Taking Back Forever, p.18Karen Amanda Hooper
Until cold hit me like a freight train.
I gasped, feeling like I’d swallowed dry ice. Wind howled around us. Nathan pulled back and yanked me up to standing.
“No,” he said, panicking. “This can’t be happening.”
My legs felt disconnected from my body except for my bare feet. They hurt because I was standing in snow, outside, on top of a mountain.
I threw my arms over myself to cover my naked body. I couldn’t breathe. The temperature had to be below freezing. And I wasn’t wearing a stitch of clothes.
“No!” Nathan yelled at the sky. A white cloud of his breath rose between us. His voice echoed off the surrounding snow-covered peaks. “No no no no, noooo!”
“What happened?” I asked, my face and feet going numb.
“Don’t talk.” He ripped his shirt over his head and pulled it over me. “We’re in Nepal. The air is too thin up here for you to talk.” He lifted me into his arms and snow fell from my bare feet.
Don’t talk. His warning kept repeating through my mind. My lungs felt like they were filling with frozen water. I was struggling to breathe, but couldn’t fill my lungs with anything but more cold. I was so light-headed. The whole world was spinning.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I don’t know how this happened. I didn’t mean to bring you here.”
I didn’t need apologies. I needed to get off the damn mountain and back to some place with warmth and oxygen. I was shivering and my teeth were chattering so hard I could only manage short, painful inhalations through my nose.
“Nathaniel.” My teeth rattled against each other.
“Take.” I sniffed, trying to feel my nose.
“Us.” I shivered and twitched.
He kept squeezing me tight against him, whispering, “Please work, please work, please work.”
Even my eyeballs were too cold and dry to keep open. I knew the feeling of blacking out all too well. I fought it hard, but I was losing all sensation in my body. I could barely feel Nathan’s hands and arms against my skin. I didn’t know if it was because of the cold or because I was blacking out again.
Bright light made me squint even though my eyes were already shut. I was certain a huge sharp icicle was being driven through my temple. Then warmth pelted me like I was being shot with BBs made of fire.
My eyelids flew open to see a stream of water coming from the showerhead above me. Nathan was in the tub with me, his shoes and pants still on, apologizing over and over and telling me I was home. His eyes were bloodshot—so bloodshot that I worried something was wrong with him. I tried to open my mouth and ask him if he was okay, but my lips felt frozen shut. I could feel my skin again, but the warm water cascading down on me hurt so badly.
“I know it hurts,” Nathan’s voice was scratchy and weak. “But we have to regulate your body temperature.” He slid one arm behind me, trying to adjust me to a different position. I could feel his arm spasm and twitch like my own muscles were doing.
Then he slipped. His head made a cracking sound as it hit something above me then he fell on top of me. His bare chest pressed against my soaking wet t-shirt. Everything went still except the endless spray of water beating down on us. The water temperature grew colder. He must have hit the control handle when he fell. Exhausted beyond words, I closed my eyes. I needed sleep. Just a few minutes of sleep.
Cliffs of red rock.
Nathan’s green eyes.
These are a few of my favorite things.
If I kept thinking happy thoughts I wouldn’t shiver to death.
Water. I was aware that my body was submerged in water. Nathan was still on top of me. I tried saying his name but my lips wouldn’t part. A pathetic squeak caught in my throat. I couldn’t feel my limbs, but I knew they were still attached, so I focused on my right hand. Even though it weighed a million pounds, I swung it and hit the side of the tub.
Yes. Noise. Noise was the goal. If I kept making noise, someone with working limbs and more strength than I had would come and get us out of this freezing water.
I willed my arm to swing again.
Thump. The hollow sound of my hand hitting porcelain.
Thump. I winced. That one sent pins and needles shooting through my hand.
I swallowed, but it felt like a snowball was lodged in my throat. I managed a throaty, “Help.”
Whispering wouldn’t help us, but it was all I could manage no matter how hard I tried. I flung my hand again.
Thump. That one sounded louder, but it stung so bad. The water level in the tub was getting higher. Nathan was getting heavier. And I didn’t think it was possible, but my body was becoming number.
Move, I mentally demanded of my legs. They didn’t listen.
I had to make a louder noise. I remembered the candle sitting on the corner of the tub. I lit it last time I took a bath. I had sat it on a glass plate to catch the dripping wax. It had to still be there, just to the right of my head. I couldn’t see it, but it had to be there. I lifted my right arm again, pins and needles still ripping through my skin. I kept lifting my hand, toward the showerhead far above me, reaching for the sky, the stars, for a past I couldn’t grasp onto.
My hand fell behind my head.
Thump. The wall. My knuckles slid down the tiles until I was sure my hand was low enough to reach the candle.
One swing, I told myself. You’ve probably got enough strength left for one good swing. Make it count.
I flung my hand and forearm. I don’t know which happened first, the thump of the candle hitting the tile, or the glass plate shattering.
I did it, I told Nathan. Even though my lips wouldn’t move and my voice wouldn’t work, my fuzzy mind thought he’d want to know. They’ll hear us, don’t worry.
