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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 9

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 9

Twenty minutes later he was finished with his swim and was a tad bit disappointed.  Kari hadn’t shown up and although he really hadn’t expected her to he had on some level wanted her to.  Crawling out of the pond he grabbed the towel and stripped off his shirt.  Taking a quick glance to the side one more time just before he peeled off his swimsuit and unintentionally shocked her.  Not seeing anyone near he went about the business of changing.  Quickly he pulled on his worn jeans and then a light gray sweatshirt that was probably just as old as his jeans but fit just as comfortably.  
Sitting down he grabbed his bag and pulled out the thermos he had brought with him with one hand and with the other stuffed his wet clothes in another compartment in the bag.  He still wasn’t sure why he had brought the coffee and the two mugs, hope maybe, but he had and even though he was alone he could enjoy a cup.  It was there.  He poured himself a cup and sat down to watch the sunrise.
Taking a sip of coffee Holden rubbed his head.  This was the worst time of day for him.  That was the most important reason he was always out of the house.  He just couldn’t face each day like he had before.  Even now Holden could hear the engine sounds in his head.  The accident had happened just after dawn.  The faces of his friends dying and in pain still fresh in his mind even now.    
If he closed his eyes he could still relive every moment.  After the explosion  the insurgents were on their tail so to speak and there was no clear space to land.  The radio went silent, the only sound was the helicopter engine and blades.  That was until they landed.  It was then that the screaming was no longer drowned out.  What he hadn’t realized until later was that he had been one of the ones screaming.  It was those who hadn’t been screaming that he should have been worried about. Moments after the crash they had had to drag both the dead and living from the burning carcass of the helicopter.  He had wanted to help but his leg wouldn’t hold him, his body red and raw.  He lay there conscious with the wounded, the dead, or whatever was left of them.  
Shots were exchanged, but the experience had been more intense than he had ever experienced.  After all he was only allowed to go out if the group was relatively sure the op was safe.  As they lay broken and battered, some dying, some dead, they realized that the only way they would survive was to walk through the hills and out to safety after a few had secured the area.  Patching what they could, splinting what was broken and saving the grieving until later they started off.  Holden with his burnt body and broken leg had been pulled, or dragged out on a stretcher.  Some  had helped to carry the dead out and some of the dead had been placed on the stretchers with the living, or barely living.  The healthiest of the men worked the way they worked best, as a team, or what was left of it, none of them allowed their feelings to thaw during the whole ordeal.  Holden couldn’t remember exactly how long it took, he had gone in and out of consciousness so many times that he had lost track of time.  In the end he was prohibited from writing about it.  Security issues they said and it was listed as mechanical failure.  Funny that now he should think he was failing them by not telling the story.
Holden’s head dropped and he took a sip of coffee to try and break the spell the mornings always had on him.  The memory of the swim now seemed miles away as he finished reliving the accident again, like he did every morning.  It was no wonder he had wanted Kari to show up again, she had been the perfect distraction yesterday.  The lilt in her voice, the innocence of her face, the fresh smell of some flowery shampoo she used as well as the curve of her hips had been very distracting.
Off to his left he heard the rustle of leaves.  Sitting absolutely still he listened for the pattern of someone walking.  If it was an animal, not the humankind, the pattern would be random as they stopped and started.  If it was the humankind then their stride or pace would give them away.  He heard it again, only this time he could tell that it was getting closer, and it wasn’t completely random sounds coming from the leaves.  Smiling, Holden’s facial muscles relaxed into a smile as he listened more intently.  Slowly the tension in his body slipped away as the light footfalls got nearer and nearer even though the person making them was trying hard to be careful.  Not that it was helping.  He picked up the silver thermos just as she cleared the tree-line.
“Come on over and have a cup of coffee,” Holden heard the footfalls falter for just a second and then recover.  “Don’t worry I’ve already changed.”  Pulling out a clean mug he poured her a cup and set it down beside him, not too close though.  Kari cautiously walked up and sat down on the other side of the mug.  She hesitantly picked it up.
“How did you know it was me?”  Kari would like nothing more than to ask why he had expected her to come back but stuck with the safer question.  Holden pointed to the thermos.  Looking at it she could see that he had probably used it as a mirror when he had first heard her coming.  
“Hope you don’t mind,” Holden continued to look at the horizon instead of her.  It was better to let her think it was just the thermos and not the fact that he had hoped to see her again this morning to chase his ghosts away.  Although the ghosts were leaving, he knew his face still held a trace of the pain.  He could just see her out of the corner of his eye though, “I don’t have any cream or sugar.”
“Black’s fine.  In fact I prefer it that way,” and she took a cautious sip.  It was probably to test how hot it was but it brought back memories of his Uncle Ed.  
Uncle Ed would spend hours trying to tame wild animals.  One summer he spent a good two months working with a horse that had been abused.  Ed had explained to him that animals were skittish for good reasons.  They had over developed survival skills.  Holden and Ed had worked together that summer.  First they had left oats and apples in the feeding trough for the animal and walked away.  Slowly they could tell that as they walked away each time, the animal decided that it was okay to approach the trough and get the food.  Pretty soon, they left the food and stood outside the gate, not leaving,  Each time the animal got used to what they were doing they would move just a bit closer, just enough to start breaking down the walls that had been constructed.  It was a rewarding summer when he finally got to pet that animal and by the next summer he had been riding it.  For good or bad, Kari reminded him of that animal.  The analogy, for good or bad, made him smile.  Something in her past had caused her to become very cautious of men or relationships and he wanted to find out which.  
“So why did you bring the coffee?”  Kari was truly interested.
“Probably for the same reasons that you came back over here to look to see if I was swimming again this morning,” he paused, looked at her and smiled.  “Curiosity of course.”
“Touché,” Kari took another sip.  “Yesterday you were coming out of the Cortez’s when I went in.  Lora said you had just dropped off some wood for them,” and she paused as if waiting for confirmation.
“Yah, had some time on my hands and extra wood just itching to be split so I spent the morning chopping wood,” he took a sip and then continued.  “When I finished I discovered that I had way too much and I knew that they needed some so,” and he stopped talking, then shrugged his shoulders.
“It was really nice of you,” and they both fell silent again.  Kari focused on the liquid in her cup until the sun completely lit the sky with beautiful pinks.  As the sun topped the horizon they watched the progression it made quietly into the sky for another five or so minutes without talking.  It should have been uncomfortable, but it wasn't, it was oddly calming.  Finishing her coffee she put the cup down and started to get up.
