Chapter 14,

Mark watched from the porch as Matthew threw my bag into the back of his truck and Liz, standing precariously ontop of several bags already in the back, wedged it between her's and Trish's bags near the back of the bed. Trish, Samantha, and Tim were already sitting in the back either on the wheelwell, a cooler, or one of the tent bags. We had several cases of beer, half hidden beneath a casually tossed blanket. I was sure Dad had noticed, but he didn't say anything, he just leaned against the post of the front railing and watched us, chewing on sunflows and spitting them methodically out over the edge of the porch. Grandpa Jack was sitting in one of the wicker chairs, smoking his pipe. He raised an eyebrow at me when he caught me looking. I smiled back. He was always sure he had things figured out and I was starting to think he was right.

After an unceremonious, appropriately awkward goodbye and "be safe", Liz and I got in the cab with Matt and we started off.

The drive was hot. Matthew had the windows down, but, without air conditioning, it didn't do much other than stir the heat around. I was between Liz and Matthew, of course. Liz had taken so well to the idea that we had chemistry that she was awkwardly trying to artificially produce evidence of it. Matthew pretended like he didn't notice any of this, so I tried to do the same. So I sat next to him and I could feel the heat from his thigh and, every few bumps or so, my bare shoulder would touch the damp sweating skin of his arm. It seemed as though the whole cab smelled sweetly of him.

We didn't talk much, the rumble of the engine and whooshing of the wind was enough to keep us satisfied. We'd been talking about this trip for so many days it felt like there wasn't anything left to say about it, except that we were on our way and it felt great. Part of me didn't like leaving Phantom's training for a whole weekend, we'd been doing so well, especially with all the threats from my mother about making me come home. I felt like time was slowly slipping away, that soon someone would rip this life away from me too.

It took us a couple hours to get there and by the time I climbed out of the truck, I felt sore and stiff from all the jostling. Trish complained loudly about it too and I was sure it had been a lot worse in the back just sitting on the hard metal.

We'd driven over hills, through a patch of wooded area, and now we were at a clearing at the base of a small rocky mountain and crashing down its side was a beautiful waterfall. It wasn't particularly big, but it made a pleasant enough noise and drained into small body of water.

A number of people were already there, Tracey among them. His dad's shiney truck parked halfhazardly on the opposite side of the clearing. He was waving at us. Matthew waved back. Liz and I pretended we didn't see and helped Trish and Samantha out of the back of the truck. Gabrielle and her friends were there too. Along with a few other guys I remembered from the Lake party but hadn't met and when I approached a few of them cheered upon sight of me. I was flattered and sure it was about jumping into the Lake instead of kissing Trace.

"Spitfire," one of them said, winking at me, "I'm Josh, I don't think we actually met last time I saw you." He was tall and cute and Tracey's type, the type with a nice smile, skin, everything. That kind of nice made me wary, but I shook his hand and smiled back. It reminded me of the upscale friends of Blake's that he used to sell blow to. I couldn't count the number of times they had been arrogant enough to hit on me while out of Blake's sight, like I was a transposable object that could be bought, traded, or stolen.

"Kris," I told him.

"I don't know if you met," he said and looked over his shoulder at the other two guys, "Rick and Travis." They raised each of their hands in turn. "They weren't there that night, but trust me, the story has carried."

"Nice to meet you guys," I said, not sure what else to say. This kind of notoriety would have been unacceptable for Blake. My worth, my value, and my reputation belonged to him. I was because I was his. And, once upon a time, I had been flattered, I'd been thrilled. I'd loved the associated popularity, the respect, the value. But now, as I lit a cigarette between my lips, it made me want to vomit. Never again, would my worth be dependent on someone else. And so I didn't know how to feel about this sudden fame.

"What are those?" I asked, noticing several small vehicles. They looked like mini, one-person jeeps.

"Four-wheelers," he said, smirking at me. And I could tell already he reveled in being able to educate me. Already he was touching my shoulder, leading towards them, taking me under his wing to show me his ways.

