Well folks, the more I write, the more I find myself wandering off into the realm of fiction over fact, although parts of this chapter have more than a grain of truth in them. And I’m enjoying it! Also, my chapters are getting longer, (I have twelve so far) so in future, I might stop posting these as entries and just make a separate tab on my blog, for continuities sake, and to help me keep things straight. Or this might be the last chapter. The longer this thing gets, the more unruly it becomes and it seems to be demanding more brain power than I can give it right now. If you have the patience to read it, let me know what you think……
School started today. But I am home again now, sitting outside on my favorite rock. The mountain is peeping out at me from a rim of clouds and I have some extra time to write. I know I said I gave up writing in clandestine fashion, but today- well today just called for it. It really was such a strange day. Life-altering might be too strong a term, but I feel like a different person than the girl I was this morning. Details forthcoming. I want to do this story justice.
We felt more prepared for the dawning of a new school year than we had foreseen since apparently mom had a little money set aside for us to go shopping after all. It wasn’t much, and we found ourselves at the mall last week, trying to make the most of our meager sums. Britt had already received her first modest paycheck, so she combined it with what mom had offered and was able to cover most of her wardrobe bases. She seemed to be truly enjoying herself, going back and forth from dressing rooms to clothing racks, heaping her arms with garments and returning almost all of them.
Sam and I, who both rather detest shopping, milled aimlessly about for a while, examining droopy sleeves and heels of shoes with little interest. I then noticed Becca a few aisles down, apparently engrossed in something. I walked discreetly over and peeked down the aisle to see what she was doing. She had laid out sundry items on a bench- some new shoes, a pair of jeans, a cute sweater and shirt- and was muttering ‘eeny-meeny-miney-mo’ under her breath and jabbing at the items with closed eyes, as if she didn’t want to know which items hadn’t made the cut until she had to. Sam came up to investigate as well and then we looked at each other, unspoken agreement in our eyes. Before Becca could get past “My mother said…” Sam interrupted her with
“Hey Becca Bug.”
Becca Bug’s eyes flew open, anger plainly written on her face as she looked at us. Whether it stemmed from the use of her much-detested old nickname or the fact that we had discovered her chanting that foolish childhood rhyme, it was hard to say. Probably both.
“Sorry,” Sam continued hastily. “No offense, but we were wondering if you maybe were in need of a little assistance.” She looked at us both, confusion mixing with the anger.
“It’s your first year of high school,” I clarified. “You need at least one entire new outfit.” And we both fished out the crumpled bills mom had given us and held them out. Her look changed to one harder to read. She looked as if she were wrestling with herself, so I made things easier for her.
“Look. You know Sam and I could care less what we wear to school. And Aunt Lucy just sent us three whole bags of Anna’s old clothes, which we can share. But there’s no way in heaven you would be able to fit into anything that ever belonged to Anna,” I reasoned.
This was true enough. Sam, our cousin Anna and I share long, lanky genes, which means we can also share long, lanky jeans. (no apologies- bad puns are an author’s privilege)
“So it’s only fair that since Nat and I have such a nice big hand-me-down wardrobe,” Sam went on, “you should have this,” and we wedged the money into the coveted shoes and fled, before she could protest.
Thus we arrived at our first day, less shabbily attired than we had foreseen, which did wonders for our morale, since there was an unpleasant task ahead of us. Before first period, the four of us sheepishly sneaked into the principal’s office to ask him how the whole janitorial thing was going to work. Mr. Templin looked surprised at the question and replied that seeing as school was only a half-day today, we could take the afternoon off.
He said it with a little smile pulling at the corner of his mouth, as if the idea of four girls tackling this job amused him. I had to nudge Becca in the ribs to prevent her saying something rude about the whole affair being his idea. (she later denied having any such plan, but I know her too well.) We simply tried to smile in return, but I’m not sure if we succeeded. At any rate, he said there wasn’t anyone around today to show us the way things are done, so it would have to wait until a better time.
