Harper had been back in Missouri for a couple of weeks. After some heated negotiations with Discovery, Harper made sure that she her cousins, and even the Brown’s were still compensated for their time even though they only made it halfway through the agreed upon timeframe. She could be vicious in the boardroom as much as she could anywhere else. Billy has called in to the conference. She had a sneaking suspicion that there were more Brown’s present, but they didn’t speak. She barely spoke to Billy, leaving the room then minute business was over, avoiding and social discussions.
Filming was starting this week for their show. She felt better now, she’d kept herself preoccupied with taking care of her land. Braden and Koby coming by frequently to help out with projects. A few times they tried to bring up the Browns or Alaska, but Harper would quickly squash that chatter. They’d started a project of building a treehouse that had bridges to other trees that they would later add more rooms or decks to. LIke a tiny treehouse commune. She’d gotten the idea originally after spending the afternoon with Bear helping with improvements on his tree house.
The were working first on building the spiral staircase that would wrap around the entire trunk of the big oak tree. She looked up through the giant branches of the tree as the warm summer wind rustled the leaves. It was humid, it was well into the 90’s. She had to acclimate herself to the weather, but was finding herself enjoying again. She missed this big massive trees with their broad leaves. She’d gone through her land and chopped down a good portion of cedars out of spite, tired of seeing anything resembling an evergreen.
As the day to begin filming loomed closer, the rest of the cousins started showing up. So many that all the bedrooms in the house were taken, the converted barn loft studio was full and even the campers she’d brought it were full. All 14 cousins were there, along with their families, even the a couple of the aunts and uncles showed up.
She felt more full of life and spirit with them all around. Each night she surrounded herself with them, they’d all have a giant family dinner. They’d laugh for hours. It was almost as if they were kids again at a big family reunion. They rode their ATV’s in big groups cheering on those brave enough to try the tight corners. They would spend afternoons jumping off cliff-faces into pools of spring water, hiking through Harper’s woods to the waterfall.
At night, there were just people, everywhere, and Harper loved it. They even would pull out their instruments; even Koby pulled out his drum set. They would jam for what seemed like hours. Harper sang mostly, having to hook up the microphone as they would put on almost mini-concerts for the family. The boys knew enough to know what songs to avoid when they played. But when Harper took a break to rest her vocal chords, Braden stealthily mouthed the words “not over” to Jack. Jack nodded, smiling a little as he tuned his guitar for the song. He called the rhythm, key and tempo to the band as they started to play. Harper, who’d been getting a drink, heard the song from the kitchen. She walked out of the back door toward the makeshift stage, her arms crossed. She made eye contact with Braden and Alex, who still continued to play.
She knew that the boys loved her. She knew they only wanted the best for her. She knew that a lot of times she came across too stubborn and prideful that they wouldn’t push her to do something that she was adamantly against. But this song…it almost felt like they were telling her she was wrong. They boys had been prepared for her to be mad, maybe even cut the power to the stage. They didn’t really expect her to just stand there, looking at them as if she was really, really listening to them. They changed the last line, as Braden sang the line..
“This love might be killing you, but he’s the only one…it’s not over.” He sang the last line.
They held eye contact as the song ended. Harper dropped her eyes, creasing her brow as she swallowed the lump building in her throat. She walked back into the kitchen as the family clapped behind her.
As everyone turned in that night she headed to her bedroom and she was alone, again. She’d had a handful of decent nights since she’d been back, but not many. She lay in bed, flipping through tv channels, thumbing through her phone, anything to keep her preoccupied. But she couldn’t help her mind from wandering. Wandering back to the woods of Chichagof Island.
She couldn’t help her thoughts float back to the beach…the blueberries…the firepit…the video camera. His face. His lips, his arms, his abs, his tongue…
Harper frustratedly slammed her phone down on the bed. She was so tired of thinking about him. She tried anything to make herself stop. She pulled her laptop into bed and tried to work. She scanned through her emails from Discovery. She was surprised when she read through one that they were being invited to spend 5 weeks in Louisiana on another reality show. She remembered meeting that family before.
