"Are we awake?"
"Yeah," she says.
"I already showered and brushed my teeth."
"Then I should too." I yawn into the pillow.
"Before you say anything, although I know you won't," she begins, shifting onto her back.
She lightly traces her fingers over my hand resting on her stomach.
"I'm sorry about last night.
I got a little freaked.
Thank you for being so patient with me.
I'm sure it hasn't been easy." I prop my head up and focus on her, trying to decipher what patience she's referring to.
The fact that she's still lost behind Nyelle, or that being Nyelle can be a little… overwhelming.
Now I'm confusing myself.
"I'm sorry I'm not who you expected me to be," she says, her lips pressed into an apologetic smile.
"Nyelle, you are more than I ever expected you to be," I respond intently.
I can't stand the insecurity in her eyes.
It's not her.
I need to get rid of it.
"I don't give a shit if I haven't brushed my teeth, I'm kissing you."
"No, don't," she pleads, giggling.
I push my body between her legs and pin her arms above her.
She squirms, trying to get free, laughing in that way that makes all the difference.
The laugh that I needed to hear.
I nuzzle into her neck and trail small kisses along it.
Her body relaxes beneath me, and her hands slide up my back.
I drag my lips down to the dip in her collarbone and she inhales quickly.
"Wait," she says suddenly.
I don't move.
"Um… I was hoping to make you breakfast."
"Breakfast? I was just about to…"
"Yeah," she blurts, sitting up, knocking me off of her.
I collapse on my back with a groan.
It's painful being denied first thing in the morning.
Or any time really.
"Uh… you don't even have to get out of bed.
I'll bring it up." She sounds weird.
"What are you up to?" I ask, lifting my head as she walks to the door.
She flashes a devilish grin.
"I'll be right back.
Don't go anywhere."
"We're in the middle of the woods!" I holler as I hear her footsteps trail down the hall.
"Where would I go?" While I'm waiting, I decide to take a quick shower to wash off the day of traveling that's still clinging to my skin.
As I stand under the stream of water, I'm hoping today is better than yesterday.
I sure as hell don't want it to be worse.
I'm not dismissing everything that's happened in the past twelve hours, but I'd rather not jump back into the deep end of the emotional pool so early in the morning.
Her apology was heavy enough.
We have a week.
I'm pretty certain that it's all going to come out before it's over.
And when it does, it's not going to be the best day of my life.
So I just want to be an idiot for one more day, if I can.
When I step back into the bedroom, Nyelle is sitting on the bed, in a flannel shirt with the sheet covering her legs.
She's wearing a ridiculous smile that makes me laugh.
I look around, expecting a bowl of cereal or something.
"Uh… what's for breakfast?" I ask, pulling a drawer open in search of a shirt.
"Me," she answers, turning me around.
Before I can utter a sound, she unveils her legs and there are pink hearts painted on them.
When I look closer, I see pink hearts on her neck, peeking out from underneath the collar of the shirt.
I grin, relieved that she's willing to be in this bubble of denial with me.
Whatever it is that's going to change everything, it can wait.
"Frosting?" Nyelle nods.
"And we don't even have to climb a tree," I say, moving toward the bed, suddenly starving.
She smiles innocently as I bend over her, tasting her lips.
"There isn't any frosting there," she murmurs against my mouth.
"Just thought it was a good place to start," I reply, working my way down her neck, to the heart painted below her ear.
I take my time finding each spot strategically marked for me.
She gasps at the touch of my tongue on her sweet skin as I move down her body, savoring every inch.
This is most definitely the hottest thing I've ever done.
Her breath quivers when I finish with the hidden hearts painted along her legs.
"I love breakfast in bed," I say, returning to her lips once again.
"So much better than cereal."
"Did you just compare me to cereal?" she asks, still flushed.
"What? I can have you both every day and never get sick of you," I argue, scanning her na**d body.
I'm not quite done with her yet.
"How is that bad?" She inhales quickly when I ease on top of her.
"Oh, it's not." * * * "Did you fall asleep?" Nyelle asks, leaning back against me.
"Nope," I say groggily, with my eyes closed.
The hot water's sedating.
"But I probably could."
"We're losing our bubbles," she says.
The water swishes.
"Do you want to get out?" I ask, opening my eyes with a deep inhale.
I lean forward and kiss her shoulder.
She holds her hands up in front of us.
"My fingers are pruny, so I think it's time." Nyelle uses the sides of the cast-iron tub to push herself up.
