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It’s a long way down when you’re jumping off a cliff

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Erica was feeling frustrated, anxious, and impatient.  It wasn’t how she wanted her evening with Franky to start.  The 90 minute flight back to Melbourne seemed to take forever.  Boarding had been delayed, something odd in the pre-flight check the pilot had said.  Then they missed their departure spot and seemed to sit on the tarmac forever waiting in the queue for takeoff.  


“Oh for God’s sake,” she muttered when the pilot announced they were in a holding pattern 40 kilometres from Melbourne while they waited for an opportunity to land.


“Nervous flyer?” Her neighbour asked sympathetically.  


He was a fifty something business man.  His hair was streaked with silver giving him a debonair look.  Despite his suave looks, he had kind eyes.  “No,” she corrected his assumption, “just running late.  I have a dinner date,” she added impulsively, sharing more than she needed to.  She felt herself smiling.


“Well I’m sure he’ll be willing to wait,” he said, smiling in return.


Her smile continued automatically.  It was the type of exchange she’d had countless times in her adult life.  Men acknowledging her looks and their appreciation was just a part of the decor.


Only it wasn’t a man who would be waiting for her.  It was Franky.  A woman.  Suddenly she felt like a fraud, like she was somehow betraying Franky by not acknowledging this.  She had recognised on a conceptual level the difficulties of living a life that was outside the norm but this seemed to be the first moment she’d experienced it in a practical sense.  People made assumptions all the time, and those assumptions were that everyone was normal, and wanted what they wanted.  They assumed this despite the obvious and continuous contradictory examples presented to them in the news and in their workplaces.  


“I hope she will,” she answered, refusing to emphasise the pronoun or acknowledge the assumption.


To be fair, he didn’t bat an eyelid.  “She’s a lucky girl,” he said.


“I don’t know,” Erica refuted his statement.  “She’s so brave, and funny, and charming.  She has a beautiful smile and eyes that are so mesmerising.”  Erica smiled.  “When she’s being sincere she has this vulnerability that is just so raw and honest.  She didn’t have the best childhood and yet despite that she is optimistic and hopeful.  I actually think I’m the lucky one.”  


“She sounds special,” he replied.


“She is,” Erica said with certainty.


The plane straightened up and the flight attendant announced that they had commenced their descent.  Erica felt all the excitement and anticipation that had been building since Franky had confirmed their date pool in the pit of her stomach.  It was silly to feel such nervous excitement given she and Franky had already progressed well beyond the first date stage.  But she would see Franky tonight after weeks of separation and she had sorted out her life since then.  She was now available and the future looked bright and for the first time she felt ready to commit to it.  For her at least she felt as though it was the beginning of something.


She was waiting at the baggage carousels wondering if she’d get a taxi straight away or would have to wait.  If she got one straight away she thought she’d have time for a bath before needing to get ready for her date.


Suddenly she was grabbed from behind, hands sliding around her waist and pulling her back against soft curves.  Warm lips kissed her exposed neck and she heard a familiar laugh.  “Hello!  You’re looking fucking gorgeous!”


“Franky!” She exclaimed as she turned in the embrace to find Franky’s dancing green eyes admiring her.  She kissed her, then brought her hands up to hold her close.  “What are you doing here?”  She asked eventually.


“I couldn’t wait,” Franky confessed.  


“But how did you know I’d be on this flight?” Erica asked, perplexed.


“You texted me complaining your flight had been delayed by twenty minutes and you were only just boarding, remember?” Erica nodded.  “Well, I just got on line and found a flight from Sydney that was due to depart twenty minutes before you sent that message.  Wasn’t hard,” she said nonchalantly.


Erica caressed her cheek and kissed her again.  “Well it’s a very nice surprise,” she murmured.  She glanced down at her leg.  Franky was wearing denim cutoff shorts and the leg that had been injured was bare.  “How’s your fibula?”


Franky laughed and showed her the scar from the surgery.  “Pretty good, still got some more sessions with the physio before I get the all clear to go back to work though.”


Erica was happy that Franky would be in town for a little longer at least.  She knew it was selfish of her and Franky was probably dying to get back to the bush.