“Going to head up the path again?”  Holden started to pack up both cups making sure not to look right at her as she stood up.  He could have easily let his eyes slide up those gorgeous legs, around that nice round bump just below her jacket, but where would that get him?  That was the hard part as he busied himself with the routine task.  Today was the first time he had faced sunrise with an eagerness that had been absent from his life for what seemed like such a long time and he even felt a little upbeat since the accident.  He knew it was in no small part due to Kari being there.  He wanted to touch her again to feel that jolt that had brought life back to him again.  It seemed a bit melodramatic when he put it that way, but in a way she had.  Until he had met her yesterday he had felt that he had just occupied this body, this shell, since the accident.  When she had slipped and he had grabbed her arm things had changed.  That spark between them had touched something in his soul and awakened it.  Smiling, he was silently glad he was a journalist and not a fiction writer.  
“I was thinking about it,” she was hesitating again and so, as much as he didn’t want to, he backed off.  Holden could have just simply slipped his arm around her and walked up the path with her letting the electricity between them fill him up but she would have bolted as his Uncle Ed would have said.  Indulging himself for a moment he looked at her.  She wasn’t very tall, only a few inches above five foot.  Her blond hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail again but he would have bet anything that if she let it hang loose it would be soft and silky against his skin.  
“I need to head back into town,” realizing he had been staring, he mentally shook himself and then he tore his eyes away from her.  It wasn’t surprising that she had been just a little worried about his question, “I’ve got some things to get done.  Thanks for having coffee with me this morning.”
“My pleasure,” and Kari moved back toward the path, “It was nice.”
“Yah,” and he looked back at her and this time he really smiled at her letting it reach his eyes, “I really did enjoy sharing sunrise with you.”  He couldn’t help himself, he slung his bag over his shoulder and caught up with her.  Uncle Ed may have to rewrite a rule or two as he took her elbow into his hand and helped her through the brush to get onto the path. He wasn’t disappointed with his choices either as he felt the warmth and spark tingle between them.  Kari felt it as well because he  felt the muscles in her arm tighten and a resistance to what she was feeling between them but it wasn't enough to make her pull away.  He knew, she was just as intrigued as he was with it at that moment.
“Thanks,” as soon as they reached the path she removed her arm from his grasp not wanting to chance that he would come any further.  And just like that the feeling was gone.  
“Maybe I’ll get to see you again tomorrow,” and he waved as he turned and walked away.  It was hard not to look back but he had done hard before and he could do it now.  Holden was sure of one thing though, even though he wasn’t looking at her, she was watching him.  
“Maybe,” Kari wasn't sure if she had said that loud enough for him to hear, wasn’t even sure if she had said it loud enough for her to hear.  Holden wasn’t like any man she had known before.  She was used to men in suits with jobs that matched.  Men that fought their fights in the boardrooms.  Holden looked like he never wore a suit or even owned one.  
She couldn't help but notice each step he took.  He looked strong and sure of himself.  His dark hair was nearly dry now with a wave to it that made her fingers itch to touch it.  His shoulders were wide but his waist was slim and trim.  This created the perfect balanced look of power, strength, and all man.  He knew it in the way he walked and carried himself.  It was deliberate and purposeful.  If that wasn’t enough, when he touched her she felt it all the way to her bones and down to her toes.  The warmth she felt unnerved her.  Just how a touch could make her feel so connected, so alive?  He was nearly out of sight now, so she turned with her head full of clutter and static and looked up the path.  Contemplating the new and strange emotions he seemed to be able to reach within her, she started her walk up the path.
Holden slowed the truck and turned down the road in front of Addy's house.  Glancing at his watch as he stopped in the drive and got out of his truck.  He frowned a bit because he knew he was late, or later than normal.  The fact that Mia was looking out the window waving only highlighted the point.  They should just about be ready to sit down for breakfast.  As he walked closer to the house the back door was flung open and like a shot Mia came at him.
“You’re late!” Came the accusing tones from a eight year old.  “Mom was getting worried.”
“She was not Me Me,” he leaned over and kissed her on the head, “She's probably mad but not worried,” he leaned over and whispered in her ear.
“Mom said she was worried to my teacher over the phone,” Mia did not relax her stance, she even folded her arms in front of her as if to prove her point.  And just like that she grabbed him by the arm and began to drag him into the kitchen making him sit down at his place at the table.  He could see that they had been waiting for him.  Addy walked into the room, phone still in hand, brow furrowed, stopping mid-sentence.
“Hey sis,” he smiled but knew it wouldn’t do him any good.  He was in for a scolding.
“Hey,” and she placed her free hand on her hip.  "Got to go," and she ended the call without changing her focus.  Eyes straight at him.  
“Me Me says you were worried,” he waited for her reply as she came over and sat down.
“Mia would you go and get the paper from the other room,” and that was when Holden knew he was in trouble.  Her voice flat and her eyes so focused it scared him.
“Sorry, I should have let you know I could be late,” and there was still silence until she was sure that Mia was out of earshot.
“That might have been helpful,” she kept her voice low, “I know you go swimming up there and anything could have happened especially since,” and she stopped her voice catching in her throat.
“I know, I know, but you really don’t have to worry about me,” and he was cut off, her hand up between them to emphasize the point.
“Right,” this was the first time he had heard her mad and terse since he had arrived here this time, and even now it wasn't an all out attack.  Her voice stayed low but focused, “I get this call from some doctor telling me you have been seriously hurt and that you’ll be coming here to recover but won’t tell me what happened or what I can do for you,” Holden tried to talk and Addison just held up her hand again to shut him up.  He did so immediately, “Then you get here looking like hell and tell me even less, but I can tell that whatever happened was pretty bad because you haven’t stopped to process anything.  As soon as you were able, and even before that, you painted, chopped, mulched, and fixed until you pass out each night but you haven’t talked.  I’ve been walking on eggshells wondering what could and would set you off or what I could do to help you.  And then you tell me you are considering a life changing career move and nothing more.”  She stopped only because Mia came back into the room but he could tell there was more to this scolding.
“Addy you are right, and I apologize,” he also knew that wasn’t enough.  “Me Me,” he turned to look at his niece, “are you headed over to Daniel’s after school today?”
“Oh Mom, Mom can I?  Can I?”  It got the reaction he needed.
“We’ll see hon,” Addison’s attention was redirected toward Mia, but not before she threw him a stern look.  
“I’ll tell you what Addy, if Mia heads over to Daniel’s why don’t we meet for coffee and that chat you want,” as soon as he said this Addison’s head shot back in his direction with that look of shock he knew he could only get out of her occasionally.  As kids he used to do it all the time but as they got older the shock and awe he could muster had decreased.

