Another writing exercise which turned into, well I don't know, some writing. Not sure what to do with this one, lol. I wrote it a while back when I was hit with vertigo. I did a few back then.
But anyway, hope you enjoy reading it and thanks for reading and the feedback.
She watched him head down the narrow trail into the canyon and her heart ached for him.
Matt had walked away from her, his shoulders back portraying the confidence behind his strength. Only her sharp eyes that knew him so well noted the slight limp remaining in his stride as he headed down the trail. She knew that deep inside he hid a well of frustration that had built up since being injured during another fruitless expedition to search for his missing cousin. Hopefully the exercise helped dissipate its edge at least for a little while.
He had gotten up this morning even before the sun and gotten dressed to go on his daily hike up and down the canyon near the cabin to rebuild his endurance and strength. She had been in the kitchen when he entered to eat a light breakfast and she had tossed him a water bottle as he prepared to leave. They never said much to each other, content to allow the silence to lapse between them that early in the day.
Then they both headed outside into the brisk air which had just begun to soak up the warmth of the rising sun which lit through the trees surrounding the cabin. Matt flashed her a look of uncertainty as he did every morning.
"I don't know if I feel up to this today," he said, "Maybe I should take it easy instead."
She put her hands on her hips.
"Get your ass out of here," she said, "and I don't want to see it again until you're done."
He gave her a funny look.
"Where'd you learn to talk like that?"
She didn't budge.
"I picked up some here, some there," she said, "Mostly from you."
He didn't remember that part but the way she looked at him…not much room for argument this morning.
"Houston…get a move on," she said, "and I want you to make double time today."
He glared at her.
"I'm feeling stiff from yesterday's hike…"
She still didn't appear moved.
"Okay when you get back, call up your ex-girlfriend the masseuse," she said, "Wasn't Crystal her name or was it Stacy?"
"Actually it was Tina and she moved to Amsterdam."
"Then I'm sure you can find someone to call as backup from that little black book," she said, "Now no more excuses, the sooner you start, the sooner you'll finish."
He looked at her as if he were going to say something but her own expression stopped him. She waved her hand.
"Get going," she said, "I'll see you later and you can yell at me then."
With that, he started on his hike with nary a grumble. As she watched him go, she thought not for the first time how life could turn on a dime and that had been what had happened to Matt after he received the mysterious phone call about a possible sighting involving his cousin. Life could really be so damn unfair sometimes. Not that she needed any reminder but to watch what Matt had been going through had been really tough.
It had started before Houston Enterprises had been ready to go public after finally becoming the success both hoped it would be. He had been finalizing the latest batch of quarterly reports to present to his board members when the phone call had come that a man resembling Will had been spotted in a camp of drug smugglers in a South American country. Of course, Matt had dropped everything, grabbed his passport and used whatever connection he had to break through the red tape to go search for him.
But he ran into trouble instead as he discovered too late that the phone call had been a ruse to get him down to Bolivia in a bizarre kidnapping and ransom scheme to time with his company's expansion. He eluded the attempt but experienced serious injuries in his escape and pursuit of the kidnappers.
After being released from his second hospital where he had lain cooped up for two weeks, he had gone home to begin physical therapy which took another month. While the hard work strengthened his body, it left him frustrated and spent and so he took off to hole up in the cabin he had purchased up in the mountains. His father had watched his son's frustration build up inside him and so had asked C.J. to go with him and keep an eye on him.
C.J. had no problems with that and invited herself along even though Matt had tried to veto that plan. He had lashed out at her during his therapy insisting that he wanted to do things his own way and she had survived that without any scars. She knew that underneath his need to push everyone away, lay fear that he would never get his life back even though he would never admit the truth even to himself let alone anyone else. Bill had watched his struggles and hadn't known how to talk to his own son and knew that C.J. had understood why.
She understood that feeling herself very well having been there and having no one even to bother her about it. Matt had been playing the football star and serving in the military and she had been doing the sorority thing and studying in law school and by the time they had really connected again, they had both been focused on forging their lives in new and exciting directions and she had put it away in the past. He was starting his business while she flirted with criminal law before giving that up to work for him. Everything had been going very well and smooth as silk until the incident leading up to his injuries which had forced him to reevaluate his life which had come to a grinding halt. For the man who success had come so easily for, he found himself at a loss.
