In silent screams, I never dreamed of this.
She was beginning to memorize every single detail of his car. Every single time she hopped in the passenger seat, her feet would slide over the mountain of papers on the floor and she would grab onto his shoulder. Sometimes she would find herself sitting on top of an old brochure about Canada. It always looked like a paper monster had thrown up in the backseat. But to Calvin’s credit, the exterior of the car was always squeaky clean without a splotch of bird poop in sight. And no matter the circumstance, the purr of the running engine always comforted her for reasons she didn’t know.
This time, they were driving somewhere a little closer to home. She still wasn’t sure where, since he had been keeping his mouth obstinately closed ever since they began the trip. By the look of the camping equipment in the trunk, though, they were going somewhere without a Wi-Fi signal.
“Calvin…” she whined after a while as she watched the headlights of the car shine through the gray morning. “I need to use the restroom.”
He kept his face stoically straight. “Hold it in.”
His face cracked as he looked over to her. “Stop it.”
He turned on the turning signal and started switching lanes. “Fine, if you must.”
“I was kidding.”
He rolled his eyes. “You are so annoying sometimes.”
She leaned over and popped a kiss on his cheek, leaving behind a bright red lipstick mark. “Sorry.” Not sorry, she added in her head. After all, she was allowed to play around with his head since he played with hers so much already, whether it was intentional or not.
“You’re not sorry.” He entered an exit. “Babe, you really need to work on your lying.”
Yeah, she added in her head. She didn’t know how she would ever pretend to be fine if this dream ended.
He parked in a little parking lot surrounded by tall evergreen trees. It was misty again, so when she got out, tripping over the papers on the floor, the damp, cool air embraced her, lipstick and all. She slammed the door behind him and joined him at the trunk to unload.
It was a little infuriating how he refused to let her carry the backpacks, saying that he would take care of them as if she was some six-year-old that was more of a bother than a help. She knew he didn’t mean it that way, but still, she trudged away into the woods, chest stinging as she dragged in the tent.
Still, she had to wait for him to show her the camping site. As they pushed through the leaves from fall and branches sticking up from nowhere, she wanted to say something. But nothing she could say would be relevant, since she knew close to nothing about the outdoors. She kept her peace.
When he dropped the bags on level ground that wasn’t covered with too many branches and rocks, she set the tent down carefully. She looked up at him. “Is there a proper bathroom nearby?”
“You’ll never let that go, will you?” He knelt down next to her and undid the straps of the bag holding the tent. He pointed in the direction a little west of where his car was parked. “It’s somewhere over there. If you need to use it, tell me. You’ll get lost otherwise.”
There came the implication that she was helpless again. She pushed aside the thought and nodded. “You’ve been here before?”
“My dad used to take us here. We lived in the suburbs of New York, remember? This is relatively close to our house.” He stopped in his work and stared off into the trees. God, he looked so gorgeous, staring right off into the trees like that. She licked her lips slowly.
Then abruptly, he looked back down to her. “We better get our stuff unpacked before I can show you what I wanted to.” He ruffled her hair fondly, and then it seemed that everything behind them was forgotten in the silence of the forest.
“So,” she said, feeling fully equipped in her new hiking boots and outdoorsy outfit, “what in the world can one do in a forest in the winter?”
He shrugged. “We can go hiking.” Turning to her fully, he then added with a twinkle in his eye, “And plenty of other things too, should you decide that you’re in need of more body heat.”
Just as he intended, she flushed and pushed his arm. “Be quiet, will you?”
He only chuckled and kept on walking, but this time a little faster. She jogged a little to catch up with him. “Not everyone’s six foot three, you know,” she huffed, grabbing onto his hand.
He squeezed her hand gently and slowed down a little. “You’re pretty close. I’m six foot two. My dad was a little disappointed I didn’t hit seven feet. He thought I’d be an excellent athlete.”
He shrugged. “Depends on how you interpret it. I’m shitty at basketball and soccer. I spent high school camping a lot since I wanted to join Harvard’s rowing team. I never did, so that went to waste.”
She was about to respond, but he stopped at a sign, looking at it with a raised eyebrow. “We’re a little off, but I’ll find the track soon.”
He led the way for the best of twenty minutes in silence. She took note of all the rocks on the way and faintly thought to herself, I am going to kill myself over one of those soon. When they had to pass through a bush placed over the path, he held the branches aside for her, smiling. “I wasn’t raised to be a gentleman,” he explained when she protested that she could easily make it through without his help, “but I’m allowed to be deceptively gracious if I want to.”
She rolled her eyes. “Probably because you want to stare at my ass.”
He shrugged. “I’m allowed to stare at my girlfriend’s ass sometimes, aren’t I?”
God, every single time, the word “girlfriend” caught her. It had been so fast. And they were here today, and he loved her. How did this happen to her?
They hiked up a steeply inclining slope. At one point halfway up, her foot hit a jutting rock, and with a little gasp, she tumbled down. She wasn’t aware there were so many rocks around here, she realized as she lay at the bottom of the hill. And as he slid down to join her and lifted her back up with a panicked look in his eyes, she berated herself thoroughly for being so clumsy. How stupid did she look now?
He refused to let them continue until he was sure she had enough water and rest. She complied with an embarrassed blush. At least she got to bury her face in his chest for a while. She’d never tell him, but his cologne was comforting, woodsy, just like his eyes. She was so gone for him.
