(This chapter is based on my first visit to some hot pots in Northern Utah!)
To read this story from the beginning, please go HERE
This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
"Oh my gosh!" I said, just remembering the mass message I'd sent out days before to everyone I knew:
I'm going to take at least a year off from having a serious relationship.I'll take this time to focus on myself and my kids. And by golly, I'm going to enjoy!
"What's wrong?" Mark asked.
"I just remembered telling everyone that I want to be single for a year. You know, I'm not looking for anything serious right now? That means…I don't want to have sex for a long time, or spend all my free time with a significant other…you know, until I'm in a serious relationship. If I wait at least a year then I'll be ready."
"Okay." He paused, then said, "I'm willing to wait as long as it takes until you're ready for something serious."
My heart warmed and I looked at him in a new way. "Really?"
"Yes, Gina. Really."
I squinted in the light that seemed to shine even brighter since the sun had fully crested the mountains. "You wanna keep walking up now that we made it this far anyway?" I asked as we climbed down from the cave.
"Sure. Let's check it out."
I'd heard about some hot pots that weren't far up Ogden Canyon. I had no idea if we'd find them, but they were supposedly close-by.
As we walked next to the water, Mark spotted a musty old towel and a scrub brush. "Lots of homeless people come up here," he said. "It's not always the safest place."
That reminded me of the grave we'd seen earlier that day. Ogden Canyon was filled with dangers galore.
We walked several steps apart, and I wondered how things would go now that we'd kissed. Neither of us said much, instead just enjoying the mountain air. He caught my gaze a couple times and I couldn't help but smile and look away.
Everything was extraordinarily clear. The trees and vegetation gleamed vibrant greens. Purple and yellow flowers had bloomed, waiting for spring, just around the corner. A stream bubbled gorgeously by and birds chirped in the distance. I couldn't help sighing; the day was simply beautiful.
"So we're hanging out for Valentine's next week, right?" Mark asked.
"I was planning on it," I said, blushing because we'd planned on going as friends. Would we still just be going as friends now?
"I have something special planned already. And I've taken work off for it."
My eyebrows raised. "What plans?"
"You'll just have to wait and see. I'll tell you when it's closer. But you'll need to dress up."
He'd never seen me dressed up, not really, and the thought kind of terrified me. I'm not the dress-up sort of girl. I recently learned how to really curl my hair so the strawberry blonde pieces fall in rivulets down my back. I'd tried perfecting that look for years, but, in years gone by, had appeared as if taken hostage by a dirt storm and some hairspray. Not only could I do my hair now, I could also do my makeup so my green eyes stood out and concealer hid all my freckles. Maybe getting dressed up could actually be fun. I glanced over at Mark, wishing I could look so good he'd regret not kissing me first!
I turned back toward the trail ahead, and Mark must have noticed something at the same time I did. About thirty feet ahead, where the trail rose gently from the stream, smoke billowed up the side of the forest.
"No way." Mark gaped. "We found them."
I was so excited; I could hardly contain myself. "Real hot pots!"
After getting closer, we both took off our socks and shoes again. The air thickened, like a sauna. Several pools steamed in a semi-circle. The one farthest from the stream was the hottest. "I wouldn't get in that one," Mark said, leaning over the pool, like a sleuth inspecting a clue. "But I don't know if I'd get in any of them!" He pointed and we saw that, in the farthest pool up, another towel and brush rested next to the hot pot.
I did get a little nervous, but I tried playing the nothing-can-bother-me-I'm-a-badass-card. "So, someone else has been here. So, what?"
He pointed to the water oozing out of a vertical hole. Brown and green moss lined the opening. And…it didn't smell healthy. "That's what an STD looks like," Mark said.
I stepped back. "And you know this how?"
"I've heard lots of stories. Doesn't it look like an STD cesspool?!"
I sauntered to the hot pot farthest away, then gauged Mark's expression as I slowly, ever so gently, put my bare feet into the water. I thought he might die right there. If he'd gotten my goat about the grave and serial killers, this was my time to unsettle him.
"Isn't it hot and dirty?"
