The upside of falling, p.1
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       The Upside of Falling, p.1

           Meghan Quinn
 
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The Upside of Falling


  Copyright

  Published by Hot-Lanta Publishing, LLC

  Copyright 2018

  Cover Design By: RBA Designs

  Cover Model: Travis Fisk and Alexa Intong

  Photo Credit: Charmaine Quinn

  This book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return it and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review. To obtain permission to excerpt portions of the text, please contact the author at [email protected]

  All characters in this book are fiction and figments of the author’s imagination.

  www.authormeghanquinn.com

  Copyright © 2018 Meghan Quinn

  All rights reserved.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Prologue

  COLBY

  10 years old . . .

  “And what’s this?”

  I study the wings, the markings, the body of the aircraft.

  “Um . . . is it a U-2 . . . uh, Dragon Lady?”

  Gramps’s lips quirk up, the wrinkles near his eyes deepening. “Good boy. And do you see the glider-like characteristics it has?” Gramps points out the long and narrow wings of the black aircraft. “This allows the aircraft to fly at unmatched altitudes with heavy sensory payloads.”

  “That’s cool.” I touch the long black wings of the model plane, which are narrow, thin and very fragile. Whenever Gramps lets me touch his model planes, I’m always very careful, because hanging with Gramps and talking about planes is my favorite thing to do.

  “And this one right here, what’s this?”

  Hmm. Squinting, my lips quirked to the side, I take in the grey aircraft with red-tipped wings and vertical stabilizer. I’ve seen this one before. There’s something different about it, but I can’t quite remember. I don’t want to let Gramps down, so I take the model plane in my hand and turn it over, studying it.

  “Is this the plane you fly with a remote control?”

  Gramps nods his head. “Yup. Do you remember what it’s called?” Scrunching my nose, I shake my head. “That’s okay.” Gramps’s large and veiny hand pats me on the shoulder. “It’s the QF-4 Aerial Target.”

  “Oh yeah,” I say, even though I don’t remember the name. I take the time to say the name over and over in my head. Five times, that should do it. I should remember now.

  “These are flown from Tyndall Air Force Base by remote control, meaning the pilot isn’t in the aircraft.”

  “Wow, that’s cool too. Kind of like how we fly our toy airplanes with remote controls.”

  “Sort of, yeah.”

  Flying with Gramps is so much fun. Dad just got me my first remote-controlled model airplane last Christmas. He said with all the responsibilities I’ve taken on since he’s been sick, I’d earned it. It’s not as fancy as Gramps’s planes that we take to the airfield with his buddies, but it’s awesome.

  My plane’s an Eaglet 50. I’ve spent the last year building it. It hasn’t been easy, but we finally took it out to fly last weekend. Dad watched from the car—he hasn’t been feeling very good at all—but after I got back in the car to go home, he told me how proud he was of me, not only for building the plane all by myself but for the smooth landings too. It was a little bumpy, but I impressed Gramps’s friends at the airfield, which made me feel really good about myself.

  “You’re not going to want to fly a QF-4 though, right?” Gramps ruffles my hair. “You want to be in that cockpit, the joystick between your legs, zipping through the clouds with the earth thousands of miles beneath you.”

  “I want to be just like you, Gramps. I want to be a fighter pilot.”

  “You will be. Keep up with your studies and focus on everything I talked to you about.”

  I nod, just as Mom’s voice drifts down the hall. She sounds sad and worried when she asks, “How much longer?”

  “A week at best.” I know that second voice, because it’s become familiar in our household. Dr. Ted Branford. He visits often. I see him hug Mom a lot, and sometimes he holds her hand. I asked Gramps about it once, and he said Dr. Ted was comforting Mom, but later that night when Gramps thought I was asleep, he was yelling at Mom. I couldn’t make out what he was saying through my bedroom door, but I could tell he wasn’t happy. Instead of focusing on what he was saying, I stared at the planes hanging from my ceiling, envisioning what it would be like to fly one someday.

  “Then what?” Mom says, her voice shaking.

  “Don’t worry, Karen. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”

  Gramps slams the door to my bedroom shut with his foot. Looking angry, he chews on the side of his cheek and fiddles with his planes. The only time I see Gramps this upset is when he’s talking to Dad—his son—telling him to get better, or when Dr. Ted is around Mom.

  “Is Dad going to be okay?” The words fall out of my mouth in a whisper. A few years ago, Dad was diagnosed with mantel-cell lymphoma. It took me a long time to pronounce it properly. My gramps explained that it was a type of cancer, and that he wouldn’t get better. Apparently the doctors found it when it was stage four, but I still didn’t understand what that meant. Last year he began to get worse, and I had to start helping Mom around the house with the chores.

