Thursday afternoon, Rod and I sit across from each other at Amy’s bar, taking a break from cleaning. Tab told us Colt was at work, so that headache wasn’t looming over us, thank God. He’s a different level of creepy.
We had just returned from the hospital, not able to visit since Eden was asleep.
I lean forward. “This is just like my dream. You sat across from me just like you are now, but you were wearing a Care Bears shirt, not a Marky Mark shirt.”
He frowns. “A Care Bears shirt? Hilarious, Hadders. Give me some fucking credit. I wouldn’t wear those cracked-out furry assholes.”
“I’m only stating a fact, which isn’t really a fact since it was a dream. Well, more of a nightmare.”
“Why was it a nightmare? I was in it.” He teasingly smirks.
“Because Finn was kissing two sluts.”
He drops his smile and sucks in air through his teeth. “Ooh. Not good. Did you knee him in the balls?”
“No. I couldn’t move from the booth. I could only watch as he tongued and groped two women.”
“That’s a threesome I’d still watch, but I’d hate it the whole time.”
Leaning back, I cross my arms and scowl. “Bite one, Rodwell.”
Rod snorts as Meredith Brooks’s Bitch blares. He shifts to reach into his pocket, removing his offending phone. “Morticia. Why’s she callin’ me?”
“Oh. Probably because I don’t have my phone. I forgot it on the bed.”
He taps the screen before putting the phone up to his ear. “What in the hell do you want?” He grins, but the smile rapidly fades as he listens.
“What? No. You’re kiddin’? Okay. I will. Thanks.”
As he hangs up and speedily plays with his phone, I ask, “What’s wrong?”
Rod fleetingly glances up at me. “Wilder worked today.”
Utterly confused, I stare at his fingers, moving over his phone. “Oh. I thought he was off since he was supposed to be in Kentucky with me.”
“Nope. Apparently, he worked the nooner today. Morgasm wants us to watch him online.” As he works his phone, I get up to sit next to him.
“What’s the big deal?”
“She said he did something.” My stomach knots.
“Good or bad?”
His fingers stop moving as he turns to look at me. “Not good.”
“Oh, no.” Ice fills my blood, and my body is lead.
Rod holds his phone up for me to see. “Here it is.”
I look at the small screen. “It’s Drake, not Finn.”
He fast-forwards through Drake’s recap of sports scores and highlights. As he does, I nervously play with my key. Rod lets the video play as Finn appears on the screen in a small box. Drake talks to Finn, who’s on location, interviewing a whitewater rafting enthusiast. Finn looks so handsome in a dark blue polo with the station’s logo, but the blue accentuates the circles under his eyes. I guess Pam didn’t make much of an effort today. The breeze gently blows his tousled blondish-brown hair.
The screen changes to Finn’s interview. Rod and I impatiently watch it, not caring about the technicalities of stupidly taking on choppy waters, but not wanting to miss anything Finn says. When the non-revealing interview is finally over, Finn turns to the camera, gifting it with his winning smile.
“I want to remind everyone planning to attend the Fayetteville Bridge Day Festival on the New River Gorge Bridge, that registration for BASE jumps begins July third. So don’t forget to register before the festival.”
“Hey, Finn. You haven’t jumped in the past few years. Will we ever see you do it again?”
Finn’s jaw tightens, and he glances away from the camera before he looks back.
“Yeah. This year.”
“You are? That’s great!”
He nods and hugely grins.
“Yep. I am. I can’t wait. It’s been way too long.”
“Did someone dare you to jump?”
“You could say that.”
“Can you tell us who?”
“Uh, I’d rather not this time.”
The camera returns to Drake.
“You heard it here, folks. Our own Finn Wilder is back in the saddle and will BASE jump off the New River Gorge Bridge in Fayetteville, West Virginia, in October. I’m surprised he stayed away so long.”
Drake turns to the anchor, and they discuss why Finn hasn’t jumped in the past two years, but the audio blurs as I numbly stare at the table.
“Holy fuck,” Rod utters.
Trembling, I scoot out of the booth and run to the restroom before I hurl onto the newly cleaned floor. Getting to the toilet in time, I heave until I’m empty, which the feeling is not inclusive to just my stomach. I’m hollow. How could he publicly slap me in the face? Did he fall out of love with me because I’m helping a friend? Because I ruined his surprise?
Ultimately spent, I flush the toilet and sit down against the orange metal stall, folding my arms over my bruised stomach. Just as my retching did, my cries echo off the tiled walls, making me feel more isolated from my own life.
The restroom’s door creaks open, and blue high tops appear at the bottom of the stall’s door. “Hadders, Morticia wants to talk to you.”
I shriek, “Rod! What are you doing in the women’s bathroom?”
