Too Big Taboo Bundle(6)

By: Veronica Vaughn




I drove through town, then up the winding road through steep green hills. It didn’t matter how many times I had driven my car around those hairpin turns, I was always afraid that I would not turn sharply enough and steer right through the guard rail, plummeting down the hillside and into the river.



Paw Paw’s cabin was one of my favorite places. I flipped on the lights and breathed in the sweet, rustic scent of fresh lumber, then grabbed a Coke from the fridge and went back outside and down the steps to the hammock, which stretched between two tall trees. It was shady and cool, and the gentle breeze rocked me as I read my book. It was so cozy that I soon fell asleep, dreaming about James.



In my dream he was still at war. He was running across the desert in his combat fatigues, bombs detonating all around him. Somehow I was running alongside him. We were fleeing from something. Then, somehow, I knew it was a sniper hiding behind a small rock structure on a hill behind us. The sniper fired, and his bullet hit James in the back. He collapsed forward, his arms flailing, and he landed in the sand. I fell to my knees beside him and helped him roll over. He was hurt, so badly hurt.



“James!” I wailed, cradling his head in my bosom. “James!”



I felt something shaking me. I heard my name in the distance.



“Ellie, wake up. Wake up, Ellie!”



Roused from my deep sleep, I opened my eyes and was stunned to find James stooped over me, rubbing my shoulder.



“James?” I sputtered, pulling away from his touch. “What are you doing here?”



“Paw Paw and I are going fishing,” he said.



I looked past James’ shoulder, looking for Paw Paw.



“He’s not here yet,” James said.



“I came here to get away from you,” I complained.



James sat down on a stump next to the hammock. “That hurts to hear,” he said. “I already lost your mom. I feel like I lost a part of myself over there. I can’t lose you, too. Ellie, you’re all I have left.”



“Then you shouldn’t have sent me away last night.”



I stole an angry glance at James. His dark hair was cropped short, following military regulations, but he had not shaved and his square jaw was dark with stubble. That was extremely unusual. He always kept his face clean and smooth. Part of me wanted to reach up and run my fingers across the roughness of his face. It wasn’t fair that my attraction to him only intensified with the anger I felt.



“You’re right,” he said. “I never should have let things escalate. I just didn’t trust myself around you. I felt … powerless. That’s not a feeling I am used to, and it scared me. But I love you, and I’m going to be the stepfather you deserve.”



“I wanted more than a stepdad,” I said. “Now, I don’t know what I want. Just do your fishing or whatever and leave me alone.”





V.



James stood up and dusted himself off. When he turned to walk away, his cell phone rang. My eyes cut to James, and I saw the muscles of his hard little butt shifting as he dug in his pocket for the phone.



“Hello? Oh, hey, Bill. Where are you?” James was silent for a moment. “I understand. No, that’s fine. Sure. We’ll try again next week.”



James put his phone back in his pocket. “Paw Paw isn’t coming,” he said. “Something to do with his mutual funds.”



“Great,” I muttered.



James went inside the cabin and emerged a few minutes later with his fly rod and tackle. I pretended not to notice when he walked past, heading toward the river. I watched him saunter down the trail through the woods. Even out here in the woods, he carried himself like a military man, with his broad shoulders thrown back. Usually I loved watching James’ confident body language, but now it just made me even angrier.



I kept fuming, even after he was out of sight. My brain was racing with furious thoughts of James down there by the river. Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I shimmied out of the hammock and grabbed my own fishing pole from the cabin, then set off down the trail to do some fishing of my own. I definitely did not want to see James right now. But if our paths happened to cross, well, I would not hesitate to give him a piece of my mind.



The river was babbling, but when I reached the bank James was nowhere to be found. Screw him, I thought. I hooked a plastic worm like Paw Paw had taught me and cast into the swift water. I cast again. It was incredibly boring, but I knew James would come by sooner or later.



I cast my line toward the opposite river bank, next to a little twig that was sticking out of the water. A fish took the lure. My mind was wandering and the fish nearly pulled the rod and reel out of my hands. I staggered, trying to reel it in, but the fish was practically pulling me into the water. I took a couple of steps into the stream, feeling the fast, cold water against my calves. The fish was too big. I wished it would just snap my line and swim on its merry way.

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