Chapter Nine

Love Your Dreams, Chapter 09

Brianne

As warned, Astrid is not a morning person. She leans against the kitchen counter with her back to the still-dark window and carefully drinks her first cup of coffee while she’s still in her PJs—soft waffle-knit pants and an even softer looking long t-shirt.

I’m always hot at night, so I got dressed before I came out of my room. I move around her quietly, getting myself a cup of coffee and a dense raisin oatmeal muffin, before I retreat to the other side of the small main space. I already know the answers to everything I’d ask her, and she doesn’t seem to like it when I ask again just to be sure.

I’m just following her today, anyway. Being used for my strong back, which I don’t mind in the least.

Her phone beeps quietly, and she takes two slow, steadying breaths before downing the rest of her second coffee. “Right. Give me five minutes to get dressed, then we’ll be off.”

Normal people say good morning.

Normal people also look you in the eye.

She does sometimes. She did in the truck yesterday before disappearing to get dinner. So I just need to reveal myself as incompetent and too young to be taken seriously for her to look at me. 

I busy myself with the packs until she’s ready, then we step out into the cool, damp pre-dawn darkness.

The trail head is a ten-minute drive away from town, and when we park, we’re the only vehicle in the small lot. Astrid carries her camera pack, and I carry our day pack. Water, food, first aid kit, GPS transponder, and cell phones which may or may not work depending on the mobile phone gods.

Since this is my first time hiking this trail, I’m following her, but on subsequent days, I’m going to climb ahead of her with both packs, so she can travel light and take more pictures on the ascent.

We start to climb as the sky begins to lighten, and the first hour is a pretty straightforward walk uphill. The path is well maintained and wide, so for much of it we hike side by side. 

Astrid points out how much of the tree growth is young. “A hundred years ago, trees couldn’t become established this far upslope. It’s not as obvious as the glacial erosion, but it’s concerning.”

I bet. “It would impact on the wildlife, for sure. When I was an undergraduate, I did a research term with a scientist looking at ground cover changes in the Colorado plains.”

She chuckles. “You say that like it was so long ago.”

“Three years.”

That gets a sharp, surprised look. 

I shrug. “I started university when I was seventeen.”

“I don’t even remember seventeen.”

“Of course you do.”

She laughs. “You’re right. I was still staring at another six months of high school ahead of me and hating it.”

“Cutting class and smoking behind the gym?”

“I am not that cliched.” She stretches out the pause until I realize I’m right, and we both start laughing again. “Yeah. Something like that. More, uh, casual body modification than smoking, although I did some of that, too.”

I swallow my shocked response to that, because I’m not sure I want to know.

It takes almost three hours to reach the lookout where she’ll take the picture, the one that matches the others she’s taken so far.

Soon after we unpack, she pronounces that today is probably not the day, because the clouds aren’t cooperating. But she sets up and takes pictures over an hour, just in case. It’s amazing to watch her work. It’s a lot like field observation. Careful focus, tuning everything else out. I’m quite certain she’s not aware of me in the least.

I stay close in case she needs something, but turn my attention to the mountain we are on and the trail we’ve just climbed. The vegetation is totally different from the Rockies. It’s lush, like a rainforest, and the view that has captivated Astrid shows exactly why—because this mountain range is volcanic, with lots of hidden lakes. Not the stark, rocky outcroppings I’m used to.

I see why she loves it.

And she’s not alone. We are no longer alone. As the day progresses, the path gets busier. At first I think she’s successfully tuning the passersby out, but she twitches disapprovingly when two tourists stop to talk right next to her.

Was I supposed to intervene? Is ‘billy goat’ code for photography bouncer?

I move closer as they leave, and she sighs.

“Do you want me to growl at the next people who stop here?” I ask.

She shakes her head. “No. I’m done. Come on, I want to show you the rest of what we’ll climb at full speed tomorrow.”

She has it all planned out, and we’ve gone over the details. Seeing the path, though, changes my approach to her plan in minute ways.

I don’t know that I need to move on ahead of her when she’s documenting the ascent. The last hour, which we do in ninety minutes today, taking our today, is rougher underfoot. Lots of loose surface, and a steeper angle to climb.

But as advertised, I can climb anything. I can scale vertical rock face. With all due respect to the Coast Mountains, this isn’t that hard. And if I stay close to her, she can carry just the camera, and be even more nimble.

I’ll wait until tomorrow to suggest that, though. We need to get back down the mountain first.

And before that, we need to check out the very top of it.

“I know it’s not what you’re used to,” Astrid says as we near the final lookout for most people, fifty feet before the peak. “But the view is…” She waves her hand.

She’s right. There are no words for this view. Lush and stunning and unique in many ways. “You capture the best of it,” I say as I turn back to her.

She’s got her camera in her hand, and it’s pointed at me. I laugh and twist my head away.

“Is this okay?”

