“Hard to believe it’s still up there,” I murmured.
Darrell glanced at the old blue canoe, wedged between the branches of the tree. “You said you wanted it to stay so did a pretty thorough job of rigging it up there.”
“I didn’t want to forget.” I stared over the river, watching the small ripples form and bend with the current. A year ago, it had been murky red-brown and topped with white foam as it raced to the sea, destroying everything in its path. I would have been swept away too, if not for a well-placed tree and a handsome fireman.
“Could you have forgotten?” he asked quietly and I shook my head.
I’d never forget the sight of Darrell in his bright yellow vest. There had been other firemen in the boat working together to save me and my dog, Bonnie, but Darrell had been all I could see; a strong hand, reaching out for me, dark brown eyes promising me safety.
After spending the better part of a day sitting in a canoe that was stuck in a tree, I’d been too petrified to move, afraid any movement would send it crashing down into the river and swept away. Afraid Bonnie, already exhausted, would drown.
I’d pleaded with him to rescue Bonnie first, and he had. Finally, when she was safe, I’d allowed myself to take his work-roughened hand and stand. Something had passed between us in that moment as our gazes locked and his arm came around my back to steady me. And when I was safely in the fire department’s boat, a wide grin had split his face, his teeth bright white against his rich brown skin. He’d held me a fraction of a second longer than necessary.
I looked down at our hands, twined together, and realized I was gripping his so hard my knuckles were bleached white.
“C’mon,” Darrell coaxed. “Just walk to the edge.”
I shuddered and took a halting step forward. I loathed open water now. Pools were okay; the scent of chlorine and being able to see to the bottom of the blue liner made it feel reassuringly safe. But the murky waters of rivers and lakes terrified me.
My breathing was sharp and quick as I approached the riverbank. The water flowed placidly today, sunlight glinting off its surface. Darrell squeezed my hand and I swallowed the panic rising in my throat.
“Almost there.” My feet hit the edge of the bank and I froze. “Great job. Now dip one toe in. Shoe on is fine.”
“What if I fall?” My voice was hoarse.
He pried his hand from mine, and switched his grip, so he was wrapped around me, steadying me. “Do you think I’d let you fall?” The warmth in Darrell’s voice was like balm over a burn.
I shook my head and took a deep breath. Inch by inch, I slid my foot forward, hesitating when my toes approached the surface of the water.
“You’ve got this and I’ve got you.”
I closed my eyes and stuck my foot into the water, forcing myself to hold it there for agonizingly long seconds before I pulled back. Darrell’s grip tightened and I turned and buried my head against his neck.
His fingertips skimmed down my spine and I felt him press a soft kiss to my hair.
“You did it, Sam.”
I have a feeling I might need to expand on their story. What do you think?
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I look forward to seeing you next Monday!