The Freefall Trilogy (Complete Collection) (18 page)


She could still see every ear of corn as she came in to land.  The memory of his face in that last blink.  Waiting for impact; waiting to get crushed like a bug.

Lucy had been tired ever since.


She closed her eyes, lowering her head, pushing the plate away.


She felt Joshua's fingers close around hers. She heard her chair scraping the tiles.

'Lucy, please!'

She wrenched her hand from his; she couldn't stop it.  A laboured breath, and Lucy was running away.



'Please don't cry.'

Was that selfish?  Maybe it was.  Maybe she needed to let it all out.  But the sound of it, the sight of her, retching and sobbing?  It killed him to just sit there and watch.

'Sorry!' she sobbed.  'I'm ruining everything!'

Ah fuck...

He tightened his arms around the warm little ball.

'No!' he pleaded, voice tearing.  'Please don't say that...  Look I shouldn't have brought it up.  It's my fault,' he said guiltily.

She froze in his arms.  He watched her peer up through her tears.

'But you're right,' she croaked.  'I do want to jump again.'

'You will!' he told her, drawing the tendrils of sweat-darkened hair back from her red face.

'I'll help you,' he said, feeling the weight of his promise as soon as the words left his lips.

She buried her face in his chest.  His arms tightened around her, grateful to feel her muscles slacken; the panic ebb. 

'Please don't cry. 


It was the third full-blown freak out that he'd witnessed.  Josh hadn't dared admit it to himself, much less raise it with her.  He swept it under the carpet; buried his head in the sand.  She smiled all the time - hey, that's all that mattered. 

But was she really happy?  He'd never quite been convinced.  Her eyes were different now; they looked older, weary.  The veil had finally fallen.  He could see it now: the fear, eating away like a cancer.

It was so much easier to blame Froggy.  The other two panic attacks had started with him.  He was her instructor; that's where the buck had to stop.  Trying to coax her back on the plane - Froggy wasn't exactly known for his diplomacy.  It had to be his fault.

Two full blown panic attacks on the airfield; crying, running away?  Every time Josh caught up with her, she was like a frightened little mouse.  Shaking like a leaf; she couldn't talk; couldn't breathe. 
Froggy told him she needed help - something about PTSD.  It all ended up in a big row. 

She'd be fine within a few hours of getting her home. 
.  Actually, not fine at all.  But she slept like a log - much longer than him.  She didn't have nightmares - not that he ever saw.  Josh lay in that bed, watching her for hours.

But something had changed.  The light in her eyes had gone out.  Lucy was tired all the time.  She buried her face in his chest as he stroked her back.  Her white t-shirt was translucent, he could see her bra-straps through it; feel the cold sweat on his hands.

'It died, didn't it?' he heard her whisper.

Her breathing was slowing; the sobs had finally stopped. 


She peered up at him, dashing the tears from her cheeks on the back of her fists.

'The baby bird,' she sniffed.

Joshua frowned down at her, biting his lip.  His gaze flicked up to the ceiling.  He squeezed her tighter, rubbing her shoulders, eyes closing in realisation.

So that's why Dad bought me that Meccano set...

'You're going to get bored of this.'

Joshua shook himself, peering down at the sad smile.

'You are,' she told him, blue eyes gleaming up.  He watched them slowly flickering shut.

'I don't know who I am anymore.'

It was back again.  The sense of impending doom; the big, black elephant in the room.  As it trudged into the light, towering over them, Joshua wasn't frightened anymore.  It was a shadow; just a trick of the light. 

The monster under the bed; the witch's fingers that tapped his bedroom window as a child, until he finally plucked up the courage to get up and look.  All those nights he'd spent huddled up under the duvet.  The gnarly hands were just twigs, from the old overgrown sycamore tree.


'You're Lucinda Myrtle Simkins,' he told her flatly.  'You run a chocolate shop.  You're birthday is the twenty-fifth of July.  Your favourite colour is blue. 

‘You like tulips and fireworks and your favourite season is Summer.  You bake a mean pie but you don't like washing up.  And you are, I'm sorry to say, a terrible time-keeper. 

'I'm Joshua Archibald Snow.  I'm not good at much, but I think you should know, you're the only girl I ever let lay a finger on my toggles.'

He smirked down, feeling her chest quaking against his stomach, brushing the blonde ringlets back from her face.  Wars change the world.  They can hinge on a battle.  He'd won this one.  Finally, she was laughing.


'I think I loved you from the second I saw you sitting on that picnic bench,
' he sighed. 'I think it was the messy hair,' Joshua mused.  'I had a thing for Meg Ryan when I was growing up...  Even covered in Trixie's slobber, even though you scowled at me.'

He watched Lucy's brow crinkle.  She blinked up at him. 

'I didn't!' she squeaked.

Joshua shrugged.

'Well, you
sort of
smiled.  I couldn't see, actually - you had those big black sunglasses on - but I imagined you were giving me one of those looks, underneath.'


She laid her cheek back on his chest, listening to his heartbeat, tightening her arms around him as her own heart swelled.  He really did remember.  She could see him now, bouncing through the manifest door; that blinding white smile. She didn't know his name then.  He was just Colgate Man.


