The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 20

“Why does he always have to make everything so hard!?” I mumble to myself, pushing branches away from my face as I walk further into the woods. Upon entering the forest, it’s like an entirely different atmosphere; the giant oak trees and enveloping leaves they hold block most of the sunlight, minus a few soft spots that illuminate the area dimly. I’ll be honest, I’m a little…scared. If there was a word to describe “scared” with less prominence, then that would be my current emotion.

“Sebastian, where are you?” I call out with no answer. The only response I get is from a few birds above and another noise that I cannot label.

Oh God.

After treading down a descending surface, I am finally able to walk on flat land. The twigs and leaves snap and scrape beneath my shoes as I carefully walk further and further.

“Where could he have gone so damn quickly?” I ask myself, panting and wiping the sweat that has accumulated on my face. The trees seem to wind and create paths of their own, confusing me. I take the left path and keep walking, ducking and weaving through the timber branches.

Fortunately, the trees start to separate and allow more sunlight to enter the secluded area, but even that doesn’t help to calm my nerves. I’m not sure how far down from the road I have walked. I’ve watched plenty of movies, how am I so naïve to forget to mark my trail?

I stop and rummage through my purse until my fingers touch the cold steel of my pocket knife. My hand, now shaking a bit, pulls out the pink blade and clicks it open.

It always pays to be safe.

On the next upcoming tree, I use all of my strength to carve “L” into the thick bark. It’s not an artistic achievement, but it’s easy to distinguish in case I get lost, not to say I already am lost.

I pull out my phone again as I keep walking. Great—no service, and not only is there no service, but my cell is hanging on to ten percent of sweet battery life.

“Sebastian! You better come out now before I go back to the car and leave you!”

Would you really leave him, Leslie? The little voice in my head baits with a smirk I imagine on her face.

“Shut up!” I silence mentally.

I start carving the first letter of my name into the next lanky tree when I hear twigs snapping behind me. I grip my pocket knife so tightly my knuckles turn red.

“Sebastian?” I yell. No answer.

The movie “I Spit On Your Grave” comes to mind, and I immediately go into defense mode.

I stay perfectly still, pressing my body into the tree as the snapping of twigs grows louder and slower. I have my pocket knife ready to strike; as my instructor told me in my Self Defense class I took a couple of years ago for two months, no one can stand against a knife fight.

Or was it no one can win a knife fight?

I can feel their presence behind me. What if it’s some masked murderer? Or worse, what if it’s a bear? What if it’s Bigfoot?!

Out of sudden urge, I fling my arm backwards and slice my knife through the air with a loud and defensive wail. But when my knife punctures nothing but the tree next to me and when I realize the only thing that was approaching me was a Rabbit, I feel more than foolish.

I remove my knife from out of the tree and stare at the Rabbit. It stares up at me and wiggles its nose a few times before clapping its paws together and continuing to stare at me with no fear or precaution in its stance.

“Oh,” I sigh, “It’s just a Rabbit.”

For some reason, the Rabbit doesn’t scurry away at the sight of me. It just stares, and stares, probably thinking I have food to give but sadly, all I have is minty gum in my purse.

I bend down and reach to pet the friendly woodland creature, but right when my hand almost grazes its soft head, a hand plants itself firmly on my shoulder.

It doesn’t even take me two seconds to fling my purse backwards into a body while screaming for my life.

The person, who happens to be Sebastian, immediately lets out a loud oomph before falling to the ground into the leaves at the contact of my purse hitting his face.

My back hits the tree as my woodland friend dashes away without a second thought. I hold my purse to my chest with one hand and, oddly, hold my unsheathed pocket knife out with my other.

“What the fuck!?” Sebastian yells at me when he finally sits upright.

“What are you doing!?” I blurt out.

He pushes himself up from the ground and brushes the leaves off his clothes, “Me? I should be asking you! One minute you’re Princess Aurora playing with Rabbits and the next you’re holding a butter knife towards me!”

I frown, “It’s a pocket knife!” I click the blade closed and place it in my purse. “Never mind that. Where were you?”

“Far away from you.”

“Well obviously! I called your name several times but you didn’t respond. Didn’t you hear me?”

“Do you really want me to answer that question honestly?”

I can see the apparent aggravation on his face, far different from the playful, almost childish look he gives me when he’s purposefully being audacious. To be quite truthful, it’s pretty off-putting, seeing him so serious.

“It’s…whatever. We should get back, unless you want to stay out—”

He doesn’t even let me finish my sentence before strutting past me without a word leaving his mouth.

“here,” I conclude under my breath, pulling my purse onto my shoulder and following him.

“You know,” I start again, “You are really on a roll today, Mister. A full blown roll.”

“And that’s supposed to help me how?” he replies while marching through the dirt.

