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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
Mark and I'd decided to take things slow, to keep our friendship intact and let me heal from previous relationships. I kept telling myself that I was in no place to seriously date someone and I couldn't kiss Mark again. But I felt like things had changed for the worse since making this decision.
Mark and I texted one another at least once a day, but I didn't see him much for the next week. So, when he asked me to go hiking one day, my heart leapt. I quickly put on some warm clothes and hiking shoes before driving to meet him at his house.
The thing is that Mark was a classic bachelor. He'd owned his house since he was twenty-two. Now he'd rented two of the rooms to a couple of guys: one of them being my previous co-worker Tall Man, and the other roommate was someone everyone adored because of his fun approach to life. The three men had decorated the house with masculine, dark themes. Sheets hung in the windows over black curtains "to keep the sun out." This all seemed to scream "needs a woman's touch," but I never said a word because I secretly loved how manly the place felt. After all, it was quite endearing since Mark had only had a few girlfriends over the years despite girls' persistence to date him. Instead, he'd remained hard to tie down, living a simple life working and hiking with his dog, Abby.
"I made us lunch," I told Mark after walking through the front door.
"You made," he spied the wrapping, "Subway straight from the restaurant. Nice!"
We loaded his dog and gear into his truck before speeding toward the canyon.
It was quite chilly in the mountains and the trail was covered in ice and snow. It felt so good being up there, even if Abby almost knocked me down the icy trail several times, and it was hard climbing up the cold rocks at one point.
"If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?" Mark suddenly asked.
He smiled. "What about in the states?"
"I'd like to go to Dana Point in Southern California. I went whale watching there once. It was unreal, being on the prow of the boat, feeling the water splashing onto my face. Seeing dolphins jumping by the side of the boat. You get seasick?" I asked.
"Nope," he said. "Been deep sea fishing and everything. I've never been seasick once."
"Where would you go if you could go anywhere?"
"Italy would be cool, or New Zealand."
After a while I rested on a freezing log halfway up the hike near a clear pool of water. Even though the banks were frozen, spring was obviously on its way because the middle water rippled freely. Abby immediately jumped in and started drinking. "She's such a cute dog," I said. She made me laugh because her uninhibited happiness reminded me of my own around Mark.
I breathed in the woodsy air; it felt as if the essence of life lived and breathed, tickling my senses. Mark sat next to me, far closer than I'd expected, and my heart raced. I thought about everything I'd learned on Valentine's Day, about his heritage. If you looked closely, one could see the strong attributes from the Scottish side of his family—like his build, or his straight nose. The rest of him was all Italian: his olive skin, his dark hair…his full lips.
I glanced away and kicked some snow at my feet.
"It's pretty up here," Mark said.
"Sure is." My face turned toward his once more and our eyes were inches apart.
Part of me wanted him to pull me into his arms and never let me go. The other part told me I needed to heal. I was so conflicted about the whole thing that I'd even gone to see a counselor a few days before. "It would be nice if you can heal on your own," the counselor said. "But there's another side to this that you aren't thinking of."
"Oh?" I'd asked.
"You're finally dating a man who seems genuinely good. It might be nice for you to understand healthy dynamics. You can tell him no without being scared of repercussions, like in your previous relationship. You can exercise healthy behaviors and develop good habits. So dating the right type of person can actually help you heal—it's just all in what you feel and what you want."
"But what if I screw things up? I'm pretty messed up emotionally after everything I've been through," I'd said. "And this guy could be the real deal."
"That's when you have to step back, breathe, and ask yourself if you're implementing constructive or destructive behaviors in your life."
I was so busy daydreaming into the past, I'd nearly forgotten that Mark and I weren't finished with our hike. "Well, you ready to keep hiking?" Mark asked, pulling me from my reverie. He held out his hand to help me climb over the log, and when our fingers touched, a rush of heat shot up my arm making me shiver off the cold.
We worked, climbing up icy slopes and trudging across the snowy sides where few people had walked. Soon enough we'd crested a hill and found ourselves at the end of the hike. I looked up, completely stunned. "I should've known the waterfall would be frozen." It towered high above us, more majestic that any waterfall I'd ever seen. Miniscule flakes of ice fell from it as we edged closer.
I'd been there in summer and knew waters normally pooled around the base of the falls, but now it simply looked like a massive sheet of snow. "Come on!" I squealed, grabbing Mark's hand and dragging him across the snow. For a split second a premonition saying "don't go farther" niggled at my brain, but of course I didn't listen.
