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Pushing the Limits(65)

By:Brooke Cumberland

"He's damaged."

It's easy to judge a man because of his past. To look at Tristan and see a monster.

But I couldn't do that. I had to accept the wreckage that lived inside of him because it also lived inside of me.

We were both empty.

We were both looking for something else. Something more.

We both wanted to put together the shattered pieces of our yesterdays.

Then perhaps we could finally remember how to breathe.


Sometimes I stood in the backyard and stared out into the wild bushes  and tall grass, trying to remember what it had used to look like. Steven  had made the place beautiful. He'd always had an eye for details when  it came to landscaping, and I could almost imagine the smell of the  flowers he'd planted, which were now all dead.

"Close your eyes," Steven whispered, walking up to me with his hands  behind his back. I did as he said. "Name this flower," he said. The  smell hit my nose and I smiled.


I smiled wider when I felt his lips kiss mine. "Hyacinth," he echoed. My  eyes opened. He placed the flower behind my ear. "I was thinking of  planting a few by the pond in the backyard."

"It's my favorite flower," I said.

"You're my favorite girl," he replied.

I blinked, and I was back, missing the smells of the past.

My eyes shifted to my neighbor's house, whose lawn was even worse off  than mine. The house was made of reddish-brown bricks and had ropes of  ivory wrapping around each side. Their grass was ten times longer than  mine, and on the back porch I saw a garden gnome that was shattered into  pieces. A plastic yellow kid's baseball bat was hidden in the  ever-growing strands of grass, along with a toy dinosaur.

A small table saw was set up by the shed, its red paint peeling. Stacks  of wood were leaning up against the shed, and I wondered if anyone  actually lived in the house at all.         



It seemed more abandoned than ever, and I couldn't help but wonder about the mindset of my neighbor.

Behind all the houses on our block was the beginning of Meadows Creek's  forest. The area was surrounded with trees. I knew deep within those  trees there was a narrow river hidden in the darkened woods that ran for  miles and miles. Most people didn't know it actually existed, but when I  was in college, I'd discovered it with Steven. In the narrow river was a  tiny rock. On the tiny rock were the initials ST and EB. Those initials  had been carved into the tiny rock resting in the narrow river in the  darkened woods when Steven had asked me to marry him. Without much  thought, I found myself walking into the woods and before long I sat  within the trees, staring down at my reflection in the water.

One breath.

The small fish swam downstream peacefully, until the water began to  ripple after a big splash was heard. I turned my head to my left to see  what the commotion was, and my cheeks blushed as I saw Tristan standing  in the river wearing no shirt and a pair of running shorts. He bent down  to the water and began washing his face, scrubbing his fingers against  his rough, wild beard. My eyes danced across his tanned chest, and he  began tossing water against his body, cleaning himself. Tattoos covered  his left arm and wrapped across his pec. I studied the markings on his  body, unable to look away. There were more than I could count, yet my  eyes tried to take in each one. I know those tattoos. Each a different  masterpiece from classic children novels. Aslan from Narnia. A monster  from Where the Wild Things Are. The boxcar from The Boxcar Children.  Across his chest were the words ‘We're all mad here' from Alice's  Adventures in Wonderland.

My insides exploded from the brilliance of it all. There was nothing  more stunning than a man who not only knew the most classic stories of  all time, but also found a way to make his body his own personal  bookshelf.

Water from his wet hair dripped down his forehead and fell to his chest.  All of a sudden I was frozen in place. I wondered if he knew how  handsome yet frightening he was. My thoughts very much matched those old  Tootsie Roll Pop commercials as I gazed at his body. ‘Mister Owl, how  long can I stare at this man before it becomes socially inappropriate?'  ‘I don't know, Liz. Let's find out. One … Two … Three … '

He hadn't taken notice of me, and my heart was pounding against my  ribcage as I stepped away from the river, hoping to not be seen.

Zeus was tied up to a tree, and when he saw me, he instantly started barking my way.


Tristan looked up toward me, his eyes as untamed as before. His body  froze, water dripping from his chest down to the edge of his shorts. I  stared for a moment too long, then realized I was staring straight at  his package. My eyes shifted back up to his wild stare. He hadn't moved  an inch. Zeus kept barking and wagging his tail, trying to break away  from the tree.

"Following me?" he asked. His words were short, not leaving much room for a conversation, very straight to the point.

"What? No."

He arched an eyebrow.

I kept staring at his tattoos. Oh, Dr. Seuss's Green Eggs and Ham. He noticed my staring.

Crap. Stop, Liz.

"Sorry," I muttered, my face heating up from nerves. What was he doing out there?

He arched his other brow and didn't blink once as he looked my way. Even  though he could speak, it seemed he found it much more fun to make me  uncomfortable and anxious. He was hard to look at, because he was so  broken, but every scarred part of his existence seemed to draw me in.

I watched his every move as he untangled Zeus' leash from the tree and  headed in the direction I'd just come from. I started behind him, to get  back to my house.

He paused.

A slow turn in my direction.

"Stop following me," he hissed.

"I'm not."

"You are."



"Not not not!"

He cocked his brow again. "You're like a five-year-old." He turned back  around and kept walking. I started my steps up too. Every now and then  he would glance back and grunt, but we didn't speak another word. When  we reached the edge of the woods, he and Zeus walked up to the wild yard  beside my house.

"I guess we're neighbors," I said with a chuckle.

The way he glared at me made my stomach flip. There was a high level of  discomfort in my chest, yet behind it was still that familiar ting in my  gut that arrived when he looked me in the eyes.

We both walked into our houses without a goodbye.