Saturday, September 1 2018 / 2:39 am
Like really, really sucks. Trust me, I know. I’ve dealt with my fair share of tragedies. I’ve had my heart broken, dragged through the mud, and then stomped on. I’ve woken up hungry and slept under a bridge on the streets. I know what abuse feels like. I’ve seen, firsthand, how bad addiction can be. Death is a cold friend, instead of a stranger. Loss is all I’ve ever known.
That’s why I have a plan for everything. I stick to a schedule for my day and my life. I know what I’m doing every minute of every day. I know what my next steps in life are. And that keeps me in control.
Chaos is when the worst happens. Tragedy lives in the craziness. I thrive in normal.
In the expected.
I plan for every mistake, every tragedy, every misstep. That way I’m always prepared. I can handle anything because I’ve already thought of it first. I know how to bounce back and get my life on track in a second.
So why is today so hard?
Why am I not bouncing back?
Because five years ago today was the worst day of my life. I made the worst mistake, and I’ve been paying for it every day since.
I’m spiraling. I can feel the anxiety climbing into my chest and tightening until my lungs burn with each breath. My stomach is twisting in knots, and my head is pounding with an unshakable ache.
I need to plan. I need to find a solution and start implementing it.
But for once in my life, I don’t want to think about my responsibilities. I want to feel free, if only for a few moments.
I roll the window down of my Subaru, the classic car all Denverites drive. It’s cheap and gets the job done. I drive through the mountains, hoping the fresh air filled with aspen and pine trees will soothe my soul. The wind whips through the car too fast to have the window down, but I don’t care. I need to feel the wind. It’s the only thing keeping me from going into a full blown panic attack.
A man on a motorcycle rides my ass on the single lane road. I’m driving fast, but apparently not fast enough for the dipshit behind me.
The tiny smile I forced onto my lips earlier vanishes. I zoom around a curve faster than I should, and I feel out of control.
I hate it.
But Mr. Dangerous isn’t driving fast enough. Driving around curves without guardrails isn’t enough. He’s driving so fast; one mistake could cause his motorcycle and my car to tumble down the side of the mountain. He’s risking actual death.
I look for a space to pull off so he can go around me, but there are none. We are in the freaking mountains, on curvy road after curvy road. I’m driving ten miles over the speed limit as it is. I’m not going to let him bully me into driving faster.
I hear the rev of his engine, and the blast of heavy metal music from his motorcycle.
Can he be any more obnoxious?
I don’t understand motorcycles. I don’t understand the need to make life any more dangerous than it already is. The asshole isn’t even wearing a helmet.
I shake my head and try to focus on the road in front of me, instead of the man behind me making me equal parts pissed and anxious. But I drive faster. Too fast. I can’t help it. I barely stay in my lane around the next curve.
And I see the bicycler too late.
I slam on the brakes, praying I don’t hit the cyclist. I can’t slow down enough, and another car is coming toward me in the other lane. I have no choice but to pass the cyclist who is hugging the line of my lane.
I squeeze my eyes closed. Stupid, I know. But I can’t watch my car scrape the man off the road.
I open my eyes and glance in my rearview mirror. The man is still on the bike as Mr. Dangerous passes him on his motorcycle. I didn’t hit the car coming the opposite direction either.
I exhale and try to loosen my death grip on the steering wheel. But I won’t be relaxing anytime soon. I see a gravel road leading off the main road, and I take it. I need to get away from the anxiety-inducing motorcycle behind me.
My heart slows as I drive over the bouncy road. I don’t know where the road goes, nor do I care. I just need away.
The road winds up a mountain and stops in a parking lot of a trailhead. I pull the car into one of the last remaining stalls and exhale. A loose hair that had fallen onto my face blows up as I exhale.
And then I hear the motorcycle. I glance in my rearview mirror as the dumbass double parks his motorcycle behind mine.
I’m not confrontational. Not unless I need to be to survive. But I’m livid.
I jump out of my car and march over to him.