“I’m just saying,” I start panting out of sudden exhaustion, “do you ever just sit and think ‘you know what, this isn’t a good idea. Not only am I putting people in danger, hint-hint, Leslie’s life in danger, but I’m also delaying our drive back home.’”

He lets out a short laugh, “So what, you can do the same thing you’re doing to me now in the comfort of an Air Conditioned library?”

“Exactly.”

I can’t see Sebastian’s face with him being in front of me, but I already know the look he’s creating isn’t anything pleasant.

We continue our walk in silence, minus my occasional reminders of Sebastian’s horrific dialogue at Abraham Collingwood’s house that he ignores. I spot the first tree I carved and make a right there.

“What are you doing?” Sebastian asks.

“I’m going to the car. Where else would I be going?”

“Um, I’m sure the car is this way.”

“No it’s not,” I point to the “L” on the tree, “I carved an ‘L’ on here to make sure I remember where to go, specifically for a situation like this, where one of us wouldn’t remember where to go, which is you.”

“Leslie,” he says. “I’m sure the car is this way.”

“How sure are you, Sebastian?”

“Pretty sure.”

I shake my head, “Pretty sure isn’t sure enough. Trust me, I know where we’re going.”

Sebastian stares at me, and I stare at him, knowing I will stand my ground and refuse to follow him into the wrong direction. Eventually he breaks and walks towards me.

“See? Look what listening to me does; gets you in the right direction,” I smile to myself. “You should do it more often.”

“I should of went my way and left you here,” I hear him say under his breath behind me.

“Heard that.”

“That was my intention.”

“You know what, Sebastian? The attitude is completely worn out and tiresome at this point. You’re the one who walked out of the car like a child.”

“You’re the one who pushed me to do so,” he argues. “If you’re so fed up with me why did you leave the car?”

I think for a moment, deciding not to say anything.

“Huh. No answer.”

“Can we talk about this in the car!?” I snap without looking back at him. “I’m trying not to fall on my ass over all of this dirt and your voice is just distracting me.”

He says something else under his breath, but I ignore him. I see a familiar rock and walk past it, feeling more relieved knowing I’m on the right path.


“This…this isn’t right,” I mumble to myself as I stop and look around me. “we should be around denser trees, near the road. Why aren’t we?”

“Gee, I think know why,” Sebastian says sarcastically before looking me straight in the eyes, “we’re lost!”

“We’re not lost!” I yell back. “We…are…not…lost!”

Sebastian walks over to a patch of leaves and sits down in the shade, “We’ve been wandering for twenty minutes,” he points out when he lifts his sleeve to check his watch. “We should have been back at the car already. This area doesn’t even look the same anymore.”

“Okay, okay, maybe you’re right about the area. But I know for a fact we aren’t lost. We just took a wrong turn somewhere.”

“More like twelve wrong turns and a drop down the other goddamn directi—”

“SHUT UUUP!” I screech, so loud it even scares the birds enough for them to fly away from their comfortable spots at the tree tops.

Again.

When Sebastian covers his face to hide his laughter I am overcome with the strongest urge to wring my hands around his neck. Paired with the heat and slight pain in my feet, Sebastian’s almost constant pestering about the glory of me being wrong is pushing me towards the edge.

I open my purse and look for my cell phone.

“What are you doing?”

“Looking for my phone,” I pull it out once I feel it on the inside side pocket.

“You do realize there’s no signal out here, right?” Sebastian pulls out his cell phone, which happens to be dead, and shows it to me. “I tried ten minutes ago.”

“There’s no shame in trying again.”

I don’t know why I tell myself such things. Sebastian, unfortunately, is right. We are lost. Because of me. Maybe a little lost or perhaps extremely lost, but we are in fact lost, because I don’t know where the hell we’re supposed to go to next. I wipe the sweat on my neck off on my shirt collar and turn on my phone.

Two percent battery left.

But one bar of service.

“I have service!” I scream happily. Sebastian looks as if he doesn’t believe me until I show him the small white dot on the upper left hand corner, with the label “AT&T LTE” on the side.

“Oh, thank God, you did something right,” he sighs thankfully. My smile fades at his comment.

Holding down the home button, I wait until the screen goes dark.

“Siri,” I say. “Where am I?”

Sebastian jumps up and stands next to me as we both look at my phone and wait for her response.

Ding-ding!

“You are in Lone Mountain State Forest in Morgan County, Tennessee, Les-lie,” she answers, in her electronically-voiced glory.

“Okay, good, good, we’re in a state forest. Um…S-Siri, pull up a map of my area!”

“Here is a map of your area, Les-lie.”

When the map appears on the screen, my eyes quickly pan over the blank and almost desolate picture until I see an icon indicating a road.

“There’s a road right here,” I tell Sebastian.