Matt never showed that more difficult side to anyone but her. For everyone else, he acted the same as he always had, fun loving and with a sense of humor about his new shortcomings. While deep inside beneath the jokes and the passes at the nurses, he feared they might be permanent.
C.J. didn't believe that for a second. He had made great strides since he had first been beset by dizzy spells and weakness in one of his legs after the man he had been chasing had pushed him off a cliff. If some foliage hadn't broken his fall, he'd be dead. But as it was, Matt often wished that if he weren't dead that he would have found his cousin safe and well. He felt that failure intensely and C.J. knew that he needed to come to terms with that in his own way.
While in physical therapy, Murray had haunted the hospital with paperwork for him to sign and decisions about Houston Enterprises that needed his input and C.J. silently thanked him for his persistence. Anything necessary to get Matt's mind off of his time spent from his fledgling investigative agency that had been in limbo since he'd been in the hospital. Yes, Murray in his own uncomplicated way had become a godsend. Until he had brought up Grant Sullivan one day while visiting Matt. She hadn't heard his name in years. Since…
C.J. pushed him out of her mind and focused on Matt's disappearing form as he headed down carrying only a water bottle into the abyss that lay to the east of his mountain cabin. A lake bordered most of the structure which was somewhat larger than a cabin which sat on a group of rocks jutting on the shore. Matt spent most of his afternoons after his daily hikes into the canyon sitting on shore with his fishing line breaking the surface of the smooth waters. More often than not, he had caught enough trout to fry up for dinner which they ate on the front deck, looking out at the lake and how the reflection of the moonlight cast a glow across its surface, while its undercurrent remained dark. During dinner, they would make polite chatter keeping certain topics at bay until they turned in for the night.
No doubt he would return to the edge of the lake today but first he had to finish his hike. She had felt tempted several times to ask him if she could join him but she knew he needed the time to spend alone. She used their time apart to do her own thinking and today, she decided to spend it doing some gardening. A line of fledgling trees had been planted so far, all during the time that Matt had spent hiking in the canyon. In a decade or so, they would grow and branch out enough to become impressive shade trees for visitors to enjoy.
She knelt in the dirt and finished a hole she had begun the day before, with a small spade. The water barrel remained nearby to help dampen the dirt to nourish the roots of the new plant. Matt had helped her plant some of the older trees. They had done it side by side when he had brought her up here after they had moved to L.A. and not long after her first relationship with a lawyer had gone bust. She had been drowning her sorrows in some Scotch when he called her up and asked her if she wanted to go to his cabin and help him with a landscaping project. She thought he had been crazy given that his cabin sat in the middle of a forest which by definition already had enough trees. Why plant more? He kept at her and the exuberance in his voice was contagious not to mention a few other things about him that she kept to herself. There were a few secrets she kept from her best friend.
But she had finally given in to his request and returned with him and together they had started the tradition of planting new trees each summer. Now she returned to the cabin any chance she had to get away from the city. And here within the quiet tranquility of her surroundings, she found balance to her more chaotic urban life.
She hoped that it would help him through the chaos that had grabbed hold of the world he knew and shaken it apart. Anything to bring him out of the abyss that he had been sliding into since he returned home from the hospital.
She hoped to forget some memories of her own that lingered uninvited.
Matt cursed as he walked, no struggled up each switchback in turn. His injured leg no longer throbbed with each step but he still felt some waves of dizziness hit him from his inner ear injury. The doctors had told him it would heal in time and the worst of it had but it still affected him and essentially grounded him from doing investigative work or anything remotely hazardous. As he hiked, he saw signs of wildlife in the arid surroundings, including squirrels and lizards resting on the rocks as he passed by. While the surrounding area was flush with greenery, replenished by the generous stream which flowed into the lake, this area appeared starved, and the only water was a thin trickle this time of year that etched its way through the rocky faces. The sun blazed down on him and he wiped his forehead to rid himself of the sweat that pooled there.
When the dizziness hit him, he learned to stop for a moment until it passed. It gave him opportunity for a little rest and to sip from his water bottle to avoid dehydration. Each day he had been able to walk longer without stopping but not to run as he had often did before his injuries. But he knew he had to focus on the here and now and what was or what lie ahead or he would go crazy. He reached the bottom of the canyon where the water burbled through the rocks and did some stretches to prevent his muscles from tightening before the trip back up. He had been hitting the gym including some heavier weights and he took off his tee-shirt and dipped it in the water to rub over his muscular arms.