This put all of us in a better mood at least, and we were able to enjoy all the various reunions and catching up that the first day of school usually entails. The school is really so small that this ritual doesn’t take long. I am part of a class of 22, and I think in total, the school falls just short of 100 students. Out of my small class, and probably because I am already so close with my sisters, I only have one other real friend whom I have already mentioned- Emily Templin.
Since I have known her forever, my introduction to high school was made quite easy. My social skills are abysmal, and I really dislike meeting new people. So it helped immensely, having a best friend already built into my class. I thought at first that it might change our relationship, having her dad in charge of the school and all. I asked myself if she might run to daddy if I ever put a toe out of line. But one afternoon in English class, early in our freshman year, she passed me a note during class, right under her father’s nose! (Mr. Templin is also our English teacher since the staff at our school is stretched a little thin).
I knew then that I had nothing to worry about, and we’ve kept up our old friendship along with a lively, contraband, classroom correspondence ever since. She is one of the few people who knows about my love of writing, but she never asks to see it either, which I love about her. Some day, if ever I get it done, I will dedicate my first novel to her.
Our school isn’t very interesting as far as big school dynamics are concerned. We have no sports teams and very few extra curricular activities, which damages our chances of attracting male students. If you are in the market for high school romance, you should probably go shopping somewhere else. My class had three boys in it last year, and overall, the girls in the school outnumber the boys three to one. Although I should say, my sister Sam has made a few conquests in her short tenure here. Without even trying even. But that’s another one of those innate abilities I do not possess. Britt has never had a boyfriend either, but I think that’s mostly because all the boys are intimidated by her.
However, there are many things to love about our school if you can get past the lack of cheerleaders and a senior prom. (or anyone to go to prom with) Traditionally, the first day back entails a brief introduction to all the year’s upcoming classes, and then we all make our way to the church parking lot and load onto the bus (our entire school can fit into one bus and a few vans) for the annual picnic.
The Pacific Northwest has no shortage of scenic beauties, and every year they take us some place different- a stretch of rocky beach perhaps, or a forested park. Today, they took us for a longish drive up into the mountains, to a state park that featured a lovely river and spectacular water fall. We were lucky enough to get a sunny day for our trip as well, since the PNW has no shortage of rain of either. As the poor old bus grunted and shifted it’s way around the hairpin bends and up the steep hills, I found myself every few minutes, gripping the edge of the seat that I was sharing with Em. As much as I love the mountains around here, I am not a fan of heights. I prefer looking up at them, and not the other way around.
To distract myself from the heart-stopping view, I turned around in my seat to see how Becca was getting on, it being her first day of highschool and all. She was sitting a few rows back with a girl I had never seen, comfortably conversing and completely at her ease. She has little trouble getting to know new people. Sam was three rows behind her, and for once not reading a book. A few of her swains were trying to get her attention, but she was ignoring them beautifully, completely enraptured with the scenery. She has no problem with high places. Britt, the newly instated Student Body President, was up in front, busily talking with the teachers about plans for the new school year. It made me smile, seeing all of my sisters so happy and it made the whole impending ‘cleaning lady’ prospect seem more than worth it.
The rest of the bus was filled with mostly familiar faces- my junior classmates, superior looking seniors, and cocky sophomores giving the awkward freshmen a hard time. But there was one face that didn’t fit any of these categories. It was sitting alone only a few rows up, and it was a new face- one that I had only glimpsed briefly that morning, occupying the desk in the very back corner of my classroom. The face had looked as if it wanted to be left alone, and seeing as it belonged to a boy, I didn’t feel up to introducing myself. I’m not one of your flirtatious types. I had heard his name in the role call, and I remember it was Adam something or other- I’m terrible with last names. I nudged Em and asked her if she had heard anything about him. She is usually in the know on these sorts of things.
She told me her dad had mentioned him briefly as just having moved to the area from southern California, which intrigued me even further since my mother hails from the same corner of the country. Em then went on to inform me that his last name was Hale in such an audible whisper that he turned around and looked right at us. We both felt embarrassed, but there was nothing for it.
“Hi,” I said, my nervousness making me unusually bold. “I’m Natalie, and this is Em.” Em waved awkwardly.
