The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.
1 Timothy 5:24
Standing out there on the Alaska Way Viaduct, with their car parked illegally beneath them, Summer started having second thoughts. The occasional car rushing by battered them with wind that reminded her frightfully of how she’d agreed to leap off this edifice with nothing but some thin layer or layers—she wasn’t sure what a parachute was really made of—of cloth between her and a gory death of being splattered on the sidewalk below. There was no sidewalk on the Viaduct; it was basically a two-storey freeway that wound along the Seattle waterfront. The view back towards Seattle was spectacular, the city’s lights glittering and shining, while before them the Puget Sound lapped against piers. Summer could see the twinkling lights along cruise ships and the lesser shine of container ships in the darkness.
“We’ve gotta do this fast!” Chastity shouted over the angry roar of a semi-truck passing them. Summer staggered under the gush of wind following behind the huge vehicle and clutched the chute’s pull-cord more tightly. “Jason won’t be able to leave his car here long, we’ve got to go now.”
Jason, one of Chastity’s crazier acquaintances, had stopped his car on the Viaduct, flicked on his emergency flashers, and was pretending to have engine trouble. At least, he had popped his hood and had leaned in so he resembled nothing so much as a bird leaning into an alligator’s many-toothed mouth. Turning to look at the women, his face dim above the headlights, he shouted something incomprehensible at Chastity.
“Helmet secure?” Chastity ignored him but stepped firmly to the edge of the freeway. Summer jiggled her helmet and gave a shaky thumbs-up. Surely this freeway was too low for them to slow down enough. She would die a splattered death. God, she should have at least told Mom what she was doing, so they could identify her remains.
“As soon as we step off, pull the cord as hard as you can. Try and follow me.” And before Summer could balk, Chastity had motioned with her head. Summer stepped up, adrenaline racing, and together they leapt into the rushing, terrifying darkness.
Continue reading.Just as she leapt, Summer yanked on the cord with all her might, feeling the sudden snap of the pneumatic parachute open as it slowed her descent. Glancing toward Chastity, she dimly made out her friend’s shape with its parachute as a great wing soaring out behind her. Then Summer glanced left—the ground was nearing—what was that other shape? Surely not some other fool risking her life leaping off at the same time. Blackness flew around them, wind whipping and lights blinking in slapping waves, lighted empty office buildings dropping around them. But then the pavement of a deserted parking lot rushed at them. Summer tucked and rolled the way she and Chastity had practiced, but the ground came up much faster than her reflexes could react. She thought she felt a crack in her ankle even as her momentum and the parachute, still half-filled, pulled her along across the parking lot. Then the parachute had emptied, deflating into a tangle of cords and black cloth that floated down around her, covering her as she awkwardly tried to disentangle herself while cradling her throbbing ankle.
Across the parking lot, Chastity had landed smoothly—dammit, she made it look easy—and had started heading in Summer’s direction.
“Summer,” she called, low but carrying. “You OK?”
Summer groaned, feeling bruised all over, wondering if the parachute could have had the decency to not jerk so hard when it opened. “I think I broke my ankle.”
“Ssshhhh!” Chastity admonished, “Just ’cause it’s 1:30 in the morning doesn’t mean some cop isn’t around to ask awkward questions, you know.”
“But my ankle—” Summer flailed at the parachute, then remembered something about disengaging it. “How do I get this thing off me?” Chastity reached her then, manipulating something on the suit with surprising dexterity, and Summer felt the great weight of cloth fall away from her. “Thanks for that, at least. And no thanks for the emergency room visit that I’ll have to follow up with.”
“Let’s see,” Chastity knelt beside her seated friend in a businesslike way. “I’m sure it’s not as bad as you think. Let’s get your boot off…”
“Aren’t we supposed to leave it on to reduce swelling or something?”
“That’s only if it’s broken,” Summer’s confident friend replied, “And I’m sure it’s not really broken. Your boots are tougher than you are.” Her fingers plucked at laces, the battered leather boot coming away in her hand a moment later, accompanied by Summer’s brief gasp of pain. “Well… it does look like you’ve got some swelling here.”
“Yeah,” Summer replied rather sourly, “I noticed that. Whoa, what’re you doing? Keep your hands away from that ankle.”
