Waking with a jolt, you felt the heavy arm lying across your chest and horrific memories of Brady flooded your mind.
“Nooo!” You shrieked and your heart slammed into your throat.
Flailing your arms wildly you struggled to throw him off, your breath coming in short gasps. Shoving hard on his chest, he was propelled away from you and off of the bed.
“Ow!” The shout from the floor was familiar, but it wasn’t Brady. Your mind finally registered where you were and your eyes flew open wide.
“Oh no! Gabriel, I’m sorry.” You swung your head over the edge of the bed and peered down at him, lying flat on this back on the hard wooden floor.
“Uhhhhh.” He groaned and held his hands folded over his chest like a dying man.
Slipping quickly from the bed, you landed yourself softly on top of Gabriel and pressed your head under his chin, praying he wasn’t badly hurt. “I’m so sorry. I thought you were Brady.”
“It’s ok.” He puffed and his arms slid around you gently and held you to him. “You were having a bad dream and I only got in with you to try to help.” His lips moved in your hair and you felt a tingling in your scalp as he spoke. “I was going to get back out but you asked me to stay.”
With your eyes closed, you felt Gabriel slowly moving his hands up and down your back with a calmness and a softness you had long craved from a man. You finally remembered your dream of the night before and you remembered waking up with a scream in the small room. You even remembered Gabriel leaping from his place on the floor to reach out and shake the least personal place on your body – your feet. When your tortured brain had recognized him, tears had flooded your eyes and you had called out to him in the dark. “Help me. Please.”
After pushing poor Gabriel from the bed in your panic, you hadn’t felt anything odd about how you now lay on his chest except the desire to make sure he was alright. Using your body with Brady was always the way you could calm down his anger so you instinctively did the same with Gabriel.
“Are you ok?” You asked without raising your head.
“Uhhhhh.” He groaned again and you felt his chest begin to heave with his laughter.
Knowing he was ok and just messing with you, you slapped him lightly on the chest and rolled off to lie beside him on the floor. Glancing back at him you were struck with how handsome he was when he laughed. But your mind shut down any thoughts like that even before they were fully formed. You couldn’t let yourself think that way.
“Thanks for rescuing me from the bad dream.” You smiled and caught his eye.
“No problem.” He grinned. “Except for this broken back I’ll be just fine.”
He completely deserved the next slap that you gave him.
Brown Town was busier than a bustling city. Everywhere you looked there was someone building something or hauling something or burning something. Sitting on the log bench in front of the fire, it made you tired watching them.
Five minutes later – or it could have been three hours later, you saw Gabriel walking toward you and you stood up, waving. Time seemed to have no real meaning in Brown Town. It was so different from any place you had ever been and your heart ached knowing you would soon have to leave.
Swaying slightly on your feet, you blinked, confused as a swarm of black gnats suddenly rushed toward your face. You swatted at them and wondered why they didn’t move away. Before you could wonder anymore about the strange pests, you swayed once more from front to back and then tipped backward, falling heavily over the log bench, your vision snapping to black in an instant.
When you awoke this time, you know exactly where you were and who was holding you. Gabriel’s woodsy scent was easy to recognize now. He carried the aroma of fresh wood with a light hint of cologne. His brother Matt had confided in you that Gabriel bought that cologne the day after he met you and has worn it every day since.
You could feel the hard ground beneath your legs but your back and shoulders were supported securely by Gabriel’s arms and legs. Opening your eyes slowly, you saw his concerned face inches from yours and this time the relief washed through you like a wave.
“Hi.” You smiled and Gabriel smiled wide enough for you to see his top and bottom braces.
“Welcome back.” He hugged you closer to his chest.
“Did you see the bugs?” You asked and the concerned expression returned to his face.
He swung his head around and looked at his mother who dropped to her knees beside you.
“No. But the doctor said you might have some headaches or dizziness for a while after your…attack.” She said softly. “Gabe will take you to town in a couple of days for a checkup and make sure everything is ok.”
You could feel the light pounding in the back of your head and you nodded, giving them a weak smile. Maybe going back to town was for the best. When you got there, you would find a way to convince Gabriel to leave you there and free him from his obligation to you and to make sure he and his family didn’t become any more entangled with you. You let your gaze linger for a while on Gabriel’s, soaking in his bright eyes and his sweet smile. He didn’t realize the danger he and his family were in from Brady’s anger. But you did.
The three days passed quickly and soon you and Gabriel were flying across the water in the skiff on the way to town.
“Woo Hoo!” You yelled and held your hands up as you sat just forward of him as he kept one hand on the tiller.
He had promised to take the skiff up to top speed for a little bit so you could feel the speed and the excitement and he hadn’t been joking. It felt amazing to be zipping along the water, the wind flipping your hair straight back from you face. You felt so happy and so free. It had been a long time since you felt so free. Your days in Brown town had reminded you that life didn’t have to be filled with darkness and pain. The entire family had made you feel like you belonged there.
But just as soon as it felt like you could sprout wings and fly, Gabriel slowed down, seeing the coastline of Hoonah in the near distance.
“Let’s go in slow.” He said as he pulled out a wooden paddle and began to row silently the rest of the way toward town.“ It will be loud and noisy when we get there so this will be our last bit of quiet for a while.”
With your back to him, he couldn’t see the disappointment in your eyes but at the same time, you knew exactly what he meant and so you tossed a nod over your shoulder. After a few quiet strokes on the paddle, your ears picked up a light humming coming from behind you. Gabriel hummed as he paddled and as you glanced over your shoulder, he burst out singing.
“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie that’s amore!”
When you swim in a creek and an eel bites your cheek, that’s a moray.“
You doubled over with laugher and swiveled around to face Gabriel, your legs swinging over the narrow wooden bench seat. His eyes were still sparkling with joy and you couldn’t stop the thought that he was ‘the real deal’. He was simple and true but what you saw of him was only a fraction of who he was. Over the days you had spent getting to know him he had shown you more and more of himself. And you liked everything you saw. And you trusted him. Yes. You trusted him. You started to feel dizzy and scared with this unfamiliar emotion and your smile began to falter and you felt the stinging of tears in your eyes.
Gabriel pulled the oar in quickly and dropped to his knees in front of you, gathering you in his arms and pressing his head to your chest.
“Don’t. Don’t.” He whispered as your chest began to hitch with tears.
“I’m sorry Gabriel. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.” Wanting to feel more of his comforting embrace, you slipped your arms around his shoulders and let your tears fall.
“Does your head hurt?” He asked without letting you go.
“No. It feels fine.”
As his thick arms encircled you and his soft dark hair brushed against your cheek, you realized exactly what was wrong with you. It was the last thing in the world you expected but once you let the idea float to the front of your mind, it was so clear.
You were in love with Gabriel and you were scared to death.