4th Place Winner

Worth It

The rain is pelting my skin like a thousand tiny daggers. The icy water from the river has risen far too quickly and is now rushing around me.  I hold on tight to a tree trunk.  I know if I start shivering, I won’t be able to hold on.  The wind has picked up and the temperature has dropped at least twenty degrees.  I knew we should have turned back before the storm hit.  My fingers are tingling from the cold. “Adam…I can’t hold on any longer.”  Yelling to be heard above the rushing water and the howling wind. 

His voice is loud but calm. “Kate…hold on Kate, I’m coming, I’m almost there.” 

A shiver runs through my body.  “Hurry!”  I try to focus on my grip, but my mind runs through all the what if scenarios landing on what if he doesn’t make it in time?  The river will swallow me up. I won’t have a chance. 

My grip slips. “Adam!”

I must have yelled his name so loud that it woke me from my sleep, because I bolted straight up in bed, my chest heaving as I try to catch my breath.  I push my hair back from my face, and realize it was just a dream.  The same dream I always have when I’m stressed out and things seem out of control in my life.

I look at the clock, it’s 4 a.m.  I’m wide-awake now.  I head to the kitchen to make some tea, maybe that will calm my racing thoughts.  As I fill the kettle with water and place it on the stove, my mind takes me back.  I remember that day all too well.

Adam and I always took walks along the river near his house.  We were just teenagers then, he was older than I was, yet we spent a lot of time together.  We always crossed the river at the same spot, so it wasn’t something new.

That day the storm rolled in too quickly and the rain came down too hard.  We were racing to get home, and I slipped on a rock and almost fell into the river.  Luckily, I was able to grab onto that tree trunk.  Adam was ahead of me when I yelled, but wasted no time in getting back to me.  In the process of him saving me, he cut his left hand pretty bad. We didn’t notice it until we were safely catching our breath in his back yard.  I reached over and grabbed his hand, cradling it carefully in my own. “You hurt yourself.  Yikes, that’s going to leave a nasty scar.”

He balled up the corner of his shirt to apply pressure.  “Eh, it’s nothing…it was worth it.  I’d never let anything happen to you Kate.”

It was at that moment that everything changed between us, but I was too young to really understand what to do with it.  Then, life took over, he went away to college.  We stayed in touch at first, but once my family moved away and I got swept off my feet by a charming business exec, we lost track of each other.

The memory of our friendship and all those carefree days we spent together made me smile.

The whistle of the teakettle brings me back to reality.  My thoughts begin to berate me.  Get a grip Kate.  He doesn’t think about you, or that day.  Why would he?  Sure, he has the scar as a permanent reminder, but he has moved on…probably happily married, with a wife, kids, a dog, the beautiful house with a white picket fence.  Unlike you.  No kids, a rental and a failed marriage.  I argue to no one. “It’s not my fault Mr. Charming turned out to be a narcissistic, lying cheat.”  Yep…we all have scars, only mine cover the walls of my mind, and canvas my heart.

I shake my head, bringing that train of thought to a screeching halt.  It has to be the stress from work.   My boss assures me this merger is going to go smoothly.  I can only hope.  I look at the clock again.  It’s too early to go into the office.  I decide to hit the gym and work off some of this tension.  A good work out and some laps in the pool will get me in the right frame of mind.

By 8:00 a.m. I walk into my office with coffee in hand ready to take on the day.  All negative emotions left drowning in the pool.  My assistant Lisa knocks on the door. With files in hand she reminds me of my meeting at 8:30.

I walk into the conference room.  Some people are seated, others are talking as they get coffee.  I spot an open seat across the room.  As I walk towards it the VP stops me.  “Katherine, Hi.  I want you to meet someone.”  He gestures to the man sitting next to him.  “Katherine Richmond, this is Adam Madsen, he’ll be working with you on the Gemini-62 project.”

Adam? Oh my god, are you kidding me? I gather my composure long enough to shake his extended hand, and choke out a “Nice to meet you.”

Mr. Hightower enters the room with his usual gruffness.  “All right, all right, enough chit-chat.  Everyone take a seat, let’s get started.” Looking at his watch.  “I’m on a tight schedule today.”

It takes every ounce of my strength to focus on the meeting. How is he here? The meeting ends just in time for lunch. I’m able to exit the room without any incident. I rush past Lisa. “I’m going out for lunch. To . . . somewhere!”

Her jaw drops as I fly by. I need to get away and wrap my brain around this whole situation. When I return from lunch Adam and I will be working closely together until this merger goes through. Then once it is done, he’ll transfer to this office to manage his own division. As I drive around, I begin talking to myself. “How am I going to do this? There is no way he recognizes me. I go by Katherine now, my last name has changed, my hair is a different color, for Pete’s sake. Okay…I can do this, just focus on business.” I cannot bring myself to eat, so I return to the office, ready to work.

Lisa lets me know that Adam is waiting for me in my office.  As I stand outside the door, I square my shoulders and take a deep breath.  I walk in with a smile on my face, “Are we ready to work?”  With that we dive into the task at hand.  He is focused on the details, so it makes it easy to keep things strictly business, I am determined to keep it that way too.  Even though the scar on his left hand incites me to do otherwise, I control the urge to make a fool of myself.

We’ve put in a long day, and then some.  For dinner, we order in Chinese food as we wrap up for the day.  It isn’t until then that our conversation turns to idle chitchat.  I notice no wedding ring, and he confirms with his conversation that he is not married.  With that bit of information, I cannot help myself, I have to know.  As I begin cleaning up the empty food cartons I reach over and run my finger along the scar that runs the width of his left hand.  “That’s quite a scar you’ve got there…so…was it worth it?”

For a heartbeat, he gazes down at my finger caressing his hand.  He looks up, stares deep into my eyes as if searching for the answer.  When he finds it he says, “Kate.”

Without hesitation he stands, wraps his arms around my waist to pull me close.   His lips cover mine in a kiss so full of passion, I feel it in my toes.  My arms rest on his shoulders, as my fingers run through his hair.  Together, our bodies say what cannot be said with mere words.  I am lost in the intensity of the emotions coursing through my veins.  The realization that he feels the same awaken the parts of my body that have long been ignored.  When he pauses to catch his breath, he leans his forehead against mine.  He stares at me like he’s looking at me for the first time.  With his finger he brushes a strand of hair from my eyes, and tucks it behind my ear.  “Yes, Kate. I meant what I said.”

© 2015 Carrie Ann Alexis