The Last Post
1. Jetpack LAYA
“You want me to go to France this weekend?”
“Laya, it’s Mont Blanc. It’ll be like a second honeymoon. We’ll do all the romantic things people do in France.”
“Cameron, we’ve been married for a year and we’ve gone on three second honeymoons.”
It wasn’t hard for my new, beautiful husband to talk me into jetting off to exotic locations every week for his job, but I was still working in California, trying to finish my surgery residency. I didn’t have the freedom to just pack up and go. But he was convincing; I’ll give him that.
“There will never be enough honeymoons with you. I know you have to work. I promise, it’ll be three days on Red Bull’s dime. We’ll hit Paris first—I’ll take you to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I’ll kiss you on le Pont Neuf.”
“The new bridge?” I said.
“See, your French is spot-on. That’s the literal translation, but it’s actually the oldest bridge in Paris. It’s beautiful. You’ll love it! Say you’ll go with me. Please, Laya?”
We were standing in our tiny kitchen in the San Francisco studio we rented. Cameron stared at me with puppy-dog eyes while I wiped down the counter. I wanted to go with him to France, but I had asked for time off once already that month, and I was still just a surgery resident at the hospital.
“What is the stunt you’re doing?”
He came up and wrapped his arms around me from behind, brushing his lips against my neck. “Just gonna”—he ran slow kisses all the way from behind my ear and down to my shoulder—“do some . . . skiing,” he said.
I turned and glared at him playfully. “Just some skiing, huh?”
Cameron did dangerous stunts for his sponsor, Red Bull. He also did dangerous stunts for fun, too. It was in his DNA.
“The Louvre,” I finally said, straight-faced.
He kissed my cheek. “It’s very touristy. It’s where the Mona Lisa is. Kind of overrated, Laya.”
“I know.” I rolled my eyes at him. “That’s my one condition. I’ll get the time off if you promise to take me to the Louvre.”
“Mona Lisa, here we come.” He smacked me on the butt before turning and walking down the hall.
A week later I was racing to the airport to meet Cameron. My Uber driver was going at least ten miles an hour below the speed limit. I was scrolling through my phone, trolling Facebook, when a notification popped up.
CAMERON BENNETT to LAYA BENNETT
Waiting for you at the airport and staring at all your gorgeous pictures. Get your buns down here. Three. Two. One. See ya.
Every time I met Cameron at the airport, he would run up to me, yelling like we hadn’t seen each other in years.
I saw him the moment I walked through the glass doors leading to our terminal. With his arms outstretched, he shouted, “Laya! Is that you? Laya Bennett? My god, you’re as stunning as ever.” He picked me up and swung me around. I was still wearing scrubs with my hair in a bun and no makeup on.
“Put me down—everyone is looking at us.”
“Everyone is looking at you. Everyone is always looking at you ’cause you’re so goddamn beautiful.”
“Cameron, this is the last trip I can take with you for a while. I’m in hot water at the hospital.”
“Okay, okay. I won’t beg again. Or maybe I will.” He was still holding me in the air, kissing every inch of my face.
“And, seriously, put me down.”
He finally listened, but he dipped me first like we were doing the tango. When he popped me up, he said, “You’re not excited to see Paris? You’ve never been. First thing we’ll do is go see the Mona Lisa, and then we’ll just hang out naked in the hotel room after that.” He said the last bit with overexaggerated enthusiasm, well aware I wasn’t buying it.
“I know you. You can’t sit still in a hotel room for more than an hour, naked or not. Let’s go.” I yanked on his hand and pulled him toward the security line.
We had first-class seats on the plane. Red Bull spared no expense. Both of us were exhausted by the time we began taxiing toward the runway. We skipped the welcome champagne and fell asleep on each other’s shoulders. My dream was vivid, more of a memory than anything made up. It was from the day Cameron and I had met in a tiny triage room at the hospital where I worked.
“How did you shatter your arm, Mr. Bennett?” I asked Cameron. He lounged on the exam table as if he were resting at home and not at the hospital.
“Do you skydive often?”
“As often as I can.”
I popped Cameron’s X-ray onto the light board and studied it. “So, did you have a rough landing?”
“Yeah, you can say that. I need to get back to skiing soon, though. What can you do for me? How long do you think the recovery will be?” He shamelessly winked at me and smiled.
“I’ll need to check with the surgeon. We’ll take X-rays over the next week to see how you’re healing. You may not need surgery at all. I’ll order an MRI. If the ligaments are intact—”
“I have a thing in two weeks.”
“A skiing thing.”
I chuckled, then stopped abruptly when I realized he was seriously considering skiing with a shattered arm. “I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t think you’ll be skiing anytime soon.”
