Any long-distance relationship has its difficulties, but for Susan Markham, still singed from a divorce years past, the separation from the new man in her life allows doubts and insecurities to grow. Ty Reynolds is determined not to let this new relationship fall apart, though, and plans a romantic getaway to reconnect. Is that enough, or will he have to take stronger measures?
BDSM category: spanking only
NO EXPLICIT EROTIC SCENES but not suitable for under age 18
Ty could hear her for several minutes before he could see her.
He was sitting in the small classroom waiting for pre-flight instruction for his first flight--one might say "maiden flight" but not after looking at Ty--on a hang glider. It was something he had longed to do for years, and he was anxious to get going. The lesson was set to start at 10:00, but he and his reluctant accomplice, Kent, had been at the school's office a half-hour early. Ty didn't intend to miss a minute of his adventure. After signing the release forms, he waited impatiently as the small classroom began to fill. There were to be no more than 15 in the novice session so they could be guaranteed at least five flights each before the day was out. A quick count confirmed that there were more than a dozen people in the room. What was the delay?
Kent's voice, amused and lazy, interrupted his irritation. "Chill out, Ty. It's not even 10:00 yet. Give 'em a break." Ty's response was to shove his left wrist in front of Kent's face. The digital readout was 10:02. Kent snickered. "I stand corrected. I was using their clock." He gestured to the corner where an old clock, perhaps the sole surviving timepiece from a 1950s school building, hung. Ty wondered whether it was even reset for daylight savings time or if they just let it even out six months later. The minute hand made a shuddering move forward as the second hand swept by the twelve. It looked to be about six or seven minutes before ten. He sighed heavily.
In a deliberate effort to subdue--or at least hide--his impatience, Ty resettled himself in the too-small desk against the back wall. Out in the lobby, he could still hear the woman's voice. She was obviously complaining about something, but she was not irate. In fact, she seemed calmly puzzled at the reaction she was getting.
"But that's absurd," she said. "Nobody could be expected to sign a release like that. I never would have registered her for the lesson if I'd known what the release was like." There were low murmurs from the kid on the other side of the counter, but Ty couldn't tell whether they were conciliatory or not.
The woman continued, "You make a big deal about the reservations being non-refundable, but you locked me into a contract I hadn't even seen."
"It's not a contract, ma'am; it's just a release," answered the unfortunate clerk. If it was the same kid that had checked Ty in, he was probably no more than 17 or 18 and looked like he'd never been off the dunes except maybe to go surfing. Shoes were probably a winter necessity, but it was April now, and they were already history. The poor kid was no match for the woman on the other side of the counter.
"It is a contract," she insisted, "and I'm not happy with it. Look, here, why don't we just cross out this paragraph? Then we can both sign here and we'll be ready for class."
A different voice entered the conversation, an older, more confident one. "What seems to be the problem? I'm the owner of the school. Maybe I can help."
The woman patiently began again. "Well, I signed my daughter up for your introductory class. I paid for it in town, but now this young man says she can't fly unless I sign this release. And it's absurd. I don't think I've ever seen one that abrogates so much responsibility. So I suggested that we remove this one section here, but I gather he doesn't have the authority. But you do, right?"
He dodged the question. "It's just a standard release. It what our lawyers say we need."
"Yes, I'm sure they do, but there's nothing standard about it."
He tried to distract her by telling her that they'd had virtually no accidents and that all the instructors were experienced, certified teachers with a minimum of 4 years teaching experience. He repeated lines Ty recognized from the brochure and from the beginning of the release about hang gliding being an inherently dangerous sport but how safety conscious they were in instruction. He ended by reminding her that they could not be held responsible if someone failed to follow safety precautions. Ty could imagine him then sliding the release back to her for her signature.
She was undeterred. "Oh, I understand that. And if my daughter does something foolish, I'm willing to take the blame for that. But it says here that you are not responsible even if you don't teach her the right thing to do."
"Oh, no. Our safety orientation is very good. In fact you're welcome to stay for that, for the whole day if you want. You'll see: Safety is our number one goal." The guy seemed to think that settled it. Ty smiled. He could already predict that it wouldn't.
"Right. I hear what you're saying, but the release says that I have no recourse even if you are negligent in your instruction."
In the classroom, several heads came up in surprise, and Ty was aware that he was not the only one following the argument in the lobby. To his right, Kent was unfolding his salmon-colored copy of the release they had all signed and was studying it carefully.
The woman in the lobby continued. "So what I'm suggesting is that we line through that paragraph, and then my daughter can take the class. How would that be?"
