"Does it get any better than this?" Francie Calfo let out a contented sigh, gazing out at the crashing Pacific surf. A summer party anthem was playing on the radio, the sun beat brightly in the cloudless blue sky, and the smell of coconut-scented suntan lotion wafted through the air.
Sydney Bristow settled back in her striped blue beach chair and cracked open a wet can of Sprite. "Only if I had someone here with a tall glass of ice--and a fan."
Francie tilted her head toward a group of guys playing volleyball on the sand. "I'm sure that can be arranged."
"Mmm, sorry, they look way too involved in their game." Sydney picked up the paperback novel she'd stuffed into her canvas beach bag. This was the first day she and Francie had spent together at the beach in weeks, and she was glad that it was just the two of them. "I've been dying to read this."
Francie looked over at the book. "Middlemarch?" She scowled. "Have you ever heard of a beach read?" She gestured to the lively scene around them. "Syd, for the first time in months, we are free! No more studying, no more finals, no more all-nighters. Come on! Can't you stop being responsible and vegetate for just an hour? You make the rest of us look way too shallow and vacuous." She grinned. "See, I wasn't sleeping through English lit the whole semester."
It was hard to believe their first year of college was over. Back in September, Sydney had been a scared, clueless freshman. The UCLA campus had seemed dauntingly huge, the classrooms and dorms filled with intimidating strangers, and the workload overwhelming. Not to mention that only a few weeks into the school year, she'd been secretly recruited by SD-6, a covert branch of the CIA based in Los Angeles. She had gone from frightened kid to a full-fledged secret agent dedicated to protecting the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. To say that freshman year had been an adjustment was putting it mildly.
Sydney took a sip of cold soda. But now, ten months later, things were completely different. She knew where to park and which professors were notoriously difficult. She knew which campus cafeteria ladies were grumpy and that the best place to study was on the second floor of the health sciences library. She knew that having a roommate could be completely exasperating and totally perfect (especially when said roommate came home with a new outfit and let you wear it before she did).
But most of all, Sydney had learned about herself. Being an agent for the United States government was more than just a job. She hated lying to her friends, but the fact that the CIA trusted her to go on missions for her country, trusted her with top secret, life-and-death information, made Sydney feel on top of the world. It was an incredible responsibility. She'd been waiting all her life for a chance to make a difference. Now, after months of training and several successful missions, not only did she feel physically ready for any challenge, she felt mentally prepared as well.
That's what was making the summer ahead a bit of a bummer.
"You're doing it again," Francie accused, pointing a French-manicured nail at Sydney, startling her into dropping her book.
Francie peered at her over the top of her white-framed sunglasses. "You know. Getting that distracted look on your face, like you just remembered you left your curling iron plugged in or a tray of cookies in the oven too long." She shook her head disapprovingly. "That is not allowed in summer, missy!"
Sydney laughed. "I know. I'm psyched about summer. Really."
Francie sighed. "You know, you have only yourself to blame. You could have gotten yourself a fun yet completely pointless summer job, like being a shot girl at one of those bars down on Sunset. Or--or becoming an extra on a movie set. You'd be perfect at that, with your classic looks. Or--"
"Or working full time at Credit Dauphine because it's a good job and they offered me a nice chunk of change to pick up extra hours this summer," Sydney finished. She and Francie had had this discussion at least ten times. Francie couldn't understand why anyone would voluntarily work indoors, at a bank, when the beaches and outdoor cafes were beckoning. Sydney had a laundry list of excuses why the bank was the perfect place of employment.
Of course, the real reason wasn't on that list.
Not that she wasn't glad to work for SD-6 in the summer--she was. It would have been silly for her to even think of getting another job. Not only would the pay be much worse than what she earned as an agent, but there was no point in learning a new job only to quit two months later. All year long, Sydney had struggled to balance school and SD-6. Now she had only SD-6 to worry about. And that was a good thing, right?
It's not like I have anything else on my plate, she thought, closing her eyes for a moment. Her father had recently visited her in Los Angeles, and although there had been a few nice moments in between all the awkward ones, the whole thing had left her depressed.
They had never been close. Ever since Sydney's mother, Laura, had been killed in a car crash when Sydney was a child, Jack Bristow had stayed as far away from his daughter as possible. Her childhood was a blur of nannies and boarding school and more business trips than she could count. He didn't seem to want her in his life. Sometimes Sydney wondered if he wished she'd never been born at all.
Yet despite the ice-cold air that hung between them every time they were together, Sydney still held out some small nugget of hope that they could actually have a normal father-daughter relationship. Go to Athletics games . . . catch a movie . . . have dinner. And every time, her hopes were dashed. Even when they did spend time together, it was never like she hoped it would be. They were virtual strangers, growing more distant as the years passed. After this last visit, Sydney had resigned herself to the fact that they were just two very different people, with very different personalities. And that made her feel more unloved than ever.From the Paperback edition.
Excerpted from Free Fall by Christa Roberts. Copyright © 2004 by Christa Roberts. Excerpted by permission of Bantam Books for Young Readers, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.