He ignores my crazy rambling and takes the suitcase from me as I tiptoe back through the mess. He turns off lights, closes doors, guides my steps up two flights, and still refuses to enter the bedroom while I pack.
“I don’t mind if you come in,” I shout from the closet as he stands in the hallway.
He leans against the door frame but comes no closer. “I’m just going to say, this house is unbelievable.”
“Yeah. That’s what I thought when I first came here.”
I’m having a hard enough time trying to figure out what to pack, not knowing how long I’ll be gone, and Aaron is asking me questions and distracting me.
“Daniel designed this place, didn’t he?”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m scared for you. I mean, I don’t know anything more than you do, but I can see how tightly your life is tied to Daniel and I know that things are going to get harder.”
How does he know? What does he know?
“I can’t get into it, but I promise I am not holding anything back about Daniel. It’s just…”
“It’s what? Tell me.”
Aaron is quiet. He looks back down the hall, then back in the room.
“Well, I’ve been where you are now. I’m not going to get into it, but trust me, I know how confused and uncertain you must feel. Let’s just get you packed and going.”
“How much time do we have?”
“Yeah, Mrs. Waterfield will be there in about ninety minutes, so we have a little time, but you need to keep packing.”
“You say you’ve done this before. Tell me what to pack.”
“Pack three outfits. Phone chargers and cables. And the basic toilet kit stuff. Pajamas if you have room. Oh, and just in case, bring your passport. You just never know. You might need it to get on the air force base.”
I nod. I always take my passport when I travel. He shrugs in response in our non-verbal conversation.
“You’ll tell me this story sometime?”
He looks at me but doesn’t answer.
“You’re right. I’m scared, Aaron.”
“Yeah. That’s how you’re going to feel for a while. So, you just have to breathe. And pack. Breathe and pack.”
I do as he suggests. I breathe. I go back to the closet for two more comfortable outfits and all the under stuff – bras, panties, socks – and drop the mess of belongings into the suitcase. I barely fold the clothes.
After a similar outing to the bathroom, Aaron volunteers to get me plastic quart bags from the kitchen. He must have seen them while feeding me since he returns without question and with the bags in hand. Within twenty minutes, I zip the case and look around for anything else I might need. I take the picture of my uncle off the nightstand. This day is insane and surreal. Clearly my uncle would have understood.
We get into Aaron’s truck, and I still remind myself to keep breathing. It helps that Aaron kept reminding me to do that. The shallow breaths weren’t cutting it. He sees me forcing myself, making the deliberate effort to breathe as he climbs in and closes the door.
He starts the engine and looks over his shoulder to back out of the drive.
“So, here’s the thing about the breathing,” he starts as he loops the truck into a tight turn and avoids the three-point maneuver, “your body knows to breathe, and it will, but it will keep taking the little breaths that speed up your pace. You need to force yourself to slow down as whatever unfolds is happening. That’s one reason. You have to make yourself slow down.”
His voice sounds like the voice of experience.
“And two, you aren’t getting enough air with those small, short breaths. You’ll find yourself getting a headache, or worse, passing out, because you haven’t taken in enough oxygen. It’s basic biology, McClure. Make yourself breathe.”
I can see how this would be true. I’m terrified of what is going to happen today. I’m surprised my phone hasn’t been ringing with new information. I want to scroll through the news and read all the updates. In fact, when I try, Aaron slowly pulls it out of my hand and sets my phone on the dash.
“Will you tell me what happened?” I finally ask when I have no other way to occupy myself besides overloading my mind with the what ifs of Daniel.
“Nope.” He doesn’t look my way. He doesn’t sound persuadable. “There are secrets we keep because we can’t talk about them, and there are secrets we keep because the world doesn’t deserve to know.”
“Which is yours?” I ask as he turns onto the highway and accelerates up to full speed, and then some. We pass the highway marker, the speed limit sign, and the mileage markers to the next towns.
“Thirty-two miles to Buffalo.” He keeps his secret to himself.
I look to my right at my mythical mountains. They’ve given me life – a life I never knew I might have when I arrived here nearly four years ago. I met this man, my Lumberjack, who rekindled in me the belief that someone could love me, could care about me, could prioritize me. He drove me into these mountains on a whim to share with me the beauty and strength that each peak, each sunset, each tree, each moment among the forest could breathe into me.
As Aaron reminds me to breathe to get through from one moment to the next, I do know even if I cannot remember how to do it well. Since moving to Wyoming, I know how to fill my lungs and my soul. I gasp the wind blowing off these mountains and I am alive. Yet today, I barely remember and faintly inhale, and I can feel myself withering.
These mountains are my life spring. Daniel is my source of strength. The two are intertwined, and I might be losing my Daniel. I might only have my mountains left to sustain me. I look out the window, my hands braced against the glass desperate for the peaks and foothills to reach back to me.
If Daniel is dead, these mountains are all I have. I need them to stand tall and help me do the same.
NEXT: Breaking News – Part 64