against her back, the warmth of him through her jumpsuit.
Lucy peered down.
'...Is this right?' she asked, fingering the shoulder straps of her canvass harness, panic rising up in her throat.
It felt too loose. It was going to slip.
'It's right, Lucy,' Joshua said patiently, lowering her arms by the elbows.
...I've been thinking and, well, the truth is, if you fell off the face of the earth tomorrow, I'm really not sure how upset I would be...
'Promise me! Promise I'm not going to fall out!'
She turned her face sideways, glazed blue eyes darting to his for reassurance. She felt Joshua's hands on her shoulders.
'Don't you start panicking on me now,' he warned her gently. 'You're safe. You're not going to fall out. I won't let anything happen to you, I promise.'
Of course he wouldn't. Over six thousand successful tandem jumps, his eleventh today - this was his livelihood - why would he make an exception of her? She was showing both of them up. Lucy caught herself and flushed. She glanced back mouthing a "sorry" with an apologetic shrug and a tight-lipped smile. For the second time that day, he flashed her a heart-stopping grin.
'You're going to love it,' Josh said in her ear. 'Just you wait and see.'
She'd sat at one of the picnic benches watching the lifts go up. In spite of the threat of rain, it had turned out to be a beautiful, warm August afternoon. She'd listened to the garbled announcements over the
tannoy, giggling at the threat that if the Instructors didn't stop singing, their licenses would all be revoked. A rebellious burst of
You've Lost That Loving Feeling
roared back from the canopy hangar. Lucy grinned to herself.
There was something about this place. She liked it. The
dropzone had a good vibe.
She watched the jumpers walk out, some chattering excitedly, some silenced by fear. She felt a bit of a berk sitting there on her own. Everyone else was with friends; family, mentors. Skydiving had never really struck her as a group activity. I mean, it isn't as though you can have a chat in freefall, is it? Truth be told, nobody even knew she was there. She couldn't risk her mum chucking her toys out of her pram or her friends staging an intervention. They wouldn't understand. They'd all think she was nuts.
Lucy needed to feel something. Ever since Phil left, she'd just been achingly numb. She needed to blast him out of her system. If she could only have fear, so be it. Anything to just feel alive.
They had a dog at the dropzone. A big fluffy white Chow Chow that bumbled along. It seemed apt - he looked like a cloud. As Lucy sat sipping her coffee from a polystyrene cup, he ambled up to her, plonking himself down by her side. She stroked his soft fur as he rested his huge, warm head in her lap. He looked up at her with his big, brown eyes. They still looked bright, he couldn't have been very old. He didn't seem to want anything. It was as though he'd spotted the weakest link in the chain. It was as though he was just there to soothe her.
Eventually, he took his leave. Lucy looked down at the trail of slobber on her jeans, frowning and smirking at the same time, gently shaking her head. She took a tissue from her bag, glancing up, just as the door of the manifest swung open.
And there he was, with a grin to shame any Colgate commercial. Tall, tanned, with curly sun-kissed hair. He had the greenest eyes she'd ever seen.
Lucy broke with his gaze, hesitantly looking around her. She was sure she heard the gentle patter of stunned birds tumbling from the trees.
She waited an age for her group to get their brief. It was conducted by a middle-aged Jordie called Martin. He had a strong jaw; he reminded her of Desperate Dan. He seemed very laid back - just what she needed. They watched a video, practised their exit, arch and landing positions on the blue-flecked carpet, went through several pages of paperwork, including the obligatory release form. He explained about safety in the sport, that most accidents occur with experienced jumpers trying to push the boundaries, the number one source of injury being low turns. Statistically, an accident was more likely to occur in the car on the way home.
She didn't expect to be jumping that day. When Lucy woke up that morning and looked out across the bay, she found the sky blanketed by cloud. The dropzone was an hour's drive away. She didn't want to have a wasted journey.
'We're not sure yet,' the woman on the end of the line said sympathetically. 'We're hoping it will burn off. Give us a call at nine.'
Nine turned into ten, then eleven, then twelve. Half disappointment, half relief. Lucy's phone started ringing.
'...You probably ought to head up here now.'
She didn't know how she got there. She tried to think, but she couldn't remember. Joshua had gently lowered her goggles, adjusting them over her eyes. She'd been sitting there, gawking at the free jumpers in their
lycra and crash helmets, watching open-mouthed as they climbed out of the door, hanging onto the bar like monkeys, tumbling away into the blue.
It wasn't natural. It wasn't right. What had she been thinking?
Suddenly, it was her kneeling there.
'Knees together,' came a distant voice through the roar.
Lucy rolled her eyes.
How many times had they been told in the brief:
"Knees together at the door
'LUCY! KNEES TOGETHER!'
She glanced down at her splayed thighs.
They wouldn't budge. Her knees were welded to the metal. Her hands were clasped together tightly, fingers interlocked, thumbs hooked under the chest strap of her harness, just like she'd been told. Her brain willed her body to move, but she found herself frozen, paralysed with fear.
'OK Lucy,' she heard Joshua shout through the roar. She turned her head slightly, saw his helmeted face right up next to hers.
'Just relax. I've got you.'
She felt his inner thighs clamping around the outside of hers, pushing them together.
'Don't worry, Lucy. Just breathe!'
The cold wind rushed at her face. She took a big gulp of air. Her mouth was bone dry. Lucy's bulging eyes scanned earth, so far below.
No... No! This isn't right!
'Smile for the camera,' she heard Joshua shout.
Shit! How long's he been there?
Little Stu the photographer was already out of the plane, hanging onto the bar. Blue eyes still piercing through the goggles. Lucy gawked at him.
Come back in! No, no! This isn't right!
'No!' rose up the tiniest voice from inside her. Joshua couldn't have heard. She gasped as she felt his cold fingers touch her chin, gently tilting her head back against his shoulder. She swallowed, though there was nothing there.
'You're doing great. Now keep your eyes open, or you're going to miss the best bit.'
She felt him push. They lurched forward.
Suddenly, there was no floor.
'Would Lucy Simkins please proceed to the canopy hangar immediately,' came the voice over the tannoy. 'Your instructor is ready and waiting.'
Lucy had chanced one last trip to the ladies'. She'd needed to go as soon as she put that damned jumpsuit on. They certainly weren't built for convenience; she wrestled with the thick canvass padding, thrusting her arms back in, yanking the zip up, fastening the velcro. She washed her hands quickly, not bothering to dry them, scooting out of the restroom, running to the hangar full pelt.
'Hi. Sorry,' she panted at the desk. 'I'm Lucy. Lucy
Simkins,' she blurted.
The bespectacled lady behind the counter looked up.