“Okay,” she said a little more quietly, “That sounds nice.  It’s a deal but we will have to check with Daniel's mother first.”  They finished their breakfast inundated by the chatter of Mia who had no idea what was going on in the room. 

Monday, June 26, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 8

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 8

The smells wafting from the place made her think of small towns, playgrounds, and family gatherings.
“Wow,” Kari said when they walked in.  The place was packed, “How long will it take to get a table?”
“Way too long if I hadn’t called ahead,” Jordan was tapping her finger to her head emphasizing how smart she had been and then turned to wave at someone, “Hey Doris, where do we sit?”  Kari recognized Doris as the waitress that had helped her last night.  Doris pointed toward the back corner, just out of sight of the door.  Jordan moved in that direction avoiding menus, elbows and tables.  They settled down in the two seats at the small table and watched the others standing around waiting.  She could just barely see the people waiting at the door.  Kari could see through the window that there were now more waiting outside on the porch for a seat and Kari was thankful that Jordan had called ahead.  Kari wondered why she had made the reservation for two but didn't ask.  Jordan didn't seem like the person to sit by herself for long.  She was naturally social.  They sat there for maybe five minutes just listening to the din in the room before Doris got back to them to take the order.
“Hey, good to see you back.  The food must have been good last night,” it was obvious now that Doris remembered her from last night as well.  “You must be working at the clinic if you’re hanging out with this one?”
“I’m Kari the new case manager on staff,” she stated as she took the menu that was offered.
“I don’t need one of those.  I already know what I want Doris,” and Jordan waved the menu away, “Does Ed have some of that chicken pot pie made up today?”
“Sure does,” Doris smiled.
“That’s what I’m craving.  Best pot pie anywhere on the east coast,” and Jordan added, “and a glass of ice tea.”
“Sounds good to me,” Kari had no doubt that everything was good in this place, the way it was packed suggested it.  Glancing back at the menu she closed it purposefully.  “I think I’ll have the same,” Kari handed the menu back, “If Jordan says it’s that good I'll have to trust her.”
“Oh honey, it’s that good,” Doris gave a nod of her head for assurance and then turned and walked away.  
“Okay, now that that's done tell me all about yourself,” Jordan gave her full attention to Kari by propping her head on her hands, elbows on the table and suddenly the din fell away.  With Jordan's full attention on her there was very little way out of this.  After a few moments she settled on the amount she was willing to share.
“Not much to tell.  Grew up and worked in Richmond all my life till now.  Decided I needed a change so here I am,” Kari wasn’t willing to go into all the unpleasant details, especially those about Trevor, so she stuck with a general explanation.
“Wow, you are either super boring or super secretive and I am still trying to figure out which,” it was obvious that Jordan didn’t believe that Kari had told her all that she could but she wasn’t going to push too hard.  At least not yet.
“Uhm,” and that was all Kari said before Jordan continued.
“No matter.  I’ll find out which soon enough.  As for me,” Kari smiled as Jordan continued, happy to have the spotlight off of her.  She was about six years younger than Kari and her bubbly personality could support at least three people.  Kari still hadn’t seen her with anything but a smile on her face, even the time she had come in and interviewed with Dr. McCoy.  Kari couldn’t imagine anything getting her down or making her sad.  Jordan wore her picture perfect blond hair in a short bouncy ponytail.  Kari wasn’t sure how she wore it during non-work times that was still to be seen, but Kari imagined it might be a long bob cut.  That was the only haircut that would match her personality.  Jordan didn’t sit still when she talked either.  She seemed to be in a constant state of motion with her hands doing half of the talking.  She was the perfect receptionist for the clinic, bubbly personality, friendly, and Kari guessed if Jordan had her way she would become one of Kari’s good friends as well.
“I was born here in this little town of ten thousand or so, and went to school here.  Boring right?” Kari was about to say something and Jordan waved her off, “Wrong.  My pa was the sheriff and I got to ride along from the age of sixteen, or at least that’s what he tells me to tell people,” she stopped only to catch her breath and smile crookedly, “My mom would have had a cow if she had known but by that time they were divorced and she had no idea how I spent my time, too busy with her life you know.  But pa always had time for me.  It was by the time I was sixteen that mom had met the man of her dreams,” and Jordan put up her fingers to make imaginary quotation marks as she made a swoony-like face.  “Yeah right, but who cared.  She let me go live with pa full-time then and she ran off.  No idea where she went and I really don’t care now.  Pa was all I needed. 
“Now you might wonder why I never left this little town and went off to college and such,” she took a breath when Doris came and set the iced teas down.
“Now Jordy don’t bore this poor woman to death or she might just fall asleep on the table and as you can see we need all the tables we can get this lunchtime,” Doris said it with a grin.
“Oh ha ha Doris.  If she won’t tell me about her then she’s just going to have to deal with me doing all the talking.”  Kari just watched the exchange and realized why Jordan had never left.  This was home and not the kind where you say it’s home but the kind where you feel it in your bones and ache to get back to it when you leave.  The people here are the people who care about you and what you do in life.  It’s the place where even the little things seem to put your world back in balance.  She was blessed to have found it, and Kari could see that Jordan understood how much it meant to have it. 
“Careful of this one,” and Doris winked, “She’ll talk your ear off.”
“Very funny,” but then Jordan continued to talk and it didn’t seem that she stopped talking until the food got to the table.  The food, chicken pot pie, was absolutely excellent as she had promised and they both went back to the clinic with full stomachs.  Kari had a lot more to think about.  With all that Jordan had been through in life already she shouldn’t be so cheerful but she was the picture of happiness. 
By the time Kari finished up that afternoon she was tired and ready to head home.  Still feeling full from lunch she decided to just go back to the apartment she had rented and scrounge for whatever she could find there.  She was sure that she had a couple pieces of fruit or something.  Walking up the stairs and through the door she felt a mixture of depression and indifference.  This just wasn’t home.  It was what it was, a cute little apartment in which she could and should start over again, and after the last two days she was discovering that it was both harder and easier than she had imagined.  She may be in a new place, a new job, but the old her was still hanging around refusing to be exorcised.  
Foraging through the cupboards she found a can of soup.  Deciding it was as good as anything else she dumped it in a bowl to microwave it it.  As she waited for the familiar ding she got a glass of water.  Once it was all ready she settled down in the large chair in front of the television to watch a movie.  The furniture was nothing special, it had come with the place, everything but the bed.  That had worked for her as she had a small problem with the bed being part of the included furnishings.  Flipping through the local channels she finally settled on the local independent station.  The old movie had already started but that was okay, she knew it by heart.  It was really just on for background noise.  Taking a couple bites of soup she lost her desire to eat and set it down on the side table, leaning her head back.
Three hours later she woke up with the nearly full bowl of soup now cold on the side table.   Rubbing her neck and looking at a television screen that had switched to some reality show that she hadn’t and didn’t want to see she knew it was time to go to bed.  She unfolded herself from the chair and stretched flipping off the TV and taking her now cold bowl of soup back into the kitchen area.  Dumping it down the sink she yawned and turned to go to bed.  Living on your own there were very few dishes to do or things to take care of at the end of the day.  As soon as she got to the bedroom door she knew she couldn’t crawl into that bed.  She had decided to keep the bed, the bed she had shared with Trevor.  It had been one of the few pieces of her previous life she had kept. Giving herself a silent nod she walked past the bed to the bathroom and brushed her teeth to get ready for bed.  
Walking out of the bathroom she didn’t even glimpse at the bed.  Grabbing the throw at the bottom of the bed she headed back into the living room.  Making sure all the lights were off she sat down on the couch and sighed.  She couldn’t spend tonight in that bed.  With any luck, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, she would sleep dreamlessly, if not well.
Something woke her and she lay still.  It was too early.  The sun was not up and the day was nowhere near the beginning but here she was awake once again.  Listening for a moment she determined that there was no one around, and at best it might have been a stray pinecone falling on the roof that startled her from her sleep.  She sighed, at least this time she hadn’t had any dreams that she could remember.  She knew that everyone dreamed each and every night but she also knew that not everyone remembered their nightly dreams.  Today she could count herself in with the lucky ones that couldn’t remember what they had dreamt about.  Glancing at her watch she noticed it was about five in the morning, about half an hour later than when she got up yesterday.  It was probably about right considering that she had fallen asleep at about seven thirty last night to begin with.  No matter, she decided.  If she got up now she could be out the door in fifteen minutes and on a hike again.  Rolling off the couch she headed for her closet.
Kari unknowingly smiled a bit.  She wasn’t sure if she wanted to go on a hike, or, if she wanted to see that man again.  After all she did like looking at him and he seemed to be a nice enough guy from all that she had learned yesterday.  It was only yesterday wasn’t it?  She frowned a bit, not sure whether or not to trust her judgments.  Could he be that nice of a guy or was her guy-a-vision off.  After all who would paint someone else’s house and chop wood for them if he wasn’t truly a nice guy.  It also helped to explain the way he looked.  He was obviously accustomed to hard work and probably liked it.  He might work construction or maybe he was in some other manual labor field.  It didn’t explain the swimming at five in the morning but everyone had their secret passions, she certainly had hers.  And what was worse she didn’t understand why she was all that interested in him at all.  She chalked it up to the fact that she was now involved with Daniel’s family and that must be it.  All she knew, as she walked out the door, was that she hoped she would see him once again.  
Holden jumped into the pond and consciously held his breath, as he knew, by experience, that the cold water would knock it right out of his lungs.  Surfacing again he shook his head then began to sing the familiar tunes of the 80s that he learned from a friend of his on the team he had spent the last assignment with.  He knew he wasn’t a very good singer but it didn’t matter, no one else was around and it brought him comfort and solace. He stopped singing for a moment as yesterday’s escapades flashed in his head.  Yesterday had been a treat and he had had a peeping Tom, he had gotten to meet Kari.  Kari, that’s what her name was, Kari. Simple, pretty name, for a complicated person he was pretty sure.  
He had seen her at the cafe just the night before.  Not too many new faces ever showed up in town and not only was she a new face she was a pretty face.  One he definitely remembered.  He thought about that sweater and how she looked in those trousers as she had walked out of the cafe, and he smiled.  At that time he had had no clue that he would see her again, or that she would see so much of him.  She had actually snuck up through the woods to watch him swim and listen to him sing, which was a little scary in itself.  Okay, maybe she hadn't snuck up on him.  The path there was pretty overgrown.  Also the pond was off the beaten track and his singing may have made her think someone was dying.  Holden laughed and began his song again as he stroked across the pool hoping for history to repeat itself.  
Yesterday Holden had been careful not to scare her when he got out of the pond, but it was hard not to let her know that he knew she was looking.  The light had been just new enough that the shadows hid the scar tissue on his torso, but it had been only gentlemanly to let her know that he was about to drop his drawers.  It’d been a long time since someone had seen him in his birthday suit as well.  It just let him know how long he’d been recovering and how much his guard was really down.  
Usually in the field, even if he wasn't a solider, complacency could get you killed.  He had watched it happen, written about it, tried to learn how and why the men who protected this country did what they did.  Tried even harder to explain it to his readers.  It was true that he wasn’t part of the elite branches he reported on but they had taken him in, let him write about them, and worked with him treating him with more respect than he expected.  The special operations team he was embedded with relied on their ability to pick up on the little nuances in life and they made sure that he wasn’t going to be a liability, so he learned.  A flinch, a small twitch could make the difference between being alive or dead.   
Many years ago Holden had gotten a chance to take on the news assignments he had really wanted.  Travel the world, uncover injustice and send back reports on what really mattered.   It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that he'd gotten a chance to become an embedded reporter with a special operations military unit.  To get the assignment had been fantastic and then to be treated as part of the unit was an honor he had worked tirelessly for.  He wasn’t allowed to go into every situation with them but he had managed to make his way into a lot of dicey situations.  It was true, the risks were higher but he had loved his job and it had done wonders for his career.  Not that he cared, it was more important that their stories got out, what he could tell of them, than to have his career soar.  
He had loved it until about two months ago.  Something had gone wrong within a matter of minutes.  The unit had completed the mission and the helicopter had landed with him in it.  It was supposed to be a simple extraction, one of the reasons he had been allowed to ride along.  All were loaded in a matter of seconds and off they went smiling and doing a little well earned backslapping.  All was good or so they thought.  Moments later part of the helicopter exploded and burst into fire.  Near chaos ensued as they all were shot back into mission, survival mode.  It wasn’t pretty when it went down.  A couple good men were killed almost instantly, friends, and that's when he’d lost his love for the job.  In that one fiery crash he lost friends and himself.  They had ruled the crash an accident, not pilot error, but there was more to it than that he had heard the chatter.  No one was talking about it now, especially not to him.  No matter what they said it didn’t matter to Holden.  A lot had been lost that day.   

