by Jeanette Lewis
All Rights Reserved
“What’s ahead for you?” Taylor asked as they sat on the restaurant patio with sandwiches and salads. They were at a small round table and had pulled their chairs so close they were almost touching. The sun was warm on their faces and a small breeze ruffled their hair. Taylor thought of the skydiving
and wanted to go back.
Lane picked at his pasta salad with his fork. “I don’t know. Same old, same old I guess. Work. What about you?”
Her face fell. “I’m not sure. I mean, I submit my travel plans to my editor a year in advance, so I guess I’ll be picking up where I left off in my schedule when I leave here. I just …” She trailed off, unsure how to phrase it.
“You’re wondering what’s ahead for us?” he asked softly.
Heart in her throat, she nodded. The differences between this day with Lane and the day on the boat with Brent were stark in her mind. No guilt, no harsh words, no second guessing, no nerves—except for the good kind. Just being with him, just looking at him, sent thrills shooting through her core and goosebumps parading up her arms. It was embarrassing, really, though if he’d noticed, he hadn’t commented.
Lane put his fork down and reached for her hand. His fingers closed around hers, warm and strong. “I don’t know,” he admitted. “I really like you. No, scratch that, I more than like you.”
Taylor gave up all pretense of playing it cool. “I more than like you too,” she whispered.
He flashed her a smile, then he was leaning toward her and she was leaning toward him. There was a moment, right before she closed her eyes, when she could see the flecks of gold in his hazel eyes, the fringe of lashes around them. He smelled clean and soapy and faintly like pine trees. Then her eyes fluttered closed and his lips brushed hers, warm and soft.
She didn’t remember dropping her fork, but suddenly her hands were free, sliding up the warm contours of his arms, over his muscular shoulders, and into the thick hair at the back of his head. Heat and longing exploded through her body as she wound her fingers into his hair as his mouth claimed hers. He tasted like cola and salad dressing, like spending a lazy summer day in a hammock, like swimming in a warm hot springs, like freedom and passion and love.
Lane’s arms were around her, one clamped at her waist, the other at the back of neck, guiding her head so their mouths moved in sync.
“Get a room!” Someone hollered, another diner on the patio, and they broke apart. For a moment they stared at each other, unsure whether to be embarrassed by so much PDA, but then Taylor giggled. She didn’t care.
Lane laughed. “Sorry about that,” he called to the person who yelled. “Can you blame me though?”
The man chuckled, shaking his head, and went back to his lunch.
“Wow,” Lane leaned forward, resting his forehead against Taylor’s. “Can we do that again?”
She couldn’t quite catch her breath. “Come with me,” she whispered, before she could think.
His eyes grew big. “What do you mean?”
It was pure impulse, brought on by desire and raging hormones, but more than that, the knowledge that this was what she’d wanted from the moment she’d seen him again. She wanted to explore the world with this man at her side. “No expectations,” she added quickly, seeing the confusion in his eyes. “We’d get separate rooms, like when Summer and I travel with her boyfriends. I just … I think it would be really fun to have you along, and I think you’d like it. It could be the way it was, at the outdoor club, the two of us, together. I want you to come, need you to come … need you,” she finished shakily.
He ran one hand down the curve of her cheek and sat back. “What’s your next trip?” He asked.
“I cut my trip to Mexico short to come help with Grandma, so I have a couple more weeks free, but then in August, I start the Appalachian Trail.” The thought of having Lane along turned it from an exciting hike into a magical adventure.
“The Appalachian Trail is over two thousand miles long,” Lane said. “You’re hiking all of it?”
“Not the whole thing,” she said. “I haven’t finalized my route yet, but I’m planning to be in New England by autumn to see the leaves. Depending on how much longer Grandma needs me, I might start there and work my way south. What do you think?”
She’d thought it would be exactly like the kind of thing Lane would love. But his face fell and he stared past her at their reflection in the restaurant windows. “Yeah, sounds great,” he said slowly. “If I could walk more than a mile without needing to rest. Or if I could even get up an incline as steep as a dopey bridge in a city park.”
“So that’s where my friend comes in,” Taylor urged. “She can help you get the equipment you need so you can do that kind of stuff, don’t you see?” Her palms were clammy—please let him say yes. Please let him see this was possible.
But Lane shook his head and poked at his salad again with his fork. “I can’t,” he muttered. “I can’t take charity.”
Taylor groaned in frustration. “Will you shelve your silly pride for a few minutes,” she urged.
It was the wrong thing to say. Lane’s head shot up and his eyes turned cold. “My pride is what got me through,” he said quietly. “It’s about the only thing I have left.”
“But it doesn’t have to be that way,” she said, on a roll now that she couldn’t stop, didn’t want to stop. “You don’t have to just accept this is the way your life is now, there are still lots of things you could be doing, lots of adventures you could be having, if you’ll let yourself.”
“I’ll get there, Taylor,” he said firmly. “But on my own terms.”
She shook her head, tears brimming in her eyes. “No you won’t. You’ll go on working in your stupid little office and struggling along and never doing anything you’ve dreamed about because you’re too stubborn to realize someone tried to give you exactly what you needed and you refused.”
His hand clenched around his fork. “You have no idea what it’s like,” he grated.
“You’re right, I don’t. What you’ve been through is beyond imagining and I have no frame of reference for it. But I do know what it’s like to be hurt … so devastated that you think you’re beyond repair. I’ve been there, and it took a long time, but I learned you can’t let one terrible thing define you for the rest of your life.”
“It’s not the same,” he insisted. “You didn’t lose a third of your body.”
“That’s true,” Taylor said carefully, sensing dangerous territory. “Something horrendous happened to you, more awful than I can even imagine. But you’re more than your legs, you’re more than one day, one decision, one tragic accident. You have all kinds of things about you that have nothing to do with any of that, but you’re ignoring all the good things to focus only on this one bad thing.” She put her hand on his arm, trying to soften the words. “You can pay her back if that’s what you’re worried about, but don’t waste these best years of your life. Once they’re gone, they’re gone. Money is a renewable commodity, but time isn’t.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed hard, looking as if he was on the verge of tears, just as she was.
“Please?” she whispered.
He shook his head. “I can’t.”