“Yeah.” I look back at the camera that shields her from my view. “Sure. I thought you were a landscape photographer.”

“It’s a rare landscape that doesn’t have people in it.” She swipes a strand of her hair off her cheek. That’s what I can see. Her hair, the top of her head, the curve of her cheek. The wind is picking up, and my hair is blowing all around, too.

“Should I tie my hair back?”

“It’s fine.” She snaps a few more pictures, then lowers her camera, her brow furrowed. “Okay, we’re done up here. Let’s eat and head back.”

Halfway down the mountain, I’m glad I didn’t cockily tell her the climb tomorrow would be no big deal. The descent is slower than I expected, the lush growth that creeps onto the path here and there obscuring more on the way down than it did on the way up. So the footing is more uneven, and by the time we get to the truck, my legs have been burning for more than an hour. I swear my blisters have blisters, and I can’t wait to get my hiking boots off.

Astrid asks for her phone, which I dig out, and as she steers the truck and our tired bodies back toward the cabin, she puts a call in for dinner to be delivered to us.

And it’s not barbecue or pizza, the two delivery options back home. Fancy.

I’ve just stepped out of the shower when I hear dinner being delivered. I quickly dress and join Astrid in the living room, where she’s laying out lots of little takeout packages. Tapas at the cabin. I can’t imagine anything more perfect.

I fall on dinner without any shame. We both do, passing the containers of meat and cheese and vegetables back and forth.

“Oh my God, try the cauliflower,” I say as I trade her for the short ribs.

“Leave me the last one of those ribs,” she says in response.

I peer in the box. “There are still lots.”

“Mm-hmm. There may not be after you try them.”

She’s not wrong. I inhale three, licking my fingers in groaning delight after I reluctantly nudge the last one back in her direction.

When I’m stuffed, I stand up and walk slowly around the living room, not wanting to let my legs cramp up too much. It’s still early, although we need to get to bed in a couple of hours because tomorrow is an earlier start and a faster climb.

“How did today go?” I ask when the silence gets to be too much.

When I glance over at her, she shrugs. “Good. I’m happy.”

“No change to tomorrow’s plan?”

She shakes her head. “Nope.”

“Because I was thinking…” I trail off and start pacing again. Don’t overstep. “Today was quite do-able. So I can probably match your speed tomorrow. You know, if you wanted me to stay closer to you, rather than getting ahead.”

She gives me what can only be described as a ‘that’s cute’ smile. “I was going easy on you today.”

“That wasn’t necessary,” I protest. “I was going easy on you.”

She nods. “I know. That was nice of you. But tomorrow I’m going to want to sprint between shots. That’s not going to be possible for you with the packs. Trust me, I’ve done this exact climb dozens of times before. It’s not about your ability, I promise.”

I look out the window as I mutter my acceptance, but the disappointment disappears as I realize what I’m looking at. “Hey. You have a hot tub out there.”

“Yes?” She says it like there’s a trick to my statement.

“Can we use it? I’d love a soak.”

“Uh…Sure. I guess.” She reaches for her phone. “Let me double check that the caretaker has been testing the Ph levels. I never use it.”

I want to laugh, because who doesn’t use a hot tub they have at their personal disposal? She reminds me of Marcus so much in this moment. Strong and reserved and annoying self-contained, resistant to any human comfort.

But I don’t want to laugh at her. Only with her. So instead, I wait for her to confirm that yes, we can use it, she just needs to test the water and turn it on.

She dashes outside, and when she comes back in and smiles at me, I feel my face soften. I feel suddenly looser, happier, because of a whole bunch of reasons I don’t want to dig into. “I’m glad I brought a bathing suit.”

Her mouth drops open, then she nods as she takes a deep breath. “And maybe we need wine. I’ll get that while you, uh, get changed.”

Five minutes later, I find her in the kitchen, wrapped in a fluffy bathrobe, searching for wine glasses. “I don’t think I have any up here,” she mutters. “Fuck it. Mason jars will do.” She grabs two and hands them to me before uncorking a bottle of what looks like very expensive white wine. “I should have opened this with dinner,” she says.

“We were too hungry to think straight.”

“I guess so.” She takes one of the filled mason jars from me and takes a slow, appreciative sip before gesturing for me to follow her out through the side door. The deck wraps around, but we’re still outside in the cool evening air in our bare feet. I hustle to the hot tub, where the rising steam rising promises to soothe all our aching muscles.

I drop my towel on the bench, set down my jar of wine, and climb into the water. I turn around just in time to see Astrid shrug out of her oversized bathrobe.

She’s wearing a sporty swim suit, black with blue dots down the side. Racing dots, I think as I follow them down the lean curve of her waist to where the suit is cut high on her hips. The muscles in her thigh flex as lifts her leg, and I jerk my head up to the sky to avoid staring at her.

“Ah ah ah ah,” she says, sinking into the water next to me. “Oooooh. That’s glorious. Ahhh.”