He refocused on the now.  The pond itself was quite large. It was at least fifteen acres and around 10 to twenty feet deep.  It was spring fed keeping it from becoming stagnant and stale.  The temperature of the natural spring-fed pond stayed constant at around sixty degrees.  Cold for most people, but nearly perfect for him to do his work out in with his tender and recovering skin.  Holden wasn’t sure why he kept checking the trees every time he turned around and lapped back toward the other side.  Maybe he was hoping to see Kari standing there.  She had been so frightened yesterday like a wild animal.  He had treated her just like that as well.  He had made sure to keep his hands down and his posture relaxed.  Last thing he really wanted was her running panicked out of the forest yelling that some strange man was chasing her.  If he was going chase her, and it was a thought, it wouldn’t be through a forest.  That thought made him smile as he dunked under the water once again.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 7

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 7

Holden arrived back at Addison’s and looked around.  He hadn't been able to stop thinking about Kari.  He didn't know if he should attribute it to the fact that he hadn't been out on a date for almost a year now, or if there was some other reason.  There had been a zing between them when they touched.  He had purposely left his hand in place a moment or two longer this time to test the theory, but as to why that was he wasn't sure.  He had to do something that would put his thoughts back in order.  The house, although in decent shape, could always use some work.  He needed another project to keep him busy and his thoughts far away this afternoon.  Problem was that nothing was jumping up and volunteering itself to be done.  It hadn't taken him long to chop some wood after Addy left for work, but that was done.  He couldn’t just sit around the house like Addy would have liked.  No matter what he did she would be upset, a silent brooding, about all the work he had done.  As he let himself in the backdoor he entertained the idea of sitting down and writing a piece, but just as fast as he had thought it he knew he wasn't ready to write anything down no matter what his editor had to say.
No, he needed something to keep his mind and body occupied, busy, far away from the pain and the loss he had experienced and the pleasure that could be Kari.  Definitely the pleasure that could be Kari, at least until he figured it out.  He wasn’t sure how long he could run from everything but until they caught him he’d just keep running.  He’d painted Addy’s house, inside and out over the last couple of weeks and chopped wood this morning.  In fact he had chopped so much he had had enough to take a truckload over to the Cortez’s.  That was a good thing in a couple of ways.  It meant that Addy wouldn’t really know how much he had chopped when she got home today.  Well at least not until Lora talked with her.  And they both had a good start for winter.  She didn’t rely on the wood burning stove all winter but right at the start and end of it she used it daily.  He’d already cleaned the gutters and weather-stripped the windows.  That had been in the first few weeks when getting up and moving had been harder than it was now.  It had been a trick on crutches and a cane but he had managed.  If he was ever going back out in the field as an imbedded journalist, he wanted to be back in shape.  He had gotten the better assignments and seen more because he had been in top notch shape and the guys respected that.  Scratching his head he looked around the kitchen.  The clock said it was just about noon, but he wasn’t hungry yet.
Walking over to the frig he pulled out a can of soda and popped the top.  As the sound of the fizz escaping filled the air he looked out the window toward the backyard.  It was then that it hit him.  The flowerbeds needed to be mulched in for the winter, leaves raked and here he was just itching to do it.  He'd be sore tomorrow but happy, so he set down the soda can on the counter and walked out the backdoor towards the shed in the back with as much of a spring in his step as he could muster.  So far he had avoided dealing with all those things that had happened to him and for now he still wouldn’t have to confront the remorse of being one of the survivors instead of one of the ones that had died.
Addison looked at her watch and then at her class.  She had been a teacher at this school for the last eight years.  For the last three years she had felt especially lucky.  Three years ago, when Mia turned five, she had started coming to school with her.  It was the perfect arrangement for the both of them.  Addison loved what she did and they both loved being able to be so close to each other.  It was important to her to be part of her child’s life and to be close to her but she also had to pay the bills.  This job came close to meeting all those needs.  The money was sometimes thin but the time with Mia was priceless.
Mia’s father had disappeared from their lives before Mia could remember him.  The jerk just up and left when he found out Addy was pregnant.  If he didn’t want anything to do with their child she didn’t want anything to do with him, so she never looked for him or tried to track him down.  For the entire second year of her life Mia had asked for Daddy not really knowing what she was asking for.  For Addy it had been hard.  At first she hadn’t told Holden anything about Mia's father though she knew none of it was her fault.  It wasn't until a year after Mia was born that Holden had come for a longer visit, he had sat down with her and had a good long talk about what had happened and why she hadn’t come right to him for help.  It had been a long talk with tears and all, but she knew then and there she should have come clean to begin with to him.  It had felt good.  From that moment on Holden had become an essential part of their lives, coming back when he could and being an important part of Mia’s life, a substitute father.  He even had helped with the bills to begin with.  Daycare wasn't cheep but now that Mia was in school Holden hadn't needed to give them financial support.  He still tried, but Addy steadfastly refused. 
After Addison had let Holden back into her life, she had let Mia get to know her uncle, and she had never looked back.  Holden had done what any good man would do, love that kid like his own, being a super-uncle.  The connection that had developed between them had helped all of them.  Him to balance the things he saw when he worked and her to have someone who was a father figure.  It helped him approach his job with fresh eyes and a spirit that had made him who he was.  He had become Uncle Den to Mia and she had become Me-Me to him.  When Mia had started to talk she hadn’t been able to call him Holden, and Den was close enough for all of them.  It had never changed.  Addison smiled as she thought about why Holden had started calling Mia Me-Me.  It was the end of her terrible twos and the beginning of her thrilling threes.  Everything was Me-Me, hence he had started calling her Me-Me and it stuck.  Mia missed him desperately when he was gone but he would always call when he could and they would talk incessantly for hours, mostly about the little things important to Mia.
Sometimes Addison felt like she was using him.  He had spent so much time with her and Mia that it seemed almost impossible for him to start his own life, have his own kids.  Normally she worried about him when he was out on assignment until he showed up healthy and whole, and he always showed up heathy and whole.  This time had been different.  Whatever he had been through had affected him so deeply and more than she had ever seen before.  When she first saw him she would have described him as broken and beaten down.  The worrying part had been the fact that a psychologist phone call had never preceded a visit from him before.  She was beginning to see the spark of the old Holden with each passing day she had hoped they could help him heal.  Holden just yesterday had talked about change, about putting down roots.  Roots had never been in his plans before.  Whatever happened it must have been big.  She recognized avoidance when she saw it, and he was doing it big time.
The murmur in her class increased a decibel or two and Addison was brought quickly back to the present.  They were supposed to be writing.  It was hard to keep eight and nine year olds quiet while they wrote a letter to their pen pals.  They were too eager to share what they were writing with their friends here.  She started walking about the room again and checking on their progress, helping them with their spelling, and in general reminding them to capitalize where they had forgotten to do so and uncapitalize when necessary.  