“Well, it’s obvious you know my name,” he said in a flat tone of voice and with a deadpan face that was hard to interpret. Was he mad at us? Annoyed? I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I waited for him to make the next move. He left us hanging for a moment before finally cracking a smile and resigning himself to be conversable . I asked him where he was from (Em was right in thinking he was from California) and I held onto that common ground as long as I could, since I am no good at thinking up topics for conversation. We had enough material to last for a while as sunny CA has been the destination of almost every vacation our family has ever taken.
As we talked, discussing the various beauties of California coasts and mountains I couldn’t help noticing that he was rather better looking than most of the guys in the school. It was easy to miss at first since his hair was badly cut and he was wearing pretty shabby clothes- worn out blue jeans paired with a faded rugby shirt and shoes that made Britt’s old tennies look pretty spiffy by comparison. But as Britt had pointed out so often lately, we were just about the only ones at our school short of money, so it was refreshing to see someone else who shared our plight. Of course he might have been rich, and like Sam, could have cared less how he was dressed, but I wasn’t about to ask him.
After a while, he began staring at me more and more intently- so much so that I started feeling a little uncomfortable. He must have realized it because he suddenly said,
“Sorry, I don’t mean to stare, but it’s your eyes.”
I braced myself, unsure of what was coming next- a compliment or a criticism.
“Are they always that color?” he continued, “or do you wear colored contacts?”
I might have been imagining it, but his tone implied that he wondered why anyone in their right mind would have chosen contacts in that particular shade . I stared down at my lime green shirt in embarrassment, having forgotten that this top always made my eyes appear more than usually bizarre. Em, well aware of my insecurity in this area and apparently interpreting his tone in the same way, loyally interjected at this point.
“They aren’t contacts,” she said a little defensively, “She just has amazing eyes. They change colors all the time, depending on what she is wearing.”
“Then I bet you avoid wearing red,” he returned with the same deadpan face as before.I honestly couldn’t tell if he were joking or not, but I laughed anyway. Em was looking a little angry for my sake, and he soon looked as if he wanted to change the subject. Apparently nothing came to mind, so instead, he abruptly turned back around in his seat and resumed his solitude. I exchanged uncertain looks with Em. She shrugged.
“Well, he’s different anyway,” she whispered, as if that were the most that could be said for him.
I didn’t have long to feel offended by his oddities. We soon arrived at the park, and there was the usual noise and crowd of people in the aisles to contend with. I don’t like fighting crowds, so I let Em pass and waited. I gave an encouraging smile to Becca as she went by, closely followed by Sam and her loyal subjects who were jostling for position behind her. I saw one of them reach out and pull one of her ubiquitous curls, trying to get her attention. I grinned as her predictable, retaliatory kick met his shins, thereby quenching his jocularity and causing the whole group of young idiots to step back apace. Maybe someday they would learn.
Once the back of the bus had emptied, I reached down to grab my jacket from under the bench. When I stood up, there was Adam Hale, looking at me, smiling. He had an awfully nice smile, and it made him look like a different person.
“I’m sorry if I offended you before,” he said quietly. “I’m not very good at talking to new people, or girls for that matter.”
I told him I wasn’t offended, even though I was, a little, and assured him that I was rotten at making acquaintances as well. He smiled again.
“Are you coming?” he continued, and I suddenly realized that he was waiting for me. I grabbed my jacket and hurried past him down the aisle, wondering why on earth I was blushing. As a general rule, I avoid blushing- it makes me feel immature and vulnerable.
Things were better once I got outside. The air was clear and free of the smell of 75 teenagers and the diesel fumes of the bus. And the surroundings were enough to distract me from strange new boys with handsome smiles.
“After all,” I told myself, “I have made it through two years of high school without a single crush, and I don’t intend to break that record.” So I didn’t look behind me to see if he was following, but hurried over to join Em and my two younger sisters who were sitting at a table in the covered picnic area close by the river.
