From the award winning author, J.T.Twerell, comes a new romance/suspense novel, Catch and Release. Two lives from vastly different backgrounds are drawn together by fate, causing an explosion of love, passion, adventure, and ultimately a reason for a shared journey. Within 24 hours, they meet on vacation, have a passionate affair, shoot and kill a man, are involved in two gun battles, receive wounds and end up in Miami. This is only the beginning
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A botched drug raid took her father’s life when she was 7. On her 13th birthday she witnessed her mother’s murder. Alone in the world, Jennifer Blade sets out to even the score. At 33, enmeshed in a game that knows no rules, she is about to fulfill her quest when everything unravels. Fleeing for her life, she heads to the mountains of upstate New York where she unexpectedly finds new reason to live.
Steve Sanders, a 38-year-old psychologist with a predictable life, is on a fishing trip in the mountains. Little does he know that all vacations are not created equal.
Catch and Release, a 76,000-word romance/suspense novel, is the story of two lives from vastly different backgrounds, drawn together by fate and a common love of the great outdoors. The crossing of Jennifer and Steve’s paths releases an explosion of love, passion, adventure and ultimately a reason for a shared journey. Within 24 hours, they catch a few trout, have a passionate affair, shoot and kill a man, are involved in two gun battles, receive wounds and end up in Miami, Florida. All this, and as Steve says, they still have six days of vacation left. Their relationship touches long-buried feelings in Jennifer, while shattering the mundane existence suffocating Steve.
Catch and Release
a novel by
J. T. Twerell
Catch and Release
Published by arrangement with James Terry Twerell
ISBN-13:978-0615556857 (Living Word Publications, Inc)
Copyright © 2011 Living Word Publications All rights reservedFor more information Visit www.JTTWERELL.com
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have any control over and does not assume any responsibility for author or third-party Web sites or their content.
This is dedicated to the original “ J”, who inspires me and fills my life with love and adventure. Thanks for being my wife.
“Usted bastard salir.”
Jenny woke to the noise of her mother screaming at Julio, followed by the familiar sound of breaking glass. Glancing at the clock, she noticed it was just past two in the morning. She quietly whispered, “Happy birthday to me.”
“Don’t you throw things at me, you bitch. I’ll knock the shit out of you.”
In an attempt to drown out the all too predictable shouting match, Jenny pulled the pillow over her head. The chaos would go on for at least another half hour until, in the end, Julio would either pass out on the couch or in her mother’s bed. For the millionth time, Jenny wondered why her mother stayed in any kind of relationship with a loser like Julio. When Dad was alive, the house was a place of order and calm, but since his death, her mother seemed to be picking men out of some slime pit. The last six years had been hell. Jenny desperately wanted to run away and never come back, but her mother would be in even worse shape if she left. Staying was the only option.
Julio was the latest slime to crawl out of the pit and he’d lasted, on and off, over a year. Every time he looked at her, she felt his eyes all over her body. Jenny made sure she avoided him whenever possible. Too many times, he’d “accidently” come into the bathroom when she was showering. But her mother never seemed to do anything about it, and Jenny decided she was on her own when it came to protecting herself from Julio. She’d learned through experience with some of her mothers’ boyfriends that most men could not be trusted. Fighting off their hands and unwanted hugs, she’d paid some painful prices. The only person in the world she trusted was Uncle Bob, a close childhood friend of her father. Uncle Bob had taken care of her and Mamá after Dad died, but in recent months, he’d been more withdrawn. Jenny was sure Uncle Bob and her mother had fought over something.
The sounds of conflict in the other room grew louder by the minute, and Jenny found it difficult to block the noise with her pillow. Suddenly, her mother screamed in a way that signaled something was very wrong. Throwing off the covers, Jenny ran to the door and listened. The house was unaccountably quiet. Opening the door, she slowly entered a room littered with broken glass and overturned furniture. It looked more like a war zone than a living room. She could see no sign of her mother or Julio. Carefully stepping over the broken glass, Jenny made her way to the kitchen, where she spied Julio standing over something on the floor. Moving closer, Jenny saw her mother covered in blood, clutching her stomach.
