When Hope awoke from restless slumber and found her naked lover hanging by the neck at the end of a rope looped over the limb of one of the younger redwood trees that sheltered their makeshift tent, she sprang into action. Climbing the tree, she crawled out on the limb and sawed through the hemp with her skinning knife until the weight of his body snapped the remaining fibers. He dropped bonelessly to the soft carpet of needles. She swung down and crouched by his side. Wincing at the angle of his neck, she gently straightened his crackling vertebrae and laid him out in a more comfortable position.
She held his hand and stroked his cold forehead, smoothing back the lank brown locks of hair and occasionally lifting an eyelid to check on his fixed and dilated pupils. Minutes passed and his body continued to cool. She remained by his side, rocking slightly as her concern began to grow. Finally, his lids fluttered and then his chest rose. He heaved in a deep and ragged breath through his open mouth. After several of these, his skin began to pink. She smiled and kissed his forehead.
He opened his eyes and focused on the beautiful young woman, her angelic features backlight by the morning sun.
“It worked,” he whispered, barely a sound escaping his lips.
She leaned forward and kissed the tip of his nose. Her long hair straight swept across his bare chest.
“No, babe,” she said. “It didn’t work.”
“No. It did.” He sat up, perfectly recovered from the event. “It did work. I was dead. Dead.” He looked up and saw the knot of rope on the limb overhead. His gaze hardened. “Why did you cut me down?”
She leaned back on her hands and smiled. “Because I love you, silly.”
“Bullshit.” He pushed her away and grabbed the jeans that had slipped off his skinny frame while he’d swung. He stood to pull them up over his narrow hips. “If you really loved me, you would have let me stay dead.”
“You should write greeting cards.”
“I’m not kidding around, Hope,” he snapped, casting his eyes about the campsite, looking for something. “You need to let me fucking die. For your own sake.”
She tucked her hair behind her ears and then set her elbows on her knees. “And I told you that if you really want to die, you’re going to have to leave me behind to do it. Because I won’t stop cutting you down.”
“I might just do that.” He bent over and snatched his t-shirt from the top of a battered styrofoam cooler. After he put it on, he lifted the lid and rescued a can of beer from the sloshing remnants of ice. “I might just.”
“You go ahead,” she said, her cool tone covering the pounding of her hear. “But it’s my van and I don’t see you getting far without it.”
“You can drive away,” he said, pulling the tab on the beer. “Just drive the fuck away.”
“And leave you in the middle of a national forest?”
“It’s two miles to the Avenue. I’ll catch a ride.” He drank half of the beer and then tossed the can into the embers of the previous night’s fire.
“Okay.” She shrugged. “Okay, fine. If that’s what you want.” She stood and smoothed down her cotton dress, the floral-print barely disguising signs of being worn for days on end. “I’m going to go down to the water and rinse off. You can leave while I’m gone or wait for a good-bye fuck when I get back. Your choice.”
She turned and walked away, pulling off her sheath as she did. Her short and curvaceous body beckoned with every step. She could feel his eyes on her form and she knew that he’d still be there when she returned.
So she took her time.
Reason watched her walk away. She was beautiful. When she removed her dress and revealed her curves, the dappled light filtered through the mighty giants made her skin glow. She looked like a magical creature and he felt a surge of desire. Then the light revealed the livid bruises up and down her backside. His stomach turned.
I did that. I did that to her.
She loves me, he thought. She loves me more than she loves herself.
He packed his bag and started jogging towards the Avenue. He hoped he could catch a ride before she caught up with him.