“What the hell are you doing? You could have gotten us killed earlier! And you can’t park behind me. That’s illegal.”
He raises an eyebrow with a wicked grin on his face as he stares at me like I’m a child. He folds his arms over his chest, revealing his rippling biceps covered in tattoos.
“Sorry, sweetheart. If you don’t know how to handle a car in the mountains, then you should stick to the main highways. They might be more your speed.”
My cheeks puff out as I hold my breath and anger in. I’m sure my face is bright red by now, and my eyes are popping out of their sockets.
“I’m not your sweetheart.”
His head cocks lazily to one side as his smile brightens. “You are definitely somebody’s sweetheart.”
“I’m nobody’s anything.”
He nods. “Good.”
He removes his shirt, and I stare speechlessly at his long legs in running shorts. Damn, his body looks better than any superhero’s I’ve ever seen. He could play Thor easily. His muscles are bigger, his tattoos darker, and his hair is long, like a Greek god.
He smirks and walks closer to me like he knows exactly the effect he has on me.
I can’t fucking speak. That never happens. I always have the words for every situation. I can be a smartass when I want. My voice is my best quality.
It’s sexy and raspy, and everything men want.
His eyes rake over my body. I’m wearing my scrubs. I just got off my shift, and the loose scrubs do nothing to attract a man. I look like a box instead of a voluptuous woman. Although, even the tightest dress in the universe wouldn’t help my cause much. I just don’t eat enough to have curves. My scrubs make me look like a dark green blob. Not sexy. The blood stains and mashed potatoes from a patient last night aren’t helping either.
He winks at me though, and I think he sees something he likes.
No. He’s probably just the type of man who flirts with every woman. He’s not interested in me.
He turns a second later and starts jogging toward the trailhead.
“Wait!” I shout, getting my voice back, although the raspiness of my voice makes it sound like my voice just cracked.
The stranger doesn’t pause. He keeps jogging but turns his head in my direction flashing me another panty-melting smile. He’s too damn good-looking. There are men who are handsome in a safe way. The kind who don’t threaten everything you’ve worked for. The kind who smile at you and appreciate you for how beautiful you are.
This man is the kind who glances your way, and you are already signing away your heart, your bank account, and your self-worth for a chance with him.
I usually stay far, far away from men like him. And in about two seconds, I will drive full speed in the opposite direction and never think about him again. But for one moment, I let myself drink him up.
“Your motorcycle is blocking my car!” I shout.
He shrugs. “So? I’m running; you’re hiking. I’ll be back to move my motorcycle long before you get done with your hike.” His eyes tell me he’s challenging me. He doesn’t think I actually came up here to hike based on how I’m dressed, but he’s daring me to say differently.
I don’t say anything.
And the sexy stranger disappears onto the trail at full speed.
I stare at the trail and then down at my scrubs and white tennis shoes. I’m not prepared to go for a hike. These shoes have no grip and will turn brown in about five minutes from the dirt on the trail. I didn’t even bring a bottle of water with me.
Hiking is not what I need right now. But I don’t really have a choice. Unless I want to back over his motorcycle…
I grin, liking that idea far too much.
I sigh. I don’t have the balls or insurance to destroy his bike like that. I’ll hike for an hour, and if Mr. Wrong-for-me-in-all-the-ways isn’t back by then, I’ll reconsider my running over his motorcycle plan.
This is exactly what I don’t need, and exactly what I do need.
I’m not a hiker. I don’t have time to take out of my day to drive into the mountains and spend hours hiking. Most of the exercise I get is pulling patients in and out of a hospital bed. Occasionally, I’ll make time to head down to the gym after classes finish, but that’s rare.
The fresh air and wildflowers covering each side of the trail make the hike worth it. I’ve never seen such bright shades of purple, yellow, and pink. I’ve never filled my lungs with the scent of pine. Never had my muscles burn as I climb my way up the mountain.
For the most part, I focus on nothing. Just putting one foot in front of the other.
