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Monday, July 31, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 18

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 18

“See you tonight at supper,” Holden was walking Kari out to her car.
“Yah,” and she grinned, “It was really nice of Addison to invite me.”  Stopping at her car she turned to look at Holden, “And I don’t feel even the slightest bit embarrassed now,” her voice betraying her real feelings.
“Addison is nosey so don’t get it into your head that she invited you just to be nice.  She will probably be giving you the third degree tonight, and if not her then Mia,” Holden took her hand and gave it a squeeze, “And we were lucky that Cindy didn’t invite herself and her husband over as well.”
“I think if there had been a good opening she would have,” and Kari smiled.  Holden loved it when she smiled.  The small crease in the center of her forehead vanished and he could imagine all the cares and worries she carried with her vanishing as well if only for a moment.
“It wasn’t the evening I was envisioning but it will be nice,” and he gave her a peck on the cheek.  Dropping her hand he turned to walk back to his truck, “I’ll pick you up at six?”
“Okay,” and she watched him walk away.  As Holden got into his truck his cell phone dinged.  Right on time, he thought.  Addison must be looking out a window.  Looking at the text it was a list of things she needed from the grocery store for tonight’s meal.  He knew what he was going to be doing for the next hour.
Addison pulled into the driveway with Mia babbling beside her.  She swore that Mia hadn’t stopped talking about Kari and Holden since school had stopped.  She had plenty of questions and Addison had to admit to her that she had no answers, but maybe after tonight they would have a few more.  Before the car could even come to a full stop Mia was out of her seat and trying to open the door.  
“Hey, wait a second,” but it was too late.  Mia was halfway to the house, “Come and get your backpack,” she said to no one.  As she got closer to the house she could smell something wonderful.  Walking into the kitchen she just about dropped her entire load of paperwork on the floor in front of her.
“Uncle Den is cooking supper tonight!” Mia was beside herself.  Holden could cook, Addy knew that, but he usually stuck to the basics.  What she smelled and saw was not basic.
“That’s right.  Thought your mom deserved a break,” he turned and winked at Addy.
“Well,” was all she could muster.  Whoever this Kari was she definitely had her vote.  She had all but destroyed the wall Holden had built around himself and all in a few days.
“Are we having meatloaf?  Mom said we were having meatloaf,” Mia was doing her best to try and get a look at what he was making.
“Not tonight Me-Me.  I’m roasting a chicken and cooking up some rice,” this time he looked over at Addy, “Summer squash risotto and a nice salad.”
“I had no idea,” Addy started to put everything down.
“Not much calling for it when I’m here but I have learned a few things in all my travels.  Wine's cooling in the frig as well as a couple boxes of grape juice.”
“Just want to let you know,” Addy said as she walked out of the room, “you may have a whole new job here!” 
About an hour and a half later Holden came to a stop in the driveway with Kari nervously sitting beside him.  She couldn’t decide if this was a good idea or something else entirely.  Usually meeting the family was a whole new step, but she guessed that she had jumped off that cliff in the school parking lot earlier today.  As she got out of the truck she could almost feel the eyes from the house looking at her.  It had been a long day and she was tired, so how good of an idea was this.  This was only their second date if you didn’t count all the meetings up by the lake, the coffee shop, and the school.  If you counted those it had to be closer to a dozen.  In most situations it would be time to meet the family.
“You can relax,” Holden took her by the hand, “I made them promise to be on their best behavior.”
“Can you tell I’m that nervous?” She was surprised and she stopped and looked at him.
“Only I can,” and he opened the door.  During the meal it was mostly polite conversation and a few stories about Holden when he was younger, which Kari thoroughly enjoyed and Holden didn't.  When he got up to clear the dishes Kari tried to help. 
“No, just sit and relax,” Addy said as she got up and picked up the empty chicken plate.
“Are you sure? You made such a wonderful meal and after a long day as well,” Addy looked like she was going to laugh.
“It wasn’t me.  Just found out myself today that Holden’s culinary skills went way beyond hamburgers and hotdogs,” she smiled at Holden before continuing, “Yes big brother that was delicious so you need to be on the rotation more often.”
“Yes ma’am,” but he was looking at Kari and the surprise in her face.  “Now, how about some coffee and a slice of store bought cheesecake?”
“Yuck!  I don’t like coffee.  Can I have more grape juice instead?”  Mia had been quiet until now.  Holden stifled a laugh.
“That’s up to your mom Me-Me,” Holden disappeared into the kitchen after that.  Addy nodded yes and then disappeared as well.  
“Your uncle cooks very well,” Kari was going for small talk.
“His hamburgers and fries are better,” she stated it so matter of faculty that Kari had to smile, “Do you love Uncle Den?”
“Well,” now this was a question she wasn't sure she was ready for and it had been asked by an eight year old, “your uncle is a very sweet person and he is really kind...” but that was all she got to say.
“But do you love him? Sean says you only go out on dates with people you love and he should know his mom's been married a couple of times,” her focus was all consuming.  Kari wasn't surprised that she had been the topic of conversation on the playground, she was surprised at Sean's level of knowledge.  Kari certainly didn't want to know what else Sean had said.
“Yes, I do like him a lot,” she hadn’t noticed that Holden had come back into the room.  She caught sight of him and blushed a little.
“Never leave an eight year old in the room.  The interrogation can be brutal,” he set down the coffee cups and the pot as Addy followed with the cheesecake.
“Mom, Miss Kari says she loves Uncle Den,” and it was then that you could see the embarrassment on Addy’s face as well.
“Well then its all settled,” Addy recovered first, “we all love Holden.  Hope that was the only information she got out of you.”
“I was good.  I didn’t ask if he had kissed her,” although she was looking at Addy when she said this, Mia then peeked over at Kari.
“Didn’t we tell you that was something we weren't going to talk about?” Addy was trying to get control of the situation but not too hard.  Holden sat back and watched all of this with his arms folded in front of him, legs stretched out, and his eyes twinkling.  Kari was feeling bad for Addy.  They must have gone through a whole list of questions not to ask.
“And I’m not supposed to ask if they are going to get,” that’s when Holden jumped in.
“Me-Me do you want some cheesecake?” and this time he was turning red.
“You know I have an idea,” Addy stepped back into the conversation, “Why don’t we have our dessert in the other room with the TV and Cinderella.”
“Yea!” Mia yelled.
“That way we can give you two some privacy,” Addy finished.  Mia looked straight up at her mother.
“So they can kiss?” Mia was on a roll.
“No honey,” Addy said as she grabbed two pieces of cake and her daughter, “to talk.”
“Jimmy says it's to kiss, and that’s what his,” the conversation trailed off as they walked out of the room.
“I love her dearly but,” Holden smiled.  He was cute with a tinge of redness lingering on his cheeks.
“I think she’s sweet,” and Kari grinned as she took the piece of cake he offered her.
“I’ve always been around for her.  Even when I was on assignment,” and he took a sip of coffee before taking a bite of cheesecake.  He could see the questioning look in her eyes, “Skype is wonderful.” 
“Yah.  She seems really close to you,” Kari was ignoring the cake.
“Her dad’s not in the picture,” he didn’t elaborate.  He watched as Kari fiddled with the cup of coffee.  “Not a fan of cheesecake?”
“Oh no, it's a favorite, I just,” and she smiled as she put the fork into the cake, “like learning more about the man I’ve been seeing.” Taking the bite of cheesecake slowly to her mouth she made sure that her eyes never left Holden.
“Oh,” and he swallowed as he watched her slip the bite into her mouth and slowly pull the fork back out as she wrapped her lips tight around the tongs.  Holden could hear the TV in the background and he could see the flashes of color blinking through the doorframe, but he was truly focused on one thing.
“Are you going to finish yours?” smiling she took another bite.  He was cute when he was unsure of what to do.  Tonight she had learned a lot about him.  He was exactly what he seemed to be, good, kind and genuine.  Holden made her think of the future, happy days, and desire.  The feeling of desire was a surprise to her.  She never thought she would feel that particular emotion again, but here it was and the object of it was sitting in front of her.  Best of all he seemed to be just as interested in her.  Clearing his throat he dug the fork into the cake again.
“Sorry got distracted by something,” he wasn’t going to elaborate.  “Going to be up for a walk in the morning?”
“What? No swim?”  This time she licked the fork and watched his Adam’s apple bounce once again.  Oh she was playing with fire and she knew it.  She just hoped she was ready for it.
“A little cold today, so was thinking about skipping it tomorrow,” but he was feeling like he might need that cold water for other reasons.
“Oh,” and she looked a little sad.  It made Holden wonder if she had ever seen more than he had thought.
“Skip the swim only, not the walk.  Can I pick you up in the morning?”  Holden took another sip of coffee as he watched her finish her cake, his totally forgotten.
“I think that would be nice,” finishing off the last bite she picked up the coffee and took a sip right before a bundle of energy came swirling into the room.
“The prince just kissed Cinderella.  Have you kissed Miss Kari yet?”  Addy bolted into the room after her.
“Sorry, nodded off.  Now, young lady,” she took hold of Mia’s hand, “time for bed.”
“But Mom,” she whined.
“No Me-Me I haven’t kissed her yet,” and he looked back at Kari and whispered, “tonight,” and it was now her turn to blush.  While Addy drug off her curious little girl, Holden cleared the dishes from the table.  Kari picked up the cups and followed.  It felt right and walking into the kitchen she was pleasantly surprised.  The kitchen was rather large for the size of the house but it was obviously the heart of the house.  The window over the sink looked out over the backyard.  Bright yellow curtains were pulled back with frilly ties that gave the sink area a happy inviting look.  The small center island with the counter made of butcher block had small pots of basil and other herbs sitting in the middle ready for cooking.  The pale yellow walls were covered with photos and country style art with feel good phrases.  She brushed up against Holden as she put the dishes in the sink.  He didn’t seem to mind as he turned and gave her a hug in response.
“Thank you,” and he kissed her on the cheek very gentlemanly.  Noticing the funny look on her face he glanced in the direction his niece and sister had gone off in.  She smiled her understanding about the staid kiss.
“For what?”  She still wasn’t sure why he had thanked her.
“For putting up with my family, especially Mia,” and at that she smiled.
“Just made you more human, more,” and she stopped.  Kari was going to say lovable.  She wasn’t sure about that step yet, it might be going too far.  “I should go.  Tomorrow will be another early morning.”
“Let me get my keys,” and he took her hand as he grabbed the keys from the counter.  Leading her out the back door he suddenly stopped before they got too far.  That was when he turned her toward him pulling her in close.  When she didn’t resist he wrapped both of his arms around her.  
“Aren’t you afraid Mia will see us?” She asked sounding a little more breathy than she planned as she felt the warmth of his breath against her skin.
“Their rooms are on the other side of the house,” he said softly as he leaned in slowly to kiss her.
“Oh,” and with that being said she met his lips halfway.  Slowly, gently he kissed her.  He didn’t hurry his explorations of her lips and she didn't mind expanding her exploration either.  Taking his time, after he had thoroughly tasted her, his lips moved slowly, deliberately around to nibble on her jawbone and up towards her ear.  Kari sighed as he reached his goal and his teeth nibbled at her earlobe.  Getting a positive response he continued his slow torment for only a few seconds and then made his way back to her lips.  Savoring the moment like a fine wine he felt her weight sink into him as he continued.  Slowly his lips pulled away from hers and as he gradually released her making sure she was steady.
“Can I walk you to the truck?” Kari marveled at how steady his voice sounded. She wasn’t so sure hers would be.  She opened her eyes to his warm smile.  
“Um, yah,” and he took one step back and moved in beside her, slipping his arm around her back.