My first reaction was to balk, but I told myself it was innocent. That these were good people—not Blake's people—and I was fine. He told me about them, about how you sit on one and can ride it around in the hills or the woods. I pointedly ignored his sexual innuendo, telling myself it had clearly just been awhile for him, and puffed stoically on my cigarette.

"After we all get settled, let me take you for a ride on one," he jerked his head towards the countryside.

"We'll see," I said with a smile, trying to be friendly, trying to not be as reserved and cold as I felt like around men.

I made my way back to where Matthew and Trish were trying to set up our tent. Me, Trish, Liz, and Samantha were all going to sleep in the bigger tent and Matt and Tim were going to sleep in the other, smaller one. I offered to help. Matthew gave me a look I took offense to. Trish told me to hold down her end to the ground while she went to a different corner to pull some other piece of the thing waterproof fabric down. I'd never slept in a tent. Mom and Phil's idea of a vacation involved four-star hotels and beach houses rented by the week. Christy's idea of a party out involved sleeping either on her friend's couch or in some guy's bed. I felt as though I didn't have to explain this, no one seemed to expect me to know anything and, in part, that was better because they didn't ask me to do anything I'd look stupid not knowing how to do.

In the center of all our parked cars, Tim, Liz, Tracey and Rachel were arranging chairs. I went to help, carrying one from the truck that Grandpa Jack had given me. I put it next to Liz's. Rachel gave me an unflattering look but Gabrielle smiled at me with suspicious warmth. "Hey," she said to me, "it's too bad you had to leave the Lake party early, but anyone who can stick it to my brother is a friend of mine."

I tried to laugh it off, "I just don't like ultimatums," I told her, like it wasn't a big deal. It was. I felt like I'd been locked into one giant dangerous ultimatum for the last year of my life. I wondered what they would all say, what they would all think, if I just said, in response to all these questions and comments, that no, it wasn't because I was brave or daring or adventurous that I was here. I was here because my boyfriend had beaten the crap out of me, again. And I was terrified every day that he would find me, that he would come to take back what belonged to him. Would they find me so great then? Would Josh and Trace still want to get with me? Would they want this if they knew it was broken and used. Would they want me if they knew that I could cower down on the ground, that I could beg for kindness, beg for forgiveness. That I could apologize over and over again, pleading and begging, for something that I had never done. Yes, none of these people knew where I came from, how low and insignificant I'd been, back when I'd been everything, when I'd been that girl everyone was jealous of. It made me sick.

It was hot and Matthew was already drinking a beer when construction of our camp had finally ended. Liz insisted that I started drinking one too and we all sat down in our respective chairs in a circle and surveyed what we had done. What they had done really. On the left side of our camp was our girl's tent, our smaller guy's tent. And on the opposite side they had three big tents, a girl's and two guys'. In the center of our chair circle was a fire pit, lined with large rocks and in its center blackened charcoal from the last time they were here.

It felt good to sit there with these people, to be part of group and listen to their friendly casual banter. The comments about how great of a summer it had already been, how much better it was going to be. About how they were thankful school was over, forever for some of them. And I sat quietly and I listened, murmuring words of agreement. I sipped my beer and held what was left of my cigarette between the fingers of my left hand. Matthew was really the bridge between these groups, he sat next to Tracey and they had their own animated conversation going on. Gabrielle sat next to him, followed by Rachel, Steph, and Abby, then the other guys, then Trish, Liz, Me, Tim, Samantha and finally back to Matthew.

I was just finishing my second beer and laughing at the joke Trish had just made about her past weekend in Seattle, when Josh touched my shoulder from behind my chair. I jumped and spun around and, sickeningly, my first thought was of Blake. Of how he would appear behind me at parties, catching me being to friendly with someone he didn't like's girlfriend. Of him appearing when some guy was trying to talk to me. Of him just always showing up, never leaving me alone for more than a few minutes. Of his fingers, biting into my shoulder or the back of my neck, so subtle, so commanding, and, worse yet, so sweet to anyone observing.

I smiled at him, trying to drown the memories that were swamping my mind. He laughed, "I didn't mean to startle you. Let me take you for a ride?" he asked, holding out his hand. I took it, trying to erase the moment of fear, trying to squash that pathetic part of me that still flinched, that was still sure that one day, it really would be him.

