Authors: Alannah Carbonneau
“Hey!” It felt odd walking in the wet shoes. “Do you mind zipping me up? I couldn’t get the zipper.”
“Yeah, no problem.” Jackson moved across the floor, his blue eyes were laughing at my obvious incompetence.
I huffed. “It’s a sticky zipper.”
“I’ll bet. Turn around.” He commanded after teasing me. He tugged on the zipper for a moment and I took this time as a chance to defend myself.
“See? It’s sticky!”
“It’s not sticky, it’s stuck. What were you trying to do, zip up half the fabric in your suit?” I felt another tug and my body jostled. “You’ve got more suit in your zipper than anything I’ve ever seen.”
I blushed. “Oh.”
Just then, the floor creaked and I glanced at the door in time to see Collin walking into the shack. He was dressed in his black and royal blue wetsuit, looking - stunning. The suit displayed his every angled curve and bulging muscle. He was divine.
My eyes flickered up from his tight body to his very hard, very angry looking face. His frowning lips moved and a growly sound emitted from his throat. “What’s going on?”
“The zipper was sticking. I needed help.”
Jackson didn’t even look up from his task. I knew this because if he had looked up, Collins gaze would have frozen him of his movements. I knew this because it had frozen me.
“It’s not a sticky zipper.” Jackson informed matter of fact. “She just zipped up half the suit and now I’m trying to get it out.”
“We’re leaving in five.” Was all Collin replied, before he turned around and walked - or stalked - out into the sun.
I was still feeling chilled to the very bone when Jackson finally pulled my suit from the zipper. I heard him unzip the entire suit, before pulling the zipper into place with little to no effort.
When he was done, he clapped his hands together and announced. “Viola!” I turned to find him grinning widely, verifying that he in fact, had not witnessed the chill in his friend’s eyes. “Next time, don’t even try to zip it up, Hadley. Come find some help.”
“Yeah.” My voice was quiet and I noticed it sounded confused, but I was confused. I mean, Collin was angry with me. There was no doubt he was angry with me - I just didn’t know why. “Thanks Jackson.”
“We should probably get out there. Collin’s going to have a hernia if we take any longer. For some reason, he’s eager to get onto the water.”
“That’s not normal?” I asked.
“Naw, it is. If there’s one place he’s always loved, it’s the water.” He shot me a quirky grin. “Guy makes everything he can out of summer. There isn’t much in the way of water sports in the winter.”
I followed Jackson into the warm late morning sun. My shoes squeaked with every step I took, despite the fact that they had yet to get wet. Instantly, my eyes found Collin’s. He was standing with a group of people by the water with the raft. He was talking, but I wasn’t entirely sure what he was saying.
“What’s he saying?” I asked Jackson.
“He’s reminding them of the commands to follow. Collin’s been doing this for years and although it’s really rare that we have someone get hurt, there always seems to be one fool in the summer who thinks he’s invincible.” He shrugged. “Collin takes this seriously. On the water, there’s places where you can get yourself really hurt, and if you’re not listening, the chances of getting hurt are actually pretty high.”
“Oh.” My steps quickened. “I shouldn’t miss this.”
“You won’t have a paddle today.” Jackson caught up to me easily. “It’s your first time so you’ll just sit at the back of the raft with Collin.”
“I thought everyone had to paddle, though.”
“In a small raft it would be especially important that everyone help, but since we’re such a big group today, a few won’t need to paddle.”
I instantly began counting the people standing around Collin. There were seven in total not including Collin, Jackson and myself. All in all, there were ten of us who would be riding the raft. Suddenly, I wasn’t sure we would be able to ride the raft with so many people and not sink it somehow.
Although my uncertainty was morphing into something that more resembled fear, I tried not to let it show. Collin’s eyes found mine and he excused himself from the group as Jackson took over.
I knew I should be listening, but all I could do was focus on the man walking steadily toward me. And damn, the man looked freaking delicious in a wetsuit.
“Put this on.” He commanded in a low tone as he handed me a bright yellow helmet. “You want a jacket? The water can get pretty cold.”
“I didn’t see any jacket’s in the shack.” I said as I shoved the helmet down on my bun.