He thought about C.J. sitting back closer to the cabin in a chair sipping iced tea while he suffered in the heat down in this hellhole. But then he knew that she had just been trying to help him get his bearings in his life back. She just needed to understand that he didn't need or want anyone's help right now. Although it might sound mean, he hadn't wanted her to come with him to the cabin. To see him like this and then to act like a drill sergeant every day, reminding him of his days back in basic training with…Will back when they had been younger and had their whole lives ahead of them…or so they thought.
It hadn't turned out that way for Will.
But Matt still had his own life to live and that meant ensuring that his quickly expanding corporation became a national and then global conglomerate. That's what Will would have wanted him to do with his life and when he first lost his cousin, that's what he had done with the vigor possessed by both men. C.J. had assisted him greatly in increasing its earning power and expansion, coming on board as the newest of his team of crack attorneys and then quickly enough working her way up to the top of the pack. She had changed a lot since he had last seen her when she finished college and had won a scholarship to Harvard's prestigious law school. She had never been one to let anyone get in her way including him. He had thrown everything he could think of to test her and she had met every challenge he provided head on and successfully. They had gotten along well enough and their friendship had deepened but she kept a part of herself separate from her professional relationship with him. And that had been her personal life, the part of it that he had missed. Not that they didn't socialize together especially after an especially grueling day at the office but she spent time on her own as well. She often listened to his stories of attending this gala and that charity event often with a woman on his arm but she didn't talk much about herself.
Not even when they had arrived to the cabin earlier in the week. He had made her life difficult he knew that but he really hadn't wanted her to join him. He had just wanted to spend some quiet time drinking mostly whatever sat in the liquor cabinet. Anything to get away from thinking about the life he had left in L.A., the life he hadn't been sure he could return to as he had before receiving that crazy phone call about Will.
If he had to do it all over again…he would have still gone down to South America to try to do the impossible to reunite with someone who most likely was rotting in an unmarked grave on some foreign soil. His uncle Roy had come to terms with it, so had his father, why couldn't he move forward?
Because he knew it had been his fault, he realized now. He had plenty of time lying flat on his back to think about it after pushing everyone else away. When he hadn't been flirting with the nurses to hide his own feelings, he had ruminated over what had happened the last time he saw his cousin over and over again, like a home movie in his mind that wouldn't stop playing. It still hadn't even though he now spent his days moving about and trying to return to some semblance of a normal routine.
He gazed up at the sun and squinted, noting that it had climbed higher in the sky since he had been down here doing nothing but remembering.
The morning that C.J. had first reported to work at his office after having been hired while he had been on a business trip in Tokyo. Murray who hadn't been working at the company that long himself did the interviewing along with his senior vice president and they had both been impressed by the time she had finished and walked on out of there. In fact, his accountant wouldn't stop talking about her and Matt wondered if he had fallen in love with the lady lawyer. And when she had first walked into his office in her business suit and heels, he had seen why.
He had never been physically attracted to his best friend while they grew up in Texas but his breath had stopped somewhere in his throat when he looked into her saucy hazel eyes and at the smile that curved her full lips. When had that happened, he marveled remembering back to the bookish woman he had grown up with who had worked alongside the men on the ranch but then retreated to her room to spend hours reading. He idly thought about whether he should mix business and pleasure with her but then snapped his mind out of that and said, he needed her intellect and legal skills for his company and everything else would remain hands off. After all, for all he knew she had a boyfriend and after all, he had his usual string of girlfriends. And why mess up a great thing with the woman he knew would someday be his business partner? His mind still flirted outside those boundaries including on that first day when she had stood in his office but she didn't appear to notice.
"What do you want me to do first," she had asked all business.
He had sputtered, sitting up straight in his seat, getting his boots off his desk and on the floor. If she noticed his unease, she didn't act it. She just looked around the room slowly taking everything in and clearly liked it. In fact, she paid more attention to her surroundings including the photos of him on the wall than she had to him.
"You can start with the Callahan account."
She just nodded him, betraying only a trace of a smile.
"I'll have it done and on your desk by the end of the day," she said, turning to leave.