"Sure," I said. Maybe it was the two beers and maybe it was my desire to stop being that sad pathetic person that drove me to stand up from my chair and go over to his wheeler. I ignored the little warning voice in my head, sure it was sad little Kristen reminding me what Blake would say about this.

He climbed on and then gestured for me to get on in front of him. I hesitated, that little weak part of me balking, warning. He smiled and, encouraging me, said, "come on, here I'll let you steer."

I glanced over my shoulder and checked faces. Liz gave me a thumbs up, but Matthew's eyes told me a very stern, "no." In fact, I'd never seen him look so displeased since I'd first come with my black eye. He looked stiff, his eyes fixed on mine. But he neither got up or said anything, so I turned away, telling myself I didn't see anything. That he didn't care. And if he did it didn't matter. Because I wouldn't be controlled anymore. I wouldn't let him be like Blake. And so I stepped over the 4 wheeler and settled myself on the padded seat in front of him.

Josh pulled me back against his body and my stomach turned sickly, but I ignored it. Squaring my shoulders, I put either hand on the handles and gripped them firmly, just inside Josh's. His were big and thicker than mine by at least twice. He reached around me and turned a key on the console between my knees, dragging his hand slowly across my thigh on its way back to the handle. Then he did something with his foot and it roared to life. With more clicks of his feet, we eased forward slowly at first, and then took off.

"Where do you want to go?" he yelled over it's engine and I could feel his breath tickle my ear lobe and down the side of my neck.

"I don't know," I called truthfully. It felt good, the hot wind on my face, the alcohol warming my veins.

"Here," he said and he lifted his hands off the handles, "you steer."

"Oh my god," I gripped the handles hard, terrified that I was going to kill us. We weren't going slowly. He laughed behind me, big, happy laughs. And I had to laugh too. And so I steered. We went around a couple of sparsely scattered trees. It was fun and I jostled around against him worse than trotting a horse. There was no rhythm to this, no subtle movement I could find to make to keep smooth. Every flaw on the ground below us radiated up into our seat and I jumbled around.

After leaving his hands hovering near the handles long enough for me to get the hang of steering us, he put them on my hips. It helped hold me still, and for that I told myself I was thankful. And I ignored the sick feeling in my stomach that was trying to tell me this was wrong.

So I drove around, reveling in the thrill of going fast, so open to the air. It was a little dangerous feeling, sort of like the dangerous thrill I got from being around Phantom. But, eerily, more like the thrill I used to get when Blake and I had first started dating last summer and we drove around in his black Corvette with the windows down, reveling in his mystery and sexuality.

Finally we slowed and Josh took the handles again, steering us to the clearing at the top of a hill and overlooked an expanse of a valley.

"Oh wow," I said, surprised, "this is beautiful."

"Yeah," he said, "sure is." I could feel his breath on my neck and I tried to ignore that I knew he wasn't looking out at the valley. Rationally, I knew he wasn't like Blake. In fact, he wasn't anything close to Blake's charming, educated words, and his smooth motions. But he reminded me of the people around Blake, of the someones Blake would have hated me being near. And for that reason, I tried to ignore the sickening churning in my stomach. I tried to tell myself this was a nice guy, who thought I was pretty and who knew nothing about my history. He didn't know Blake, he didn't know who's property he was flirting with. I was glad and I tried to tell myself this was normal, this was how normal people were and that I should like this, I should want this attention. That I should be flattered.

And then he kissed my neck and his hands left the handlebars to find my waist. My body balked immediately and uncontrollably—I couldn't. I stood up and pulled away off the four-wheeler. But he followed me off it, catching my hips.

"Hey," he said, turning me to face him. I didn't know what to say so I looked up at him, searching for kindness, searching for some way to make this go away, to be okay with this. I wasn't Blake's anymore, this was normal. Guys liked girls and tried to kiss them. Normal. "You are so beautiful," he told me and he pushed some windswept hair back off my face. And then his hand was sinking behind my head and he was pulling me towards him. Immediately every part of my body was balking, every part of me was screaming to me this was wrong.