My eyes go wide as I listen to her superlative noises. I wonder what sort of noises she might make during sex, and my face pinks up. 

“This is sooooo much better than an early bedtime,” she says quietly before sighing.

I manage to hold off my nosy question for at least a minute. Maybe even two. But I finally give in. “Why do you have a hot tub if you weren’t going to use it?”

She doesn’t take quite as long to answer, but there’s still a pause. “It’s a long story.”

I flick the water with my fingers. “If anyone else said that, I’d take it as an invitation to ask about the long story. Or maybe a warning that they were about to unload a secret.”

She grunts. “I don’t usually unload secrets.”

“But if I were to ask about the long story?”

“An ex-girlfriend liked the idea of a hot tub.”

“And the reality of it?”

“She only came up here once before we broke up. It never got used.”

I frown. Was that the same person Astrid thought might follow her to Vancouver to live in the big house?

“Different ex,” she says, reading my mind. “The one who I thought I might marry…that was a long time ago.”

“Ah.”

“How about you? Is there anyone waiting for you in Colorado?”

I think of Kaden and his big, warm hug goodbye at the airport. “No. I had a boyfriend. Have a friend, really. But we broke up before I came out here. I’m not going back there any time soon, and we weren’t cut out for the long-distance thing.”

She exhales, and I think about how that sounded to her. A boyfriend. I didn’t mean that like some sort of code. You told me you’re gay, and I told you I had a boyfriend. Clear? But it’s not clear. At all. I think about the curve of her hip, the lean stretch of her thigh, and those blue racing dots.

I think about the first girl I ever kissed, in grade seven. Those secret, sweet rubs against each other before I discovered how good a cock felt inside me.

My heart starts to race as we sit side by side, staring up at the stars.

“It’s a lovely hot tub,” I finally say. “I’m glad your ex convinced you to get it.”

“I should use it more often.” She laughs a little. “Maybe the caretaker uses it when I’m not here. The water is always perfect.”

I giggle with her. “Maybe the caretaker brings his?—her?—boyfriend or girlfriend up here for a secret soak.”

“And now we’re getting out,” she says, standing up.

Without thinking, I reach out to stop her. “I’m just kidding,” I say as my fingers circle her wrist. 

My breath catches in my throat as she twists, looking down at me, at where I’m holding on to her. 

“Sorry,” I whisper, dropping my hand, my fingers burning hotter than my cheeks. I stand, too, water sloshing around us. The cool night air bites at my skin, and I want to grab on to her again and drag her back under the warm, bubbling water. “Don’t get out.”

“I should…” She looks at me with a curious look on her face, and her head tilts to the side, just a little. She’s taller than me, but not like Kaden is. We’re almost the same size, she’s just longer. Longer torso, longer neck. She’s elegance to my compact functionality. The rest of us lines up pretty closely. Breasts to breasts, hips to hips.

Heat blooms there, low in my pelvis, as I think about her body.

I wonder if I get close enough, if I’ll catch any hint of her scent over the chlorine of the hot tub. Will she smell like the sheets on the guest bed in Vancouver? Sun-warmed lemons, rosemary and thyme?

“We don’t need to get out,” she finally says, brushing past me to sit again on the bench we were sharing before.

There are seats all around the tub.

Why did she settle in next to me?

And why am I doing exactly the same thing now? You know why. You like the press of her thigh against yours.

“Today was a good day,” she says, her voice low and private. “And tonight is an even better night.”

I close my eyes and lean my head back so I’m not tempted to look at her face again.  Like we’re just making conversation, except I’ve known this woman for forty-eight hours and so far, that’s not something she does.

I may not know much about her, but I know that.

I also know she’s a lesbian, and hot, and I’m picturing her naked right now. 

You can’t screw your boss. 

Well, no, of course not, but it’s not like she’s even paying me. Marcus said he’d take care of it, and he bought my plane ticket, and here I am. Wanting to wrap myself around his cousin and—

“There’s something delicious about anticipation.”

I blink my eyes open. “What?”

“That’s what I’ve learned over the years, anyway. Don’t you think?”

Sure. Maybe. God, no. That’s a crazy thought, when anticipation marches in lock-step with doubt, and I’m really not sure where my head is at right now.

If I’ve learned anything in the last week it’s that I am not always my own best guide. In life, in love, in any kind of decision making situation.

Lead me, Astrid. Show me what to do here.

She doesn’t do anything, though. She just sits there, gazing at me over the bubbling water with soft, knowing eyes. The same eyes that snap and tighten up when I’m not quick enough, when I stumble over my words. Now almost sweet as she rakes them over my face.

Anticipation. Maybe it is easier to want something, to live in that moment of hope and desire, than to reach for it and find out it isn’t what you thought it was.

Or realize it isn’t anything at all. A myth, a mirage, an illusion.

Are you an illusion, Astrid Dane?

Tonight is not the night for me to find out.

 


Keep reading in chapter 10

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