'Tell me about the cutaway,' he said quietly, green eyes pinning her to the spot.  'Don't miss anything out,' he warned.  'I want to hear the whole lot.'

Lucy stared at him warily.

'Please,' he nodded at her. 

She drew breath, heaving her tired body up. 


'I don
't know where to start,' she said with a nervous shrug, voice barely a whisper, kneeling beside him, fingers knotting up in her lap.

Lucy felt torn.  She'd promised herself she wouldn't do this. 

Josh reached out and squeezed her hand.

‘Start at the beginning.'

Joshua's thumb anxiously grazed the back of her knuckles.  She peered at him through her fringe.

'I...  I was scared.'

Her words quickly turned from blurts to a torrent.  The dam broke.  Lucy couldn't stop.  She described the moment Froggy reached for her in freefall and missed.  The moment she went into the spin.  It wasn't Froggy's fault; she openly admitted kicking out.  Josh had seen her do it in the wind tunnel, as if she were swimming.

But instead of crashing down into the grill on her head (and that had scared Josh well enough), out in freefall a spin just goes on and on.  She'd flipped like a ragdoll - that's what
Froggy said.  Like a crisp packet in the wind.  She'd opened her parachute before she was stable.

Lucy told him about the line twists.  He already knew about them.  Her hands that day bore the telltale rope burns of trying to wrench her way free.  She sat there in front of him, chattering, wide eyes flickering around the room.  The moment of the cutaway.

It wasn't like he'd imagined.  Almost 7,000 jumps and it had never happened to him.  From what Lucy said, it seemed like the eye of the storm: shit or bust.  An eerie moment of calm.


He remembered standing there, breathless, watching the blue canopy float away; helpless as the little black speck plummeted down.  Then the white chute opened.  He blinked in disbelief.  Josh started running again.


It suddenly hit him.  She'd never told anyone.  She'd never shared any of this with a soul.  She could hardly talk to her mum about it; none of her whuffo friends would understand.  He ran his hand through his curly caramel hair, the other squeezing her fingers as she chattered on.  Froggy was right.  She'd been suffering.  It had been swimming around in the confines of her head; eating away for a month.  He could see her shoulders slackening, as if a huge weight was lifting.  He stared through the black lashes and saw a shard of light re-emerging in her crystal blue eyes.

Her voice cracked as she described the moment before impact.  She remembered his face; convinced she was going to die.  Josh swallowed hard, his hands itching to reach out.  He had to restrain himself.  He couldn't risk her stopping now.

She told him about lying in the corn; hearing the crickets' song, so loud it hurt her ears.  Feeling one hop onto her cheek, scared it would go up her nose, too tired to raise her hand and brush it away.  Waiting for minutes/hours/days, the white parachute blanketing out the blue sky.  Closing her eyes; the blinding white light.

'...That's it, really,' Lucy said quietly. 

Joshua blinked up at her. 


He pulled her hand to his chest, pressing it to his heart, covering it with his own.  Her gaze flickered down to their fingers.

'Don't stop talking to me again.  Ever,' he warned her quietly.  'If we can't talk to each other, what have we got?'

The piercing stare bounced up to his.

'I'm worried about us,' she admitted, eyebrows contorting.  'I'm scared I'm going to lose you.'

Joshua frowned.

'What do you mean?'

'If I can't jump anymore...' Lucy shrugged sadly.

'Oh no,' he growled, grabbing her arms.  Lucy yelped in surprise as he flipped her beneath him.  In a second, she was flat on her back. 

'Don't you start with any of that.'

He knew exactly what she was talking about.  Love on the
dropzone.  It tended to fizzle out pretty quick.  When two people meet in that environment, it's pretty easy to confuse the experience of jumping with the experience of that person; get the two of them all ravelled up.  When they eventually realise that their shared love of jumping is all they really have in common, it's never very long before it all falls apart.


He knelt over her, watching her, gently brushing her hair back from her face.

'You're a
chocolateer, right?'

She couldn't help but smile.  He made it sound so exciting.

'Right,' she said with a confused shrug.

'Right,' Josh said matter-of-factly.  'So if I told you I was a diabetic tomorrow, would you finish with me?'

'Well, no—'

'I should fucking well hope not!' he grinned, dropping down onto his elbows.  Lucy closed her eyes, squirming in anticipation as she felt his lips on her neck.

'You think I brought you to Paris to break up with you?' he murmured. 

Her hands froze on his back, eyes blinking open. 

Joshua smiled, rubbing his nose against hers. 

'Have you any idea how crazy that sounds?'

She scanned the ceiling, as if looking for the answer.  Her lips twisted in a shy smile.

'I love you,' he said, smile dropping, eyes a searching green blaze. 

She stared at him.  Lucy's heart surged. 

It wasn't as if she'd never heard it before.  Half a dozen before him had told her that
, in a hundred different ways.  But for some reason, every time Josh said it, Lucy stopped breathing.  Before she could catch her breath, his mouth was on hers.


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