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Powerless: Chapter 13


My dad and I are usually the ones who take the quads out, but yesterday he won at the casino. So today, he bought two more so we can go adventuring as a family. We live in a double-wide and eat an awful lot of mac ‘n’ cheese by the end of the month, but dad loves his toys and never hesitates to spend on them.

We’re squeezing in a quick maiden ride in after our typical Sunday family dinner. We may not have a lot of spare cash, but we’re happy.

And it’s fun.

The light is golden, and so are the leaves falling from the trees above the ditch. Fall is in the air, but it’s warm tonight, almost hunting season, and I can’t wait to do that with my dad too.

We clear a covered culvert and I catch a little air—grinning. I can hear my little sister, Jenny, laughing wildly behind me and can almost envision the way her light brown hair is whipping out the back of her helmet as she gets more comfortable adding speed.

Her new unit is smaller, lighter—easier to handle than what Dad and I are driving. Mom’s looks like some sort of Barbie quad with its neon pink paint job.

With a glance back, I see my parents moseying behind Jenny while I lead the way, serpentining up and down the ditch walls.

My parents are bickering because Mom doesn’t know how to handle the vehicle properly, but she also doesn’t want Dad telling her what to do.

It makes me smile.

I know the spot we’re coming up to. Dad and I have ridden it a million times. He’s put the fear of God into me with this crossing. Two highways intersect near a bend in the road, and a copse of trees can mess with perception coming out of the ditch.

We’ve practiced it, over and over again.

“I’m going!” I call back.

My dad’s hand shoots up, offering me a thumbs up. “Pay attention! Let us know how it looks from the other side,” is his response.

I guess now that I’m fourteen, he believes I know what I’m doing out here. Pride blooms in my chest as I climb the incline onto the shoulder and carefully check both ways.

I look, I listen, and when I deem it safe, I rev my engine and shoot forward across the highway safely.

I stop and turn on the other side to catch a view of the bend in the road. A large semi with a trailer is coming, and I can see the rest of my family on the other side. All together. Smiling and laughing—even through the bickering.

Again, I feel proud that my dad trusted me to be the first across. I feel capable. I feel grown-up.

We’ve spent years practicing safety protocol, so I know all the signals. I lift my hand straight above my head, the sign we use for “stop” any time we go out on the quads and, in the winter, the snowmobiles.

Except Jenny doesn’t know these hand signals, and she must mistake it for a wave, or me ushering her over. Or maybe it’s because the sun is low and in her eyes.

Either way, I see her grinning at me from the other side of the highway as her wrist twists the throttle.

I scream at her to stop. Dad lurches forward as though he can grab her and stop her.

But it’s too late.

And I’ll never stop feeling responsible.

I wake, nauseous and unsettled. That dream always does it to me. I keep my eyes closed, trying to think of something happy for four seconds. But everything is shit right now, and the only thing that pops up is the shy smile Sloane hits me with sometimes. The one she gives right before she tucks her hair behind her ears and drops her eyes.

She’s the only person I’ve told about the hand signal, about how I’m responsible for Jenny’s death. Other people know the Coles Notes version of the day my life went to shit but have no idea I can still make my shoulder ache from wishing I hadn’t lifted my arm to show off that I knew those hand signals that day.

When my eyes crack open, I take a brief inventory of my body, noting the aches and pains in certain spots that grow more persistent with age.

My vision gains some focus, and then my eyes catch a figure down at the edge of the lake. Sloane is standing there in a terry bathrobe, staring at the water. Her hair is pulled up in a tight bun, the elegant lines of her neck silhouetted against the setting sun. Water that was blue now reflects the dramatic sky, all purples and pinks and golds, dark clouds streaking across a perfectly still lake.

I bet it would be a good lake to play hockey on when it freezes. But I’m the one who freezes as the robe drops from her shoulders. And then her thongclad ass, tight waist, toned back, and black bra straps are all I see.

Her fingers curl into her palms, and her shoulders scrunch up. It’s like I’m watching her give herself a mental pep talk.

I smile at the sight.

Round ass cheeks fold in equal turn as she walks slowly toward the water. She dips one toe in daintily and snaps it back with a shiver that racks her entire body.

I see the deep breath she takes before she charges into the water. A little wild, a lot brave. There she is.

I swear I can hear her squeal as she dives into the water, fully submerging herself under the still surface for a few beats that seem to last a lifetime. Her head breaks out several feet from shore, rivulets of water streaming off her bare face as her hands come up to push the wetness away from her closed eyes.

She treads water and turns away to look at the mountains, just black silhouettes against the fiery sky.

I sit up and stare. It could be a painting. A photograph. A beautiful woman in a beautiful lake.

It’s peaceful. Serene. So unlike how I feel inside. It makes me wonder what view Beau’s looking at right now.

I find myself up and walking out the sliding door, needing fresh air, wanting to touch this view somehow. Commit it to memory. Like running my fingers over the mounds of oil paint. It almost doesn’t seem real. I need to prove to myself that it is.

My socked feet grow cold as I walk over grass that is just a little too firm. It has a slight crunch when my weight presses into it, evening frost already descending over the picturesque mountain valley.

When I get to the water’s edge, I feel the finest grains of sand slipping through the fabric, lending a gritty texture to the bottoms of my feet. But I don’t care. I’m still entirely focused on Sloane.

My friend Sloane, who is still treading in place gracefully like this is just another dance for her. I wonder what she’s thinking about. I wonder if she feels as shredded as I do—as tattered and torn.

Almost in slow motion, she glances over her shoulder, the tip of her nose wiggling just once as she turns to face me. “Hi.”

It’s one simple word, and somehow it still tugs at my chest. I’m so at peace in her presence. I always have been.

