The waterfall was only a five-mile hike, which was a good thing because if I’d had to hear Heidi complain one more minute, I was going to lose it.
I searched for Lana and found her sitting out on a rock across the water beside Ashton. I stood there and watched them. Ashton’s laughter always made me smile. Hearing it ring out over the water as she talked happily with Lana made things feel right. Ashton had held my heart for so long that even after her betrayal I’d have taken her back without question if she’d asked. As much as I loved my brother, I wasn’t sure I wouldn’t still. My eyes shifted to Lana who was talking now. Her happy expression made me feel like a king. She’d been in an excellent mood all morning. Knowing it was because of me was nice. The memory of Lana’s touch last night far exceeded anything I’d ever experienced with Ashton. I wasn’t sure how I felt about that.
Ashton had owned me. I’d have moved heaven and earth to make her happy. It was different with Lana. I enjoyed her company and being with her was exhilarating. But I knew what love felt like and what I was feeling for Lana wasn’t even close. It was more intense but only physically. The idea of leaving her in August didn’t ache the way it did when I thought of Ash being so far away.
“She’s one hot piece of ass. If you get bored and want to trade tent buddies just let me know.” I jerked my head to glare at Jake as he stood smirking with his attention focused on Lana.
“What did you just say?” I demanded, towering over Jake by only a few inches. I fisted both my hands prepared to knock him on his ass if he dared repeat his crude comment.
“Whoa Saw, calm down bud. You do realize I wasn’t talking about Ash, don’t you?” Jake held up both his hands and backed away from me. “I know who you were talking about and I suggest you take your perverted eyes off her. She isn’t up for grabs.”
“Well, well, well, what the hell did you do Jake? Not sure I’ve ever seen Sawyer so ready to pummel someone other than me before,” Beau drawled in a lazy amused tone.
“Shut up Beau,” I snapped not looking back at him.
“I don’t know. He’s gone apeshit. I just made a comment about Lana. Last time he talked about her she was just a f**king ‘distraction’. I didn’t know he would go all territorial,” Jake replied, glancing over my shoulder toward my brother. I could see the request for backup in his eyes and it only pissed me off more.
“He’s right bro. Back off. You’ve been referring to Lana as a distraction for over a week. If you’ve gone and changed your mind then you might want to let everyone know.”
I hated it when Beau had a valid point. He was the Neanderthal. Not me. He wasn’t supposed to make sense. Jerking my shirt over my head, I threw it on the rocky ground and dove into the water. I needed to be near Lana. That was the only thing that was going to calm down the violent storm inside me.
I wanted a shower before I crashed. I was exhausted. Today had been a blast but between the heat, swimming and hiking I could hardly keep my eyes open. I plugged up my phone on the small ledge over the sink in the bathhouse and went to get cleaned up. Ash had said her head hurt and she wanted to lay down a few minutes before coming to take a shower. Heidi and Kayla both said they were too tired to walk up here and shower, which I thought was gross. They decided the water at the falls was enough of a bath for them.
I’d sweated on our hike back and I knew they had too but it wasn’t my business. If they wanted to go to bed nasty, then so be it. Walking up here alone with the bears, snakes and psycho chainsaw men had taken a great deal of bravery on my part.
I was also anxious to get back to Sawyer. The hope that we might have a night similar to last night had been at the forefront of my thoughts all day. Ashton had mentioned my silly smile and I’d been vague with my reply as to why I was so giddy. Anyway, I was pretty sure she knew exactly why.
After finishing my shower, I dried off and slipped on my tank top without a bra this time and the pink striped boxer shorts I’d brought to sleep in. It was dark and I had to carry my supplies and dirty clothes back with me. I could hold those in front of my shirt. Sawyer would never notice I’d gone braless outside of the tent. His possessive reaction to my walking out of the tent without one this morning had surprised me. No one had ever been possessive of me. Maybe the healthy response would’ve been to stand my ground and force him to accept I was my own person. But I didn’t. I wanted to be wanted.
Picking up my phone, I noticed all the missed calls and text messages. Sighing, I scrolled through them and saw my dad had called twice. My mother had called fifteen times and then they’d both left several text messages. I needed to call one of them back. Mom would keep me on the phone forever and I really wanted to get to that tent.
So, I tapped my dad’s name and waited as the phone rang.
“Finally. Is there no reception up there? I’ve called you several times.”
“Hi, Daddy. Sorry, but yes, the reception is shoddy up here.”
“I’m glad you finally got my messages and called. I need to talk to you about the wedding. There’s been a change of plans.”
“Shandra’s grandmother lives on the coast in South Carolina. She’s wealthy and her home is a historical landmark. She has offered it to Shandra to use for the wedding. Since Shandra can’t have her Christmas wedding in New York she’s decided a summer wedding on the coast would be more fitting. I want this perfect for her. Special, ya know?” he paused waiting on a response from me.
I didn’t respond.
“You still there?”
“Yes Daddy, I’m listening.”
“Oh, okay, good. This is going to cost a good bit more than originally planned. Also, family members that her grandmother insisted should attend are flying in from all over. The house is going to be packed.”
Still not sure what it was he wanted to tell me other than share his wedding plans, which I did not think was a very urgent matter, I waited.
“There just isn’t room for you at the house. I can’t very well make Shandra’s grandmother give you a room when she’s being so generous already. Plus, the cost of travel is really making my budget tight. Flying you out and paying for your hotel room just isn’t possible. I mean, I want you there but I just don’t see how I can afford to get you there.”
I leaned back against the wall and closed my eyes. Tears welled up in my eyes and I wiped at them furiously. I would not cry over this. I would not.
