Part R, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Zoey decided it made more sense to stay than leave at this point in the mission, and her days fell into a routine. Working with Ferraro in the morning, going over lessons with Sam in the afternoon, meals at the same time every day. Her late afternoon workouts in the gym were like clockwork, her sleeping and waking times didn’t vary enough to make a difference.
Zoey was bored out of her mind. Restless. She tried to break the monotony by designing experiments and field trips for Sam, any excuse to spend time outdoors, but the options were limited.
They crawled around on the lawn, stalking bugs. Identified various leaves and ferns and berries. Watched birds, listened to their calls, even climbed into a few smallish trees to peer into nests. They made huge messes in the kitchen while Zoey patiently explained that cooking was basically chemistry you could eat.
The trouble was, Zoey had done all those things before. The only thing keeping her sane was that Sam had never done any of them, and was excited about every tiny new discovery.
No matter what they did, Ferraro always seemed to be somewhere nearby. Keeping an eye on things. Or maybe just wanting to be included, she couldn’t tell with Mr. Tall Dark and Inscrutable.
Every time Sam caught sight of her uncle, she rushed over to show him what they’d been doing. It was touching to see his apparent interest, not to mention disarming to watch his stern mouth curve in a genuine smile for his niece.
Of course, it was also satisfying to watch his expression the day he’d caught Zoey teaching Sam how to sharpen and throw knives. Or the time they’d hotwired the ignition of one of the classic cars he kept stored in his massive garage. Or the day Sam told him they’d used modeling clay to learn how to mold C-4 to direct the force of an explosion.
Sam was always quick to explain the science behind each experiment. Zoey might have smirked a time or two, but felt satisfaction in teaching Sam valuable life skills.
The one area where Sam surprised Zoey was in the gym. After years of being sheltered, Sam loved physical activity. One of her favourite things was the climbing wall. Zoey hesitated at first, but Ferraro had top of the line gear and all the safety equipment a person could ever ask for. It wasn’t long before Sam was strapped in and scrambling up the easier routes on the 20-foot wall, laughing with delight as Zoey belayed her down.
The girl was getting stronger and more physically confident every day. So it wasn’t much of a stretch when Sam convinced Zoey to teach her how to rappel. Sam loved it and was surprisingly good at it. And rather quickly grew bored with the indoor wall.
“Let’s rappel down the cliff by the cove,” Sam said one day.
“Absolutely not. It’s too dangerous.”
“I’m not a baby,” the girl pouted, rather like a baby. “I’ve seen you climb the cliff and you weren’t even wearing any gear.”
“That’s different, Sam. I’m stronger and have had years of experience. Besides, there’s nothing in that area to use as an anchor.”
Sam looked so defeated. And Zoey was so bored. “I’ll see what I can come up with, okay? Something safe.” The girl frowned at that and Zoey laughed, “Okay, something safe and fun.”
It took a while to scope it out, to make sure it was indeed safe, but two days later Zoey packed up their climbing gear and told Sam to follow her, she had a surprise.
Zoey would have dearly loved to rap off the main four-story part of the mansion, but it was too risky for Sam. The rooftop helipad seemed like a good compromise. Roughly 30 feet off the ground, it wasn’t much higher than what they’d been doing. Plus, it had the added benefit of helicopter tie downs. You couldn’t ask for stronger anchors than that.
The only trouble was that the doors accessing the helipad from the mansion were locked. So she led Sam up into the attic of the adjacent two-story garage and through the access door to that roof. Then climbed a ladder Zoey had dragged up there, gaining access to the helipad.
“Wow,” Sam said, walking to the center of the roof, taking in the view of the grounds and the sea beyond. “This is so high.”
“We can climb down the way we came up, Sam. We don’t have to do this.”
“No way. I want to do this. It’s just . . . so high.”
Zoey grinned and reached one foot back, then pushed the ladder so it fell onto the garage roof with a clatter.
Sam spun to face her, eyes wide but glittering with excitement. “Oh my god, Zoey, what did you just do?”
“You said you wanted an adventure, girl. Let’s do this.”
Zoey wasn’t as nonchalant as she appeared. If she’d seen even a trace of fear or uncertainty in Sam’s eyes, she wouldn’t go through with this. She could easily retrieve the ladder and help Sam climb back down. But Sam didn’t need to know that. Not right now, anyway.
It took time for Zoey to rig the anchors and ropes and harnesses, to double and triple check that everything was set up safely. But finally it was time.
There were puffy white clouds in the sky, no wind to speak of. A perfect spring day for a little outdoor fun.
Zoey ran through all the instructions again, for the billionth time, reminding Sam she’d have her on belay just like in the gym, only from up top. She helped Sam over the edge, always a bit scary the first time. But Sam didn’t seem scared. She was excited, her face lit up with it, but calm as she listed to Zoey’s reminders.
“Remember to look at the ground, so you know where you are. Once you’re down, I’ll be coming right behind you. Got it?”
And then there was no more chatter, just the usual call and response, and Sam was on her way down. Her descent was flawless, the landing uneventful, just a perfect textbook run. Sam took a few steps back, out of Zoey’s landing space, and threw herself down in the thick grass, rolling like a puppy and laughing with delight.
Zoey flew down at her own normal fast pace, feeling the familiar rush, loving the freedom and the power of the controlled fall. She touched down and got clear of the ropes, then flopped down next to Sam in the grass. The girl reached over unexpectedly and grabbed Zoey’s hand, squeezing it, offering friendship and trust along with the shared joy of their adventure.
Zoey squeezed back and couldn’t help but think it was a damn near perfect moment.
Until a shadow fell over her face. The towering shadow of a very angry man.
Sam jumped up, still breathless with excitement. “Uncle Anton, did you see? Wasn’t it amazing? I can’t wait to go again!”
But this time her uncle didn’t smile. Or even look at his niece. His attention, his rage, was focused solely on Zoey. She got slowly to her feet and braced herself. But it wasn’t enough. She was completely unprepared for the magnitude of his fury.
“How dare you,” he said, his voice like ice. “How dare you be so reckless and irresponsible.”
Zoey tried for calm, but she’d never been good at that when anyone questioned her capabilities. “I am not reckless. I am a certified instructor with hours and hours of–”
“NO. I am not interested in your goddamned experience.”
Zoey spared a glance at Sam, who was trembling and white-faced at her uncle’s outburst.
“What you did was dangerous and stupid and unforgiveable.”
Zoey opened her mouth, to say what she wasn’t even sure, but Ferraro wasn’t done.
“I trusted you to keep her safe and instead you do this. No. More. There has already been too much death in this family. I will not tolerate this.” The man was shaking with rage.
Zoey heard Sam’s gasp as, too late, realization washed over her. She hadn’t understood, hadn’t comprehended the depth of his grief, his fear. His need to protect.
“Ms. Prescott, your employment is terminated. You have one hour to pack your things.”
Her voice was quiet, subdued with guilt and regret, when she said, “It will only take me ten minutes.”
R is for Regret