"Wait a minute," he said, "Aren't you going to say anything? We haven't seen each other in a while. Maybe we could have lunch together."
She looked up at him, sizing him up with those penetrating eyes nearly causing him to blush. Him, the man who had a reputation of being the catch of all of L.A. but still preferred playing to settling down with one woman. Let alone a woman who at that moment appeared to look inside of him.
"I'll have my assistant give your assistant a call and we can set something up," she said.
His jaw dropped and at that point, she winked at him.
"See you around the office, cowboy."
And with the click of those heels accentuating a pair of shapely legs, she had left.
Matt sighed at the memory and at the fact that even several years later, there were still things about his best friend since childhood that he didn't know. Even though they had socialized with each other more not to mention spent hours on his Lear Jet together traveling around the globe acquiring more companies to add to his growing empire. He knew she had several relationships with men, mostly those who in the legal field but they didn't seem to last very long. Like him, she spent so many hours and days traveling and working to have much time for a personal life. And yes, sometimes he had been tempted, he was a guy after all but they had stuck to the boundaries of a comfortable working relationship which grew from their more natural friendship.
Matt looked up the canyon at the blue sky beckoning and headed back up the trail.
She took a break from planting a young tree to go back into the cabin and pour herself another glass of iced tea. Matt still hadn't returned but she knew he probably had started his climb back up the canyon. She knew that these daily hikes helped him more than just physically. At least that's what she hoped and she did see the lines on his face begin to fade and he smiled more just the way she liked it than he had when he had arrived. He had always been impressive to look at in a way that could knock a woman off of her feet if she weren't careful and C.J. kept her feet firmly planted on the ground. Oh no way, was she going to mess up the relationship with the most important person in her life. She didn't have any family left as they had died when she had been younger but she considered Matt and even his father as part of her family. But even though in a sense they shared Bill, she never thought of him in a sisterly sense. Not when she had been tempted sometimes to well…like just about every red blooded woman in L.A.
She called into her office phone for messages and saw that Grant had called her again. She closed her eyes briefly as she played the message but it was a rebuke from him for not returning his calls. As if nothing had happened back when they had both been in college. After graduating two years ahead of her, He had gone to get his MBA at Yale. After traveling around a bit, he had eventually come to L.A. to work in a rival business firm and Murray had been trying to lure him over to their side. Matt had been too distracted with his physical therapy to pay much attention but C.J. had hoped that Murray would just drop it. She had very little interest in ever setting eyes on Grant again. Time hadn't changed that.
As she sat down on the porch steps, she brushed her hair off of her face, past the scar that he had given her.
Matt reached the cabin and found C.J. sitting there reading a book, her brow knitted in concentration and her legs curled beneath her. He felt tired after his hike, but not worn out and he went past her into the kitchen to refresh his water bottle before he headed to take a shower.
The cascading water on his skin refreshed him and he grabbed a towel and went into his room to change, running smack in to C.J. She looked up at him, arching an eyebrow but his attention was drawn to the imprint of her hands on his bare chest. Too quickly, she removed them.
"I'm sorry Houston," she said, "I should really watch where I'm going."
"It's okay," he said, "No harm done."
She folded her arms.
"How'd your hike go?"
"It's over until tomorrow," he said, "but I'm ready for a nap."
"You do still need to get your rest."
His brow rose.
"Care to join me," he said, "There's plenty of room."
She rolled her eyes and just shook her head walking into the kitchen. Used to his innuendos which had been coming fast and furiously since they arrived here as he tried to get under her skin for inviting herself no doubt. But when he stood in the hallway dressed only in a towel around his waist, it could drive a worthy retort right out of a woman's head. She went to get herself some more iced tea before she went back to her book on the couch.
Matt napped not too long after settling on his bed and fell into an easy sleep, his exercise having caught up with him. But soon after, the memories of South American emerged in his dreams. Of him running through the jungle which grabbed him at every turn, while the footing beneath him turned to slippery mud. In front of him, he would see his face, but he could never reach it. With each of his own steps, Will slipped further away. He tried to follow him and then…sunlight hit him in the face and he stood in a clearing in the middle of a war zone, with soldiers advancing on both sides. He couldn't see Will but instead saw a man aiming a machine gun at him.
"No….," he yelled at him.