He looks at it with strict inventiveness in his eyes, hovering his dirt-covered index finger over the screen.

“We need to head east to get there,” he concludes right when my phone dies.

“Right. To the east!” I declare as I point ahead.

Sebastian moves my arm until I’m pointing left.

“To the east!” I yell again after my small readjustment. “We need to hurry up, get to the road, and find a way back home. That’s the game plan.”

“It wouldn’t have to be the game plan if you would have listened to m—”

“SHUT UP!” I scream.


“We’re going to make it to the road. We’re going to make it to the road. We’re going to make it to the road.”

I keep telling myself if I make sure to remind us of our goal, we will be more optimistic. Or…I will be more optimistic, because it’s hard to be in good spirits when sweat serves as a blanket across your skin, bugs are assigning their own militias to attack you, and a layer of dirt manages to make said sweat its new best friend.

Just five minutes after figuring out our game plan, Sebastian abandoned his suit jacket and left it on a tree branch due to the heat. He almost left the red tie with it to die as well, until I scolded him, reminding him that the tie belonged to Patrick and he would be very upset if it wasn’t in our possession.

“So that’s what’s most important to you right now?” Sebastian asked me before he placed the tie in his pocket and continued to move forward.

“We’re going to make it to the road,” I repeat to myself. “We’re going to make it to the road. We’re going to make it to the road.”

“Will you shut the hell up!?” Sebastian shouts. “Shit!”

“I’m trying to give myself hope, thank you very much!” I yell in response, generating an annoyed groan from him.

“What time is it?” I whine the next minute.

“Don’t you have a watch?” Sebastian asks, swatting a thin, feather like branch away from his face.

“Yes but it didn’t go with my outfit so I left it behind at home.”

The branch Sebastian swatted bounces back and smacks me in the face.

“Ow, dammit!”

“Whoops,” he says flatly. I frown while rubbing the stinging sensation away from my face.

We walk in silence again, despite the fact that Sebastian didn’t even answer my question. I look up past the silhouette of leaves against the blue of the sky. It’s still fairly bright, but not too much. It has to be around 2 o’clock; the time on my phone read 1:30 before it died, so that means we’ve been walking for thirty minutes.

“We’ve been walking for…for thirty minutes,” I announce out of breath.

“Fifty,” Sebastian replies ahead.

I quicken my pace to catch up to his long stride, “You can’t be serious. It’s like we’ve gotten nowhere!”

“Yeah, well that’s what happens when you’re in the middle of the woods.”

“You don’t have to be such a smart ass,” I mutter, wiping a mixture of sweat and dirt on my silk blouse which is now ruined by perspiration, dirt, and a few rips from it being snagged on bark and branches a few times. “This would go by much smoothly if you stopped ignoring me, too. We could have a nice conversation about how horrible this situation is.”

“Oh, yeah that sounds fantastic, yes, I’ll-I’ll just slow down to an agonizingly slow pace so I can passively listen to you blame me for everything.”

“I am not agonizingly slow!” I yell. “It’s basic fact, a person with shorter legs takes shorter strides than someone with longer legs! Fact!”

“That’s all subjective,” he says, even though I notice him slow down enough for me to be able to walk next to him. “You can walk fast. You just don’t want to. You’re lazy.”

“Oh, don’t you dare bring up lazy in this conversation! I am more than—”

“Shh!”

“Don’t shh me!”

“No, seriously,” he looks off into the distance and furrows his eyebrows. “Listen.”

All I hear is the wind against the trees and birds communicating above, but after really tuning out the noise, I am able to hear a sound that makes my heart jump out of my chest.

I grip Sebastian’s arm, “Oh my God!” I cry. “It’s a rescue helicopter!”

Sebastian turns to face me with the most hopeless look, immediately wiping any trace of glee away from me.

“A river, Leslie. It’s a river,” he corrects slowly with a tone so dispiriting it embarrasses me. “C’mon.”

He presses on ahead towards the sound, and I am left with the gray matter of false hope lingering around me. The false hope that we were going to be saved. Is there anyone wondering where we are? Has the driver gone to look for us, or has he reported back to Abraham Collingwood that his beloved guests are missing?

“Oh, well ain’t karma good? Ain’t karma damn good?” I imagine Mr. Collingwood laughing while puffing out cigar smoke.

I follow Sebastian’s trail far enough until the trees part and reveal a wide expanse, home to a calm river with another patch of trees on the other side. The river glistens in the sunlight beautifully, almost sparkling.

As I stare, mesmerized at the sight, I fail to pay full attention to the sound of scraping and grunting until I see Sebastian at the bottom of the rocks on the that flat, soft, grassy land of the river side that divides itself from the rough, rocky terrain of the forest.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were climbing down?” I yell to him.

“I did, but you were too engrossed in watching water move,” he teases.