We sat munching our sandwiches as Mr. Templin gave his usual first day of school speech. He then introduced my older sister, who stood up, waving nervously. The cheers from most of the students seemed to give her confidence, and she gave us all an inspiring presidential speech about what this year was going to bring. She did look nice in her new clothes, and I thought her prettier than ever in her nervous excitement.
Once lunch was over, we were free to explore and we walked down the rocky path to the sparkling river. Looking to the left, the water meandered along in a respectable stream between tidy wooded banks, looking much like any other river. But looking upstream, I saw about a hundred yards distant, the water emerging from was an immense green tunnel, except its walls were higher than any I had ever seen and there was no top- just a sliver of blue sky far above. It was, in fact, a narrow gorge, whose moss covered cliff walls diffused the sunshine until everything appeared emerald green- the water, the rocks, the light, the river itself.
Sudden shouts echoed off the rock walls as some of the students, led by their fearless president, splashed forward through the shallow water, towards the gorge. I was eager to explore as well, but turning around to take off my shoes, I noticed Becca back at the picnic grounds, looking lonely and uncertain. I went to see what the matter was.
I didn’t need to ask, once I saw her face. I had forgotten her fear of closed in spaces. Being the only one in the family who shares a similar phobia, I felt that I should stay behind with her, but to my relief, Sam came up behind and offered to stay.
“Are you sure?” I asked, being well aware that her love for nature was at least equal to mine.
“I’m sure,” she replied, a trifle grumpily. “I might explore later, but not until those boys get back and I can go without them. I’m sick of boys at the moment.” and she glared in the direction of the shouts fading in the distance. Em, who given the choice, always preferred to have a good chat with friends than explore the great outdoors, decided to stay behind as well, so that in a few minutes, I found myself barefooted, jeans rolled up to my knees, and heading into the green tunnel alone.
There was a mist over the river here, adding to the strange aura of the place. The water was shallow and cold, hardly above my ankles, with slippery stones underfoot. Moss laden trees grew horizontally out of the rocks before bending their course upwards to seek the far away sun. Thin sheets of moisture cascaded down the rock faces like waterfalls of dew, and the myriad drops falling in the rippling water were like music.
Whenever I am alone in a beautiful place like that, I can’t help but sing a little bit. When I am stressed I cook, but singing is for when my heart is full. I’ve always been self concious of my voice for as long as I can remember. It has fog horn qualities that always drew the notice of teachers, who would inevitably point me out to the whole class, asking me to take it down a notch or two. So the only time I really feel comfortable singing solo is around my family, or in a setting like this.
But this was definitely not the time for foghorns. It seemed like a place where fairies might be lurking, so I opened my mouth and just whispered a few words of the first song that came to mind . They floated quietly up to the crack of sky, bouncing off the craggy boulders and sounding like wind chimes. I stood still, breathless for a moment. I sang a little louder-
This is my Father’s world, and to my listening ears,
All nature sings and round me rings the music of the spheres.
I grinned in delight. It was exactly like singing in a round with myself. I went on, louder still-
This is my Father’s world, I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas. His hand the wonders wrought.
I couldn’t believe how long that old hymn went echoing around me- long after I had ceased singing. But the wonder of the moment turned to embarrassment as I realized that the echoes could probably be heard by all the other students. So regretfully, I let the echoes die and moved on more silently.
I began to ask myself when I was going to run into the other students, when the sounds of a distant roaring began filling my ears. As I rounded the next corner, I saw what had happened to them. The sounds of their voices were completely quelled by a waterfall. But it wasn’t big at all, probably only twelve feet tall,- nothing like as big as Mr. Templin had been describing. But it was large enough to fill the little dell with thunder. I needn’t have worried about anyone hearing my little song.
I stood and watched the group for a while, having no desire to go nearer. The water was, of course, deeper near the base of the falls. Some of the bolder students were scrambling up the rocks behind the cascade, egging each other on to jump through it. This frightened me at first, until the first two or three bravehearted souls came bursting through and fell into the pool below. They came up laughing and spluttering, circling around in the slow eddy of the water until they felt hard ground again and clambered out. I watched a little while longer, and to my astonishment, I next saw Britt dive fully dressed through the falls while all the boys cheered. I bit my lip hard until she surfaced again.