A man edged passed them to get his bag.  He collected his suitcase almost taking them out as he pulled it off the carousel.  “I’m sorry,” he said quickly as he brought the offending suitcase under control.  He glanced up at them with a rueful smile.  It was the same man who had been sitting next to Erica on the plane.  “Oh hello,” he said with a smile.  His eyes flicked to Franky and back to Erica.  “Enjoy your evening.” He smiled in farewell.  


“Thank you,” Erica said, smiling in return.  


“Do you know him?” Franky asked, as she watched the man walk away.


“Not really, I met him on the plane, we were chatting, about you actually,” Erica confessed.  


“Yeah? What did you tell him?” Franky asked with a grin.  “How hot I am?”


Erica rolled her eyes.  “Something like that,” she agreed.


They shared a taxi into town.  “I wanted a bath but I’ll be pushing it now,” Erica lamented.


“We can have a bath if you want,” Franky suggested, “it’ll have to be at your mum’s place though cos Boomer doesn’t have one.”  


Erica had a mental image of being sprung in the bath with Franky by her mother.  She shuddered.  “Well that’s not going to happen,” she replied.  She could see Franky was grinning.  “You were joking,” she acknowledged.  


“Not about having a bath with you,” she poked her tongue out and grinned wickedly.  


Erica couldn’t help but smile back at her.  God, she had missed this woman and her irreverent attitude.


“But first,” Franky went on more seriously.


“Dinner,” Erica nodded.


“But first,” Franky repeated deliberately, “I’m gonna wrap your legs around my waist and drive you through a wall.”  Erica swallowed.  “Think about that while you’re having your bath,” Franky murmured in her ear as she leant into Erica putting her hand on Erica’s leg and pressing her thumb into her inner thigh.


“I’ll be late if I have a bath,” Erica said a little breathlessly.


Franky returned her side of the back seat of the taxi.  “Nah, you won’t, I pushed back the booking when I heard your flight was delayed,” she said with satisfaction, as though she knew Erica would need time to wash away the travel, and the week.


Erica leant across and kissed her impulsively on the cheek.  “God I love,” she saw Franky’s eyebrows go up at her words, “the way you think.”  She finished with, her own teasing smile curling the corners of her mouth.


“I reckon that’s not all you love about me,” Franky replied confidently.  She turned her head and kissed Erica soundly, thereby claiming the last word.


Two hours later Erica was clean, relaxed, and dressed to kill.  She had thought a lot about the dress she wanted to wear.  She wasn’t entirely sure where Franky would take her but when they had initially talked about a date the conversation had been around how each of them would scrub up.  She wanted something sexy in a classy, elegant way.  She wanted to take Franky’s breath away.  She wanted her undivided attention.  She chose a floating black chiffon dress that flounced lightly just above her knees.  It had a halter neck which showed off the clean lines of her collar bone and shoulders.  It pulled in at the waist emphasising her slim figure before dropping lightly over her hips.  The lightness of the material giving a suggestion of legs beneath.   She chose a simple silver bangle and delicate chain to wear on her respective wrists.  She finished the outfit with a pair of stiletto high heels which left her foot bare but for a leather band around her ankle and another across her foot just above her toes.  She chose these because they were the antithesis of her hiking boots and emphasised her calves.  She deliberated over her hair but ultimately chose to wear it down, dropping in soft ringlets which caressed her bare shoulders.


Now she was waiting for Franky.  They had agreed to make their own way to dinner as they were located on opposite sides of the city.  Erica’s mother had dropped her on the way to the theatre.  A situation that had reminded Erica awkwardly of first dates as a teenager.  She vowed to pick an apartment without further delay.  She needed her own space and her own life back.  The address Franky had given was in a part of Melbourne Erica didn’t know.  The entrance had looked less than salubrious and her mother had frowned.


“How will you get home?” she had asked as Erica stepped out of the car.


“I’ll be fine.  Don’t wait up,” Erica had replied as she had closed the door.  It had sounded dismissive and rude.  “Have a nice night with your friends,” she had added to soften her words.


She entered the slightly battered metal door somewhat apprehensive herself of what might be behind it.  She relaxed when she found herself in a dimly lit narrow room panelled with dark wood.  A long bar dominated the space, its surface a polished piece of warm, rich timber.  A hipster in black pants, shirt and tie with a waiter’s vest manned the space behind the bar.  And behind him row on row of whiskey bottles stretching the length of the bar.  Her eyes searched for Franky amongst the mainly male clientele.  When she decided she wasn’t there she took up residence at one of the small tables lining the wall opposite the bar.  She could tell this was a top notch whiskey bar from her quick review of the bottles lining the shelves.  She wondered how Franky had discovered it given she had never mentioned being a scotch drinker and it didn’t seem into self-promotion.  She wasn’t even sure what it was called.  She was looking around curiously when the door opened.


