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The seventeenth chapter of Book Two of
|A Leap of Faith|
June 12, 2011
Leah unveils a gigantic surprise for Sierra's 17th birthday.
Light and Sound Edit
The light came slowly at first. Barely a flicker in the dark recess that Sierra had run to. But slowly over time it grew until it permeated through Sierra's eyelids and shattered the dark abyss of her dream world. Recognizing defeat in further attempts at sleep, she slowly tested out her worn joints, stretching and popping each one of them while still cocooned in her blankets.
Sierra brought her sore hands to her face and wiped away the boogers encrusting her eyes shut. She opened her eyes slowly, closing them tightly to the blinding light coming in through the window. She wiped her boogered hands on the expensive sheets and brought them up to shield her eyes. Trying again, her hands provided sufficient protection from the morning to see.
Sierra kicked and pushed her way out of the blankets that had surrounded her throughout her fitful slumber. Free of the suffocating comfort, she brought her legs over the side of the bed and slowly stood up. When her eyes had adjusted to the light, she opened her eyes to see Leah sitting on her bed, fully dressed and reading from the room's Bible.
"Morning." Leah said, not taking her eyes off the book.
"Morning." Sierra grunted in reply.
"Thanks." Sierra replied, moving towards the bathroom with clothes under her arm. She opened the door and flipped the light switch with a flick of her still asleep arm. Closing and locking the door, she dropped her clothes on the floor and stumbled over to the sink. She leaned her elbows on the edge of the sink and rested her head in her hands, closing her eyes as she slowly woke up.
She opened her eyes as a knock came to the door to the hotel room.
"Leah, can you get that?" Sierra called out in a scratchy voice.
"Already on it." Leah's muffled voice replied.
Sierra closed her eyes again and listened as the door opened.
"Morning Keith!" Leah said joyfully.
"Hey Leah. I just came by to say Happy Birthday to Sierra. Is she awake?"
"She's in the bathroom getting ready. Do you want to just stay here and wait?"
"I'm kind of in a hurry. I got a message from Jacque about something's he doing, and I'm on my way to the World Trade Center to see if there's anything for me."
At this, Sierra hurriedly changed from her pajama's into shorts, a yellow T-shirt and socks. She walked/ran to the mirror and tried to arrange her hair into a presentable state.
"Are you sure you can't wait for just a moment? I'm sure she'll be done in a moment." Leah persisted.
"I really can't. Jacque said that Gabe and Ryan might've found a lead to some survivors from Xylia."
Sierra finished with her hair and hurriedly shoved a toothbrush in her mouth, scrubbing furiously while bits of white, soapy spit flung from her lips.
"Really? Do they know who?"
"Not yet. But that's why I need to go. I'm really anxious to find out."
"Can't you wait for just another moment? She won't take long."
"I really need to go."
Sierra spit into the sink and rushed to the door, fumbling with the lock. When she finally got it undone, she ran through the door and turned to face the hallway, double taking when she found no one there. She turned around in surprise, eyes widening in shock.
"Happy Birthday!!" several voices cried out.
Assembled before a disheveled Sierra was Leah, Keith, Keanu, Ruben Sr. and Jr., Matias, and Hubert, all in party hats and sporting wide smiles. In Leah's lap was a large lap carrier that supported a stack of a dozen waffles, overflowing with glistening syrup and melted butter. On the top of the wobbly stack was a large "Happy Birthday!" sign, supported by two sticks in the top waffle.
"Oh my gosh!" Sierra screamed, holding her hands up to her face.
"Well don't just stand there! Let's eat!" Keith yelled.
Rise and Fall Edit
Sierra walked down the hallway from a quiet birthday dinner, heading toward her room. Keeping her head down, she inserted the key into the lock and walked into the dark room. She closed the door and felt for the light switch. The lights came on and a blunt force collided into Sierra from the bathroom. Sierra's head landed on the soft carpet, the rest of her body following. Sierra screamed as she felt a person hold her down and tie a soft fabric over her eyes and shove two pieces of foam in her ears. When the person let her go, Sierra sat up. Through her blindfold, Sierra could see the familiar outline of her captor.
