It was a short drive to the warehouse, mostly passed in silence as the issue from earlier hung heavy in the air between us. But that all changed as soon as I cut the engine, and Lacey saw where I’d brought her.
“Yup.” I replied cheerily, pulling the key from the ignition and opening my door.
She followed suit, joining me outside and swinging it shut, looking up at the large warehouse.
I shrugged, leading the way towards the main entrance.
“I thought a little competitive sport was a good way to take my mind off of everything,” I explained, holding the door open and catching her eye. “And I only wanted to be around one other person.”
She flushed a light shade of pink, and smiled at me, walking through the doors.
We split up to change, then met back up inside the climbing room, a large, open plan space with various walled structures at different angles and shapes filling the area. The light grey walls were splattered with colour, making them look like victims in a paintball tournament. The closer you got though, the clearer that you could make out the various coloured splodges were in fact different shaped rocks. The cool breeze from the air conditioning caught on my skin as we passed under the large vents, and got kitted up to the wall at the far end of the room.
“What do you say we make this a little more interesting?” I asked her, stepping closer to the base, and looking up, mentally plotting my map up the wall.
She adjusted her harness, looking over at me with playful curiosity, biting her lip.
“What did you have in mind?”
“Loser buys drinks.”
She considered it for a moment, before adding:
“Throw in take out, and you have a deal.” She countered.
I nodded, holding out my hand. With a chuckle, she took it, shaking firmly with a determined, firm grip. After enlisting the help of a nearby worker, we were counted in, and began our climbing race.
My muscles flexed with each stretch as I reached for the next rock in my path to the top. I glanced down to my feet as I moved them higher, feeling around for a firm surface to place them on, searching. Lacey was on level with me, her own speed matching mine and making this a head to head race. I laughed as she turned her head my way long enough to stick her tongue out in a playful teasing manner, before hauling herself higher, managing to overtake me by barely an inch. I refused to be beaten, my inner competitive nature rising to the surface and forcing me on, dragging my body higher up the wall, putting myself in the lead.
The wall started to curve into an overhang, the newly angled climb making the transition tricky to navigate. I heard scuffling to my left and glanced over to Lacey, seeing her stumble slightly, her feet having fallen from the rocks. She was determinedly hanging on by her fingertips, her feet scraping the wall as she attempted to regain her footing. I didn’t pause to think, not even registering that her harness was there to keep her safe, it was just on instinct alone that I reached out and gripped her arm, holding her safely in place whilst she found her footing.
“What was that for?” She asked, when she’d regained her place on the wall.
She looked confused, and it suddenly dawned on me that I’d only saved her from a gently guided lowering, and a soft, feet first landing on a thick safety mat below. But although I could realise that now, in the moment, all that I’d seen was someone I cared about, a team member, a family member, hanging precariously in need of help. And there wasn’t a single part of me that was built to ignore that, nor able to stop myself from reacting on instinct.
“Automatic response.” I muttered as she straightened up, coming in level with me once more.
Her silver eyes shimmered like moonstones and she smiled, clearly understanding what I had meant. Without pause, she leant in and softly pressed her lips to mine, immediately awakening the lust and desire that she always instilled in me. I longed to feel her beneath me and kiss every single inch of her body until my name sprung from her lips in a sweet plea for the sweetest release. I almost forgot where I was, her enchanting spell stealing me from the present and inviting me to set up home in the vibrancy of every desire I had about her, but as she pulled back, I regained the feeling of the rocks beneath my fingers, and my feet.
“Thank you.” She whispered, “But you’ll regret it when I win.”
With a teasing wink, she scarpered, a renewed burst of energy sending her off at a lightning speed. I couldn’t help but laugh as I watched her progress, enjoying the view that she was providing when I found my gaze wandering to her perfectly toned backside.
Back on the ground a good while later, I indulged in a celebratory brag for a few moments, laughing as Lacey rolled her eyes. We’d had a few extra climbs on the various differently angled walls, and although the scores were close, I’d successfully beaten her, securing my free drinks and food for the evening.
After driving to the store and picking up a six pack, we grabbed a chinese and went back to mine, setting up in the living room, and tucking into the variety of dishes.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Lacey asked, filling a prawn cracker with an assortment of rice and meat.
I didn’t have to ask what she meant, the topic she was referring to was clear. Honestly, I didn’t want to talk about it. Ever. But at the same time, I was being plagued by thoughts and concerns over what to do next, and with Lacey, I felt like it was okay to say them out loud.
“I don’t know what to do.” I sighed, flicking my fork through my rice and spreading the meat through it, watching the dark sauce seeping into the grains, filling them with flavour. “Marya’s always wondered about her. She’s never had a mother, she was just a baby when she left. How do I tell my little sister that her ’mother’ is only a few miles away, that I’ve seen her, that she’s just discarded her and carried on… Do I even tell her?”
I groaned, the pros and cons of the situation racing through my head at lightning speed, talking me into acting, then talking me back out of it mere seconds later.
“I think you already know the answer to that question.” She replied tenderly, resting her hand on my knee. “You have to tell her. She deserves to know, and you deserve to have a clear conscience. She’s a grown woman, it’ll be a shock, but she can handle it.”
I knew that she was right, but I had no idea how to break the news.
“I never imagined that she’d still be around here after all these years.” I said bitterly, snapping a piece of prawn cracker off and tossing it into my mouth.
“She never tried to get in touch?”
I let out a cold laugh at the very idea that she would care enough to attempt such a thing.
“That would insinuate that she gave a damn.” I replied. “She walked out all those years ago, and that was the last any of us heard from her. She didn’t even care enough to tell my dad why.”
Anger coursed through me as I thought about all the pain that she had caused us over the years. But this time, it didn’t consume me, I was calm with Lacey by my side, even whilst my insides were blistering with fiery rage.
There was so much that I felt like I should have said whilst I had the chance. So many things that she should have known. Like how Marya came home in tears when she was a little girl, because girls in her class teased her for not having a mother. How she used to draw pictures of us as a family, and add in different looking women each time, trying to place some kind of face to the woman that was missing from her life. Of course she grew out of those things, but there was no mistaking the toll it took on her, and even to this day, I know that she misses having a mother to be there for her and guide her, to take her hand and to comfort her. I wanted Erika to know these things. To know that when she left, she took a piece of our family with her. A piece that we never got back, and that we were never able to replace. I felt like a failure for not having told her, not blurting it all out until she was unable to even look at me because of her disgust at her own behaviour.
“You’re not a failure for that. You don’t have anything to tell her.” Lacey said soothingly as I let her in on my thoughts. “She left you, she has no place knowing those things. You have all the family you need, and your sister will see that too.”
I couldn’t help the smile that crept onto my face, this woman had a way with words, that was for sure. Even in my saddest, darkest moments, she was able to say just the right thing to turn it all around.
“Thank you.” I whispered.
“You’re welcome.” She chuckled. “Now, what do you say to more of these ribs?”
Her eyes widened as she swooped on the dish of peking ribs, muttering about how deliciously moreish they were. The adorability of the act had me laughing, watching her beginning to unload them onto her plate, and pushing the whole Erika fiasco from my mind for a while, ready to just relax with this amazing woman by my side.