But when I tried to hesitate, told hold back for a second to talk myself into this, his hand only pulled harder against my resistance. I couldn't pull away, his hand on the small of my back pulled my hips against his and his lips made their way down onto mine and I wanted to scream, but refused to open my mouth. I pushed at his chest, trying to get back, to reestablish a distance I desperately needed. And any moment, I was sure, Blake would be there to fix this, to stop this, to save me, and as Josh opened his mouth against mine I realized that no one was there. That we were very alone, that this was what it was like to be on your own, with no one to watch your back.

I tore my face away and pushed hard against him, squirming, desperate. Panic was rapidly coursing through me. I felt trapped, confined by his iron grip on me. "Stop," I said weakly and squeezed my eyes shut, praying he'd just let go, give me space. It was like my whole world was closing in, suffocating me, like I was back in some alcove with Blake twisting my arm with that so familiar threat of cruelty.

"What?" he said, his hands still iron on my body, entrapping me, "come on, I know you want this."

He tried to kiss me again and fire ran through my veins, sick fire. And, just like that, I snapped, succumbing to the panic, and frantically twisted, balked, flailed. "Get off me," I yelled. I wanted to cry or scream. His grip slipped and I tripped back and stumbled away. Immediately hot early afternoon air whisked back into my lungs as though all breath had been absent for minutes.

"Jesus," he yelled back, "what the hell is your problem?"

I backed further away from him, "just stay away from me." My body was screaming to run, to get away, to find any place but this one. He was repulsive then and I finally understood what my body had been trying to tell me, what it had been warning me about. "I don't want anything from you."

"Why the hell did you come out here with me then, you fucking tease," it wasn't a question. He was frowning at me disgustedly. Like I'd slapped him in the face and insulted his mother. He was appalled and I was too. At him, at myself. At this whole stupid situation.

He got back on the four-wheeler angrily and turned it back on, it roared dangerously. He turned it around and then gave me that same disgusted look, "get on."

"No." I couldn't. No part of me could. I wanted to cry or throw up.

"Don't be stupid," he said, distaste dripping from his words, "get on and we'll go back."

I didn't budge. It repulsed me to even think about taking a step nearer.

"Fine," he snapped and he roared the engine and took off.

I stood still and completely numb as I watched him go, but, when he was finally out of sight, I realized my heart was pounding rapidly and I suddently felt weak or maybe feint. I sat down and rocked back and hugged my knees to my chest. A part of me wanted to cry but just then the tears didn't seem to want to come and that felt even worse.

I sat there for a long time, trying to get a grip on myself. I felt stupid, pathetic, violated, sick. And then finally I got up and I started to walk. The sick fear had morphed into the realization that I didn't know where I was. That I could be anywhere. And so I just walked.

It wasn't so bad really. I forced away thoughts of what might happen if I couldn't find my way back. I refused to think of what Liz or Matthew might say when they realized I was gone. With shaking hands I pulled my pack of cigarette from my back jeans pocket and carefully pulled one out. I could barely light it, my hands shook so bad and I felt like I was back in Blake's backyard, trying to convince myself that everything was okay, that I was going to be fine after one of his earlier tirades that had only ended then with the threat of physical abuse. I wouldn't do this again. I wouldn't be around that again. I couldn't.

So I walked and desperately smoked my cigarette, refusing to think, refusing to do anything except walk and take long, ragged drags.

I'd been walking for maybe ten minutes or so, my cigarette was shrinking to almost finished, when I heard the rumble of a familiar engine. The pit of my stomach dropped and fear climbed up my throat. I was sure he was back, back like Blake was always back to have the last word, to make me do whatever I'd not wanted to do.

But, as the four-wheeler came into view, it wasn't Josh's blue t-shirt and jeans that was riding it. It was a black polo and cargo shorts. And when it grew close enough for me to identify the face I couldn't tell if I was relieved or horrified to see Tracey.

He yelled something and raised his hand and then, after a few minutes, arrived in front of me. He turned the engine off.

"Are you okay?" he asked, he looked concerned. Maybe a little panicked.

