Unraveled, p.13
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       Unraveled, p.13

         Part #3 of Woodlands series by Jen Frederick
Page 13


  "Only the good ones. " Over her hands, I pulled short fingerless gloves that would protect most of her palm and fingers from a rope burn. "Im going to go first. Youll follow right behind me. Dont grip the rope too tightly, but let it flow through your fingers. You’re going to walk the wall, and Ill be right underneath you, so if you let go too fast, Ill catch you. "


  EM>ILL CATCH YOUEM. I LIKED that promise. In fact, I liked a lot about Gray this afternoon. His calm demeanor. His patience with me. His refusal to mock me for my little fears. I did feel secure in the harness he so carefully buckled me into although I almost passed out when he knelt between my knees. Eves recounting of her favorite up-against-the-wall position had flooded my mind. "If you havent tried that position then I’m really sorry because up against the wall or door while hes between your knees, one leg slung over his shoulder is un-friggin-believable. "

  I believed her because I felt ready to orgasm just looking down at him in that position as he was trying to put me in the safety harness. But my own feelings of lust were clearly not returned because, when he stood up, it was like he couldnt get away from me fast enough. I wasnt going to be sad about that. I was going to hang off a cliff holding on to a rope. That was pretty damn big for me.

  Gray took hold of his rope and stepped over the side of the cliff like it was nothing. My heart climbed back into my body once I saw him braced against the side of the cliff with his feet, just below the edge.

  "Ready?" he called.

  I gave him a short nod and turned around. Slowly I let out the rope between my fingers and then started edging down over the cliffs edge. It was freaky and I almost let go. He mustve climbed with amateurs before because he called out a warning.

  "Dont let go of the rope. The rappel is all about the rope. Let it do the work. " I slowly let the rope release through my hands, the friction miraculously allowing me to slide down slowly. I imagined I could feel Grays body beneath mine and the thought steadied me. We slid down the rock wall and I felt like the action hero I’d thought about earlier. I wanted to throw up my arms and yell out but refrained, figuring Gray would bark at me to keep hold of the rope.

  The mile-long distance between the top where we started and the rappel station below us sped by and before long, Gray was unhooking my harness and pulling the rope through the anchor. "Step back, I dont want the end of the rope to catch you in the eye. "

  Obediently, I stood off the trail. There was a smooth flat rock situated under a big canopy of trees. I guessed this was where Gray thought I could knit. It was a pretty perfect place. Gray was a conundrum. He’d turned me down last night but taken me out on an…outing, excursion—maybe even a date. Everything had been planned down to the last detail, and so thoughtfully. Even if I wanted to be mad at him for turning me down, I couldn’t be. So he didn’t want to have sex with me. He had taken me out and encouraged me to do something I’d never done before. Rappelling was incredibly fun and how many people could say that they’d done this?

  After the rope fell down, I flew at Gray and gave him a big hug. "Thank you," I said, and then drew back, feeling a bit embarrassed at my exuberance.

  "Fun huh?"

  "Yes, very. " The smile I was sporting actually hurt my cheeks. "Super fun. "

  Gray grinned back. "Im glad. " His eyes were warm and affectionate, like he was proud of his kid sister. I grabbed the backpack that Gray had discarded and tried not to be bummed out by the idea of Gray thinking of me like a little girl. Hed turned my advances down but was apparently willing to have me tag along for a little fun. The fact that he was sexy, nice, and thoughtful were things I should admire about him instead of objectifying him as a hook up. "Ill just sit here, then, while you rappel down and back up?" Given the quickness of our descent, I figured I wouldnt have a super long time to myself.

  "I wont be long. " He gave me a quick smile and jumped off to rappel down to the bottom. I sat down to knit under the shade but didnt even pull out the project. Instead, I stretched out on the rock and let the heat bake into me. It felt great. I felt great. I had been in a state of hibernation—and not just about guys. I’d shut myself off, and now I needed to work on being more social, enjoying interaction with others beyond my family and a few coworkers. Bitsy was right. I needed to start hanging out with other people my age, not just the over-fifty widows in my knitting support group.