It was nearly noon and she was ready to take them to lunch and they were ready to go.  It had been a very busy morning.  She glanced in the direction of her phone.  Each and every day at noon she had wanted to call Holden to see what he was doing but she was afraid to.  She didn’t want to sound as if she was a worrier or as if she was harping on him to just sit around and recuperate like he was supposed to be doing.  Funny thing was that’s exactly what she wanted to do though.  After all he was her brother, but she wasn’t his mother.
“Mrs. Westlock, I don’t know what else to write,” one of her students blurted out without waiting for her to get there and after he raised his hand.  He hadn’t waited to speak but that was normal for this bunch.  By the time she brainstormed some new ideas with him she looked at the clock.  It was finally time to go to lunch.  She lined them up and took all her wigglers down to the lunchroom, or gym that served as a lunchroom right now.  Lunch was of course the most exciting part of each and every day because recess was soon to follow.  She stood there and watched them go in the cafeteria doors and waited for the next class to come in.  She watched as Cindy’s class bounced in right behind hers.  Addison often waited just so she could give a quick wave to Mia who was in Cindy’s class.  
“Daniel, head on up to the nurse’s office,” Cindy watched him lope off as the rest of her class lined up behind Addy’s class.  All were standing, or wiggling really, prepared to take the plates of whatever the mystery food was today.  Some days were better than others but most of the time it could be just about anything.  Daniel happily left the line and smiled as he galloped and twirled his way out of the cafeteria doors toward the nurse’s office.  “He’s having a good day.  He’s pretending to be a horse,” she leaned over and told Addison.
“I can tell,” it made Addison smile placing one finger on top of her lips to hold in the laugh that wanted to come out.  As Addison turned to look at the line Mia waved ‘Hi’ to her mother.  This year Mia and Daniel were again in the same class.  For some reason, on the first day of kindergarten, Mia had taken a liking to Daniel.  They had become best of friends quickly and now spent a lot of time together when Holden wasn’t in town.  Holden spent time with both of them when he was in town.  Daniel was a good distraction for Mia when Holden left.  Holden was a good distraction for Daniel and his family when he was here.  In fact Mia and Holden had helped to paint the Cortez house last spring.  It really hadn’t been Holden’s idea of a good time with two seven year olds but with a little pleading from Mia he had gotten on board quickly.  One day they had both come home armed with smiles.  It was the only thing Addison could see, the rest of them had been covered from head to toe with paint.  She was still unclear of how much paint had gotten on the house and how much had gotten on them.  From what she had discovered with a quick phone call, Daniel and his brother were covered as well.
“How’s Holden doing?” Cindy asked as they walked out of the cafeteria and back towards their classrooms to eat their own lunch.
“He hasn’t opened up about anything yet if that’s what you’re asking.  Not that I really expect him to but I didn't known what to expect after I got that phone call,” and they went back into Addison’s classroom.  Sitting down at the back table she pulled out her sandwich from the frig and sat it on the table.  
“I don’t remember you saying that he ever talked about his work,” Cindy put her hand out as Addison reached back into the frig for her food.
“No he doesn’t.  When I’ve asked in the past he just tells me its all in the papers for everyone to read.  This time he was different though.  He’s never been this restless before,” she handed Cindy her lunch from the frig as well.  
“How so?” Cindy knew the only thing she could do for her friend was to listen.   Up until now Addy hadn't said much but she knew Addison was worried this time, really worried.
“He hasn’t stopped to rest, to,” and Addison was looking off in the distance, “think.  In fact he just hasn’t stopped moving except to collapse at night to sleep.  It didn't matter how bad he was hurt.  Don't you remember me telling you about him doing the weatherstripping on the doors and windows while he was on the crutches?" Cindy just nodded, "He's avoiding it big time and I'm not sure that is healthy.”
“He will talk when he’s ready.  From what you shared with me after that doctor called, whatever happened to him was pretty bad,” Cindy unpacked her lunch.  “Did that doctor give you any clues?”
“No, not one even when I tried to get him to tell me more by asking what kind of medical treatments he would need once he got here.  He said the same thing you did.  He’ll tell you in his own time if he wants,” Addison took a bite of her sandwich.
“Then let him be.”
“Easier said than done,” she smiled, “and I don’t know if the house can take much more of his tinkering.”
“Hey, it may be therapeutic for him,” at that moment the classroom door flew open and in popped Daniel.
“The nurse isn’t there right now,” he said in almost a whine.  He wanted to be done so he could go and play.  Cindy got up and walked to the door.  
“Let’s go get you fed my boy,” and she patted him on the head as they both walked out leaving Addison to think about Holden.  Holden, her brother, who had told her just last night that he was wanting to make a change.
Kari got back to the office just before the lunch.  She had made two more home  visits to a couple of very nice elderly couples.  Both had been married for over forty years and it was sweet the way they had treated each other.  It made her a little melancholy about her life.  She was supposed to have had that, and now she still had a hard time thinking of her life without him.  Arguing with no one in particular, she stated the obvious, she could still have that life.  Many of their friends had even encouraged her to start looking for it again.  
Slamming the car door brought her back to reality and her job.  These visits had been fast and easy.  It seemed that the last case manager had taken the time to set up the services needed before they left.  The job had been empty for about four months but nothing had lapsed too bad and for that she was happy.  After lunch she would do one more visit and then Kari planned to spend the rest of the afternoon going over the files.  She would then set up training sessions for those who dealt with Daniel.  He was the one who most needed her attention right now.  It would be a busy few weeks just getting to know everyone that dealt with him.  The list was a long one.  On the top of her list for training was the school staff for Daniel and his feeding tube again.  It should be done once a year and the lack of a case manager had allowed that to slip.  That was only one of the things that needed to be done for them, among the various others were updating the medications he took.  Lora, his mother, had said that they had been trained a little over a year ago.  The last year she had gone in and instructed the teachers on how to deal with it, and although this was good, trainings like this should be done yearly and by medical staff.  Kari just wanted to do a follow up to make sure all was going okay and that no one there had any questions.  They were lucky to have a medical facility in town that could take care of Daniel most of the time and that hired a case manager, so she planned on giving them their monies worth.
Pulling her car into the lot it looked a lot calmer than it had earlier.  There were only a few cars and a couple of SUV’s in the lot.  Kari had to believe that most of these vehicles belonged to the staff.  Looking at her watch Kari knew the reason for the lack of business, it was lunchtime.  She put her car in park and was about to get out when she saw Jordan coming out of the front door and locking up.  When Jordan turned she spotted Kari in her car and waved as she walked into the parking lot.  She walked up to the car as Kari got out and closed the door.
“Hey come join me for lunch.  I think I’ve earned a good meal today,” she didn’t wait for Kari to say anything or even to choose to follow not.  She walked on just expecting Kari to be there, “I’m buying!”
“If it’s been that hard of a morning then maybe I should be buying you lunch,” Kari said as she slung her bag over her shoulder so she could double step it and follow. All the time amazed at Jordan’s continuously sunny attitude.
“Let’s discuss that once we get the bill,” and then as if it suddenly hit her she stopped, turned and looked straight at Kari, “Hey, how’d your visits go today?”
“Better than expected.  The last case manager must have been good,” Kari had finally caught up and they started to walk again.  She noticed that they were headed for the same small cafe she had eaten in last night, “Does everyone eat here?”