Unaffected, he replies, “It’s just you. I wanted to see if you’re okay.”
“No, I’m not okay!”
“Here.” Squatting, he reaches under the stall door to hand me the phone, and I have to laugh at his absurdity.
Reluctantly, I snatch it out of his outstretched hand and grumble, “Hello?”
Morgan urgently asks, “Did you watch the video?” I hear the door open again as Rod leaves me alone.
I try to sound casual but do the opposite. “Yeah.”
“Oh, my fucking God, Hadley! What the hell? Why did he do that to you?”
“He’s mad at me for being with Rod. He had a trip planned for us, and I ruined it.”
“That’s no excuse! He knows how you feel about that fucking bridge!”
“Morgan, I don’t feel like talking about it.” Another round churns in my stomach. “I’ll deal with it.”
“How about I deal with it this time? That dickhead is on my last nerve.”
“No! You’ll only make things worse! Just leave it alone. I’ll deal with Finn when I get home.”
“You shouldn’t propose to him now. You should kick his ass out of your apartment and forget about him once and for all.”
I tearfully say, “I still love him. We’re fighting. We’ll work through it.” Can we? Should we?
“I’m tired of him treating you like shit! I’ll kick his ass myself!” I know she’d make good on that threat.
“No, you won’t! I should be home on Saturday for our game. I’ll talk to him before then.”
“Will he let you play?”
“He’d better. He’ll be at the game now, if not just to keep me away from shortstop.”
“What a dick.”
“He’s looking out for me.” Why is he allowed to care about my well-being, but my concern for his is jack shit?
She sighs hard, and I take the chance to avert her attention from Finn. “We can go out Saturday night. You and me. I feel bad I haven’t thrown you a bachelorette party.”
“Tonya won’t be able to come in until the rehearsal. We can do dinner.”
“I’ll let you know the time.”
“Yeah. Okay. That sounds so good. Just kicking back with my girl.”
I smile and grab some toilet paper to dry my face, but when I hang up with her, my sobs begin again.
Rod’s expensive sneakers reemerge at my door. “Hadders, come on. Open the door.”
“I want to take you somewhere.”
I bury my face in my bent legs. Muffled, I say, “Please say it’s a tall bridge so I can fling myself from it. Finn Wilder would be so proud. Well, maybe not. It’d be rookie shit.”
“I’m getting you out of here. Open the door, or I will take it off the hinges. I know how to work a screw.” I hear a quiet giggle, and I roll my eyes.
I slowly stand and open the door. Giving me a sympathetic smile, Rod takes my hand and walks me out of the bathroom.
I tighten my arms over my aching stomach, not just from the bruise but from puking so much. I childishly grouse, “I don’t feel like getting out.”
Rod holds onto the passenger door and gently coaxes, “Come on, Hadders.”
I shake my head, which makes it throb with my stomach. “I’m not leaving this truck.”
“Yeah, you are.” Reaching across my lap, he unbuckles my seatbelt and picks me up, which shocks the hell out of me.
“Hadders!” He mockingly whines as he carries me to the close berm and sets me down on the sandy and rocky shore. I dully watch as he pulls off his shoes and then peels off his socks, swiftly rolling up the legs of his jeans. When he stands, he nods at me.
I grouchily scowl. “What?”
I peer at the body of water in front of us. “I’m not walking in that water.”
“It’s fine. It’s shallow on the ledge. Come on.”
“You want me to walk across a creek?”
“Around here, it’s a crick.” He rapidly snaps his fingers at me. “Let’s go, Hadders!”
Looking over to the water again, I mumble, “I might drown.”
“You won’t drown. I promise.”
Still searching for a way out, I say, “Someone might take our shoes.”
“No one will take our shoes.”
“I might get bitten by a fish.”
He gestures to the creek. “In here? Maybe a snake, but not a fish.”
I jump back, waving my hands. “Oh, holy shit! There’s no way!”
Between his snorting, he tries to soothe me. “I’m kiddin’! Sort of. There ain’t any snakes here. The water’s too fast, and they don’t like the waterfall. I’m stupid for teasin’ you. Come on!”
I point at him. “If I drown, watch out.” I steal his sister’s words, “I will fucking haunt your ass.”
He raises a baffled eyebrow at me with an unsure smile. “Um, okay.”
“What’s the purpose of this?” I petulantly yank off my shoes and socks, stuffing my socks into my shoes so no small rodent or reptile can crawl into them.
Rod impatiently hops in place. “It’s good, clean fun!” I roll my eyes.
“Walking across a rocky waterfall is fun?”
“Shit, Hadders. It’s not Niagara Falls. It’s a five-foot drop. Get a grip.” Rod holds out his hand, and I adversely take it. He grins at me, and I have no choice but to follow him onto the rocky cliff. It’s not quite that big of a drop, yet boulders jut out of the water, breaking anyone’s fall.