“You can wear mine.” Collin stated. “Normally, people already have everything rented from the main rafting shop. This is overflow, mainly.”
“You won’t need your jacket?” I glanced around the group to find that everyone had a bright yellow jacket with them, whether it was on their bodies or hanging over their arm.
“I’ll be fine.” Collin took my wrist into his hand, walking toward the quad where he opened a little pack tied down onto the grid-like contraption on the back. Pulling out a yellow jacket, he handed it to me.
“Put it on, Hadley.”
The use of my name rather than
actually bothered me a little, not that I would ever admit that aloud, but I had come to expect his little endearment in place of my name. Now, hearing my name on his lips sounded so harsh. It was all I could do not to flinch at the sound.
As though sensing my distress, Collin reached out to take the jacket from me and before I knew what he was doing, he was threading my arm through the arms of the jacket. I let him dress me the way no man had ever done before as I watched the hardness in his guarded expression fade. When he’d zipped up his jacket over my lifejacket and stepped back to look at me, he grinned.
My heart fluttered. I really was growing dependent upon seeing this man grin.
“You’re beautiful.” He said in low tones. “You look cute in my jacket.”
I looked down and gasped in horror. “Yeah, cute.” I snorted. “I’m wearing a plastic dress.”
He laughed, placing his hand on the small of my back to steer me toward the river. “Let’s get on the river, Hadley.”
“Yeah.” I nodded, feeling slightly star struck as I watched this beautiful man walk so confidently toward the raging river. “Let’s get on the water.”
Icy water hit my face as the raft jolted sharply atop the waves. My fingers gripped the handles on the slightly raised floor of the raft where I was sitting in front of Collin at the back of the raft. His firm voice continued commanding steady orders to the others in the raft.
“All left.” The paddles on the right lifted out of the water as those on the left remained in the water. The raft obeyed the paddles unspoken command and began turning right at the fork in the river.
Not long after the turn, we were on calmer waters and my heart, although it was still racing, began to slow its rapid pace. Relieved adrenaline infused laughter spilled out of the raft as the group cheered our making it down the river without losing someone to the waves. Paddles were dropped against the inflated rubber, dangling in the calm river water. I was truly surprised how deep the river was in some places, while in others, we had had to struggle not to catch the bottom of our raft on a rock. I’d spent the entire ride centered at the back of the raft where I figured Collin felt he could best watch over my inexperienced ways. Despite the constant face full of chilled water, I’d had a blast and knew that this was an entire different kind of adventure than those I had experienced with my brother. This was an adventure he would have found himself addicted to. I know that like I know I’ll never have another adventure with my brother.
I wish, so deeply, that he could have experienced this rush before he saluted this world. Knowing he never ridden the waves of a river was like being told he’d never finished all he was supposed to complete. I felt so confidently, in this moment, that he had been taken before his time. Because this rush, right here, was one his soul had lived for and failed to find.
Yet, for some reason, my very caged entity - my uncertain and routine soul - had found this place - this experience. And I knew, that no matter how long I lived or where I went, this activity would be one I forever craved.
The man in front of me turned around with a blinding grin. “You swimming?”
“What?” My voice turned high-pitched and a new rush of excitement bloomed in my belly. “Swimming?”
“Yeah, this is where we swim.” He nodded matter of fact. “It’s cold as Hell, but the experience isn’t complete until you swim.”
“In that case...” I glanced behind me to find Collin looking down at me. “Are you swimming?”
“Are you?” He countered.
I nodded. “I want to.”
“Then I’m swimming.” He stated before standing. “Take off the jacket and jump on in.”
I did as he said eagerly, leaving my helmet and lifejacket on as we were still in a very unstable river and I had no desire for my head to find one of those hidden rocks. Suddenly, the man who’d been sitting in front of me jumped into the water with another girl. Her shrill scream of shock made me tense for a moment before I shook off my uncertainty, and I did the crazy thing. I jumped.
Needles of ice stabbed at the entirety of my body as I bobbed in the water, unable to go under with the life jacket I wore. Wiping my eyes of the drops, I looked up at the raft to find Collin staring down at me with a devilish smirk.
“How’s the water?”
My teeth chattered. “It’s c-cold.”
“You done?” He asked and I shook my head. “Not until you come in with me.”
Collin laughed. “I know how cold that water is. I’m good for now, thanks.”
Ha! The man wasn’t planning on joining me? We’ll see about that.
Wading toward the raft with innocence shimmering in my eyes, I watched Jackson hide his grin behind a hand as he watched. I announced. “Okay, it’s too cold. Can you help pull me up into the boat?”
Collin nodded, stretching his large hand out to me. I wrapped both my hands around his big one and felt my body begin to lift from the water before I pressed the flat of my feet against the side of the raft and pulled backward with all my weight. Collin’s eyes widened momentarily before a gasped shout sounded from his lips. “Hadley!”
And then we were in the water. His body was pressed against mine as our legs tangled in the icy river. His green eyes were filled with admirable challenge as his hands gripped my waist, holding me tight against his body. Around us, laughter and easy bantering sounded.
Even though it was difficult to concentrate on anything but the feel of his hands on my waist, I somehow managed to laugh. “You said you’d swim. I only helped you keep your word.”
His eyes dropped to my mouth and back up to my eyes. “You’re a devious little thing, Hadley.”
At the sight of his eyes on my lips, my breath caught - and then when his eyes lifted again, I found I was able to breathe. But it wasn’t easy. I didn’t know if it was the cold, or if it was the uncertainty I felt at the possibility of this man kissing me.
Suddenly, I realized that we were the only two left in the water and Collin was dragging me toward the raft. Spinning my front to the raft, I felt his hands on my hips lifting me. I gripped the handles and pulled myself up with the help of the man who’d been sitting in front of me throughout the rafting trip. When I was settled, I looked back to find Collin had already lifted himself into the raft without any help from anyone else. Obviously, practice makes perfect.
I wonder what else he’s perfect at?
The thought came so suddenly and so out of context, that I felt my face turn pink.
“You good?” The man in front of me asked. “You’re really red.”
“I’m freezing.” I replied quickly and truthfully. Although I knew the cold wasn’t reason for my red skin, I could pass the blame without being interrogated.
The man nodded. “Yeah, told you that water was cold.”
I shivered just thinking about it. “You always swim?”
“Not a chance.” He laughed. “But I knew it was your first time and for your first time, you’ve gotta have the full experience.”
I pulled the jacket back on, hoping for some sort of warmth to seep into my bones. “Yeah, I don’t know if I’ll ever do it again. But I agree that the experience is a must.”
Collin interrupted our conversation. “Wrap it up, Romeo. We’re heading back to shore.”
The man laughed and my mouth dropped at Collins blunt, slightly rude instruction. Winking at me, the man turned around to pick up his paddle, and once again, we were making our way down the river.
We’d taken a bus back to where we’d set off for the rafting trip down the river. A man named John, who I was beginning to believe was Collin’s father, had been waiting for us at the end of our river ride with a recycled yellow school bus. I was sitting in my wetsuit in the seat next to Collin, behind John.
John spoke to Collin once again. “Your mother would like you to come out to Reese and Logan’s tonight if you’re not heading into Banff again this weekend.”
Weekend? Holy wow, it was Friday already!
“Yeah, I should be there.” Collin replied gruffly and I saw John’s brows rise in the mirror. He looked almost surprised. But why? Did Collin rarely attend family gatherings?
Collin nodded. “I’m not going into town tonight, Dad.”
And there was the confirmation I needed. John
Collin’s father. Sensing John’s eyes on me, I refused to allow myself to look up from where I’d focused on the land passing us by. I didn’t want to be a part of this conversation. I missed my own family and I was feeling slightly jealous of this big family Collin was a part of, and didn’t quite seem to be fully appreciative of.
By the time the bus rolled to a stop at the small clearing where we’d entered into the river, I was so ready to get out of the confined vehicle that my muscles were twitching. Standing up, I tried to politely excuse myself from Collin. I wanted out of this suit, in my clothes, and I wanted to go back to the peace of my little cabin.