The water reached my ears and rushed in, muffling the noise of the gushing showerhead.
The stars in the sky.
Telling death to piss off.
The shower stream finally shut off.
“Maryah? Nathan?” Krista’s voice sounded a million lifetimes away. I forced my eyes open. Even my eyelashes were cold.
“Can’t leave any of you alone for a minute,” Carson said, lifting Nathan’s limp and dripping wet body off of me.
Krista climbed into the tub and pulled me up to a sitting position. “Pudding, what the heck happened?”
I tried shaking my head but it felt more like I was having a minor seizure. Carson lifted me out of the tub and Krista wrapped a towel around my waist and legs. “Take her to the bed.”
“Duh,” Carson grunted.
“Watch the broken glass,” she warned.
Floating across our bedroom, being set on the bed, Krista pulling off my wet shirt and Nathan’s wet jeans, Carson covering us with a warm electric blanket: it was all a hazy dream. Krista kissed my forehead and I drifted to sleep. But before I slipped away completely, one thought made me mentally smile. Nathan traversed—and he took me with him.
FOR THE TAKING
I woke up feeling almost normal. I was wearing shorts and a t-shirt. I reached under the covers and felt Nathan’s shorts.
For those first few seconds I worried I had dreamt Nathan took me with him when he traversed to the top of a freezing cold, isolated mountain, and that we’d almost drowned to death in our bathtub, and that Carson and Krista came to our rescue and put us in bed. But then I sat up and saw the electric blanket covering us.
“Yes!” I threw my arms above my head.
“What are you so happy about?” Nathan asked from beside me. He was groggy and a faint bruise still existed along his hairline—I was sure Krista healed the worst of it—but he looked sexier than ever.
“You traversed. With me. You did it!”
“I almost killed us.”
He touched the top of his forehead where his bruise disappeared into his hair. “Yes, and I’ll never do it again.”
“Nooo,” I whined. “Don’t you see what this means? We can go anywhere!”
He smirked. “I’ve always been able to go anywhere.”
“But now I can go with you.”
He propped himself up on one elbow. “Maryah, it took so much energy out of me that after I finally did transport you back here, I had nothing left. Well, enough to fumble through my brilliant idea of getting you into a warm shower, but then I slipped, knocked myself out—with the water running, mind you—and almost drowned both of us.”
I didn’t want to point out that he also managed to switch the water to cold when he fell. No use making him feel worse. “So we need some practice—maybe even supervised practice so we don’t almost die again. We won’t travel across the globe. We’ll start small. You believe my ability is going to get stronger. I believe yours will too.”
“Are you forgetting you ended up naked in the snow?”
My cheeks warmed. “You’ll definitely need to work on that.”
“That might be the only worthwhile incentive I have for practicing.”
I laughed. “That is not how I imagined you seeing me naked for the first time. How embarrassing.”
“Only embarrassing on my part because I put you in such a dangerous predicament. I’m sure you looked beautiful, but I was too worried and panicked to think about anything but making sure you survived.”
I rubbed the blanket between my fingers. “So you don’t remember what I looked like naked?”
“Not exactly, no, but I have spent a lot of time imagining it.”
“Some gentleman you are!” I smacked him playfully. “Seriously, you can’t deprive me of traversing with you. Instantly traveling anywhere in the world with you is a dream come true.”
He pulled me on top of him and wrapped his arms around me. Tucking my head under his chin he whispered, “I will always do my best to make all your dreams come true.”
An electrical buzz rippled through my muscles. Blinding light flooded the room. When I opened my eyes, we were in the bathroom. I stared at the mirror’s reflection of us standing there, me wrapped in Nathan’s arms.
I jumped back and gaped at him with so much happiness it rumbled through me in an excited purr. I was fully clothed. I felt fine. He looked healthy as could be—with the exception of the bruise Krista would fully heal soon. “You did it again. On purpose. And we’re fine.”
“I figured it out on the return trip—the key to being able to take you with me. I expanded my energy field so it didn’t just meld with yours, but completely enveloped you. I’d never been able to do that before. But you’re right, I’ll need to practice before any lengthy trips.”
I was so excited I jogged in place. “This is gonna be so awesome!”
He rubbed his hand over his face, trying to hide his proud smile, but there was no denying it. Nathan was impressed with his new ability.
Every kindrily member wanted to be first to traverse with Nathan.
“We should proceed according to age, eldest first,” Edgar said.
Helen agreed. “But ladies first, so start with me.”
“Beauty before age.” Amber struck a zestful pose. “I’m a glowing new mother.”
“I am his mother.” Louise rubbed Nathan’s shoulders. “How could you deny taking your own mother before everyone else?”
Nathan laughed. “You don’t believe in family labels.”
“In this case I do.”
“Your mother is talking nonsense,” Anthony said. “Take your poor ol’ dad.”
“Krista and I saved their lives,” Carson pointed out. “That deserves a payback and I’m cashing in first.” Krista pinched his arm. “I mean, right after Krista’s turn.”
“You know it will be me.” Dylan leaned back in his chair with his hands behind his head. “One simple sentence and Nathan will be zipping me away to...” He considered all his options and decided on, “Maui.”
