I took in the smell of my pillow with my face smashed into the downy softness. Maybe if I pushed my head hard enough into the pillow, I could stop the hot sting of my tears and push them back into my eyes somehow. My pillow smelled like home and shampoo from all the nights I’d slept with wet hair. I focused on that smell. I tried to decipher every different scent that made my pillow smell so comforting.
Tide laundry detergent.
Warm vanilla. My mom’s favorite scent to spray around the house.
The floral scent of my shampoo.
I then wondered what kind of flower my shampoo was supposed to smell like. As soon as I thought it, a vision of him putting that STUPID daisy behind my ear played like an old movie in my brain. I could just see myself smiling, blindly in love, and him looking back at me with those navy blue eyes like he loved me. Pain seared through my heart like I was being stabbed with a white hot metal rod. A muffled sob escaped from my throat at the sudden stab. I cursed at myself for even giving him a single second of thought, and, worse, letting that second hurt like hell.
But now, I couldn’t stop the memories; they came flooding in and suddenly I was drowning in them. Choked sobs were lost in my pillow as I swallowed memories of his kiss, his smell, the day we met, our first date, and the day that he left. It was all there, playing in my head as some form of cruel and unusual punishment.
I sat wallowing in pure agony and the self-pity came rolling in like a heavy fog. The tears slowed, but the pain stayed.
An inner battle raged in my head. I knew I was being pathetic, but I couldn’t stop feeling that way. I couldn’t change what I was thinking. I couldn’t be that tough, emotionless girl I wanted to be. I’d let him reach a part of me that no one had ever gotten to, and never would again.
Slowly, the numbness tide ebbed up, covering me with its sweet nothingness. I could almost feel my heart hardening, scabbing over into a calloused shell. I stared off toward a blank spot on my wall, thinking nothing, feeling nothing.
Sweet, blissful nothing.
I merely blinked and breathed.
I’m not sure how much time passed before I heard Ellie drunkenly stumble into our dorm room, giggling with her man of the night, slapping me out of my stupor. I blinked a few times adjusting my eyes to the darkness that had settled into my room. Rolling off the bed, I stood and strode to the door with one thought in mind:
I would never let anyone make me feel this way ever again.
Now here I was, two years later, standing in my apartment in front my full-length mirror, donning on shirt after shirt, unable to find one suitable for today. I inspected my auburn hair which badly needed a trim, my pale skin, and my timid dark brown eyes stared back at me. I silently wished I could steal my best friend Ellie’s natural platinum blonde hair, bright blue eyes, and olive skin for a day. I looked painfully ordinary, and I was suddenly self-conscious.
Why was I getting so worked up over this? Grey was just taking me to ride four-wheelers, for crying out loud! He would take any friend, guy or girl, to do that! This isn’t a date. I groaned at my stupidity and tossed the latest loser-shirt onto the mountain of other loser-shirts. Just keep it simple, Dev. You don’t care what this guy thinks of you anyway.
Exasperated with myself, I threw on a plain white tee with my cut off jean shorts and Nike running shoes, and then topped it off with a turquoise baseball hat to match my tennis shoes. I strode quickly through the bedroom door before I could change my mind and made my way to the living room to wait. But before I even made it out of the hall, I heard a knock on the door. My heart skipped and suddenly my apartment was way too warm. In a sheer panic, I thought about rushing to my room to change yet again.
Pull yourself together, woman!
I took a deep breath, strode to the door, and gently swung it open, an impassive mask set on my face. Grey stood there, hands in the pockets of his dark wash jeans and white tee. My eyes trailed up to his royal blue ball cap. We basically matched. How embarrassing. But despite my sentiments, a smile automatically curled the corners of my mouth. When his gaze met mine, he grinned.
“Alright, one of us has to change.” I joked.
