Teasers & Deleted Scenes
Washington, D.C. October 17, 2009
When Chaz told her he was going to do it, Daphne joked.
Anything else would have sounded as if she didn't have faith in his skill, his judgment. That's what he would have heard if she told him she was afraid, instead of what really scared her. So she said, "I wonder if florists will deliver ragweed to patients in traction?" and "You bring home any BASE girls, you'll have to feed 'em."
A delicate balance, seeing him off casually, and still making sure she did and said all the things she'd want to do if she never saw him again. Did he know what was going through her head? Hell, of course he did. Only Tricia knows her better.
Now Chaz is standing on a bridge looking into the goddamn abyss with the intention of jumping into it. And she's cleaning her kitchen, so she isn't wedged into a corner of the couch, hugging her knees to her chest and waiting for her phone to ring.
She makes a wry face at her reflection in the microwave door. Cleaning isn't done for pleasure at Chez Bunny. She and T. keep the place clean because it's part of making visiting friends comfortable. But she can't say it's on the household schedule, and when it happens, it tends to turn into a landing-at-Normandy production. Tiger, knowing the signs, hides under the dresser where the vacuum cleaner head doesn't reach, his ears flat against his back to indicate his disapproval.
Daphne wonders what he makes of it this time. Tricia is at her desk working on lecture notes; this venture into housekeeping is a solo project. Less beachhead invasion and more parachute-at-midnight-behind-enemy-lines.
No parachute imagery, please. She scrubs a last dried fleck of spaghetti sauce off the microwave wall.
She scours the inside of the oven by hand. She can feel her traps and lats and triceps muscles working, warm and easy. This is no challenge for them, not after all those overhangs and corners. The ones she would never have mastered if Chaz hadn't introduced her to climbing.
Hello. The point is to think of something else.
She rinses soap, grease, and soot off her hands and stalks out to the living room. Her iPod's in her coat pocket. She tucks it in the waistband of her jeans, pokes the ear buds in her ears, and goes back to the kitchen to rinse out the oven.
Of course, as soon as she's crouched over it with a wet sponge, "Black Horse and Cherry Tree" comes up on the rotation. Chaz crushes on KT Tunstall.
And there he is again.
Prohibition never did work. She turns off the iPod, wipes out the oven with a paper towel, and moves on to the sink.
This is one of the differences between her and Chaz. She loves climbing: the challenge, the risk, the joy of winning against gravity and her own limits and doubts. She has no desire to give herself to gravity, like chum thrown to a shark, in the hope she can cheat it at the last instant.
You don't try to put limits on your friends. You definitely don't hang your fear around their necks, hoping it will be a leash to pull them home.
At least she's not afraid he'll be kidnapped by a murderous gamma. Been there, done that, and leaving town on vacation isn't an automatic prompt to the universe to recreate previous disasters. She remembers, though, the terror of not knowing where he was, then knowing and not being able to reach him, then reaching him and finding him dying.
Maybe she's a little afraid of that. But not much.
A floor-joists-up remodeled kitchen ought not to be so much work to clean. Should it? Hard-water minerals have built up around the faucet mount and caked on the nozzle of the sprayer. Maybe they'll scour off. Maybe she'll have to chip the damned stuff away.
What she's really afraid of is randomness, chaos, Murphy's Law. There's only so much he can control. She knows he'll pack his own canopy, check every cable, inch of fabric, buckle, clasp, and ring. She knows he'll judge time and distance perfectly. But equipment still fails. Winds still gust out of nowhere. Chaz may be perfect, but the world around him isn't. There are things he can't control.
BASE jumping isn't safe. That's why BASE jumpers do it. That's why he's done it. Is doing it.
The smell of cleanser with lemon and bleach fills her nose. It's the smell of pushing back entropy. How many people has she strapped to gurneys and rolled into emergency departments? The automatic doors would slide open and let out a gust of air, overheated or overcooled, dry, reeking of cleanser and vomit, antiseptic and sweat.
Some of those people still died. Some of them did it to themselves, on purpose. Nothing pushes back entropy.
She braces against the edge of the stainless steel sink, her stomach roiling, her eyes burning. Her breath comes as if she's crying, but she manages to hold back the sound.
Entropy took Chaz's mother, his childhood. Entropy pitched him into the arms of William Villette and nearly killed him. Entropy ate Hafidha whole.
There's so much he can control. He knows how to jump from a bridge. If she didn't believe that, she'd have tried to stop him.
But he also knows how not to. What if he doesn't want to wait for entropy?
Ah. So that's what I'm afraid of.
"Daph?" says Tricia, from somewhere behind her.
A moment later her wife's arms wrap around her ribs from behind, warm, strong, pulling her hands away from the sink edge. She holds them stiffly in front of her, wet and blotted with cleanser, but only for a moment. Then she crosses her arms and grips, hug over hug, and to hell with whether she's making a mess of T.'s sleeves.
"It'll be okay," T. murmurs, her head snug between Daphne's ear and shoulder. "It'll be okay."
Even as Daphne fills her starving lungs and lets herself sob, she recognizes the care that went into T.'s words. "It will be," not "it is," and "okay," not "fine." Encourage, but don't promise what you can't deliver. Her wife has learned to talk like a first responder.
She's laughing and crying at once when she pivots in T.'s arms and returns the embrace.
The peach-colored glaze of sunset is gone from the west-facing windows when her cell phone finally twangs out the first few bars of Emmylou Harris's cover of "Ooh Las Vegas." Of course--they'd jump as long as the light lasted, but no longer.
She drops like a cannonball into one end of the sofa and thumbs the green button.
She can hear it all in his voice: the last of the adrenaline rush, the deep happiness, the attempt to hide both because he knows she worried while he enjoyed himself.
"Hey, Harpy. I had a good day. How about you?"
"The kitchen's clean."
"Are you kidding? Now you can bake in the oven without adding pizza cheese smoke to the brownies. So it was awesome?"
"I got in three jumps." A long audible inhale and exhale, the kind of breathing she'd heard out of him after an hour of yoga.
"Were they impressed with you?"
Chaz snorts. "So not what BASE is about. Well, okay, not for me. I don't want to get groupies. I want to get air."
But then, Chaz wouldn't notice if he were being admired. Too focused on what he was being good at. "Oh, you so want groupies. You've just got a type. Female, between eighteen and forty--"
"Dignified. Silence," he announces.
She snickers. "That only works on the Internets."
What would she do if he hadn't come back today? Gone forward, she supposes. It would feel like losing an arm.
He sighs again. Contented oxygenation. "Someday we should both go. Jump off a bridge together. It'll be fun."
"You know you're delusional, right?"
"Pfft. I'm about ready for second dinner. What would you and T. say to linguine carbonara, improv salad, and baked apples?"
The words alone make her mouth water, and she realizes she forgot to eat lunch. "I'll go out on a limb and guess 'Yes.'"
"Good thing, since I'm at your front door with a grocery bag."
The doorbell clangs. She lets the day slip behind her with all the others, good and bad, and comes out of her corner, ready for the next round.