“Much longer and I will be grilled relentlessly until I give up all the details,” answering her silent questions.  Like a gentleman he opened the door for her and closed it after she got in.  As he walked around to the driver's side he smiled.  He could hardly wait for morning. 

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 17

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 17

“Kari,” Holden hollered at her but she didn’t stop.  Holden broke into a jog to try and catch up with her before she could leave the parking lot.  “Kari,” this time his voice was deeper, more insistent.
She heard his voice behind her and she just couldn’t deal with it, couldn't deal with him.  Picking up her pace she wanted to, no needed to, get to her car before he reached her.  Had she known that he was involved with someone else she never would have what?  She still wasn’t sure what they had.  No, had had.  Whatever it was it was over.  She felt her eyes begin to tear up.  The last thing she wanted was to let him know that he had touched something so deep within her that she felt loss.  No, she wasn’t going to listen to him; listen to him give excuses or reasons why she shouldn’t just go running away.  
“Kari wait,” this time she could tell the voice was much closer, more commanding.  There wasn’t going to be anyway to avoid this, to avoid him, so she turned and faced him, head on.
“How dare you!” Her voice came out stronger than she suspected it would as she glared at him.
“If you give me a moment,” and he saw her temper flare up in her eyes.  Although he didn’t want to be arguing in front of the school, God knew that anything type of relationship they had that had been private would not be now.  If he wasn't so afraid that he was losing her he could have enjoyed seeing that spark.  It meant one thing and one thing only, she cared for him.  When he saw a tear balanced on the edge of one eye, stupid man that he was, he smiled.  
“What,” she was incredulous.  Her voice went up an octave, “You’re smiling? You think seeing me on the side is funny!”  The more she talked the madder she got and the more Holden smiled.  She just couldn't believe it.
“Kari, it’s really not what you’re thinking,” but it was hard to say with a straight face especially since he could see Addison warily approaching them.
“I can’t,” she saw the woman approaching them.  Quickly she turned to move toward her car again and Addison picked up her pace, “I just can’t deal with this now,” but as she got to her care but before she could open her car door Addison touched her shoulder.
“You forgot this,” and she held out the scarf.  Kari exhaled and turned to face the woman that had Holden’s heart.  She had seen it in their eyes.  “Hi, I’m Addison, Holden’s sister.”
Time froze.  Holden’s what?  It was as if her brain short-circuited right on the spot.  She didn’t see Holden approach until he had his hand under her arm supporting her again.  She could feel his warmth and that warmth began to seep through her body bringing her focus back to the here and now.
“His sister?” okay, that wasn’t quite what she wanted to say.  She couldn't look at Holden so she kept her focus on Addison.
“Kari,” this time it was Holden, his voice softer, caring, trying to save the situation, “this is Addison, my sister.  She teaches here.  Addison this is Kari.  The one who has been keeping me from having breakfast with you and Mia,” and he turned and looked at Kari again, “my niece.”  As if it were on cue, Mia came running out.
“Uncle Den is this your girlfriend?”  She stopped in front of all of them and put her hands on her hips.  Kari almost chuckled.  It was enough to break the tension.
“Well,” and Holden let go of Kari and kneeled down to talk with Mia, “I’m not sure Me-Me.  We will have to ask Miss Kari but I don’t think now is a good idea.”
“Oh, okay.  Hi Miss Kari.  Do you like my Uncle Den?”  Holden had to give her credit; she was focused.
“Wow,” and Kari absentmindedly pushed an imaginary strand of hair from her face, “I do like your uncle.”  
“Well then,” and Holden could see Mia was winding up again for another question.
“Who told you to come out here?” Addison said in a scolding tone as she took hold of her daughter’s hand.
“Mrs. Warren thought I could help,” and it was then that they all turned to look at the front door of the school.  Cindy stood there smiling and leaning up against the doorframe.  Penny was peering out behind her.  Cindy gave a little wave.
“Holden, we are going to head back in.  Don’t worry about joining us for lunch if plans change,” and as she turned she looked at Kari, “Kari it was so nice to meet you.  I hope we get to see you again soon.”  
“Me-Me you need to eat and get back to your class.  Tell your teacher thanks for me,” Holden winked and then waited until Addison and Mia were out of earshot.
“Kari?” the look on her face was priceless.  It was a mixture of dread, embarrassment, shock, and his personal favorite, relief.  The color was beginning to return only this time it wasn't the red rage that he had first met up with.
“I owe you,” Kari paused and pulled her bag closer to her.  She was embarrassed all right and even though some part of him was enjoying this he needed to put her back at ease.
“I’m not, nor have I ever been, that kind of guy.  I just wasn't going to introduce you to the family until well," and he hesitated a bit, "later.  I didn't want to pressure you,” and he took Kari’s hand.  “I know the perfect way you can make this all up to me and since you are already here it will be easy.  Why don’t you come in and join us for lunch,” Kari glanced quickly over at the school like it was a house of horrors and then back at Holden.  He could tell that she was nervous, “I brought sandwiches already so we won’t be eating a school lunch if that’s the worry.  I’d be happy to share mine with you and,” he let his thumb gently rub the side of her hand watching how it relaxed her, “I’d like you to get to know Addison.”
“But,” and she paused.