“And ruin our perfect wardrobe collaboration? Not a chance. Let’s go, twinkie,” he gestured for me to follow. I followed him down the stairs of my two-story apartment building. The air smelled like summer: chlorine, barbecue, and sunscreen. It was an early summer morning in Oklahoma and it hadn’t had a chance to become unbearably hot yet. The ever-present Oklahoma “breeze” even had a slight chill to it, making me wish I had brought a light jacket. But as soon as I stepped out into the sun, the chill was gone and a pleasant warmth permeated my skin. I closed my eyes briefly and sighed. When I opened my eyes, Grey was opening the door to a very nice, very huge black truck; from the looks of it, a Ford Raptor. My brother, Dax, would be drooling right about now.
“New ride?” I asked, grimacing at asking such an obvious question. Grey smirked and rubbed the doorframe affectionately. Typical guy.
“Just one of my toys that I use to impress beautiful women. Is it working?”
My heart stopped.
I think he just called me ‘beautiful’.
Was I wrong? Was this actually a date?
My mind raced and all I could do was stare. It wasn’t until he bit his lip uncomfortably that I realized I hadn’t answered his question.
“I’ll take that as a yes,” he said, gliding over the awkward silence like a pro. He held out his hand, palm up to help me in the truck. I ignored it and pulled myself up and in with one swift move. Looking through the window as he shut the door behind me, I saw him shake his head and smile. And while he walked around the car to his side, I smiled, too.
Awestruck, I gazed up at the beautiful creature standing before me. A huge dark chocolate eye gazed back at me curiously. One white and gray-flecked ear was turned in my direction as I spoke.
“You didn’t tell me you had horses,” I almost whispered. I stretched out a hand and stroked the silky black mane of the majestic gray dapple. The horse turned its long face toward me and impatiently nudged me with its velvety nose.
“I didn’t know you liked them,” Grey explained. He stepped up to the horse as well and patted her broad, speckled neck affectionately. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw him look at me speculatively. I ignored him as I continued to admire the horse. “You wouldn’t like to ride her, would you?” I whipped my head around to face him, and nodded fervently. I heard Grey chuckle slightly as he turned to saddle up the horse.
After what seemed like an eternity, Grey had two horses saddled: the dapple gray whose name I learned was Hazy and a horse whose coat reminded me of a Dalmatian: black and white spotted all over. His name was Rowan, and he was just as gorgeous as Hazy.
Grey gently guided Hazy out of her stall.
“Now to mount her, you put this leg…” Grey began to explain, but I knew what to do. It was like I was born to be a cowgirl. I stepped my left foot into the stirrup, held onto the horn, and hoisted myself up in a single movement. Once in the saddle, I secured my right foot into the other stirrup, grabbed the reins and patted Hazy’s neck. Grey stared up at me, mouth ajar. He shook his head to shake off his surprise.
“Right then,” he said making his way to Rowan. He hoisted himself up just as gracefully as I had and we were off, slowly trotting out of the stables. I felt Hazy’s muscles flexing and releasing underneath me, heard her snort in excitement to be free, and it lit my heart on fire. My eyes scanned Grey’s impressive property. A fairly steep, green hill sloped down toward us; massive, round hay bales dotted the open land. A white picket fence surrounded us on three sides, disappearing behind a deep thicket of shumard oaks. I found a small break in the trees that looked like a trail. It was a solid two to three hundred yards away.
Plenty of space.
Giving Hazy a firm heel to her side, we were suddenly off. She lurched forward with impressive speed. I raised my bottom off the saddle like they did in movies and found my body moving rhythmically with hers. Laughter erupted from my throat as the wind rushed through my hair. An indescribable feeling of freedom and joviality soared through my soul. I gave her another small nudge in the side and she whinnied in pleasure as she sped up.
We were flying through the field, a blur of white, gray, and auburn. I barely heard Grey’s voice calling after me as I guided Hazy toward the trees. I knew I shouldn’t run away like this. Hazy wasn’t mine and he might think it rude of me to have left him. Reluctantly, I decided I had to wait on him.
