NINE MILE CANYON
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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
But I didn't tell Mark about the texts. Every time I'd start, he'd say something hilarious, or snuggle with me—or something infuriatingly cute! I was so worried though: Would every guy—given the chance—really cheat? And would Mark break up with me if I told him about the texts? After all I had more baggage than he'd ever dreamed of.
In an effort to talk with him about things, I asked him to take a road-trip with me. "It's time for you to meet my cousin, Rachel," I said as we loaded into my van. "She's like a sister to me. And she has the best intuition about people."
Mark seemed amused. "Oh, really. So she's gonna ask me a lot of questions, huh."
"Sure is." I smiled; this would be fun.
We arrived in Price nearly four hours later. The drive had gone relatively fast. Mark and I had gotten to be such good friends in the previous months, we didn't need to always talk. There was a certain peace to the quiet times sitting next to him—I'd rather be quiet with him, than talking with anyone else. Too bad the silence was so comfortable that I didn't tell him about the texts.
It was spring and as we drove through the winding desert canyon, bunches of wildflowers peaked out of the sagebrush hills. I cranked up the music and Mark and I caught ourselves singing the lyrics at the exact same time. I looked at him once and blushed—he made life feel like such an adventure.
After we got to Rachel's, she and her three daughters hugged me hard. Then Rachel pulled her sunglasses down her nose and gave Mark a quick once-over. That's when they told us to get into their car. Mark shot me a questioning look, but I just shrugged—I had no idea either.
Rachel and her gorgeous daughters claimed the front and very back of the three-row vehicle, so Mark and I took the middle seats. "Umm…. What's going on?" I asked Rachel as she handed each of us a packet of papers.
"We're going to Nine Mile Canyon. You're stuck in here with me." She locked the doors and hit the gas so hard we flew into the seatbacks. "Those packets have all the cool facts about the place. But the real reason for this is so I can ask some questions."
Mark looked at me and whispered with mirth in his voice, "I can see why you like her so much."
"There will be no whispering," Rachel said. And I expected her to start asking questions, but she didn't for a while. Instead we drove straight into the desert where sandstone walls loomed and new petroglyphs waited around every corner.
She pulled over at one point and we all got out to explore the petroglyphs up close. I spotted little buffalo, bighorn sheep, horses, and people painted onto the rock-faces. Mark visited with Rachel's daughters, and that's when she pulled me aside. "You really like this guy?"
I bit my lip and nodded. "But I have so much baggage, Rachel."
"It's that idiot you were dating before! I didn't like him from the very beginning."
I'd brought The Schmuck down there for a wedding. "He practically met most of our extended family. Rachel—he'd been living with his wife the whole time."
"I know," she said in a monotone, "you've told me—a million times." She smiled, teasing me. "You know why I didn't like The Schmuck at first?" she asked.
I shook my head. "Why?"
"Well, when I met him, I asked him if he could think of one word to describe you. Wanna know what he said?"
I wanted to shake my head "no"—a bit scared to hear the truth. I studied my cousin. She's absolutely gorgeous with dark brown hair and green eyes. She turns heads wherever she goes, but the thing is that she has one of the best personalities out there. She can make anyone laugh. She's super down-to-earth AND you know if she has your back, she has it forever. I finally nodded; Rachel wanted the best for me, and I could handle whatever she had to tell me. "One word to describe me, huh? What did he say?"
"He looked you up and down from across the room, then said in a really gross voice, 'One word? I'd say she's too much'…that's not love—heck it wasn't even one word! The man was a user. A narcissist. He told me all about his past. Gina, don't feel bad you believed his lies. He was just one of the jocks who never grew up past high school—his best days will always be when he was playing basketball, the star of the team, getting girls, and being the center of attention."
I touched a petroglyph on a wall near us; it was of a horned man who held a bow and arrow, pointing it at a big buck.
"And Mark, what do you think of him?" I asked.
We looked at him; he'd just said something to Rachel's daughters and they all laughed.
"I'm not sure yet. But I want you to pay attention on the way back to my house. When he answers questions, do they sound like he cares about you, really cares? If he answers poorly, maybe he isn't the guy for you."
So, that was pretty intense. As I watched Mark marvel over the rocky walls, climb over boulders, play with the girls, and smile at me whenever our eyes met, I hoped he'd answer the questions well when we got back into the car. But honestly, I didn't know what he'd say. Maybe Mark thought I was "too much" too.
Copper-colored dust swirled as we opened the car's doors. Mark sat down, smiling, not knowing what was about to hit him. Rachel locked the doors and drove much slower than she had on the way into the canyon.
"What are your intentions with my cousin?" she asked, suddenly.
Mark's eyes widened. "Well, I'm looking for a companion, someone who's willing to experience life with me, who makes life better for me—the same way I want to make it better for them."
She nodded as if waiting for him to go on.
"And I feel like Gina—and her children—make life better. They inspire me. Give me more of a sense of purpose. And all I can hope is that I enrich their lives as well."
My heart swelled. I had been through so much with my children. Somedays I felt like we couldn't take on any more stress, that one more trial would break me. My life could be a mess of chaotic moments between balancing time with my children, work, school... I didn't feel like a "catch," but instead looked at myself as a husk of shattered dreams.
I stared out the car window and tried keeping the tears from my eyes. I could hardly believe Mark had come into my life and that he saw me as someone much stronger and worthwhile than I felt—a companion, a life-mate, someone who could even be enriching. But his answer hadn't solely touched me because of what he said about me; tears brimmed my eyes again because I thought of what he said about my children. They needed a caring man in their lives. As much as it shocked me to admit it, we needed Mark, and maybe he really needed us too.
Time passed. We talked about life and how strange it can be. Rachel shared some stories about her past and how people should look at relationships as a team effort instead of individual achievement. I nodded.
"It's kind of like a two-legged race. If you're tied to someone, wouldn't you want to be tied to someone who you are the most compatible with, who makes you better, who you know you can actually finish the race with?" I asked.
Mark and Rachel both agreed that few people look at it that way anymore, even if people should.
Right after we pulled into Rachel's driveway, she turned off the car and asked Mark one last question. "If you could think of one word to describe Gina, what would it be?"
I waited, terrified for the answer. This single answer wouldn't tell much about me, but it would tell nearly everything about him. It could show his true motives.
We all waited quietly, even Rachel's three daughters. Finally Mark looked at me and said, "Indescribable." Then he paused as if that wasn't good enough. "Unbelievable."
I hugged Rachel and told her girls goodbye. Mark said his farewells and waited for me in the van.
"So?" I whispered, on her front porch.
"Call me sometime next week," she said. "I think this one shows some promise, but there are a few things I'd like to talk with you about him."
Mark and I drove home, chattering the whole way about the beauty of southern Utah. But I kept wondering about what my cousin wanted to talk with me about. Had she seen something in Mark that I couldn’t see yet?
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