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This is a work of fiction based on a true story....
Mark came over at the butt-crack of dawn the next day. Two kayaks were strapped into the bed of his truck. "Hop in," he said, wearing a hat—and a mischievous look—I'd never seen before.
"Kayaks, huh! What are you up to?"
"A surprise. Just enjoy it, Gina."
I closed my eyes and breathed the cold air, deep into my lungs. I'd worn some daisy dukes and a tank top—which I soon regretted, after starting to shiver as we drove high into the green mountains.
Mark threw his coat onto my lap and grinned. "It'll warm up once we get where we're going. No worries. The sun will be rising higher soon."
After emerging from a canyon, Mark stopped by the sole gas station within a valley. He bought us each a canned iced tea, sunflower seeds, energy bars, and some beef jerky. "Might be a long day, we'll see."
I couldn’t help but smile as he put the goodies into an enormous backpack. “You’re going to bring that thing?” I pointed to the pack.
“What’s inside of here," he patted the bag, "well, that’s the biggest surprise of all.”
“A bigger surprise than kayaking?" I asked and he nodded. "I’ve never been kayaking. I’m pretty excited.”
“I have a feeling that you were made for this." And about an hour later, as we set the kayaks in the water and both climbed in, I thought maybe he was right.
He'd brought me to a huge reservoir, with glistening waters and spawning salmon. We followed the water to a point where it narrowed off between high rocky walls lining both sides of the water. We paddled farther and farther, neither of us saying a word. I watched Mark’s strong arms as he paddled so slowly, magestically gliding much faster than I could even with multiple strokes.
Birds sang; the sun shone down; water dripped from our paddles, and a breeze wafted through my hair. As the rock walls loomed even higher, Mark slid his paddles into his kayak—where he’d stowed his pack near his feet—and leaned back, the vision of relaxation. Our kayaks drifted several feet apart. The scent of pine and fish seemed to invigorate him. After a time, the current picked up enough that I set my oars on top of the kayak and simply drifted too.
"Catch," Mark yelled under-handing a can of Arizona iced tea to me. I snapped the drink open and grinned—it seemed like forever since I’d had a day like this, no pressure, no time limits, just good times and nature.
I leaned back, closing my eyes, and feeling the sun on my face.
"Damn—I’d forgotten what this felt like, to be in nature like this. When I was in high school, I’d come to the mountains all the time. I just don’t get to come up anymore. It’s strange how we can forget what we love, if we get stuck in the monotony of life. Sometimes I feel like I’ve dated people, and I’ve tried so hard to be a good fit for them, that I stop doing the things that really make me happy. Instead I try making them happy."
I remembered all my crazy trips to the mountains, climbing, hiking, discovering everything I could about certain trails.
"I knew you'd like kayaking," Mark smiled. “But I hope that you’ll never have to change for me. I want to do the things that you love too. We can learn to enjoy different things together. I just love being with you.”
We drifted for hours, sometimes paddling closer, sometimes not. The serene mountains beside us offered watery caves and crevices that we inspected at our leisure. I smiled watching the brilliantly red salmon beneath us, twirling and spinning as they spawned.
It wasn’t long after, that Mark motioned for me to maneuver near a bank on our right. Then, sticking his paddle into the mud, he stepped from his kayak and helped me out as well.
“Gina,” his voice deepened as I stood on the ground next to him, “I always hoped someone like you would come into my life. Always.”
My heart beat faster at the sound of his words and the heat emanating from his hand that still held mine. "I've never met someone as purely good as you are--I always wanted to meet someone like that...." Then he was leaning down, throwing his pack over his shoulders, and hiding our kayaks with such expertise I almost had to take a second look just to see where he’d shoved them behind some brush.
Mark hiked up a steep trail and I followed, studying him the whole time. He was such an interesting man, gruff looking--with his mountain-man beard and bachelor-past--yet so soft-hearted, intelligent and thoughtful.
We walked near a rounded bend in the path, marked with jagged rocks, quakies and pine trees. "I need you to wait here," Mark pointed to a rock and threw some jerky to me. "Promise you won't come over here until I tell you?"
"Promise!" I smiled so wide that my cheeks hurt. I curled up on a rock, and could hardly believe the sight in front of me. So many pines rose up, water glistened far below, and the green-crested Rocky Mountains dotted the horizon majestically.
"Come on over!" Mark yelled.
I suddenly felt so nervous. What in the world did this man have in mind for me? Around the bend, Mark waved at the bottom of a tiny trail to the left. "Down here."
He stood in the midst of a Bob Ross glade, complete with little purple flowers, a tiny brook, and the greenest grass. In between two pine trees, Mark motioned to a hammock he'd hung next to a rock that had all sorts of snacks and some beer on it.
"Mark! A hammock?"
He nodded, then held the hammock so I could easily sit down. The fabric was pretty wide, large enough for both of us. We swung side-by-side, drinking beer, snacking on jerky, and kicking off of the rock by us, for hours. It was the closest thing I'd felt to Heaven in a long time.
After a while, I leaned back and he held me in his arms. We rested in the silence, me staring up through the canopy of trees, while listening to the squirrels, Mark rocking us by pushing against the rock over and over without complaint.
"Mark, I need to tell you something. But you might be mad," I blurted without thinking.
"Okay. What's going on? You can tell me anything."
"I'm meeting The Schmuck tomorrow. You know, my ex."
His arms tensed for a moment and he quit rocking us. "Because?"
"Because I need to say goodbye in person."
He held his breath before quietly exhaling. "I understand," he said. "You broke up with him through a text. He's still having a hard time letting go...and sometimes so are you."
I looked up into his eyes. "I'm not."
"Gina, I know you. We were good friends before we started dating. You're having a hard time healing and letting go too. I get it."
"I guess so. I'm don't quite understand though. He cheated on me. We had some terrible times."
"I know it wasn't all bad. And you have a hard time dealing with friendships that end, let alone break-ups like this past one. I just hope you're willing to move on from all of that. I want a future with you. I want to be with you through the ups and downs of life. I want to be the guy who has a chance to make you happy. But you need to let go of all that stuff from your past."
"I know," I said.
Mark started rocking us in the hammock again.
"I've never felt like I was dating my best friend," I said, hugging him.
"It's kind of fun," he said, then he kissed me on the forehead.
So this is what it felt like to trust someone. I closed my eyes, completely secure, then I fell asleep within his arms and the heat of the descending sun.
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