Julia stirred slowly the next morning. The bed was warm and cozy and she didn’t even feel like moving. As she blinked open her eyes, Julia saw the soft stream of early morning sunlight peeking through the dark drapes of the bedroom. Turning to the other side of the bed, she noticed that it was empty. From the feel of the empty space, she knew Aaron must have gotten up a while ago, as the sheets were cool to the touch.
Julia strained to hear anything out in the front room to indicate Aaron was there, but she heard nothing. Resisting the urge to stay in the comfort of the bed, she instead threw back the heavy comforter and blankets and slipped out of it. She glanced down the hallway to the living room as she went into the bathroom but didn’t catch a glimpse of Aaron. Julia quickly did her morning routine, splashed some water on her face, gathered her hair into a ponytail, and then set out in search.
The cabin was on the chilly side that morning and Julia was thankful she was wearing thick socks to pad around in. She found her fleece jacket and pulled it on quickly over her top; a nice compliment to the pajama pants she still wore. The living room and kitchen were both empty but when Julia looked out onto the deck, she saw Aaron there. She silently watched him for a minute or two. He was in the chair with his back to the house and his head up. He had on a thick gray hooded sweatshirt and he sat leaned over with his forearms rested on his knees. Julia opened the door quietly and stepped onto the deck. The morning air was cold and she could see her breath as she exhaled.
Aaron turned his head and looked over his shoulder. “Good morning.” He said with a smile as Julia came around next to him.
“Morning.” She looked down to see he still had on his casual pants he had worn to sleep in and he had on a pair of shoes.
“I didn’t wake you up, did I?” He asked as he reached to pull over a nearby chair and motioned for Julia to sit.
“No, no…I didn’t even hear you get up.” She sat down next to him. Julia was looking for any sign that his shoulder was bothering him. She noticed he was moving pretty slowly.
“How’d you sleep?” He cupped her knee with his hand.
“I slept fine. It’s a nice bed; comfortable. What about you?” She eyed his shoulder and wondered what it felt like after a night’s rest.
Aaron slightly shrugged. “I slept.” He let out a low chuckle and squeezed her knee tenderly.
Julia paused. She thought it better to not mention the fall from the day prior at all, but she just couldn’t stop the words from coming out. “Are you all right? I mean…from…yesterday…”
Aaron turned his head and cocked it. Julia could tell she might have pushed a button but she couldn’t let it go. He was silent for a moment then he cleared his throat. “Totally fine. Nothing a trip to the chiropractor can’t fix when we get back.” He turned back to her; a sly smile on his face.
“Come on,” he said quickly. “I promised you a hot chocolate.” He placed his hands on his wheels and spun around slowly, opening the sliding glass door and entering the house.
Julia stood, followed him and closed the door behind her, noticing how Aaron favored his right arm as he pushed into the house.
Men. Stubborn. All of them.
“Feel like taking a drive? Checking out the area?” Aaron asked as he tugged a clean white undershirt over his head. He and Julia were in the bedroom, both getting dressed after having breakfast, which had included a hot chocolate, as promised.
“Sure, that sounds good.” Julia pulled a pair of jeans over her hips and buttoned them. She sat on the bed and tugged on a pair of boots over her socks.
“There’s a place not too far that we could grab lunch at later.” Aaron slowly pulled on another shirt; a blue waffle knit one.
Julia gave him a small smile and stood up, then walked to him and bent down. “I’m at your mercy, Mighty Mountain Man. I’m fine with anything. Promise.”
Aaron chuckled and reached up to grab her face and he planted a kiss on her mouth. “Don’t let me get any ideas.” He pushed his arms through the sleeves of a blue plaid shirt. The layers would be helpful to combat the chilly temperature outside.
Julia straightened, “I’ll get a couple bottles of water.” She left the bedroom and soon Aaron could hear her rummaging in the kitchen.
He looked down and started to button the shirt that was hanging open. He didn’t feel great that morning. He tried to sleep, but could never get comfortable enough to get a solid block of rest. His shoulder and side were in pain. He knew it was more than bruising, but also knew his ribs were all intact. He just needed to get through the weekend and do everything in his power not to show even a hint of weakness in front of Julia. The faux headline ran across his mind: Doctor Injures Self, Ruins Long Romantic Weekend With New Girlfriend. Aaron had to buck up and get past it. He was no stranger to doing that. He finished with the buttons and rolled back the sleeves of the shirt.
He bent over to retrieve his shoes and winced in the process. He put them on slowly, taking his time. When he was done, Aaron tipped his head from side to side and his neck cracked in the process.
Ah, yes. That felt good.
“I’ll be outside!” Julia shouted from the front room.
“Be right there,” he said back. He wheeled out of the bedroom and into the bathroom. Unzipping his toiletry case quickly, he grabbed a bottle of ibuprofen, opened it and tipped a few into this palm. He popped them into his mouth and turned on the faucet to the sink. He filled a small plastic cup with water and washed the pills down.
That should help.
Aaron left the bathroom. He wheeled into the front room and grabbed his jacket, a hat, a pair of gloves, his camera and case, and the car keys from the kitchen table.
