Dark Hunger

Page 14

Mike had no idea what he was supposed to say as he stared at the chat window. This was so out of his element and Laura seemed so out of his league, but he knew he needed to do something. He couldn't let Dylan be the one in charge of yet another woman. They were supposed to share her – that was the entire plan.

So he had typed,

"lolol, yeah don't be afraid, we could just go for a hike if you want.

Oh, I think I just asked you out.

Yeah I did" .

And when she typed “Yes,” he couldn't believe it – and panicked. Now he actually had to step forward. Dylan had always gone out and found the women and had been the one to find Jill, and no matter how desperately they both missed Jill, Jill was gone and they had to accept that.

Laura was pretty much the opposite of Jill, but he could see what Dylan saw in her. That was a sweet smile. She seemed accomplished, and there was something Mike couldn't put his finger on, a genuineness and authenticity, but he and Dylan were not exactly the most conventional package.

So he worried that maybe a business analyst at Stohlman Industries wasn't going to make the cut – or maybe he was more worried that they wouldn't make the cut with her. The office cubicle type wasn't exactly eager to go out on the slopes or to even watch him at mile marker twenty during a marathon, in his experience.

But Dylan was giving it a good try and Mike had to, too. The problem was that Mike had to do it in secret. He typed in a few more words, they scheduled the hike, and then she disappeared, off to whatever corporate job she had on whatever floor of whatever giant skyscraper downtown. That world was so alien to him; he worked at a ski resort, and in fact he was missing it already.

You don't just work there anymore, a voice inside him said. You own it...

The season hadn't started yet, but he looked forward to it. He always did every year and when he wasn't skiing he was running. Between the two he kept his sanity somehow, for over the years he had learned that the endorphin kick that came from running and from the massive double diamond trails in the winter were what he needed most. Jill had fit in nicely with his life and with Dylan's life, spending time running with him. Man, was she an ace on the slopes, too.

She and Dylan had an affinity for action movies, for cooking and...he let himself get nostalgic, even let his eyes well up with tears. Letting the memories flood him was dangerous, his mind tipping over from nostalgia to deep grief, a mourning he'd only recently been able to emerge from, the slam of Jill's inheritance making him ache all over again.

His body was consumed suddenly by grief at her loss. It hadn't been running, it hadn't been skiing, it hadn't been any of Dylan's crazy antics like sky diving or parasailing that had killed Jill.

It had been one cell that mutated and mutated and mutated until finally it had taken over her body, the lymphoma wasting her away and neither of them had gotten over her death from eighteen months ago. In some ways Mike had gotten over Jill even faster than Dylan, though Dylan had been the first to go out and find somebody to sleep with. Mike hadn't gone out and broken that physical barrier yet, replacing the memory of Jill's body with someone else's – he just hadn't. Couldn't.

Eighteen months, though. It had been a long dry spell and he was getting frustrated. Now he finally felt emotionally ready to at least give this a try, and he was more than physically ready. Who knew what the hike would bring? All he knew was that he had to try, and he had to try on his own. He couldn't be the tag along with Dylan. That had complicated their relationship with Jill for far too long. It wasn't until it was too late that Mike realized that it actually hadn't mattered. He had loved Jill. Jill had loved him and they both loved Dylan. And the three of them had made it work, somehow, in their own crazy way.

Now the question was, could the three of them – this time with Laura – make it work? He was getting ahead of himself. All that mattered was having one hike with the woman. He just needed to see if this could be his future – their future.

She had never gone on a date like this – hiking? Meeting Dylan last night had been a very public affair, even if it ended in the very private way. She thought about it and realized that she needed to call in some reinforcements, so she texted Josie:

Hey, Jose, I have a date tonight. Can you help me?

Josie texted back:

Oh, cool, the firefighter? Awesome.

Laura winced and answered:

Well, no, not the firefighter. Someone different.


Yeah, it turns out I'm popular on that online dating site.

Josie texted:

Hold on, I'm five minutes away from your house – why didn't you tell me earlier? Thought you were late for work.

I am, but who cares. You have time?

There is no way you can have that kind of date like last night and now a new date and not give me the juicy details before work.

Laura walked over to the coffee maker, put the basket in, dumped in some grounds and started what she knew was going to be the first of many cups of coffee today. As promised, Josie arrived within five minutes, barreling through the front door and plopping down her suitcase-sized purse on the kitchen table, eyes ablaze with curiosity.

"You slut!" Josie said it with a tone of admiration, not condemnation, and the expression on her face was so comical it made Laura burst into laughter.

"Well, thank you, I guess."

"No, no, I just mean – damn. So, how does this work? What the hell happened with the firefighter?”

“He's married. Or has a girlfriend.” Josie's face fell, shifting from eager curiosity to self-righteous anger on Laura's behalf. What a great friend. Laura almost laughed at how bulldoggish Josie looked.

