not a big deal; I just thought it would be an exciting way to celebrate your eighteenth birthday.” As he wrapped his arms around me I could feel his need to make me feel loved on my birthday. It was his attempt to surprise me, and here I was letting my fear ruin a memorable moment. “ No, you don’t need to rent a car—I love it.” The words lodged in my windpipe as I spoke. I tugged at his shirt, waiting for him to lead me over to the frightening bird. He didn’t move. “ Are you sure you’re okay with this?” His hands swayed in the air toward the pilot and helicopter. I swallowed. “Yeah, Max, I am. Now come on, let’s get out of here.” I caught his hand and tried to pull him toward me. He smiled and yanked me back to his chest. “ Happy Birthday, Wilson.” He leaned down and kissed me. His lips, sweetened by his words, were as reassuring as the sun’s warm beams on a brisk winter morning. Max brushed his lips across my forehead before leading me to the helicopter. I couldn’t believe he’d been able to pull this off. Little did he know that getting me into the death trap was going to be a whole separate challenge—he didn’t know how grippingly terrified I was of heights.
It only took the helicopter pilot pulling his headphones up from around his neck and flicking switches to get my heart racing and my blood pumping violently through my body. I chanted—okay I screamed in my head—to myself to suck it up and quit being a baby . Max noticed and snatched my hand. Funny, he didn’t even react to the apparent dampness that accompanied my grip. The propellers struggled as they began to build the momentum they needed to lift us from the ground. The deafening whine of the motor and the thumping rhythm of the blades as they sliced through the thick Denver air were menacing. Max pulled on his headphones before pointing to the set that hung just above my head. I slipped them against my ears, working to make sure my hair was tucked behind the big cushy part that protected my hearing. The rails of the helicopter scraped and dragged across the tarmac before we began to ascend toward the heavens. Fear swelled in my heart and clutched the bubble of panic that clogged my chest and robbed my breath. My hand tightened around Max’s and I felt him squeeze back. Suddenly, there was nothing but blue sky enveloping us and the burden of the hammering blades that kept us afloat. Lines of sweat trickled and itched down the back of my neck. I couldn’t force myself to look down out the peek-a-boo window by my feet. I felt the same fear that had encompassed me when I was on the ski-lift with Wayne. The helicopter’s back and forth movements, the wind that rambled and shook the bolts holding plastic to metal—all caused me to drink shallowly from the stagnant air in our delicate bubble we occupied, hovering in the sky. Max must have noticed how freaked I was when I grabbed the charm of my necklace and slid it ritually back and forth along it’s chain; or maybe it was the shade of white that flushed across my skin and made me look like a corpse. Either way, he unsnapped his five-harness seatbelt and slid close to me. “ You okay?” he shouted. I couldn’t answer him. I tried, but I couldn’t voice the words that filled my head with the terror of falling out of the sky. He rested his hand on my knee before sliding it up across my thigh. The warmth of his touch began to wrestle my fears back to the unsettled place they’d come from. I was able to force a smile. I guess it was enough—he nodded and started to point out landmarks below us the size of nickels and dimes. I tried to focus, but the idea of looking down at what we could possibly crash-land into just didn’t sit right with me. At least in a plane you have the chance of surviving—hell, maybe even walking away—but in a helicopter…I just couldn’t find the ability to feel safe. When the helicopter jolted and dropped in