They had a son that was a couple of years younger than her that had followed her everywhere at some reality convention they were at. He was a looker and that southern drawl was almost the sexiest thing she’d ever heard. But for some reason at that time she hadn’t been interested. She pulled up some pictures of Chase Landry on her phone and looked again. He was still a looker, his hair was longer now and his tattoo’s had increased.
Even with all of those things, she still didn’t feel a pull to him. He’d been nice enough. But not feeling something for someone, she didn’t want to lead him on and hurt him later.
“Like you did Bam?” Her conscious sprang up. She frowned, angry at the thought.
She typed a quick email they they weren’t interested right now. She didn’t need any more drama in her life.
She couldn’t let her thought go though. She felt her interest slipping from whatever was playing on the tv, and she felt her emotions welling up again. She was getting really tired of crying all the time. She knew she had loved Bam, more quickly and deeply than she ever had before. She was wracked with guilt the more she replayed their last argument in her head.
The more time that had passed the more she realized that the crew probably did know, the more she thought about how many cameras and devices were set up around her own property, the more she realized that anywhere on that island they could have been giving a free show to the Discovery crew. No wonder after they came back they were always trying to hang around her and Bam. Bringing the cameras first thing in the morning to the trapper shack, following them on their hunts.
She felt guilt overwhelm her as she buried her face in her pillow. SHe’d never be able to say she was sorry enough. She wouldn’t blame him if he’d never want to talk to her again. She felt foolish that she’d ever let it get this far. She felt like she’d lost control of herself, a control that she had worked so hard to get back after her last disaster of a relationship. And for what? A decent roll in the hay? A man that seemed just as intent on pleasing her as he had himself? A man everyone else had written off as a bossy control-freak, but had shown her how much he could care for another person?
She rolled over, heavily dragging her hands over her face to dry her tears. She exhaled heavily, getting out of bed. She rummaged through her closet and found her sleeping bag, she grabbed a pillow and quietly left her room. The house was still, save for the random snores of different people strewn about the house in bedrooms and living spaces. She had to hold a laugh in as Koby was stretched out on the couch, his feet over the back, his head hanging over the side. A few more inches and the boy would be upside down completely. She tip-toed out of the back door, towards the woods.
It was still outside, the noises of tree frogs and locusts buzzing. A symphony of crickets randomly chirped. The air was still heavy with humidity, it was much harder to breath here now. The air in Alaska was light and crisp, even on humid days. Even when it was raining so much, Harper was sure she might drown from the moisture in the air.
There was no moon, the only light humming from a dusk to dawn lamp near the barn. She could hear her sheep and goats bleating quietly.
She reached the edge of the woods, walking into the treeline, as she found the new spiral stairs that led to the tree house. It wasn’t completed by any means, but the main house was framed, has walls and a roof. There was one swinging bridge that let to a deck on the second tree. There was a slight glow from the white christmas lights that her cousin’s wives had hung while helping with some of the detail and interior.
She climbed up the stairs and unrolled her sleeping bag on the floor. She lay on top of it, too hot to get inside of it. She doubled up her pillow and laid back, hoping the change of scenery would help. She stared through the area of the roof that was unfinished, through the branches she could see a billion stars. It was so peaceful out here. No city noise, no neighbors, just the sounds of nature singing their songs of their lives. She felt fresh tears spring to the corners of her eyes as she felt a wave of unhappiness wash over her again. She tried to steady her breath and blink them away. All they did was fall down the side of her face into her pillow.
“God, I’m so sick of crying!” She said aloud to herself. She sat up on her elbows as she heard the stairs creak a little. Alex, Braden, Jack and Koby came in the treehouse. There was plenty of space for all of them, but they all sat near Harper. Even in the dimness of the christmas lights strings, they could still see the pain in her eyes.
“Harp, why are you just sitting around torturing yourself.” Braden said, leaning against the wall.