Leah stifled a giggle and struggled to keep her composure.
"Quiet!" she yelled, her voice breaking halfway through the statement. "You're coming with me!"
"Leah, I know it's you."
"Dang it!" Leah yelled.
"What're you doing?" Sierra sighed.
"Kidnapping you." Leah replied simply.
"You heard me." Leah reached a hand down and grabbed Sierra, pulling her up.
"What're we doing?"
"I need to take you somewhere."
"In a blindfold and earplugs?"
"I don't want to ruin the surprise!"
"Just be quiet and walk to the door!" Leah said, patting Sierra on the back. Sierra began to walk unsteadily forward through the room to the door. She almost was to the door before ramming her hip into the corner of the desk.
"Ow! Dang it!" Sierra screamed, sitting down unsteadily on the floor.
"Are you okay?" Leah asked while grabbing her shoulder and helping her back up.
"Yes, but do we really need to do this blindfolded?" Sierra asked as the waves of pain radiated from her hurt hip.
"I'll help you along."
"Yeah, because that worked the first time, didn't it?"
"Don't be sarcastic or you won't get your birthday gift."
"Come on. You wouldn't do that, would you?" Sierra said with over exaggerated innocence in her voice.
"Try me." Leah said bluntly. Leah walked forward and opened the door to the room so it was all the way open. Leah walked back to Sierra so she was behind her, then placed her hands on her shoulders.
"Now just walk forward. When I tug at you, I need you to stop. Ready?"
"I guess." Sierra replied uncertainly.
"You oughta know that this is the strangest birthday gift I've ever had." Sierra said loudly.
"Well, hopefully it will also be the best." Leah said. She opened the thick metal door and blasted them with the sound of the electrical workings to the antenna on the roof.
"Hear anything!" Leah screamed. Sierra gave no response. Satisfied, Leah again took her by the shoulders and led her through the room. They arrived at another thick metal door leading to a cement staircase to the roof. Leah opened the door, pushing Sierra through. Once they were both outside, she shut the door again.
"Almost there?" Sierra asked.
"Almost there." Leah confirmed.
Leah led Sierra carefully up the small staircase. In a few minutes of careful steps, they emerged on the roof of the North Tower. The usual clouds covered the North Tower, shaded with pink and orange and yellow from the sunset. On the roof was a large gathering of the Airbender colony. A table stood near the base of the antenna, laid with multiple presents. On another table nearby was a modest birthday cake. The words "Happy 17th Sierra!" were written in thin pink icing on white, surrounded by thick frosting roses. The edges of the cake were bordered in pink frosting while the sides were dotted in rainbow sprinkles.
Near the cake stood Keith and Keanu. Keanu held a simple training glider with red wings in his hands. When Keith spotted Leah and Sierra, he tiptoed over to them.
"Ready?" he whispered.
Leah stopped Sierra and left her near the staircase. She walked with him until they were out of earshot at the cake table.
"Is Sierra good to go?"
"She's ready. I don't think she knows what's going on. Is everything ready here?"
"Neil's ready. Did you see the firebending family on the way here?"
"They're not here yet?" Leah asked, anxiety overtaking her voice.
"Haven't seen them."
Leah sighed. "Alright, just get a few more people to help. It will just be a bumpier ride."
"On it." Keith confirmed, leaving to talk to a group of colonists nearby. Leah walked over to Sierra and led her to the edge of the roof, where Neil stood with his glider.
"Ready?" Neil whispered.
"Ready. Fly on down and get ready to catch her."
Without another word, Neil leapt off the roof and down the side of the tower. After falling for a few seconds, he caught the wind in his wings and hovered around the 90th floor, near the bottom of the cloud cover. Leah signaled Keanu, and he walked over to Leah and gave her the glider. Keanu walked back to the cake and started talking to the group Keith had conversed with, getting them into formation.