“Hi.” I shove my hands in my pockets, pressing my thumbs against each fingertip in turn to calm my nerves. Trying not to think about my friend’s bare ass and all the things I’d do to it.

And then I give in. But only for four seconds. I give myself four seconds of chaos before I rein it in and pack it down—before I force myself back into control.

Sloane’s head quirks. “What are you doing?”

“Counting to four.”

“Is that a dumb jock joke?”

I huff out a laugh. “Really nice, Sunny.”

She gives me a perfectly innocent look, all doe-eyed. “Ya’ll aren’t famous for your brains.” She’s teasing me but I don’t bite.

“It’s a thing I do to help with feeling out of control. So when an opposing player scores a goal or something I give myself four seconds of frustration before I get my head back in the game.”

Our eyes shift and then lock in the wake of my explanation.

“Are you feeling out of control right now?”

“No.” My reply comes a little too quickly.

She nods, teeth pressing into her bottom lip. Her eyes spark with a challenge. And then she says, “Come in.”

“No, thank you. I bet it’s freezing.”

“Didn’t know they grew ’em so soft out at Wishing Well Ranch,” she taunts, sliding her arms away and pushing herself further back.

“Don’t go too far,” leaps from my mouth before I can stop it.

“What are you gonna do?” Her legs kick under the water, pushing her further away. “You’re too scared to come in here.”

I press my thumbs into the pads of my fingers and count to four again.

“What would Beau do?”

I stop and stare at her blankly. Only she would have the balls to throw that in my face right now. Everyone else has been walking on eggshells, but her constant stream of consciousness won’t allow it.

It’s refreshing.

I reach my right hand over my shoulders and pull my T-shirt off from the back of my neck. It falls to the sand, and I catch Sloane’s eyes tracing my torso before she forces herself to look away quickly at the peaks surrounding us.

The silence is almost deafening. All I can hear is the soft swish of water lapping at the sandy shore and the quiet hum of highway traffic in the distance. I make quick work of my jeans and socks before pulling one arm across my chest into a stretch, hoping she doesn’t watch me too closely.

“What would Beau do?” Her head flips in my direction at the sound of my voice, and I grin at her, feeling instantly lighter somehow. “He’d run in there and dunk your snarky little ass.”

And that’s exactly what I do. I charge into the glacier lake and dive in, going straight for her, ignoring the way the icy water sucks the air from my lungs.

She tries to swim, but I catch up to her in no time. My hands slip through the water and over her smooth skin as I grab her, heft her up, and toss her through the air.

Her playful squeals take me back, and when she hits the water with a loud slap, I bark out a laugh that echoes around us, bouncing off the mountains. I don’t know where Beau is, but I do know he’d approve of this. And somehow that brings me comfort.

She surfaces, sputtering and wiping at her face. “Jasper Gervais! You did not just do that to me!”

“I did. And you squealed like a pig.”

She gasps in faux offense. “Take that back!”

“Okay, fine. You squealed like a piglet. Far more high-pitched and lady-like than a plain old hog.”

“You dick!” She’s laughing breathlessly as she launches herself at me. Her strong thighs wrap around my rib cage, and she brings her hands onto the top of my head, trying to push me under.

The position puts her breasts right at my eye level. And god. I try to be a good friend and not stare, but the bra pushes them up in the most distracting way. The cool air and even colder water has goose bumps dotting the tops of them. Nipples straining against the flimsy fabric.

“You’re going down, Gervais!” She keeps pushing on me, giggling and wiggling and trying her hardest. She’s strong, but not strong enough, and her words are so open to misinterpretation, I can’t even handle it.

“Oh, I’ll go down, Winthrop. But I’m taking you with me.”

And with that warning, I flop back, plunging us both down into the icy depths. For a few beats, it’s silent and dark.

She grabs at me, and I give myself four seconds of insanity in our private bubble beneath the lake.

Our hands roam frantically over one another’s bodies, sluicing through the water. My hand, her thigh. Her hand, my ribs.

Are we playing? Wrestling like when we were kids?

Or are we taking liberties we’d never take above water?

On the fourth second, I push up and away and we both crest the water, panting and staring at each other. Her tongue darts out over her lips, tasting the glacier water clinging there, and her eyes drop to my mouth as I mirror the motion.

The water between us doesn’t feel so cold anymore. I let myself stare at her for another four seconds. The tension expands in my chest, pushing until it feels like it might burst.

“Reminds me of playing in the river when we were kids. Jumping off the bridge on the back quarter.”

She blinks, like I’ve just shaken her awake, and plasters a flat smile on her face. “Yeah. I never did quite get the nerve up to jump off that bridge.”

“Next summer,” I offer, letting myself float away from her so I don’t do something colossally stupid like let myself get all handsy with her again.

“Yeah.” Her teeth chatter as the word passes between her lips, and I nod toward the shore.

“Let’s go. Get you warmed up. Track down some food.”

“I could really use a drink,” she says.

Fucking same I think to myself.

We swim until we can stand. The tiny pebbles dig into the bottoms of my feet, and I work to keep my focus on where I’m going rather than letting my eyes wander over Sloane’s body in the departing light.

She’s too tempting and I’m too confused.

Her eyes stay on the ground too.

On the shore, she dries off with her robe and tries to hand it to me to use as a towel, clutching her arms over her mostly naked body. But it’s her wide eyes that catch my attention. I can’t place the look in them, but I know I’m not letting her walk back to the room uncovered and cold.

I smile and shake my head, pulling the robe from her hand and wrapping it around her shoulders.

“But you’ll be cold,” she says while I give a brisk rub up and down her arms a few times once the garment is in place.

I grab her hand and start walking back to our room. “You don’t need to worry about me, Sunny.”

I don’t look back when I hear her soft response.

“I always worry about you, Jas.”


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