“Only the people who want good food.  It is hands down the best place in town for home cooking,” and with that said they turned and walked up the path to the front door, “and to answer your sort of question, yes she was.  Jamie was great and she would have stayed except her mom was having issues so she left rather quickly but Doc McCoy must have told you that.”  The colorful latticework framing the corners of the porch and highlighting the door of this Victorian house give this place a bright cheery look.  Something she hadn't noticed last night.  It had looked like a handy place to eat last night, but on closer inspection today it looked warm, inviting, and lively.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Intercession - Learn about the author

Annay Dawson was born in a small town in Iowa with a very large imagination. Not sure how to contain it she started writing. Instead of pursuing a writing career decided to go into teaching and use that same imagination to inspire children to learn. Over the years the need to write down the stories twirling around in her head motivated her to write her first novel. Once the first one was out the others followed quickly. She now lives a ‘double life’, teaching by day and writing by night.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 6

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 6

Kari finished her hike and went home for a shower and change of clothes.  She still made it to the clinic before the rest of the staff.  She had decided to stop in at the clinic before she went out to her first home visit just to make sure that she had done all her research.  She wanted to make a good impression. 
By the time Kari was ready to leave the waiting room was full and all the doctors were busy in the examining rooms.  Even Jordan was busy on the phone making more appointments as she walked through, but Jordan still managed a smile and wave when Kari passed by.  Since the hike this morning the thoughts of Holden Parker had been locked securely in the back of her mind.  All the thoughts of the man's amazing body that looked like it had been sculpted from stone.  Not that she could see much in detail because of the shadows.  And even though she wasn't thinking about it she could tell that his muscles were well used and he wasn’t ashamed of them.  He could certainly give Michael Angelo's David a run for his money.  If she hadn’t turned around fast after his warning she would have bet that she would have been treated to looking at the rest of his impression of the statue David.  None of that explained what she felt when he had touched her.  It felt as if she had been shaken to her very soul; made aware of him on some level she still had trouble comprehending.  
He must have felt it as well because he had quickly looked at his hands before he moved back and making sure not to get too close again.  It was at that point she knew she hadn’t imagined it.  She had gone over each step in the conversation knowing that he had stayed back at first only to make sure she was comfortable.  He must have sensed how wary she was of him and he had made sure to not get to close.  The only exception was to catch her as she tried to back away.  It was then that like a clumsy elephant she had tried to retreat unsuccessfully and began to tumble over her own feet.  Losing her footing she would have hit the ground unceremoniously on her rear but before she could fall he quickly moved in steadying her and then, almost as quickly, he was right back out of her space but not before the electricity zinged through them.
The one thing she couldn’t get out of her head though was his eyes.  It sounded funny to even her ears when she said it.  They were safe, warm eyes that instilled trust even though everything she had practiced about stranger danger over the years made her pretty sure she shouldn't trust him at all.  Keri stopped and moved to the side as another three people walked into the clinic before she could get out.  A thought drifted through her head; maybe it was he she shouldn’t trust.
“Hey Kari,” Jordan hung up the phone.  “Do you need a cup of coffee for the road?”
“Thanks,” and Kari wasn’t sure how she had done it but she was around and out with a to-go cup in hand.  “Can you use any help before I go?” Kari took a sip of the coffee welcoming the caffeine after the night of sleep she didn’t get.  The hike had helped and not helped all at the same time and she still had to figure what had exactly happened with the man she had just met.  The next sip she used to wash away as many of the thoughts of Holden as she could.
“No, got it under control,” and Jordan was back behind the counter as quickly as she had come out.  Kari looked down at her files and nearly jumped when Jordan flew back around dropping her hand on Kari’s shoulder, “Oh and by the way Dr. McCoy won’t be back for two weeks because he’s having so much fun with the new baby,” she smiled.  “His words, not mine!” and she was gone again.  Kari smiled at that thought and walked out the door.  That would keep this place hopping being one doctor short.
Kari got in her car and started to make her way out to the Cortez’s house.  She was still nervous.  GPS got rid of one worry at least.  She would get to know this town soon, but she didn't know it well enough right now to do her job.  Now all she needed to worry about was making a good impression.  Turning down a tree lined street she took a moment to realize how beautiful this time of year really was.  Each leaf contained the potential to become the most gorgeous pallet of colors.  Some of them would be lost before the change and fall hopelessly to the ground without reaching their full potential.  At that thought Kari felt saddened.  She wondered what her fall colors would have been. it should be the brilliant reds and gold’s of fall not the dull browns of leaves that had fallen missing the most exciting part of life.  Kari shook the thoughts from her head and refocused on the road.
The Cortez family lived on the edge of town in an older, smaller house.  Upon arrival Kari noticed an late model pick-up parked alongside the curb.  Pulling into the driveway she noticed that the house must be closer to one hundred years old.  She could tell that they cared for it as best as they could with everything else on their plate.  It had been recently painted and the porch had been repaired.  It still looked like it could use some work but most importantly, it looked like home.  
Walking up to the door she noticed there was no fence around the place.  It was easy to get a good look at the front and most of the back yard.  There were bikes and toys in the backyard, which meant that Daniel was not an only child, something that wasn’t in his case file but information she needed.  Potted plants lined the porch and wind chimes sweetly sang.  This family had the most important piece of any puzzle.  They had love, and she smiled outwardly.  Inwardly she wondered if she would ever find this happiness.  
Remembering why she was here she realized that happiness was fragile.  Raising her hand to knock she was shocked and surprised when the door swung open and out stepped the man she had run into early this morning, Holden Parker.  Like earlier he nearly knocked her over, except literally this time.  Kari missed a step as she tried to back out of the way.  Like the gentleman he had been earlier, he reached out and caught her again with the same electric-like results only this time he didn't let go quite as fast.  She looked, with both surprise and fear, at where his hand connected to her arm.  
“Well how about this,” his smile was mind blowing, “I get the pleasure of catching Kari Jackson twice today,” and as he had done before he released her when he knew she wouldn’t fall over.  He moved slowly, deliberately around her at the same time turning to look at Mrs. Cortez, “Let me know if you need anything else will you Lora,” and he smiled, boy did he smile.  He had smiled this morning but she hadn't gotten the full measure of it.  Kari turned a bit to watch him as he nonchalantly spoke to Lora and moved past her.  
"I hope I get a chance to catch you again," and he winked, he couldn't help it.  She smelled so good, like wildflowers.  He tried not to stare as he went down the three steps and over to the truck quicker than she could recover.  She was still looking at him and didn't that say lots.  
“Ms. Jackson?” Mrs. Cortez turned her attention toward Kari as the door to the truck closed and the engine started.
“Yes,” and she held out her hand.  She had barely recovered from her contact with Holden again.  From her second encounter though she could confirm her earlier conclusion that he seemed to be as good of a man as she had suspected.  This time she had some evidence to support it.
“Come on in,” Mrs. Cortez shook her hand and then moved out of the way so that she could come inside.  “I take it you know Holden.”
“No, not really, just met him this morning when I went hiking,” and she walked into a living room that had two worn and tattered tan and brown love seats.  It was obvious that all their extra cash went directly to help their son Daniel.
“He just shows up and fixes things when we don’t have time to. Don’t know where he finds the time or energy.  I also don’t know what Neal and I would do without his help at times.  He painted the house for us just last spring and he was bringing us a load of wood he chopped up this morning to help us through the winter.  With Neal working two jobs and the boys in school and me taking on odd jobs here and there, he’s been nothing but good to us.  Please sit.”  Kari sat on the nearest couch.  
“Community support is so important,” Kari was still trying to process what she was learning about Holden.    What did he do for a living?  How did he have all this time to help others?  Why in the world would he be swimming in such cold water on an already cool morning?  Also how did he have time to chop a truckload of wood this morning?
“Can I get you a cup of coffee?” Kari was shaken back to reality and noticed that Lora Cortez hadn’t sat down yet.
“No, no I’m just fine,” and then Lora sat down on the other couch.  “I just wanted to come over and introduce myself.  I want to work with you and your family to make sure that all your questions are answered and that we do everything we can to help you with Daniel.”
“Daniel is doing well right now,” Lora smiled cautiously as she talked.  Kari noted that her positive outlook probably had a lot to do with being optimist given that she knew they were coming up to a time when Daniel traditionally ended up in the hospital for a month or more.
“I’m so glad to hear that,” and Kari made sure she matched Lora’s mood.  “Does the school, his teacher, or anyone else have any questions that we can answer?  I would like to do another training with them on how to work with his feeding tube.  I see its been quite a while since anyone has been out there.  We can also talk about how to deal with any other issues he may be having or,” and she took a breath, “we can do some work with his peers to help them better understand his issues if he is having trouble making friends or being different.  I know that as kids grow up things change and being different gets harder.”
“Wow,” Lora looked a little surprised.
“Sorry?”  Kari wasn’t sure where her surprise was coming from.
“The last case manager with the clinic was helpful, don’t get me wrong, but you are a real go getter aren’t you,” and Lora was still smiling.
“It’s hard when someone we love is chronically ill, so I just want to make sure we can support you with what you are already doing, and doing so well,” Kari had chosen to go the honest route.  She had hated it when they had tried to tiptoe around the fact that Trevor really hadn’t had any hope of surviving from the beginning.  She wasn’t going to hide anything from them, or anyone else again.  She definitely was not going to do that to people that looked like they were working hard to deal with the hand they had been given and were gracefully coping.

