The previous posts have been on the topic of memorable teachers and whether or not this is something that can be taught. This final post is for the simple pleasure of reading, a story that soars beyond the educational spectrum I covered. This is a story of worry, protection, fear, flight, and freedom - a bird's-eye view perspective on parenthood.
0830 hours – Washington Intelligence Department (W.I.D)
The elevator door chimed as it slowly opened, the base hanging a couple inches below the fifth floor. She ducked her head as she stepped up, still knocking it due to a miscalculation of height. She massaged her forehead and then proceeded to her father's office on the east wall of the W.I.D, skirting the tables clustered in the centre to reach it. Each table seated four workers, each typing away on laptops. Sorters from the basement mailing room scuttled around the stacks of papers surrounding the hive of workers, passing out documents for reading or filing. A large window, the length of the back wall, was covered with wooden panels – the result of hurricane winds. She walked through a cloud of cigar smoke before reaching her father's office, which looked unused.
“Where's my father, Clive?”
Lieutenant Colonel Masterson, Clive, her father's partner and a US Marine, sat across from her father's office, filing paperwork away in the shredder. He glanced at her over his glasses, “What are you yelling for, Avery? Come on over here.” His thick Texan accent, coupled with his word choice and attire, made him a clichéd western ranger – with his blue jeans and plaid, all he needed was a stetson to complete his ensemble. “He just went into Shelia's office. You're to go in when you're ready,” he said, once she'd gotten closer.
His eyebrows raised upon closer inspection of her attire, though he remained silent. Avery wore dark green, military coveralls, with the American flag sewn onto the left shoulder. Her blue garrison hat sat lopsided on her head as she looked at the twin oak doors leading to Shelia's office, “Will you come with me, Clive?”
“Ah, shucks little lady, I'd be honoured,” he said, tossing the leftover papers onto one of the piles surrounding his office. If there was a desk in there, it was hard to tell.
Shelia, a slender woman in her early forties, answered their knock. Aside from not wearing any shoes, she wore a blue pencil skirt and dress jacket, white blouse, and black tie – a standard air force uniform. She stepped aside to let them in, then slammed the door, dropping a life-sized portrait of herself off the wall.
The room looked like an antique library with shelves lining most of the room. Shelia headed to her mahogany desk and sat in front of Bill who was sitting on the window ledge. His legs were extended and crossed at the ankles, while his arms were crossed below his chest. Aside from wearing white dress pants, he wore his uniform jacket which was buttoned to the collar. Medals lined the top of his jacket's left breast pocket, while an aiguillette hung around his left shoulder beside the epaulette. He looked at Avery as she came in, the light in his eyes fading as they rested upon her attire, “It's true,” he said.
Avery glared accusingly at Shelia, who responded with a sheepish look.
“I had the right to know you joined the junior flight team, Avery, even if it was after Shelia signed your application,” Bill snapped.
Clive remained silent for he knew Avery had disobeyed her father, and didn't want to intrude. Bill looked at Avery until she directed her gaze elsewhere.
“I still don't understand why it's so wrong, Bill,” Shelia said, breaking the silence.
“Like I told you Shelia, it's too dangerous.”
“Bull,” Avery finally said, placing her hands on her hips. “It's because I'm a woman.”
“It's because you're not ready,” Bill snapped.
Avery rolled her eyes, “How would you know?”
“The answer's no, Avery,” he said firmly.
“She wants to fly, Bill. Can't you let her have her wings before she takes a one way trip to Salzburg,” Shelia interjected, looking sheepish again when Bill directed his anger toward her.
Bill moved to the desk and leaned in, “This is because of the full custody agreement isn't it, Sheila? You'll do anything to spite me because you believe I took Avery from Lani,” he whispered.
Shelia leaned in until their foreheads were an inch apart, “No, Bill, I knew my sister. She cared more about flying than she did about Avery. But, Avery knows what's important and flying won't change that. Let her prove she's not Lani.”
“I told you not to interfere,” Bill said, slamming his hands on her desk, causing Clive to jump.
“You told me not to tell her about Lani. I gave her my signature, Bill, nothing more.”
Bill backed away from the desk, leaving his sweaty hand prints on the surface. Both Avery and Clive showed their confusion, unable to comprehend the situation. Clive looked longingly at Bill for an answer, but Bill gave none. Clive may have lived with them since Avery was five, but Bill never mentioned the circumstances surrounding Avery's mother.
Bill turned back to Avery and hesitated, “Okay.”
Avery ran over, wrapped her arms around him, and squeezed hard.
“It really does go against my better judgment,” he said, watching her leave.
“She'll be fine," Clive said, slapping him across the back, as he too watched her leave.
1300 hours – Two weeks later
The belly of the plane glistened on the water's surface as it flew overhead. Its green body looked black in front of the sun, while its passengers were mere silhouettes. The pilot, a man in his mid thirties, kept his eyes on the flight path as Avery adjusted her helmet.
“This is amazing, Rusty,” she said, looking out the left window. The land nearby looked like patches on a quilt, the different colours and textures merging together, while cotton clouds floated ahead of the plane's wing.
“I'm glad you're enjoying yourself,” Rusty said back through his helmet radio.