When she did surface, she looked concerned, and I wondered if she had hurt herself. But the cause of her worry soon became apparent. The force of the water had pulled one of her hard earned shoes off, and it was floating a few feet in front of her. She struck out after it, but the eddy of the whirlpool kept it just out of reach. It went under the falls again. She soon followed suit, though she was paddling hard to keep away. The boys were all laughing now, watching the sport, but she soon caught up with her waterlogged shoe and made her way toward where I was standing. I looked at her half-worried, half-admiring.
“I never know how you dare to do the things you do,” I said as she came dripping out of the water. ” I just left Becca trembling back on shore with Sam, while I’ve been cautiously tiptoeing through the shallows. Meanwhile, you are fighting with waterfalls. What would mom say?”
“Mom doesn’t need to know,” she smiled at me, looking slightly apprehensive.
“I’m betting you don’t even have a dry anything to change into either. Well, you are not borrowing anything off of me. I intend to stay dry.”
“Don’t you worry about me,” she returned airily, “I’m not afraid of a little water.” And she headed back towards the falls for more.
I watched a few minutes longer, but preferred to continue my the quiet exploration of the maze further still. So I backtracked to where I remembered seeing another small fork of the river carving it’s way through an even smaller canyon and decided to follow it. I could touch the mossy walls on either side of me here, and though I tried singing again, the sound was muffled and the echoes died quickly. I thought the river would cut itself off completely, or else disappear under the ground, when to my amazement the narrow passageway suddenly opened up into a wide and rocky clearing.
As I looked around, I saw that it was almost perfectly round, no doubt carved by the ceaselessly swirling water. It didn’t look deep, but the current looked strong. The sunlight was less green here, and it was brighter, so that it took my eyes a moment to adjust to what I was seeing, and even longer to realize I wasn’t alone. The sudden “Hello again,’’ that came from my right made me gasp out loud. I found the echoes had returned in full measure and I had to hear my foolish little scream reverberate around the walls several times before it faded away. I also had time to realize that my companion was none other than the new boy from the bus.
He was sitting on a large boulder with his arms wrapped around his knees, just a few feet away. And he was smiling his nice smile. I felt my stomach tighten and my face go red again, but I said “hello”, as calmly as I could. Then, to cover the awkward moment, I said stupidly, “I didn’t know anyone else was here,” as if my startled gasp hadn’t made that clear enough.
He stood up on his boulder, and said, “Do you want to explore?”
“Explore what?” I asked again, looking around. It was only then that I noticed that the thin green canyon continued on the other side of the wide pool.
“How would we get there” I asked, uncertain of the depth of the water. For answer, he merely took a small jump to the boulder nearest him and looked back at me. I stood for a moment, uncertain and shy, but suddenly feeling a new kind of recklessness, I followed him.
We moved from rock to rock, sometimes hopping, sometimes just taking large steps, but it wasn’t nearly as frightening as I had imagined. The rocks were flat and dry, and only a couple of them wobbled when we landed on them. I started to have fun. We didn’t talk at all, just moved forward towards that thin green crack in the rock face. He turned around just before he entered it. I nodded. We went forward.
I expected the current to be stronger here, with all the water from that pool suddenly bottled up into a narrow channel. But although it frothed and splashed more noisily, we found we didn’t need to hop rocks anymore and could simply wade again. He was the first one to break the pleasant silence.
“This place gives me the same sort of feeling as the giant Sequoia groves near Yosemite,” he said. “Have you ever been there? It’s a sort of reverent feeling, like being in a cathedral. But I like it better.”
I replied that I had been to Sequoia once, although I had been only eight at the time. I also remembered I had been distracted from the grandeur of the place by the fact that Becca had gotten violently carsick on the way up and was stopping behind every cedar tree to throw up. I kept that fact to myself.
