Sink or Sail

sink or sail

Barbara snuck into her daughter’s bedroom. With a part favor in her mouth, she blew hard, creating a high-pitched wail.

Haley jumped nearly halfway out of bed. She breathed rapidly and looked around in a daze. When she spied her mother next to the bed, her body eased, and she relaxed back into her pillow, grunting sleepily.

“Time to get up, birthday girl!” Barbara exclaimed.

“It’s my day, I can sleep if I want to,” Haley protested.

“Not this year. This is the year.”

“Mom,” she whined.

“Come on. Aren’t you excited? Your finally sixteen!” her mother said.

The excitement bursting from Barbara was matched only in extreme by her daughter’s lethargy.

“Not really.”

“But it’s time to get your license. To be free. That’s got to be at least a little exciting.”

“I’m just anxious, mostly,” Haley admitted.

“That’s normal,” her mother said, shrugging her daughter’s concerns off.

“Really?”

“Yes. Now get up. It’s almost time for you to go and pass your test. Spread your wings and fly. Leave the nest!” her mother trailed on as she left the room.

Haley rolled her eyes at the thought. After twisting in her blankets, and not wanting another visit from her overly chipper mother, she begrudgingly got up. She started in on her morning routine, but her mind was elsewhere, thinking about the test she would have to take later.

Her hands begin to shake. She had told her mother she was anxious. Truth was, she was terrified. Most people couldn’t wait to be this age, to get their freedom, the exhilaration, some even liked the responsibility. But not Haley.

She wanted to go to her mother and tell her that she wasn’t ready. But she couldn’t. She thought of how embarrassing it would be for her mom. To be the only person in the neighborhood who’s child won’t even try. And the ridicule that Haley would have to endure herself if anyone found out. They’d call her chicken. She could already hear her so-called friends clucking at her.

But, if circumstances were out of her control, then she could buy herself another day. Maybe two. Perhaps that’d be enough to find the courage. She got ready slowly, taking an exceptionally long shower. Soon, though, she ran out of legitimate excuses, and didn’t want it to be obvious she was stalling. She needed to find another way.

She found her mother in the kitchen, trying to keep her birthday breakfast edible.

“Well, I had made your favorite, but I think it’s dead now. What took you so long?” Barbara asked.

Haley looked at the meal. Even if it had been her favorite and fresh, her stomach was tied in too many knots to allow food to pass, anyway.

“It’s okay. I’m not feeling well,” she said, not completely lying.

Her mother crossed to her, put her hand to her daughter’s head, feeling the temperature.

“You don’t feel warm.”

“It’s more like a stomach thing. Maybe you should take me to the doctor.”

Her mother smiled, knowingly, and took a seat next to her.

“I told you, honey, it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared for you. Not cause I think you’ll fail, but because I remember what it was like to be in your place. Trust me, if I thought you weren’t ready, then I’d be the first to tell you not to do it.”

“You’re sure that you’re not just worried about having a chicken daughter? What the neighbors would think?”

“Don’t call yourself that. I love you no matter what. Who cares what that flock of pretend perfect people thinks? I’ll bet you that every single person you know was afraid the day they turned sixteen.”

“Seems like they’d have every reason to be,” Haley snarked.

“Maybe. Look, if you’re bothered this much, then we don’t have to go. I’ll take you to the doctor, and you can blame it on me. But honey, it only buys you a couple days.”

“I know. Alright, let’s go. You talked me into it.”

Haley sighed nervously, and they headed out. The crushing fear grew as they neared the testing center. She ringed her hands tightly together. The testing center looked large and imposing. She had been by it many times before, but now that it was her turn, it seemed transformed into something terrifying.

Barbara escorted Haley to the registration desk. A putrid smell filled the area. As they walked, Haley noticed a pale red stain on the ground. Her mother mostly ignored it, and approached the lady behind the desk.

“You missed it,” the woman said.

“The test?” Haley asked, hopefully.

“No. There’s still time for that. Although, if you had been here early, you might have gotten sent home. We just reopened. But you did miss quite a show.”

“Aw. Have a failure today?” her mother asked the woman.

“Fraid so. First test of the day, too. Poor boy. He was just aching to get out there. Nut, you know how it is. Some just don’t launch.”

Haley turned back to the spot. It seemed to darken as she stared wide eyed. Her mother placed a hand on her shoulder.

“Don’t worry. That won’t happen to you. You know how rare it is. Makes it even less likely that you’d fail, if you think about it. Don’t let it get in your head,” the proctor said.

Barbara gave her daughter a reassuring hug.

“Ready?” the tester asked.

Unable to find her voice, Haley swallowed the dry lump in her throat, and nodded. The administrator led the way. Haley took short, stiff steps, occasionally looking back at her mother. Barbara stayed behind, smiling and waving, giving thumbs up on some glances.

Haley arrived at the elevator. They rode the long way up in silence. The ride seemed to take forever, and Haley hoped it would never end. Too soon, the doors parted. Haley stepped out, and the instructor stayed behind near the doors.

“Sink or sail!” she said to Haley.

Haley edged her way along the narrow rail. The wind whipped at her on either side, threatening to knock her off before she was ready. She dared a look down. From this height, her mother was little more than a sprout on the landscape.

Finally, she reached the edge of the platform. Her heart pounded like a hummingbird. She closed her eyes and drew in a deep breath. She reminded herself that both of her parents had done this, as well as many of her friends. She gained control of her body and steadied herself.

Will all of her will, she leaned forward, and fell.

To her surprise, the rushing air felt good on her skin. She was lighter and freer than anything she had known in her life. As she looked at the horizon, she felt peace.

It was then that she was whole. Her fall became a flight. She skimmed the air above the ground and crested back upwards. She dared a flip, then another dive, before finally coming to rest next to her mother.

“There, see? I told you that you could do it,” her mother said, smiling.

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