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Word Count: 1,578
Joe Rose has planned a postcard-perfect afternoon in the English countryside to celebrate his lovers return after six weeks in the States To complete the picture theres even a helium balloon drifting dreamily across the wooded valley But as Joe and Clarissa watch the balloon touch down their idyll comes to an abrupt end The pilot catches his leg in the anchor rope while the only passenger a boy is too scared to jump down As the wind whips into action Joe and four other men rush to secure the basket Mother Nature however isnt feeling very maternal A mighty fist socked the balloon in two rapid blows one-two the second more vicious than the first and at once the rescuers are airborne Joe manages to drop to the ground as do most of his companions but one man is lifted sky-high only to fall to his death In itself the accident would change the survivors lives filling them with an uneasy combination of shame happiness and endless self-reproach In one of the novels many ironies the balloon eventually lands safely the boy unscathed But fate has far more unpleasant things in store for Joe Meeting the eye of fellow rescuer Jed Parry for example turns out to be a very bad move For Jed is instantly obsessed making the first of many calls to Joe and Clarissas London flat that very night Soon hes openly shadowing Joe and writing him endless letters One insane epistle begins I feel happiness running through me like an electrical current I close my eyes and see you as you were last night in the rain across the road from me with the unspoken love between us as strong as steel cable Worst of all Jeds version of love comes to seem a distortion of Joes feelings for Clarissa Apart from the incessant stalking it is the conditionals--the contingencies--that most frustrate Joe a scientific journalist If only
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