He woke up drenched in sweat and saw that C.J. had clearly dropped whatever it had been she was doing and raced inside the room to check up on him. Without thinking, he reached for her and she wrapped him up in her own arms and held him close. His heart thudding against her chest.
He listened to her speaking and finally heard her soft voice with its Texan twang that matched his own. Pulling away finally, she felt him try to slow his breathing down.
"I'm fine now," he said, "It was just a dream."
C.J. blew some hair out of her face.
"Houston you've had quite a few of these…dreams."
"At least I'm getting some sleep…"
She looked at him suddenly.
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"Just that you've been keeping some pretty late hours counselor," he noted, "Considering you're supposed to be on vacation."
She rubbed her forehead.
"I brought some work with me."
"You were sent to babysit me by my father," he said.
She didn't deny it.
"He's been worried about you," she said, "and so have been a lot of people."
"There's no need for that," he said.
Her eyes flashed at him.
"You don't get to decide that."
He folded his arms.
"I think that I do."
She just looked at him and sighed.
"Houston, you need your family and your friends," she said, "but you've made it so difficult for them that I…"
"You drew the short straw to come keep an eye on me," he finished.
He saw what looked like anger in her eyes now but at the moment, he didn't care.
"I didn't get any short straw," she said, "I'm doing this because your father asked me because he's worried about you. He loves you; you know even when you're being an ass."
Matt knew that about his father but he also knew that his own brother, Roy no longer had a son. Both men seemed to feel Will's loss more keenly than Roy but only because Roy's career as a covert operative for some unnamed agency trained him well in never displaying his emotions lest he be seen as being vulnerable. Showing that in the business world was a mistake but in that inhabited by Roy, it could be lethal.
"He's got a strange way of showing it," Matt said, "And why are you here, shouldn't you be out with Murray trying to get that Sullivan guy to do business with my company? Wining and dining him or something."
Then he saw her face change and her eyes harden.
"Go to Hell Houston…"
And his jaw dropped as she walked on out of his bedroom without looking back.
He had been left speechless by her own words to him. In all the years that he had known her, she had never told him to…go someplace hot like that. Looking at the now empty doorway and still feeling a trace of the imprint her body had left against his own, he wondered what it was that he had said that had made her so angry…no, not really angry just cold. So unlike her, because even when she irked him, there never was anything cold and even distant about her because after all, she was a passionate and in your face person and had been as long as he'd known her.
Shaking his head at what had just happened, he decided he had rested enough and it was time to go the lake and do some fishing. He did his best thinking when he had a fishing rod in his hand and a beautiful body of water in front of him.
C.J. had left his bedroom upset at his comments but then quickly realized that Matt had stepped on a landmine without realizing it. A pang of guilt filled her and she pushed it back because really he had been acting like a jerk. She had decided to go for a walk to rein in her emotions so that she could go back and try to make peace with him. After all, they were sharing the cabin which though more like a small house, still could become awfully cramped if they let their argument stand between them.
As she packed herself something to snack on, she didn't hear any sign that Matt had left his bedroom and she wondered if he had fallen back asleep. He still had been prone to fatiguing after his injuries and both Bill and she had tried to make sure that he got enough rest. She shook her head wondering if she were ever going to be any good at taking her own advice. After all she had been so busy working and reading when she came here that sleep had eluded her. But she knew that hadn't been the real reason, no matter how many times she had told herself so.
She opened up the back door off the kitchen and headed out down the faint dirt path to the lake. The sun still baked the air around her and she felt insects buzzing around her face and sweat bead on the back of her neck. But the air smelled of fresh flowers and the breeze carried a hint of the sea which she inhaled deeply as she walked. Her stress slipped off of her shoulders as it always did when she spent time out in natural surroundings. She hoped the same would be true for Matt.
Her cell phone rung and she picked it up, seeing it had been Julia. Her friend had been deathly ill when they had been in law school but after treatment, she had been in remission for several years and worked in her father's business.
"What's up," Julia said immediately.
C.J. looked around her.
"Not much," she said, "I've been up at the cabin with Houston the past week."
C.J. felt like rolling her eyes.
"Julia, you know it's nothing like that," she said, "I'm just here to make sure he's recovering from his injuries."
"I'm so sorry it didn't work out for him," Julia said, "That he didn't find Will."