"Alright Sierra, we're here. Don't take off the blindfold yet though. You can take out the earplugs."
She scooped the earplugs out and gave them to Leah.
"Now, I want you to take three steps forward and stop exactly when I tell you. Okay?" Leah said carefully.
"Gotcha." Sierra confirmed, then taking steps forward to the very edge of the roof.
"Stop!" Leah said before Sierra took another step and over the edge. "Good. Now hold very still."
Sierra straightened up, stiff as a board. Very carefully, Leah lifted the glider over Sierra.
"Now bring your right foot up and backwards."
Sierra complied and placed her foot in a wood rack for the feet on the glider.
"Now the other foot." Leah instructed. Sierra did so.
"Now near your stomach I want you to reach both hands up and look for a two separate foam pieces to hold onto."
Sierra searched for a moment and soon found the handholds. Leah stepped back and observed Sierra to make sure everything was right.
"Alright Sierra. Are you ready for your gift?"
"Yep! A little nervous, but I'm excited about what could accompany all this secrecy."
"Trust me, I'm sure you won't forget it." Leah said, grimacing to herself. "Let me take off the blindfold, you just stand there and stay still."
Leah stood beside Sierra on the edge and slowly undid the knot on the blindfold. When it was almost undone, Leah stepped back.
"Alright Sierra, I need you to listen to me. When the blindfold is off, you're going to be scared, maybe a little angry about what's going on. Now you know I wouldn't do anything to put your life at risk, right?"
"Yeah." Sierra replied nervously.
"And would you trust me with anything?"
"Of course I would. You don't even need to ask that."
"Then you know you'll be okay, no matter what happens?"
Sierra waited a minute before answering "yes."
"Okay then." Leah sighed. "Now just shake your head to get the blindfold off. Stay as still as you can and make sure to keep your hold on the foam."
Sierra shook her head back and forth, her hair swinging with her. A second later, the blindfold fell to the ground. Sierra's eyes flitted back and forth, widening with shock as she realized where she was and what she was holding. Sierra looked back at Leah with murder in her eyes.
"Leah Sanchez, what are you..." Sierra asked dangerously.
And with that, Leah gave Sierra's glider a solid shove and sent her flying off the roof.
Fight and Flight Edit
Sierra descended rapidly down the edge of the tower. A loud, shrill, piercing scream echoed out behind her, bringing grimaces from the colonists and a wide smile from Leah. Down below, she was seconds away from reaching the level where Neil hovered. Neil heard the scream approaching and flipped over in the air, body facing upwards. He bent a small current into the wings, bringing Sierra up and level.
Sierra's scream slowly shrunk down to nothing as she lazily flew around the base of the cloud cover. Neil continued bending air at his daughter, a small smile growing on his face when he realized her eyes were still closed.
"Sierra, open your eyes!" Neil gently said.
Sierra shook her head violently.
"Sierra, I promise you you'll be okay. Now open your eyes. You'll love it, I promise."
Sierra peeked a glance and gasped at the sight of her father facing her, keeping her in the air with his bending while they flew hundreds of feet above the city. Sierra closed her eyes again, a small tear escaping from the corner of her right eye.
"Sierra, I promise you're okay. Just trust me." Neil promised.
Sierra shook her head again, her hair whip lashing in the gentle breeze from Neil's bending.
"Sierra, would I let anything happen to you?"
Sierra shook her head again, less violent than before.
"Then open your eyes and trust me."
Leah looked around apprehensively at the roof edge. Still no sign of Sierra or Neil.
She's safe with her father, don't worry! Leah told herself.
The minutes rolled by and still no sign of Sierra or her father. Leah motioned for the airbenders to stay in formation while she went to investigate. Leah walked to the edge of the rooftop and peered over the edge. Just as she did, Sierra rushed by her in a flurry of wind and laughing. Leah fell backwards and landed on her back, looking up at Sierra as she continued to gain height.