  I opened the backpack that Gray had shoved my knitting in and found sandwiches, chips, protein bars, and bottles of water. And napkins! My god, a girl could only be so strong. Mentally I prepared my police station confession. Im sorry, Officer, but he held my hand, smelled amazing, and then provided me food. I had no recourse but to attack him. Go easy on me. Pushing to my feet, I decided to check on Gray. I stood and stared down at him—past the jutting rocks and the branches of trees growing out of the side of the cliff and long stretch of space until there was land. I leaned forward and felt the vastness take hold of me. And I laughed. It was more like a scream or a cry outside of my body but inside I felt relief and exhilaration. I didnt hear him at first because I was caught up in my own feelings. His voice was just an echo, like a free bird cawing to its flight formation in the wind.

  "Get back!"

  The sound was closer now, and when I looked down, my toes were poking into the space of the blue sky, and for a moment I tottered forward, startled by his shouts.

  "Get the fuck back!" Gray roared. He was waving his arm at me. I wasnt sure if he was coming or going, but I stepped back obediently, my pleasure fading quickly. He clearly had a thing with people standing close to the edge. I didnt want to him to freak out anymore, so I lay down on my belly and dangled my arms over the edge as I watched his body get bigger and bigger as he closed the distance between us.

  He was fuming mad when he got to the top. Even though he didnt say much, the jerky way he coiled the ropes and stuffed things into the backpack were pretty telling. Anxiety took hold of me. I hated when people were angry with me and when I disappointed them. Its why I kept having lunch with Wills mother once a month, even though it was more painful than a root canal as she tried to reminisce about the good old days when Will was still alive. Looking down at my shoes, I tried to shut out Grays movements.

  "Do you want to have something to eat?" he asked. Impatience rang out clearly in his voice even though he tried to pretend like he really wanted to sit on the nice rock under the nice shade and have a nice afternoon snack.

  "No," I replied still looking down. "I think I need to get back. "

  His only response was to grunt and start walking down the hill. It didnt take long to get to my car and we hadnt exchanged more than two words on the hike back to the parking lot. When we were on the road, I ventured a thank you. "I had a good time today. Thanks for bringing me. "

  Gray sat in silence for most of the trip, but he obviously wanted to say something. He’d open his mouth, clear his throat, and then shut it again.

  “What?” I asked, exasperated. “What is it that you want to say?”

  He drummed the console between us with his finger tips for a moment and then gruffly asked, "Are you depressed? Do you need to see someone? There’s nothing wrong with that. "

  "No! Why do you ask?" Where did this come from? I was so embarrassed.

  "Because you were…” he paused, clearly fighting some stronger emotion, but I didn’t let him finish. His unjust accusation fired my temper.

  "I stood on the edge to see if you wanted to eat something. Clearly you have lingering guilt over the widow in your unit. Maybe you should see someone," I shot back.

  "Its a platoon,” he said curtly.

  "I dont really care, soldier," I replied sarcastically.

  "Im not a fucking soldier, and you know it. "

  "Dont curse at me. "

  "Dont call me a soldier. "

  "You Marines are neurotic about this, you know. You should see someone, just so you can get it through yo
ur head that not everyone is insulting you when they refer to you as a soldier. "

  "Only the Army has soldiers. " Gray fumed.

  The Rover came to a shuddering halt at the light at the top of the exit ramp. "See, neurotic. " I pointed at him, not even paying attention to the lights. We were both breathing heavily, chests heaving. Quick as lightning, Gray reached across the console, and for a second, I thought he was going to kiss me. Maybe he was going to and he changed his mind at the last second. Instead, he pressed his forehead against mine.

  "Im sorry," he said.

  I shouldve still been angry with him but his apology, his fear, his resignation wiped it away. "Me too," I whispered back. We might have stayed like that forever if not for the cars honking their horns at me because the light had turned green. I pulled back reluctantly and took Gray home. I helped him unload the ropes, and he gave me a quick hug.

  "See you around, Sam. " And then he was gone.



