The Hills Have Lies - Ep. 15
“So I just… hang on tight?” I ask the instructor for the second – possibly third – time, trying to push down the lump of anxiety that seems to have put down roots in my throat ever from the moment we headed up the mountain.
“Yes. My colleague at the next platform will brake the pulley as you come down, but you can use this brake along the way if you feel you’re going too fast. Do you want me to talk you through how the harness and the lines work again?” He asks this with utter professionalism and patience, but I can tell he’s ten seconds away from sending me back down the mountain in his jeep.
“No, that’s okay. I think I’ve got it now.” I smile and nod my head for emphasis and he walks a few steps away to talk on his walkie-talkie, presumably to check with his colleague that Derek, who went before me, made it to the end of the line. Quite literally.
Lauren, of course, was the first to go, and then Tom and Nick hustled to get ready, neither of them wanting to go last and be accused of cowardice. Derek offered to let me go first, his male pride be damned, but I told him I’d be right behind him. Not literally. Cole was on the phone while the order was decided, so he’s going last. After me, meaning he’ll have front row seats to my upcoming panic attack. Goodie.
“You don’t have to do this, you know?” Cole says from behind me.
“It’s a challenge, right?” I try to shrug, but it comes out more like a tremble. “It’s good to challenge yourself, to try new things, to-“
He cuts off what is quickly becoming rambling on my part with a firm kiss that dislodges that burning lump in my throat, butterflies carrying it away to somewhere below my navel.
“If it’s only to challenge yourself, I’m with you all the way,” he says when he steps back. “I just want you to do it for the right reasons.”
Like you’re doing with Crystal? I push down the spiteful thought almost as soon as it rears its ugly head, but the spirit of it still lingers like poisonous vapor.
“You know when I first realized I wanted to be an actress?” I say instead.
“When my teacher forced me to be in the school play. Everyone had speaking parts, even the trees and flowers. I was so nervous I thought I was going to throw up. Then the curtains opened and I saw all those people in the audience, waiting. I thought for sure my voice was going to break, but it didn’t. The first couple of words were a little shaky, but then it was like something took control of my body, and I wasn’t me anymore. I was walking, talking and acting like someone else, and it was a rush. From that day on, I kept chasing that feeling, that high. The only time I feel confident and strong is when I’m on stage or shooting in front of a camera. Maybe this is another one of those things that will excite and empower me, but I won’t find out unless I overcome my fears.”
“Has anyone ever told you that you’re awesome?” Cole beams at me and I feel my cheeks heat up.
“Tell me that once we’ve both survived this,” I smile at him and then call the instructor over. “So… I hang on tight?”
It’s a rush, that’s for sure, but when I set my unsteady feet safely back on the ground, I believe I can safely say that it’s not something I’ll keep doing on a regular basis.
Lauren comes rushing over as soon as I’m out of my gear and hugs me fiercely. “That was awesome, wasn’t it?”
“It was definitely something,” I nod and realize my voice is a little shaky. Come to think about it, my legs are trembling too. Adrenaline?
“Eduardo says there’s a beautiful waterfall not far from here that’s not on any map. We’re all going swimming.”
“But I didn’t bring my swimsuit,” I object. “And who’s Eduardo?”
“Eduardo,” she says in a low, conspiratorial voice and nods towards the tall, curly-haired man currently braking Cole’s descent, “is our drop-dead gorgeous guide that’ll take us to the waterfall. And you can swim in your underwear, that’s what I’m going to do.”
I pause to think what I put on this morning under my jeans and T-shirt. A black lycra sports bra and matching boy shorts. Realistically, I’ll be more covered than in a bikini, but I don’t wear bikinis for a reason. I don’t want anyone to stare at my belly – or, more specifically, the stretchmarks left over from when I gained a lot of weight and then lost it again.
“Earth to Hannah,” Lauren snaps her fingers in front of my face and I flinch. “Come on, we’re moving.”
“Okay. Just give me a minute, I’ll be right there. I’m just going to wait for Cole,” I say, looking over to see him getting out of his harness.
“Don’t be too long, or the others will wonder,” she says quietly, as if I’m purposely hanging back to get extra alone time with Cole. Which I’m actually not, it’s just that I’m feeling a little off and in need of a moment alone to catch my breath.
“Hey, you okay?” Cole comes up to me seconds after Lauren and the others head up a marked-out hiking trail.
“Yeah. Just a little… I guess the adrenaline is wearing off – or kicking in, or however that stuff works.”
“Do you want some help with your gear?” he asks and I blink, not having realized that I’m still wearing my helmet and the harness.
“Uh… sure,” I say, feeling a little silly.
He simply smiles and unclips the strap for the helmet, then starts removing the harness, urging me to lift one leg at a time to get it off. He sure takes his time, and I can feel the warmth of his hand seep through my jeans as he takes a firm hold of my leg. Standing on one leg, I almost lose my balance and I put my hand on his back. I can feel the muscles playing underneath his T-shirt and I’m reminded yet again of how strong he is.
Once the harness is off, Cole pushes the hair from my face where it was clinging and curling with sweat. Nice.
“You have helmet hair,” he says with a smile.
“You’re not exactly looking fresh as a daisy, either,” I retaliate, dragging my hand through his flattened hair. Fair’s fair.
