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As I tried to get a signal on my cell phone while I leaned out of the second story window of my room, I almost had a heart attack when half of my body began to slip out. 27 years worth of memories flashed through my eyes but they immediately disappeared the moment someone's hands held my hips steady and managed to pull me back into my room. I didn't care who it was, I was grateful. So I did something I don't normally do. Hug. I wasn't a hugger. But tonight I was.
However, I was cursed, and the person who conveniently decided my life was worth saving was Daniel. He looked amused and I noticed some of the sadness in his gaze had momentarily diminished. It returned the moment I pushed him away and sat by the edge of my bed.
"How'd you get in here? My door was locked," I said crisply, cursing out loud when I realized I had dropped my phone into the bushes as I was dying.
"I came to tell you dinner was ready. I saw you doing something incredibly stupid so I came to the rescue. You're welcome," Daniel answered smugly, ignoring my question and I rolled my eyes as I got up and opened the door for him to leave.
"Thank you," I declared as I gestured for him to leave. Of course he didn't. He closed the door and tipped my chin up so I could meet his eyes. I had no idea why he felt the need to remind me how much I hated him but here he was, charming his way back into my pants. I had half a mind to let him so he'd leave me alone. My other half screamed for me to come to my senses and realize I've always been better off without the trouble Daniel came with.
"I'm sorry I ate your snacks."
"No, you're not."
"You claim I'm never nice to you and yet here you are refusing to let me. I can't win with you," he claimed, throwing up his hands in surrender. Good. Now he could go. Now he could be disappointed for the rest of the night, just like I was during the duration of our volatile relationship.
"You know, it's not like I want to be here. I have other things I'd rather be doing. Or men I'd rather be doing," I fired back and watched his jaw almost snap in half at my last statement. I held back a grin as he opened the door and let himself out. I guess he had forgotten I was always better at hurting him than he hurt himself.
When dinner was over and the dishes were washed, we decided to head out back near the fire pit to roast some marshmallows and brainstorm on where to start looking for Gabe's murderer. Michael and Marley sat together on one log, while Freddy sat in between Daniel and I, probably as a referee. I didn't blame him. He was the only one strong enough to stop me from throwing his cousin into the blazing fire.
"I'm thinking we hit the ground running in the morning. Tear this place apart for clues," I suggested as I finished licking off the sweetness of the marshmallow from my fingertips. I had Daniel's attention and wanted none of it, but I sent him a grin anyway.
"I was looking through the shed in the back earlier and I found some old pictures in a tool box. I think we can start there," Michael offered and I nodded in agreement.
"We can go for a hike in the woods once we're done," Freddy continued and I grimaced at the thought of me hiking up anything much less a damn mountain.
"I'll stay at the cabin and keep an eye on it," I stated and Daniel chuckled at my words. I raised an eyebrow and started to reach to slap the back of his neck but Freddy quickly sent me a warning glare and I crossed my arms instead.
"I can take you," I reminded him and Freddy seemed amused by the idea.
"You're welcome to try."
"It's getting a little chilly out here," Marley chimed in after being deep in thought and I raised an eyebrow when I saw Michael place his jacket over her shoulders, and place a small kiss on her temple. Freddy was practically growling next to me. Daniel and I shared glances and smirks as we watched someone else's drama unfold.
"When did you two become so friendly?" Freddy asked sharply as he stood up and started to put out the fire.
"Fuck off, Freddy. I'm just being nice," Michael defended, waving him off as he helped Marley stand up and escorted her inside the cabin. Daniel quickly followed them and I was left with a very gnarly Freddy.
"So when are you going to tell her you're still madly in love with her?" I teased and watched him settle down next to me once again.
"Because I don't want me and her to end up like you and Daniel," he retorted with a smug grin, reminding me of how much he and his cousin were alike.
"Ha ha, seriously though. You obviously still care about her."
"I never stopped. She knows that. I just got tired of waiting for her to be ready."
"Ready for what?"
"I'm not entirely sure. Women are complicated," he said and I smirked as he stood up and helped me up as well.
"So this Gabe thing, I might've been holding my tongue back at the will reading," I started, not willing to keep this secret for much longer. It was gnawing at my insides since the funeral and I needed to tell at least one person. Telling Marley would only cause more tension. Freddy seemed like an impartial party I could spill the beans to.