But Chastity ignored her, feeling gently around the swelling area. “Does this hurt?” Summer yelped. “How ’bout this? Can you move your ankle at all? Let’s take your other boot off and compare your ankles…”
“I think you may be learning something in those nursing classes of yours,” Summer grumbled as Chastity checked her ankle with adeptness that surprised her friend.
“No, it’s just I picked this up when I started jumping. Handy skill, and it’s hard to explain weird jumping breaks in the emergency room. I try and avoid it when I can.” She probed a little longer, then announced, “I don’t think it’s broken. I’ll wrap it up nice and tight with my Ace bandage and you can go to your regular doctor on Monday if it isn’t better by then.”
Both women, absorbed by their flashlight-consultation over Summer’s ankle, finally looked up again. There stood a tall, slender man all in black not five feet from them. His pale face, hair, and hands stood out blurrily in the darkness until Chastity shone her flashlight directly in his face. In the glimpse she caught, Summer thought he had the look of somebody who had heard most, if not all, of their conversation and found it rather amusing. Then he blocked the light with his hand, casting a shadow across his eyes and obscuring what almost looked like features Summer recognized. Chastity had leaped up and looked around as if she could stuff their two parachutes away and explain away their strange clothing; for her part, Summer nearly fainted, but she didn’t even try to get up. Even in this extremity of emergency, she still had her private doubts about Chastity’s abilities as a field-doctor. She just sat there in the parking lot, wondering if they would be arrested or raped or robbed or what.
His first words, if not terrifying, did little to reassure the women of his benign intent. “Hi,” he said, and Summer nearly jumped out of her skin again. The voice sounded strangely familiar, as if she’d known its owner some time in her past.
“What do you want?” Chastity demanded aggressively. Summer thought she intended to scare the fellow away if she couldn’t hide or explain.
“Oh, I just so happened to be jumping the same time you did…” this as if jumping off the Alaska Way Viaduct were the most natural thing in the world. “I took advantage of your friend’s broken-down car. Thanks for that, by the way. Cleared the lane for a ways quite effectively.” Looking at their tight faces and the way Chastity held the heavy flashlight almost like a club, he added, “I’m not going to turn you in. I just jumped at the same time you did. I do
n’t want cops any more than you do.”
Chastity lowered the light, shining it so they could see that his outfit, too, was crisscrossed with the paraphernalia required for base jumping. Summer briefly tried to calculate the odds of them and him choosing the same night, location, and time to base-jump off this foolishly low structure, but gave up the attempt. Besides, she was too busy trying to figure out why his face and voice struck her so strongly.
“OK, that’s weird.” But Summer’s jumpy friend seemed to accept his story, and Summer, thinking of the black, parachuted shape she had seen just before landing, decided he probably had told them the truth.
“Yeah,” he agreed, “But…” then he looked more carefully at Summer and slid into an awkward silence. They all three looked at each other for a very long, uncomfortable moment. Then he shook himself and said, “Excuse me,” (the sudden politeness made Summer want to laugh) “but do I know you? I’m sure we’ve met…”
Chastity looked between them with increasing incredulity. “Know each other? What’re the odds of that?”
“I was just wondering about that,” Summer replied without thinking. She looked at the fellow again. “College?”
“Berkeley, class of 1995. You?”
“Oh my gawd, me too!” Summer could shriek shrilly when she wanted to, and at the moment her voice echoed against the buildings and sidewalks around them.
“SSSHHHHH!” Chastity and the man hissed together, and Summer involuntarily clamped her hands over her mouth, eyes wide.
“Sorry. I’m Summer Robertson.” She extended her hand, still black-gloved from their leap. He reached out and shook her hand, saying, “Hunter XXXXXX.”
“Hunter? Whoa, not the same Hunter where we went on that march—”
“Yeah! And I dated that friend of yours—”
“Oh yeah, and remember when—”
“Hey, hey, wait a second.” Chastity cut in on their reminiscences sharply. “Summer, you know this guy?”
“Heck yeah, Hunter XXXX, we went to Berkeley together. Were we ever in any classes together?” She squinted up at him in the dark.
“No… I don’t think so… Well maybe one, Freshman year or something.” He squatted down to Summer’s level, drawing Chastity down with him. “But there’s time for catching up later. We should get out of here before the cops show up. I’ve got to bundle my chute up again. I’ll be right back to help you, Summer.”
