Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson
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.