Disclaimer: I do not own, nor am I affiliated in any way with TAPS, Ghost Hunters or any of the people involved. The only things that are truly mine are my imagination and the ideas that come from it.
An hour later, I was in the parking lot behind the residence halls waiting for Ed and Phil. I had agreed to go rock climbing along with them and the Geology Club.. I had tried to convince JoEllyn to come along, but she declined; she, Amy and Amber were going to hit some of the shops downtown and maybe get manicures if they had time. I laughed to myself, wondering again how JoEllyn and I could be so different yet still be such good friends. I would never be caught dead in a nail salon and fussing so much over my appearance, and she wouldn’t be caught dead traipsing around in the woods or doing something as rough-and-tumble as rock climbing.
Of course, we’d had words about Steele again, when she smiled suggestively and asked if Steele would be going climbing with us. “I highly doubt it,” I’d answered contemptuously. “Which suits me just fine.”
“What happened this time?” JoEllyn asked, quickly sweeping rose-tinted lip gloss onto her lips as she looked at me in the mirror.
I told her about our morning in the library researching the events at Appleton Hall, how all the articles referring to the fatal fire had been blacked out, how Steele had been so encouraging through my frustration. Then I told her about our conversation about my investigating skills and about what had happened to me in Borland. Then I crossed my arms and stared at the floor and finished, “Of course, he had to make a snide comment about me being afraid of my own shadow, so I just took off. He just can’t resist being a jerk. Why did I ever trust him?”
JoEllyn sighed, tossed her lip gloss back into her makeup bag and turned to look at me. “Kyr,” she began firmly, “you know I love you dearly, and I will always be on your side. But I have to be honest with you—I think you’re wrong this time, and frankly, you need to get over yourself.” Stung by her words, I looked up at her. “Honestly, Kyr, he was just teasing you; there was no need for you to get all huffy and go storming off like that.” Her expression softened, and she gave me a sly wink. “Think about it, if Grant would have made that comment, you never would have reacted that way. Why do you have to overreact with Spook? If you’d just give him half a chance, you might actually like him.”
I didn’t voice any of the responses that popped into my head; I figured it was a lost cause. For one thing, I thought, Grant would never say something like that. And for another, if Steele would drop the split personality, maybe I would be friendlier towards him. JoEllyn just didn’t get it. She had only experienced Steele’s nice side; she had never had the displeasure of enduring the cold arrogance in his eyes. She had never been the target of his accusations or been the butt of his jokes…
“Hey, Kyr, are you ready to go?” I was jolted from my recollections by Ed and Phil coming towards me. I had to stifle a laugh; they were wearing identical gray and blue Willow Lake T-shirts and red Geology Club baseball caps. No, it wasn’t obvious that they were a couple.
“As ready as I’ll ever be,” I replied, bending down to pick up my backpack. As excited as I was to get back out with the Geology Club, I was still nervous. I hadn’t been rock climbing since my college days, and I was hoping to remember enough of the climbing techniques I’d learned to not make a complete fool of myself. I had never been the best rock climber anyway. At least Steele wouldn’t be there to make me more nervous.
Ed opened the trunk of his car and threw all our backpacks in. “Don’t worry, Kyr. It’s just like riding a bike; you never forget how.” I hoped he was right.
We got in the car and made the ten-minute drive to the quarry where the Geology Club always climbed. As we parked the car and traipsed carefully over the rocky, brush-filled path towards the quarry walls, I could see several people already climbing. As we approached, two men turned and saw Phil and came over to talk to her and Ed. Phil introduced me to them; one was a student named Brian, and the other was a new earth science professor named Eric Baranski. “It’s nice to see another woman coming out,” Professor Baranski said. “Phil is usually the only one.”
I smiled and nodded, “It was like that when I was in the Geology Club, Professor Baranski. Just me and one other girl braving all the guys.” I laughed and added, “And I wasn’t even a science major.”
“Really?” Professor Baranski asked. “And please, call me Eric. What was your major?”
I told him I’d been an English/Library Science major and was now a Children’s Librarian. Professor Baranski—Eric—told me that he was working on his Ph.D. in Geophysics. We chatted for a few minutes about this and that. I found myself checking for a wedding ring; when I saw no evidence of one, I looked more closely at him. He was definitely handsome—dark blond hair that just reached the collar of his T-shirt, dark gray-blue eyes, and an easy smile that lit up his whole face. He was open, friendly, and very sweet. I couldn’t help thinking that Steele could take a lesson or two from him.