"I'm fine," I said, because that's all I knew how to say. And, really, I was always fine. I would always be fine. However bad it was or would be, in the end I would be fine.

He didn't look convinced, but I hadn't stopped walking. I took a long drag off of what was left of my cigarette. I heard him get off the four-wheeler behind me and his footsteps on the dying grass as he jogged to catch up.

"What happened? Josh said you flipped a bitch."

It didn't surprise me, and just then I felt numb. "I suppose I did," I said, still walking.

He drew up beside me, confused, walking with me. "Why? What happened?"

I stopped and turned to look at him. I took another long, hard breath from the cigarette and methodically rolled the ash out of the end and pocketed the stub. I dug at the hot ash with the toe of my shoe and then I looked back up at his face. He looked legitimately concerned. I didn't know what I could possibly say.

"I'm not available," I finally said as some little restrained part of me snapped again, "I don't want to hook up with anyone. I'm not here to have a fun, exciting summer. I don't want to makeout with anyone. I'm not," I hesitated and then finally I repeated myself, "I'm not available."

"Why are you here then?" he asked and then sort of flinched, "I meant that honestly."

I hesitated, not knowing really what to say. Finally I settled on, "I'm here because I can't be in California."

"The black eye you had when you came?" he asked.

I started walking again, I couldn't talk about it. Not with him, not now.

"Hey wait," he said, but he didn't touch me. "Look, I'm really sorry about the Lake thing, trying to kiss you. I shouldn't have put you on the spot like that; I was just trying to have fun. I'm really sorry if it wasn't for you, that's not what I meant by it."

I turned around and looked at him, searching for signs of the lie. He looked honest, his face slightly grimaced, like he really felt bad.

"Come on, let me drive you back, it's a long walk and everyone's worried about you. Matt's livid."

"With me?" I asked, my heart sinking.

"No, why would he be mad at you? He's pissed at Josh for leaving you out here." I was relieved, Matthew was the last person I wanted mad at me.

"I told Josh to leave me."

"He never should have just left you out here," Tracey said fervently. Like this was an obvious principle. "I'm pretty sure Matthew made him leave too, so come on."

"Really?" I was surprised, I hadn't expected Matthew to make any sort of effort on my behalf. He always had an opinion, but I saw it on his face, he never did anything about it.

"Yeah, like I said he was pissed and Josh is an asshole. Come on, let's go swimming. Let's forget about this and have a good time. And," he added quickly, like he was remembering what I'd said, "I know you're just here to not be in California, but while you're here, you really should have some fun."

I had to smile and so I let him take me back to camp. I rode on the back, behind him, and I appreciated having the space to just cling to his shirt for balance. Maybe he really wasn't so bad.

When we got back Josh really had left and Liz, Trish, and Samantha met us. They all looked concerned. Over their shoulders I could see Matthew leaning against a tree and watching me, a beer held casually in his hand. His face told me he'd been worried and that had irritated him. "Are you okay?" they asked in turn. Trish pushed a beer into my hand and clapped me on the shoulder.

"Yeah, I'm fine," I said, trying to force a smile.

"Let's go swimming," Tracey said loudly, walking off and pulling his shirt off over his head as he walked.

And like that it was dropped and no one brought it up again.

The lake was refreshingly cold. Liz had brought an extra bathing suit for me, I hadn't thought to bring one from home and so I was red with white polka dots just then.

It was beautiful that night. I'd never been anywhere so quiet. So, while everyone was drunkenly chatting around the fire, eating marshmellows, I made my way back to the lake. I wasn't even cold in just my tank top and shorts, which were both still a little damp from my bathing suit beneath. I was a little drunk myself too, maybe that's why the water and the waterfall seemed so magical to me. I made my way around the edge of the water, where it was still. Around where Liz, Trish, Sam, and I had sat hours earlier.