As we neared the foliage, I tugged on the reins and Hazy slowed her pace. I turned her around to face Grey and was surprised to see him galloping up to where I sat. I giggled as he neared, still on an adrenaline high. He stared at me, as he steered Rowan up beside Hazy. His brow was furrowed and, in that moment, he looked like Chris Hemsworth with dark hair. My stomach did a flip. At first I thought he was angry and I opened my mouth to apologize, but as soon as I had, his lips were on mine, hungry and insistent. I sat in shock, my body and brain not knowing how to respond. But when he didn’t pull back, my body remembered what to do before my brain could catch up and my eyes closed, sinking into Grey’s kiss. I felt his hand cup my face and his thumb stroked my cheek as he pulled back. Yet once again, my body seemed to forget how to respond. My eyes remained shut for several moments. I slowly opened them and felt myself smiling like an idiot. Grey was gazing back at me, a look of amazement filled his eyes and he shook his head slowly.
“You are something else, Devyn Cooper.”
I smiled shyly up at him through my eyelashes, just like in all those sappy movies.
Wait. What the hell was I doing? This wasn’t a date. And I was buying into this… this facade. Again. The face of my ex flashed through my mind and I shut down instantly. I turned away from Grey and wordlessly urged Hazy forward into the trees. She obliged without hesitation, just as ready to get the hell out of there as I was.
“Hey!” I heard him call after me. I didn’t slow Hazy’s pace.
“Hey hey hey…” he said gently as he came up beside me at a trot, “What happened just then?”
“What?” I asked, faking ignorance.
“Back there. I saw the way you looked at me. Then you did a one-eighty. I want to know what happened.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said dismissively with a wave of my hand.
“You’ve been hurt.” It wasn’t a question.
If it wasn’t a question, I didn’t need to answer it.
I nudged Hazy’s side and began galloping away as the wound in my heart began bleeding again.
Don’t let him see.
Don’t let him know.
He can’t know that I’m weak. Vulnerable. Broken.
Fear gripped at my throat. I couldn’t talk about this. Nobody knew. I gripped the reins, all the while grasping at the metaphorical reins on my emotions. Focusing all of my thought on slowing my shallow gasps for air, the thrumming of my heart also began to slow. The image of my “happy place” automatically flooded my mind and I was transported.
Crisp autumn air nipped at my cheeks, and shocks of red and yellow leaves danced in the wind around me. I sat high in the branches of my favorite maple that stood tall and proud on my granddad’s acreage in Guthrie. This was my safe space, which was ironic considering my favorite perch was 30 feet up. I looked out over the sea of multi-colored treetops. Billions of shades of brown red, yellow, green, and orange sprawled before me, surreal and striking against the pale blue October sky. The breath-taking view seemed to transcend all reality. Up here, nothing else was real. Nothing else mattered. Only this. Only this moment, this beauty, this feeling.
And that was all it took. I gently pulled on the reins, slowing Hazy to a walk, and allowing Gray to catch up. My cheeks warmed in embarrassment as I heard him approach, but I mustered the best smile I possibly could as we came to a stop. Before Gray could even speak, I clambered down from the saddle, albeit much less gracefully than I had mounted Hazy, noting a stiffness in my legs. I could feel his eyes on me as I heard him climb down as well.
“Race you to the river?” I asked with a grin. Gray’s heart-wrenchingly beautiful face was twisted with confusion, but I don’t think it was from my question. He glanced up ahead at the bank of the river before us as if he hadn’t even known he had a river on his property. Slowly, one corner of his mouth curled into a mischievous smirk. He was going to play along. Relief flooded my body and my grin turned into a full smile, as I took off without any warning at a sprint toward the river’s edge. I heard him cry out and then his footsteps behind me. My heart raced as he closed the gap between us. But I had enough of a head start that my legs splashed through the shallow water first. I threw my hat to the riverbank and dove headfirst through the water, letting the rushing water wash away all that had just transpired, all the awkwardness. I emerged refreshed, renewed, and turned to face Gray.
“I won,” I said with a smirk.
[Thanks for reading! Let me know what you think, but be gentle! I love constructive criticism, but I’m not good with just plain old criticism.]