But I understood what he meant about the holy feeling. It’s always been hard for me to reveal my thoughts about divine things. I think I once gave my father a shock, talking about God and nature as if they were interchangeable, and he gave me a rather long lecture on the dangers of deism. My sisters and I were diligently raised to approach God through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and though I have never harbored a doubt that I am a believer in Jesus, I have a very difficult time fitting him into my daily routine. In fact, I have a hard time knowing what a relationship with Jesus even looks like.
Em is always talking about asking Jesus for help with her math tests, or that he would give her a kinder heart towards less fortunate people.(as if she needed it), or even wishing that she felt closer to him than she sometimes does. But I never feel the same way, and I’m not sure I have ever felt what it means to be “close to him”. But when I am out in nature- God the father, God the Creator doesn’t just speak to me- he fairly shouts his undeniable presence. And though I am usually too much overwhelmed to say much, I prefer to feel tiny and insignificant in the face of creation, than trying to ask Jesus to help me with all my petty day to day problems.
Perhaps I don’t seek his presence hard enough when I am home in my home and my comfortable routine, but it’s so much easier just to step out the door and be shown that he is real. It just seems easier to me than getting down on my knees every morning like my mother. It brought to mind the hymn again- “This is my Father’s world- he shines in all that’s fair.” I hummed the tune a little as I looked at Adam, who seemed lost in his own thoughts. I almost asked him if he ever liked to sing, but shyness got the better of me and I refrained.
“I’m really glad there are places like this here,” he continued after a while. “I was pretty miserable leaving California. All I had ever heard about Washington was that it rained here a lot.”
“You can’t have the green without the rain,” I murmured, more to myself than to him. It was the pep talk my mother always gave us when we were inclined to grumble after a third straight month of winter precipitation.
“And yes,” I continued more loudly. “There are lots of places like this here. Haven’t you seen the mountain yet?”
“No. Everyone keeps telling me it’s there, and of course I’ve seen pictures of it, but all I have seen are clouds. I’ve only been here a couple of weeks.”
I thought about asking him why he moved here, but thought it might not be polite, so we continued on without further conversation. The water had been growing deeper almost imperceptibly until I suddenly felt it sloshing over the rolled up cuffs of my jeans. I searched for a boulder and scrambled up it. The current suddenly seemed stronger as well. Adam waded a few feet further, but finally sought refuge on a flat rock.
“Do you want to turn back?” he asked. It was hard to see where the water was headed, as there were so many twists and turns in the tunnel, but I didn’t want to give up just yet. So I shook my head and jumped to next boulder. After a few minutes, I noticed the rocky cliff sides began to alter- their severe, vertical lines widened, yielding to gentler slopes. Then the rock face gave place to patches of earth, and trees were more abundant. The sunlight increased along with the strength of the river until I began to get nervous. But there still plenty of rocks to navigate and I didn’t want to be the one to quit.
Then, without warning, and as we rounded a sharp corner, the sound of the water changed. I looked ahead and felt my stomach drop. Not five feet in front of me, I saw that the water ended in one shining, curving green swell. The water was now rushing past us with astonishing speed, parting around one last boulder and spilling over the edge of a cascade whose height I could only guess at. The very distant roaring of it’s own whirlpool made it sound as if it were a mile long.
I staggered and crouched down on my boulder, the familiar height-induced vertigo making it unclear which way was up and which was down. I think Adam was only a few feet away, but I couldn’t even look up to see. I thought I would be sick, and then I was pretty sure I would die. But above all, I knew that I would never be able to move from that wretched rock.
And then I felt a hand on my shoulder, and a calm voice, that seemed a million miles away asking me to stand up. I shook my head mutely. There was no noise but the roaring water for another moment, and then “Natalie, I need you to stand up,” The sound of my own name seemed to steady me a little and managed to lift my head and look toward the voice.
“All right,” he continued with a forced calmness. ” I need you to stand all the way up now, but do not look behind you. Just move one foot at a time.” We turned to face the way we had come and were both paralyzed for a moment. The river looked like a dangerous beast from this perspective, and I couldn’t understand how we hadn’t seen it on the way down. The water came rushing straight at us in wild leaps, and though our boulders were still there, they seemed completely out of reach now.