“I’m not torturing myself, I’m just trying to get back to my life.” She stated, absentmindedly picking at the seam in her sleeping bag.
“How’s that working out for you?” Koby said, sarcastically. Harper shot him a look, but couldn’t maintain it, knowing they were on to something.
“That’s all well and good, you know, trying to get your life back. But did you stop to think that maybe this,” Braden motioned around the room, pointing towards her house, “isn’t all there is to your life anymore? What if your ‘life’ includes someone else now?” He said, emphasizing the word someone. Harper just looked at him. She felt something that she didn’t very often, she had no reply.
“Harp, I think you messed up.” Jack began, “But that’s okay, you’re allowed to do that. I know that in your head, you think one mess up and you have to throw everything away, but that’s just not the case. I’ve been where Bam is, when Tara split up once, I saw the look on that guy’s face.That’s not a look from someone who doesn’t love you like his life depends on it.” Jack said, referencing the time his wife and he had almost called it quits. He’d been shaken to his core and he recognized the same in Bam as Harper had walked right by him.
“I mean you haven’t talked about what happened with you two, and that’s fine, we don’t have to know…but there was a point…out there in the bush…where you changed. Like a good change…” Alex piped up, “You were still you, but you were braver, you let your guard down. You actually SANG in front of them.”
They all sat a stared at Harper as she still tried to avoid their gaze.
“But you guys….Alaska? I complain about winters here…how is that going to work?” She said, trying to rationalize her poor decision.
“You are asking the wrong people. You got land here, fucking talk to the guy. Maybe he’d come here with you. People will make compromises for the ones they love. But you have to give the guy a fucking chance!” Koby said, kicking her knee lightly with his foot.
She drew her knees into her chest, hugging her legs close. She laid her cheek on her knee, making eye contact with her brother. He laid his foot over her bare toes.
“Harper, we’ve got you. There is nothing holding you back except you. I can take care of this place. Just stop trying to make excuses.” She made eye contact with each of the guys, slowly smiling. She felt fresh tears creep out again and the boys all came in to hug her.
Bam stomped back to the trapper shack even though it was the middle of the day. It was probably better for everyone that he call it a day, as he’d already thrown a 2x4 at Matt’s head out of frustration. Even the Billy, who was used to Bam’s temper was shocked by his agitation lately. Bam had actually yelled back at him, the two of them almost coming to blows. If it hadn’t been for Ami’s calming words, punches might have ended up being thrown and the family didn’t fight each other….ever.
He slammed his door shut, feeling an intense energy firing through him. He couldn’t explain his rage all the time now. Well, he could, but it was dangerous to talk to him about it.
Billy watched his son stomping off and felt helpless to make things better.
“Maybe we should take a trip into town, let the boys get some pizza. Spend the night on the boat.” Ami suggested, putting her arms around Billy’s. He nodded his head, hoping a change of scenery might snap Bam out of his funk.
Billy arranged a small hauling job and the activity seemed to have eased Bam’s attitude if only slightly. Matt had been a saint lately, putting up with more of Bam’s bossiness than usual, knowing it was because his heart was ripped in half. Sometimes, Matt would still catch Bam being emotional and Bam had gotten used to that. It was odd dynamic, they were becoming closer yet more agitated with each other at the same time.
Bam barely ate the pizza that the rest of the kids scarfed down, just mostly picking at his plate.
“Honey, you need to eat something, you haven’t been eating much lately.” Ami said concerned as Gabe dug into his 3rd slice.
“I will Mom, I’m just…not hungry.” He said, trying to keep his mother from worrying, but knowing she would regardless.
He took a bite, choking it down to appease her, letting it thud on his plate as he dropped it.
He let out a long breath, scooting his chair back and standing up.
“I gotta walk.” He said, running his hands over his loose wavy hair. He walked out of the restaurant into the summery evening air. He straightened his purple shirt, rolling the sleeves up. He took off down the sidewalk, not having anywhere in particular to go. He walked to a rocky beach, watching the water move against the shore. He remembered a time when pensively looking out over the water was calming and restorative. Now it just made him think of space and distance. The distance she was away from him and how the world was vaster than the ocean and how unlikely it was in the whole of the world he would ever find someone like her again.
