Without a word he opened the door and pulled her from the car. He ignored her gasp and dragged her along a sandy dune. When he stopped her startled breath rasped as he maneuvered her around to sit on a fallen tree, it’s house-size tangled roots exposed to the sky.
She refused to look at him directly.
“Damn it, look at me!”
He crouched down, his hands gripping gnarled trunk, trapping her. “What’s going on? Can you tell me that?”
She had no will to challenge him, no answer.
“Talk to me. This is about more than a few stitches. More than a boat ride.”
His voice calmed, held more patience when
he said, “You were hysterical,
He pushed away, distancing himself until
she dared a glance, one laced with old fear.
His gaze changed and she knew, instantly, he’d seen what was in her
heart. “Oh my God!
Her eyes flickered away, stared into the distance.
“You think I’m angry about what happened at the hospital? That I wouldn’t understand why you were upset?”
Mildly defiant, she looked back to him but had to clear her throat. “I’m not afraid of you.” She wanted that to be true, wanted not to be afraid, ever again. So much had always scared her, and she was tired of that too, of being afraid. “It isn’t you,” her voice shook, “it’s me.”
She realized, suddenly, she was staring at the tan flesh of his chest, just where a few dark curls peeked over the ridge of his shirt. His skin was golden from hours spent working outside, a rich caramel color her fingers longed to touch. That longing swept through her like thunder but, fighting it, she again raised her eyes.
The solemn blue of his almost took away her breath. “It wasn’t your fault. I know that.”
Tears jammed in her chest and she shook her head, wanting to run, as far as she could, from everything, especially from this man’s inconceivable kindness.
Dropping to his knees, J.T. stared at her
in disbelief. “
She washed the tissue across her cheeks, jumped up, trying to regain a measure of control.
“You don’t understand. It’s all piled up again! I feel as if I’m shattering from the inside out.”
J.T. stood, reached out, but she avoided his fingers and stepped around him, running to the water’s edge.
He came to stand next to her. “What’s piled up,
The weighty lump in her chest settled until she was able to speak, but weariness robbed her words of inflection. “All of it. These past years.”
She sunk to the sand, wrapping her arms across her middle, leaning into the pain as water licked at her knees. “I tried to hold on but it got harder and harder to find my way back. All those years Jeff was growing up I thought,” she looked at J.T. through washed eyes as he knelt beside her, “I knew Jeff needed a man in his life, to guide him, teach him things.” Her breath hitched, but it steadied her voice with new air. “I made sure he was in scouting and things where he’d be around men who could show him, teach him how to be a man.” Her gaze questioned his, wanting him to understand everything about her life up until they’d met.
Tears almost choked her, but she pushed on. “I’d lie awake at night, praying I was doing the right things for him, praying he’d be okay, even without a father.”
Her hand reached out to grasp J.T.’s and she searched his face, her eyes filling with tears of sorrow at her part in all of this. “I’m sorry I doubted your motives with Jeff, but, oh God J.T., mostly I’m sorry about Kelly! For what happened to her, to you.”
An anguished sob rocked her and she crumpled into a ball, shaking, hands covering her face. “J.T. he didn’t mean it! You know he didn’t mean it!”
Available now at: The Wild Rose Press.