“Hey, Kyr,” Ed called out. “You ready to take a turn?” He held out a helmet and harness to me.
I hesitated, still feeling unsure of myself and out of practice. Ed and Eric both urged me to give it a go, telling me I’d get the hang of it again right away. My desire to get back on the rocks soon overcame my trepidation, and I got ready to climb. By the time I connected onto the climbing rope, I was raring to go.
They had given me Old Straight and Narrow, one of the easiest climbs, so just as Ed had assured me, it was just like riding a bike. As I reached and stretched and felt around the rough rock face for handholds and footholds, the skills I had learned in my undergrad years quickly came back to me, and I completed the climb in no time. As I balanced on the top of the quarry wall, I heard, Ed, Phil and Eric cheering for me, and I looked down at them and raised my hands in triumph. Immediately, I regretted doing that. I had a fear of heights that I just couldn’t completely conquer. One of the reasons I had started rock climbing was to put that fear to rest. While I wasn’t absolutely terrified anymore, I still felt skittish in high places.
I did see something from my vantage point that gave me a shot of courage; JoEllyn’s car had just pulled in beside Ed’s car. A broad grin spread over my face as I thought maybe she, Amy and Amber had changed their minds. By the time I had rappelled down the rock face and got my helmet off, Ed and Phil were greeting someone. I turned, excited, expecting to see JoEllyn. Instead, there were Steele, Jason and Grant shaking hands with Brian, Eric and a couple other Club members.
I tried to turn and walk away before Steele saw me, but no such luck. “Carter,” he said cheerfully. “Was that you we saw at the top if the cliff when we pulled in? I’m impressed.”
I couldn’t tell by his smile whether he meant it or if he was being sarcastic. “Why?” I blurted out. “Did you think I’d be too afraid of my own shadow to climb?”
He closed his eyes for a second, and I saw his jaw tense. “Not at all,” he replied, smiling, but with a touch of irritation in his voice. “I just wasn’t sure if you were bluffing when you told me you’d climbed before. Like I said, you didn’t seem the type.”
Eric glanced curiously between Steele and me, and Jason, Grant, and Ed exchanged amused looks and shook their heads.
“Well, you can see that I wasn’t,” I retorted coolly, raising an eyebrow at him. I was feeling cocky after my successful climb, and I was actually up for his banter.
That is, until he crossed his arms and looked down at me with his own cocky smirk. The playful glint in his eyes made me knees go weak, and I cursed inwardly, wishing again that I didn’t find him so attractive.
“Kyr said she hasn’t been climbing since college,” Eric interjected, smiling proudly at me. “I never would have guessed that to see her shimmying up that rock face.”
Steele turned to look at Eric; he seemed to be sizing my new friend up. It hit me that he actually appeared to be jealous, which kind of irritated me, but at the same time gave me quite a thrill. I had never had two men competing for me before, and I found the possibility exhilarating. “Well, I’m sorry I missed it,” Steele replied shortly.
“I’m sure you’ll get another chance to see her in action,” Eric assured him. I tried to catch his eye, shaking my head at him, but he either didn’t notice, or he ignored me. “I’m sure Kyr will be doing another climb.”
I groaned inwardly; how was I going to get out of this? Steele was giving me a self-satisfied smirk; he knew I was trapped. I looked over at Jason and Grant, who were both watching our little triangle and trying not to laugh. Jason caught me glaring at them and nudged Grant, who glanced at me and shrugged. They were enjoying this way too much.
A sudden shout from one if the more difficult climbs made us all turn quickly. One of the climbers had taken a fall and was hanging by his belay rope while he re-situated himself on the rock face to begin climbing again. I shuddered as I noticed there was a good-sized overhang on that climb. I wondered how he would get himself over it to complete the climb. We watched as he almost effortlessly scrambled along the underside of the overhang and somehow managed to pull himself up and over the edge. I shook my head in admiration of his skills. I had never even attempted a climb like that.
“Can you do that, Kyr?” Jason asked with a wink.