Let the day of adventuring begin.
Aaron drove them to a lookout point he had once been to several years before. It offered a unique view of the valley down below and the surrounding mountains. He and Julia stayed at the spot for a while; both just staring out at the scene in front of them for a while. Aaron went back to the Jeep for his camera and took some shots. He asked if he could photograph Julia, and she agreed. He took mostly candid shots, and only a couple posed ones.
“We should take one.” Julia said nonchalantly and she stared out at the view.
Aaron smiled and nodded as he turned to her. “We should.”
Julia turned to him then and a small smile played on her lips.
Aaron pushed back from the barrier he was leaning on. “Come on.” He said as he reversed and wheeled a few feet to the right. Julia narrowed her eyes in suspicion but followed him anyway.
“Here. This is it.” Aaron turned his chair so that his back was against the barrier. Julia stood in front of him still.
“You’ve got to come closer if you actually want to be in it.” He said with a chuckle. He reached out and tugged her closer, then turned around to sit with her side against his chest. He pulled the camera up and turned it around.
“Is this what the kids these days call a ‘selfie’?” He said as he turned the camera towards them.
“I think so, yes.” Julia laughed.
“You ready?” Aaron asked as his finger hovered above the shutter button.
“I’ll have to be.” Julia said.
Aaron and Julia both smiled as Aaron clicked the shutter button a few times. The backdrop provided was picturesque. It was a moment in time that would be captured perfectly.
After the lookout point stop, Aaron drove them a little further to a small restaurant set way off the road in another little mountain town. They took their time eating lunch, Julia did some shopping, and Aaron took some more photos. They headed back to the cabin when the sun began to set. They arrived early evening and Julia whipped up a small but delicious dinner. Afterward, relaxing on the couch, Julia drank a glass of wine and Aaron had a beer while they watched a movie. Julia kept noticing that Aaron reached up to rub his left shoulder. She didn’t say anything at first and tried to focus on the movie, but Aaron kept shifting and she could hear him suck in breaths as he moved.
She had enough after a while and looked toward him. “Tell me what you need. Ice? Heat? What does this call for?”
Aaron smirked and rolled his eyes. “I’m fine. Really.”
It was at that point that Julia came undone.
Julia threw her hands up. “Seriously?! Stop. Really. I’ve seen you wince all day long and favor your right side. You’re not fine. So you’ve got a bum shoulder because you hurt yourself. Big deal. Just let me help. Ok?”
Shit. She’s serious.
Aaron was quiet for a moment. Julia sounded downright stern and it surprised him. Maybe he could let her in; let her take a tiny bit of care. She was trying to break down his walls and at that moment he decided that he just might let her.
“Ice…is best. I haven’t done that yet.” He admitted.
“Great. Ice it is.” Julia slapped her hands down on her thighs and stood up. She strode into the kitchen and yanked open the freezer door. Aaron didn’t need to turn toward the kitchen to know that she was filling a large zipper bag with ice. Then he heard her begin rapping on the counter with something heavy, undoubtedly smashing the ice cubes into smaller bits.
“Here we go.” Julia came around the couch and tossed the bag of ice which she had wrapped in a kitchen towel in his lap. “Bedroom, come on.” She walked down the hall.
Aaron’s mouth hung open slightly.
She just threw ice at me and ordered me to bed.
He took one last pull from his beer and finished the bottle. He tossed the bag of ice aside and leaned forward to his chair, making the transfer from the couch slowly. He reached for the ice and set it back on his lap, then lifted each leg and placed his feet on the footplate. There was no turning back. He knew Julia wouldn’t relent on this so he had to just go with it.
And today had been going to smoothly…
Julia had changed out her jeans and into her pajama bottoms by the time Aaron pushed through the bedroom door.
Aaron rose an eyebrow and lifted his chin toward the bed.
“Yes.” Julia responded. She was zipping up a light heather gray hooded jacket as she went to sit on the edge of the bed and waited for him.
He wheeled around the foot of the bed and tossed the bag of ice onto the bed. He lifted each socked foot off of the footplate one at a time, then leaned over to begin the transfer. The night before he remembered he had trouble with it, and this time he was even sorer. He pushed down on the edge of the bed with his right hand and pushed up as best he could. He felt himself slip a few inches and didn’t quite clear the edge.
He lowered back into the seat slowly. He looked over at Julia who was waiting patiently on the other side of the bed.
Let’s try this again.
Aaron adjusted his position and reached over to push down on the bed once again. He let out a low
grunt when he pushed up onto the bed finally. His shoulder and side had definitely resisted the movement. Before he could turn to lift his legs onto the bed, Julia was in front of him. They were eye to eye. Aaron’s hands were planted on both sides of his hips for support; he suddenly felt slightly unbalanced.
Without saying anything, she began unbuttoning his plaid shirt and slipped it off either of his arms. He let her continue with the long sleeve shirt he wore underneath. She ran her hands underneath it and pulled it up over his head and down his arms. He still wore the white undershirt and she took that one off slowly too. She tossed the items onto a nearby chair and then turned back to face him.