The hum of the plane's engine choked for a minute, and the plane dropped a couple of feet. Avery whooped with excitement, feeling the rush of the drop in her stomach. Thinking it was a planned drop to boost her excitement, Avery went back to looking at the land while Rusty took to looking at the console.
“Avery, I want you to eject,” he finally said.
“I want you to have some real practice,” he said, not taking his eyes off the console.
“Okay, where do you want me to go?”
“When I give the signal, I want you to eject and head for those trees,” he said, nodding his head to the right.
Avery looked at the green specks to her right, and then the back of Rusty's head. She was just about to ask where he'd meet her, when he raised his gloved hand and gave the thumbs up. She immediately ejected, waited until she was at a safe distance from the plane before deploying her green military chute, and then directed it toward the trees. She turned her head just as the plane hit the water, her mind fully aware that it was no longer a practice run. She frantically searched the sky for Rusty's chute as she continued to drift inland. By the time she'd turned her head back to the wooded mountain below, she had drifted right into a white oak tree.
1600 hours – The W.I.D.
The television echoed the news already traveling through the department. Bill sat with his head between his hands, while Clive and Shelia stood on either side.
“...Commander Ratter, head of the junior flight team, announced that Commander Arthur Rust was flying the plane when it went down earlier this morning. Flying on a routine training mission, Commander Rust and his student-pilot Avery Stanford, daughter of the renowned fighter pilot Commander Stanford, were said to have lost altitude before crashing into the lake. The incident is under investigation and more information is forthcoming.” The reporter paused for a moment, as one of the technicians handed her a piece of paper, “This just in, the remains of Commander Rust's body were just recovered—”
Sheila turned the television off, and escorted Bill into her office.
“Bill, if there's anything I can do,” she said, sadness wavering her voice.
Bill remained silent, trying to contain his anger toward Shelia. At the end of the day, he still could have said no to Avery.
“At least take the rest of the day off, and take Clive with you.”
Bill shook his head and placed it between his hands again. His body shook uncontrollably as he choked on his own breath. Clive came up behind Bill, gently rubbed his back, and then slapped him. “C'mon bud, let's get outta here,” he said, sadness evident in his own voice.
Avery dangled from the tree, her parachute mangled in the branches above her head. She looked up, trying to pull the chute away. The wind swung her forward, the fabric slowly fraying under the added pressure, as a branch creaked above her. Frantic and starting to hyperventilate, Avery pulled her helmet off to let the wind brush across her face, chilling her flushed cheeks. She focused her breathing as a couple came hiking up the trail below her.
“Hello,” she called.
The woman shrieked and Avery apologized. Avery explained what had happened and Horatio, the woman's husband, immediately fell back upon his experience as a soldier and offered to help. Under the constant, concerned murmurings of his wife Candice, he hoisted himself up onto one of the lower branches and handed Avery his pocket knife. In her rush to get down, Avery cut the rope before he could get off the branch below her, taking him with her when she dropped. She landed onto of him, making Candice shriek again.
“No harm,” Horatio said, as Avery apologized for her mistake. She brushed the hair from her face before removing herself from his back. Horatio accepted her outstretched hand and stood, brushing the moss off his pants. Slightly wet and muddy, Horatio and Avery headed down the mountain, followed by Candice who was chatting obsessively, chatter often carried away by the howling wind.
“Mr. Stanford, this is Doctor Monroe at Sycamore County Hospital–”
Clive, who'd been closest to the phone when they'd entered the apartment, remained silent.
“I'm calling about your daughter who was brought in for an examination by two hikers.”
In his excitement, Clive hung up without saying anything. He grabbed a hold of Bill before he escaped to the bathroom, and told him the news. Bill bolted from the building, leaving Clive to lock up, and eventually hail a taxi.
Avery was sitting on the side of the bed when Bill came in. The doctor had finished checking her over, and finding nothing wrong, had gone to get the release forms, giving Bill the chance to be alone with Avery. He went and embraced Avery, holding her close to his chest, caressing her matted black hair. Avery, appreciating the warmth of her father's body against her own, wrapped her arms around his waist.
“How's Commander Rust,” she said.
“He's fine.” Avery sensed her father's hesitation, and buried her face further into his shirt, taking in its Old Spice smell. He placed his head on top of hers as she tightened her grip around his waist. She sobbed into his shirt, the water soaking the fabric.
“I don't want this to stop you from flying, Avery,” he said, as he kissed the top of her head.
Avery didn't respond, but pulled away for a moment; enough time to wipe her eyes and see Clive standing in the door frame. She extended her arm to him, bringing him over into their embrace.
“I have one request then, dad,” she said into their shirts, as she buried her head again.
“Name it,” Bill said.
“I want you to fly with me from now on.”
Bill didn't respond, but loosened his grip for a moment, allowing Avery to tighten her grip.
Photo Credit: Jan Meijer
Samantha is an avid reader and writer, who finds relaxation in the imaginary worlds she creates. Her non-fiction work has been published for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, and she has won awards for her short fiction in the annual Remembrance Day Legion contest. When she's not writing, Samantha is sketching famous or familial people.