“Yeah, but I don’t use poles, so you know, my arm’s not
really a factor.” He sat up, the white paper crinkling underneath him. “By the way, you have magical eyes.”
“Okay, I’m a little confused. Do you think you’re actually going skiing in two weeks with four fractures in your arm?”
“Ummm, not really.”
His lips turned up at the corners. “Will you go out with me?”
I had started choking, and then a miserable coughing fit ensued, so he got down and started patting my back with his good hand. It was a wildly unprofessional scene. “Excuse . . . me.”
“Was it something I said?”
“Mr. Bennett,” I reiterated. “I would really advise you not to do any sporting activities until your arm is fully healed.”
“It’s my job, though, Doctor Marston.” He had emphasized the formality of my name as if to prove a point.
“I’m going to get your regular doctor to take a look at this and evaluate it.” The moment I turned toward the door, my face broke into a smile. I was already putty in his hands, but I still tried for a while to hide it. We got married a year later.
* * *
WHEN I WOKE up on the plane, we were already making our descent into Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris. I lifted my head and blinked against the sun beaming through the window. Cameron was awake and watching me.
“You were talking in your sleep. It was adorable,” he said.
I laughed. “What was I saying?”
“You said something like, ‘Just skiing, my ass.’?”
“Ha! Well, I never did get full disclosure about the stunt you’re doing this weekend. And if I recall, thanks to my dream, you lied to me the very first day we met about ‘just skiing.’?”
“It wasn’t a lie. Maybe an omission, not a lie.”
“Well, you’ve omitted some pretty important details.”
Cameron chuckled. “I’m going to do a wingsuit flight after I ski off Mont Blanc.”
My heart started racing. The wingsuit flights scared me, but I knew he loved them. He was the best at it, and I shouldn’t have worried. I never wanted to second-guess him. He was a professional risk taker, if there was such a thing. I’d learned very early on in our relationship that Cameron practiced obsessively, meticulously planning every stunt he did, and he trusted his team.
“I know it scares you, Laya, but I’ve done it a million times here. It’s a popular mountain for this. Low mortality rate.”
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?”
He tried desperately to change the subject, but he was digging a deeper and deeper hole. “It’s the highest peak in all the Alps. You’ll be as close to space as you might ever get. Isn’t that something to look forward to?”
He knew I loved everything involving space travel. It was an obsession I’d had since childhood. “We were closer to space when we were up in the air.”
He tapped the side of my head with his index finger.
“Okay, smarty. How’d I land a doctor anyway? I can accept that I married a woman much smarter than me, if you can accept that I know what I’m doing.”
“Then let’s go see the Louvre,” he said.
After going through customs and checking in to our hotel, we went, we saw, we stood in a long line to see the Mona Lisa. Not that it wasn’t worth it, though Cameron did comment continuously on how small it was. I had already known that fact, and we enjoyed our time there anyway.
“What should we do after we see the new bridge?” I asked, as we strolled hand in hand through the beautiful Place Dauphine square toward le Pont Neuf. It exuded Old World charm with its gray architecture and cobbled road, contrasting against the people sitting in outdoor cafés, chatting on or scrolling through their phones. Other tourists took pictures, but Cameron and I were happy to just experience all of it.
We paused to let a bicyclist pass. “It’s the oldest bridge, silly,” Cameron said.
Just as we got to the sidewalk, he whipped me around and kissed me.
“I like romantic, Cameron,” I said.
“Do you like me enough not to be mad when I tell you I have to get back soon?”
My smile faded quickly. I wanted to spend more time with Cameron, but he was always being swept off to this place or that by his team. There was little time in the hotel room—naked, as he had said.
The rest of the day was spent entirely on prepping for the stunt. Red Bull set me up in a little chalet near the base
of the mountain, so I could do work on transcribing medical reports on my computer while Cameron practiced. I promised him that I’d be there at the top the next day when they planned to film him for the ad campaign. He said I was his good-luck charm.
The next morning six of us piled into a helicopter and headed for the top where Red Bull had set up.
Over the headset speaker Cameron said, “Two hours max and then we’ll be back in that cozy little chalet.”
When the helicopter landed near the cliff edge, Cameron hopped out with his skis. He reached out his hand to help me down from the helicopter bar. Right in that moment, a gust of wind came rushing at us. The helicopter pilot had to adjust the rotors, and in the process it kicked up a blinding cloud of powdered snow.
Cameron grabbed me and pulled my head into his chest while throwing his skis to the side at the same time. Once we were on more stable footing and the helicopter was gone, Cameron became eerily quiet. I hoped he was just mentally preparing for the stunt.
“Are you nervous? Was that a bad sign when we landed?” I asked him.
“No, Laya, I’m not nervous. I’m excited. I live for this.” He pinched my cheek and smiled. “And you know I’m not superstitious. Stuff like that happens all the time.”