Despite the pretty scenery, my thoughts always go back to planning my life. I’m going to get a job offer from the current hospital I’m doing clinicals at. I’ve done a great job so far. I only have a semester left of school before I graduate. I’ve been putting in my time. I’ll get the emergency room job I applied for. I just have to make what little money I have left from my savings last for a couple more months.
I will survive. I always do. I just need to tweak my plan a little.
This year was supposed to be about finding a man. A husband, even. I’m graduating college. I’m ready to be in a serious relationship. But I might have to postpone that for another year or two. I don’t have any time to date. Not when I’m working all the time.
A husband might be a lot of help. Especially if he’s rich. Even if he wasn’t, two incomes are better than one. My siblings don’t offer much help. A wealthy hubby would be perfect right about now.
No, it’s not in the plan.
My lungs burn as the oxygen up here is thin. My legs ache and throb. I glance up, and the top doesn’t look much further. I can make it. I’ve made it this far. Just a little further.
I climb over the ridge, but it’s a false summit. I’ve heard about these. My life has given me plenty of experience. Just when I think I’ve gained some traction, everything I’ve gained gets wiped out, and I have to start all over again.
I’m determined now, though. I won’t stop until I’ve reached the top of this mountain. I don’t know how long the trail is, or how high it goes. But nothing will stop me now.
Forcing my legs to keep climbing holds my entire attention now. I can’t think about my family problems. I can’t think about the jackass who almost ran me over. All I think about is putting one foot in front of the other. Over and over. Until finally, I reach the top.
I’ve never seen anything like it. Gone are the wildflowers, replaced with expansive views. I see the top of dozens of mountains around me. And a small lake sits on top of the mountain. The water’s turquoise color is shimmering against the backdrop of the slope in front of me. A small snow patch scatters against the flawless grey rocks.
I smile, really smile, at what I just did. I don’t have a clue how high I’m up. 10,000 feet? 12,000? Did I just climb a ”14er”? I don’t know. But I feel like I’m on top of the world. This was my Everest. And I beat it.
I sit down on a rock on the edge of the water, wishing I had a water bottle and snack to enjoy along with the view. Several other hikers are relaxing around the lake, enjoying the fruits of their efforts. But I don’t see the man who caused me to be hiking in the first place.
Good, I might get to run over his bike after all.
After resting my legs for a while, I decide it’s time to head back down. Should be much easier and faster than my way up.
I’m so wrong. The rocks that were so enjoyable to hike up are now death traps. My shoes have no traction as I climb down their slick surfaces. The streams of water I walked over before now race with enough water to soak my feet as I step through them, drenching my shoes and socks. And the slick dirt causes my feet to slide with each step, making each movement exhausting.
My thighs tremble. I used too much energy climbing, and have almost nothing left to climb down. I consider just rolling down the mountain, but with my luck, I’d probably roll off the path and plunge to my death.
And don’t even get me started on my knees. I’ve never been in so much pain in my life. Each step stabs into my knees, making me grit my teeth with each step.
I thought I understood the beauty of why people spend their free time hiking. Now I think it’s just because they like torturing themselves with pain and fear.
I try to make my legs move faster. The faster I run, the faster I will be off this treacherous cliff.
Faster is good. My momentum is carrying me down. I can do this.
One more step and then another and then…
I’m not one to curse. I’ve probably sworn less than a dozen times in the last year. But the sharp pain I feel in my ankle, knee, and hip as I hit the ground is enough to warrant it. My ankle is hurt the worst, and where my hands grip as I writhe in pain.
“You should be careful. The rocks are slippery,” a boy, who looks to be about seven, says as he jumps over me wearing flip-flops.
I frown. I’m sure his parents are with him, but right now I want to throw the kid off the cliff for his snide remarks.
He disappears, and I do in fact see his father chase after him a second later. He doesn’t stop to see if I need help. This trail isn’t heavily trafficked, so apparently, I’m on my own at the top of Everest. I’ll probably die up here. Does it snow up here in the summertime? Will frostbite get me? Will a bear or mountain lion be my end? Or will I die slowly from starvation?