Franky was standing in its frame, softly lit and looking incredible.  Having only really seen Franky in her work clothes Erica somehow imagined she would still look like an outdoors type even in her evening wear.  She didn’t.  She was transformed into this stunning woman light years from the casual sexy guide.  She was in a tight red dress that stopped mid thigh showing off her long slim tanned legs and black high heels that Erica felt sure Franky’s doctor wouldn’t approve of.  Her hair was down and artistically messy giving her a slightly playful look.  The dress was sleeveless and the neckline was a flattering v shape showing a glimpse of Franky’s tattoo at the top of her left breast.  The look was simple, stylish, and undeniably sexy.  All this Erica absorbed in the few seconds it took for Franky to find her in the crowd.  Then Franky was smiling, raising her eyebrows, stepping forward to greet her, her eyes never leaving her, her admiration apparent.


“Hi,” Erica said as Franky took her hand and drew her in, kissing her lightly.


“Hi,” Franky replied, “welcome to our date.”  She grinned then leant in.  “Is it wrong that I want to start by fucking you against this bar?”  She murmured.  


An image of Franky’s skilful fingers driving her wild immediately came into Erica’s head.  “What do you think?”  Franky asked, but she wasn’t asking for approval of her scheme, she was talking about their surroundings,


Erica drew her mind back to reality.  “It’s very masculine,” she replied, “how did you find it?” 


They approached the bar.


Franky laughed “Yeah, well John told me about it,” she replied, “he’s into whiskey.”


“John?”  Erica frowned, “John from the hike?” She exclaimed.  “When did you talk to him?”


“When I started planning our first date,” Franky said with a grin.


“And when was that?” Erica asked curiously.  She thought it must have been the night at the thermal spring when Franky had correctly guessed her favourite drink was scotch.


“The day I met you,” she said as she turned to the bartender, engaging him in conversation.


Erica smiled.  “That is just like you,” she replied when the bartender had gone away to fill their orders.  “You’re so cocky you’d plan a date before you even knew if I was interested.”


Franky turned to face her.  “Oh I knew,” she said.  “You look beautiful by the way.”


“Thank you,” Erica acknowledged the compliment, “but don’t change the subject, how did you know?”


“You were flirting with me,” she said nonchalantly.


“I was not!  You!”  Erica put a finger on Franky’s chest.  “You were flirting with me.  Talking about how good my butt felt in your hands.”


Franky laughed.  “Yeah, and you remember it, admit it you were hooked from day one.”  


Erica wasn’t going to deny it.  “Well, so were you.”


Franky handed her a glass of arctic single malt scotch.  Her green eyes held Erica’s.  “Yes, I was,” she said sincerely.


Erica found herself staring into those mesmerising eyes.  Everything and everyone faded into the background with the intensity of that moment.  Her mind was racing with thoughts too fast to hold on to any single one.  She didn’t want to rush the night though, they had waited too long for this moment, been through too much.  She reigned in her galloping senses and forced herself to concentrate on what Franky was saying.


“Dan is back to his best,” she told Erica.  “He led a trek out to the Western Arthurs on Monday.”


“I’m glad he has fully recovered,” Erica paused.  “I suppose you’re wishing you were out there with him,” she suggested gently.


Franky shrugged.  “Nah, no point rushing it, besides I get to hang out with you’.  She smiled and leant closer to Erica.  “I’ve been thinking about you a lot,” she confessed.  “I’ve missed hanging out with you.”


“I’ve missed you too,” Erica admitted.  


“It’s made me realise this isn’t going to work.”  Franky was frowning and Erica could feel her own frown forming.  “It’s just gonna be too hard with me being away for two or three weeks at a time.”


“Franky, we haven’t even tried yet,” Erica could feel everything she wanted slipping through her fingers.  This wasn’t how the evening was supposed to go.


“I have Erica, loads of times, and it never works,” she sounded resigned.


“Okay,” Erica conceded, “but are you just going to quit?”  She felt slightly hysterical.


