Bursting With Love

By: Melissa Foster

The first thing he did when he stepped off the plane was touch the earth. His earth. Jack considered every blade of grass, every tree, every bush, and every stream on this particular mountain to be his personal possession. Not in the legal sense, but in his heart. It was this land that had helped him to heal after Linda’s death. Hell, that was a lie. He hadn’t yet healed. But at least he was capable of functioning again—sort of. He still couldn’t sleep inside the chalet in Bedford Corners, New York, that he and Linda had shared. He returned to the house only once or twice a month to make sure partying teenagers or vandals had not broken in. And on those nights, he slept on the back deck and showered in the outdoor shower. He’d spent most of the last two years in the safety and solitude of his rustic cabin—the cabin even his family didn’t know about—set on two hundred acres in the Colorado Mountains.

Last night, however, Jack had stayed at the chalet because of the early flight this morning, and before leaving the house, he’d sat out front with his motorcycle engine roaring beneath him, reminding him that he was still alive. When he’d reached the bottom of his steep driveway, instead of turning left as he always had, he looked right toward the site of Linda’s accident. Eighty-seven paces. Less than three seconds from our driveway. Flashes of painful memories had attacked, and he’d gritted his teeth against the gnawing in his gut. It should have been me.

In one breath he wanted to leave behind the guilt and the anger of having lost her and move forward. He missed seeing his brothers, sister, and parents. He missed hearing their voices, sharing the details of their lives, and he even missed their loud family dinners. In the next breath he pushed the idea of finding a path back to them into the dark recesses of his mind and allowed the familiar anger and guilt to wrap its claws around him and seed in his mind, tightening each one of his powerful muscles, before he revved his engine and sped away. Jack didn’t know the first thing about moving on, and no matter how much he might want to, he wasn’t sure he ever would.

He turned and surveyed this weekend’s group of yuppies-turned-survivalists with their nervous smiles and eyes that danced with possibilities. He’d been running survival training retreats as a means of remaining at least a little connected to civilization, and though Jack had plenty of money, the extra income made him feel like he was a productive member of society. He looked over his new students, silently mustering the energy to be civil and patient.

Lou and Elizabeth Merriman stood behind their young son, Aiden, each with one hand on his shoulder. A granola family. He knew from their registration form that they lived a green lifestyle, Elizabeth homeschooled little towheaded Aiden, and they were vegans. They were there to make an impression on their young son. He’d had enough granola families attend his survival camps to know that they all thought they had the answers to life and health, when the reality was that they had no damn answers at all. It wasn’t the answers about life he was concerned with. Jack had yet to meet anyone who could give him the answers that really mattered—the answers about death and how to deal with it.

He shifted his gaze to their left. Pratt Smith, a brooding, brown-haired artist, and Josie Bales, a dark-haired beauty who taught second grade for a living. Josie played with the ends of her hair. The two twentysomethings who were traveling separately—he, for the hell of it, and she, to find herself—were trying to pretend they weren’t sizing each other up as potential hookups. Great. Jack didn’t have anything against young couples getting together, but he sure as hell wished they’d do it on their own time. His job was to bring them out into the woods, show them basic survival skills, and send them home feeling like they were Bear Grylls. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a couple sneaking into the woods seeking privacy and doing something stupid like getting lost or being eaten by a bear. And he sure as hell didn’t need the goddamn reminder of how good it felt to be in love shoved in his face every time he looked at them. Love had been off his plate since Linda died, and he wasn’t looking for a second helping.

Now, where in the hell was the goddamn woman who’d called and signed up three days ago? The pushy one who wouldn’t take no for an answer when he’d said registration had already closed. He saw boots land on the ground on the other side of the plane. She was taking her own sweet time, and they had work to do. She’d better not be a Manhattan prima donna. He’d had enough of those whiny women to last a lifetime, and he never understood why they enrolled in the weekend courses anyway. He forced the thought away. The students paid for a guide, not a critic.

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