Perhaps that was why they never came back for him? Believing he’d already left and was achieving the impossible somewhere, not needing them to have his back.
Sucking in a shaky breath, I reached for my video recorder, tucked up safe in a fleece at the bottom of my bag.
The urge to climb vanished beneath a crippling urgency to see my brother. To hear him. To remind myself that I was loved, even if I currently lived with a man determined to prove otherwise.
Turning on the recorder, I skimmed through the data currently saved on the memory card. A few climbs were on there, along with a couple of shots of Katie as I taught her a higher grade.
Taken a few months ago at my home.
A rare afternoon when Josh and my mother had popped round. I’d been excited and nervous to host my family. I’d cleaned my house until everything sparkled. I’d bought a cake mix and done my best to have perfect cupcakes ready for when they arrived.
It hadn’t quite gone to plan.
A small smile tugged my lips as I pressed play and sat cross-legged on the floor. It’d been a spur-of-the-moment video. My recorder had been next to me in the kitchen when they’d arrived, and I’d had a sudden urge to immortalize my crazy, joking brother before he got married, grew serious, and stopped teasing me.
“Hey, my favorite Gemstone, what’s up?” Joshua strode through my front door without knocking. He sniffed the air like a bloodhound. “Ohhh, do I smell sugar?”
“You do indeed, and they’re not ready yet, so stay out of my kitchen.” My voice sailed through the air, my hands keeping the video steady on his face.
He narrowed his matching hazel eyes, a glint appearing. “Not allowed in your kitchen, you say?” He stalked me, his arms bent in front of him and hands forming into claws. “You should know by now not to tempt me with rules. I just have to break them.”
The video jiggled as I backed up, my laugh pure and simple. “Oh no, you don’t, Joshykins.”
His nose wrinkled. “You know I hate that nickname.”
“I’m gonna get you.”
“Don’t you dare. Stay back.”
He roared like a T-Rex, waving his arms around like an idiot. “Fear me, pathetic human.”
“Get a grip.” I snickered. “Mom!” My mother entered my home, swinging off her handbag and placing it on the side table by the door. “Tell him to stop being a douche.”
“Rarrrrrr!” Josh gnashed his teeth together.
My mother rolled her eyes. “Gosh, you two can never just be normal together, can you?”
“Nope!” My brother winked before turning back toward me with an annoying smirk. “Get running, Gemstone.”
“You’ll ruin my cupcakes!”
Joshua snarled like a dinosaur again and launched himself at me.
I COULDN’T DAMN WELL sleep.
I’d hoped, after a day of heavy lifting and labor, that I’d crash the moment I entered the dorm. But my thoughts were swimming, my temper was short, and every inch of me snarled with hunger to finish what I’d started with Gemma in the garden.
Having her stay with me while I’d cooked dinner had grated on my nerves, and sharing a silent meal in the dining room had pushed me closer to my limit. Every moment in her company had become harder and harder, all while a conclusion formed from smoke to solid.
A conclusion that’d been floating in my head ever since this afternoon. Ever since she hacked off the chain and ensured we were no longer tethered. No longer bound against her will.
I’d watched her as we gathered wood. I’d seen her looking at me with desire in her eyes, occasionally opening her mouth to talk before pressing her lips together as if she didn’t know where to start.
I’d wanted to talk too.
I’d wanted to apologize.
To ask if she was okay.
But the words lodged in my throat, slowly sliding into my stomach where they putrefied.
I couldn’t understand how she wasn’t running—regardless of her assurances that she wouldn’t.
I was in constant pain, waiting for the moment she took off, never to be seen again.
Every hour that she stayed did something to me.
Every minute that she watched me prepare dinner had confirmed what I’d already known had to happen.
I’d been alone for eleven years. I’d had Gemma for only a few weeks.
Yet all it’d taken was a single afternoon to change everything. Or at least, I thought it was a single afternoon. Who knew where my head had been when we’d shared a bath together the night before? What had we discussed? What promises had we given? Had I already reached the conclusion that, despite my selfishness at wanting to keep her, my conscience could no longer condone it?
I couldn’t remember the moment my heart switched loyalties.
I couldn’t remember yesterday...but today? Today had affected me to the point where I was done with all of this. Done with keeping her prisoner. Done with pretending I felt nothing.