“Mamá, qué usted?!”
Julio turned at the sound of Jenny’s cry and grabbed her by her arm, “Your mother fell and is hurt. Go back to bed.”
But when she saw the large blood-covered knife lying on the floor, Jenny knew her mother hadn’t fallen. Pulling away from Julio, she reached over to her mother. “Mamá, what’d he do to you?
Grabbing Jenny’s hair, Julio pulled her back and snarled, “I did nothing to her, understand? It was her fault.”
Trying to get free, Jenny reached for Julio’s hair, grabbed a handful and yanked, but he only pulled her tighter, grabbing her pajama top with his other hand. As she tried to spin away the buttons ripped off her top, but she was in too much pain to notice.
He pushed Jenny against the wall and pinned her hands over her head. Leaning close to her, he leered at her naked breast. “Como madre, como hija,” he whispered as he pressed her against the wall. “Now you’ll know what a real man can do.” Jenny tried to duck away, but he grabbed her throat and began to squeeze hard. Gasping for air, she felt his free hand slide down into her pajama bottoms. Struggling to breathe, she desperately tried to push him away as his pressure tightened on her throat. Attempting to grab his hand as he slid his finger between her legs, she suddenly felt his grip loosen and sensed him move away from her body. He was frantically try to reach for something, he was turning around. Then Jenny saw the large knife wedged deeply in Julio’s back. Behind him stood her mother, covered in blood, leaning on the kitchen table.
As if in slow motion, Jenny watched both Julio and her mother fall against the kitchen table and slide to the floor, neither speaking, neither moving. Jenny ran to her mother, slipped on the blood-drenched floor, and finally tumbled next to her mother’s face. Mamá reached out, touched her, and then quietly whispered, “I am so sorry, Juanita. I am so sorry.”
In a trance, Jenny watched her mother’s hand slide away and splash onto the bloody floor. Jenny took off her torn pajama top, folded it, and slipped it under her mother’s head. She knew her mother was gone, but she quietly sat next to her for a long time before finally reaching for the phone on the counter. She saw a cake that read, “Happy 13th Birthday Juanita.” A voice answered the phone, and Jenny quietly said, “Uncle Bob? I need you to come over fast. Mamá is dead.”
20 years later
Watching the blue and red lights flash on the dance floor, Jennifer Blade sensed the stirring of anxiety. She was in serious trouble and she knew it. The lights played off her long dark hair and turned her body into a kaleidoscope of colors matching the décor of the crowded club. The tightness grew deep inside. This was her assigned place in case “the Boss,” as his lackeys referred to him, needed her. However, the Boss hadn't been anywhere near her in three days and she was tired of showing up, sitting, waiting. It was unusual for him to be out of contact for so long. She worried about her future.
The mirror across the bar reflected a 33-year-old woman whose lifestyle was quickly aging her otherwise beautiful features. Men still played to the beat of her energy, providing any attention necessary to keep her happy. But it was all an old game, and she was tired of playing by the rules. Continuing to observe her reflection, she wondered if the woman who used to live in her body had died. Smiling, she realized she didn’t even remember who that woman was.
Above the blare of the music, she shouted to the bartender, "Tommy, I'm gonna wrap things up. What time is it anyhow?"
"Hey J, it's just past 3:30," he hollered. "You're taking off early tonight."
She smiled to herself. Even her nickname was a step away from who she’d once been. So much had changed — and yet so much continued to be the same.
Nearing the bar, she shook her head at Tommy. "No offence, lover, but this place just isn't cutting it and I need to get some rest. Catch you tomorrow."
About to turn away, she sensed someone next to her. Johnny. The night would be longer than she wanted.
"Boss wants to see ya, baby," he said as his body caught the rhythm of the music. Johnny could never stand still when music played. Having him in her space really got on her nerves. Standing about five and a half feet tall and a good thirty pounds overweight, Johnny believed he was the Latino gift to women. Somehow, he seemed to have the ladies fooled, but J was not now, nor ever would be, a convert to his thinking.
Turning away from his swaying presence, she laughed, "Hard to believe the Boss wants to see me since the Boss is out of town, God only knows where."