“Yeah,” Franky replied, “I think I am.”  She kept talking but all Erica could hear was white noise.  Franky wasn’t prepared to take a risk on her.  The risk taking guide didn’t think their odds were worth a bet.


She interrupted her.  “Well I’m not willing to give up on us,” she said firmly.  “Not until we’ve given it a chance anyway.  I’ll come out on treks with you,” she offered impulsively.  She didn’t have the first clue about how she would manage to do that and hold down a full time job but just then she didn’t care.


“You’d do that?”  Franky asked with surprise.


“Yes,” Erica said emphatically.


“That’s crazy,” she said with a smile.


And of course it was crazy but Franky didn’t seem to be giving her a sane option to choose.  “No crazier than not giving us a chance at all, which seems to be your idea,” Erica huffed.


“I want us to have a chance, Erica.”  Franky said seriously, “which is why I’m doing this.  Listen if the bank comes through with the loan then I’ll be able to quit guiding while I do the start up,” Franky explained.  “I’ll be here, in Melbourne.”


“What do you mean?  What start up?” Erica was still confused but she heard some hope in Franky’s words.  It was clear she had missed something vital.  “You’re going to quit guiding?  But you love it.”


“Yeah, well, I’ve had a lot of time to think recently.  I also love cooking and I thought about your idea of having my own dehydrated meal business.  I reckon it could work, if the bank is willing to put up the capital.  So I wrote up a business plan while I was laid up and went and talked to some banks.”


Erica stared at the woman before her.  She had so much she wanted to say to her.  “Franky, I thought you were breaking up with me,” was what came out.


Franky’s surprised expression spoke volumes.  “Why would I wanna do that?”  She leant forward and took Erica’s hands in hers.  “I’m completely smitten with you. You are the sexiest, smartest woman I have ever met.”  Her eyes were dark and serious.  “Don’t ever think I would throw this away, or give it up without a fight.”


Erica felt her emotions swirl dangerously close to the surface.  Franky’s declaration of her intentions took away much of Erica’s angst.  Until now she hadn’t realised how much she needed that reassurance.  Franky was in this as deep as she was.  “I want to kiss you right now,” she said.


Franky’s eyebrows shot up in mock surprise.  “You are so forward,” she replied.


Erica laughed lightly.  “Shut up,” she murmured as she leant forward and kissed Franky softly.


They finished their drinks while Franky told Erica about her plans for her start up company.  The woman thought big, Erica acknowledged, and it was clear she had plans beyond a one woman show operating out of her kitchen.  Erica made some suggestions around the legalities of starting a business and Franky listened carefully, asking insightful questions.  “You could have been a lawyer,” Erica said laughingly at one point.  


“Then we could have met in a court room and had sex on the judge’s bench,” Franky suggested.  She must have noticed Erica’s slightly shocked expression.  “What?  Don’t tell me that’s not on your bucket list.”  Her mobile pinged and she glanced down.  “Time for our next stop,” she said. 


The stop turned out to be one of the fanciest hotels in Melbourne.  Erica was intrigued.  Franky led her up to the 35th floor.  “What are we doing here?” She asked when it was clear this was another bar and not their dinner booking.


“Loo stop,” Franky said and led her not to the bar but through to the ladies room.


“Oh my god, this is amazing!” Erica gasped.  She was staring not at the lavish fixtures and fittings but the view.  Melbourne was spread out before them and the horizon was blurred with vibrant red and orange as the sun sank lower in the sky.  “Franky!  This is beautiful.”


“Yeah, I wanted to share it with you.” Franky told her and despite the sunset, she seemed to only have eyes for Erica.  “We could pay 20 bucks for a cocktail for it but I reckon sunsets should be free.”  She grinned.  


“Just like public toilets,” Erica agreed.  “Not that these look like public toilets.”


Franky put her hands on Erica’s hips and pulled her gently towards her.  They watched the sun set over Melbourne and the city lights turn the centre into a fairyland.  Erica was occasionally aware of women passing through, possibly some gave the couple a second glance but no one disturbed them.  The room darkened eventually and Franky took the opportunity to kiss Erica.  “Fuck, I’ve missed this,” she muttered against Erica’s mouth.  Her warm lips tasted of scotch and Erica kissed her deeply savouring the moment and the pleasure this woman brought her.


But although Erica invited her to take things further Franky pulled back.  “Time for our next stop,” she murmured.