Chapter 24 - Aubree (Part 1)
When Aubree went down into the basement with Gunner the next morning, she stopped and stared as Gwen benched more weights than Aubree could recognize at first glance. She was just starting to get comfortable lifting the damn 40-pound bar as it was.
“Careful,” Gunner said to her in his deep baritone. “Your injury has weakened you. You will have to build your strength back up before you will be ready to lift what you’re used to.”
“Don’t—” she pushed it up and exhaled “—remind me.”
She brought it down and back up three more times, the muscles bulging and stretching across her chest, before setting the bar on the rack.
Aubree’s jaw hung off its hinges as Gwen pulled herself up and mopped her sweaty face with a towel.
Her dark brown hair was pulled back in a ponytail and she wore a black sports bra and yoga pants. The hickey she’d received from Lance had vanished completely.
“What is that, five hundred pounds, or something?” Aubree asked.
The tiniest hint of a smirk tugged on the corners of Gwen’s lips. “No, though you’re not too far off.” She gestured to Gunner. “Five hundred pounds is an easy warm-up for him, though. Did you know he used to bench a thousand pounds?”
Aubree blinked repeatedly as her head tried to wrap itself around this information. Turning, she looked up at the bulky giant with a mixture of awe and horror.
“Used to,” he said. “I had to tone it down as it made my muscles too large, thus affecting my speed, endurance, and flexibility. Nevertheless, you know better than to lift alone, especially given the fact that you are recovering from a serious injury.”
“Blah, blah, blah. I got no time to waste now,” she said before she turned and went to the rowing machine.
Gunner stepped around Aubree and sped to Gwen’s side before putting a large hand on her shoulder. He didn’t say anything, but Aubree watched the muscles in Gwen’s body relax a touch before she sighed.
“I know,” she murmured.
She stepped away from his touch and adjusted the weights of the machine.
Gunner watched her for a second before going to a closet and pulling out a towel and a cloth. He tossed the towel at Aubree before going into the bathroom and moistening the cloth. When he emerged, he told her to start her stretches while he wiped down the bench press and removed the weights from the bar.
Gunner spotted her and coached her as she lifted, pushed, pressed, and pulled through the various machines. He pushed her, but could also tell when she had reached her limits. Maybe it was because he could hear her heartbeat, but he always told her to stop when she felt she could do no more. He didn’t push her past her limits, and maybe it was because she was human, but she was thankful.
She had tried to fake it once that first day, but he didn’t buy it. She didn’t try it again.
He was a patient but firm trainer.
More than a handful of times, Aubree caught Gwen watching her from the corner of her eye. She’d look away immediately and return to whatever she was doing. Aubree tried to mentally poke her, but Gwen’s wall was thick and unmoving.
When Aubree finished her strength-training for the morning, she showered and went into the kitchen to have breakfast. She was pleasantly surprised to find Stone in there, wearing a white apron with pink lace frills, and hovering over the stove with a spatula.
She tried to sneak up on him, but he turned before she could take two steps and flashed her a smile. “Hungry?”
She groaned. “Starving!”
She came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his torso. Leaning her cheek against the back of his shoulder, she smiled. “You’re feeling calmer today.”
He hummed an affirmation.
[It’s because Gwen is up and about, isn’t it?]
[Yes,] he admitted. [She still has her mind locked-up tight, but knowing that she’s up and training again is a vast improvement. When she sets her mind on something, nothing can stop her.]
Aubree nodded before pulling away and peering around his shoulder. “What are you cooking? Gwen warned me to keep you away from the stove.”
A pair of eggs with broken yolks greeted her.
Looking up, she caught him smirking as he slipped the edge of the spatula under one and flipped it over carefully. “Trying to make you breakfast.”
“Aw,” she nuzzled her nose into his chest as he slipped his arm around her. “Thank you.”
The toaster popped on the counter a few feet away as he flipped the second one.
“Can you get that? I don’t want these to burn,” he said, his eyes never straying from the eggs in the frying pan.
Her smile widened as she pulled away. “Sure.”
Sliding around him, she went to the cupboard to grab herself a plate before going to the toaster.
He seemed fine with the eggs. They looked great. They were just starting to get crispy along the edges.
She grabbed some butter and began to butter the two slices of toast.
A gentle prodding against her mind alerted her of someone trying to mind-link with her and she opened it up to find Gwen there.
[Do my ears and nose deceive me? Is Papa making you eggs for breakfast?]