“How do you know?”

“Because I woke up in his bed at three in the morning and there were pictures of her everywhere. It wasn't hard to figure out.”

“Maybe it was his sister?” Josie asked, her voice going up high, as if hopeful and as if there was a snowball's chance in hell it was true.

“In a bikini at the beach? Being kissed by him? Uh, no. Unless she's Angelina Jolie and he routinely tongue-kisses his sister – ”

“OK, ewww. Point taken. So the guy is a slimeball and took you home while his girlfriend's out of town. Fucker.” She rubbed Laura's shoulder. “How did you handle it?”

“I woke up, saw the pictures, freaked out on the inside but stayed quiet, got dressed and almost cried in the cab.” Laura gulped a hot mouthful of coffee down.

“So you sneak home after ditching a guy in his bed, after sleeping with him within what? Three hours, four – OK, four hours of knowing him. You find out he has a girlfriend, with pictures of her plastered all over his room, so you decide you're going to come home and write him off and...now you have a date with another guy?” Josie's expression was, to say the least, comical. It was like a graphic of a “what the fuck” emoticon.

Only in real life.

“It is pretty freaking amazing,” Laura agreed, nodding absentmindedly as she added two spoons of sugar to her coffee. She hadn't consumed coffee with sugar since tenth grade. Since returning home from her date, though, she'd been doing a lot of out-of-character things, including dating two men on the same day.

“Spill it.”

“I came home, was about to shower, and this guy IM'd me on the dating site. I had just blocked Dylan, actually, and made sure he wasn't in my 'Favorites' anymore. So then Mike – ”

“Suddenly some guy pops up in the chat window on this website and asks you out?"


“Worth it?” That was code for whether he was attractive.

“He looks like that actor who played Thor in the movie.”

Josie's jaw dropped. “Not fair! When do I get Captain America hitting on me?”

Laura laughed and dumped her coffee, pouring a fresh cup. She started to tremble inside, the urge uncontrollable. It was all too much, too intense, and spelling it out for her best friend was making it all too real.

“What's he do for a living?”

“Ski instructor,” Laura mumbled as she hurried to fill her mouth with more coffee and delay the interrogation. Josie rolled her eyes.

Her friend poured herself another cup of coffee, glanced at the clock and said, "Oh shit, I'm late for work, but I don't care, this is, this is – this is awesome! Way, way better than any movie. Plus I have a front seat view!" They both winced at each other and Josie added, “Uh, you know what I mean. Not literally.” She shuddered.

"I'm so glad that I'm meeting your entertainment needs."

"Come on, what kind of life do I have? I haven't had sex in seven months. I have to live vicariously through you."

Laura snorted, "Well, it serves you right after years of doing it through you. It's only fair."

Josie hung her head in mock shame. "Well, yeah, OK, fair enough, but lay off the years comment. I haven't gone through that many men."

“I beg to dif – ”

“Shut your whore mouth!” Josie threw half an English muffin at Laura's head and, with catlike precision, she dodged it, both women howling with laughter.

Laura paused, thought for a moment, and said, "You know, you can open your own profile and see what pops up. To solve that seven month problem you've got going on there.” She gestured vaguely at Josie's torso.

"Oh, I've seen what pops up. You know the phrase, 'shit floats'?"

Laura just laughed. Ouch. Then again, Josie's last date had been from an online dating site. Turned out to be a sixty-year-old neocon Tea Party activist who used a Groupon for dinner and made Josie pay her half before the coupon. Capitalism at its best – he'd made money off their date. And all Josie had to remind her was a lovely restraining order when the guy wouldn't leave her alone.

"So when is the date?"



"Well yeah, right after work. Mike says there's enough daylight to make the climb in ninety minutes.”

“The climb?”

“We're hiking. One of those hills at the state park outside of town.” If Josie rolled her eyes any harder they'd pop out and wander down the hallway out into the street.

“He hikes, too?”

“He's a triathlete.” Laura coughed, the unveiling increasingly ridiculous. Was any of this really happening?

“So wait a minute, Mr. Ski Instructor Gorgeous Triathlete Thor Lookalike chats with you for a couple minutes this morning and already tonight, you,” Josie looked her up and down as if surveying her from hair down to toes, “who are about as athletic as a slug, are going on a hike to the top of one of the biggest hills outside of the city where you will eaten to death by mosquitoes, you will become sweaty and ridiculously tired and then…”

“You're so flattering,” Laura muttered.

“What? You’re gonna what? Climb a mountain, Laura? You have a heart attack when you can't find the remote and have to actually stand up to change the channel.” That gave Laura a reason to pause. What the hell was she going to do? By the time she met up with Mike it’d be six at night. He said it was a ninety minute climb to the top. Granted, it was summer so there was plenty of sunlight until nine or so. But what had she gotten herself into? Did she even own hiking boots?

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