He holds my hand, leading me in a tightrope walk out to the middle of the creek, through the moderately fast water rushing into our ankles, before pouring over the ledge, bubbling and foaming at the bottom. Not raging rapids, but the water is faster than I’ve seen in a creek.
Rod cautiously guides me to one of the boulders. “Have a seat.” I climb up onto the big, hot rock, careful not to lose my hold and tumble into the water. Once I’m situated, Rod walks a few feet to the boulder on the other side of the drop-off between the two rocks. He leans against the boulder and spreads his arms out wide. “Isn’t this fucking cool?”
I glower. “I guess.” Glancing down, I twist my ring, observing the sunlight changing it from blue to silver.
Rod says, “I used to come here a lot to think. It’s peaceful, and nobody bothers you.”
“Like a cemetery?”
He grins as he watches the waterfall. “Yeah, but better.”
“As long as I don’t fall in and end up in a cemetery.” He glances at me as I realize what I said was in poor taste under the circumstances. I sheepishly say, “I’m sorry.”
Rod smiles and shakes his head, but we’re quiet for a few minutes as we watch the water flow towards us and then below us. Loud enough so I can hear him over the water, he finally says, “You can cry, you know. You’ve seen me do it enough lately.”
“You just saw me cry.” I shrug. “What’s the point?” All I do is cry anymore.
“I know you’re mad and all, but what else are you thinkin’?”
I sigh. “I don’t want him jumping out of planes or skyscrapers, but he betrayed me and put it on public display. That fucking bridge represents what he gave up for me. He chose me over that bridge. Now, he doesn’t.”
“Wilder still loves you. You’re his life, but so are these stunts. He shouldn’t have done them behind your back, but this is who he is. As you said, he’s all about that rush, the thrill. If he can’t do it anymore, it’s probably like taking a piece of him away.”
“But I don’t want to see his life taken away.”
“He can die in a car accident, an overhead light fallin’ on him, getting struck by lightning or from a lung infection, Hadley.”
I gape at him as he gazes into the calmer water past the ledge. Am I that insensitive to Rod and Finn? I’m denying Finn from enjoying his life, while Eden lies in a hospital bed, wishing she could enjoy hers. How is that fair?
“I just don’t want to stand by and watch him get killed.”
“Yeah, but isn’t that the chance you take by being with him? Wilder knows how you feel about his stunts. If he continues to do them, then it’s his choice. If something happens to him, he knew the dangers and what he had to lose.”
I dip my toes into the flowing cold water. “If he were killed, I’d blame myself for not trying to stop him.” I sniff as I brush tears away. “I don’t want to lose him. It would kill me, Greg.”
Rod drapes his wrist over his knee. “I know you don’t want to lose him, but he’s done all the daring shit for so long that I’m pretty sure he knows what he’s doin’.”
“Accidents happen. He gets hurt all the time, but I know you’re right. I don’t want to deny Finn a part of himself. He seems to resent me for it, and I hate myself for that.”
“Wilder does not hate you. He’s worried about you breaking his heart.”
Rod plunges his foot into the water, swirling it around. Watching him, I lay the side of my head on my bent knee, and he asks, “Why didn’t you go to the cabin?”
“To be honest, I didn’t want to go. He hurt me with his lie and how his jealousy is getting in the way again. So, I couldn’t enjoy our time alone.”
“Maybe that’s what you need, though. Time alone. To talk, I mean.” A mischievous grin graces his mouth. “You know, in between the baby-makin’.”
I laugh. “That is the most ridiculous thing you’ve said, and you’ve said a lot of crazy shit.”
“I speak the truth. Wilder wants to knock you up.”
“If he did for a second, he won’t anymore.”
“A second? Is that how long he lasts? I can last all night, baby.” He licks his lip, but giggles midway and I roll my eyes. “Ask him. How much do you wanna bet he’ll confirm he’s trying to put a wild bun in your oven?”
I giggle, but then sadly shake my head. “I’m not betting on that, Rod.”
“Yeah, because you’ll lose. Talk to him. Make him tell you the truth.”
“How do I know he’s telling me the damn truth? I thought he had been.”
Rod’s smile dissolves. “I don’t know, Hadley.”
I didn’t talk to Finn Thursday night. Neither of us even trying to reach each other, which only gave me another night of restless sleep.
Friday afternoon, we visit Eden. “Check this out, sis.” Rod stands next to Eden’s bed and hands her his phone.
“What? Did you come out of the closet on YouTube?” Her lips twitch, which makes me smile.
“Zip your damn mouth and watch the video, bitch.”