"Hey, maybe he's back, maybe he ain't. You don't have a say in this, just follow orders." He reached for her arm and she pulled back, putting a hand on his chest. Facing him, she went taut as she saw a level of confidence he’d never shown around her. Something was very wrong, and she was at the center of the problem.
"Listen, Johnny, don’t touch me unless I say so and believe me, in your case, I'll never say so."
He smiled as he continued to sway to the beat of the music, "Hey baby, you better do what you're told, I don’t think your ratings too high up the chart right now. So just stand up, go to the elevator, and don’t give me any shit. ¿Usted comprender, J baby?”
She looked him in the eye. As a flunky, he’d never be bold enough to cross her. Unless he knew something she didn't. This stuff about her ratings not being high confirmed something was wrong, and this meeting wasn’t one she wanted to attend. Glancing over Johnny’s shoulder, she looked around the crowded club. She needed room to operate.
When Johnny showed up to escort somebody, it was usually on a one-way trip with slim chance of coming back. She sensed a problem for the last few weeks, but was now certain this meeting would put a bullet in her brain. Johnny continued to watch her. She decided to play along, but with caution, until she determined how to make an escape. When her gut felt trouble, she followed her gut.
She turned toward the back of the building and headed through the door toward the private elevator, feeling Johnny's eyes examine her short dress, nothing under its flimsy cover. As she pushed the call button on the elevator and watched it descend to the main floor, an alarm system went off in her mind. She knew if she didn’t make her move now, there might never be a second chance.
The empty hallway.
She watched the elevator door open, also vacant. Stepping in, Johnny close behind, J set her feet and pulled her long hair away from the back of her neck, "Is the top of my dress hooked? It feels loose."
As his fingers touched her dress and the heat of his breath drifted near, she tensed, spun quickly, lifted her elbow, connecting with the side of Johnny's head. As he fell from the force of the blow, she drove her knee into his sternum and struck the back of his head with her elbow, sending Johnny to the floor, out cold. J pushed the button for the top three floors, stepped out of the elevator as the door closed and, without hesitation, headed down the hall and out the back door. She might have a 5-minute head start, but that would narrow quickly when Johnny's friends found his bruised body in the elevator.
Rounding the corner, she pressed the remote for her car and heard it start as she ran to the door. Jumping in, she pulled the 45 out of her purse, set it on the console, jammed the car into gear and exited the alley. Turning left, she floored it and sped toward the Belt Parkway going west. Once on the Belt, she eased a little.
Obviously, things had turned to shit, which really wasn't surprising. With her friends, you sensed when they no longer needed your loving company. There was no way of knowing where things had fallen apart or who had caused the problem. Realizing she needed to get somewhere far from her current location, J turned onto the ramp for the Verrazano Bridge and headed to the only safe place she knew. Before arriving there, she needed a lot of travel time to make sure she was alone.
"He was always a bastard. Selfish, cheap, untrustworthy."
She stopped midway through her dissertation and looked toward me as I meditated on how much I truly disliked being with this woman. I enjoyed most of my clients, but Laura was the exception to the rule. Glancing at the clock I discovered, to my dismay, we still had fifteen minutes before the session ended. Returning my gaze to the woman sitting stiffly in her chair, I suddenly had great compassion for the man Laura emphatically referred to as "the Bastard.” For thirty-five minutes she had complained, blamed, vilified, and deeply demeaned the character of her husband. In short, she'd spent a magnificent thirty-five minutes playing out the well-rehearsed role of "the Victim" and, in all honesty, it was one of Laura's better performances. She rehearsed her lines for years and perfected their delivery on any stage she might find available.
Today her stage was my office and I, her faithful psychologist, was an audience of one. Now the performer waited for me to sympathize with her and provide reassurance that her status as "the Victim" was secure and well deserved. I only had to survive thirteen more minutes, then I could leave this story far behind. However, to allow her performance to pass without offering any special comment was more than I could resist. Looking into her clear blue eyes, I smiled at Laura's frowning face and said:
"Do you ever have anything nice to say about him? In twenty years of marriage, you have three children with him, a comfortable life in the city, and seem to enjoy the financial success he provides. If he's such a bastard, so selfish, cheap, and untrustworthy, why did you stay with him for twenty years? It seems if he were that bad, you’d have left him long ago. However, no, you prefer to stay with the predictable bastard. So, who's the problem, you or him?"
