Chapter Thirteen – Rich Jerks
by Christine DePetrillo
Don’t pass out. Do not pass out.
Mitch inhaled and exhaled slowly, trying not to look at the bright red blood marring the white blanket of snow at his feet. He hated the sight of blood, especially his own. His stomach churned, his pulse beat like a heavy metal drum solo in his ears, and his vision grew spotty.
How the hell had he lost control of the chainsaw? This wasn’t his first time using the thing. He’d been cutting his own wood since moving out here with no accidents whatsoever.
You weren’t focused, dumbass.
He tightened his gloved grip on his arm and squeezed his eyes shut as warm blood soaked through to his cold fingers. He’d been thinking of Candy while he sawed into the log. Remembering the soft curves of her naked body, the smell of his soap on her skin, the silkiness of her hair as it wound around his fingers. He’d been so distracted—and aroused—he hadn’t held the chainsaw at the right angle, hadn’t followed the standard procedures in Simple Lumberjacking 101. The blade wedged in the trunk and locked up on him. Before he realized what was happening, the saw kicked back and freed itself. Not expecting the sudden weight of the freed machine, Mitch had lost his footing in the deep, slippery snow. He hadn’t fallen over, but with his fingers still on the trigger, so to speak, the saw blade got him right across the inside of his arm just below the elbow.
He wouldn’t have believed it if he’d watched a video, but there was his blood, staining his torn jacket and shirt, seeping into his glove, and making his stomach flip-flop. He bent over at the waist, willing himself not to puke, not to faint.
Be a man, dammit.
“Oh, my God, Mitch. What happened?” His boots on Candy’s feet came into view as he stayed hunched over, still holding his arm. Her hand rested on his shoulder, and he had a second to think he should respond to her before everything faded to black…
When he opened his eyes, he lay sprawled on the couch in his living room, a fire roaring in the fireplace. Candy hovered over him. Night had fallen, and even in the dim glow of the fire, her face was pale. Beautiful, but pale. Mitch tried to sit up, but instantly his arm burned with a searing pain. He had trouble swallowing as he remembered that saw blade grazing his flesh.
“Are you going to vomit?” Candy pressed a cold cloth to his forehead, and he settled back down against the couch cushions.
“Maybe.” He closed his eyes to keep the ceiling from spinning above him.
“Please don’t. Blood doesn’t bother me, but vomit…no way, buddy. Not going to deal with that. If you puke, you’re on your own.”
“So much for a bedside manner.” He pulled the cloth off his face.
“Hey, you’re lucky I hauled you back in here, cleaned that gash, stitched it, and bandaged it. I charge extra for polite bedside banter.” Having said that, she fussed with a quilt she’d thrown over his lower body.
Mitch looked at his arm, which was neatly wrapped with white gauze. He was wearing a fresh flannel shirt with the arm rolled up above the injury. It must have been quite a job getting him changed.
“How did you know what to do?” He couldn’t picture the grown up, sophisticated Candy successfully tending the wounded.
“I have many layers, Mitch. Many layers. Don’t judge a book by its flashy cover.” She winked at him, and just for a second, he saw the girl he’d known all those years ago. That…spark was still there. That indescribable something that had drawn him into his parents’ kitchen every time she came to help her mother work. And she was right about not judging. Life was a journey, and you never knew where people had been or what they were hiding.
“Well, thanks for coming to my rescue.” He almost spilled his guts right then and there about who he was, but she spoke first.
“Are you going to tell me what happened, or do I need to call in a forensic team to inspect the scene out there?” She gestured to the windows facing the back of the house.
He explained his stupidity, leaving out the part about thinking of her. She didn’t need to know she’d compromised his ability to function. Especially not after her comments earlier today about no entanglements. It was his problem he had let her crawl inside him. His problem that she already meant more to him than was safe. His problem that he’d never completely forgotten her all those years ago. She didn’t want commitments or complications, and truthfully, he didn’t need them either.
“Luckily, due to my expert emergency skills, you’ll live.”
When she smiled, Mitch began rethinking commitments and complications.
She shifted on the sliver of couch where she sat beside him. “You know, you remind me of someone I once knew.”
Every muscle in his body froze. And not because he was cold. The fire and Candy’s close proximity kept him heated. Overheated was more accurate.
“When I was a little girl, I knew this boy named Michael who was afraid of blood.”
She looked deeply into Mitch’s eyes, and he could barely breathe. “I’m not afraid of blood,” he managed to say, though his voice sounded horse.
“Mitch. Please. Save it. I saw you. You dropped like a rock back there. I’ve only seen one other male do that. Michael.” She grinned when she said the name. His name.
“He’d been squirting me with the hose attached to the sink in his parents’ kitchen. Being a real pain in the ass. I defended myself with a giant, silver serving tray. Water spilled onto the floor, and clumsy Michael slipped, knocking his head on the corner of the granite countertop. When he touched his head, and his fingers came away covered in blood, he said my name and boom. Right down to the wet floor like a sack full of watermelons.”
She laughed. “Sorry, I don’t mean to make fun, but when my mom brought him back around, the first thing he’d said was, ‘I don’t want to die, Marie. I don’t want to die.’”
Mitch remembered the incident. He’d needed stitches then, too, and had to be watched for signs of concussion. He remembered Marie’s tender touch, one his own mother never gave him. In fact, his mother had been more upset that he’d bled all over his expensive clothes and her imported tile floor.
After he’d come home from the emergency room, his father sent him up to bed to rest. Mitch knew his tears had made his father uncomfortable, as did any display of real emotion. With a pounding headache, he’d showered, slipped into shorts and a T-shirt, and eased onto his bed.
A soft knock had sounded on his bedroom door. The door opened slowly, and Candy appeared.
“Are you okay, Michael?” she’d asked, her eyes soft and full of concern.
She stood at the threshold. He knew she helped Marie clean the house and had been in his room before, but somehow, seeing her there, just a mere step away, moved him in a way he’d never been moved.
He’d lain there, tongue-tied. When her mother called, she gave a quick smile just for him, and scurried away.
Blinking up at her now, Mitch took a breath and opened his mouth to tell her everything.
“You know,” Candy said. “I really want to slap Michael.”
His mouth snapped shut. “Slap him? Why?”
“Once he went to prep school, his father sold the penthouse apartment and fired my mother. Losing that job crushed her. It was the only thing keeping her going. Work was her life, and it was a while before she found another job. When she died a few years later, he didn’t even come to pay his respects, and I sent the Crawfords a note. My mother cared for Michael a lot more than his own mother did. He knew it too.”
Hurt battled anger in her eyes. “Some guys are just rich jerks, I guess.”