Unraveled, p.10
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       Unraveled, p.10

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
 
Page 10

 

  "I never thought of it that way. " He sat up but didnt stop looking at me. We were tethered now, our eyes hooked on each other. "So I shouldnt feel guilty for not following up with one? Or I shouldve checked up on more of them?"

  "I dont think you should feel guilty either way, but if it bothers you, then you can do some things. Is it really your business? I hated it when Will had to explain why I wasnt going to move out to his base with him. I felt it was so intrusive. "

  "Anytime you have guys under you, their personal life is your business. Its a readiness issue. Is their head in the right frame of mind to go over?”

  "Thats really weird, isnt it?" I asked.

  "Completely. " He chuckled and then reached out to rub the worn leather steering wheel. I felt it too, like he was touching me, rubbing my arm in comfort. But it wasnt really enough. I wanted him to touch me again. "I appreciate you sharing with me, even though this must be a tough subject. "

  "When did you stop feeling grief over the loss of your friends?"

  He gave me a sad smile. "Never. You never get over it. I lost them in the first year of deployment. Two guys, and Ill never forget them. "

  "Me either but thats good, right?"

  "Damn straight. " He moved his hand from the steering wheel to my face, tucking back the stray hairs that wouldn’t stay put. I held my breath because I wasnt certain if I wanted to shake his hand off or turn and taste his entire hand. I didnt have to decipher my feelings for more than a second because he allowed his hand to drop back into his own lap. My twinge of emotion was a mixture of regret and relief.

  "What do you do when you arent mixing drinks?" His question caught me off guard and I wished I could say something adventurous like “I teach skydiving. ” At my hesitation, Gray wiggled an eyebrow. "Cant be that bad. "

  I released an embarrassed little laugh. "Its just so stereotypical. I might as well buy my red hat and dye my hair blue and call it a day. "

  "Now youre speaking another language. "

  "I knit," I admitted. "The most exciting thing I’ve ever done was to yarn bomb the lampposts at Central Colleges sculpture gardens. "

  "Whats that? Throwing balls of yarn at something?"

  "No, like putting sweaters on things secretly in the dark. "

  Silence.

  "Not very adventurous, right?"

  "Hell, who am I to judge?" he offered magnanimously. "Its creative. "

  I couldnt tell if he was interested or thought it was silly. "Not very exciting though, not like skydiving. "

  He shrugged. "You couldve been caught. "

  "We had the administrations permission. "

  "Yeah, not very dangerous. " He grinned at me and I caught a glimpse of white even teeth and crinkles around his eyes. It was a smile that made me feel warm and tingly inside. It made me want to smile back and so I did. "Knitting seems cool. Will you make me something?"

  This made me laugh again. "Thats everyones response when I tell them I knit. "

  "Damn, Im not very original. But does that mean no?"

  "You dont think that its a little dull?"

  "Not really. " He shook his head. "Has someone said that to you?"

  "Not about knitting specifically. Im just kind of a non-adventurous type of person. Will always said I kept him grounded. " I always took it as a compliment as Will intended it to be.

  Gray didnt comment on that, but instead he asked me, "What kind of things do you think are adventurous?"

  "Jumping out of airplanes?" I peeked at him. Whatever had shadowed his thoughts earlier were gone. Instead, a mischievous smile was directed toward me, as if he had some grand idea. It made me smile in return.

  “Jumping out of airplanes is good but there are a lot of other things we could do. ”

  We? I liked the sound of that. “Like what?”

  He gave me a mysterious look. “Leave that up to me. ”

  “What happened earlier?”

  The hand went back to the neck. Gray wasn’t very difficult to read but this time I didn’t think it was tension that made him grip his neck as much as it was embarrassment. “That was me being stupid and I’d like to make that up to you. ”

  Was that like an invitation for coffee? I couldnt figure it out, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to put the effort into mulling it over. I put the car into gear and coasted down Adams driveway toward the house.

  “I’m not agreeing to anything but if I did, what would I need to bring?”

  “Wear sturdy boots. Shorts. T-shirt. Bring your knitting. " He jumped out almost before Id pulled to a complete stop leaving me with unanswered questions and an uncertain tomorrow.

  I backed out and headed to my parents’ house. In the driveway, I pulled out my phone to text Eve. She was either sleeping, having sex with Randy, or winding down by watching some television. Hopefully the last one, because I wanted some more advice. I hadn’t been able to close the deal with Gray physically, but the car ride to Adam’s house wasn’t just meaningless small talk.

  I asked him to coffee but he turned me down.

  Way to go! And Im SORRY! Hes a douche. You are WAY too good for him. Where are you?

  Oh, Eve, such a good friend.

  Parents’ house. Took him up to my condo. We were friendly then he decided to go home. Guess he didn’t like the taste of my coffee.

  I’ve had your coffee. You have great coffee. Randy says U should stay AWAY. Too Ducking dumb. God, I meant F UCKING. STUPID PHONE. R says guy who doesnt know a coffee invitation means sex cant find your C L I T anyway. STUPID PHONE typed CLOT.

  He asked me to go on adventure with him tomorrow.

  OH HE DID! He may be able to find the CLOT after all. UGH. U KNOW WHAT I MEAN!

  He told me to wear sturdy boots, shorts, T-shirt, and to bring my knitting. Is that code for sex too?

  There was no response right away. Had she passed out? Slipping out of the car, I headed into the house and to my bedroom. I was able to change, wash my face, and brush my teeth before I got a response.

  Were STUMPED. R says he may be kinky bastard. May like outdoors sex. U be careful?

  Should I stay home?

  This time, she responded immediately. NO! was the immediate response. GO and tell me ALL DETAILS tomorrow night. Bring condoms. Never trust other person.

  As I looked around my childhood bedroom, it occurred to me that I should’ve brought Gray here. There were no traces of Will in this room. My father had banned him from coming up here. Instead, Will and I had spent a lot of time in my parents’ basement, making out and sometimes even having furtive, not terribly satisfactory, sex. The fear of my parents catching us made it too hard for me to relax. I think the thrill worked the other way on Will. He always finished hard and fast. But that was Will, hard charging and thrill seeking. He said my more sedate pace was what kept him balanced and I kind of took pride in that. Being his anchor.

  My dad thought that as long as we werent doing it in my princess bed with its sheer white bed hangings I was still untouched. Ironically, my princess bedroom had become a haven, a place I could escape the suffocating memories of Will and me. I’d spent a lot of nights here right after Will died.

  Pulling the pink gingham quilted coverlet back, I climbed inside and tucked an old teddy bear next to me. The image of Gray as he effortlessly held me up flitted through my brain but I didnt want to be having a fantasy about him tonight. As I allowed exhaustion to pull me under, I wondered if my attraction to him was based on the fact that he was military and he reminded me vaguely of Will even though the two looked nothing alike. Oh, Will. God, why did you leave me alone? And I was alone—and so, so tired of it. The pang in my chest felt vaguely like guilt, and when I closed my eyes, my aching loneliness soaked my pillow.

  CHAPTER SIX

  Samantha

  ”NICE PAJAMAS. ARE YOU FIVE?" Bitsy wandered into the breakfast room as I was getting breakfast, or brunch to be technical given that it was half past ten i
n the morning. I glanced down at my Smurfette nightshirt and shorts and at the bowl of Cheerios Id just poured.

  "Yes, I am. What are you?”

  "Its hard to believe you’re the older sibling. "

  My response was to grunt into my cereal. I wasn’t equipped to verbally spar with her on my best days, let alone one that followed an emotionally exhausting evening. I just wanted to eat my cereal and read the new messages on the knitting message board that I’d pulled up on my phone.

  “We can’t all look like fashion plates. ” I squinted at her, taking in the high-waisted shorts, off-the-shoulder midriff top, and high-heeled cork sandals. “Is this normal weekend attire for kids these days?” I gestured at her outfit.

  “This is everyday attire for normal people. ” She set one hand on a bony hip and struck an I’m-too-good-for-this pose.

  “Normal people are exhausting then. ” Shaking my head, I turned my attention back to my phone where I could read the debate about whether wool or acrylic yarn should be used for knitting baby booties and hats. I liked both and acrylic was very soft but lots of people thought babies should only be in natural fibers. That was about as an important of a discussion as I could handle this morning. “I told David you were going to be the one to take over the firm in eight years. ”

  “Ooh, you had lunch with the Andersons?” She rushed over to take a seat at the table. “Was Tucker there?”

  “You do know that Tucker is old enough to be your dad, right?” Bitsy’s weird crush on Will’s older brother was funny in theory but kind of scary if it was real. “Aren’t there guys your own age you can date?”

  "No one dates anymore, Sam. " Bitsy sighed dramatically. Man, only a few years out of high school and I didnt even understand the mating rituals anymore. Coffee for sex and no dating. Actually, Will and I never really dated either. We’d moved from childhood friends to something more when we both realized that there were stronger feelings than just friendship.

  "So what do you do? Hang out? Hook up? Cavort?”

  “Cavort?"

  "You know, fool around. ”

  Even though she made no sound, I could tell she was rolling her eyes.

  “Cavort is an old lady word,” she mocked.

  “I feel old,” I said, stretching my arms out. “I feel eighty. ”

  “It’s because you hang out with old ladies all the time. ”

  “They aren’t all old ladies,” I protested. She was referring to my grief support group, the Yarn Over Widows Knitting Club. “I think some of them are in their fifties. ”

  “Mom’s not even that old!”

  “Husbands don’t usually die when they’re in their twenties,” I pointed out, quickly regretting it when Bitsy’s face fell. Hurriedly, I added, “Anyway, can you be sure to tell Mom that you’re going to take over the firm when Mom and David are ready to retire. ”

  She wrinkled her nose. “Ugh, no. I don’t want to be a lawyer. I’m going to do something else. ”

  “Like what?”

  “Not sure, but it’s going to be fun and awesome. ”

  “I hope so, Little Bit. ” I wanted her to be happy. Hell, I wanted to be happy, I realized, but I think my little sister had a better idea of how to achieve her goals than I did.

  “So was Tucker there?” She was like a dog going after a bone, persistent and relentless. Actually that was all Mom right there. I was more like Dad—letting things come to me instead of pursuing things.

  No. ” I shoveled the rest of my cereal into my mouth and then added more dry cereal to soak up the remaining milk. “At our last anniversary luncheon, Tucker yelled at his dad, and they almost got into a fist fight. Carolyn cried, and I wanted to crawl under the table. ” Two years ago, Tucker had started law school. When Will died, Tucker had dropped out and started inking people. Life was too short to live the life other people wanted for you, hed told me. So I guess Tuckers dream was to be a tattoo artist, because thats what he was doing now. “But it’d be nice if he came to hold his mom’s hand. ”

  “Mom says that Carolyn needs to learn to hold her own hand. ” Bitsy took the cereal from me and poured herself a bowl.

  Holding Carolyn up emotionally was an exhausting task and I wished Tucker would help me since his father wouldn’t. “He’s still a selfish jerk and way too old for you. ”

  “Mom says I’m an old soul. ” No, Bitsy, I thought, you’re so bright, shiny and new my heart aches at your beauty. I wished I still had that look. Instead, I felt dull and used and, after last night, rejected. When I had woken up, the memory of Gray telling me he had to get out of my condo was the first thing that popped into my mind—not the long meaningful discussion we’d had afterwards. The invitation to do something adventurous felt like a pity date rather than a genuine desire to spend more time with me. I felt foolish and embarrassed.

 
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JEN FREDERICK SERIES:

Woodlands