I smiled at her and saw the volcano preparing to erupt. This was our tenth session and, predictably, it would end the same as the previous nine. Laura, the simmering Mt. Saint Helens seated before me, was a “borderline personality.” As a psychologist, I held a belief that the God of the universe provided certain people with borderline personality simply to humble people in my profession. Laura was my humbler every week. Sometime during the session, I would disagree with her victim approach to life and she’d proceed to inform me that I was a complete asshole who needed to come before the bar and be beheaded. Laura hadn't figured out that lawyers were brought before the bar and not psychologists, but far be it for me to correct her in the midst of a tirade.
Don't get me wrong; what I do for a living brings me great enjoyment. The vast majority of my clients are good people who do a lot of work to move through their troubles and who truly want to take responsibility for their own problem making. Not Laura, however. She is a predictably difficult person who blames everyone and anyone for her problems. That day, watching her take in my words, I could tell she was nearing the point of no return. I braced for the impact.
"You're such an asshole doctor," she began as the red level of her face approached crimson. "You tell me I'm crazy and you don't even listen to what I say. You're simply another fucked-up male who bleeds hurting women for all they're worth and casts us aside. You asshole, I should take you before the bar and have you beheaded."
The bar thing. As usual, I let it go. Her words stopped echoing in my ears as I noted her color was returning to normal. She had a cathartic moment and felt relieved. For Laura, there was nothing better than letting off some steam to improve the old personality.
"Laura, I'm sorry you feel that way, but we're trying to bring you into a place of healing. You have no control over your husband; you can only control your own emotions. I know you can do this and I'll willingly help you toward healing. Nevertheless, if you expressly desire to find another therapist, I'll help you with referrals."
That always got to Laura. Along with her borderline personality, she had severe abandonment issues. She would come back again. With a lot of patience on my part and a thick skin, she might even get better.
"No," she said quietly, "you're an asshole, but at least you're a quiet asshole. I'll be back next week, but you better think about what I said. I'm not a victim here; I'm simply the person who sacrificed everything to keep this bastard happy."
"I can't see you next week, I'll be on vacation." I'd informed her of this for several weeks, but could tell by the rising color in her face that she’d forgotten and was about to explode at my lack of caring for her. To head this off I offered the following, "Tell you what, I'll give you my e-mail address and you may e-mail me while I'm gone. I'll reply if I genuinely believe you need insight, but I think you’ll do well by simply sending me your feelings. We'll discuss your e-mails when I return."
The color returned to normal and I knew I moved an orange threat situation to a yellow one.
"Oh, I'll e-mail you and let you know in detail what that bastard is doing to me."
Standing, I led her to the door and said, "Ask Shirley for my e-mail address when you set up the next appointment. Have a good day, Laura, and remember you are a strong person."
She smiled, an unusual happening for Laura, and exited from my space. Normally, I felt drained after her session, but not that day. She was the last patient before I set out to the mountains for a week of fishing far away from everyone.
I packed up my laptop, a few journals I intended to read, and went out to the waiting room a few of us shared. Shirley was our highly organized, unflappable receptionist. She had the uncanny ability to comfort the infirm and still stand up to the Laura types as needed.
"Okay, doc," she smiled at me as I passed by. "Go out there and forget civilization for a week.”
I laughed and said, "Dr. Steve Sanders has left the arena. If the fish are hitting, I may not be back at all." Good joke, very funny, and unfortunately, very prophetic.
The drive calmed her nerves as J retreated from the city and all the pain it held. The early morning sun bathed the mountains in a glow of spring. Rounding the high mountain roads, she reviewed the events of the past few days. There was nobody to trust.
"Jennifer Blade, how the hell did you get so far out and not remember to leave a net under you?"