Distantly I could hear their laughter, but for the most part it was quiet, just the sound of the waterfall. In my head I couldn't decide if it was a pond or a lake. It was small, I could swim across it in a few minutes. But ponds made me think of tadpoles and murky water. This water was clear, clean, and it was rocky and almost sandy from the grainy dirt, rather than being muddy. I slid my feet out of my flipflops and walked along its edge, stepping from rock to rock as I got closer to the Cliffside, holding the flip flops in one hand, my just-started beer in the other. It was difficult, I really was fairly drunk. So I went slowly, stepping methodically from one to another. There was a path, just to my right, which went up around to the top of the falls. I told myself paths were for pussies and carried on, one rock at a time. And as I stepped, making my way further and further from the sounds of people, I reveled in the sound of the water. I reveled in the darkness around me, my path lit only dimly from the just past full moon overhead. I'd never been someplace like this and I loved it.

And then I was up at the top. I picked my way to a place where the cliff jutted out over the water below and I sat down, dangling my legs over the edge. Sober I might've been concerned for its stability or a number of different things. But just then I was feeling pretty okay with being on the edge a little. I already felt like my life had taken a turn for the better and anything else from here on out was just icing. I also knew this was transient, that there was no way I could keep this forever, that I couldn't simply stay here, avoiding my family in California, avoiding Blake. They would find me, drag me back to that nightmare eventually. So for just then, I looked up at the sky, up at all the beautiful stars, at the moon which was just not quite round, and I enjoyed it. I breathed in deep the clean smell of the country night air.

"Hey," a voice said behind me and I jumped and twisted around. Dimly I could see Matt's figure in the darkness, down the path a little ways. I cursed my rapidly beating heart and took a swallow of my beer. I turned back out to the space before me and pretended like I hadn't heard him. I didn't know if I wanted his company just then.

He settled himself down on the rock next to me and we sat together in silence for a long while. He'd brought a beer too and he sipped it casually. I wondered if he was as drunk as I was.

"You okay?" he asked finally.

I was surprised. Tonight I actually was. "Yeah, why?"

"Well you went off on your own, I wanted to come make sure you were okay. You know, not off sick somewhere."

I snorted, like this was ridiculous. But I had the lowest tolerance of the group, so it really wasn't.

I noticed his thigh was touching mine, I couldn't tell if he'd just moved it or if it had been that way since he sat down. It was warm. I leaned forward and looked down at the water below us. "What if I jumped?"

"You could," he said slowly.

He leaned forward too and his arm brushed my shoulder. I looked over at him involuntarily, he was looking at me too, not down at the water. I tore my eyes away and sat back, taking another large swallow from my beer, hoping it would make me stop thinking so far into this whole situation. Stop the jitter in my stomach that was starting. The jitter that really shouldn't have ever started in the first place.

"I have before," he continued, finally looking down at the water below. "It's real deep just here."

"Really?" I asked, surprised. Matt didn't seem the daredevil type.

"Yeah, when I was little, I used to ride out here and hang out right here. One day I jumped in."

We sat in silence for awhile and I sipped my beer. Matt sipped his too.

And then suddenly I stood up, my mind decided. "Okay," I told him, "I'm going to jump."

"What?" he got up too.

"You weren't joking, it's really deep right?"

"I'm never joking," he said seriously. "But you're pretty drunk, I don't—"

I didn't hear what else he had to say, because I was falling, falling falling, like the water from the falls. And then everything was cold, silent. It hardly felt wet there for a moment. I had my eyes closed and for awhile I didn't move, I just stayed there, somewhere in the dark depths of that pool, cold and wet seeping through my clothes and pressing against my skin. And then I kicked up, swinging my arms out to the side to propel myself up. For a long moment I thought the surface would never come, that I would be sucked into the dark depths of this pool forever, and then my head breached the surface and I sucked in a deep breath of night air. Before I'd hardly wiped the water out of my eyes I heard Matt suck in air beside me.

And then I started to laugh, to really laugh. To laugh like I sometimes heard Matt laugh, or the way Liz, Trish, and Sam laugh. To laugh like happy people laughed, because just then, I was happy. I felt as though all of California was finally washed away, that I was in some beautiful magical land where I was safe. Where I was happy. Matt was saying something scoldingly, something about how he couldn't believe I'd done that, but it just made me laugh harder.

When I'd finally stopped he was smiling at me, treading water like me.