After a few moments contemplation, Adam told me to follow him, and I did it blindly, clutching onto the back of his shirt. He started carefully stepping to the right, getting his own footing sure before he reached out a hand to help me. The river wasn’t wide, and I could see what he was aiming for- the earthen bank just ten feet away. There was a place where it wasn’t as steep as the rest of the hill, and with extreme caution, we finally scrambled, breathless and grateful onto the slippery ground. But we weren’t out of the woods yet. We couldn’t go along the bank, since we knew it would be a sheer rock face just around that bend, and there was no way I was going back into that river. Our only option was to scramble up the steep hillside, covered with slick pine needles and hope for a way out up there. I gritted my teeth at the prospect and we started up.
But it wasn’t as difficult as it had looked at first, and there even seemed to be a little path, as if other adventurers had come this way before to take a peek at the falls. We pulled ourselves up using branches and protruding roots until we were a good deal above the river.
Then without thinking, I looked down. My mouth went dry with horror as I could now see just how high the waterfall was. I grabbed onto the roots in front of me and pressed my face into the dirt, waiting for the dizziness to subside again. As before, I felt the reassuring hand on my shoulder and knew I had to go on. I closed my eyes again and felt my way forward. Before long the slope began to level out and I opened them just a slit. In front of me, to my immense relief was a rustic board fence and Adam was on the other side, reaching out a hand to help pull me over.
I climbed the fence and we both slumped down to the ground, breathing hard and thanking God in fervent undertones. Neither of us knew what to do next, but we couldn’t stay there all day. After another minute, we climbed shakily to our feet and brushed the dirt off of our damp pants. Then we looked at each other. It’s always a bit of an awkward moment, staring at a relative stranger with whom you have just shared a near death experience and I wasn’t sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. Before I could do either, he cleared his throat and said with a tremble in his voice,
“I’m really sorry. I…. That was really stupid of me.”
“You mean that was really stupid of us,” I replied and I started to laugh in a slightly hysterical tone.
“You’d have thought we would have seen that coming.” He seemed relieved at my response and started chuckling too. And there we both stood, laughing and laughing still harder until our sides hurt and we were gasping for breath. I knew it was simply a reaction to the strain, but it felt good. And it suddenly felt like we were no longer strangers- that we had unintentionally become friends in a hurry.
As we set off down the trail, I noticed a sign posted on the fence. It was written in bold black letters and read,
“Do not cross this fence. The lower falls have claimed 14 lives to date.” We looked at each other again and our laughter faded.
Eventually we found the rest of the school. No one had missed us, and our wet and muddy clothes blended in so well with most of the other students that we didn’t have to deal with any awkward questions. The bus was being loaded, and with a shy smile at Adam, I went to find my sisters. We sat together on the way home. Becca and Sam turned around in their seat and resting their chins on their folded arms, we talked over the day. Somehow Sam had managed to convince Becca to overcome her fears and explore a little bit of the canyon. They had even made it as far as the little waterfall, (I knew now how little it was) but the claustrophobic space of the little cove had been too much for her, and she had found it necessary to piggyback all the way to the picnic grounds on Britt’s back. We even talked about a much larger and more spectacular waterfall that they had managed to see from a safe lookout point.
“And where were you all afternoon?” Sam asked me suddenly. I hadn’t said a word up to this point and now they were all staring at me. I had meant to tell them all about my terrifying adventure, but I suddenly found I couldn’t do it. It had been too momentous an event to make public, and I found that I wanted to keep it to myself. Somehow I knew that Adam wouldn’t tell anyone either, and that made it our secret- just his and mine. I muttered something about having explored a different canyon. I told them I had been alone. And if I blushed at the lie, they didn’t seem to notice.
So now I have been sitting on this rock, writing until my hand is cramped, for over two hours and the light is almost gone. This day- this strange, confusing, terrifying and magical day is almost over. For the first time ever, I feel as if I am in a book and that today was an enormous plot twist in my life. Those hours in the enchanted green canyon are going to shape my life somehow, for better or for worse, I can feel it. But for now, real life is calling and the story book is fading. Mom is finishing dinner and it’s my night to set the table.