I felt the color drain from my face as I exclaimed, “Not on your life!” I thought to myself, don’t you even suggest I try making that climb.
Phil jumped into the conversation. “Why don’t you try the Baby Bear climb? That one’s a challenge, but not too hard.” She pointed over to the far end of the climbing area to two sets of ropes. One set of ropes came down over a small overhang—Baby Bear—and the other set came down over a slightly larger overhang—Mama Bear.
I tried to refuse the challenge, but Phil insisted, and soon Eric, Ed, and even Jason and Grant were cajoling me to at least give it a shot. If it would have just been them, I would have refused outright. One glance at Steele, however, made me hesitate. Although he said nothing, he had his arms crossed, and he was giving me that self-satisfied smirk that said he knew I’d chicken out. I felt defiance rising in my chest. I’d show him I wasn’t afraid of my own shadow, even if it killed me. Of course, I shuddered when that thought crossed my mind, but I shoved it aside. “All right, fine, I’ll give it a shot.”
The amusement left Grant’s face, and he glanced at Jason, obviously concerned. Jason was looking a bit less jovial too. Steele was still smirking, although his expression had lost some of the cockiness. I tried to keep the fear out of my eyes as I stared back at him. I got the impression that none of them thought I would actually attempt it. Eric was giving Steele and me a curious look again as he helped me with my helmet. I really didn’t need any assistance, but I knew Eric’s attention on me was grating on Steele’s nerves.
We started towards the other end of the quarry towards Baby Bear, and my breathing became more shallow. Baby Bear’s name was quite deceptive; there was nothing “baby” about it. It was at least a good twenty feet higher than the climb I had already done, and the overhang just made it more difficult.
As we got to the Baby Bear/Mama Bear climbs, Brian and a group of others had just completed their climbs and were getting ready to head off to another. Brian was still connected to the belay rope, so he offered to belay me. It didn’t make any difference to me who was handling the ropes; I just wanted to get this climb over with.
I connected to the climbing rope and stood for a long moment gazing up at the quarry wall, sizing up the difficulty of the climb. A cloud passed before the sun, casting a momentary shadow over the quarry. I shuddered, hoping that my sudden feeling of foreboding was just due to nerves. Finally, I turned to Brian and said, “Climbing.”
“Climb on,” Brian replied.
I started up the rock face. My confidence was still running high from the previous climb, so I ascended pretty quickly at first, and I felt some of my nervousness subsiding. However, by the time I had gone up twenty feet or so, the handholds and footholds became less obvious, and I began to struggle to make any headway. My hands began sweating, making it even more difficult for my fingers to maintain a grasp on the rocks. I wiped my hands on my jeans and tried again. Once, twice, three times I tried to make progress by following the rope straight up, but I kept slipping back. Luckily, the belay rope kept me from falling more than a couple feet, and I repeatedly reminded myself not to look down.
“Kyr,” Eric called. “Try going to the right a few feet. I can see some good holds above your head to the right.”
I shaded my eyes as I leaned back and searched the rocks above me. Catching sight of a good-sized indentation in the rock, I placed my foot in a small crevasse just above my knee and lunged upward for the handhold Eric had pointed out. As soon as I hooked my fingers into the hold, I was able to pull myself up several more feet. Encouraged and emboldened, I began looking for holds a bit further out of my reach, as Bret and Dr. Keane had both taught me, and I was able to pull myself up to just below the overhang. Now what do I do, I thought. It wasn’t a large overhang—not more than four feet—but it still presented more of a challenge than I knew how to deal with, and I was stumped.
After I had stood completely clueless for a full minute, Eric called up to me once more. Against my better judgment, I looked down at him. My breath caught in my throat for a second, and I closed my eyes and flattened myself against the rock, my knuckles turning white as I held on for dear life. This was easily the highest I had ever been on a climb. “Kyr?” Eric called out again. “Are you all right?”
I nodded, then realized he probably couldn’t see that from more than forty feet up. Taking a deep breath, I shouted back, “I’m fine. I’ve never been this high up before.”
“You’re doing fine,” he encouraged.
“Get underneath the overhang the best you can and find some good handholds. Hang on tight and get ready to pull yourself and over.” With the distance I was off the ground and the ringing in my ears from my fear, it was hard to catch everything Eric said. Finally, I took a few deep breaths and told myself, just do it already!