"You do that?" he teased and I chuckled as we headed inside and he closed the patio door behind us.
"Gabe called me a week before he died," I confessed and Freddy's eyes narrowed suspiciously as he continued to listen.
"I didn't know you guys still talked."
"We didn't. At least not until that day," I replied as he started preparing some hot chocolate for both of us.
"Well, what did he say?" he asked as he picked some marshmallows from the bowl and chopped them up into little pieces, placing them into two mugs.
"He sounded weird. I thought he was drunk or something. He was talking about some magnolia tree somewhere, and how he wanted Daniel and I to go there together and I don't know. It was just really odd so I hurried the phone call up and that was it. A week later, I find out he's dead and I'm just freaked out, you know?" I confessed as I watched him pour the hot chocolate into the mugs after turning the stove off and I sprinkled some more marshmallows into my own cup.
"Magnolia trees are all over Texas. Did he mention something else? Something that might help you narrow it down?"
"Not really. He only said that when Daniel and I find it, we should whisper because there are ears everywhere," I explained and his eyebrows furrowed in confusion.
"Well, how the hell is that going to help?"
"That's all I'm saying. But I think he was trying to tell me something. A clue maybe? Something that'll help us find out who did this to him," I reasoned and he nodded as he sipped at his own hot chocolate.
"One thing is for sure, you and Daniel are going to have to find a way to work together if we're going to figure this out," Freddy pointed out and I sighed deeply. I wanted to stay as far away from Daniel as I could. He was a virus I spent years trying to cure myself from and now that I have, I was stuck with him.
The shed turned out to be a dud, nothing but Gabe's old family photos and some newspaper clippings from the forties stood out. There was no correlation between the two, at least none that we could think of. Now it was time for a stupid hike to the river and I was in no mood to go trudging about in nature. But I went anyway, if only to save Marley from making some very regrettable mistakes with Freddy and Michael.
I had bent down to tie my shoe laces when I heard a noise behind me. Turning to see what it was, I smiled when I saw a beautiful white bunny munching on some grass. I slowly made my way towards it to pet it, but he hopped away once Daniel came along and scared it.
"Do you always scare everything in sight like that or is this one of your hidden talents you never told me about?" I asked with more edge in my tone than normal. He leaned up against a tree and raised an eyebrow.
"What were you and Freddy talking about all night?" he inquired and I crossed my arms, noticing the rest of the group had gone ahead of us.
"Nothing important. Why do you care?" I countered, not willing to tell him anything with that attitude of his.
"Just find it weird. That's all."
"What's weird? Me having a normal conversation with a guy? Or is it that that conversation was had with your terribly handsome cousin?" I shot back, intentionally trying to piss him off, and he quickly stepped closer to me and pressed me up against another tree. His gaze held no sadness in them today. Just exhaustion and fury, something he was particularly good at making me feel.
"One day you're going to learn how to stop crossing the line with me."
"Am I? Under whose authority?"
The air was thick with tension, the angry kind, the passionate kind too—a dangerous combination that would only lead to one thing. And his lips were too close to mine to move an inch. Any kind of movement and they'd be touching.
"Why didn't you ever sign the papers?" I changed the subject and watched him pull away slightly, but not enough to allow me to move.
"Because I never saw the point. We always end up here," Daniel informed me and this time I lifted my gaze up to meet his. I wondered what was going on in his head because he knew well enough that the secret wedding we had in Vegas the summer before we broke up was a joke and was ultimately done in truly regrettable and drunk fashion. He couldn't possibly think we had anything left in us to fight for.
"Daniel," I said his name in warning, with a bitter taste in my mouth when I realized he was probably only doing this because he was still going through his grief process. He saw nothing left in me to love and I had accepted that a long time ago. Until now, until he kissed me without warning or protest from me.
As soon as he pulled his lips away from mine and traced my lower lip with his thumb, I cursed everything in sight when he opened his mouth to say something and ran. I ran until no air was left in me and my legs cramped up. I rested against a tree and took in my surroundings, cursing again because I realized I was now lost in the woods with no way to contact anyone.
Stupid Daniel and his stupid lips.