“You’ve got to eat and the food is here and ready.  Plus the word will be out in the next thirty minutes or so that we are seeing each other whether or not you stay here and eat.  Better that the story ends with lunch as a group than a row in the parking lot,” he smiled and pulled her gently in toward him and back toward the entrance to the school .  When she didn't resist he knew he had won.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 16

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 16

"Hi," Holden had thought he had time to change out of his wet clothes.  He had just whipped off his shirt when she walked into the small clearing.  Mortified, she would be able to see all the scars, all the red angry tissue still fighting to heal.  He started to grab for his towel.
Kari was taken by surprise.  Either she was early or he was late.  The last few mornings he had already been dressed so she hadn't slowed her pace this morning. The look of shock and fear surprised her for only a minute.
"It's okay," she knew he was embarrassed by his scars. From far away she never would have seen then but up close the damage was clear.  Taking a step forward she took the towel from his hands and gently patted down his torso making sure to not make any distinctions between his scarred skin and what had been left unscarred.  He stood frozen in time and space as he watched her.  She didn't seem to notice what skin was normal and which was forever marked by the event.  In fact, she seemed to take interest in the activity, not the look of his torso.  Goosebumps spread over the skin where they could, and he sighed ever so slightly.  Mistaking the sigh and the goosebumps for something else, Kari reached down and picked up his shirt, silently handing it to him.  Obediently he put it on.
"I," he was having a hard time talking, and suddenly well aware that the effect of the cold water wasn't going to save him embarrassment if he didn't get moving, "need to go over there," and he pointed toward the bushes.
"I'll get breakfast ready," and without saying anything else she turned and pulled out the blanket from the pack letting him grab his pants and move just out of view.
By the time he got home this morning he was still reeling from the start of breakfast.  His facial expression was one of pleasure and trepidation.  How would she think of him now that she had time to think about what she saw?  After all she had been through this kind of pain before, would she be willing to chance it again with him.  Hopping from his truck he was just in time to see Addy and Mia piling into the car.  Mia abandoned her things and came running at him, full speed.  Catching her in his arms he swung her round and laughed with her trying to forget all the worries and cares of the the morning.  He caught a glimpse of Addison out of the corner of his eye and saw her smile.  Only this time it was a relaxed smile, one that he recognized and realized now that he hadn’t seen in a while.  It was her 'everything was going to be alright' smile.
“Off you go to school Me-Me,” and he dropped her and flipped her round to head back to the car.
“Uncle Den,” she sighed in protest.
“Don’t worry, I’ll be showing up at school today so you better be there,” he had promised to come in two to three times a week and today was the day.  He had recovered from the last couple of times, and kind of enjoyed working with the kids now.  
“Yeah!” she squealed as she ran back to the car.
“See you for lunch again?” Addison questioned with half a smile and one raised eyebrow in question.
“Only if I can bring something in this time.  Two school lunches are my limit,” and he slammed the truck door closed.
“Sure,” another questioning look only this time more worry showed in her eyes.  Holden smiled and nodded.  Whatever she saw in his face made her relax, “Deal.”
Kari had told him this morning’s appointments had her jumping from one place to another.  They had agreed to meet after she got done late this afternoon for coffee and to see where it went from there.  As Holden did a few chores around the house and then checked his email he couldn’t help but hope that this afternoon’s coffee would lead to a repeat of last night’s kiss, only this time he hoped it would be a bit longer and a whole lot more.  Pulling into the sandwich shop he hopped out of the truck and ran in to make a quick order before heading off to school.
Kari arrived at the elementary at about ten thirty that morning.  She still had a full day ahead of her, meetings and paperwork, and she wanted, more than she had in a long time, to get done early.  This morning she had talked more about Trevor than she ever had to anyone since his death.  It wasn’t in great detail, but it was a start.  Holden had listened quietly not trying to give snippets of condolences or feign understanding.  He just walked and listened.  Maybe it was seeing his injuries and how he had overcome them that had made her talk.  After all he was reminded daily of his loss just by looking in the mirror.  He understood the depths of her loss in a way no one else did and knew there wasn’t anything he could say that would change what had happened or how she felt.  What she didn’t understand was when she asked him more about what happened to him he had clammed up.  Said it was still under investigation.  He did tell her that he had lost a couple of good friends when the helicopter had gone down.  Maybe his scars, like the ones that she had gently dried, were still too raw.  
“You see, they didn’t just treat me like a journalist.  I went out each morning and did PT, physical training, with them.  I’ve always kept in shape so it was easy to keep up,” and Kari could attest to that.  It had been a good thing they were hiking by the time he revealed that information, the exertion helped to cover the blush in her cheeks as she remembered touching his body.  “They began to see me more as a colleague and less as a journalist.  Talked to me more even though they knew I was there to write about them.”  He stopped and waited until they got past a particularly rough spot, “I always let them read the articles first, add and subtract what they wanted.  They trusted me, trusted that I would tell their story,”  Kari smiled at that.  With each little bit she learned about him she grew more and more attracted to him.  
This morning had been so different.  First she had spent half of the night mulling over his kiss.  She wasn’t really mulling it over, she had to admit she was reliving it.  Holden was a good kisser.  He had been slow and thorough during that kiss.  He wasn’t in a hurry to deepen it, in fact he had been so slow and patient that it had left her wanting more.  He seemed content last night to just enjoy each and every spot of her lips.  Kari wished she could have said the same.  As the kiss continued she found herself wanting.  That had scared her and she had pulled back.  It had her wondering now if she should have given in and allowed herself the pleasure to see where it would lead.  By the time the walk was over and they had bared a bit more of their souls to each other.  She was ready.  This time as they kissed at the end of the hike he pulled back again before the kiss deepened.  Her eyes opened slowly but in time to see his eyes sparkle.  She knew that there were promises locked inside of them for things to come, and that is why she was having a very hard time not thinking of Holden right now.
It also didn't help that she had been so brazen this morning.  Just what had gotten into her she didn't know.  This morning she had been more forward than she had ever thought she could be but it seemed so right.  Now, she couldn't help but think of how hard, solid, his chest had been.  Yes it had been very scared and angry looking, but it was also nothing he should be ashamed of, and he was ashamed of it.  She wanted him to know that she didn't see him any differently knowing what she knew now.  If she had to be honest, she was more drawn to him now.
Kari pulled into the first open spot and grabbed her bag.  As she walked toward the front office she noticed Dr. Anderson pull in as well.  Her thoughts drifted from Holden and back to Daniel.  With any luck this would be simple and routine and only take about an hour.  
“Cindy, you’re killing me,” Holden whispered with a smile to her after the second group that morning.  The first two groups had been especially challenging.  Two of them literally could not sit still and had pushed the chairs away three or four times during the fifteen or so minutes he had been with them.  He had finally stopped asking them to sit back down, it was easier to have them leaning on the table as they read.
“Never said it was easy,” and she handed him another set of books, “The weather is changing and my little barometers are bouncing all over the place today.”
“Mrs. Warren,” the intercom crackled to life.
“We need Daniel up in the nurse’s office,” Penny’s voice echoed into the room.
“On his way,” and Cindy looked over at Daniel to make sure he was getting up and heading for the door.
“Aw,” was his response, “It was my turn to read with Mr. Parker.”  Holden dislodged himself from the small chair and  walked Daniel to the door.
“Tell you what buddy,” and he leaned over so only Daniel could hear him, “I’ll make sure we have time to read a book together when you get back,” and putting his hand on Daniel’s head he ruffled his hair.
“Really?”  Daniel smiled when he saw Holden nod his head.  “Okay,” and he went happily out the door.  It was about forty minutes later and two more groups before Holden was done and Cindy was taking the class to lunch.  Pulling out the sandwiches and placing them on the table Holden was waiting for Cindy and Addison to come back in the room.  His knees weren’t really up around his ears but it felt that way.  How his sister and Cindy did this day in and out amazed him.  He looked back at the clock and realized that Daniel hadn’t come back yet.  Deciding to wander up to the nurse’s office to check on him he ran into Addison.  
“Hey, where you going?” Addison grabbed Holden by the hands and held on, “I thought we were having lunch together today.” With his back to the front desk Holden stopped and was about to answer Addison when he heard a very familiar voice behind him.
“It was wonderful to meet you Penny,” and Kari put her scarf down on the counter as she turned to put on her jacket.   What she saw in that moment and what she thought she saw only took seconds to connect.  She immediately jumped headlong to the wrong conclusions.  Right in front of her eyes she could see Holden standing there holding hands no less, with a woman who he obviously knew.  That’s when she felt it, a cold that seeped deep into her bones.  Only tis cold was not from the outside weather, but from inside herself.  With her smile quickly fading she fumbled and grabbed her case.  She hurriedly turned for the door barely holding it altogether.
“Wait, your scarf,” Penny’s voice was lost as Kari pushed through the door.  Holden turned in time to see her bolt from the building.
“Oh no,” Addison dropped Holden’s hands, “That was…”
“Yes,” and before she could say anything more he moved swiftly toward the door.  Addison walked over to the front counter before heading for the door.