To his right, Kent muttered, "God, she's right. Did you read this?" No, neither one had read it. It was two pages of small print and each had simply signed at the bottom. Throughout the room, there were furrowed brows and quiet exchanges of concern.
Back in the lobby, the owner said, "No, I'm sorry. We're not allowed to do that. Insurance requirements, you know."
"Yes," she returned. "I'm sure your insurance company prefers it this way, but I don't understand how you can take reservations--nonrefundable reservations--and then drop this kind of document on me minutes before class is supposed to start." Actually, Ty thought, checking his watch, it was now nearly 10 minutes after class was supposed to start, but she was right. Allowing for time to read the release, she had probably been there 20 or 30 minutes. And she was right about their repeated reminders that the cost was transferable but non-refundable. He had read it on the website and been reminded when he phoned in his confirmation, and it was prominent on the confirmation he received in the mail and on signs in the lobby.
So he was surprised by the next words from the owner. "I will refund your money."
Ty heard the first note of uncertainty in the woman's voice. "Well, my daughter really wants to fly."
There was silence. The entire classroom was following the conversation again. After a long pause, the woman said, with renewed conviction, "You know, I bet a good lawyer would be able to shoot that release full of holes. Fine. I'll sign it. There. Okay? And I will take you up on your offer to sit in. That's the classroom, right?"
As her voice came closer, 15 heads swung around to focus on the TV monitor in the front of the room. It was off.
The owner followed the woman into the classroom, then passed her and proceeded to the front where he fiddled with the VCR. Ty stood, indicating that the woman should take his seat. She smiled and shook her head. "No, I'm really not part of the class. You go ahead."
He chuckled and said, "You'd be doing me a favor. I haven't sat in one of those desks since junior high, and they haven't improved any. Too small then and too small now."
She assessed him as though trying to decide if he was being noble or honest. He was, in fact, a big man. Tall and solidly built, with a stance that somehow seemed aggressive even though he was supposedly relaxed. She imagined that he was a man used to getting his way. And this seemed like such a little thing. "Thank you," she said softly as she slid into the desk. He was right about the size too. Though easily five inches shorter than the desk's most recent occupant, she was not short. In flats, which is almost exclusively what she wore, she was still just over five-foot-seven. Her knees bumped against the bottom of the ancient desktop.
Up front, looking a little more harried than he did in the photos on the website, the owner began his introduction. He laid out the schedule for the day: watching the orientation video, fitting gear, hiking to the dunes, and taking turns for a series of flights. Each time he mentioned a safety point, he seemed to look directly at the woman sitting in the back of the room, as if checking that she was listening. Ty found himself increasingly annoyed with the twerp, but the woman sat quietly, apparently unruffled by the attention. Maybe she was used to the patronizing attitude; maybe she got it a lot.
She had been inordinately cool during her entire exchange in the lobby, never raising her voice or becoming shrill. She was assertive, that was the word. Not in the way it had come to be used to excuse rudeness, but in its intended meaning: she was clearly expressing her convictions and unwilling to be put off. She acted as though, if they simply understood what she was saying, they would naturally agree with her. Ty's view was much more cynical. Experience was a cruel teacher.
The room was darkened for the orientation video, and Ty leaned against the wall, half-watching the video and half-watching the young woman. Well, she was younger than he was, anyway. At 40, he realized he had technically crossed into middle age, but it hadn't quite sunk in yet, and he thought of himself as young. She probably wasn't more than 35 or so. Pretty too. Dark hair in short curls that had already been scrambled by the wind of the Outer Banks. As the tape droned on about the importance of listening to the instructors, Ty's eyes tried to pick out the daughter who was going to fly. It wasn't hard. Of the 14 other students most were male, and several others were too old. There were only three real contenders and he bet on the brunette sitting in the front and paying rapt attention to the video. She must already have been in the classroom when her mother was arguing in the lobby, he realized. That certainly seemed presumptuous. Was it possible she was so spoiled that she knew her mother would eventually give in? He snorted derisively.
"Is there something wrong?" came the soft voice, startling him. He looked around in sudden surprise and realized the small room was full of activity. The lights were back on and people were collecting bags and shuffling toward the door.
He looked away from the concerned brunette and tried to find Kent. What was going on? Kent's smug amusement made it clear he'd been caught out, but he helpfully provided Ty the clue he obviously needed. "Ready to get fitted for harnesses, Ty?"