“Okay. Alright,” I managed through my clogged throat.
“So you understand, right?”
He was spending all his money on a wedding to a girl he was about to start a brand new family with. He couldn’t manage to find money to fly the daughter he already had out to be with him for his big day. As much as it hurt, this was something I could live with. I knew though, the reality of what he was telling me was so much more.
A new wife, a new house, a big wedding, a new baby… my dad wasn’t going to help me with college. I didn’t even have the courage to ask anymore. If I had to be disappointed and let down by him one more time, I wasn’t sure I could deal.
“Yeah, okay Daddy. I understand.”
“I knew you would. Shandra is very worried this will upset you. I told her you were nothing like Caroline and this wouldn’t be a big deal for you.”
“I need to go. I don’t want to use up all my battery.”
“Right, of course. Well, have fun and enjoy your summer. Maybe I can make it out to see you this fall. Which college did you finally decide on?”
I’d be going to the local junior college. My dad had a new family.
“I gotta go Daddy,” I replied and clicked end.
The tears trickled down my face and I felt my hardened resolve not to let my dad or my mother hurt me anymore melt away. How much was I supposed to take before I crumbled? Holding all this in was eating me alive. I needed someone to listen to me. Someone to hold me while I cried. I just needed someone to care about me. Not themselves. For once, I needed it to be about me…. I needed Sawyer. I splashed water on my face and dried off all the tears. I didn’t want to answer any questions on my way to find him. He was the only one I wanted to talk to about this.
Grabbing my bag, I tucked my phone inside and headed out the door. He’d be waiting on me. He’d listen. Just as I stepped onto the path leading down to our campsite, Sawyer came barreling toward me. Relief washed over me the moment I saw him. But it was short lived. The serious expression on his face surprised me.
“Sawyer,” I began and he rushed past me toward the bathhouse.
“I don’t have time right now, Lana,” he called back at me.
Stunned, I stood there frozen in my spot.
Within seconds, he was running back out of the bathhouse with a dripping wet rag in his hand. A determined set to his jaw. His eyes flicked past me. As he rushed by, I reached out and grabbed his arm. He was starting to scare me.
“What’s wrong?” I asked
“Lana let go. I can’t talk to you right now. Ash needs me.”
As his words registered in my head, I snatched my hand away from him. He didn’t offer an explanation or apology. Instead, he ran off leaving me standing there alone. My emotions were already in tatters so I tried to reason that something must really be wrong with Ashton. Panic sent me running after him.
I stopped the moment I saw Sawyer bend down behind Ashton and gently pull her hair back. She was sick. Sawyer wiped her mouth and then folded the rag carefully and began washing her pale face.
“I got you Ash. It’s okay,” he murmured as she laid her head against his chest weakly.
Jealousy washed over me like a tidal wave, even though I knew she was sick. I didn’t like seeing him so sweet and protective of her. Taking a step forward I asked, “Ash, you okay?”
Sawyer’s head snapped up but I didn’t meet his gaze. I wasn’t sure I could. She raised her head and let out a sigh. “I’ve got a migraine. Too much sun but Beau took the car to the nearest store to get me some pain medicine.”
“Can I do anything?” I asked. “I’ve got her, Lana. You can go on to the tent,” Sawyer’s demanding voice sliced through my already broken spirit. I couldn’t stand here and watch this. Ash was sick but she was in good hands. The Vincent boys were taking care of her.
“Okay,” I managed to respond and turned to walk toward the tent. Standing outside of it, I hated the idea of going inside. The memories from last night were in there. I needed to forget those memories. My life was out of control enough. I didn’t need Sawyer Vincent’s help to break my heart. My dad was doing a fine job all on his own. I’d loved two men in my life and I’d not been enough for either of them. I would never be their first choice.
A fresh tear rolled down my face. Before anyone could see me cry, I opened the tent and crawled inside. Moving my sleeping bag back to the far corner of the tent as far away from Sawyer’s as possible, I curled up inside of it and cried. I cried because my dad hadn’t wanted me. I cried because my dreams of college had slipped through my fingers and I cried because I’d let myself believe Sawyer could possibly fall in love with me.
I woke up early and peeked over at Sawyer. He was sound asleep in his sleeping bag. The pain he’d inflicted last night hadn’t eased with sleep. Grabbing my things, I quietly exited the tent. I didn’t want to be in there with him when he woke up.
“You’re up early.” Jake knelt down over the fire adding some fresh logs.
Running my hand through my hair self-consciously, I nodded.
“I have coffee, want some?” Jake asked, standing up and lifting a pot of coffee up to show me.
“How did you make that?” I asked walking over toward him. I could almost smell the coffee.
“I brought a coffeemaker with me. Used the electricity up at the bathhouse,” he explained, pouring some of it into a styrofoam cup.
“You’ll have to drink it black. I don’t have cream or sugar,” he said holding the cup out for me.
“I always drink it black,” I replied, taking a small sip.
Jake raised his eyebrows, “Really? That’s hot.”
Rolling my eyes, I turned to walk up to the bathhouse and get dressed.
“What? I don’t get a thank you?”
I glanced back over my shoulder, “Thank you.”
He smirked and shook his head.
“You know, it’ll always be that way. He’ll never really move on. She’ll always be the one.”
I stopped and took a deep breath as the knife he’d plunged into my stomach and twisted caused too much pain to keep me moving.
“I’m not being mean. I’m just being honest. You’re wasting your time.”
With a sharp nod of my head, I forced my feet to move. I needed to get away. No more truth. I’d had a little too much of that in the past twelve hours. I needed a break.