This time, as they made their way up the slope, he carried her. She felt immensely awkward slung over his shoulder even though no one was there to see them. He sensed it somehow. Maybe it was the way she jabbed her elbows into his back. “Are you okay up here?”
“My legs still function, you know.”
He placed her down after they made it all the way up. “Here. You’re okay now, right?”
“I’m a grown woman; I can do this.” She rolled her eyes but grabbed his hand anyway. He was right. She did need the extra body heat sometimes.
Once it was dusk, they set out on the task of starting a fire so they could make dinner. She wanted to tell him that she sincerely doubted they could find any dry firewood since it had been raining in the area for the past week, but she didn’t have the heart to stop him from scouring the area around their designated campsite anyway. After all, she was allowed to watch her boyfriend act “manly” every once in a while.
When he finally came back carrying an armful of branches, face faintly pink from the cold, they carried out the camping stove. She was mistaken after all. She started to take out the cooking supplies from one of their backpacks.
They proceeded with their separate tasks in silence. She tried to light the fire once she was done unpacking all the food. He watched from a distance as he pitched the tent. For once, she wanted to give up and hand over the job to him. But she couldn’t do that, not with him watching her so expectantly now. She drew the bow drill with even more vigor.
She had been trying for a long time now, and her hands were starting to sting from all the friction. Several times, she thought that she’d finally done it when a spark flew out, only to extinguish outside the ring of stones onto the wet ground. Why didn’t he react? What was he doing anyway? She was sure he was done with setting up the tent ages ago.
Finally, five minutes later, although it felt like twenty, she felt his body against hers, and he reached out to her. “Do you need help?”
Now that he was there, she suddenly felt like she had to prove a point. “No, I’ll be fine!” she snapped. She tried one more time. And there it was, the start of a little fire. “See? I can do things too.”
“All right then,” he muttered, moving away from her.
“Why didn’t you help me earlier?” she demanded. She threw another branch and fanned some more air onto the fire.
In the light of the fledgling flame, she watched as his face tensed, and he turned to her. “What the hell are you talking about? You were trying to be an independent woman a couple of seconds ago,” he said.
Her chest stung from the implication, but she pushed on anyway. “You couldn’t even at least offer? What sort of chivalry is that, doing nothing when someone else is clearly struggling?”
His eyes flashed as he threw up his hands. “You were making such a point of this earlier today!” His voice grew louder with every word. “Are you going to turn this all back on me now?”
“I don’t know! I never know when it comes to you!” she shouted back. Her hands shook as she threw another branch into the fire.
“You never tell me anything that you’re thinking anyway,” he said darkly. He leaned back away from her, eyes smoldering in the flickering light. “Where are we going in this relationship? What do you want from me?”
“I don’t know; anything a woman would want from a relationship!” Her eyes stung. She was going to start crying soon, she knew. “Honesty, chivalry, sincerity—you can read the books and know everything I want from you.”
“You women, you expect us to know everything,” he muttered. “And then when we try to change, assuming that you tell us what the fuck is wrong with us, you don’t even give us a chance to change.” He stood up, dropping his flashlight on the ground. “I’m done. Make dinner for yourself, but don’t worry about me.”
And then he stalked away into the trees without anything in his pockets.
She sat shivering in her spot next to the fire for a long time. It was as if the fire they had built did nothing; it took the heat away from her instead of warming her. She couldn’t keep crying like this. He had a point. She had judged him so much over the course of the day, and this—this camping trip, this wonderful little day he had set aside for her—was something she had no right to ruin. And she did ruin it.
Moodily, she extinguished the fire and set the food back into the backpack. She couldn’t eat like this. And she needed to use the restroom, but she couldn’t do it without him.
God, how was he going to make it back? He had dropped his only source of light onto the ground with her. She had extinguished the fire, any source of light in the night in this forest. Why was she so stupid?
She crawled into the tent, half-zipping the door flap behind her. Maybe he’d want to come back. He probably wouldn’t, not after the debacle tonight. She opened the sleeping bag that they were meant to share and slipped in after changing into her pajamas. She was going to sleep tonight. And in the morning, she would take care of everything. She would.
She lay in that sleeping bag for hours without falling asleep. What was taking him so long? She had cried all the tears that she could, and her throat was raw from screaming into the inflatable pillow for so long. She couldn’t stay up all night.
She convinced herself ten minutes later and finally, finally, finally turned off the lantern.
She had been asleep for a while when she felt someone join her in the sleeping bag. He took his time settling in and slung his arm over her, kissing her forehead. “Hey,” she murmured.
“Sorry, love.” He sounded so tired.
The guilt hit her again. “I’m sorry; you tried so hard today. You planned out today, you drove us here, you picked me up when I fell, and I had no right—”
“Sh.” He kissed her on the nose this time. “It’s okay. We both weren’t thinking straight. Let’s not talk now.”
“Okay.” She snuggled into his chest like she was meant to all along.
He brushed some hair off her forehead. After a pause, he whispered, as if she wasn’t supposed to hear, “I love you, Hailey.”
She was already drifting off, but she responded in her head, I love you, too.
Maybe they were going to be okay.
Yes, I missed the update that I was supposed to do yesterday...but here's the chapter! Better late than never, right? I am churning out the next chapter right now, so see you guys in a couple hours :)