However, doing a tightrope walk often precluded building a safety net. The last friends she had trusted were from grade school. They wandered off as she chose a different path. In her neighborhood a person either grew streetwise or got lost in the struggle. Her father, a cop, died on the job, leaving a bitterness that set her course into the troubled waters she now traveled. Uncle Bob was as close to a surrogate father as she had ever found, but his lifestyle digressed far from the straight path of her NYPD dad. Drawing on the life lessons provided by Bob, she was determined to even the score in the game that had taken her father. Every day she walked the tightrope, alone in the world with no net to protect her fall.
J found the entrance to the small lot she used over the past years. It was empty as expected. Most people didn’t come this far up the mountain until late spring. The nights were still cold up here and the water was fifteen degrees cooler than in the foothills. After backing the car into a space at the far end of the lot, she turned off the motor and listened to the soft pinging of the cooling engine.
From this corner, it was easy to see if anyone entered. "Always watching my back; what a fucked-up way to live.” She looked over the lot and watched the sway of the tall trees on the far side. "In my next life I want to be a tree. They just stay in one place, fulfill their purpose, never have to fight."
Sitting there for about twenty minutes, she reviewed her hasty exit from the city, knowing she covered a lot of territory in the attempt to lose anyone on her trail. Years of running and hiding had taught J how to accomplish the "hide-and-seek" game of life and her experiences had refined this skill. The people looking for her were also good at their trade, but they weren’t accustomed to the mountains and that was her key advantage.
As she opened the car door, the coolness of the shade refreshed her emotionally drained body and she stretched her legs allowing the blood to flow into places that had been cramped for the last five hours. The wind pulled at her long hair, and she felt a sense of peace as freedom began to overtake the weariness. The trip normally took less than three hours on a straight drive, but this time she backtracked to make sure she wasn’t followed.
Pulling a backpack, fly rod case, and tent pack out of the trunk, she returned to the front seat and removed the 45 from its holder in the consol. Flipping off the safety, she stuck the gun in the side of the backpack, hoping she wouldn’t stumble and set the damn thing off. She didn’t like to have the safety off, but didn’t want to take chances on anything slowing down quick action if she did find trouble. She shouldered the backpack and stopped to listen one more time before heading up the hill. The wind whispered through the tops of the trees, the only sound in the silence around. She reflected on how different the quiet was from the crushing sounds of the city and the blasting music her "friends" listened to with a passion.
J breathed the fresh air and felt it cleansing her soul. She couldn't wait to reach her campsite, set up for the night, strip off her clothes, and swim in the cold mountain waters. Her body felt soiled by her lifestyle, but she knew no amount of soap and water could wash it away. Nevertheless, she felt the cold mountain waters might penetrate the filth of her life and make her feel like a whole person once again. She laughed at that thought, doubting it, but knew the water could restore some of the life the world had so ruthlessly taken from her. Picking up the fly rod, she entered the trees and disappeared into their sheltering arms, leaving behind the brokenness of her chosen journey.
She found her favorite spot just as she left it last, finding it hard to believe it was only a month since she had been there; it felt more like years. She saw the large, carefully placed tree limbs still covering the trail to the clearing, her spot. Long ago, J had stopped feeling guilty about covering the path, as she considered the campsite her own private hiding place. If others found it while she was gone, that was okay, but she wasn’t going to make it easy for them.
She set up her tent and cleared a space for the evening fire; however, the sound of the rippling water compelled her need to be free. Walking to the edge of the stream, she pulled off her t-shirt and shorts and stepped down to the riverbank. Practice taught her that slowly entering the water was a bad decision, as the chill could drive one away. Holding her breath against the predictable shock of the cold, she dove into the deep pool and felt the chilled mountain waters penetrating the depths of her soul.
Swimming rapidly out to the middle of the deep, clear waters, she was finally able to breathe without gasping. She floated for a few minutes until the depth of the water gave way to the shallows of the rocks and small rapids of the stream. A large rock, drenched in the warmth of the sun provided a place to sit and recover from the chilling swim.