I inched up a bit further and reached up to feel around the rock on the overhang. Finding a good-sized protrusion with my left hand, I gripped it as tightly as I could and began moving. I managed to pull most of my upper body over the edge of the overhang, but as I struggled to get my leg up to pull myself completely up and over, I lost my footing. I shut my eyes and tried unsuccessfully to stifle a scream as I fell. When I felt the jerk of the belay rope stopping my fall, I grabbed the rope and opened my eyes. Brian quickly lowered me enough to allow me to resituate myself on the rock face. Breathing hard and shaking all over, I flattened myself against the rock and debated whether I wanted to give it another shot or just give up and get back on the ground.
“That’s okay, Kyr,” Phil yelled. I looked down at her; she was giving me a thumbs-up. “Don’t give up!”
Eric called up too, “Get your bearings and try again. You can do it!” He also gave me a thumbs-up. I’m glad you think so, I thought, taking deep breaths and wiping my sweaty palms on my jeans. I noticed Jason, Grant and Steele standing together watching me. Jason said something to Grant, and they both laughed. Steele looked towards them and laughed too before turning his eyes back to me.
I quickly turned back to the climb. I was determined to succeed and show Steele that I wasn’t a complete wimp. I reached up again with my left hand to find the hold I’d just been grasping. When I found it, I scooted over several feet so I could grab it with my right hand, and finding a large crevasse on the bottom of the overhang, I anchored my foot and pulled my upper body over the edge of the overhang a bit farther than before. From this vantage point I could see a number of decent holds; if I could just get to them, I was sure I could get onto the overhang and conquer Baby Bear.
“Keep going, Kyr,” Phil shouted excitedly. “You’re almost there.”
I reached up with my left hand to wedge my fingers into a crack, then swung my leg up to anchor my foot in another crevasse. With a grunt and a growl, I strained to pull myself up over the edge of the overhang. I’m almost there; I’m going to do it this time, I thought, laughing triumphantly to myself. I heard Eric shouting something, but I couldn’t make out what he said; I hesitated a second to ask him to repeat what he had just said.
The events of the next few moments happened so quickly that I wasn’t sure at first exactly what went wrong. Just as my right hip cleared the edge of the overhang, the crack where my left hand was wedged suddenly gave way, showering bits of rock and dirt into my eyes. As I tumbled off the ledge, I flipped upside down, and my foot somehow got tangled up in the ropes. I began swinging like a pendulum, and at one point I slammed into the rock wall hard enough to knock my helmet off. Just for a second I watched my helmet plummet towards the ground; then I shut my eyes tightly.
My intense fear of heights returned with a vengeance as I hung flailing and swinging upside down fifty feet above the ground. I became hysterical because I couldn’t get myself right-side up, and I was terrified I would slip out of my harness and fall to my death. I grabbed handfuls of both ropes and held on for dear life, alternately praying and pleading tearfully over and over, “Get me down, get me down, get me down, please someone get me down.” I could hear Ed, Phil and Eric yelling at me to let go of the ropes—were they freakin’ crazy? The ropes were the only thing keeping me from following my helmet down to the ground; no way in hell was I letting go!
I had no idea how long I hung there, but I could feel the blood rushing to my head and the ropes beginning to cut off the circulation in my hands. Just as I was beginning to think I would hang there for all eternity, I felt hands on my shoulders and a voice calmly urging, “Come on, Kyr, let go of the ropes. You’re not going to fall.”
Keeping my eyes screwed tightly shut, I whimpered, “I can’t, Eric. I can’t.”
My eyes flew open as I heard a familiar chuckle right next to my ear. “Nope. Guess again.” Steele! I never thought I’d be so happy to see him! His face—upside down—was right next to mine. He was grinning, but his eyes were serious. “Kyr, you need to let go of the ropes so I can get your foot untangled and get you right-side up.” Still frozen with fear, I looked at him as though he were speaking Chinese. “You won’t fall. I won’t let you fall. Trust me, Kyr.” Trust him? With my life? I swallowed hard, realizing I didn’t have much of a choice.