  I WANTED TO FIX THINGS with her but I wasn’t sure how. It occurred to me that I kind of sucked at interacting with women. When I wasn’t wearing the uniform, when I didn’t have the power of the Corps behind me, I was inept. The girls I’d been with didn’t hang out with me because I was funny or interesting to talk to. They fucked me and left me. I’d told myself for years that the only connection I ever wanted with a woman was a physical one.

  The weird hiccups in my heartbeat when I watched my boys interact with their girlfriends made it clear that that statement was a lie. I’d shoved the desire for something more with a female down so deep I believed it didn’t exist, but here I was all worked up because I’d fucked up with a girl I barely knew. Although that was another lie.

  I’d shared more meaningful conversation with Sam than anyone I could remember, in years. Her eyes held no judgment only understanding. Maybe it was because she’d been married to a soldier, but she knew me. She could see inside of me and that both scared the shit of me and excited me in a way that made me worried for my own sanity.

  A wicked ugly sense of insecurity washed over me and suddenly I was angry. At myself in part but at Sam, too, for opening my eyes.

  I’d never gone hiking with a girl before. I’d never just simply enjoyed hearing her wild laugh at the first step off the cliff. Shit, that was a sound of pure freaking joy and I’d ruined it. When she’d leaned over the edge, her arms out wide, the sound coming from her was enough to make the entire valley smile, but for me? Within me, the sound had turned sour, and I’d reacted without thinking. I needed her to stop laughing, and so I accused her of doing something I knew, deep down, wasn’t going to happen.

  My actions came from the protective sense of self-preservation I’d cultivated since my girlfriend Carrie had cheated on me during my second deployment. I was getting shot at, my friends were fucking dying in the field, and I spent every night dreaming about being home with her, in her bed. But while I was creating fantasies to keep me from going insane, she had been shacking up with the local Marine recruiter.

  Only in the Marines did you love your brothers one minute and then hate them the next for sleeping with your girl, rifling through your mail, and stealing anything of worth that wasn’t locked down. A true fucking dysfunctional family. I wasn’t sure why I loved it, but I did.

  But it had been there for me when Carrie wasn’t. When I came home to find her shaking the tires off her car with the Marine officer, it had been my brothers who took me out and got me wasted. It was the Corps that had given me so much shit to do that I didn’t have time to think of Carrie. I had been too tired to even stroke my wood if I had the urge—which I didn’t for several months after I saw her pale ass bouncing in the window of the car. It had been the men in my platoon who found me hook up after hook up until I was lost in a sea of unfamiliar pussy and had forgotten my own name as well as Carrie’s. It had been Hamilton, my battle buddy, who’d recommended doing the friends-with-benefits thing with a local first responder. And one thing led to another until all I had in my life was my family, my brothers from the Corp, and a few women who I called up at ten at night to ease my physical ache. Then I left them, because lying in bed with a woman for the entire night was more than I could stomach.

  I never spent time with woman just casually unless it was my mother. No wonder Sam confused me. But even as she scared me, I was drawn to her. We weren’t done yet. I just had to figure out how to convince her to give me another chance.

  The next morning, I took Noah and Bo up on their offer to run around the neighborhood. I think I’d foolishly hoped I’d bump into Sam. At five in the morning. Hey, she’d fucked with my mind. What could I say?

  “This is like physical training. You always were a gunner, Noah,” I panted as we came off a sprint. I’d made the stupid mistake of asking Noah how he was training for an upcoming fight he had on television. Come and see, he’d said, which was the same as saying that he didn’t think my post-deployment ass could make it more than a few miles. I couldn’t stand down from a challenge. I was regretting it now. Rather than a sustained run for eight or nine miles, Noah had decided that Bo and I should run interval sprints. For an hour. The good thing was that I was too tired to think about the shittastic ending to yesterday’s hike. My cheeks felt hot when I thought about the tantrum I’d pulled. Rivulets of sweat blurred my vision, and I grabbed the bottom of my shirt to wipe my eyes and cover my flush. "You two do this every morning?”

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