The music blares, and her eyes widen as an involuntary smile stretches across her burgundy lips. Lifting her eyes only briefly to me and then to her brother, she watches the video intently.
I look at Rod, who is smiling at his sister. He must know I’m staring because he shoots me a side glance, and I instantly grin, matching the one on his face.
When the video ends, she asks, “What the hell was that shit?”
“That was your stud of a brother showin’ off his hot moves. Cool, huh?”
“I always knew you were a cross between Fred Astaire and Richard Simmons, busting out onto a rainbow float.”
Rod argues, “You loved it.”
Disregarding him, Eden says, “Hadley, nice. Do you rehearse with this jackass?”
“Nope. We always make up our dances on the fly.”
She tries to sound casual when she asks, “Is this the only video of you dancing?”
I answer, “Yeah. We didn’t think to record them.”
She hands the phone back to Rod. “Hadley’s good. Greg, you need work. Stop shakin’ your lame ass so much and get with the damn program.”
He thrusts his phone into his pocket. “I’m glad you liked it.”
Eden purses her lips. “I suffered through it somehow.” She rolls her eyes and stops fighting her smile.
We spend the rest of Friday at the bar, cleaning and dancing more for Eden, much to everyone’s delight, aside from Colt, but he only showed up for an hour before Amy kicked him out. Even Lizette, Tab, and Sherry came to watch us. Lizette was the most surprised at her son’s dancing skills.
Amy claps her hands together excitedly. “You two have to come here once a month and dance! It’ll draw in the crowd! I’ll take pictures, blow them up, and hang them on the walls in here!”
“Jeez. We’re not that good,” I say as the embarrassment heats my cheeks. I tug on my ponytail and nervously wrap it around my hand.
Rod states, “We’re busy. We have our first softball game tomorrow in Richmond.”
Josie says, “Eden texted me about your dance. She loved it!”
Rod snorts. “She acted like she’d rather have a root canal than watch us again.”
Josie shakes her head. “Not true. You know her. She loves to tease you.”
“I know. I’ll miss it.”
Lizette puts her arm around Rod’s waist. “Greg, she’s okay.”
He whispers, “One day, she won’t be.” We all stand in silence, contemplating that.
In the evening, Rod takes me back to the creek, where we sit in the middle of the waterfall again. This time, we stopped for milkshakes beforehand.
I say, “Thanks again for the shake.”
“Well, you know what they say. Ice cream makes the whole fucking world a better place to be.”
I giggle around my straw. “I’ve never heard of that before.”
“I think that’s the National Dairy Council’s campaign slogan.” We both giggle and slurp on our shakes, Rod doing it louder than the sound of the splashing water.
I ask, “You know what’s ironic?”
“That cows eating ice cream is like women drinking their own breast milk?”
I never knew you could choke on melted ice cream before. I cough and snort, which makes him snort. I gasp, “Where do you come up with this shit?”
“I don’t know. It’s just there in my brain. Have you called Wilder?”
“Not last night. He didn’t call me, either. I’m leaving in the morning.”
“I’ll follow you up since E is doing better. Our game is at 3:00.”
“That’ll be interesting,” I mutter.
As if he’s reading my mind, he says, “Wilder won’t start a fight with you in front of people.”
“Just when we’re alone.”
“I’ll talk to him.”
“No. I need to get to him first. I doubt he even lets me play and benches me to show how mad he is.”
“I’ll be right there with you, probably.”
“No. He won’t let us sit near each other. He threatened to kick me off the team if I keep bringing up shortstop. He can’t really kick me off the team, can he?”
“No. I dared him to coach. If he wants to leave, he can.”
“He gave me an ultimatum, Greg. Shortstop or him.”
“Are you fucking serious?”
“Yeah, but I can’t fault him too much. I told him it was the fucking bridge or me.”
“He wouldn’t give you up even if you punched out Brandon and took shortstop. He’d be pissed off and pout, but he’d eventually let it go. You really do have him whipped.”
“I dare him to miss me and sweat it out.”
Rod stupidly grins. “That’s my fake girlfriend.” I laugh, and he asks, “Are you still gonna propose to him after Morgasm’s wedding?”
“Right now, I want to put a noose around his neck and push him off his fucking bridge.” I irritably sigh.
“He loves you. Talk it out.” He pulls his leg up from the water, props his wrist on his knee and peers over at me, and snaps his fingers excitedly. “I know! Take him to Fayetteville, West Virginia. I hear there’s a gigantic bridge there that he’ll like. Propose to him on it, and if he hesitates even for a second, push the bastard off. He’d go out, doin’ what he loved to do.”
“You are so evil and twisted. I love how you think, Greg Rodwell.”
His brown eyes twinkling in the sun, he shrugs as his stupid grin returns. “I hang out with some real bitches. I’ve learned from the best.”