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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
Mark and I decided to hang out the following weekend. My ex-husband had the kids and so I brought Mark to one of my favorite hidden trails. The pathway started between overgrown bushes just behind a playground at the base of the Rocky Mountain Range.
"In there?" Mark asked.
I grabbed his hand and pulled him in. I felt as if going through the wardrobe to Narnia. But when we emerged from the tangled leaves, the two of us found ourselves in a wooded spring forest instead of an icy winter.
I glanced back at Mark, then started dragging him down the hill to the bigger trail. Birds chirped, leaves rustled, and Mark laughed.
I tromped along. "You are such a spitfire!" he said.
"You're the one who does this to me! I was quiet and sweet 'til I met you."
"Quiet, huh? I doubt that."
"Mark, I WAS quiet—still can be when I want... The kindest person you've ever meet, like a fairytale creature, or a princess or something."
"I can only imagine. You're a redhead for a reason, my little Gina."
"Hold up! Your little Gina?" The fact that he'd called me "little"—well, that made me angry. "I'm not little! I'm tall, and intimidating, and capable, and…"
He breathed in, his eyes widening before he chuckled so hard I thought he might die from laughter. "And quiet? And sweet?" he asked, merriment filling his voice.
I wanted to wipe that grin off his face. "You, are offensive. Mark, you better make up for this."
"And how am I gonna do that?"
I thought of something fast. "Tell me a story." I grabbed his hands. "Something romantic and fun! Something with us in it?"
"You are such a kid."
"Come on, Mark, live a little," I said, knowing he hated hearing stuff like that from me. He took the bait almost immediately as we walked along the sunlit forest floor.
"Well, once upon a time, there was a beautiful redhead, named Little Red Riding Hood."
"This is supposed to be about us!" I objected—sheesh—didn't he know how to stick to the plan.
"This is about us. Didn't you hear me say little and redhead?"
I groaned. "Fine. Go on."
"Well, Little Red hadn't found her one true love yet. And her granny thought it was about time. So she sent for Little Red and asked her to walk through the scary forest. Granny had heard stories about a charming prince who lived in the woods nearby."
"You're ridiculous." I scoffed.
"'Cause real princes don't just live in the woods."
"I didn't say one did. I said Granny had heard that rumor." Suddenly Mark was right in my face. His blue eyes stared down at me as his voice went low and terrible. "But a prince did not live in the woods. It was really a big, terrifying WOLF!"
This was getting real. "Wait a minute. If you're changing the story, you can't send me into a forest with a terrifying wolf."
Mark turned to me so fast—I hadn't expected it—that's when a deep growl left his throat.
"Holy shit!" I screamed and jumped without thinking about it. "You're the wolf?!"
"You better run, Little Red! Or I'll huff and I'll puff."
This was not the fairytale I remembered, but it was kind of hilarious because for some reason, I did feel a little scared, and silly, and young...again. Mark chased after me. We ran past a dried out stream and into a darker area of the forest. Twigs snapped and birds stopped chirping as we ran by. I treaded through some weeds and jumped over a fallen tree.
But Mark wasn't anywhere to be seen when I finally looked back. "Mark?" I yelled after a minute. "Mark?!" Something crunched near me and I turned, but nothing was there. The forest loomed, quiet in fear. My heart beat fast and hard, and I honestly felt like Red Riding Hood, in a forsaken forest, being hunted by a wolf.
I shook my head, thinking about Mark. His sense of play and the way his eyes lit up when he teased me. Where was he? "Mark?" I cried out, actually starting to worry. He should have been able to hear me.
Another twig snapped and I turned just in time to see Mark grabbing my hands and holding them behind my back. "Are you Little Red?" he asked in an even deeper voice than normal.
"Are you the Big Bad Wolf?" I asked, melting, feeling his strong arms against the sides of my waist as he continued holding my hands behind my back.
"This isn't about me, Ma'am. Are you Little Red?"
"Ummm, yes?" I giggled.
"You're under arrest, for trespassing in the Forbidden Forest."
"What? That's not how the story goes!"
"Too bad. What are you gonna do about it now? You've just been taken hostage by the Big Bad Wolf."
"Is there any way you'd let me off with a warning?"
"Hhhmmm." He thought for a moment and let go of my hands. "How about a kiss on the cheek?"
"Close your eyes," I said.
He closed them. I went on tip-toes, about to kiss his cheek when I had another idea. I suddenly slapped him on the butt so hard my hand hurt. Then I ran off into the forest.
After a second, I slowed to a walk and Mark caught up to me, limping and holding his butt as if he'd been kicked by a horse.
"Oh, dear, sweet, Mark—I mean—Big Bad Wolf. Are you gonna be okay? Did you run into the badass of the forest?"
He grimaced at me. "No more stories for me!"
The farther we walked, the more I noticed how trashed the area became. "Look at all of this litter."
"It's terrible. Looks like a lot of kids have been up here recently. Did you see the tagging up ahead?"
I shook my head and squinted up the trail. It was a dismal sight; someone had spray painted rocks and trees, everything near a place where the canyon's runoff used to come straight from the mountains under a bridge. The water had been rerouted though, probably due to all of the trash.
"I can't believe someone would do this," I said.
"It's disgusting how people don't care."
"I've been let down more times than I can say. I still can't understand how easily people can do things like this to our world, or each other. It's hard knowing who to trust these days."
"Well, I hope you know you can trust me," he said.
"And you know you can trust me too?" I asked. "Unless someone does something unforgivable to me, I'll have their back for life."
"Same here," he said.
We started walking back after that. Seeing all the litter was too depressing especially after being in the untainted Forbidden Forest.
Mark held my hand as we walked slowly along the path. I thought of him running through the forest and chuckled without noticing.
"What are you thinking about?" he asked.
"Just about how much fun you are. I've never met someone like you before."
"Gina, I'm just an average guy."
"Ya know, sometimes I worry. You've been in so many bad relationships, always dating the 'bad boys,' I don't think you know what it's like dating a normal, good guy. What happens when you find out I'm a dime a dozen?"
"You are the rarest kind of man, the kind who is capable, hardworking, but can still play and be a kid. The kind of guy who is willing to spend time with me and my four kids, making me think you might care about us even though I don't have a ton to offer you right now. All I have to offer is love."
"And that's what I want. That isn't some little thing. Gina, to love and be loved…that's the most anyone can hope for." I hugged him so hard.
A few leaves fell around us. Birds sang. And scant light cascaded through the branches of the overhanging trees.
"How did I get so lucky?" he whispered in my ear. "Even if things don't work out between us, I'm thankful for these moments with you. But really I hope this'll never end."
"Me too," I whispered back, and kissed him on the cheek. "But, Mark, I'm the lucky one."
His arms slid gently across my skin until they rested on the small of my back. He leaned down and softly kissed me.
"You know," I said, breathless. "For a Big Bad Wolf, you aren't so bad."
"You liked my story, didn't you?"
"Maybe a little too much!" I smiled.
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