She ran her hands over her body and rubbed life back into the places where the blood had retreated, then laying back on the warm rock, she watched the trees dance overhead as the clouds rolled by in their lazy but determined pattern. There was always a strange excitement in lying naked in the middle of the water. With no protection and no place to hide, others could observe her and she’d never know it. The excitement quickly gave way to the realization that she was here to hide; so if anyone was lurking on the sidelines it wasn’t a welcome thought. Nevertheless, this temporary moment of peace was worth the risk.
As the sun warmed her body, she heard the splash of a fish jumping farther upstream and rolled onto her stomach to see if the sound had any other friends doing the same. The quiet waters began to show small ripples as the fish started a feeding frenzy on the hatch of small flies now sitting on the surface. "Okay guys, let's start the competition," she whispered sliding off the rock and making her way back to the shore. "Today I fish naked, just to give you a thrill before I catch you." J laughed at the stupidity of her thought, but decided it fit into the current fantasy and besides; who else was around to tell her that a naked woman wasn't a turn-on for a fish.
"Dr. Steve Sanders has arrived!"
This announcement was an unnecessary ritual, but one I performed every time the beauty of the river before me exploded into my senses. The stream was a perfect resting place for the truly big rainbow and brown trout inhabiting such a God-provided haven. The trout was a predictable and yet tremendously stubborn creature; its instinct for survival protecting it more than its pencil-point-sized brain. Guessing which instinct may be operating was the joy of fishing for the great trout in these high mountain streams.
I came to this place of challenge and rest, prepared to be both elated by success and humbled by my inability to think as a fish. As I settled into this tranquil place, memories of my youth came flooding back, when my Dad and I would work these waters. Now that he was gone, I found I really missed those days. The fond recall brought with it the pain of things lost that I may never have again; therefore, I simply enjoyed the present moment.
The only interruption to the quiet around me was the distant sound of rolling water emanating from the nearby stream. My now free soul nudged my body away from the mountainside and toward a clearing by the stream, which would become my monastic hideaway for the next few days.
Setting up camp was an exhilarating time in the adventure; even so, it was also a mystery, as I literally felt driven to perform the entire task in record time. I believed this frenzy was the last-ditch effort of my high-control mind to retake my soul; nevertheless, it would be an intense and yet futile battle, for ultimately my soul would win. This internal competition was a place of unrest in my private world; an arena where I fought a gladiator battle with my ego in “winner-takes-all” matches.
The ego was an interesting development in mankind’s evolution; a place of great creativity and even greater destruction. Our ego had a core belief it was going to die. Though it was correct, given the obvious limitation of the human flesh, the ego assumed we were in peril every moment of our life and therefore must expand or die. The expansion, unfortunately, took each of us into a constant quest for more things to call our own. The need to turn a car into my car was an ego expansion. A home became my home, a spouse became my spouse, a thought became my thought, money became my money, and God help anyone who got in the way of my quest.
The real joke of life, however, was that we couldn’t keep anything because we left it all behind when we died. The sadness of the ego was how we literally destroyed everything that interfered with our ego’s quest for expansion. Examples of the futile struggle ranged from simple road rage to the World Wars, all because someone wouldn’t let us keep what we thought we owned. But in the mountains, I owned nothing, sought nothing, and lived only in the energy of gratitude for all I had in life; not because I so deserved, rather because I was a human living on this earth.
By the time I had set up my tent and cleared the area for a campfire, the afternoon breeze was cooling the air reminding me that the night was going to bring in a taste of late winter rather than early spring. The growing shadow of the pines threw a blanket across the stream and formed large pockets of dark still water. I heard the breaking of trout feeding on surface hatch and could no longer wait to see what the mysteries of fishdom had in mind for my joy and frustration.
Taking the fly rod from the travel pouch, I assembled it threading the line up the rod and attaching it to a tapered leader with a small nymph. The nymph was a small fly that sank to the bottom of the stream when the fly line fed out on the water. I knew the younger fish had been feeding on the surface, but the older, larger rested in the deep shadows along the sides of the stream.