He moved on, walking around the winding dirt roads of Hoonah, letting his mind wander back to her smile, how he could always see a look in her eye when she wanted him. He laughed to himself as he remembered one time around the dinner table when they’d eaten inside the big house, how Harper had reached underneath the table with her foot and had teased him. He’d been scared to stand up after dinner knowing how obvious his erection would have been.
His smile fell into a frown as he thought of waking up in the middle of the night when she’d slept with him. She’d curled up against him. Her lips pouted a little in her sleep, her hair just wildly strewn all over his pillow. Her quick snore had scared him a little, but he still thought she was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. He kicked a rock down the road, watching as it tumbled downhill.
He thought of how he’d have done anything for her. He’d even been prepared to talk about splitting his time between Alaska and Missouri. He knew how much she loved her home and thought that maybe down the road in their relationship, she’d be open to it. He loved Alaska and everything about it. To him it was the perfect place. But he’d give it all up, all of it for her. He’d tough it out in the middle of New York if she’d asked him too. He walked back towards the doc as it started to get darker. He didn’t want to worry his parents any more than he already was.
Bam walked the entire length of the dock, passing by the empty Integrity, seeing the steering wheel slowly move back and forth the the boat bobbing in the waves. He thought of her against the wheel, him behind her, the first day they met. He thought of her pressed against the wheel on their next trip out, being inside her. At the time he hadn’t admitted to himself how he felt about her. He backtracked to the boat, entering the wheelhouse cabin. He looked upwards, looking straight at the camera mounted to the ceiling. It was powered by a solar cell on the roof. He felt a rush of realization as he realized their second tryst on their way to Hoonah had all been captured on camera. This camera never stopped recording. The camera crews had known pretty much the entire time as this camera reported back wirelessly. They probably pulled the video that day. He slapped himself on the forehead.
Now feeling angry that he could have overlooked that detail he stomped out of the boat again, quickly walking back down the dock, cursing at himself.
When he reached the end, he almost felt like jumping in, just out of sheer frustration. But even in the summer, this water was dangerously chilly sometimes depending on the tides. She growled his throat.
“Bam! We’re back!” He heard Bear yell. He turned around, seeing Bear on top of the boom, waving his arm wilding. Bam raised his hand in acknowledgement. He sighed again, turning to walk back to the boat. He unrolled his sleeves as a cool wind whipped off the water.
Bam saw his entire family on the boat, excitedly chattering, envious of their good moods. He shoved his hands in his pockets as he reached the boat. He turned and saw his mother in the wheelhouse doorway, just looking at him, a small sad smile on her lips.
“I love you, son.” She whispered.
“More, mom.” He said. As he boarded the deck. He saw her eyes shift and her face changed. He turned around looking towards the dock bridge into town. His mouth went dry as he saw her standing there, the wind wildly whipping her curly hair.
Harper stood on the dock bridge. She hadn’t been expecting them in town. Her brother and cousins behind her still on land watched on. She took a deep shaky breath as she saw him walked towards the Integrity. She saw Ami speak to him and then Ami made eye contact with her. She gave a small wave and a weak smile, her body shaking from nerves.
And then he turned. And he saw her. He seemed almost frozen in place. His face was blank almost as if he didn’t see her. She wasn’t sure how, but one foot moved in front of her. Then another. His moved too. He jumped to the dock, not moving slowly. The faster he moved so did she. She felt weeks of anguish melting away as she saw him coming towards her. She ma@~de it down to the main dock just as he got to her. She felt his body crash into hers as she desperately wrapped her arms around him. Almost sobbing, she tightly held him, feeling his arms squeeze her so tightly she was sure if she could breathe.
“Harper…” she heard his voice crack with emotion.
“Bam, “ she answered him through her tears, “Bam I’m so sorry, I love you so much.”