Chastity nodded and strode briskly back to the blackness of her parachute, as Hunter walked equally briskly back out of sight to the next parking lot over. “I can’t believe this,” Chastity said as she worked in the light of Summer’s flashlight. “I mean, here you never jump with me. And now when you do, not only do you practically break your ankle, but then somebody you know jumps off the bridge at the same time as us. This is crazy.”
“I know,” Summer agreed, keeping her voice down for once. “I was friends with Hunter in college, not super close friends or anything, but we knew each other and hung out. We did go on a protest march together, but he got arrested for shouting at some cops and I…er, avoided that.”
“You ran away?” Chastity’s smile flashed whitely through the dark.
“I avoided getting an arrest on my record,” Summer corrected, rather stiffly. She didn’t like to think she had abandoned her friends, but who wanted to tangle with the cops? Summer was, deep down, law-abiding. Even if she had just illegally jumped off a two-storey freeway in the dead of night.
“He’s pretty cute,” Summer’s friend assessed frankly. “I mean, he looked darn good for having just leaped off a bridge.”
“I do recall him being pretty popular,” Summer said thoughtfully. “But he was a fun guy, really a good guy at heart, you know?”
“Mmmm, yeah.” Chastity had finished her parachute—it now looked like a bulky, homeless person’s bundle—and moved on to Summer’s. “You know you should be doing this, if you hadn’t hurt your ankle.”
“Sure, whatever, this is all your fault anyway.”
“So what are you going to do now?” Charity sounded curious, but perhaps more interested than Summer would have expected.
“I don’t know. Probably get his number and go out for drinks some time. Just to catch up.” Then Hunter reappeared with a bundle rather smaller and neater than Chastity’s. He knelt down with Summer’s friend and together the quickly had her parachute’s tangled cords and lines sorted, the cloth folded carefully around the untangled lines to form a third compact bundle. “Thanks,” Summer told him. “It’s nice of you to help out like this.”
“Yeah, well, I was kind of thinking you might be able to give me a lift back to my place. I got a friend to drop me off but they went to a party right after.” He smiled in the wan flashlight glare, an engaging grin that lit up his face and brought a sparkle to his eyes. Summer hadn’t remembered him looking so attractive, but then, many things changed in ten years. And it felt so good to see a familiar, friendly face in this city so far from her roots. Their shared experiences, although slight and long-ago, seemed to forge an iron bond between them, drawing Summer to him as a moth to a flame.
“It’s my car,” Chastity said, oblivious or ignoring her friend’s intent stare Hunter-ward. “We parked it under the Viaduct. I’ll go get it and bring it here so Summer doesn’t have to walk.”
“That would be nice of you,” Summer told her more than a little wryly, “Since it was your dam’ fool idea to jump off a bridge that got me into this mess.”
“I’ll stay here to keep her company. Scare off all the roving cops.” Hunter brandished a fist and made a faux-dangerous face. “Yarr!” Summer felt her heart beat a little faster at his antics. She couldn’t help but think that he must be quite fit if he routinely base jumped; his body looked well-formed and slender from what she could tell through the darkness of his suit.
Chastity’s skeptical look spoke volumes, but she jogged away towards the car, her flashlight bobbing to a small point as she vanished into the night.
“At last we’re alone,” Hunter quipped, “I’ve been waiting all night for this moment.” He took Summer’s hand and looked into her eyes—jokingly, she hoped, but even so felt her pulse racing in her wrist as he held it. Somehow the levity of the moment dissolved away and Summer found her eyes held by his intent gaze. “That’s actually true, you know.”
“Oh sure,” Summer tried to regain the earlier mood even as she felt her face flushing. “I’m sure you hopped off that bridge just to meet me again. You didn’t even look at me in college.”
“And I can assure you, how bitterly I regret that mistake.” Hunter definitely wasn’t joking now, and Summer suddenly wished that Chastity would get lost, or pulled over, or abandon them in that parking lot. Hunter shook his head like a water dog clearing its ears and matched Summer’s lighter tone. “Would you like to go out for a drink some time?”
A smile spread across Summer’s face, bringing shining joy into her pink cheeks and sparkling eyes. Her lips parted to reveal her white teeth in the darkness as she breathlessly assented. “Is tonight too soon?” Or: My NaNoWriMo profile.