  Shaking his head, eyes cast down, Gramps sighs. “I’m not sure, kiddo. I’m not sure.” Taking a deep breath, he looks at me and tilts my chin up with his finger. “How about this one, do you remember what this plane is called?”

  I narrow my eyes at Gramps and put my hands on my hips. “Come on, Gramps. Do you even have to ask?” Taking the plane carefully in my hands, I say, “This is my favorite out of all the planes. The F-22 Raptor. One day, I’m going to fly one of these.”

  A smile barely reaches Gramps’s eyes as he pulls me into a hug and whispers, “You think so?”

  I nod. “I know so.”

  Chapter One

  COLBY

  Fold, make it flush.

  Remove the wrinkles.

  Get out all the wrinkles.

  Fold.

  Remove wrinkles.

  And fold.

  “Dude, what are you doing?” Stryder strolls into the pool house, apple in hand, civilian clothes on, and an annoyed look on his face.

  “Folding clothes.” I study the folded shirt and then stick it into my sleek mahogany dresser, the same dresser I’ve used for the past three years duri
ng breaks from Air Force Academy classes.

  Flopping onto my bed, Stryder props his head up in his hand and takes a bite of his apple. “We’ve been away from the Academy for an hour and you haven’t changed out of your ABUs yet, and you’re folding your civvies like someone is going to inspect them.” Tossing one of my folded T-shirts, he says, “Live a little, man. Just stuff them in your drawers.”

  Not paying Stryder’s lecture any attention, I pick up the discarded T-shirt and start folding it the same way I’d fold my PT shirts. I’m not in the mood to roll them up like my sand Ts.

  “You know how I am when I get here. I like to get myself situated.” I need to organize in order to feel at peace.

  “And it takes you forever,” Stryder complains. “It’s our fourth year, our last Thanksgiving break, we only have two more breaks after this before we graduate, so let’s drop the military life for a second and just breathe.” Tossing a pillow at me, he pulls my attention away from my laundry. “Take a deep breath, man.”

  From our very first day, when we began basic training, Stryder has been by my side. We shuffled in next to each other, wide-eyed and nervous that fateful first night. We watched each other get clipped, our hair cut to mere millimeters off our scalps. We stood in line together, not speaking a word during immunizations, and when we were starving, exhausted, and ready to fall apart, we were by each other’s side providing encouragement to one another.

  Three years later, we’re still together, still nagging each other like an old married couple, still pushing each other to be the very best we can, and both vying for a slot in pilot training.

  Stryder comes from a long line of fighter pilots, stretching from his grandfather to his dad, to his uncles and his brothers. It’s in their blood. It wasn’t a question of what Stryder would be when he grew up; it was how he would get there.

  I, on the other hand, had listened to story after story of my grandpa talking about his brief moment in the Air Force, where he flew until he was grounded for medical reasons, a dark moment in his life.

  It seems it’s a Brooks family tradition to have many “dark moments” in life.

  One of those dark moments is why I haven’t been back home to see my mom since I left for the academy. I can still remember the shock in her voice when I told her I’d be staying with Stryder rather than heading home. After the third call saying I wasn’t returning, she gave up.

  Thankfully Stryder’s parents don’t mind sponsoring me, and given that I get to hang with my friend and live in their luxury pool house while on break, it’s a win-win for me.

  “You know it doesn’t work like that for me.” I pick up another shirt and start folding it, even though it was perfectly folded when I packed it.

  The crunch of Stryder’s apple echoes through the small pool house. “How long is this going to take?”

  “Why?”

  “There’s a party in Woodland Park at one of my high school friend’s houses. His parents are gone for Thanksgiving and left the mountain house to him. It’s going to be sick, man.”

  “No.”

  “Colby, come the fuck on. Hardie and Joey are going to be there.” Joey—aka, Josephine—and Hardie round out our little foursome. We grew up in different parts of Colorado Springs, oddly never meeting until we were accepted into the United States Air Force Academy - USAFA.

  “Joey’s going?” Stryder nods, surprising me. Between the four of us, Joey and I are the most alike with our drive and study habits, our minds set on one thing and one thing only: flying a jet. When everyone else goes out on the weekends to catch a movie, we’re in our dorms, studying. Practicing. Perfecting.

  “Come on, you know you want to go.” I really don’t. Stryder tries the playful approach tossing my socks at me. I bat them away.

  “I have some studying to do.” I’m curt, not in the mood to dick around. I actually kind of wish we didn’t have this little Thanksgiving break. It messes up my flow.

  Breaks mean nothing to me.

  Cadets count down the days until they get to leave campus. Not me.