"You know someone died here," Mark said as we moved forward. He pointed to a rocky crevice running horizontally several feet above snow level. It was just large enough a couple people could probably climb in there and hide, protected by the solid rock beneath and the overhang just above. "A kid was trying to climb up there. He fell and…. Anyway, it was a really sad story."
"I bet," I said.
Abby ran around, happier than ever. She jumped, landing in some snow a couple feet down a sloped area.
"Oh, my gosh! This could be just like sand jumping!" I said. Mark turned curiously. "I used to go sand jumping a lot. You stand at the top of a sandy hill, then run and jump. You have to ski through the sand 'til you stop. But feel all this snow, and the ice underneath it? We could totally jump and ski down."
He was game—I should have known he would be. We held hands, ran and jumped, skiing together a few feet until we both fell on our butts. The second time we did it, I nearly fell into his lap.
Abby came and licked our faces as we laughed and laughed; that's when something terrifying happened….
An ice boulder that must have weighed over a hundred pounds dislodged from the side of the waterfall and crashed only a few feet from us. The ice beneath cracked like thunder. Mark clutched my hand and yanked me to an upright position. "Run!" he screamed; a vein in his neck bulged.
My eyes shot upward, glued to a whole section of the frozen waterfall that started bending away from the mountain, folding in on itself like origami.
I tried running, but the ground was suddenly so slippery. As if in a dream, I could not run. The bottom of my shoes must have been coated in ice. Another frozen boulder crunched into the ground about two feet from us. My heart stopped. I gritted my teeth so hard they hurt. Do it! I told myself. Run. Despite everything, I scrambled, then I ran.
The booms and cracks all around made me shudder and jump like a frightened mouse. The shifting ground made it even harder to move, but Mark was there, pulling me, dragging me toward that horizontal crevice where someone had died. "Abby! Get your ass over here!"
Then Abby whimpered, running between Mark's legs and my own. It became increasingly harder to sprint forward, ice boulders falling in front of and behind us. Snow flurried from the ground as more ice smacked the earth, shaking my insides. It seemed as if in slow motion, seeing a damn snowglobe from the inside out. An even larger chunk of the waterfall lurched, about to fall from the mountain. I paused, horrified, seeing disaster through flakes that filled the cold air.
My breath wheezed as I finally collapsed right next to the graying mountain.
"Hurry! Hurry, you two." Mark's voice drifted through the air.
Without taking his eyes from me, Mark jumped into the crevice and immediately pulled me next to him. "Abby, get up here!"
She sure did, jumping high, nearly knocking both of us out of the rocky hole and into the onslaught of ice and snow.
Mark threw his chest and arms on top of us, pushing both myself and Abby farther into the crevice. There was barely room for the three of us. I shivered, squinting at the ice wall that had finally broken free from the mountain. In seconds, it would devastate the ground.
"I got you, girls. I got you," Mark whispered. Even though the crevice protected us overhead, beneath and behind, I realized ice could still jet in through the opening. And Mark—this man I'd known less than a year—had made his own body vulnerable so both Abby and I would be okay if icy shards splintered in our direction.
I hugged his strong arms, clenched my eyes shut and turned my face as the ice rocked the ground. The most drastic blow threatened the very rock we rested in, and a wind whipped into the crevice throwing snow and ice, from the aftermath of the booming vibrations.
All three of us quivered—especially poor Abby.
Mark and I watched the show before us. Little ice-rocks continued falling, cracking and shattering. More boulders bounced from the treacherous, icy wall. Snow descended amongst ice for a long time, until the mountain began to quiet, and the tremors weren't quite so terrifying, not anymore.
I stared up at Mark, his face pale, everything except his cheeks. I threw my arms around him; still disbelieving that we were okay; shocked that he'd done everything possible to put me and his dog before himself—without a second thought.
As snow drifted into both of our hair, and his dog sniffed my butt, that's when I kissed Mark. Tears filled my eyes as our lips met over and over. We held each other so tight. Then I pulled away and rested my forehead against his. "Mark, you are such a good man. They just don't make 'em like you anymore. You're unbelievable."
We ate our "homemade" Subway sandwiches, giving some meat to Abby, who calmed down after a few minutes. When we were sure the danger was over, we crept out of the crevice. Staying next to the mountain all the while, and with adrenaline still pumping through our veins, we trudged—as quickly as possible—down the powder trail.
I didn't know what this would mean for the future. I didn't even know where our relationship stood, if we'd still try only being friends. But what I did know was that I liked Mark. He continually proved his worth, his kindness, his overall goodness. Whether we stayed friends, or became more in the future, I found myself inspired by a person who made me want to be as selfless as he was.
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