My eyes spied their reflection in the clear water. "It's fine!" I descended deeper, until the water rippled near my knees. It was pretty damn hot, hotter than any Jacuzzi I'd ever been in. "The heat would kill any germs. And I'm just putting my legs in." Deeper…and deeper.
His face blanched. And that broad-shouldered man who I'd come to care for so much, looked literally terrified.
So, being the gem I am, I decided to make things worse and, splashed some water on him. He cried out. What was he, the wicked witch of Oz? I giggled harder than I have in years. "I'm melting. I'm melting. What a world. What a world."
Mark gazed at me patronizingly, as water dripped from the bottom part of his shirt. "Fine, but if I get an STD…."
"It wasn't from me." I winked.
He dipped his feet in and I went to sit next to him. My hands rested on the lip of the hot pot, where the rocky surface's heat and texture bit into my palms. Mark placed his hand over mine and squeezed. "This isn't too bad," he gritted his teeth, not meeting my eyes.
A few minutes passed, as a renewing comfort seemed to pulse from his hand to mine. I closed my eyes, breathed in the steamy, pine-smelling air, and listened to the birds. "Mark, if you could think of three things that are necessary for a good relationship, what would you say?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, you could say, making life fun, comfort, friendship...love."
He raised his feet so hot water and steam swirled from his skin. "Compatibility, because that covers friendship. Trust, because that includes being honest with the other person and yourself. And the third necessity would be...love."
I nodded; those were awfully good.
"What about you?" he asked.
"I don't want to tell you. You'll just laugh."
"Try me," he said.
I flexed my calf muscles. "Love would be first for me. Then friendship."
"That's not embarrassing," he scoffed. "What's the third?"
"I really don't want to say it out loud." I could feel my face practically turning into a red-hot fireball.
"I told you," he said.
"Fine, my third necessity is…good sex."
He looked more uncomfortable than when I'd splashed him with the STD water. Suddenly swallowing, he simultaneously coughed.
"Good sex?" he croaked, the bullfrog of the hot pot.
"Well, if it sucks, you don't want to be stuck with that person forever."
"That's why I said 'compatibility,' that covers sex."
"Oh, no it doesn't! Sex is in a category all its own."
"Gina! You are a horndog."
"No, I'm not. I'm the one saying I won't have sex for a year!"
"At least sex wasn't in my top three."
His hand had remained on mine that entire time. But now it burned a hole into my skin.
"Ya know, Mark Marrucini," I said, drawing out his name, "since I've known you, every once in a while I've wondered what else I could learn about you if we crossed the barrier between friendship and something more. Now I'm starting to get a pretty good idea."
"Oh, yes? What have you learned?"
I cleared my throat. "I've learned that you're scared of STDs and you hate sex."
"You don't know that! Not yet."
I was through blushing and being embarrassed around this man. "But you're not denying it!" I put my hand up to his beard and ran my fingers through it playfully. "I learned that your beard is a good time."
"And, I've also learned that you're one helluva kisser. But there's one thing that I haven't figured out."
One of his brown eyebrows arched questioningly.
"I wish I could figure out what we're doing for Valentine's Day."
He splashed his feet in the steamy water. "You really want to know?"
I pictured him all dressed up in a suit, and myself with crazy-scary hair, wearing something that resembled a paper bag. I nodded, worriedly.
"We're going to a fancy restaurant and then…the symphony."
I squealed. "This will be so fun! I'm gonna have to buy a new dress. And shoes. And do my hair."
He placed his forehead against mine. "You know what I learned today?" he asked.
"That women are always right?"
"Wrong." He smiled slyly. "I learned that you're even more wonderful than I'd ever imagined."
And as I gazed into his eyes I found it ironic that he looked happy despite sitting in the "STD cesspool."
I breathed in that steamy air and gazed at Mark's reflection next to mine. In that moment I felt completely content.
My lips lightly kissed Mark on the cheek. "You're a good time, Mr. Marrucini. I'm so excited for Valentine's Day," I whispered.
"Me too," he said. "I can hardly wait to see you in a dress."
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