Dammit! Why the hell did I decide to climb this mountain?!
Oh yea, because of a cocky, arrogant smile with dimples, tattoos, and muscles. If I survive this, I’m getting my eyes carved out. I don’t need them. They get in my way and cause me to make bad decisions.
“You okay, sweetheart?” a deep voice asks.
I keep my eyes closed shut because I know the source of the voice. It would be my luck he is the one to find me and offer to help me.
“Perfectly fine. Just enjoying a nice relaxing nap in the middle of the trail.”
He chuckles and touches my leg.
I jump. My eyes fly open at the jolt shooting through my leg. I don’t know if it’s because of my injury or the electricity of his touch.
“That hurts,” I pout, as he examines my right knee after pushing my ripped scrubs up.
He ignores me and places my leg down before picking up my left ankle.
I wince and bite my lip to keep from cursing him as he touches me.
“It doesn’t look broken. Probably just a sprain.”
I know his words are meant to be encouraging, but I don’t like hearing ‘just’ anything. Whatever it is, it hurts. Sprain or broken makes no difference.
“Thanks, doctor, but I got it from here. I know all about RICE.”
“Rice?” he asks, cocking his head to look at me like I’m crazy.
I roll my eyes. “Rest, ice, compression, elevation. I know how to take care of a sprain. I’m a nurse.” Well, not technically. But I will be a nurse in a few short months.
He nods, looking at my scrubs again like he’s just now realizing why I’m wearing such a thing on a hike.
He holds out his hand to me, but I’m too stubborn to take it. I don’t need his help.
He looks amused as I try to push myself off the dirt. It takes a couple tries to get my shaky legs under me, but I’m finally able to get up.
“Need any help?” he asks, smiling at me like I’m the funniest thing in the world.
I take a step, and my ankle gives out. Luckily, there is a tree nearby I can grab to keep from falling again.
“Seems like you could use some help.” His hands grab my hips trying to steady me. And I swear I feel his erection on my ass.
I swat his hand away as I turn glaring. “I don’t need help from a man who almost got me killed and just wants to hit on me.”
I start stomping down the mountain ignoring the pain of each step, and the man slowly walking behind me. It takes everything in me not to turn around and check him out again. Sweat drips down his chest from his run, but when he approached me earlier, he barely seemed out of breath.
I will not look at him.
I will not ogle him.
I will not think about him.
I will not ask him for help.
Ten steps later, tears are filling my eyes. I can tolerate pain just fine. I have a high pain tolerance. But knowing it’s going to take thousands of more steps to get down the mountain is melting my morale.
I stop, unable to continue on my own.
The man behind me stops as well. If he ran down, he’d probably already be down by now.
I sigh and turn slowly to him. “I guess you are my only option.”
“Oh? I didn’t think you wanted my help.”
“I don’t.” I exhale into a frown. “But I want to live more than I don’t want your help.”
He smiles smugly but doesn’t move to help me. In fact, he crosses his arms like he’s not going to touch me now, even if I asked.
“What are you doing? I need your help. You’ve been following me this whole time because you intend to help me. So help.”
He shakes his head.
I’m so impatient with this man.
“I think you owe me something first.”
My mouth gapes. He can’t be serious. His eyes say he is dead serious. I see the lust there.
“I’m not going to blow you or fuc…” He raises an eyebrow as he realizes I hate using foul language. “Or have sex with you. I’m not that desperate.”
He steps toward me, filling my personal space with his strong presence. It consumes all my thoughts, my smells, and my space.
“I think you are that desperate,” he breathes onto my neck.
I freeze. I’m not. I’m not. I’m not.
But I am. He’s not my type. Not at all. I like men who are good for me. Good-looking but not too good-looking so they think they can do better than me. Smart, caring, cautious, sturdy.
This man is none of those things. He’s e.
