Summary: Painful thoughts of the past, notwithstanding; just having her there beside him made all the difference.
Unable to completely relax his body, Cormoran allowed himself to mentally drift and let the cool glass of the passenger window help ease the tension building in his skull. His white knuckled grip on the seat cushion and around the door handle left his arms strained. The tightness flowed up to bunch uncomfortably around his shoulders and neck into hard unyielding knots.
Lifting away from the chilly glass, he lowered his head to rest chin to breastbone; and then reached to massage his neck. Moving his head from side to side, he hoped to relieve the rigid tautness and gratefully felt warmth surging toward him from the heater. He furrowed his brow, and willed the heat to ease the coming headache; and loosen up his muscles. Riding in the passenger seat at the best of times made him uneasy – but now, he was bordering on petrified.
His heart was racing.
They had almost died here on this icy highway; he and Robin – on this long stretch of road traveling to Devon. Letting go of the seat, he swiped at his face and let out a shuddered breath, attempting to come to some understanding of what just happened – what could have happened.
As the initial shock and suddenness of their near death experience began to wear off, instead of gratitude to a divine God, all that came to mind was a smattering, disjointed array of previous harrowing moments and unwelcome emotions. Moments that had his armpits sweating beneath his overcoat.
Robin’s uncanny sense of preservation; his fear of being seated in this passenger’s seat; his sixth sense – that he had been through this all before….the ache of impending disaster….
The tormented memories of fire, death – his leg gone; rushed at him like bombs exploding.
Wincing, he rubbed at his abused, inflamed knee joint and wished he did not feel the phantom limb; foot and chilled toes.
Leaning back, he turned and through hooded eyes studied Robin’s profile. He was most definitely impressed as she deftly navigated the snow blown terrain, and unpaved icy road with only a hint of anxiety. Windshield wipers pushed the heavy snow aside with rhythmic thumps, and he covertly watched as she nervously wet dry lips with the tip of her tongue. And there, just now was her tell – biting the nails; her only indication that she had been scared shitless.
She had saved their lives.
Turning back to face the window and the desolate scenery of trees – whiteness; stark blue sky, he pushed down in the seat and closed his eyes to the memory of the jack knifed truck; the child in an overturned car; Robin hopping from the vehicle without a word to him in order to see to any injured.
She was amazing.
He groaned with impotency as a flash of fire accompanied by screaming; dismembered bodies filled his senses. Anstis in agony – his face unrecognizable – he disfigured; unaware he had just lost his limb – because he could still feel his leg; attempting to rise and walk, but could not.
The rancid smell of it all rushed over him; attempting to pull him under – so he faced front and focused hard on the road ahead – only then to be reminded of Charlotte.
Beautiful, lovely – shallow Charlotte; who resembled this bitter weather in more ways than one. The pristine beauty of the landscape, underscored by treacherous, slippery, unpredictable terrain – brought the memory of her to forefront.
Charlotte was as the snow – exquisite, and splendid in a picturesque way. But beneath the charming glow, was a cold ugliness that haunted, derailed and held him hostage.
Taking a deep breath, pressing fingers to his eyes – he tried to blot out her piercing green eyes; the flow of her dark hair, the turn of her lips; the warmth of her body pressed close. She was dangerous, volatile ….and he loved her. Sixteen years of furious on again off again lovemaking, tortured breakups, hurtful words, tortured reconciliations and recollections of good and bad times assailed him.
But now all that was over.
She had finally done the unforgivable; was getting married; and he had let her go. Or had he?
When he looked to Robin again – the red gold of her hair, still wet from her race to help others in the aftermath of the accident – shown bright from the sun streaming into the cabin. It glistened; and for the briefest of moments he thought to reach over and touch the strands falling over her shoulder. Feel the weight of it in his hand and between his fingers.
For some unknown reason to him, she brought him a sort of peace. He had felt a connection with her on some level instantly from the moment they met – and he couldn’t explain it. He wondered if she felt it too.
Slowly, but surely she was becoming his right hand - indispensable; irreplaceable. She had helped to save his business – his life.
If he could just touch her hair; twine the locks around his fingers. Lean over and breathe in the smell of her shampoo; the slight pleasant scent of her perfume which wrapped the cabin in a delicate embrace – he would relax.
Perhaps then he could let go the door handle; unclench his fists along with his fears of being blown up; and alone. The dread of it squeezed his lungs and made it hard for him to catch his breath. If he didn’t settle down – full blown panic would overtake him and he needed to be calm and reserved once they reached their destination.
This interview was important; an unexpected gift. This was his chance to get an understanding of the twisted mind that was Owen Quine.
“Are you alright?” Robin asked – her voice unusually soft; distracted; lost it seemed in her own thoughts, her own troubles. He knew she probably thought about Matthew. How the accident and the weather might conspire against her – keep her from getting back to him in his time of need; back in time for the funeral.
So he lied and answered, “Yes.”
All the while hearing explosions, seeing flames; bearing Charlotte’s fury, her voice echoing cruel lies or were they truths? Hell bent on provoking something from him, just as memories of Afghanistan triggered something angry in him. Matthew’s spiteful disapproval reverberated between them – something he didn’t want …and then simultaneously, amidst all the noise, he reveled in awe of Robin’s expertise in driving; her empathy; courage and determination.
Suddenly, her sense of calmness and peaceful presence emanated from her being; flowed toward him and took refuge in his battered psyche.
Letting go of the door he rubbed at his knee again and began to concentrate on what lay ahead. Breathed in and resolutely placed painful; unwanted memories at the back of his mind and closed the door – even if it was just for a few hours. Instead, he thought of the resilient woman sitting next to him and felt the tension release from his muscles, sore with stiffness from holding himself so tight.
“We should be there soon”, she whispered, and he nodded – relaxing more and more; confident in her skill behind the wheel; trusting her to get them safely to their destination.
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