Jason Stephenson, Contributor
Jackson couldn't hold his breath any longer. His chest burned from all the sharp stones pricking his chest. They were both falling and he didn't know what to do. Almost two hours had passed and he still couldn't decide. He told her not to play near the cliffs, he warned her hundreds of times, over and over again, don't play by the cliff Dawn, you could get hurt Dawn, stay away from the cliff Dawn, it's dangerous.
If he hadn't come when he did both his daughters would have been dead, pinned against the jagged rocks etched on the coastline. Jackson was so angry and yet so torn. On his left hung Dawn, the youngest. The fright in her eyes made his heart ache. She had her whole life ahead of her; just finishing kindergarten.
He couldn't imagine life without her. She was always picking lilies from the garden and sticking them in her hair, always asking questions about the sky and the moon, always screaming "DADDY!!"when he got home.
On his right was Grace, ready to start college, top of her class, always compassionate, her hugs could uplift any glum spirit and her smile lit up any room she walked in. She was only trying to help her sister; she was only trying to save her.
He saw the hurt in Grace's eyes, she was old enough to understand it, she saw his dilemma she recognised his pain and it crushed him.
'Let me go daddy ..." said Grace.
A wave of anger flushed over Jackson.
"NO!! I AM NOT LETTING GO OF EITHER OF YOU!! HELP IS COMING!! SOMEBODY WILL HEAR US!! JUST HOLD ON!!"
Dawn trembled, sobbing under the yells from her father.
"We've been here for hours dad," said Grace, her face swelled with tears. 'And you're getting weaker."
"NO!!! NO!! YOU STOP IT GRACE!! STOP IT!!!"
The waves from below splashed against the shore. The clouds rumbled, a storm was brewing in the distance. Grace and Dawn slipped a bit further from his fingers. She was right, he couldn't hold on anymore, but what couldn't he do? How could he decide between his two daughters? He couldn't, he refused to.
"Look, I might have an idea!!" he said. "If I can build up enough strength with my hands I might be able to swing the both of you up on the ledge."
Grace's eyes spread open in horror.
"B-But, if you did that then you'll..."
"Yes," said Jackson. "The force would push me over."
"NO, YOU CAN'T!!" screamed Grace fumbling on with his hands.
"LET ME GO!!" she demanded.
"DAD!! PLEASE DON'T!! WAIT, WAIT!!"
Dawn slid an inch further down her father's arm.
"DADDY!!" she cried. The rain began falling; only making matters worse, bit by bit they were slipping away from his grasp. "Remember that time in high school when I made the swim team and tennis team at the same time." said Grace, she suddenly seemed much calmer than she did before. "Remember what you said to me?"
Lightning flashed across the sky followed by a crash of thunder. Dawn shrieked in panic quivering from the icy cold rain pelting against her face.
"You said that even though I wanted them both, I could only hang onto one. You said I had to make a choice, remember."
"Grace, sweetheart please ..." cried Jackson.
Grace slowly tugged against her father's gripping fingers, fighting to pry them open.
"You said, sometimes letting go was a good thing ... because when you let go, something will always come along to take that spot, remember? Well, Dawn is that spot dad and she's terrified, look at her."
It was true, Dawn was beyond petrified. Her eyes were shut tight, crying loudly in the storm, wiggling her feet on the edge of the precipice.
"She's lighter, dad."
The rain was too heavy for Grace to see the tears leaking from her father's face.
The thunder rumbled again.
"....and she still hasn't got half the memories that I got with you."
Grace glanced at her little sister.
"I love you, sweet pea, you be good now." she said. "Take care of mom and dad for me okay."
Dawn bawled even louder on hearing this. Jackson immediately sunk his nails into his daughter's arms.
"STOP IT" he cried. "PLEASE!!! DON'T DO THIS!! GRACE, PLEASE!!"
"Give mom a hug for me okay! Tell her I love her."
"I'M NOT LETTING YOU GO!! DO YOU HEAR ME?! I'M NOT GOING TO LOSE YOU!! I'M NOT LETTING YOU GO GRACIE!! NOT LIKE THIS!!
"I know you aren't daddy..." she whispered softly. "I know..."
Grace tore her arm free from her father's grip.
"I love you daddy...." she smiled.
It was as if everything suddenly stood still. Jackson's heart leaped as his daughter, his ray of sunshine, his first born, the girl who use to stuff drawings of rainbows and horses in his briefcase, the one who played music too loud, the one who talked about boys on the phone day and night, the one who just grew up too fast' his beautiful Gracie. She fell from his hands, and slipped into the darkness below.
He couldn't cry any louder. He grieved in misery from the emptiness which suddenly filled him. His muscles were frozen solid. His eyes were only able to gaze at Dawn still clutching on to him from below, begging for her life.
Jackson had no more strength left.