He gently took my hands and pried my fingers open to take the ropes from me. I had somehow managed to wrap the ropes around my wrists, so he had to unwrap my wrists as well. As he worked, he quietly reassured me. I couldn’t take my eyes off his face; I felt as though if I lost eye contact with him, I was a goner. He freed one hand from the ropes, and I immediately grasped his shirt. He winced slightly, but continued talking softly to me, encouraging me to let go of the ropes and trust him. When my other hand was free of the ropes, I tightly grasped his shirt with both hands and pulled myself closer to him. He grimaced and took my hands, saying through gritted teeth, “Ow, ow, ow, Kyr. Chest hair…”
I reluctantly released my grip and apologized weakly. He laughed shortly and looked into my eyes. “You need to trust me here. You need to let me go so I can get your foot untangled.”
He let go of my hands and climbed up a few feet. As I felt him grasp my leg and begin unwinding the rope from my ankle, I grabbed hold of his legs for security. “Don’t make me lose my foothold,” he warned, “or I’ll be in for a rough ride.” For the first time I noticed how he had managed to get to me. He had climbed up Mama Bear and shimmied over to Baby Bear to help me. My eyes widened as I realized how precarious our positions were.
Suddenly I felt my leg come free of the ropes, and I had to fight my panic again as I felt myself starting to flip. Grabbing my legs to keep me from flipping too fast, Steele adjusted his footing and said, “Okay, Kyr, now we need to get you turned right-side up.” He helped maneuver my body till I was again standing right-side up. I rested my head against the rock face, feeling light-headed and queasy; Steele kept his body close to mine, his arm firmly around me to steady me.
After about a minute, the sick feeling passed, and I relaxed somewhat. Steele took a step away from me. I glanced over at him, unable to read his expression; then I looked up at the overhang. Steele grabbed my arm and ordered, “Don’t even think about it!” Even though I was still shaking and unable to speak, I glared at him defiantly. He sighed and said more gently, “You don’t have to complete this climb for my benefit.” When I still couldn’t speak, he smirked at me and teased, “Or to impress the professor,”
That did it. I felt the fire come into my eyes as I replied, “You’re such a jerk!” I thought to myself, you’re lucky I don’t give you a shove and send you flying.
He laid a hand on my shoulder and laughed, “I knew that would get your spunk back. Come on, let’s get down from here.” Realizing why he had just baited me, I couldn’t help giving him a weak smile in return as I watched him carefully yet expertly make his way back over to Mama Bear.
Still somewhat shaken, I leaned back and rappelled down. As soon as my feet hit the ground, the others surrounded me, hugging me, asking if I was all right and wondering what had happened. All the attention made me uncomfortable, and I answered shortly or not at all; I just wanted to get away from everyone. I glanced over to Mama Bear, where Steele was just taking off his harness and helmet. I noticed for the first time that Eric had belayed him.
Steele and Eric high-fived each other and then headed over to where I stood, still surrounded. Eric said, “Okay, guys, get back and let her breathe. I think she’s all right.” The other backed away as he and Steele approached me.
I felt so foolish over what had happened that I could hardly look at him; I was sure he didn’t think so much of my climbing skills now. All I could think to say to Eric and to Steele was, “Thank you both.”
“Don’t mention it,” Eric responded, grasping my shoulder. He laughed shakily and continued, “I can’t say I’ve ever seen that happen on a climb. I’m glad you’re still in one piece.”
Steele chuckled and commented, “Well, she does have quite a knack for getting herself into situations.” Now why did he have to say that, I thought, glaring at him. He crossed his arms and cocked his head at me as if to reassure me he was just teasing me. I felt my face growing red, although I couldn’t tell if it was in response to Steele’s comment or to Eric’s.
Eric’s expression suggested that he wanted to ask Steele what he meant, but he didn’t. Instead, he began looking me over and asked, “How do you feel? Are you all right?”
For the first time since coming down, I realized that I hurt all over. “I’m a little sore,” I responded, moving my arms and legs tentatively, “but nothing serious.”
Steele reached over and ran his thumb across my cheek; I winced and brought my hand up to my face. “You’ve got a bit of a shiner starting, kiddo,” he said. “Your helmet must have caught you when it got knocked off.”
“It’s a good thing you had it on, as hard as you hit,” Eric said. Then he laughed and added, “You could definitely be the poster child for wearing a helmet when rock climbing.”