My lip trembles, considering what I should say or do. Should I kiss him? He might carry me down if I did. Make him think I’d have sex with him later, only to disappear before he has a chance.
He laughs, seeing the conflict in my eyes.
“But I’m not asking you to be that desperate. When I fuck you, it will be with your full permission and willingness. Not because I saved you.”
“You are so not saving me. Let’s not be dramatic. You are helping me walk down a mountain, not saving me from a burning building.”
I snap my mouth shut when he stares at me. Damn me and my snarky mouth.
“What do you want then?”
I frown. “I don’t owe you an apology.”
He shrugs and starts walking down the trail past me.
“Fine!” I shout as I watch the only help I might get walk away from me.
He pauses and turns. I hate apologizing. Especially to his smug ass when I have nothing to apologize for. But he’s right; I’m desperate for the help.
I roll my eyes at his last name. I’m sure it’s not his real name. He’s no knight in shining armor.
“I’m sorry, Knight, for saying I don’t need your help when I clearly do. Will you please help me down the mountain?”
“No,” he says deadpan.
Shit. Now what? Does he expect me to suck his dick? Because I so won’t…okay, I totally would. That’s why this man is dangerous for me, and I need to stay far, far away.
He grins. “Kidding.”
He approaches me. “Climb on.”
“Get the fuck on my back, sweetheart. I can carry you down in twenty minutes, or you can hobble along with me by your side and take five times as long.”
He’s got a point. I climb onto his glistening, muscular, tattooed back. My thighs wrap around his waist as he carefully grabs my legs to help keep me up. He feels thick, hard, and strong between my legs. I can only imagine what another part of his body would feel like between my legs.
Not going to happen, I remind myself.
“Hold on, sweetheart.”
“My name is not sweetheart.”
“Then what is it?”
I scrunch my nose. I don’t want to tell him. If I do, he could find me after this.
He bounces us roughly as he jumps over a stream, and I groan as his back rubs against me turning me on more than I want him to know.
“Sorry, sugar tits.”
“My name is most definitely not sugar tits.”
I can feel his grin even though I can’t see it.
Ugh, this is getting ridiculous. I know he’s just trying to goad me to get me to tell him what my name is, but I’m tired of the curse words. They make me flinch every time he says them.
“Mila Burns. My name is Mila Burns.”
Shit. I didn’t mean to tell him my full name, but it just slipped out.
“Mila Burns,” he repeats. “So what are you doing out here, Mila Burns?”
I keep my mouth lock tight. If I don’t speak, then I can’t say anything stupid. I can’t agree to go on a date. I won’t drool all over his back. I won’t say anything rude. Mouth tightly shut is good.
He laughs, shaking his head. Then, pulls out his phone and presses a button before loud heavy metal music starts blaring, just like when he was on the motorcycle.
I sigh, resting my head on his shoulder as he jogs down the hill singing along to the music, while I do everything to not fall in love with him. Because he’s wrong for me.
So, so, so wrong.
He’s all the things I’m not. He would be a complication. He probably spends all his free time smoking joints and getting more tattoos. Not what I need right now.
I don’t know how the time flies so fast, but we are down the mountain in record time. He should compete professionally he’s that good.
“Thanks,” I mumble as he gently lets me down next to my car.
“Do you need me to drive you to a hospital?”
“How about dinner?”
Nope, nope, nope. He doesn’t get to hit on me. I can’t handle it.
I don’t respond. I don’t look at him. I pretend this is all a dream. I slip into my car, not paying attention to what he’s doing, and back out before I even get my seatbelt on.
And then I speed down the gravel road. I only look in the rearview mirror when I’m far enough away I know I won’t turn around and go back and say yes no matter how charming he is.
His motorcycle is in tatters. I ran over his fucking motorcycle! How did I not notice when the metal started crunching as I backed out?
I expect him to chase after me. Demand to see my insurance or exchange numbers so I will pay for the damage I caused.
Instead, he’s standing there with a broad grin and determined eyes. I’m afraid I may have started a war.