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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
"I'm in the area. Do you wanna go hiking?" I asked Mark on the phone.
"I'll come pick you up right now."
"Right now?" He was obviously surprised. "Okay, see ya in a minute."
We decided to go to lunch first, to a little Greek place. While Mark was in the bathroom, I grinned mischievously, pulled a deck of cards from my purse, and dealt us each a hand.
The cards were sitting on the table when he got back. Meanwhile people at several surrounding tables looked at me like I'd gone crazy. One lady in particular "humphed" before she began eating her souvlaki again.
When Mark sat down he didn't even miss a beat. "Cards, huh? So what are we playin'?"
"Speed." I nodded to him in approval—ya know I think I might have been testing him, just waiting to see his reaction; so far so good.
We ended up playing such a fast-paced game. Neither of us took turns and the point of the game was to play as fast as you could and then draw, always keeping five cards in your hand. We laughed so hard that I think the waitress even got a kick out of it as she came over. "Well, this is a new one. Wish we weren't so busy, I'd want to be cut in!"
"Card games in a restaurant…she's always making me do crazy things," Mark said, pointing to me.
"Me? It's you?" I decided to lie, just to tease him. "He makes me bring these cards everywhere—he's such a gambling fanatic!" I batted my lashes innocently at the waitress.
"Gina!" Mark said. "You're the gambler!"
"What?" I couldn't believe he was willing to tease me back like that. "No one will believe you, ever! Not when they see my innocent face." The conversation continued 'til I was nearly in tears of laughter after hearing his witty replies. Now here was a man who would take some getting used to. He could fling BS back as fast as I could say it!
We both ordered the chicken souvlaki, rice pilaf, and a side salad. It was absolutely delicious, and I couldn't help noticing that my dear friend, Mark Marrucini, seemed somehow different to me.
I loved listening to his jokes even more than before, hearing him talk about anything he was passionate about. And the lunch ended up going so quickly, soon we were back in my van and driving along a canyon road leading to a cave I'd seen longingly a few times.
"You been to this cave?" I asked.
"I've hiked this area plenty of times. This is where I grew up—I know this canyon."
After we got out of the van, I couldn't shake the butterflies that kept fluttering in my stomach. At one point, his hand brushed mine and I nearly jumped away, then swatted my arm like I'd seen a mosquito.
Why in the world was I acting like such an idiot? I knew Mark so well, why did being around him feel…new and exciting?
As we walked along, I spied a lump in the grass to the side of the trail. Someone had placed wildflowers on the mound that looked suspiciously like a grave.
"What the?" I whispered, then scooted closer to Mark.
"I think someone died here," he said in a completely spooky voice.
"You aren't serious?"
"Oh, yes I am! Ooooooooo. Eeeeeooooooo! It's so scary!" He grabbed my arms and I screamed. His ghost imitation was a little too good. I slapped his arm.
"You jerk—you're scaring me!" I giggling, then quickly stopped. This seemed way too much like the beginning of a horror movie. There I stood in a tight tank top. Alone in the woods with a strong man with a wild beard, next to a… "What if it really IS a grave?" I asked.
"It's probably somebody's dog! You should see your face; you look terrified."
"Well, what if there's a serial killer around, just burying people…."
"Right next to the trail? No way."
"I bet weirder things have happened," I whispered.
"Yeah, like hikers getting freaked out about a dog's grave?"
"Haven't you seen PET SEMETARY? That was freaky." I stepped closer to him all the while looking up into his mirthful eyes.
"I could be a serial killer," he breathed deeply, "and you're in the woods with me!"
I turned white.
"Ooooooooo. Eeeeeooooooo! How will you make sure I won't kill you? Oooooooo."
"I'll be awfully charming? So fun I'm better alive than dead?"
"Done! Come on, Gina." He smiled. We walked farther up the trail, but I remained a few steps back. "Oh, you aren't scared," he said.
"Well, a little!"
"Seriously?" He stopped just before a spot where some water licked the side of the rocky trail. "I was just kidding earlier! I know you've been through some terrible things but you need to know that I'd stick by you through anything. I'd protect you and your kids no matter what. I care about you guys. And even though I know you don't need a man around, I'm here if you need anything. Really."
I could tell he meant every word. Maybe he'd never see me as more than a friend, but at least I'd always have him to hang out with. "You know I have your back too?" I asked.
"And that's saying something! I used to be a security guard."
"Really! You? No way." He feigned surprise.
"I saved several people's lives on many different occasions. There was this one Italian guy…what was his name? He had broad shoulders, and was quite handsome—with blue eyes and a full beard. If I could just remember his name… Oh, that's right! It was Marrucini!" I'd been so caught up teasing him that I hadn't completely realized what I'd just confessed.
"Handsome, huh? Did you just say handsome?" An expression reminiscent of my dream played across his face.
I turned beet red. "Well, I didn't say I was talking about you! Loads of people have the last name Marrucini."
"Sure. Is that why I'm the last of my line?"
"Really? You are? You better have a kid…and quick!"
"If I could find someone I'd want to have a kid with..." he said.
"Smart man. Kids are lots of work, though! I'm pretty sure I'm done, but I guess you never know. I could've gotten fixed last Fall, but I never did. Just wasn't ready, not yet." The fact was, getting fixed made me feel super old, at least one thousand years old. That didn't mean I wanted another kid.
He looked thoughtfully at me. "Huh," he said.
"What do you think about dreams?" I asked, switching the topic.
"What about them?"
"Well, I had one that surprised me. I can't remember much of it," I lied, "but I think maybe I have some subconscious feelings that I wasn't aware of before. I'm pretty aware of them now."
"Probably so, trying to sort through things you weren't ready to confront in real life."
I stared at his lips for a second, then shook my head quickly. Maybe he was right.
We'd finally come to the end of the trail. "The cave's just around the corner, but it looks like the water's pretty high this year!" Mark spoke louder as water crashed against the rocks.
"So?" I said, wondering what he'd think about my next idea. "Let's go anyway!" I studied his reaction. He'd been willing to play cards in a restaurant. Would he jump in icy waters with me too? I was about to find out.
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