I rolled my eyes as Eric and Steele both laughed. Great, I thought. Another Steele. I caught sight of Grant standing just behind Steele trying to get my attention. “Kyr,” he began, coming over and giving me a hug, “There’s never a dull moment, is there? Are you okay?”
I nodded and then glared at Steele as he laughed again and interjected, “You said it!”
Grant laughed along with him, then apologized to me. “We’re really sorry that you felt pressured into making that climb. No one would have looked down on you if you’d refused.” I glanced over at Steele, who suddenly had a guilty expression on his face.
“It’s not your fault,” I told Grant. “It was my choice to make the climb.” I glanced over at Steele again. This time I wore the guilty expression. He smiled slightly back at me.
“Well, I still think you should be proud of the attempt,” Eric said. “Baby Bear isn’t an easy climb, but you almost made it through the most difficult part.” I had been so certain that he’d look down on my pathetic attempt at rock climbing that I was taken aback by this unexpected praise. The gentle concern in Eric’s blue eyes was so much like the gentle concern in Grant’s brown eyes. I could really see myself with this man, I told myself. Even as I thought that, I caught sight of Steele standing just next to me. Why could I not keep my eyes—or my thoughts—off him? He was obviously not my type; Eric was the kind of man I wanted, so much like Grant. Eric was kind and gentle; Steele acted tough. Eric was helpful and caring; Steele liked to pick on me. Eric seemed safe; Steele was dangerous. Eric had definite goals; Steele—I didn’t even know what Steele did besides hunt ghosts. Frustrated, I realized that I could hardly keep my attention on Eric; Steele kept coming to my mind.
“Professor Baranski,” Eric called. “Phil is climbing Suicide Ridge.” I looked over to see Phil headed up the most difficult climb, one that included a very large overhang; I could easily see why they had dubbed it Suicide Ridge. Eric excused himself and hurried over to watch Phil’s ascent. I gazed after him longingly, thinking again how sweet he was and wondering if I had a chance with him.
Realizing I was staring, I glanced at Steele and Grant to see if they had noticed. Steele was also staring after Eric, but there was an expression of jealousy on his face. Grant seemed to be watching the two of us. He caught my eye and grinned mischievously before asking, “Shall we go over and watch?”
Almost everyone else was already over there, so I nodded and started towards Suicide Ridge. Grant walked next to me, and after a moment, Steele followed, his hands jammed into his jeans pockets.
By the time we got there, Phil was already up to the overhang. I wondered how she would make her way along the underside of the rock. She paused, scanning the rock for cracks and crevasses where she could wedge her hands and feet. A moment later, she made her move. My jaw dropped. How in the world was she doing that? She looked like a fly crawling effortlessly across the ceiling. I heard someone exclaim, “Yeah, baby! THAT’S how it’s done! She won’t fall.”
Suddenly feeling foolish again for my mishap on Baby Bear, I backed away from the group and quietly walked back to where all the backpacks were stacked. I found mine, grabbed my water bottle from inside and sat down beside a large rock.
A moment later, a shadow fell over me. I looked up, hoping to see Eric; it was Steele. He leaned on the rock and smiled down at me. “You okay?” he asked softly.
I looked away and nodded. “Just feeling really…” What was I feeling? “…like I don’t fit in anymore, like I don’t measure up. Seems to be the in thing this weekend.”
Steel came around the rock and sat down next to me. “Like I told you before, you’re way too hard on yourself. You heard the professor; that wasn’t an easy climb you tried to tackle.” He plucked a weed and twirled it in his fingers for a moment before he said, “I’m…sorry. I know you only attempted that climb because you wanted to prove to me you’re not afraid of your own shadow.” He caught my eye. Although he was smiling at me, I could see he was sincere.
I sighed. “Well, like I told Grant, it was my choice to do it. No one held a gun to my head and made me climb. It serves me right for trying to show off.” I played with my water bottle for a moment, then added, “I’m sorry you had to come get me.” Glancing over at the Baby Bear and Mama Bear climbs, I finished, “What you did…that was so dangerous. Why did you do it?”
Steele smiled wryly and replied, “What was I going to do, leave you hanging for the vultures?” He looked away somewhat uncomfortably, then continued, “Besides, you’re worth the risk.”
My breath caught in my throat.