I admire the water cascading off her skin.
Then I shake the thoughts from my head, knowing we can't spend the entire day in bed.
Or… maybe we could.
"I was thinking about going for a walk," she says, wrapping a towel around herself
"It looks like it's going to rain," I inform her.
"We're in Oregon.
It always looks like it's going to rain." I smile, reaching for the towel on the hook.
"What would you say if I asked to dress you?" she says, walking into the bedroom.
"You want to pick out my clothes? I didn't bring a huge selection."
"No." She laughs.
"Actually dress you.
I like the thought of it." I pause, about to make a comment about how strange it sounds.
But then I stop myself, thinking back to when I thought showering in the dark was a bad idea.
And now that memory will never leave me.
"If you want to," I respond.
"Will you let me dress you?"
"Sure," she answers with a smile in her voice.
Watching her bend down in front of me to pull up my pants and then sliding her fingers up the zipper is much more of a turn-on than I ever could've imagined.
I'm tempted to ask her to take them back off again.
When it's my turn, I take my time, sliding her arms into her bra and standing close to clasp it behind her.
Kneeling before her as she steps into her underwear, running my hands up her legs as I guide them in place.
Kissing her when her head peeks out of the sweater.
Then running my lips up her thighs when I pull her pants up.
I pause at the small scar on her right thigh, kissing it gently.
I smooth my fingers over it.
It's so light after all these years.
I hadn't really given it much attention until now, too distracted by the other parts of her.
"I can't believe how small it is," I remark, "considering there was a branch sticking out of it.
I thought Richelle…" Her body is suddenly too still.
I said too much.
Nyelle reaches for the top of her pants, pulling them over her h*ps and buttoning them.
I stand openmouthed, wanting to take it back.
But what should I do? Apologize? Pretend like I didn't say it? I'm so used to her not flinching at the mention of Renfield or anyone in it.
Even the few times she's let a memory slip through, she didn't react.
She didn't even seem to realize that she'd done it.
But now it's different.
The memories are like jolts of electricity, waking her from her oblivion.
And they hurt.
How do I make it stop? "Uh… do you want to make pancakes?" I ask, hoping to distract her enough so that she can move past this.
She was so excited when we picked up the box of mix on our way here.
I'm grasping for anything right now.
"No, that's okay," she answers quietly, sitting on the bed and pulling on her socks.
"I think I'll go for that walk before it rains." I watch silently as she laces up her combat boots.
She still won't look at me, and it's killing me.
When she stands, I step in front of her, placing my hands on her hips.
"Nyelle." She stares at my chest.
"Please look at me." She reluctantly raises her eyes to meet mine.
But quickly looks away when the pain surfaces and her eyes shine with tears.
I try to control my expression so she doesn't realize I'm as freaked as I am.
"I think… I think we should talk about it." Holy shit, I've said it.
"I don't want to talk.
I can't," she replies in a broken whisper.
"I'll be back in a bit." She slips past me.
Don't go," I plead, following after her down the hall.
"I know that you're upset.
You don't have to hide it.
Nyelle, you don't have to hide who you are with me.
Remember?" She reaches the bottom of the stairs and turns back around.
"I'm fine," she lies.
"I just need to go for a walk and clear my head." I follow her to the door, but let her leave without stopping her.
I clasp my hands behind my head.
Do I go after her? Do I give her time to herself? I'm so far out of my element here.
I go back upstairs to grab my phone.
I walk around the house, searching for a signal.
The overcast sky must be making the reception worse than usual.
I go outside and hold the phone up, waiting for any bars to appear.
As soon as I see two, I stop.
The sound of the phone ringing breaks up, and I close my eyes, begging for it to go through.
"Cal? Where've… been?!" Rae answers.
The reception sucks.
"I'm at Zac's," I tell her.
Zac's cabin," I say again.
There's no way we're going to be able to have a conversation.
"Nyelle… you," is all I get from her before it cuts out.
I grunt in frustration.
That was useless.
I walk around again, even trying along the dirt road.
I sit on the steps of the cabin, and Henley trots over to sit at my feet.
I pet the top of his head and stare at the woods for a while, hoping she'll come back.
"So what do you think, Henley? Should I go after her?" He just looks up at me with his tongue hanging out.
She's the girl worth going after," I say, scratching him behind his ear.
"Let's go get her." Except when I stand up, I have no idea which way to go.
We're surrounded by woods.
She could have gone anywhere.
So I just start walking, trying to follow the most natural path.