Faith leaned over the table on her elbows. “Nathan, don’t let any of them pressure you into doing something you don’t want to do. You know I’ve got your back. I’ve always had your back. Don’t forget who befriended Maryah when she first arrived here and tolerated—I mean, loved her through her depressed, awkward, oblivious stage so that you two could be happily reunited again.”
“Tolerated,” I huffed. “I’ll remember that, Stinkerbell.”
She sat back and held her hands up innocently. “What? You were a tough nut to crack. I should be rewarded for my hard work.”
“I made you those star glasses,” Shiloh said. I had no idea what he was talking about, but Nathan laughed. “Yes, glasses which didn’t work.”
“Hey, I can’t help it if your vision sucks.”
“All right,” Nathan said, spreading his hands flat on the table. “You know I will take each of you at some point, but I have to choose one person to go first. Some of you have made solid cases for me selecting you, and others were sad and pathetic attempts.”
We all chuckled.
“I won’t be traveling far at first,” Nathan continued. “Traversing Maryah and I to Nepal and back caused me to pass out, so everyone’s first trip will be to somewhere simple. The backyard, the garage, a different room of the house. It’s not like you’re missing out on being frostbitten in the Himalayas.”
He nudged my leg and I shivered. “Seriously, be grateful you aren’t going to Nepal.”
Nathan stood. “My first victim is...”
I glanced around the table wondering who he’d choose and how he’d make his decision. Order of age did seem like the most fair and impartial way.
Nathan pointed to my right. “Harmony.”
She gave one nod and stood, like she didn’t expect him to choose anyone but her. He held out his elbow and she slid her arm into his.
She winked at me. “I’ll try to return him in one piece.”
The next evening I was alone in our room finishing the second book in my new favorite series. Nathan walked in and collapsed face first onto our bed.
“Aww.” I petted his head. “They wiped you out.”
“They’re a demanding bunch of gits,” he grumbled into the blanket. “I never should have told them.”
Nathan had spent all day yesterday and today traversing with each member. Yesterday, no one had been pleased with their short trips to another room, so today he agreed to take them a little farther. He could only do two trips an hour at most or he became too weak to take anyone anywhere.
I rolled him over and rubbed his chest. “Did everyone get their second turn?”
“Yes, finally. I just finished with Mikey.”
“Kidding. Yes, everyone but Mikey.” He grimaced. “And Gregory.”
“Gregory will get his turn one day soon.”
Nathan stared at the ceiling. “Actually, Gregory is the one member who most likely wouldn’t ask for a turn.”
“He has always had a thing with people touching him. He wouldn’t be comfortable with me having to wrap my arms around him.”
“Did he let Harmony touch him?”
“Yes, Harmony was an exception to his rule.”
I sat up, placed my bookmark in my book, and tossed it on the nightstand. “Jamie and Claire were doing some serious touching of their own tonight.”
“Oh?” He tilted his head. “You read without me?”
“I’m sorry, but I needed to know what happens. I’ll read those chapters again with you. It was so good I raced through it just to see what would happen next, so I’m sure I missed some details.”
“Have I not taught you anything about the benefits of taking your time?”
I kissed his cheek. “You have tried, but I’m not entirely convinced jumping ahead to the good parts isn’t the better way to do things.”
“I’m older and wiser than you. You should trust that I know what I’m talking about.”
I grinned. “Since we clearly aren’t talking about books anymore, will you please tell me how long we’re waiting?”
He acted clueless. “Waiting for what?”
“You know. It.”
He rolled over onto his elbow and rested his head in his hand. “It? You can’t even say the word without blushing. What makes you think you’re ready to actually do it?”
I rubbed my ring, trying not to blush like Nathan said. I failed. “We’re soul mates.” I almost argued against the typical guy-sleeping-around stereotype, but I decided to flip it on him. “It’s not like you’re some conquest for me and once I get in your pants I’ll ditch you for the next hot guy that comes along.”
His eyes widened and glimmered with amusement. “Well now that you mention it, that’s exactly what I’m worried will happen. I intend to protect my virginity until I’m certain you want to be with me forever.”
“Shut up.” I shoved his shoulder. “You’re not even a virgin.”
“In this body I am.”
“You know what I mean. And I am going to be with you forever. You’re stuck with me now.” My grin was so sappy I knew not to kiss him or our lips would stick together.
“Good. Then it won’t hurt to wait until the moment is right.”
“But when will the moment be right?”
“Honestly, I planned to follow tradition and wait until we sanctify our union.”
“Sanctify our union? That sounds so official.”
“The union I’m referring to is marriage.”
“Marriage?” I flopped back onto my pillow. “We’re waiting until we’re married?” I assumed the kindrily was old-fashioned about some things, but waiting to have sex until we were married seemed like a stretch, even for someone as inexperienced as I was.
“Yes, marriage. Two twin flames joining together as one, witnessed by all of the souls we love and who love us. It’s a divine event and everyone makes a big to-do about it. I look forward to seeing your reaction since it will be your first marriage.”
Taking Back Forever by Karen Amanda Hooper / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes