As anxious as I am to get to the falls and make out with Travis, part of me is glad that he had to go pee. I grunt with relief as I sit down on the tree stump and start massaging my poor calves. When I get home later, I think I’ll take a long, hot bath and curl up with a good book and a heating pad. Yeah, that sounds good. Maybe I’ll even order a pizza.
God, food sounds amazing right now. My mouth waters as visions of garlic bread sticks and pepperoni dance in my head. I rummage through my bag and come up with a measly bag of trail mix that looks like it’s already been digested once. Wrinkling my nose, I stuff it in a side pocket and zip the bag.
A tree branch rustles and I leap to my feet, not wanting Travis to see me relaxing like this. It’s silly, but I’m a little embarrassed about being so winded. Travis is on the lacrosse team and he can probably run for hours without even breaking a sweat, but my most strenuous pastime is giving myself a pedicure.
“Travis?” I call, peering into the trees for any sight of him. “Are you still there?”
A hot flash of panic sears across my mind – what if he’s gone? What if something happened to him?
Oh, my god. What if he slipped and fell and hurt himself?
“Travis!” I yell loudly. “Where did you go?”
The only thing I hear in response is silence.
My heart starts thudding again, but this time it isn’t because I’m standing next to a gorgeous guy. No, this is different. This feels scary – my palms are sweaty and my thighs are trembling in fear as I spin in a slow circle, staring at the trees.
There’s still no answer and I take a big gulp of air. Shit.
My water bottle.
How am I supposed to refill my water bottle if I can’t find the falls? The idea of running out of water is absolutely terrifying – almost as terrifying as the idea of Travis not coming back.
And that’s when it hits me. Travis isn’t coming back.
He’s left me all by myself.
All alone. In the middle of the woods, with no cell phone reception, two sips of water, and a packet of convenience-store trail mix.
It explains everything. Suddenly, I get why Travis looked so annoyed with me when we were still hiking. He was annoyed because he doesn’t actually like me. He was just trying to hustle me as deep into the woods as possible.
In fact, this whole thing must have been nothing but a joke to him.
When the tears come, I’m almost shocked by the force of my own sobbing. I fall to the ground, barely even noticing the sharp pain in my knees as my body hits the earth. Hot tears stream down my face and I take big gasping breaths of air as desperation floods my body. I have no idea what to do – I can’t even figure out which direction we came from. I’ve been spinning around in a blind panic for so long that I’m totally lost.
But I can’t stay here. It will be dark before long, and the chilly woods are going to get even colder. If I want to survive, I’m going to have to get moving.
With a sigh, I pick myself up off the ground, dust the dirt from my knees, and begin to walk.
I’m an animal. A predator, a beast – the thing that lurks in the shadows.
And nothing can ever change that.
I’ve been away from civilization for a long time, and I don’t intend to go back. My hours are filled with doing what I need to survive. There’s not a lot of time for mindless thought, and I like it that way.
Tonight, I’m outside chopping wood. The sun is sinking low in the sky and the air is filled with the scent of dew. I guess it’s the time of day where most people are sitting around at home with their families.
I don’t have a family.
I like things that way, too.
The wind shifts and I hear the sound of bushes rustling.
Silently, I make my way closer to the woods. A branch twitches in front of me and I freeze in my tracks. And that’s when I see it. Inch by inch, a small, pink sneaker sliding from out of the trees.
The sneaker is connected to a lovely, shapely leg. The thighs are thick and creamy, just how I used to like them back in the days when I wasn’t a hermit.
My axe falls to the ground with a dull thud as a young woman peeks out from the bushes.
She’s young – nineteen or twenty at best – and the fear in her eyes makes her look younger still. Her brown curls are tangled and rumpled and her velvety-soft brown eyes are staring at me in fright and curiosity. She’s got a killer body, too – big, lush curves that are barely concealed underneath brand-new athletic clothes. Just the sight of her is strange and yet somehow wonderful.