I look at the giant rocks that prove to be an obstacle. There aren’t many of them, but they’re far apart enough to form a hazard. Luckily, Sebastian is tall enough to climb down without a hint of an issue ailing him, but as for me, it’s a different story.

I take a deep breath, exhale, and begin to take off my shoes and place them into my bag. The warm, moist soil seeps through the thin material of my stockings and rubs against my feet, making me shudder.

“Here!” I gesture my bag out to him, tossing it when he’s ready to catch. Thankfully, he catches it without a problem, but decides to throw it carelessly onto the grass beneath him.

What an ass.

“We’re going to make it to the road. We’re going to make it to the road. We’re going to make it to the road,” I whisper, placing a foot on the damp rock below me.

Sebastian steps ahead on a few rocks and holds his hand out to me.

“No, no, no,” I protest, “I’m perfectly capable of doing this myself, thank you very much.”

He doesn’t listen. “Just grab my hand,” he tells me as he continues to approach me with no difficulty.

I place my ass on the rock my foot was previously on, and move that same foot onto the next one, “No. I can do this myself.”

I move at a snail’s pace, sliding down from one rock to the next with the most careful of precision. Sebastian watches me, flinching when he thinks I’m close to slipping or missing a step. It seems like the sound of the river grows louder and louder each move I make; each step I am closer to the ground.

On the last rock, all I do is stare at the distance from the ground. I will have to jump. Fuck.

“Leslie, please just grab my hand. You’re killing me here.”

“Sebastian, I appreciate your ‘concern’ but I can make this. It isn’t that far anyway.”

Stop playing yourself, Leslie.

Sebastian crosses his arms over his chest and raises his eyebrows at me, like he knows I know I’m lying to myself.

I sit and contemplate the situation. If I do it myself, I’ll break my ass. If I let Sebastian help me, I might break my ass.

“Fine.”

Sebastian rolls his eyes and approaches me. Mentally counting to three, I push myself off the rock, but my foot scrapes against the edge of something sharp and cuts open within a split second. I can feel the intense pain shoot through my foot, up my leg and through my back in the fastest and most frantic way possible. I yelp and lose my balance only to fall into Sebastian’s body and wrap my arms tightly around his waist out of the fear of almost dying.

He staggers back a bit but regains his balance and fulfils his promise of catching me. His arms around me, I press my head against his firm chest, unable to move as the pain and realization kicks in. My nails dig into his back until I am able to fully vocalize the extent of my agony:

“Mother fucker this hurts like a BITCH!” I scream at the top of my lungs.


I refuse to look down. I’m bleeding, and I need to tend to my wound, but I refuse to look down. Instead, I limp away from the rocks while continuing to expel an alarming amount of profanities from my mouth. I’m unsure if I can walk, but I don’t want to take the risk of stepping on my foot and feeling more blood gush out.

“Leslie, here,” Sebastian offers. He is now at my side and pushing me into the grass. I sit by the shore of the river and hiss with my eyes shut so tight my head hurts.

“No, no, I’m fine, I’m fine,” I wave him off. “I just need some water on it.”

“Let me see it.”

“No, I swear it’s fine.”

“Jesus Christ!” he exclaims. “Why are you so damn stubborn?”

“I’m not stubborn, I’m just—I’m just—”

“Stubborn. That’s what you are. First you refuse to listen to me when we were trying to find our way to the car, then you wouldn’t let me help you down the rocks, and now you won’t let me see how badly you’re hurt.”

I look away from him. Out of all the times to express my stubbornness, he had to do it now, while I’m in pain. But he’s right…in a sense.

God, I’m problematic.

When I don’t respond or even look at him, he gets up from my side.

“Alright. Take care of it yourself—”

“Wait.”

He gazes down at me with his invading green eyes, and I turn away uncomfortably. The pain, which has lessened a small amount, speaks in substitution for my own personal judgment.

“I…I need your help.”

He’s more than enjoying this. “I’m sorry, sweetheart, what was that? I’m a little short in hearing in this ear.”

“I said I need your help, you smug jackass.” I amplify.

“There we go,” he smiles.

He kneels down at my side and positions himself right at my foot. The stocking is ripped at the ankle all the way to my small toe, and the blood is visible through the fabric. It isn’t much, but enough to make me cringe when I look.

I adjust myself so I’m seated more comfortably, but despite my efforts to make this less awkward for both of us, he doesn’t do anything yet. My hands, trembling, are placed in front of me, making sure I’m not flashing my panties to him, but my eyes catch him avert his stare onto my exposed thighs and immediately my lungs burn. His Adam’s apple bobs up and down before he rolls up the sleeves of his shirt, exposing his tan forearms.

Suddenly, his hands hover over the hem of my stocking, and my body goes cold.

“May I?” he asks, meeting my eyes.

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