"Sorry Leah!" Sierra laughed.
Leah only laughed to herself in response, picking herself up and walking back to the airbenders. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw four people come up through the staircase leading to the roof. Her heart did a backflip for the second time that day, but relaxed when she saw who it was.
"Hey!" she yelled in welcome, running over to them.
Ruben Sr. and Jr., Matias, and Hubert stood near the doorway, all issuing smiles of happiness at Leah's welcome. Leah reached them and hugged each of them, taking particular pleasure when she got to Ruben Jr. When she was done with the welcomes, red spots emerging like wildfire on her cheeks, she motioned them over to the airbending formation.
"Are we too late?" Ruben Sr. asked.
"No, we just started! We're glad you came, it would've been a bumpier ride without you!" Leah screamed in excitement.
Leah led them over to the airbenders and pointed out Sierra, still ascending up above. Once her ascension was over and she began to fall, they began. The firebenders as one lowered their arms to the ground and began to shake. The air shimmered and rose in waves as the heat intensified. Beads of sweat began to multiply like roaches on the foreheads of everyone as the heat continued to build. Just when the heat became almost unbearable, the firebenders rose their arms in a rush and the heat rose through the air.
The hot air caught the wings of Sierra's red glider and lifted her skywards. When she began to rise, the airbenders began their routine. Leah walked in front of them and started moving her arms in a gentle current like motion. The rest of the group followed, together as one as the hot air began to circulate around the Tower.
The clouds, tinted by the pink and orange sunset, followed the current, creating a swirling wall of pink and orange clouds that surrounded the two towers. To an outsider, it might look like the roofs of the Towers were engulfed in a hurricane's eye. For several weeks after, pictures of the "World Trade Center Hurricane" ended up on UFO and government conspiracy sites.
Sierra's glider was caught in the current and started spinning around the Towers. Her father followed close behind, pushing air into her glider to increase her speed. Sierra's eyes began to water from the rush of the wind in her face. She looked back at her father behind her.
"Can you slow me down a bit?" Sierra yelled.
Neil took one hand off the holding bar and thrust it forwards towards Sierra, then back to him. Sierra felt a gush of wind catch her for a moment and slow, but not stop her. As Sierra flew, she looked around her, at the friends and family gathered around to literally uplift her. Leah in the front, guiding the rest as they helped her to fly; Keith in the corner, silently watching the procession with a small smile on his face; the firebenders, so quiet and prideful, building her up and keeping her high; and her father, subtly guiding her into the depths of the sky.
Sierra fought back tears as the wind continued to flow around her, propelling her, freeing her from the burdens of the world. Here were all these people. All these people gathered here to celebrate her, to help her reach into the fathomless sky for but a brief moment. She looked down at the delicious looking cake, the pile of presents, and most of all her friends. The people who had stood by her from the beginning. Who had held her while she cried, gave her advice, made her laugh, smile, and most of all had just been there for her. Sierra smiled to herself, letting the tears flow freely as she flew.
Who was I to think that I could leave all this?
Production Notes Edit
- Out of the 37 chapters the author has written for the series, this was by far the most difficult to write. This one chapter went through more revisions, rewrites, and deletions alone than in all of Book 1 put together. When the chapter was complete, the author felt dissatisfied with the chapter and considered scrapping it.
- Deleted Sections include a training sequence on aerial combat, shopping for Sierra, arranging the party, having the "Naked Cowboy" sing Happy Birthday to Sierra, and a birthday lunch.
- The author went through two other names, "Spirit" and "Windows on the World", before settling on A Leap of Faith.
- This is one of the shortest chapters in Book 2 due to its overall difficulty to write.
- Thanks to the readers of Alone for giving me advice on behalf of this chapter. You helped save it.
- Thanks to for taking the time to read the draft and help it out. You were the final benefactor regarding whether to scrap the chapter or not.
For the collective works of the author, go here.