As Arthur Sinclair looked out over the edge of a cliff, down at the turbid water below, he began to realize that perhaps he might be a coward. This might strike you as a strange thing to come in the form of an epiphany; that perhaps being a coward is something that a person should already know about himself, but this wasn't the case for Arthur. You see, it wasn't that Arthur couldn't face perilous situations when he needed to - he had had to deal with a variety of unexpected emergencies in the past and had always reacted quickly and efficiently, perhaps even admirably - it was that he would never choose to take any avoidable risks.
And until that point when Arthur Sinclair, a mild-mannered actuarial scientist, stood on top of a cliff and looked down at his girlfriend's smiling face, surprised by how weak his legs felt, he did not realize the extent to which he was unwilling to take those unnecessary risks.
Fiona had taken him to the cliff-diving spot as a surprise. They had been dating for less than a month, and she was one of the most free-spirited people that Arthur had ever met. A lot of people pretend to be free-spirited, but few actually are, and Fiona actually was. That's one of the things that he liked most about her. She was interesting, and fun, and lively. She was the epitome of vivacity. It wasn't until he had met Fiona that Arthur realized how boring he was, with his desk job and his shirts and his ties and his Camry. Fiona was a vocalist for a rock band. They called themselves Broken Glass and they weren't big, but they booked a lot of gigs and had a decent following. Arthur knew that Fiona knew that it wasn't likely that she'd be able to do that for the rest of her life, but she didn't seem worried about it at all. She never seemed worried. She was either confident or she just thought that she would worry about later later and enjoy now now. Sometimes, Arthur wondered what she found interesting about him. Maybe there aren't very many nice, sane guys that she gets to meet in her world, and he was just the one lucky enough to have the chance to meet her.
Maybe it was because Arthur felt like he needed to prove himself, or maybe it was because just being around Fiona made him more adventurous, but when she arrived at his door in her beat up Volkswagen and told him she wanted to surprise him, he didn't protest. When they arrived at a cliff overlooking the ocean, they got out of the van and looked out, and Fiona said, "Isn't it beautiful?" and he nodded in agreement. Fiona went closer to the cliff's edge than Arthur did, but she came back towards him after looking out at the water for a little while, and started to take off her clothing. Arthur stood transfixed, and when she was down to her underwear, she came over to him and kissed him on the cheek and mischievously smiled and said, "Follow me."
As she walked slowly away, towards the cliff, Arthur was too shocked and entranced to say anything. They hadn't slept together yet - they had only been on a few dates - and this was the most he had seen of her. If Arthur was being perfectly honest with himself, he'd admit that Fiona's figure was one of the other things that he liked most about her. She had wide hips, the kind that would look odd on most girls, but they worked on her, in a strangely enticing way, a kind of way that drew Arthur's eyes easily when she turned around in her plain black panties and walked away. And so, instead of protesting, Arthur stood hypnotized as Fiona walked away, then ran away, then jumped away. He still stood there for a second, dazed, unable to comprehend what he had just seen, until he came to his senses and ran to the cliff's edge and looked down. And there was Fiona, looking back up at him and smiling.
"Follow me," she had said, and Arthur was only just now piecing together what her words had meant, as images of her mesmerizing flight played over and over again in his mind. She wanted him to follow her. She... wanted him... to follow her. Arthur was still looking down, and was starting to get dizzy. It was only perhaps seventy feet, which might not seem like much, but it was enough to weaken his knees. The water didn't have any rocks in it, but the cliff jutted out a little bit, and if Arthur somehow botched the takeoff, somehow jumped too soon or didn't jump far enough, there was a very real risk that he could injure himself on the jagged cliff side. The ground at his feet wasn't soft. It looked like it could crumble at any moment. Arthur gulped. A gust of wind blew from behind him, and he heard the long grass swishing behind him, but there wasn't any grass where he was. No grass to stabilize the ground with its roots. Maybe there was grass before, but the ground below it crumbled, sending it into the waters below.
He could signal to Fiona. Let her know that he didn't want to make the jump and that she'd have to swim to shore by herself. It would be humiliating, and it might even make her angry or disappointed enough to break up with him, but did he really have a future with this girl? This was stupid. He could die. Impressing some girl that he'd barely been dating for three weeks or so was hardly worth risking death, was it?
Fiona made him feel alive. She was exciting, and daring, and free, and that's what he liked about her. He liked those things about her because deep down, that was what he wished he could be like. He liked being with her because he wanted to be the kind of person that could be with her.
Arthur thought about all of the things he had never done. He had always liked motorcycles, but had never bought one because it would be too impractical and too unsafe. When he would go to amusement parks with his friends, he'd go on the roller coasters with them, but would stay back and watch as they went on the riskier-looking human slingshot ride. He once went to a zoo and watched as other visitors paid to pet and have their pictures taken with a cheetah.
He thought about how Fiona made him feel, and he thought about the risk of giving that up. Fiona made Arthur happier than he had felt in a long time. Fiona made Arthur feel daring. Fiona made Arthur feel like he was the kind of man who could jump off of a cliff without a second thought. He clearly wasn't that kind of man after all.
But he could be, maybe. Maybe. Arthur wasn't ready to give up just yet. He took one last look at Fiona, and walked back to where her clothes lay strewn in the grass next to the dirt road that they had come in on. He began to take off his clothes, folding them neatly, partly because that was more practical, and partly because it took more time. His heart was beating quickly, too quickly, and his breaths became shallow. He tried to calm himself as he bent over, wearing only his boxers, placing his folded pants on the ground next to his folded shirt and his shoes and his socks and his belt. He stood up and looked out at the cliff and the wide expanse of water behind it, with its curved horizon, the blue of the water darker than that of the cloudless sky. He thought one last time about Fiona and her confident, playful smile and the way she said "Follow me," and her beautiful, beautiful ass. He replayed it in his mind and watched Fiona walk, and run, and jump, and he knew that if he did not follow her now, he never would.
Arthur couldn't walk, as Fiona had - he had to run. He didn't remember making the decision, he just knew that he had to run, and then he was running. The cliff's edge was coming up quickly, too quickly, he wasn't ready for this, and he suddenly became aware of what had previously been instinctive, automatic running. He was getting closer to the edge that might be death, it was getting closer and his legs were jelly, and the ground was too dry, there wasn't any grass, and Arthur was sure that his legs would give out or the ground would crumble away beneath him, but he was still moving, and before he knew it he was at the edge and there was nothing he could do except jump with all of his might and try to lift his weak, dead legs and that's what he did, he jumped using the last of his strength, the last of his willpower spent in one final moment.
And he flew. Time slowed, and he was vaguely aware of his legs still running. He felt the wind in his hair. It was done. He was floating, in slow motion, past the cliff's edge, past whatever danger lied below, and into the emptiness beyond. And then, for one glorious moment, time stopped. Arthur Sinclair was frozen in flight, relieved and happy and alive, and the world turned beneath his feet.
Then gravity finally kicked in, and Arthur fell, his head so empty from shock and relief that he barely noticed when his legs went a little bit farther than his body. He fell and he fell, and when he finally hit the water, there was a loud CRACK as the back of his upper body slapped the water.
Fiona swan to him as fast as she could as his body floated slowly upwards and his head poked out of the water. When Arthur opened his eyes, Fiona was the most concerned he had ever seen her, saying over and over, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry. Are you okay? Please be okay." Arthur looked up at her and dimly smiled, and said:
"I think I want to buy a motorcycle."