“Some days,” and Lora looked at her hands facing the facts of what was coming for only a moment, “are harder than others.  Today, thank God, is not one of them.”  They talked for another hour about family and the health of each member of the family.  Kari didn’t want to leave anyone out, mostly because the emotional and medical status of all of the family affected what would happen, how Daniel would respond to treatment when it came.  She made sure to take good notes.  Before Kari left she gave Lora her card with her cell number written down on the back.  She liked them and as she got into her car she knew that this job was where she was supposed to be.  It was a place she would make a real difference.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 5

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 5

Kari had fallen into bed early tonight but sleep hadn't come easy.  After many hours of tossing and turning her fitful sleep tortured her even more.  The dream had returned but this time it hadn't started with Trevor making love to her.  The demons in control had skipped that this time.  No, they jumped right to the part where he was laying in the hospital bed with a million tubes and hoses going in and out of him while she sat there holding his hand.  Holding his limp cold hand and thinking about what the doctors had just told her.  Tears slipped silently down her face as one machine breathed for him and another made sure that his blood continued to pump. The diagnosis was worse than bleak, what little they had had was gone.  He was brain dead.  She was to make the decision on whether or not to pull the plug.  The sobs started slowly at first but it didn't take long for them to take overwhelm her.
Suddenly the dream took a nasty turn and time compressed to the single most devastating moment she had ever faced.  She stood there and watched as the machines were turned off.  Even though she knew his mother was in the room the only thing she could remember was Trevor.  The breathing machine stopped, the man she knew as Trevor slowly and quietly faded away in front of her.  Watching as a third person helplessly from some distant place in the dream all she wanted was to wake up, but each time she had this dream it ended the same way.  Each time she watched him die over and over again and each time she hated it, hated herself when she woke up.  Hated the tears on her pillow.  Hated the fact that she was still alive, he was dead, and that life somehow had to go on.
Sitting bolt upright in the large bed they had shared, and one of the only things she had kept, she tried to catch her breath.  She realized she may have started her life again but the past hadn’t let go of her.  The first three months after his death were dark, gray, ominous times that she hardly remembered but over the last year she had come to some very sobering realizations: death was hardest on the ones left behind, very few people understood the pain that ached inside of her, and that the first steps were the hardest and close to impossible to take.  She didn’t want to think that she was just forgetting the time she had spent with Trevor though.  One part of her mind knew that, rationalized it, but there was still that little piece that wasn’t ready to let go.  Until that piece was ready she just couldn’t move forward.
The moon had been full last night and the light streaming in from the other room almost made it feel like daytime.  She looked at the clock beside the bed.  It was almost five thirty in the morning and the sun would soon be chasing the moon from the sky.  Morning would come, and also a respite from the dreams that never seemed to stop.  Until it was time for morning and work though she would need to do something to keep her mind occupied.  Crawling from the bed she decided to try the path in the state park just on the edge of town she had read about before moving here.  
Douthat State Park was one of the oldest around and had boasted more than forty miles of trails, some easy and some hard.   Kari couldn’t wait to try them all when she had read the information on the area.  The more difficult routes were closed right now, but the easy ones would be open.  Getting dressed she knew that the main gates wouldn’t be open but some of the easy trails came off the mountains and ended up in and around the town.  She grabbed her clothes and her shoes.  If nothing else an early, early morning's walk would help to exorcize some of the ghosts that haunted her right now.  Putting on her light jacket and pocketing her mace she was out the door in less than fifteen minutes.  It was a ten-minute drive to the trailhead she had seen only days before.  Just what she needed to clear her mind.
Getting out of the car she could see that the sun was just about to rise.  There was an eerie gray that claimed the sky before the sun rose and repainted the world.  A color she could relate to.  The moon was dancing just above the western horizon as the sun slowly made its entrance into the new day.  The air, although it was cool, breathed a freshness into her that she thought she would never feel again.  Maybe this was where she was supposed to be.  She started up the path and carefully watched the area for any wild animals, or other types of animals, that might be around making sure to keep her mace close at hand.  
The leaves and branches of the trees stretched back and forth across the pathway as if it were some elaborate lace work.  The colors of the rising sun only served to highlight what were already brilliant shades of green in the leaves.  Looking more closely at the leaves above she noticed that some of them had just begun to turn.  Marveling at the different shades of reds and golds that had just started to tinge the edges of the leaves, the ones more exposed to the weather.  Taking a deep breath Kari felt nearly whole.  The dry grass crunched under her boots as another early riser, a squirrel, skittered across the path and up a nearby tree.  There were other animals out there she could tell, small ones by the types of noises they made, just waking up to the new day.  The birds in the surrounding trees were chirping.  If it hadn’t sounded so corny she could have started to sing an old song from a kid’s movie about a blue jay being on her shoulder.  The fact was that she hadn’t felt this alive for a while and it really did feel good.  
As she walked she began to warm up.  She slipped off her light jacket without missing a step and tied it around her waist.  Her new hiking boots, the ones that she had just bought two weeks ago, seemed to be working out just fine.  It had been about two years since she had been hiking and she had forgotten how much she had missed it.  Trevor never really cared for hiking, or maybe it was just the outdoors, so over time she had just stopped trying to make him go.  She stopped to look at a particularly blue wild flower hiding out under a big old tree when she heard something.  Or at least she thought she heard something.  Staying very still she just listened and it wasn’t long before she heard it again.  Voices.  Singing.  
And it wasn’t just any singing.  It was out of tune, off key, bad singing.  The songs themselves were old eighties tunes for the most part.  Not wanting to disturb the man with the not so golden voice she tried to move more slowly down the path to get past him.  As she entered the clearing she noticed that it opened up onto a large pond or pool of water.  It would almost be impossible to get past him without him seeing her.  Still staying out of his sight she was surprised to see that he was swimming in it.  It was cool enough to need a jacket in the mornings and evenings and this man was swimming around singing like it was summer.  Wondering what to do she stood there listening.  She tried to recognize the song, but couldn't.  Obviously it wasn’t on the top ten list back then and so it would be far more difficult to identify.  However it’s style definitely placed it squarely in the eighties.  
Before she came completely out in the open though he swam up to the side of the pond and began walk out.  He had on a white t-shirt that probably did little to protect him from the cold, especially since it was wet, and what looked like running shorts.  The wet clothes clung to his very fit body and made it difficult for her to look away.  Without knowing it she stared at this man in the morning shadows and watched him move toward a large rock off to the side.  The day had just begun so the light was bad.  That’s when she noticed a pile of clothes lying near that rock.  Kari realized that it was too late to come out into the open and announce herself as he began to strip off his shirt.  Kari quickly averted her eyes before the shirt had a chance to leave his torso.  She could hear the drips from it as he was wringing it out whistling as if he was the only one in the world.  
