2

I grabbed Jessica’s hand, pulling her off the trail and behind some bushes. She was so surprised she didn’t protest or bat away my hand. I released my hold once I was certain we were hidden from anybody who might come down the trail.

I had initially thought the gunshot had come from above us on the mountain, but I now doubted that assessment.

We had mountains on all sides of us. Their presence could have masqueraded the original direction of the sound, and it didn’t help that I thought I could still hear an echo.

I decided to trust my initial instinct and act as if it had come from up ahead but remain open to the possibility it had come from another direction.

“It isn’t hunting season,” Jessica said, her mouth right by my ear. The warmth of her breath sent a shudder down my back that I was unable to repress. I tried to pretend like it hadn’t happened as I studied the incline of the mountain. Even if it had been hunting season, the car we’d parked beside had been a regular sedan. A shiny black Chrysler with dark tinted windows. It was also clean as if it had been recently washed. I had a difficult time seeing the owner of the car strapping a gutted buck to the top.

“Might just be somebody doing target shooting,” I whispered, but I doubted this would be a popular area with shooters because it was too wooded.

“Then why drag me into the bushes?” Her eyes were big, and she panted for breath. “You aren’t trying to take advantage, are you?”

I noticed she was still whispering, so she must have known how ridiculous the idea sounded.

“The gunshot came at a perfect time.” I gave her a wry smile. “Chances are there’s no danger. Just somebody doing some shooting. Let’s give it a few minutes and head back down if there aren’t any more shots. We’ll come back for the view another time.”

“There isn’t going to be another time.”

“Yeah, sure. We’ll give it a few and then leave.”

Do you know how awkward it is to be crouched in the brush right beside a woman who has just broken up with you? So close that your bodies are touching and you can feel her breath on the back of your hand?

It’s the very definition of awkward.

I glanced at my watch after only a few minutes had passed, and wished it had been an hour. I wanted to just get up and go, particularly considering how we were both doing our best to not make eye contact, but I wasn’t at all confident we were safe despite my words to Jessica.

The black sedan made my skin crawl the more I thought about it. I hadn’t thought to look at the license plate, but I was beginning to wonder if maybe it was from out of state. If it had been a large truck or SUV, I wouldn’t have been so worried.

But the black car was all business, and the gunshot had been close. 

After a few minutes passed, we made eye contact, but neither of us moved. I could tell she was just as worried as me.

“How about we wait five, ten more minutes and if we don’t see anything, we head back down? We can’t be too careful.”

She nodded. “No funny stuff while we wait.”

“How do you mean?”

“No more hand-holding or affection of any kind. I mean to carry through with it this time.”

This time?

She’d never broken up with me before. There was one night I could tell she had been bothered by something, but she’d been fine the next time I’d seen her, so I hadn’t thought anything of it.

It sounded like she’d been struggling with her decision for some time. It made me sad because I’d thought things were going well.

But I wasn’t going to tell her that, not now.

“I want to make sure we both get down the mountain safely. After that, I’ll drop you off and you’ll never see me again.”

She didn’t respond, which I took to mean she agreed. Something about the expression on her face gave away her confusion as if she were having second thoughts.

This decision had not been easy for her. If I were to try, I might convince her to give it another go. Perhaps that was why she’d wanted me to know why she was dumping me. If she had this much uncertainty, I wasn’t about to tip the scale. It would be better for us to both move on. But if it helped her get some closure, I was willing to bite the bullet.

“Why—” I stopped what I was about to say when two men walked down the trail. They both wore suits.

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