“I’ll take that to her,” and moving slower than she normally would she left Penny sitting there, speechless.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 15

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 15

Addison sat at the kitchen table trying to grade a stack of papers she had brought home with her.  She should have finished with them an hour ago, but what with Mia not wanting to go to bed until Holden got home and Addison nervous about how the night went, she just couldn’t focus.  Finally she had given up, made a cup of tea, and sat and waited for Holden as the TV droned on in the background. 
He had called earlier and told her that he was going to try and take Kari, this woman he had been running into, out for supper.  It was strange to hear her big brother ask permission to go out on a date.  Even stranger for her to think about was that he had been running into the same woman, taken an interest in her, but had said nothing about her.  Holden had dated a bunch of women.  Some she knew about, some he hadn’t told her about.  She wasn’t naive about his life.  He had spent too many days with men who risked their lives routinely and danced on the edge not live a bit wild at times.  She had read his articles and his emails.  His emails gave her more of a clue of what it was really like for him.  
These men also liked to run wild during their nights as well.  When they could let go it helped to release the pressure they were always under, and although they may have been in a very restrictive environment it didn’t seem to stop the mingling, Holden’s words, not hers.  In her world they had a different word for it.  He had talked about all of these things to her on the phone and in email, well up until this last accident.  That’s when he had stopped talking about any part of his life to her.  Maybe if this new interest of his panned out he could open up again and begin to live once more.
The grumble of an old truck engine quickly brought her back to the here and now.  She heard it before she saw the lights turn into the driveway and she shook herself back into the present.  Addy switched off the TV as she watched the truck pull into the driveway.  Holden hopped out, much like one of her energy filled second grade students.  Addy’s smile grew as she watched him spring up to the door.  Holden had only been happy lately when he was helping others.  This was different, he was different, he was just happy.  Whoever this woman was she had her approval.  She hadn’t seen him truly happy with himself in the last few months he had been here and it warmed her heart.  Quickly she sat down and pretended to grade papers again before he got to the door.  When he walked in she was busy at work or so she thought.
“You know it would be more convincing if the papers were right side up,” Addison took a closer look at her pile of papers and noticed that they were the right way up.  Holden chuckled.
“Okay, funny,” she stood up and walked over to make him a cup of tea.  Holding up the box of green tea he gave a quick nod yes.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to help with Mia,” and he leaned on the counter still grinning from ear to ear.
“I wouldn’t say sorry yet,” Addison turned and raised one eyebrow as she looked at him.  “When she heard you were going out she drew her own conclusions and spent the night chanting the ditty, Uncle Den has a girlfriend.”  At this Holden winced.  “Don’t worry I told her it was a secret yet and she couldn’t go blabbing it all around.”
“Thanks,” and he relaxed back into the counter, “I’m not really sure how serious this will be or if it will go past tonight.”
“Or tomorrow morning?” It was the question she was dying to ask.
“Or tomorrow morning,” and he took the cup he was offered and sat down at the table, “about that.  I might be late…”
“Say no more,” and Addison sat opposite him at the table.  “Miss Mia refused to go to bed tonight without finding out what happened on your date.  So she is currently asleep, last I checked, in your bed.  So you get to move her and answer all those sleepy questions.”  Holden laughed.
“Well played sis,” and he pushed up from the counter putting the cup down to go and put Mia in her own bed.
“Hey, don’t think you are finished here,” and she pointed to the empty chair, “When you’re done get back down here pronto.  You're so not done here.”
“You’ve got it,” and at that he moved off up the stairs.  Addison was amazed.  He was still smiling and wasn’t that something.
Holden hopped down the stairs about fifteen minutes later, still grinning.  Mia had asked a few questions; is she nice, yes; will I get to meet her tomorrow, no; and the oddest one, will she be my aunt.  He had no answer for that one.  That was all he allowed her before tucking her in and closing her door.  He then went back to his room for a moment and made sure that his pack was ready for the morning.  There was no way he was missing seeing her again.  He could still feel the warmth of her cheek in his hand and the smell of her shampoo, apples.  He liked apples.
Holden was also avoiding the inquisition that awaited him downstairs as long as he could.  Addy would want answers and right now all he had was questions.  Looking around the room that he occupied when here, it was more of a home than the small efficiency that he had back in Baltimore.  At least here he had pictures up of family and friends.  A couple of items he had brought back from the time he had been in Eastern Europe, an old Soviet military watch and some cheesy miniature of what was now called the Cathedral.  The old church was now a museum, but was still known as Saint Basil’s Cathedral located in Red Square.  That was one story he would never forget.  He had won the Mike Berger Award.  Berger had set the standard for human-interest stories.  Holden had chronicled the changes one Russian family had gone through, USSR to Russian days, during the times of geo-political change.  To this day he still thought about that family, sent them cards every year.
There was a slight tap at his door and he turned to see Addy standing there with his cup of tea.  He really hadn’t thought he had been that long but maybe he had.  The trip down memory lane seemed to have cost him time.  Putting the cheesy miniature back down he turned to give her his full attention.
“Thought you might be having a problem with Mia,” and she waited.  Addy was good at waiting.  Better than he had remembered her to be as a little girl.  
“No, she had lots of sleepy questions but I was able to get her off to bed before she could completely wake and give me the third degree,” and he grinned.
“So I guess that will be up to me,” Holden was about to say something until Addy held up her hand signaling him to stop, “Let’s go downstairs and have that talk you promised. I know you avoided some things yesterday,”  It wasn’t until they were both seated at the kitchen table that she spoke again.
“Holden, I’ve been patient these last couple of months as you have healed, but the last few days have really left me wanting,” and she paused, “No, needing more.  You come in here looking like you’ve survived, well, I don’t know what.  I walk around you like there were eggshells everywhere so as not to say or do something that will upset you.”
“I’m so sorry Addy,” Holden really was sorry about all of it.  He hadn’t been able to find the guts to talk about it until tonight.  Hadn’t wanted to face what had happened until just this evening, and maybe the worst part of all of it was that he hadn't shared it with Addy.    
“Don’t be sorry.  It takes time to heal.  I’m one who knows,” Addy’s mind flashed back to the bastard that was Mia’s father and although she had learned to let it go, it still hurt.  The hurt was more for Mia now than for her, but hurt was hurt.
“It hasn’t been,” and Addy’s hand went up again stopping whatever he was going to say.
“I want to get this off my chest first then you can do what you want with it and tell me what you think I need to hear,” Holden gave a quick nod of his head.  “Before you got here this time a physiatrist from the base called.  He didn’t say much but warned me that you needed to be watched.  At first I had no idea what he meant, and then you got here.
“It was obvious that whatever had happened, you had been really hurt this time.  Even Mia could tell.  But I told her, like I told myself, that whatever it was it was over and that you were fine,” she took a sip of tea and continued, “Mia may have believed that but I didn’t.  I watched my brother dive into one task or another for others even though he should have been sitting and taking care of himself.  I watched every morning,” and she nodded her head to confirm that she had been up each and every morning watching him drive off, “wondering if I should be worried about what you were up to and if you were coming back.  You are not a soldier but once you were embedded you got treated like one.  You hear about all these cases of PTSD and...” she couldn't continue.  She had read too many cases soldiers with PTSD just driving off and killing themselves.
“Add I am so sorry.  My head just wasn’t in the right place when I first arrived,” and she put her hand up again and then pointed at his tea telling him to drink, not talk.
“Water under the bridge, and I could tell that whatever you were doing was helping somehow.  Then you started your regular visits to Dr. McCoy,” she guessed they had been required, “Yes, I found out about them.  I thought at least you could talk to him about whatever had happened.  But alas,” and she smiled, “That wasn’t to be either.
“But tonight,” and she smiled and this time he could see that Addy was happy, like some weight was lifted off her shoulders, “But tonight when I saw you come home I saw you happy, truly happy, and it wasn't because you were doing anything for anybody.  For the first time since you’ve gotten here you were happy just to be you.”
“Addy you know I love being here with you and Mia,” Holden started.
“I know that,” she said shaking her head as if he wasn’t getting it, “I know that you enjoy spending time with Mia like she was your own daughter and God knows she loves you just like a father, but through all of this I could see the hurt deep down.  I know you bro so don’t go thinking that all this time you were able to hide just how much you’ve been hurting.  Up until this week I was happy to give you time, but I have to admit, your time was going to be up,” and she tipped her head to the side, “Whatever happened tonight; whoever this Kari is, I know she is someone you can talk to, someone that seems to have lifted some of the weight off your shoulders.  Weight that you wouldn’t let anyone else carry and I am so happy for you.”  
She was done, and from the look in her eyes Holden knew that she was really happy for him; happy that he had finally found someone to talk to, to share with.  Deep down he knew she was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t her, but she could shoulder that easier than watching him hurt privately.  And just like that the world seemed even brighter, more hopeful.  Holden sat there with a silly grin on his face, sipping at his tea and just watching his sister for a moment.  Her expression never changed and she waited, only this time it was without trepidation of what he was going to say or do.  He had put her through so much and he hadn’t even known it.
“If I had known,” he started with.
“You weren’t in a place to realize it yet and I didn’t want it popping up and slapping you silly when it did.  I thought I should tell you and let you know that I am fine with how this has all turned out.  I am happy to have you back,” she stopped.
“But I’m not sure this thing with Kari will go anywhere,” and Addy patted his hand.
“It already has sweetie, it already has.”  Holden didn’t say anything more before going up to bed.  Whether or not things worked out with Kari, Addy was right things had changed in a major way, and in a short time period as well.  These were the last thoughts that went through his head as he fell into a very satisfying sleep with dreams of Kari.