The cold stung my legs as I entered the waters and I wondered about my decision not to bring waders. I soon adjusted to the chill and began to move slowly upstream toward a bend in the river, which provided a deep, natural pool on the shaded side of the bank. I fed out the line in a long, slow motion until it was above the pool. Letting it drop quietly in the water, I tugged the line enough to sink the nymph and then slowly retrieved it as it floated with the current. There was nothing more peaceful than being on a stream watching the water with anticipation of a sudden movement and strike.
Settling it into the current, I continued to retrieve the slack in the line until suddenly, I felt the moment when all life was truly ecstasy. The tug at the line and the slight move of the rod tip showed a strike. Pulling with a quick light touch, I felt the resistance and knew the game had begun. I released some of the slack line with my left hand and kept the rod tip bent slightly. Too many trout attained their release by being given too much freedom, and this one would not fool me.
The line pulled hard and I released more and more until all the slack was now gone and it was up to the reel-and-drag to determine what came next. The trout began to make a move upstream and the drag on the reel let him run. He was moving into the weed and rock of the shore and I needed to take charge before he caught the line and snapped the leader. Pulling him back toward the middle, I felt him follow with resistance and then it happened.
Generally, trout I caught didn't break water when hooked, but this one was really angry and he broke straight up from the water making a missile shot into the air above. Trying to free himself, he shook his body and smashed hard into the stream. What a sight! The majesty of this wild, free creature that fought for his life using all his tricks and instinct to rid the obstacle that snared him.
He ran for the rocks again, but now he had weakened and I slowly moved him toward me. As he came closer, he began to move in a frantic side-to-side motion until at last I had him. I lifted the line and grabbed his lower jaw with my thumb and forefinger. He was a good 14” long with speckled brown skin that glistened in the water. My rule for the first fish was to use “catch and release.” If I released the fish, he then told others what a kind person I was and I could catch more fish. I hadn't shared that thought with many people, for obvious reasons.
"Today, Dr. Steve Sanders is king of the river!"
I decided I really had to stop making announcements about my minute-to-minute accomplishments or I would be the one who needed the psychologist. Looking up, I saw the sun rapidly moving across the mountain as night prepared its descent. Deciding I’d done my damage to the fish world for the day, I wandered back to the campsite and prepared to dine in the pleasure of the wilds.
Night came quickly as the sun moved across the mountainside and disappeared into the valley. I pulled enough dry wood to keep the fire going for some time and cleaned up the remainder of my gourmet meal. Packing all my food supplies in my backpack, I secured it to my tent to keep it away from wandering raccoons.
A night in the woods was an indescribable experience. The silence of the day gave way to a chorus of sounds making my fireside a natural cathedral of new melodies. Whittling away at a pine branch, I heard the cracking of twigs caused by the multitude of small animals who became my neighbors. Sometimes I saw the fire reflected in their eyes, but only the raccoons venture into the shadows around the camp. There was little danger in these woods, but bears wandered around periodically, though I had never seen any. Mostly, it was simply small chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons, and other scavengers finding prey and settling for the night.
Sleep came early and quick in the dark night and as I moved toward my tent, I was aware of another bright light about a mile upstream. It was contained and not a forest or brushfire, which led me to believe another camper must be up there settling in for the night. It was unusual to have others this far up in the early spring. I didn't know who it was, but I went to bed hoping they were as happy that night as I was. My soul was free, the trout was free, and all was well with the world.
J turned as the sound of laughter erupted from the river behind her. She was startled to see two people, a man and a woman, swimming and splashing a few feet from the shore. The woman in the water waved to J and beckoned her to come closer. Approaching, J stopped suddenly when she recognized the woman. “Mi Madre,” she shouted. “What are you doing here?”
Her mother laughed and shouted back, “My Juanita, I am having so much fun in the water. Come in with us and play; it is such a good feeling.”
J froze in the spot, watching as her mother splashed water on the man next to her and then dove into the river. Looking over to the man, she felt her breath stop. The man was her father.
“Daddy, is that you?”
“Hello my little trouper,” he called as he smiled back at her. No one had called her “little trouper” since her father died, and she began to cry as she watched him stand in the river. “Daddy, where did you come from? How did you get here?”