Aaron felt a shiver travel up from his lower back then and he quivered for a second. Julia ran her hands down his arms then up again. She placed both hands on his chest and left them there. Her touch was warm and gentle. He looked down to see her caress the skin of his chest, then move down to his stomach. It was flat and toned down to the line of his hips where the muscles became soft. The waistband of his jeans was sitting above that area and he hoped Julia would stop before reaching it. She had seen him naked already, his body held no more secrets, but he was most self-conscious about that spot. She ran her hands down his stomach slowly, and when she reached his waistband, Aaron could see her fingertips graze the skin but he couldn’t necessarily feel it. He raised his head and she did too, their eyes meeting immediately.
Julia stepped forward and ran her hands up to his shoulders. “Lay back, ok?” She said softly. Then, she stepped back and walked around the foot of the bed and left the room.
Aaron took a deep breath and planted his hands further behind him in preparation to scoot back. He heaved his upper half backward and his legs followed. He turned and scooted back again once more, then reached down to grab his right leg and brought it up onto the bed. He grabbed his left leg from under the knee and brought it up as well. He straightened both legs out in front of him, using the leg of his jeans to lift them up. He leaned back against the headboard and closed his eyes. His shoulder was throbbing.
A couple minutes later, Aaron felt the bed shift and opened his eyes to see Julia climbing onto it. She was reaching for the bagged ice.
“Turn over, please.” Her voice was soft.
Aaron did as he was asked. Slowly, he hefted his upper body to the right and twisted to turn over on his side. He reached down and lifted his left leg off his right, then twisted all the way, laying flat on his stomach. He scrunched a pillow under his chin and stretched his left arm out carefully. He felt Julia’s hands on his back.
“All I could find was my hand cream...,” she said with a small laugh. Aaron felt the coolness of the cream as Julia began to rub his upper back and shoulders.
He wasn’t used to this kind of treatment. But he had decided to let her do it. So, he kept quiet.
He felt her place the bag of ice on his shoulder gently but couldn’t help but wince when it hit the tender area. Even with the towel acting as a barrier, the ice was still cold. Or maybe the injury was just that sensitive.
“Sorry, no ice then.” Julia lifted the bag off.
“No, it’s alright. I probably need it.” He said through gritted teeth.
She brought it down into place and Aaron exhaled deeply. The room was quiet as Julia nursed
Aaron’s shoulder with the ice for several minutes.
He heard Julia clear her throat. “I’m sorry for earlier.” Her voice was quiet. “For being short with you. It’s just that you were being a real pain in the ass.” Julia laughed quietly.
Aaron winced again under the ice. “I appreciate your honesty. And I’m sorry for being a pain in the ass. It goes without saying that I’m not used to accepting…help…,” he almost choked out the last word.
“It’s fine if you do, though. I want to be able to do something for you.” Julia placed a hand on his bare back.
Aaron mumbled into the pillow. “Seeing you get all worked up was sort of hot, too…”
Julia pinched his side and laughed. “Hush. And be still.”
Julia sat on her knees next to Aaron. She left the bag of ice on his shoulder and worked her hands around the muscled planes of his back. She applied more pressure to his right side, careful not to push too hard on the bruises on his left side. She spent several minutes massaging his back and shoulder, doing her best to ease some of the tension she felt. The sight of the scar that ran down the middle of his back was no surprise any longer. It was several inches in length and ran from below the waistband of his jeans to almost half way up his spinal column. She traced it for a moment and felt Aaron shudder under her touch. She had learned which places on his body she should keep her hands and mouth so that he could enjoy her touch. Some places were more sensitive than others, and other places he couldn’t feel at all. It hadn’t stopped her from wanting to explore though. She heard Aaron moan into the pillow as she worked his muscles.
She was happy he had relented and was letting her provide some care, even if it was just a bag of crushed ice and a gentle touch. Thinking back, she thought of how he had been so stubborn over the last day and a half. He had wanted to be all macho and manly and insist of taking the stupid cooler up the hill.
She continued to work her hands all over his back and neck. After some time, she heard Aaron breathing deeply and knew he must have fallen asleep. Julia lifted the bag of ice from his shoulder and set it aside. She bent forward and ran her hand through his hair softly before placing a kiss on his shoulder and cheek. She leaned back, settled on her heels, and watched him for a moment. His face was turned toward her; he looked so peaceful and handsome. His back rose and fell with each deep breath he took. She thought back on the pictures they had taken earlier that day; sitting on his lap, her arm around his neck. Comfortable. Content. Happy. Then it hit her. Like a ton of bricks. Big ones. Real, heavy duty, huge bricks.
I love him.
Julia blinked and brought both hands up to her face.
Ah, hell. I LOVE him.
Julia wasn’t expecting to fall in love. Little by little, though, over the past couple months, she had begun to. Freeing herself from the realization, she uncurled her legs, reached for the comforter and tossed it over Aaron’s sleeping form. She bounced off the bed faster than she had intended and headed straight for the bathroom. A hot shower was in order.
Until next time! (Which won't be months, I promise.)