Morning came fast and he woke with a lopsided grin for no other reason but Kari.  He realized that for the first time in months he was happy with himself.  Instead of living through each sunrise and the coming day he had woken up looking forward to it the last week or so.  And as he got up and later climbed into his truck he knew that for once, the smile wasn’t leaving his face.  It had been there throughout the entire time he had shaved, gotten dressed, and made coffee.  The only thing that would be different this time was that he had his good pair of hiking boots with him.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Intercession - Learn about the author - Part 2

Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.  This book took me out of my comfort zone. I enjoy writing mysteries and suspense novels. This book is a romance piece. The research for this book was very different.

Q.  When did you decide to become a writer?
A.  I have always been a writer but I first realized that I might have some talent when a poem that I wrote in high school was published. Throughout the years I have written books with my students and for my own children. Now, I write the stories that have been in my imagination for years.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 14

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 14

“I didn’t realize that you were a journalist,” she fumbled for the seat belt, “I’ve read a lot of your work.  It’s really good.”
“Thank you,” and his smile seemed to slip and the glint in his eyes dull a bit.  By the look and way he held himself it seemed like he didn’t want to talk about his work.  He turned the truck out of the parking lot.  Kari decided to change the topic back to something safer as she struggled with her own demons.  
“So are we going to the little café around the corner?” Kari sat almost board stiff after she had fastened the belt.  Holden was sure that if he put his hand on the seat beside him she would jump out the window so he kept both hands firmly on the wheel.
“I’d love to but Doris there is a bit chatty and I’m not sure you want her speculating on why we are there together,” giving her a quick smile he then focused back on the road and continued, “So I know of this great place over by the mall.  It’s got Italian food so I hope that it’s okay.”  
“Sounds fine,” the farther from the center of town that he drove the tighter Kari hung on to the door. 
“I’m not sure it’s as good as the café but it isn’t too far from here.  About seven more minutes.” It didn’t seem to make her relax though.
“No, no it will be fine,” making sure to keep her eyes straight ahead.
“Kari,” Holden pulled the truck over to the side of the road and turned to look at her, “If this is too much for you I’ll take you home.  We don’t have to go out for supper but,” and this time he let his emotions play out on his face and the layers that hid them fade away, “I really like spending time with you and I would really like to have supper with you.”
“Holden,” and he could see her shoulders relax as she turned to look at him, “Sorry, this is just new for me, going out and all.”
“That’s why I don’t want to rush you into anything you are uncomfortable with, but something about you makes the best part of me want to live again and after my last assignment that’s saying something,” she looked shocked at that.  She was about to say something and Holden stopped her, “My last assignment didn’t go well.  Talking with you, being with you, has helped.”  There was quiet in the truck for what seemed like years.
“So does this place have lasagna?” she smiled as Holden relaxed and pulled out onto the road again.  They didn’t really speak again until they were seated at the restaurant.  They had each placed their order and Holden added a bottle of red wine on to it for them.  When the waiter brought the wine Holden signaled for him to just leave it on the table.
“May I pour you a glass?” He held up the bottle, “I didn’t want the waiter to assume,” she gave him a slight nod and he began to fill her glass.
“This is seeming more and more like a dinner date and not just a chance meeting,” she smiled, “Just a half a glass please.”
“If I am honest,” he poured the wine slowly watching it swirl into his glass now, “I’d rather it be a dinner date.”  Holden was watching the wine but focused on Kari.  When he made the last statement he noticed the slightest flicker of hesitation across her face and then it was gone.
“So Mr. Parker, tell me about your numerous journalism awards,” desperately needing to change the subject she moved into safe territory, or so she thought.  The slight dulling of his eyes and tightening of his jaw told another story.
“It’s a job like any other.  Some days are good ones, and some days are bad.  Some you just get nothing,” and his eyes focused on something far away.  This was the second time she had tried to engage him in conversation about his work and the second time he had sidelined it.  She thought back to his blog that had abruptly ended about six months ago.
“I’ve read some of what you have written and it truly is phenomenal work,” his reporting had been in-depth and insightful as well as direct.  His work had been touted as some of the best journalistic writing seen lately.  But none of this explained the fact that he had completely dropped off the news radar recently.
“Thank you,” and as his tension faded a semi-forced smile returned, “but I would rather talk about you tonight.”
“I’m not that interesting,” Kari played with the stem of wine glass wondering just how much she should tell him.
“I happen to disagree,” Holden took a sip of wine but never stopped looking at her.  His intense stare warmed her and made her want to squirm.  Instead she dropped her eyes as he continued, “New Field isn’t really on anyone’s radar of places to be and yet you seemed to have made this town your destination.  I don’t think it was just for the job.”
“In some ways it really was.  I saw the job opening and it looked interesting,” she wouldn’t meet his eyes, “I thought I might be able to do some good here.”
“I’m sure you can do a lot of good here, or anywhere you choose to be,” that was when the waiter brought over their food.  They both waited until he had put down the food to continue talking.
“Why are you up in the pond every morning?” Kari picked up her fork and looked at Holden.  She thought she saw, more than heard him, sigh.
“I’ll tell you what,” and Holden took a bite of his food.  He let her just wait as he chewed.  Slowly he took another sip of wine then continued, “I will tell you one of my secrets if you tell me one of yours,” at which he grinned a little wickedly at her.   Kari knew she was playing with fire.  No one, except Dr. McCoy, knew about her reasons for running away here.  It would take them to a whole new level of intimacy.  One she wasn’t sure she was ready for just yet.
Holden sat and waited, almost scared.  She seemed to be contemplating this choice way too long.  He had to wonder if he had pushed too hard this time.  He wasn’t sure he wanted to share any of his secrets either but if they were going to get past the nice to know you stage they would have to someday touch on something deeper.  As the silence stretched on to an increasingly troublesome amount of time he thought he might have to take it back.  The sip of wine she took was deliberate.  Playing with her food was indicative of her discomfort.  Holden felt guilty for pushing and he was about to say something, anything, when Kari finally spoke.
“I’m running away from my old life,” and with that said she shoveled a bite of food into her mouth to keep him from asking more.
“Okay,” he said rather evenly, “I’m not quite sure what that means but I think that makes it my turn,” until that moment he was going to give the same type of answer; short and uninformative.  Now, with that admission he changed his mind.  There was no time like now to jump in with both feet.  To build trust someone had to go first, “I go up to the pond every morning to forget what happened to the group of men I was with.  
“You see,” and he paused only to play with his food for a moment, and to focus on exactly what he wanted to say.  It would feel good to get it off his chest, but it would open the wound once again, “The accident happened at dawn.  The helicopter went down and a lot of men got hurt and some died that day.”
“Oh,” she wasn’t sure what to say, “I’m sorry.”
“I was on the helicopter,” and that’s where he stopped.  The fork moved from his plate toward his mouth.
“That’s how you got hurt,” Kari made the statement as if it was a fact she had read in the newspaper.  Holden’s folk stopped and he looked at her.  “It was obvious that if you are seeing a doctor it had to be because of an injury.  Well…”
“I guess I made that easy,” and he took his bite.  
“Not too easy,” taking a sip of wine again, “And his name was Trevor.”
“Okay,” it was now his turn not to be shocked as she continued.
“He was coming home, it was about two years ago, and there was a terrible accident on the freeway,” Kari started to play with her food again.
“I’m sorry,” even though he knew it wasn’t enough.
“It was harder when we had to pull the plug,” Kari wasn’t sure why she was talking about this.  She hadn’t talked about this for such a long time but Holden was different.  He felt safe.
He was in shock but didn’t intend to show it.  Over his time as a journalist he had heard and seen some pretty hard things but to have to determine the end of life for one you love seemed so much harder than anything he had ever done.
“Sorry,” she had noticed that Holden had stopped eating, “I think I spoiled the mood,” Kari wiped her mouth with the napkin and set it on the table.  
“No,” and Holden placed his hand on top of hers, “I am just amazed at your strength.  I am in awe,”  At this Kari let a nervous laugh loose.
“Now who’s telling lies,” but she didn’t pull away.
“No really,” Holden gently squeezed her hand, “I may have been in some tough spots but making that decision, God,” and he shook his head.
“Yeah,” and she pulled her hand away.
“When the helicopter went down it was just before dawn.  I had moved toward the back so that the team could load,” he paused.  "I'd been with these guys for months.  We'd become close."  What he wanted to say now was really classified and he wasn’t allowed to talk about it.  But they weren’t here; he was, she was.  He would just blur the details, “It was supposed to be a relatively safe pick up. They loaded fast and we were off, or so we thought.  Before the helicopter got up very far it came back down, already on fire.”  Kari had stopped eating as her attention was all on him.
“Once we hit ground things got bad fast,” it was what he wasn’t saying that filled in the gaps for Kari.
“How many died?”
“It wasn’t so much the men who died right away that got to me,” and he could see that she was taken aback at that, “Don’t get me wrong.  We grieved for them, but not right away.  The ones that lived, or the ones that weren’t quite dead, those are the ones that still haunt me.”
“And you?” It was a question he knew he would have to face at one time or another.  
“I was in the back of the copter,” he leaned on the table, head on his hands.  “I was one of the injured, luckier than most.”
“And that’s why the cool water in the morning, the burns,” she touched his arm gently.
“Yes,” he looked up at her, “although it is mostly just the new scar tissue.  The cool water feels good,” he took her hand and smiled, “But I wasn’t lying when I said that something about you makes the best part of me want to live again.”
“I understand,” this time it was Kari’s turn to smile, “Something about you makes me want to smile again, try again.”
The rest of dinner went well and when it was time to leave Holden took Kari’s hand as they left the restaurant.  He waited for her to pull her hand away but she didn’t and he smiled as they walked toward the truck.  Opening the door he helped her in and closed the door.  As he walked back to his side he caught himself whistling and smiling.  
As he drove back to her apartment he couldn’t help himself as he glanced at her and smiled.  The evening had been so much better than he had planned.  He understood how she felt, the trepidation.  Loss wasn’t easy to deal with.  He fought with it day in and day out.  They had so much more in common than he could have guessed, that's why their souls had sought each other out.  As the truck came to a stop they both climbed out.
“You really don’t have to walk me to the door,” and she smiled shyly.  Kari had been watching Holden smile.  It was a really nice smile and knowing that she had put it there put a smile on her face as well, and wasn’t that different.  “What?”
“I don’t know,” taking her hand he walked with her, “Maybe I’m just happy.”  The idea that the night was coming to an end wasn’t making him happy but he wasn’t going to push it now.  He wouldn’t say no if he were invited in but those chances were very, very slim.  When they reached the door he stopped and she turned to face him.
“It’s been a lovely evening,” and truth be told she didn’t want it to end either, but it had to.  She knew she wasn’t ready for anything more, not just yet, but as she stared into his eyes she couldn’t help but imagine more.
“It really has been,” Holden’s voice was low and deep.  He smiled and let his eyes drop to her lips and linger there.  All he wanted to do right at this moment was kiss her but he wouldn’t rush it, wouldn’t rush her. She mattered that much to him. His free hand slowly brushed a small strand of hair off her cheek that had escaped from her ponytail and he could feel her shiver slightly.  Without taking his eyes off her lips he continued, “Will I see you in the morning?”
“It’s,” Kari’s eyes also dropped slowly to Holden’s lips as she willingly leaned in to his touch.  His hand on her face felt both rough and warm against her cheek and he seemed in no hurry to remove it from there.  Kari was in no hurry either.  The touch of his solid fingers as they gently moved the hair behind her ear and then the way his calloused palm cupped her cheek seeming to draw her back into the world with it’s warmth.  Making her want things she didn’t think she could want anymore.  
Holden closed the space between their faces slowly, intentionally.  Before their lips could touch he paused.  He wanted nothing more than to taste her lips but he also wanted to give her an out, nothing forced was ever good.  He could feel the breath hitch in her throat.  Could feel the hesitation and her want. He felt it all of it as well.  
Kari watched his lips as he moved closer as if in slow motion.  Fear gripped her for a moment.  Fear that he would kiss her, fear that he wouldn’t and then he stopped.  Their faces were now so close she could feel the warmth of his breathe caressing her cheek.  Time stood still, her eyes half open and anticipation slowly building.  Her heartbeat loudly pounding in her eyes drowning out everything else.  As the time seemed to stretch on it struck her that he wasn’t hesitating, he was allowing her complete control of the moment.  He had left her an out but she didn’t take, so she closed the distance that remained between them.  
As their lips touched he tasted the garlic and wine from the meal as the soft warmth of her lips pressed against his.  Taking his time he softly feathered her lips with promising kisses and as time melted away and it seemed like the kiss had just started when she slowly pulled back.  To Holden the kiss, or kisses, hadn’t lasted nearly long enough.  He had wanted to deepen each and every kiss, the desire stronger with each taste he got, but he held back knowing not to rush her.  Smiling as he pulled back, he settled for knowing that this would not be the last time they would kiss.
Kari could tell he wasn’t ready to stop as his eyes were still half closed as he reluctantly moved back and drew in a breath as a simple smile that she knew was just for her formed on what she knew now as his warm welcoming lips, “a date.”

Kari slipped into her apartment while Holden stood and watched taking a moment to relive the moment.  A happy, silly smile grew from the one of passion that had been there just minutes before and his eyes continued to look at the door for a couple of moments before he turned and walked back down to his truck.  As he drove home he started to whistle.  He could hardly wait for the morning's date.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Novel by the Numbers - Chapter 13

Broken Souls ... by Annay Dawson

Chapter 13

Holden had gotten up extra early so as to be able to make coffee and get his swim in.  He did his last lap in the pond and as he turned he looked back at the shore for the millionth time.  He had tried not to be too eager this morning as he headed out here for his swim but he just couldn’t help it.  Now he had swum his laps and sung his songs.  It was time to get out of the water and he hadn’t heard her approach yet.  The smile started to fade on his face as he crawled out of the pond and shook off the cold drips that hung on to the ends of his hair.  Looking around he grabbed for his towel.  There was one positive to this whole thing, he would be able to change without embarrassing her or having to show the scars that seemed to refuse to go away.
As he toweled off he began to think that there were only a few more days, a week or two maybe, that he would be able to come up here and swim.  Whipping his wet shirt off over his head he felt the cold air hit his chest and back and he sucked in a breath of air.  His skin immediately started to goose bump, at least most of it.  The places that were scared didn’t quite get the idea. Quickly he toweled down and bent over and grabbed his dry sweatshirt.  Maybe two weeks would be pushing it.  Glancing around he still didn’t see her.
As Holden pulled the old sweatshirt on his smile faded.  It hadn’t occurred to him just how much he was looking forward to seeing her this morning.  It was strange how things had changed, how he had changed, in just a matter of days.  Three days ago he still had trouble smiling during parts of the day, especially at times when he was alone with his thoughts.  In the last few days he had found himself smiling at odd moments, even when he was alone.  He hadn’t done that in what seemed like a long time.  
He pulled off his swim shorts and threw them to the side as he wrapped a towel around his waist tucking in the end of to keep it up.  That was when he heard her approaching.  It made for what could be an odd or embarrassing moment.  He didn’t have enough time to change but he wasn’t sure he wanted to greet her in just a towel but there really wasn’t much of a choice.  Quickly he put his swim stuff into his bag and grabbed the blanket he had brought.  He gave the blanket a snap and laid it on the ground.  Bending over he started to pull out the thermos of coffee.
“Oh,” was all she said before she stopped moving.  Taking a good slow look at him before she continued, “I brought muffins.”  She held up the bag.
“Hi,” he stood and rested his hands on his hips, “why don’t you pour the coffee and I’ll just slip over there and put some pants on.”
“Shy?”  The words slipped from her lips before she knew what she was doing.  She would have never thought that she could be that forward.  It really wasn’t in her nature to flirt or tease but it seemed very natural with him.  She was rewarded with a lazy smile.
“Well now,” and his hands began to move.  He could see both a startled look in her eyes and something else.  It was definitely the something else he was curious about, “The muffins sound great, but I think we will both be more comfortable if I go over there,” he pointed to a group of trees, “and change.”  By the time he got back she had coffee poured and set the muffins out.  
“How do you swim in there?  It must be freezing,” safe conversation.  He could do that.
“The underground spring keeps the temperature pretty constant so it’s not too bad.  It’s when you get out. Now that’s cold these days,” and he picked up his cup of coffee and took a sip.  
“So are you going to stop swimming soon?” Kari pushed the muffins his way and he picked  one up, banana, taking a bite before he answered.
“I will probably only swim for another week or so at most but I’ll still be up here each morning,” his voice was quiet and they sat in silence for a few minutes.
“Can I ask why?” Holden smiled sadly at that.  
“Why do you come up here?” He turned and looked at Kari taking another bite of muffin while he waited for an answer.
“I like the quiet, the peace ,” was her answer.
“It’s the same for me,” and they stopped talking for a while as they finished the coffee and muffins.  “Mornings have been hard for me lately and coming up here makes it easier.”
“I know what you mean.  I came up here the other day because I was having a hard time sleeping,” she helped him pick up the cups, “And you were right.  I hadn’t been hiking for a long time and it seemed like a good time to start again.  New place, new things I guess.”
"I would have thought you would be a bit worried about your safety," he didn't look straight at her.
"Am, was really," she wasn't going to tell him that she had mace in her pocket among other things, "I've taken precautions."  
“When I first started coming up here in the mornings I wasn’t very good company.  I’ve gotten better and now I happen to really enjoy company,” he smiled and picked up the blanket.  He had picked up on her use of the past tense and he smiled.
“If you have time I wouldn’t mind the company on my hike this morning,” she was hesitant.  He wasn’t sure if she wanted him to say yes or no.  He wasn’t sure either.  If he said yes he might be pushing too hard.  If he said no, then it might give the wrong impression as well.  
“I,” he started but didn’t get very far before she started to talk again.
“It’s alright if you don’t want to come,” and his face dropped as she focused on the box that held what was left of the muffins.
“Actually, I really want to come but I don’t want to impose on your time and I wasn’t sure how to say that without hurting your feelings,” he touched her arm and got the reaction he wanted, “but it looks like I failed at that too.”  
“Then it’s settled,” and she looked at him allowing his hand to stay right where he had placed it, “We go for a hike.”  She wasn’t sure what she was in for but she did know one thing.  She thought she liked where this might be going.
It had been three days, three wonderful days of coffee, muffins and walks.  He was a wealth of information on the trails and the area.  Had promised to take her out on some of the more difficult trails once it was safer, springtime, but something was bothering Kari.  They had talked but most of the conversations were general in nature.  Maybe it was her imagination but it seemed like they both had ghosts they were hiding from and now from each other.  No matter, they had started an easy friendship and one she had grown to count on.  It was nice not to be up there alone, to have someone who appreciated the activity as much as she did.  More than that though she liked how she felt when she was with him.  The more she thought about him the more she new she had heard his name before.  She just couldn’t place where though.  
Sitting at her desk she decided to take a break from her work and do an internet search of his name to see what would come up.  Jordan had already brought her coffee and the clinic was humming so she was pretty sure that she wouldn’t be interrupted.  Not that it was a crime to search up someone’s name on the internet, but she wanted to keep this new friendship private yet.  It was mere seconds before the screen loaded and the list of links were staggering.  The first site was a bio.  When Kari clicked on it Holden’s smiling face appeared before her eyes as well as quite a bit of text.  She began reading and immediately knew why she had recognized the name.  He was a freelance journalist.  The more she thought about how he seemed to make his own timetables the more it made sense.
She had read a bunch of his articles over the years not paying much attention to who had written them.  He had won many awards and basically it looked like he got any assignment he chose to have right now.  Clicking off the bio Kari clicked onto another sight and then another totally engrossed in what she was reading.  She clicked on some of his previous articles and read them.  He was good at what he did, his explanations clear and his delivery exact.  With each click she got more and more interested.  The one question that kept ringing her head was why was he here?  She noticed that one of the links was his blog.  Clicking on it she looked at the last entry he had made.  It had been made over half a year ago.  Odd for what he did.  She started to read it.