"You're crazy," he said. I was. "Come over here," he jerked his head towards his shoulder and I swam behind him as he lead me back, towards the falls. But not through the water, off to the far side, to a nook I hadn't been able to see from where we'd hung out in the front earlier. Here we could stand, but the water was still up to my rib cage. On Matt it just barely reached his belly button. He pointed to a dry ledge just beyond us, closer to the cliff wall, "I used to swim back here and sit up there and daydream or read."

He crossed to it and lifted himself up onto it. His white t-shirt stuck to his chest. I looked down at myself, mine stuck to my chest too. I hadn't thought to take it off. I was surprised he hadn't thought to either. But as I watched he peeled it off, like he had the last time I'd spontaneously jumped in the water.

Maybe he read my mind because he said, "you sure have a thing about jumping into the water at night when you're drunk."

"You have a thing about coming in after me," I said, but I immediately regretted it. What did a comment like that even mean? I looked away and listened to the falls. They weren't particularly big, nor were they deafening, they were just distracting and I liked them for that a lot. A light splash drew my attention back around, he'd slipped back into the water and was suddenly just in front of me. His bare chest so close I felt a pulling urge to touch it. The silly jitter was back and, maybe I'd had enough beer, because just then I didn't mind it so much. It was a nice change.

"Are you drunk?" I asked, my voice was suddenly quiet, he moved closer to hear.

"Yes," he said simply, definitely. He lifted his hand out of the water and it touched my forehead lightly, smoothing my wet hair back off my forehead. I just looked up at him, maybe naïve enough to not understand, drunk enough to not care. I never had warning bells with him. I expected them, any moment, but my mind was quiet. Only my pelvis churned, heating, but not from fear or sickness. From something I hadn't felt in a long time.

"Me too," I told him. I wanted him to talk, I wanted to hear his voice. I wanted him to not be quiet reserved Matt, keeping all his thoughts to himself. "I want to know your thoughts," I told him, because he was always thinking, not saying.

"I don't like how much I like you," he said simply, like all I had to do was ask before. Like he wasn't usually closed off from me, like he'd always been this open.

I rolled the words over in my head, trying to sort them out. They were repetitive, confusing in my inebriated state. My own brain was working slower than his just then. "Well, I don't like you at all," I lied, out of impulse, maybe out of nerves. My heart had started to pound.

Suddenly his bare chest was touching my t-shirt, slowly his warmth began to sink into me and I fought hard to stay still, to stay ridged, to not melt forward towards that safe, tantalizing warmth. I stared at his collarbone, unwilling to raise my face up to his. I couldn't bear to complete the thoughts that were suddenly bursting up from my pelvis to my head. As I felt his hot chest beneath my fingertips, which had seemed to raise up from the water all by themselves, I could hear his other hand lift up out of the water too and, it, like his other had, touched my forehead and he pushed my wet hair back again. I closed my eyes tightly, trying to fight off an urge that was creeping up from my gut into my chest. Finally with the pressure of a few of his fingertips under my chin I let him lift my head, but I kept eyes shut, afraid to open them and see the look in his eyes. His fingers sank back into my hair, cupping my head, his thumbs at my temples. His right traced down around my eye to gently stroke my cheekbone. I could feel it coming and my stomach seemed to explode with the anticipation that had been brewing for weeks now.

But nothing happened so I opened my eyes and I could see his, fixed on mine. And they were soft, his upper lids a little heavy. And a droplet of water making its way over his upper lip caught my eye. His lips were slightly parted and I watched it drip to his bottom lip and then, sliding around it's curve, drip off. I looked up at his eyes again, they flicked back up to mine too, like for a moment, they'd been distracted by something else as well.

Ever so slowly he drew closer and I could feel his breath on my face and then, just as slowly he drew back and opened his mouth and the pit of my stomach dropped. I felt like I was going to burst from all the sensation rocketing in my body. For a long moment no sound came out and then finally, his voice was low, gentle, kind, "I want to kiss you."