I took him in. His wild blond hair was a stark contrast to his warm brown eyes. He blinked twice at me, then squeezed his eyes closed for a whole two seconds before opening them.
“Are you trying to wink at me?” I asked.
“No. I just want to make sure what I’m seeing is real.”
“What are you seeing?”
“The love of my life.”
“Quit gushing over me when you know I’m freaking out. It doesn’t help.” I leaned up and kissed him quickly.
He pulled away and stared at me for several long seconds before saying, “So I haven’t convinced you yet? I got you to marry me, but you’re still skeptical?”
“Are you fishing, Cameron Bennett?”
“I thought I already caught you,” he said.
“You did. You’re the love of my life. Is that what you want to hear?”
“Is it true?” he said with a knowing smirk.
“Well, I’m freezing my ass off on the top of a mountain with you, so believe it.”
“Ahh, see . . . that does help, for me anyway. Now tell me you’ll fix me up if I break my arm again.”
I shivered, not because of the cold. “Please don’t talk like that.”
“Well . . . I’m waiting . . . ”
“I’ll always fix you up, you crazy man.”
He made a spectacle out of kissing me for a long time in front of everyone. The crowd behind us, waiting for Cameron, all whooped and hollered. Someone yelled, “Get a room,” and Cameron laughed.
After our kiss we were instantly surrounded by the Red Bull film team, who bombarded Cameron with questions. It was hard to have a moment alone with him when he was in work mode, but he tried.
At one point, I barked at a cameraman whose name I didn’t know. “Can you give him some space so he can prep?” My anxiety was setting in again.
Cameron turned to me and said, “You lookin’ out for me, doc?”
“That’s what I’m here for.”
He grabbed my chin with his thumb and index finger and said, “You’re perfect, do you know that?” There was a solemn tone in his voice that sent another shiver down my spine. He knew I was nervous for him. In a weird, childish thought, I wished he were wearing a jetpack instead of a thin wingsuit.
When everything was set up and he was ready to go, he turned to me and smiled a big cheesy grin. I knew he lived for the thrill, but I wanted to cling to his warmth a bit longer. “See you on the other side,” he said.
It was the same thing James Lovell had said to mission control on the Apollo 8 spaceflight just before they were about to disappear behind the moon. Cameron always said it to me before he did a stunt. But this time I scoffed when he said it. I don’t know why, but it just didn’t feel right.
“Count me down,” he whispered, just loud enough for me to hear over the gusting wind.
“Three.” I paused.
“Come on, Laya, you must be hypothermic by now. Hurry up.”
“Two. One. See ya.”
He winked, pulled down his goggles, and said, “See ya.” Then he was gone. He took off skiing to my right, and I shielded myself from the snowy debris left in his wake. He smoothly descended downhill. Once he went off the edge, he did a backflip and released his skis before going into his wingsuit flight.
Everything was going as planned. I had seen him do the same maneuver more than twenty times. I was happy when he came back our way, skimming the mountainside in his bright red wingsuit with the big Red Bull logo on it.
I turned to his friend Jeremy and said, “Does everything look right? Does he seem too close?”
Jeremy shook his head, but there was something in his pause before he actually spoke. “He’s got this.” I tried to read his eyes, but he was wearing sunglasses.
As soon as Cameron rounded the sharp edge below, I blinked. He was gone. There was a loud sound, like lightning striking a tree branch. Where did he go? Then silence. Not even the sound of the wind could pierce my shock. Where did he go?
Moments later, I heard yelling, saw people racing toward the cliff edge. The cameramen were no longer filming. I followed them, walking dangerously close to the edge of the cliff, but Jeremy grabbed my arm. “No, Laya.”
“I have to see,” I mumbled.
“No, no you don’t.”
I yanked my arm out of his, inched forward, and peered over the top of the cliff face. My heart stopped. “What is that?”
Jeremy didn’t answer.
“What is that?” I repeated in a higher pitch, but I knew. I just knew.
* * *
WHEN WE’RE TOLD “He or she died on impact,” it’s supposed to make us feel better, to stop our thoughts about our loved one suffering, alone. But is there a second just before
the end that is full of agony and hell and hopelessness? If there is, I hoped Cameron didn’t feel any of it.
In bed, when we close our eyes, sometimes we know we’re about to fall asleep, but we still fight it. Like when you’re watching a good movie and you don’t want it to end, but you’re so tired. Then you wake up in the morning and you can’t recall the exact moment you actually fell asleep. For Cameron, I hoped it was like falling asleep without knowing you’re falling asleep—a blissful moment and then you’re dreaming about making love. About kissing, about touching your lover’s body, about watching the sun set over the ocean . . . about promising eternal happiness with the person you’ll end up being with for the rest of your life . . . his life.