Steele’s words caught me so off guard that I didn’t know what to say. I searched his face, trying to read his expression. He looked back at me almost pleadingly and continued, “Look, Kyr, I know we got off on the wrong foot…” I raised an eyebrow at him, my guard back up. “…mostly my fault, I admit. But I’m not your enemy; I’d like to start over…and be friends.” He held out his hand. “What do you say, Kyr?”
Suddenly, I realized for the first time that up on Baby Bear, and since then, he had been calling me Kyr and not Carter as he had before. This whole scene was so surreal that I began wondering how hard I’d hit my head. I looked into his eyes again to be sure I’d heard him right. There was such vulnerability on his face that I realized he was sincere. I placed my hand in his and replied, “I’d like that…Spook.”
The smile he gave me in response combined with the touch of his hand sent a jolt of electricity through me. I noticed that he held my hand longer than was typical for a handshake, but I felt no desire to pull away. Instead I looked down at our joined hands; mine—small, white and freckled—contrasted sharply with his—large and darkly-tanned, with a long scar across the top of his wrist.
A sudden shadow and a voice right next to us made me jump and jerk my hand away. I looked up to see Jason and Grant smiling at us curiously. Jason chuckled and began, “We’re not interrupting something, are we?”
My face grew hot as I ducked my head and glanced up at Spook, not sure what to say. Spook wasn’t bothered in the least as he replied, “Not at all.” He smiled down at me. “We just decided it was time to bury the hatchet.”
Jason and Grant exchanged skeptical looks before Jason continued, “Anyway, we’re ready to head back to campus to catch a few Z’s before dinner. Ed and Phil want to get in a few more climbs before heading back.” He smirked at me. “Are you staying or coming back with us?”
Suspecting what he was thinking, I felt my face flushing again. Still, I was torn. I was trying to figure out what, if anything, had just happened between Steele—Spook— and me; I was still feeling the effects of the jolt I’d experienced when we shook hands. On the other hand, I glanced over to where Eric stood belaying a climber. Part of me wanted to spend more time getting to know him, to see if there was any chance of something developing with him. My eyes shifted furtively towards Spook, and I saw that his gaze had followed mine. He was looking towards Eric, eyes narrowed and that jealous expression on his face again. As I looked at him, I realized with some irritation that when I was looking at him, I couldn’t even remember what Eric looked like.
Realizing that Jason was still waiting for an answer, I shook my head and responded, “I might stick around here with Ed and Phil.” I could have sworn I saw Spook’s eyes darken for a moment, but when I looked right at him, his expression was unreadable.
We walked over to where Ed and Phil were standing with Eric, watching Brian climb Mama Bear. Jason and Grant shook Eric’s hand and told him they were going to head back to campus. Spook stood steely-eyed, almost glaring at Eric. His expression cleared when Eric shook his hand. “Glad I could belay you when you went up after Kyr,” he said to Spook.
Spook gave me a look I couldn’t decipher and responded, “I appreciate the assistance. She can be quite a handful.” My jaw dropped as I fought the urge to slug him right then and there. Jason laughed out loud, and I saw Grant cover his mouth to hide a smile.
Eric laughed too and said to me, “Kyr, are you planning to stick around and do a couple more climbs?”
I felt my face turn white as I glanced up at Mama Bear. Suddenly feeling sick to my stomach, I answered weakly, “You know what, Eric, I think I’m going to head back to campus with them.” I made excuse, “I need to crash for a while before tonight’s investigation.” Eric looked a bit disappointed, as did Ed and Phil, but Spook’s face suddenly lit up almost triumphantly. What’s with him, I wondered.
“Okay, I understand,” Eric said. “I hope you won’t be a stranger, Kyr. We’d love for you to come out with the Club again the next time you’re on campus.”
I smiled back at him. Maybe there was still hope. “I’d like that, Eric.”
Jason told Ed and Phil not to stay out too long. They jokingly replied, “Yes, Dad. We won’t.”
I headed over to pick up my backpack. As Jason, Grant and Spook headed towards JoEllyn’s car, I saw Phil run after Spook and pull him close to whisper to him. He smiled broadly and replied, “Good to know. Thanks, Phil.” She winked at him and headed back to Ed and Eric. Now what was that all about, I wondered.