I met Emmett and Jasper at the trailhead the next day. Emmett was stretching out all his fucking gigantic muscles with a foot on the bumper of his car, pushing the poor thing practically into the dirt. Jasper was bent over the unauthorized climbing map a college student had designed last year, spread across the hood of his car, studying our options.
“We could give the Jailbird a shot, or Soft Shoulder? We haven’t been there in a while.” He had his finger resting on a clump of boulders on the very farthest edge of the boulder field from where I wanted to be.
“I think I’m gonna head back over here.” I pointed vaguely to the area where I’d seen Sparkles last and tried to look nonchalant. Jasper narrowed his eyes, so it obviously didn’t work.
“Ed found himself a Gumby yesterday. A cute one, too.” Emmett called me out and it was only years of painfully failed attempts that kept me from swinging at him. Last time he’d hit me, he knocked me out cold for ten minutes.
“What’s her name?” Jasper asked and I shrugged in response.
“I don’t know.”
She wasn’t there when I arrived, but it didn’t take her long to show.
She came with a crash pad this time, dropping it into the dirt with a huff and I got a surge of something like pride that she’d listened to me yesterday. She was free of sparkles, but I couldn’t help that the name slipped out anyway. Just the same way they say you judge every sunset by the first one you ever saw, I didn’t think I’d ever see her without thinking about those sparkles.
I offered her beta and confused the fuck out of her, not even stopping to think about the words I was using. So used to them by now. It was strangely adorable that she thought I was talking about a fish and I tried hard to suppress my grin as I explained the term to her. I did the route twice, letting her watch where I put my hands and feet, certain for most of it that she wasn’t watching them at all.
The skin all across my back prickling.
She didn’t make it to the top but got a whole hell of a lot farther than I expected her to, caught up on a sloper two holds above where I thought she’d get stuck. I gave her my spare jar of the goop Rose made us, chock full of all sorts of healing green stuff and smelling of flowers, concerned about how raw her fingers looked as we were packing up. I didn’t notice when she started bleeding, but she hadn’t even mentioned it, which was odd. Most new climbers, especially girls, freaked out the first time they made themselves bleed but she hadn’t even flinched.
She hadn’t said a word about her shoes pinching either.
She told me I needed the goop more than she did and I looked at her hands, then mine, kind of amazed at how shitty mine looked up against a fresh pair. There were spots I’d continually rubbed off for years that were now just shiny patches of scar tissue. Others that had built up tough ridges of skin and my knuckles were regularly chafed and scabbed.
Jesus, I felt like a mongrel making friends with a porcelain doll.
She put me on the spot when we reached our cars, the last two in the lot. There was an ancient but nicely maintained red truck parked next to my sleek silver car that surprised the shit out of me. I kind of had her pegged as a Volvo type.
“What did you call me yesterday? When I was leaving?” She huffed as she shoved her crash pad into the back of her crappy old truck and I leaned against my car, feeling guilty that she’d overheard that. It wasn’t a term that I had used in a derogatory way, although it often was.
“It was nothing,” I shrugged and knew she wasn’t going to drop it by the way her jaw clamped down.
“Gumby,” she spat, as if the word tasted bad. “What does that mean?”
“You’re just new, is all. Everyone gets called that at first, you’ll grow out of it. Besides, I kind of like Sparkles.” I smiled at her and watched her go a fantastic shade of pale pink.
“There are no sparkles today,” she practically growled at me.
“That doesn’t mean I’m going to forget them.”
She would always be Sparkles in my head, even when there were none.
“So, how’d it go?”
Jasper arrived with food and beer which made him my favorite person in the entire world. I’d been on the back porch since I got home, fingers tingling and head all full of Sparkles, starving and far more sober than I wanted to be.
“It was . . . good.” I swallowed roughly around the last of the pizza and my mouthful of words.
“And your Gumby? Was she there?” Jasper sipped his beer and waited for my answer, his pizza sitting untouched as though he wanted to have this conversation in full before he began eating.
“Yeah,” I exhaled, wondering if it was the pizza, or something else, that was giving me heartburn. I could tell Jasper was getting exasperated with my shortened answers, but there wasn’t much more to say other than the girl flat out fucking surprised me on that rock today. The fact that she could pull herself up to that sloper was not something to smirk at.
“She’s good,” I finally admitted out loud, a little thrilled at the words.
“A Gabby, huh?” Jasper quirked an eyebrow at me.
Gabby’s were few and far between, anomalies that only presented themselves on rare occasions; female climbers who showed enough promise to run with us boys. There was an unspoken bet between us as to who could find one first. Emmett had technically won with Rose, although his particular Gabby had found him. Pinned up against a tree by a bear.
“Yeah,” I sighed, trying not to hope too much that she’d be there tomorrow. “I think so.”