Sample text for Cloud nine : a novel / Luanne Rice.

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Counter Will Burke stood in the hangar, his head under the hood of the Piper Aztec.  Fall was his biggest season.  He needed all three of the planes he owned serviced and ready to fly.  The lake region was a tourist destination, with all the cider mills and foliage trails.  He operated fifteen-minute aerial tours, especially popular during the Fort Cromwell Fair.  The end of October brought parents' weekends at two area colleges, with scheduled flights back and forth to New York, shuttling parents to see the big games and visit their kids.

At the sound of tires crunching over the gravel outside, he wiped his socket wrench on a blue rag and placed it on his tall red toolbox.  He checked his watch: four o'clock.  A friend of his daughter's had booked a quick birthday tour, up and down, a fifteen-minute scenic loop of the lake and mountain.  An easy thirty dollars, and he'd be back to the tune-up in no time.  

Tucking his work shirt into his jeans, Will walked outside to greet his customers.  He didn't really feel like taking a break, but the afternoon was sunny, and the fresh air felt good, so he found himself smiling at the car anyway.  He waved as they pulled up.

Meg and Mimi Ferguson got out.  Meg was the town visiting nurse, and she yelled hello with cheerful efficiency, making Will smile a little wider.  He hung back, wondering which one had the birthday.  His daughter sometimes baby-sat for Mimi, and judging from what he remembered, Mimi must be about ten.  

But then someone new got out of the car, a woman Will had never seen.  She was small and thin, the size of an underfed teenager.  Her skin was pale and translucent, like high cloud cover on a fall day, and her head was covered with blond peach fuzz.  It was the way she looked at the sky that caught Will's attention: with total rapture, as if she hadn't ever seen it so blue before, or as if she couldn't believe she was about to go up in it.  

"Ready to fly?" he asked.

"Which plane, Mr.  Burke?" Mimi asked, excited.

"That one," he said, pointing at the two-seater Piper Cub.

"We can't all fit?" Mimi asked, disappointed.

"Now, Mimi--" Meg began.

"Sorry, Mimi," Will said.  "The big plane's getting an oil change.  If I'd known . . ."

"You know what, Mimi?" the woman said eagerly.  "Why don't you go up for me?"

"It's your birthday flight," Mimi said.  "It was my idea, and we want  you to go."

"Happy birthday," Will said to the woman.  

"Thank you." Again, that expression of amazement, as if she had never been so happy.  She stared at him directly, and he had that shock he felt when coming upon a person he knew from somewhere, hardly at all, but who has undergone a drastic change of appearance.  A weight gain or loss, a different hairstyle, a drop in health.  He had seen this woman around town looking quite different.  Then, for some strange reason, he pointed at the sky.  

"Ready?" he asked.

"I am," she said.  

"Let's go," he said.

They flew north.  The pilot took her over the lake and western ridge, where the leaves blazed in the orange light.  The craggy rocks glowed red, and the lake itself was deep blue-black.  Sarah pressed her forehead against the cold window, looking out.  She watched red-tailed hawks circling below the plane, their shadows dark and mysterious on the lake's smooth surface.  

"Ever been up in a small plane before?" the pilot asked.

"Yes," Sarah said.

"Don't know why, I thought it was your first time," he said.  "The way Mimi and her mom were so excited about arranging it for you."

"I think maybe I mentioned to Meg that I love flying," Sarah said.  "Although I don't do it as much now as I used to.  Lots of weekends, I'd be on a plane just slightly bigger than this, flying home to Maine from Boston."

"I'm from New England too," he nodded.  "That lake's pretty, but it's not--"

"The Atlantic," she said, grinning.  

He laughed too, the response of a man who had saltwater in his veins, who for some reason, like Sarah, had found himself living in upstate New York after a lifetime by the sea.  

"I'm Will Burke," he said, taking his hand off the controls to shake her hand.

"Sarah Talbot."

"Hi, Sarah."

"Who was that I saw in the window back at the airport?" Sarah asked.  "That young girl looking out?"

"My daughter, Susan," Will said.

"A teenager?"

"Fifteen," he said.  "Going on thirty."

"I know the syndrome," Sarah said, glancing east, as if she could see across four states to a tiny island off the coast of Maine.

They kept heading north, even though they had reached the midway point, been in the air for seven and a half minutes, and should have turned for home.  Down below was an endless pine forest.  It covered the hills in all directions, an unfathomable expanse of green, and the dying sun threw glints of gold in the tall treetops.  Sarah felt her eyes fill with tears.

Will glanced over.

"I didn't think I'd be here," Sarah said.  "For another birthday."

"But you are," Will said.  

He pulled back on the controls, and the plane began to climb.  They left the earth behind, flying straight into the sky.  Sarah felt the exhilaration of adventure, something new, of being alive.  Her heart was in her throat, gravity pulling her shoulder blades against the leather seat.  Will glanced quickly over.

The plane dove down.  Holding tight, Sarah felt the plane do one loop-de-loop, then another.  Will's hand was so close, she wanted to grab for it.  It was a sudden, mad impulse, and it passed.  The plane steadied off.  Sarah's fifteen minutes were up, but they kept flying north for a while longer before they turned for home.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication: Terminally ill Family relationships Fiction, Women New York (State) Fiction