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Days and weeks passed. I missed Mark more than I’d imagined; I’d go to sleep thinking about him, and wake up wondering if I’d ever feel his arms around me again. When I thought I couldn't bear the heartache any more, he called.
“Gina, I want to be with you and the kids. It’s where I belong.”
I plopped down on my bed, flustered. “But you can’t have a baby with me,” I said. "That's not something you just get over."
He didn’t respond, and the silence dragged out until I continued. “You’re a single guy who has never had kids, never been married. Why would you want to be with an emotionally-damaged woman who has four kids?”
“Listen, Mark.” I held the phone close, then leaned back into a pillow and closed my eyes. “I wouldn’t choose this situation. Why should you?”
“I’m not choosing the situation.... I’m choosing you.”
My heart fluttered.
“I know we might not get back together, but can we at least try something?” he asked.
Part of me wanted to just say ‘no.’ We’d already tried and it hadn’t work. But then I was too curious. “Like what?”
“I want you and the kids to come camping with me. For a weekend. We can see how it goes with all of us together.”
It did sound fun. And the kids had wanted to go camping. “Okay. We'll leave Friday?” I asked and he quickly agreed.
So we went camping. The kids had the best time paying Boochie Ball. We all took a hike together. Mark and I set up two tents with more ease than I’d expected. It wasn’t until the kids were “trying” to go to sleep at night that things went awry.
My eldest girls slept in one tent while Mark and I slept in a separate one with my two youngest kids. I didn’t snuggle with Mark—worried about getting even more attached if he decided this was too much commitment for him. Instead I slept in the middle of him and my youngest kids.
It was pitch-black, when something scurried near the tent. I immediately pulled my sleeping bag up to my face, eyes darting, and made sure that Mark and the little ones were okay.
The scurrying continued. And I had just snuggled back into my sleeping bag and closed my eyes, when a hellacious growl vibrated through the air. My older daughters began frantically talking in the tent next to ours. “Holy… Did you HEAR THAT?”
The growl rumbled again, closer. Then the most terrifying sound of all filled the air—the sound of an animal in the throes of death. I shook Mark, but he rolled over—grabbing my sleeping bag—and snoring loudly.
“Shit!” I whispered, terrified.
“Mom,” my oldest daughter screamed. Then, because they’ve never seen Jurassic Park, my oldest daughters turned on a flashlight that was so bright I could see it wavering back and forth even from inside of my tent. “Shut up,” I screamed, an oxy-moron. But seriously—they were about to lure the beast right to their tent! Didn't they know light attracts danger!
Their high-pitched screamed filled the air as the flashlight continued shining here and there and freakin' everywhere. I unzipped the tent, and had just managed to fumble into theirs when they both rushed at me, nearly knocking me off my feet.
I snatched the flashlight, quickly brought them over to the big tent and told them to HUSH UP or we’d become bear food!
They ended up snuggling into my sleeping bag and I squished next to Mark who had finally woken up.
“What’s going on?!” he asked, big-eyed, gorgeous and COMPLETELY oblivious.
“An. Animal. Died!” one of my daughter’s said ominously. "I heard it."
“And there’s food all over the ground by our tents!” my other daughter said.
“Well, I didn’t hear anything,” Mark said—since he’d practically just woken from a life-threatening coma.
“We’re scared,” my daughters both said.
“Shhhhh! Don’t wake the little ones up. Just go to sleep,” I whispered—a bit terrified myself. “We’re all here together.”
“And you guys were probably just having a dream," Mark said.
If that was a dream—we’d ALL had it!
Mark turned, lying sideways because there were six of us now in the tent.
I fell asleep, freezing cold and dreaming about bears. When I woke up, it was still the middle of the night; Mark no longer slept beside me, and a fire flickered and popped outside of the tent.
I covered my kids up, then went outside. Mark slept, balancing oddly between two camp chairs he’d pulled together. I couldn’t help looking around—food was everywhere—we’d been ransacked for sure, probably by an army of squirrels! The marshmallow bag had tiny holes in it. Hot dogs were strewn about in little pieces. Toilet paper was clumped in messy wet piles all around camp. Wow—those animals had had quite a party.
And there rested Mark amidst the midnight mess. His hat covered quite a bit of his face, but I could see just enough in the firelight. He was such a handsome man, with those dark features and strong build. I studied his face after a moment and realized how truly kind he looked, just as he was when awake. He shivered in his sleep, only using a thin blanket since he’d left his sleeping bag in the tent with the kids.
I peered back at the tent; those kids were having the experience of a lifetime and so was I. As my thoughts turned back to Mark, I couldn’t help it anymore, I curled up into his lap to warm him up. He instinctively wrapped his arms around me, and I fell asleep next to the fire, snuggle with the man I loved, in the middle of the woods where a bunch of animals had just eaten our food.