Kari wasn’t sure what she should do.  It was hard not to keep from sneaking peeks at him.  What she had seen of his body was pure tanned muscle and not the kind that had been built in a gym just for the purpose of looks.  His muscles looked sleek, strong, and probably well used.  Temptation got the better of  her and Kari took a quick peek that turned into a longer one.  She wanted to look away as he quickly toweled himself off but she didn’t.  The early morning light hid most of the details from her but the outlines she could see were gorgeous.  There looked like there might be scars on his chest and back but it was still too dark for her to get a good look at what they were.  He rubbed his face with the towel and that directed Kari’s attention back upwards.  
As he turned the bits of sun touched the corners of his face just enough to see some details.  His face was serious and had a hardness to it, like it was chiseled from stone.  Surprised and stunned she realized she had just used a term used in romance novels.  At least it had been used in the one romance novel she had tried to read about six years ago.  It was not a term she thought was ever used in real life, but it fit in this instance.  It fit him.  He took his hand and slicked back his black hair wet from swimming by running his fingers through it and she unconsciously licked her lips.  She continued to watch transfixed as the muscles in his arm rippled as he dried.  She had never seen anything like it; it was almost poetry in motion.  Trevor had been in good shape, but not ripped.
Picking up a dry long sleeved t-shirt he pulled it over his head.  The material hugged his body nicely.  It suddenly occurred to her that if she came out of the underbrush now it would look like she was some kind of peeping tom.  If she stayed here though, she would be.
“Liking what you see?” The voice boomed through the quiet morning unexpectedly.  The question was rhetorical but it was his deep voice that jolted her.  She really hadn’t thought he had seen her, but obviously she had been wrong.  Now, she did look like a peeping tom.  “If you don’t turn around soon you’ll get a real show,” she quickly turned around making more noise than expected and heard him laugh.  Redness rose in her cheeks as she was now officially more embarrassed than he was.
“I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to be,” she paused not really knowing the right words to say at this moment, “I mean I wasn’t,” stumbling over her words.  Did she want to say ‘looking’ because she wasn’t sure she was sorry that she had.  Maybe she should apologize for intruding on his time and privacy.  It was obvious that he hadn’t expected anyone else up here.  And who swam in this weather, especially in the morning?  Or maybe she had time to run away and he would never know who the early morning gawker was.  Before she could decide though she heard his deep lazy voice right behind her and she nearly jumped a foot off the ground.
“Don’t worry about it,” he saw her almost fly out of her shoes but he ignored it.  At first he was afraid that she had been staring at the scars that had been left on his back and chest, but then he realized that the sun, what there was of it, had been at the wrong angle.  She may have gotten a good view but mostly in shadow, not any good details.
“How,” she turned to look at him.  If he could move that quietly she should be scared.  She wasn’t sure that she was, but she also wasn’t sure she wasn’t.  The only thing she was sure of was that she was bright red with embarrassment.  Looking up into his face she saw something there that kept her from running away.  She couldn’t quite say what it was but she thought it was his something in his eyes.  They were a rich dark brown, almost black.  They reminded her of luxurious dark chocolate, which made it hard to look anywhere else. 
“Sorry, didn’t mean to shock you,” he ignored her question of how he had gotten so close without her hearing.  He wasn’t ready to explain that one.  It would only lead to more questions and talking about what he did right now wasn’t on his to do list.  He had first seen her standing in amongst the reeds while he was doing his laps in the pond.  He had chosen to ignore her and continued to sing.  
Truth be told he had been singing so loudly that he had missed her approach completely.  In another place that could have been fatal, but here it looked like it might have served him well.  He recognized her immediately as the blond from the restaurant.  His eyes slowly took her all in.  She was a little more than a foot shorter than he was and her curves were in all the right places, well balanced from top to bottom and what a bottom it was.  He’d gotten a good look at it as he had approached just now.  Her blond hair was pulled back into a tight ponytail but he didn’t mind because he could study her facial features better.  Independently they weren’t anything to speak of but together they gave her an exotic look.  Her skin should be fair considering the coloring of her hair but she was a rich olive tone.  The corners of her eyes slightly tilted upwards making it look as if they were smiling.  There must be some Greek or Italian in her family tree and she was a beneficiary.  Her hiking boots were so new he would guess that she was either trying out a new hobby or renewing an old one.  Looked like he was going to get the jump on Doris for information this time.  
When he had gotten out he was surprised that she had just stood there and watched him.  When she hadn’t turned around after he changed his shirt he decided he should warn her about the impending change of shorts to pants, especially since there was nothing on under his shorts.  He didn’t mind but he expected she would be mortified and he was right looking at the lingering tinge of red on her cheeks and the tops of her ears.
"I need to,” and she stumbled over her words as she started to back up.  
“Let me introduce myself,” he held out his hand just in time to reach out to catch her as she backed up and tripped.  With one hand he grabbed her open hand and with the other he quickly placed the other under her elbow to brace her, “Holden Parker.  I saw you at the cafe last night but you were reading your files and too deep in thought.”
“Thanks,” she quickly got her footing and he released her just as quickly because of the frightened look on her face, but not before he had felt it too.  It felt as if there was an electric shock between them when they had touched, a connection.  It had taken her off guard.  Him as well.  He suspected that he enjoyed it more than she did though, “Kari Jackson.”  His name sounded familiar but her brains felt pretty scrambled right now. 
“Well it’s nice to meet you Kari,” and Holden took a step back to give her some breathing room, “I take it you’re new in town.”
“I am,” and she left it like that, still a little flustered about what she had felt when they had touched, and not expecting that electric current between them.  She had never felt anything like that before.  Not even when Trevor had touched her and it threw her.  Made her think about him.  She had always felt safe and comfortable with Trevor.   He was what was called a safe man.  Trevor had had a good job, a nice nine to five and they had enjoyed each other’s company, but there had been no electric shock, no spark.  Oh, she had loved him, and she wanted to build a life with him, but there wasn't that spark.  One of her friends had talked about something like this but she had thought it was an overstatement.  Worst yet she wanted to touch Holden again to see if it would happen again.  Using some self-restraint she instead locked her eyes onto his as he spoke.
“Since this is,” he watched as Kari seemed lost in thought, “your first time out here you need to be careful.”  He adjusted his bag on his shoulder, “There’s one trailhead up the way that should only be taken by experts.  Its well marked so don’t worry about accidentally getting on it.  It's closed right now, not a fall or winter trail.  I’ve been on it a couple of times and would think twice about going that way without the right supplies.  The trail you're on is the best one for a quick morning hike.  Good choice for someone just starting out.”  He saw the confused look in her eyes and understood.  
“Again, how?” and she now looked a bit more confused and wary.  Ready to run if necessary.

“The new shoes,” Holden pointed at them and then turned to go back down towards the pond. “If you ever want to take a swim though I can attest to the fact that it is perfectly safe,” and he walked back down the path not even turning to look at her.  “A little cold,” he said over his shoulder, “but safe.”  It left her wondering if he was talking about the lake or him.