"He feels really guilty about Will, just like he did when he was first killed," she said, "I don't know how to help him."
"You can't C.J.," Julia said, "You know he has to figure out the answers to moving forward on his own."
C.J. knew her friend was right but it was so hard because she hated seeing him like he had been since he got out of the hospital.
"I know, but it's easier said than done," she said, "And I have to be strict with him and that's hard to, but he gets really frustrated."
"I know how he feels," Julia said, "When you're young, you think you can do anything, that you're invisible and that can change one moment to the next."
Just like it had for Julia when she had received her cancer diagnosis and had to face death in the eye at 22. But she had won, at least the first round and had moved on with her life. And today, she was trying to micromanage C.J.'s social life.
"Things happen… and you put them behind you and move on."
"Not everyone's as good at it as you are," Julia pointed out.
"I'm not saying that it's easy," she said, "He's not making it easy."
"You mean Matt?"
"No…no… I mean Murray wants me to help him steal away Grant from a rival business company."
Julia grew silent for a moment.
"You don't mean Grant Sullivan?"
"The same," C.J. said, "He relocated to L.A."
"You mean you didn't tell them…," Julia said, "Of course you didn't."
"I just wish he had stayed away."
"I think we both know better than that."
C.J. closed her eyes, knowing her friend was right.
When Matt arrived with his fishing equipment at the lake, he realized he wouldn't be there alone. C.J. sat under a tree reading her book. It must be something great because she had been at it for the past couple of days. She heard him coming because she looked up as he approached.
"Oh you're here…"
She arched a brow and put down her book.
"Is that a problem for you?"
He shook his head.
"I'm just here to do some fishing."
"That's great," she said, "The fish last night was delicious by the way."
He looked pleased and she reached for her book again.
"Look C.J. I'm sorry that I snapped at you this morning," he started.
"I believe I'm the one that told you where to go."
"Yes you were," Matt said, "But I think I deserved it for earlier but I don't know what I said that set you off."
She looked down at her book and he thought she was dismissing him, until she looked up again.
"Look Houston," she said, "It's nothing that you said and I shouldn't have let you believe that, it's just that I just don't know what to do or say to you that doesn't get you upset with me."
He heard the trace of pain lacing the frustration in her voice and he felt guilty.
"That's never been my intention," he said, sitting down beside her, "I just…I just get scared sometimes that's all. Everything's changed so quickly and I can't do things the way I used to and I get frustrated and lash out."
He bent his head and she gazed sideways at him.
"I know it's hard…no maybe not the same way that you do," she said, "but you're getting better each day and the doctors say…"
He cut her off.
"I know what they've told me C.J. but I know what I feel too and I feel for the first time in my life, I've got limitations, boundaries in what I can do that I keep crashing into and I…just don't know what to do."
She struggled to find the words he so desperately needed right now.
"You just…you just keep trying," she said, "or you find another way to go around them to get where you want to be."
She made it sound so easy and the tone of her voice told him of her immense faith in his abilities to come through this ordeal an even better and stronger man. He leaned against her, now physically as he had emotionally and she gave way, placing her arm around his waist, sharing her tree with him.
And his closeness to her fed him some of her strength which she shared freely.
"Houston if you want me to leave, all you have to do is say…"
He looked at her and this time he reached his fingers to carress her hair back off of her face.
"No don't," he said, "I want you to stay and I promise I'll be nicer…even when you're kicking my ass to get up early in the morning and do those damned hikes."
"I've got my work all up here and it's been nice to get away from the city," she said, "So I guess we'll both stay up here a while and figure out what to do."
His brows knitted.
"I thought that Murray had you headhunting for Grant Sullivan…"
And in that second after those words left him, Matt knew something had changed. But this time, the storm passed quickly from her eyes and she just rubbed her forehead and rested her head against his shoulder.
"Let's not talk about business right now," she said.
He nodded in agreement because after all in the beautiful mountains and sitting by a lake waiting for fish to jump on a hook, there were plenty of things to do to keep busy.
"You need to catch us both dinner," she said.
"Only if you skin the fish and cook them," he countered, casting his line in the smooth lake.
She chuckled as they sat together by the waters as the sun shone overhead and C.J. felt that a bit of the heaviness on Matt's shoulders had lifted.
But where one struggle was ending, another had only just begun.