A snicker slipped out as Aubree shook her head. [Yes, and he’s doing fine.]
[He must love you.]
“What are you giggling about over there?” Stone asked, and she could feel him prodding into her head now.
She let him in as she responded, [Of course, he does.]
[I know. I’m just teasing...]
[Guinevere, would you like me to make you some eggs too?]
A hum vibrated in her head and she reached up to touch her temple at the strange sensation.
[Alright. I’ll take you up on that. Two eggs. Over-easy. Don’t break my yolks or I’ll shove your snout in an anthill when you least expect it.]
Aubree doubled over laughing, while a smile tugged on Stone’s lips.
[It’s good to have you back, Schatzi,] he said before turning back to Aubree’s eggs and scooping them off the frying pan and onto Aubree’s plate. [But no promises on those yolks.]
[Fine. If you burn them, I’ll still eat them. But only because I love you.]
[No. I’m going to go out and hunt for myself when I’m done here. The eggs will tie me over and give me the strength I need.]
[Don’t over-do it.]
Gwen withdrew and Stone sighed.
[I’m still going to worry about her.]
Aubree smiled and handed him the carton of eggs. “Of course you are.”
Taking her breakfast to the new kitchen table, she looked over her shoulder and raked her teeth over her bottom lip. “By the way, you look good in that apron. You should wear it more often.”
Before Stone could say anything, Gavin slid open the door and stepped inside.
Glancing at the clock, Stone raised his eyebrows in question at Gavin.
He shrugged as his dirt-coated feet strode across the tiled floor to the sink. “I hunted and then sat for a bit at the Crest.”
The furrow in Stone’s forehead smoothed away as he frowned and turned around to the frying pan. He cracked an egg and dumped the contents onto the hot surface. He glanced at Gavin as he washed his hands in the sink next to him before he cracked a second egg into the pan.
“What’s the Crest?” Aubree asked.
Gavin glanced at his father before grabbing a towel and drying his hands. He turned to Aubree as his eyes danced around her. “That’s what we call the place where we buried my mother and brother. It’s the top of a hill that overlooks a meadow and pond not far from here.”
“Oh.” Aubree’s gaze shifted to Stone, his back still facing her.
He turned to Gavin and they shared a private conversation for a minute as Stone waited for the eggs to cook. He flipped them before Gavin turned his attention to Aubree and joined her at the table.
He reclined in his chair as his eyes strayed to the sliding door. He chewed on a rough thumbnail. “Don’t worry about it.”
Aubree ate her breakfast in silence while Stone tended to Gwen’s eggs.
Gwen joined them in the kitchen the moment Stone set her plate of eggs down on the table. Still dressed in her workout clothes, soaked through with sweat, she plopped herself down at the table and began to eat.
“Did you have a nice visit with them?” Gwen asked between bites as Stone pulled up a chair next to Aubree and sat down.
He draped an arm over her shoulder as Aubree looked up at his face and asked, [You okay?]
Both father and son nodded to the individual questions.
“Yeah,” Gavin said. “It’s been a while since I gave myself a moment to visit with them.”
Gwen sucked air through her teeth as she hovered over her breakfast. “Yeah, it’s been a while for me too. Maybe I’ll do that after hunting.”
He raised an eyebrow at her, to which she groaned and rolled her eyes. He held his hands up in surround. “Just checking.”
“Well, I’m fine, okay?”
The bite in her tone made Aubree shift in her seat as Gwen rose from the table and set her dirty plate in the sink.
Staring at her, Aubree wondered when she ate. It was as if the food disappeared instantaneously!
“Guinevere,” Stone said in a stern, authoritative voice.
“I don’t want your pity!” she snapped as she tromped to the sliding door, opened it, and left. She didn’t even wait until she disappeared into the trees before peeling her clothes off.
Aubree averted her eyes as Gwen began to strip as she walked to the forest and left her clothes lying on the grass.
Stone massaged his face with his hand.
Rubbing his back, Aubree leaned against his shoulder. “She’ll be okay. She’s just trying to cope.”
He heaved a sigh and pulled his hand from his face. “I know.”
“Maybe you two should go too?” Gavin suggested.
Aubree stared at him for a moment, as if he’d grown two heads. “The Crest?” She turned to Stone, her eyes widening. “Oh, I don’t want to impose...”
Stone waved her worries aside. “It’s no imposition. We’ll let Gwen have a few hours to herself and then head out. Besides, we have to work on your endurance. The run will be good for you.”
She pulled away with a groan. “I hate you all.”