  Unlike the other cadets, I don’t have a loving family to go home to. I don’t have a sacred childhood bedroom I want to hang out in. And I sure as hell don’t have a loving father to share my experiences with.

  Breaks bring out the worst in me, dredging up repressed feelings I’ve tried to bury for countless years.

  Graduation is only a few short months away, and it will bring the reprieve I’ve been looking for, the constant go, go, go I need to keep my mind away from the past. I’m looking forward, keeping my head in the game, and accomplishing the one goal I’ve had since I can remember.

  Becoming a fighter pilot.

  Nothing is going to get in my way. Not my past, not some stupid, meaningless holiday break, and I’m sure as hell not going to be distracted by a party in the mountains.

  Stryder sits up on the bed and chucks his apple core into the little trashcan in the corner, anger in his toss. “Bullshit. You don’t have any studying to do that you haven’t already done.”

  “I’m not going.”

  “Why?” There’s a bite in his tone, frustration from the past three years built up from my constant avoidance of doing anything “fun.” And it’s not from a lack of trying on Stryder’s part.

  Putting away the last of my shirts, I shut the dresser drawer and take off my jacket and cap, hanging them in the closet. Leveling with Stryder, I say, “I’m so close, man. I’m so fucking close to graduating, to making it to the next step in my life. I can’t afford any distractions. You see breaks as a time to let loose, to breathe, I get that. But for me, they are a bump in the road on my map to achieving my dreams. I just want to get through these next five days and then get back to classes, get back to routine.”

  Always the routine; it’s what keeps me stable, keeps me from slipping up.

  Holding up three fingers, Stryder says, “There are three breaks left. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring break. Three, Colby. We have no idea what’s going to happen after graduation, where any of us are going to go. Once we throw our caps in the air as the Thunderbirds pass over us, blazing through the fucking sky, our lives are going to change drastically.”

  And I can’t fucking wait.

  Growing serious, Stryder rubs the back of his neck, strained and irritated by a simple request from his best friend. From the tension in his forearm, the pulse in his jaw, I have a feeling I’m not going to like what he says next. “Colby, you’re my boy, the one guy I survived this military life with, the life I didn’t necessarily want but was forced to have. I’m not sure what life will be like for me after graduation, and fuck, if I don’t make flight school, my life will be a hell of a lot worse. I need this time with you. These last few months are going to fly by, and before you know it, we’ll go our separate ways. I don’t want to pull the dick card, but I might.”

  “The dick card?” I raise an eyebrow in his direction.

  He smirks, and the tilt of his lips indicates the dick card is most likely going to change my mind. “I kind of gave you a place to stay so you didn’t have to go home and deal with Ted the Dickhead.”

  Yup, he’s pulling the dick card, and with such good timing.

  “Damn it,” I mutter under my breath.

  “Without me, who knows how many visits you would have had to endure?” He chuckles to himself, knowing he has me backed into a corner. “I’ve never asked you for anything.”

  “Not true.”

  “Tutoring doesn’t count.” He points his finger at me. “That’s your military duty, to help out a fellow cadet.” Chucking one of my socks at me, he says, “Come on, Colby. For once since you’ve put on that uniform, have a little outside fun with me.”

  “And if I don’t?”

  Thought goes into his answer, his gaze toward the ceiling. I know the moment he thinks of a good answer, because a shit-eating grin spreads across his face. Christ, this is going to be my downfall.

  “If you don’
t do it. I’ll tell my dad you want to hear about his ABCs for excellence in the Air Force again.”

  Oh fuck.

  I’m all about the Air Force and the traditions and heritage, but Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard’s standards for being in the Air Force are mind-numbingly boring, and so is the PowerPoint that goes with it. The first Thanksgiving break I spent with Stryder and his family, Lt. Colonel Sheppard sat us down the first night, propped up the projector screen, and went through a fifty-two-page PowerPoint presentation that we were quizzed about afterward. His reasoning? Trying to keep our minds sharp and knowledgeable.

  I’d rather jump out of an airplane without a parachute than sit through another one of his presentations.

  Shaking my head, I untuck my shirt. “You’re such an asshole.”

  Jumping off the bed, Stryder claps his hands obnoxiously. “You’re not going to regret this.” Taking my hand in his, he gives me a half-hug, clapping me on the back, and then motions to my clothes. “Get the fuck out of your ABUs, put on something decent, and be ready by six tonight. You’re not going to regret this.”

  Why do I have this heavy feeling inside me that I will?

  Chapter Two

  RORY

  Ryan: Are you home?

  Rory: Just got home from work. You on your way over?

  Ryan: Yes and I have salads!

  Rory: Oh yay, just what I want. <-- That’s sarcasm.

 
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