“Did I hear something about swimming?” he asks, putting his hands on my hips, his fingers dipping into my back pockets.
“Yeah. We should probably catch up with the others.”
“Okay. I just have to do one thing first,” he says and before I can ask what, he’s pulled me flush against his body and has his lips on mine. A part of me worries that someone will come looking for us, while the rest of me jumps right into the kiss, savoring it even more because we might get caught.
When we get to the little lake and its even smaller waterfall – really, it’s more like a slight elevation that makes the water break over a couple of rocks – everyone is already in the water, sounding very much like they’re enjoying themselves.
Cole wastes no time in peeling his T-shirt off and shedding his cargo pants on the ground, kicking off his boots and socks in one go. I try not to stare, I really do, but there’s no denying his black boxers hugs his cheeks like old friends.
“Coming?” he looks over his shoulder at me, and I nod in reply. He takes off in a sprint, making the water splash around him before he reaches the deeper part and dives under the surface.
I take a deep breath, steel myself, and then pull off my T-shirt and jeans as quickly as possible. As soon as I’ve gotten everything but my sports bra and shorts off, I head into the water. The others are far enough away so as to miss the tension in my body and the marks on my skin, so now I only have to worry about the drying-off bit. We don’t have any towels, so I’m guessing we’ll have to dry off in the sun or put on our sweaty clothes and get them wet. I already know I’ll opt for the latter.
“Come on, we’re racing!” Lauren calls out to me and I shake my head. I’m not a strong swimmer and I prefer to stay where I can reach the bottom if I have to.
“Go for it!” I call back in encouragement. Not that she needs any. She already has the boys shaking in their undies. In a fear-filled kind of way, that is.
“Han!” Derek shouts. “You’ll be the judge, so keep an eye on me when I beat these guys, okay?” His cocky confidence earns him a head dunk from Nick and we all laugh.
“First one to that log wins!” Lauren proclaims and points ahead to a log on the opposite shore that reaches into the shallows.
“Do we have to touch it to win or is it the distance that counts?” Tom asks.
“Let the judge decide,” Cole says and they all turn to me.
“Uh… the first one to touch it, I guess.”
“That’s what she said,” Derek hoots and receives another dunking for his trouble, this time by Cole. The second he comes back up, I hurry to call them in.
“One, two, three, go!”
I hear Derek shout something about the running – or swimming – start not being ‘fair’, but he brought it on himself, and there is much hooting when Cole and Lauren tie for first place, with Tom and Nick not being far behind.
“Sorry, guys, it’s a tie,” I tell them as they swim over to where I’m treading water.
“I demand a re-match,” Derek mutters and narrowly avoids another dunking.
“Cole, Lauren, looks like you’re going again,” Tom says. “Whoever catches the judge first wins.”
It takes a moment for the dots to connect. “Oh, no, I’m a terrible swimmer. Really. You saw Cruiseliner, right? I died before I even made it into the water.”
“That’s why you’re getting a head start,” Tom says and pats my head. “Go on, I’ll keep these guys in check.”
I don’t really want to play, but I also don’t want to be a buzzkill, so I start doing breaststrokes to put some distance between myself and the others. I can’t help but wonder if Lauren has said something to Tom about me and Cole and that’s why he suggested they chase me.
Then I hear frenzied splashing from behind me and I turn my head to see Cole and Lauren coming for me.
“No dunking the judge!” I cry out and start treading water so that I can keep an eye on them and not be caught off guard. They’re really neck and neck; I’m actually surprised how strong of a swimmer Lauren is to match Cole with his clearly defined muscles.
Lauren is, indeed, the first to reach me and grasp hold of my arm, but just as she’s about to kiss my cheek, Cole plants one on my other. His lips are cold and wet on my skin, and a split second later, I feel Lauren’s equally cold and wet lips on my right cheek.
“Sorry, but Cole beat you by less than a second,” I tell Lauren, who hits the water surface with a closed fist and sputters what I assume are expletives in Portuguese. “If you’re counting the cheek kiss as the finish line. Otherwise, Lauren grabbed me first,” I tell Cole.
“Ha!” he grins at Lauren and grabs my neck and kisses me firmly on the lips. I push him away and look around, but we’re behind a small rock and I can’t see the others, giving me hope that they didn’t see anything.
“You’re fine,” Lauren confirms, swimming a few feet away to where she presumably can see the others. Then she turns on her back and kicks her feet so that both Cole and I get sprayed. “If you don’t want to come clean to the others, you’d better learn some impulse control, Parker.”
“Like you’re some paragon of virtue,” Cole snaps at her and she swims back over to us.
“Never said I was. But if you’re as concerned about Hannah’s reputation as you say you are, you’ll stop putting her in positions where she has to lie to her friends.”
Whoa. Lauren is actually angry with Cole. “Hey,” I say in a calming tone, swimming over to her. “It’s getting cold, can we swim back to shore?”
At first, Lauren looks like she’s about to argue with me, but she shrugs it off and we both swim back to the shore. Cole calls after me, but I don’t look back. Lauren has always had my back, and she deserves the same from me.
“So, who won?” Tom asks as we reach the others.
“Who do you think?” Lauren grins at him and he grabs her for a hug, or a tickle war. Either way, I make for the shore, hurrying to get my T-shirt back on before any of the others get out of the water.
To be continued...
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