“Honey, I’m always in the water. It’s such a fun place to be; come on in and join us.”
Still frozen in her place on the shore, J watched as her mother surfaced in the stream, laughing and splashing. J always loved her mother’s robust laugh, something she hadn’t heard often after her father died. She watched as her mother and father chased each other in the river, looking more like schoolchildren than adults. They both appeared so young and alive. How could this be?
Her mother waved at her and once again dove under the water, the sound of her laughter echoing around the campsite. Her father smiled, “Come in the river with us, Juanita, or you will have to stay with him.”
“Stay with who, Daddy?”
Her father pointed toward the campsite behind her and as she turned she spotted Juan standing next to the campfire. Startled, J felt herself tense, then looking closer at Juan, she discovered he was standing naked with a gun in his hand.
“Juan, why are you naked?” she asked as though in a trance.
“I came to say goodbye to you, J. I came to say adios.” He lifted the gun and pointed it at her. She knew she should move, but felt trapped in the place she stood. As she watched, the gun exploded and she felt the bullet rip into her chest. Stunned, she realized she was lying on the ground, caught in something that wouldn’t allow her to move. She sat up and grabbed her chest, only to realize she was in her sleeping bag inside her tent.
Breathing hard, she unzipped the bag allowing the cool night air to refresh her sweaty body. “My God, what a terrible dream,” she whispered to herself as she felt her heartbeat return to normal. “Where the hell did I come up with that series of events?”
Climbing out of her sleeping bag, she slipped on her jeans and stepped through the entrance of her tent. The first light of dawn was just starting to break through the horizon as J stirred the warm coals of her campfire. Still too keyed up by her dream to sleep, she added wood to the fire and placed the coffee pot on the grill.
She looked at the river; half expecting to see her parents still playing near the shore. The memory of her father brought a deep pain, one she’d long ago tried to bury. He was such a loving and kind man who always thought the best about everyone he met.
An Irish cop with a Puerto Rican wife was a crazy combination, but her father and mother always enjoyed every moment of their time together. One night, while working on a drug bust, things went very wrong when her father received a fatal gunshot, an event that changed J’s life forever. Her mother never recovered from his death, spending her remaining years in a haze of alcohol and deadbeat men, which lead to her murder when J was just thirteen years old.
When her mother died, J stopped being Juanita forever and became Jennifer, a woman who was hard, tough, and would take no shit from anyone. J hadn’t really counted the cost of those years until she dreamt of her Mom and Dad in the river. J realized she lost the ability to have fun and her life was one of constant tension and strife.
Looking toward the river, a large part of J wanted to simply jump in and never come to the surface. Maybe if she drowned she would find her Mom and Dad and they could laugh together. A tear formed in the corner of her eye causing J to shake her head and return to the coffee pot and fire.
Pouring a cup, she returned to the dream and thought about Juan shooting her. The shooting was not a surprise given their present unfriendly status, however, she thought for a moment and finally said aloud; “Why in the hell would he be naked?” Juan was a very prideful individual who took great care in always being properly dressed. Maybe she just wanted to see him vulnerable before she died, or maybe she was just losing her mind.
She had spent two years of her life trying to gain his trust, a period of time that cost her more than she could ever recover. She worked in one of his Miami clubs for a few months before she finally hooked up with Juan, and for the last two years, she lived in his shadow, watching him destroy everything only to replace it with his own filthy stain. He used her, but in the end, she had used him just as much, so in some ways they were both sick and deserved each other. J tried to keep emotionally detached from her life, but after two years with Juan, she found it hard to respect herself and truly wondered how low she would go to survive. Now it was all crashing down around her and she would probably end up with nothing to show for all her efforts.
Standing, she threw the remains of the coffee into the fire and declared through clinched teeth, “I will survive and I will win.” Taking a deep breath, she relaxed a little as she decided the dream, much like her life, was too real and too crazy to ponder any further. Looking at the river, she decided to focus on fishing and leave the dream and her thoughts about drowning to another day. Turning, she shook off the self-evaluation and declared, “Fuck Juan and all my shit life. For now I need to go fishing; tomorrow I’ll deal with reality.”