"Yeah, sure, be right there." He flashed a quick smile at the brunette still in the desk. "Are you going up to the dunes?" he asked pleasantly. She appeared to give it a moment's consideration before she nodded her assent. "Good," he said, with another smile.
As they waited their turns outside an equipment room, Kent nudged his buddy. "What was with you in there? You seemed to kind of zone out. Is this seeming a little less fun than before? Because," he grinned slyly, "I'm willing to back out if you are. It's not too late to go swimming."
"It's too cold for swimming," Ty answered absently. It was the reality of April in North Carolina. The sun reflecting off the vast sand dunes gave a false sense of warm weather, but it was still early spring. The water was probably close to 50 degrees. And they hadn't come all the way from Boston to freeze in the Atlantic.
Kent was undeterred. "Then we could get buy a couple of those big box kites and go learn to fly them. If you're having reservations about hang gliding, that is."
It was no secret that Kent had his own reservations. Ty had goaded him into the trip, with subtle suggestions that anyone who would be scared to glide 10 to 15 feet off the ground (the brochure's limit for novice flyers' class) could not have been as wild as Kent had claimed to be in his youth. He had faltered at that, but the deciding factor was Ty's unusually candid statement that hang gliding was how he wanted to spend his fortieth birthday and he really wanted Kent along with him. Kent agreed. "Besides," Ty had told him with mock gravity, "If something happens, I want you to bring the body home." Somehow that had not been the reassurance Kent needed to hear.
So he would have been perfectly willing to leave the harnesses on their hooks in the equipment room and adjourn to the nearest bar to celebrate Ty's birthday in a more conventional manner. No such luck.
"Nope, not having any reservations at all. I was just thinking about ... other stuff. Steel yourself, young Kent. You are going hang gliding." He shoved him to the doorway where Kent could take his turn slipping into the harness. Somehow the instructor sorted out the confusing tangle of nylon straps and buckles, identifying what he claimed were leg-holes, and Kent dutifully stepped into the indicated openings. Fwip, whoosh, clamp, and the whole thing was buckled on him. Seconds later he was standing outside the small flying school building as Ty was strapped into his own harness. Kent found himself tugging at the straps in an effort to settle things more comfortably; it seemed strangely confining for something with so much open space. He couldn't see the ring on the back of his own harness where the glider would snap on, but as the group of students grew on the porch, he could see plainly what the safety film had shown. The harness looked something like a life vest, and the nylon straps that secured it met in the back where a D-ring awaited the attachment of the clip that would serve as a safety anchor. The helmet he held in his hand did not seem reassuring.
A few minutes later, the whole ensemble was trudging across the sands to a dune that, to Kent's untrained eye, looked exactly like every other pile of sand they had seen since arriving in North Carolina. Leading the group were the three instructors toting collapsed hang gliders. Kent couldn't bring himself to call them "kites" which conjured up images of giggling children and rag-and-string tails, but he had come to understand that along the Outer Banks the word "kite" had much more import than it did in New England. Back home, kites were something children played with for a few weeks in March. He could remember his own frustrated efforts to get a balky kite to launch, for a brief, uncertain flight, until eventually it would tangle, Charlie-Brown-like, in a tree.
Along the Outer Banks, though, the humble kite was held in a kind of reverence. The area, which had once drawn the Wright Brothers for their initial testing of a glider-plane, boasted predictable winds, wide open spaces, and the relative softness of sand for smooth landings. It was a Mecca for hang gliders. But it wasn't just the big kites for gliding. Throughout the dunes that stretched as far along the coast as he could see, there were hundreds of people flying kites on strings.
As they continued to trudge across the dunes, they saw everything from kites being assembled on site from nothing more than newspaper, string, and tape to elaborate nylon dragons stretching over 30 feet in length bobbing effortlessly in the air. There was none of the futile running to keep the kites aloft that he remembered from childhood. In fact, oddly, most of the kite flyers here were adults--young, middle-aged, and senior citizens--but all with the same expression of relaxed enchantment as they studied their wind-borne kites. One guy had a fanciful shark kite that had multiple strings he was playing expertly to force the shark into repeated dives at the sand only to bring it back up each time with a twist of his wrist to arc gracefully into the sky again. No, this was definitely not kite-flying as he knew it.
As they climbed yet another dune, still apparently short of their destination, Kent tried to find Ty to share his observation, but Ty was well ahead, just trailing the instructors. That didn't surprise Kent. He had lost enough games of racquetball to know Ty was in better physical condition. What surprised him was that even as Ty struggled up the side of the dune, he seemed to be deep in conversation with the woman they had overheard arguing contracts with the school's owner.