Chapter Ten | Unwanted Recollections
◦◦ Sawyer ◦◦
SMS: Alright, I think you’ve been salty over what happened Thursday night long enough. Don’t you? Get it out of your system and text me back already. It’s been almost a week dude, let’s hash it out in person if that’s easier. We aren’t 18 anymore though, so grow up!
I quickly texted Erin as Kate and I anxiously endured the line to ride this massive multi-colored hot air balloon I booked for our first date, letting out a haughty sigh before shoving my phone in the front pocket of my jeans with a slight frown.
Since Friday morning, I’ve sent over a dozen messages and received jack shit in response. My peace making invitation for a impromptu movie night went ignored even, and Erin never passes those up unless she’s had a rough day at work and wants to veg out alone. If my homemade buttered popcorn and an icy cherry Coca Cola wasn’t enticing enough, she must be a hell of a lot more pissed off than I realized.
What did she expect me to do...grovel with an apology?
I felt Kate gingerly lean back and into me. A burst of wild sunflower and aromatic orange blossom overpowered my senses, becoming stronger once she started to sway from side to side. I snaked my arms around her warm waist on impulse, swiping a thumb against the tip of my twitching nose as I tried living for us, in this exhilarating moment.
...If only my nagging, anxiety ridden thoughts would allow such luxuries.
Apologize, really! For what!? I’m the one who almost drowned out there, not Erin! If she would’ve let me teach her useless ass how to swim years ago, the outcome of our last outing at the beach might’ve gone much differently.
She’s acting as though I do crap like this on purpose; I don’t! It just...sort of happens. Over and over again, but...okay, and!? In all honesty here, it’s Erin’s own damn fault for staying friends with me all these fucking years, knowing how I am and always will be. Reckless, thrill seeking, intense as hell. So what if I got a little carried away this last time? I could almost promise it wouldn’t be the most extreme thing I’d ever go on to do.
We’ve been friends for over a decade; It’s a little late to pull your cold shoulder bullshit now, Erin.
“Hey. Where’d you go, Soy?” Kate’s light breath caressed the right side of my cheek, and I simpered when she planted her supple lips against it repeatedly. The smaller woman had to crane her neck up to do so, but looked increasingly happy the more she kissed. This simple public display of affection had my nerve endings on high alert and screaming for more. I directed my contentment at her by returning the flirtatious action with playful pecks of my own, but didn’t verbally respond.
I wouldn’t waste another nano second thinking about Erin’s grudge tonight; Especially not while in Kate’s company. We were moving fast, and sometimes I felt like I couldn’t keep up as it was, even though I’m the one who initiated everything. I wanted to grasp onto and squeeze the life out of this evening, so I could remember every last detail when I couldn't be near her.
“Hmmmmm?” The intoxicating lifeguard I’ve been screwing and had every intention to keep seeing was now standing in front of me, treating my neck to tickly butterfly kisses. Her thick lashes left these pleasant little tingles behind, and I stifled a squeal to keep from embarrassing myself. She grinned fondly as I squirmed with delight, and relented to pry. “Seriously! You weren’t here a second ago...”
Looping an arm over my date’s shoulders, I hitched my chin forward as the line began moving rapidly.
“Don’t worry yourself over it Kay, I get distracted easily. Come on, it’s almost our turn!” Taking charge was effortless for me, so I didn’t leave room for any further questions as I led Kate forward. She gripped onto my forearm and shook a little the closer we got to our pilot, glancing up at me nervously.
“Tell me we’re going to be buckled in...or something!?”
I giggled, making eye contact with my apprehensive date briefly before coming to a stop in front of our hot-air balloon. “Awwww...don’t tell me fearless Kate Lovelace is afraid of heights!”
My taunting smile remained frozen in place as I presented our pre-purchased tickets to a uniformed employee. Almost immediately, we were ushered to board. I could sense Kate’s hesitation when I latched onto her clammy hand, but she moved behind me willingly.
I couldn't wait, but I feigned patience anyway while Kate took her time.
“So what if I am?” She mumbled under her breath. Once I was safely inside the hot-air balloon, I used my other hand to grab Kate’s free one so she’d hopefully start to feel a little better before the flight. Squeezing her fingers, I felt the corners of my lips pull upwards into a winsome smile.
“The best way to get over a fear is facing it head on! Come on, Kay. I’ll be right next to you the entire time...it’s not like I’ll be able to go anywhere else.”
“Would you...if you could?” Kate teased as she reluctantly joined me on trembling legs. I gave her a boat load of credit for not breaking down and allowing crippling fear to steal away an unforgettable experience. More so than anyone, I knew how bad it felt when anxiety sucked the fun out of everything without any notice at all.
Our pilot for the evening, whose white gold name tag read 'Janet', greeted us warmly before launching into an extensive safety protocol list—the same one I read online while considering this expedition. Bringing Kate’s knuckles to my lips, I gnawed them gently and half listened as Janet droned on and on.
While my heart was oozing with affectionate responses, I couldn’t resist a chance at getting her all riled up.
“If I get restless, we can always go sky diving! I hear they keep parachutes on board just in case.”
“...That’s so not cool, Sawyer. Way to freak me out right before we’re about to be whisked away in an oversized picnic basket!” Kate’s beautiful face paled at my words, making me chuckle with impish intent. She whined and pressed her nose into the crook of my neck when Janet extended a form for us each to sign. Using my teeth to pull the cap off, I scribbled my sloppy signature underneath the designated line and cooed at a frightened Kate reassuringly.