“Hey,” the man’s voice at the door made her jump.  Kari hadn’t expected anyone to come in as they had all been so busy over the last week with Dr. McCoy gone.  “Didn’t mean to startle you.”
“Oh, no problem.  Guess I was too focused.  It’s good to see you Dr. McCoy.  How’s your new little bundle?” Kari caught her breath as she watched the doctor beam.  He didn’t have to say a word for anyone to know just how happy he was about having this new little joy in his life.  
“James wants to be fed every two and a half hours.  Gets up at least twice a night.   Fusses when one of us isn’t doting on him and,” and this is where the smile, if it could, grew even bigger, “we are loving every minute of it.”
“I am so happy for you,” and Kari really was.  It was nice to see someone with that much joy in their life.  “So why are you here?  I thought you had at least another week off.”
“I do but I needed to come in for a patient today,” and he continued, “Plus it was nice to see my new counselor so hard at work.”  Kari tried not to blush at that remark.  She really hadn’t been working right then, but she had been doing a great job on catching up with the backlog and the others must have told him that.  
“I’m sure the others would have covered you,” and then just like that she remembered who the patient must be.  Holden.  He had been in the other day and refused to see anyone else.  In fact his real file had to have been locked in Dr. McCoy’s office as the one that Jordan had wasn’t more than a piece of paper or two.  
“No this one I have to see.  It’s the deal we made.  I forgot the other day so I called and rescheduled,” glancing at his watch he then continued, “and I don’t mind it will only be for a few minutes and then I can get back to that little one of mine and my lovely wife.”
“Oh,” was all she had time to say before she heard Holden’s voice behind him.  
“So how’s your new little bundle of joy Doc?” He came right up to the doctor and shook his hand as he slapped him on the back.  
“Absolutely perfect Holden,” he turned and pointed at Kari, “Have you met the new case manager?”  Kari noticed a split second of shock on Holden’s face as if he had forgotten where she worked and what she did.  If she hadn’t been watching she would have missed it, as Dr. McCoy had.
“Why yes I have,” and that shocked the doctor a bit. Holden continued. “We have had a chance to go hiking up in Douthat State Park the last couple of days,” and he smiled warmly at her as if they were sharing a secret that only they knew.  
“Okay,” kind of stumbling over the word and then gaining composure, “Glad you two have hit if off.”
“Doc if you don’t mind,” and Holden turned his attention back to the doctor, “let’s get this over with and get you back to your family.”  He then turned to Kari and in a low soft tone he spoke directly to her.  “I’ll see you later.”  
With that spoken he moved off with a wave.  It was then that Kari realized that her computer screen still had him plastered all over it.  Thank God no one could see it, but she quickly clicked off of it anyway.  
The rest of the day was busy and she didn’t see Holden leave.  It hadn’t been like she was staring at her door and waiting but the door was open and she thought she would have noticed him go out.  Dr. McCoy had left and she had waved bye as she was in the middle of a phone call to the school nurse.  They were setting up a time to go over the care of Daniel and his feeding tube as well as the list of other problems he had.  
“Yes, I think Friday will work just fine,” the nurse was very pleased that she had called.  They had both been thinking the same thing.  It had been a long time since anyone had come down and gone over any changes. And it was probably time to do so.  
“The morning tends to be very busy here so if we can arrange to come out right around lunch that way we can have Daniel there as well for part of it,” just a bit distracted, Kari was disappointed at the fact that Holden hadn’t said goodbye, and a bit relieved.  She hadn’t told anyone yet that they had met or were even having breakfast together, as sordid as that sounded.  Things like that spread fast in a small town.  Before she could answer Jordan came bursting in.
“Alright, time to take a break missy,” and in she walked with a take-away bag from a local sandwich place.
“I will see you on Friday then,” she was just a bit put out by Jordan's attitude until she saw the lunch bag as she hung up the phone, “I was just about to get my lunch…” Jordan waved her hand at her to quiet Kari.
“No, no, no.  You don’t get away that easy. You have been working like a trouper today and you are about two hours past lunch so you need a break,” she plopped down in a chair with a can of soda pushing the bag toward Kari, “I have ten minutes and you have only nine to fill me in on what’s going on with you and Mr. Tall Dark and Cute.”
“What,” she feigned ignorance, “Wait.  Why do you call him that?”
“Because he is all of that and more.  Now more about your reactions since they were quite interesting.  Even Dr. M. said so,” Jordan playfully looked at her watch, “You now only have eight minutes so start talking. What ‘cha hiding?”
“Really?" And when that didn't work she continued, "What happens if I don't," and she laughed when Jordan tried to make a mean face.  "Okay, I met him while I was hiking in the mornings and we’ve talked,” she smiled, “that’s all.”  Jordan raised her eyebrow, “No, really that is all.” Kari emphasized the ‘is’.
“Okay, if you say so,” Jordan began to stand, “Not as exciting as I hoped.”
“How well do you know Mr. Parker?” Jordan stopped and turned back around semi-surprised at her use of Mr. Parker.  Her arms were folded across her chest and her face didn’t reveal any emotion.
“Humm," the look on her face let Kari know that she thought there was much more to the story now, "Not all that well,” she shrugged and smiled, “Nothing in his file either as you know.”  Turning back around Kari heard the jangling of Jordan’s earrings, the only thing that didn’t match the plain utilitarian outfit she wore.  She would have to guess that Jordan hadn’t read the bylines in the papers and magazines much otherwise she might have put two and two together as well.  It left Kari wondering why Holden was in here to see Dr. McCoy?  Why it was only Dr. McCoy, and what was in his file that was so confidential?  
She tackled the sandwich as she continued to work and slowly the din from outside her door died down.  It was then she looked at her watch and realized that it was almost time to go home.  Closing up the computers and securing her files she then made notes in her phone and duplicate notes written in a day planner that she still kept.  It was old fashioned but it worked for her.
“Jordan are you headed out?” Kari stopped at the front desk looking for the receptionist.
“I only wish,” came the voice from the stacks.  “I have at least twenty more files to put away before I can leave.”
“Do you want me to help or wait for you?”  For some reason Kari wasn’t sure she wanted to be alone.
“No, go on ahead,” and she poked her head out, “I’m going over to my Dad’s tonight.  He's cooking.  I'd invite you but he's not a very good cook.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow,” Kari walked out and closed the clinic door behind her.  As she turned she noticed an old truck sitting in the lot and a familiar smile behind the wheel.  She walked up to the driver’s side window.
“Hungry?  Breakfast was quite a while ago,” was all he said.  It was as if he expected her to take him up on his offer.  
“Hum,” she was hungry and the thought of having supper with him was tempting.  When she was with him she forgot about being sad, and yes, that was very tempting.
“Is that a hungry hum, or a ‘is this man stalking me’ hum,” he smiled.  When he did that he could see that one more layer melted and he was on his way to a yes.
“Okay,” Kari walked to the other side of the truck.  This was going to be different.  So far she had only spent casual mornings with him and now it looked like it was going to be more of a date type date.  Her pace slowed a bit as she thought of Trevor.  He was the life she should have had.  Kari had always thought she had forever with him.  No one ever told her that forever was going to be just three years. 

Holden watched as Kari’s pace slowed and her thoughts seemed to go elsewhere.  Maybe this was too much too soon.  He hoped not.  The mornings had been really relaxed and they had grown more comfortable with each other but maybe this was too fast, too much for her.  Whatever had happened to her in the past had changed her, and something in him connected with that.  There was a part of him that was damaged as well, changed forever and spending time with her seemed to mend the wound little by little.  He saw more than heard her exhale as she squared her shoulders just before getting in.  He would need to make this good if he wanted it to ever happen again.