My heart clenched, I ached for it, heat growing with silent explosions in my gut, I wanted it, desperately, in that quiet magical moment, the waterfall just beside us. But his words reminded me that he was Matt, and I was me, and that this wasn't just some fantastic dream, but before I could even begin to find something to tell him, some excuse not to, I was whispering, "yes," because no part of me really wanted to wake up from this particular moment. And nothing could make me pull away.

And before I'd even caught my breath, his lips were against mine, cold from the lake water and then he opened his mouth against mine and his heat was suddenly entwining with mine. And his fingertips sank deep in my hair and pulling me ever closer and I was exploding inside. The concept of butterfies couldn't explain the suddenly upwelling of energy rising up my chest and suddenly I had to gasp from the thrill, the desire crawling up my spine. And like that, his hands had left my hair, they were at my waist, caressing my sides hard with a need that had been floating in the air between us for weeks. And then he was scrambling for the bottom of my shirt, raising it up, peeling it off my skin, his fingers tickling skin that I knew had to be hot with the fire that was brewing inside me. And then he jerked back away from me and my shirt was coming up over my head, cold and wet on my face, and then it was off and he was pushing me back against the cold hard wall of the cliff and I was pulling him closer, needing him closer, my fingers desperate at his neck for him to be nearer, for our kiss deeper. He pressed hard up against me and I could feel him. His hands were back at my waist, sliding up my bare sides, up over the edges of my bikini top, over my shoulders, up my arms, then back down them, down my waist, to my hips and he pulled me hard against him and the hard press of him against me made me gasp again. I ached for him, an ache that I'd been trying to ignore for so long.

And then he ripped his mouth away from mine and leaned over my shoulder with a groan that jerked me back to a state of almost active thought. But I couldn't understand, I ached for him, I needed him to not be leaning his forehead against the cold wall behind me, I needed this moment to not stop. His hands on my shoulders held me still, kept me from groping for him, begging him to not succumb to reality, to stay with me in that magical explosive dream.

He groaned again when I grabbed at his waist, willing him to come back to that blissful moment with me, but, as he groaned, my head was clearing to. Thoughts were unpleasantly starting to return, they were fuzzy, but I was starting to realize what was pressed so hard against my stomach. "What?" I gasped, trying to not think, to stay where I was, my heart still pounding.

"Kris," he said, hoarse and tantalizingly low in my ear. His breath sent shivers down my spine, "I can't."

The explosive heat in my stomach suddenly sank sickly, "what? Why?"

He pressed hard up against me again, almost longingly, and I could feel him against my stomach. Like this should be answer enough.

"Kiss me," I begged, but really I was begging him to take me back, back to the heat, the magic, to that place where I didn't think about everything that was wrong, where everything was just perfect.

And like that he drew back from the wall and came down on my mouth again and we were back, and it really was magic. The sparks, the heat in my core, they were begging to burst from me. But before we'd hardly begun again he was pulling back, his forehead pressed hard against mine, to make distance between our lips. "I want you," he whispered. I knew. I pulled at him with my fingers at the back of his neck. His mouth descended upon me again and we kissed for a long time and but this time we were coming down, he was dragging me back to reality. I hated it, but thoughts were already starting to rise up in me again. I knew we couldn't as much as he did.

Finally he broke back and I was sure he was going to tell me how he couldn't with me, that I was broken, that I wasn't what he wanted. "Sit with me," he whispered. And he was drawing me back, back towards that ledge. But we only made it as far as him hoisting me up onto it before we found ourselves lost again, a temporary hiatus from reality, him standing in the water between my legs, me perched at the very edge. And then he was pulling back, slowly drawing the drunken reality back around us. He lifted himself out of the water and sat next to me. He kissed my temple once and then picked my hand up off my lap and held it.

And so we sat, our feet and shins in the water, the rest of us up on the ledge. It was almost awkward, but maybe we were both drunk enough that it wasn't. So we sat there, side by side and we talked, we talked about everything that didn't matter, everything we could think about. A million things that I would hardly remember the next morning, either because we were too drunk or they were too insignificant.



Thanks to those of you have reviewed during my (very long) hiatus. I think this chapter is what you guys were probably waiting for. So here it is. Let me know what you think.