“I’m just messing around, babe. Of course I wouldn’t rather be anywhere else than this ‘oversized picnic basket’...at least, not without you.”
❀ Kate ❀
"It's amazing up here...have you ever been on one of these before?" The slight chill from being up so high kissed my cheeks as we blew about, but other than that I felt warm from head to toe. Sawyer bit my earlobe before whispering nonchalantly.
"A few times, sure. See? Not so bad, huh?"
I shook my head wordlessly, awestrucked by the breathtaking experience we were having together.
An hour into our ride, I was completely relaxed with Sawyer’s arms wrapped securely around my chest from behind as we basked in a dreamlike flotation—being teased further and further away from the ground below. Despite it being nearly 8:30 at night, Naples' clear sky was slow to darken. Because of this, I had no trouble setting my curious sights on the calm beauty before us.
So many fluffy clouds, and tiny little trees! The mountains are gorgeous too. I don't know why I was so nervous; Even with the gentle rocking of this wicker basket, I felt secure. Serene.
The warmth from our hot air balloon's flame was a comfort, since I'd been originally worried about how I'd be feeling while dressed so light. Of course, Sawyer's long arms kept me plenty bundled too, although...more so in my soul than physically.
Danica's statement at the beach about Amanda's death came and went. No matter how hard I tried to expel the reminder of what I'd failed to do from my mind, I couldn't. Still, I refused to focus on the details because I don't think I'd be able to handle the aftermath. It happened my Sophomore year of high school, steering me in the direction I'm headed in now ever since.
Water sports, starting with joining the swim team. Competing to be the best at everything I do. Life guarding. Winning the USLA championships might not reunite me with my little sister, but I just knew it would give me some closure...and my parents, too. It had to, because I didn't know how much longer I could take this guilt.
Grief really should have a time limit...but it doesn't.
"Penny for your thoughts?"
"Huh?" I questioned in a dazed state, looking over my shoulder to find Sawyer studying my distorted facial expression carefully. The ice in her blue eyes appeared dark and troubled, like she could sense a bit of what was happening without even having to ask.
"You seem out of it; Are you feeling sick or...?" Sawyer's sensitive approach threw me off, and I stood up straight with a soft shake of my head.
"Just appreciating the scenery."
The concerned blonde narrowed her eyes into slits skeptically. "...You were grimacing, Kate. I'm more fucked up than you think, so please don't hold back for my sake. I've heard worse. If you're not enjoying yourself-"
Not everything is about YOU, contrary to that popular belief propped up on a pedestal in your head.
"What!? You have NO IDEA what you're talking abou-" I untangled myself from Sawyer's long limbs and turned around to face her indignantly. I wanted to drop the subject now, but one look at my date's let down gaze tossed that idea right into the water several hundred feet below us. She rubbed the back of her head insecurely and looked away just as I took a cautious step forward. Our pilot was busy navigating, completely unaware of the shift in my and Sawyer's dynamic.
I was already feeling so on edge after what Danica said, but that didn't give me a reason to take it out on Sawyer. She didn't know, so how could she understand? I opened my mouth to apologize for snapping so harshly, but she started rambling before I could get a single word out.
"I didn't mean to overstep...I just want you to have a good time, that's all...I uh, suck at figuring people out...but I know when somethings' changed in the atmosphere and I felt it."
Damn it Kate, stop getting so defensive.
"No, it's okay...you didn't do anything wrong." I soothed, closing the gap between us by cradling Sawyer's fair jaw in my hands. As she blinked quizzically at me, I took a deep breath and continued.
"My EX girlfriend brought up something from the past...something that's directly my fault, as if I don't already think about it constantly...and you know, I wish I could take it back...but I can't. I'm having a great time, Sawyer...it's not you. Okay? I'm not ready to talk about it...but maybe one day..." I trembled, feeling my voice crack near the end of my half assed explanation.
The bright blue eyes I found myself unable to stop peering into ignited with compassion, telling me their owner understood why I couldn't keep talking. Sawyer's knuckles grazed against my cheek tenderly for a moment before she licked her lips, and started speaking in a husky tone.
"Hey, don't worry about it. I'm sure whatever it was...you didn't do it on purpose." She sounded so sure of herself, genuine and unassuming. I swallowed hard as Sawyer brushed a stray curl out of my misty eyes.
"I won't think any differently of you when you're ready to tell me. I couldn't; You're not a bad person, Kate..."
That's all it took.
Right there, elevated from every single person who knew the truth about what happened to Amanda, I impulsively embraced Sawyer and bawled. The uncontrollable sobs made it hard to breathe, but the way she tightly held onto me made it feel like I wasn't going to suffocate from repressed sorrow. Before I could stop them, the words slipped from my gasping lips in a strangled cry. "I miss her...she'd still be here if it weren't for me...h-how am I supposed to keep living with that!?"
Sawyer crushed me in her all encompassing hold, and it felt good. Maybe if she squeezed hard enough, all of my broken pieces would mold back together. When she spoke again, her voice came through soothing but firm.
"There, there. Don't blame yourself...we're all responsible for our own choices, Kate. Involved or not, you can't carry that burden on your back forever."
While I couldn't bring myself to believe her, Sawyer's kind advice comforted me more than anything else has managed to in over ten years.