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Dappled sunshine peeked out through the green, scalloped leaves, creating dancing patterns on the soft dirt and twigs along the shore. The wind barely moved the air; she could smell the thick, heady scent of must and soil from where the soles of her hiking boots caught looser patches, turning up grubs, grass and wet terrain. Her heel slid slightly in a muddier slick, down towards the water, and she laughed to herself, throwing her arms up into the air to regain her balance before bending down to remove her shoes.
A crisp, simple trill followed by a faint warble comes from the high-branches of the trees above her head, and she pauses in her work to look up and watch the snowbird perched nearby. Its head almost black, with gray on its breast like a vest over a white shirt-underbelly and slate-gray wings, she smiled up at it happily. “A little late in the season for you, dear one,” she said with a yank of her boot, pulling it from her foot and tossing it to the side of her, near her pack and poles.
She eyed the water, sparkling at her teasingly, and wiped the spare strands of hair from her face where they had come free from her pony tail. The hike into the deep woods had been tough, and she was warm, but as promised by the guide back in town, it was well worth it for the quiet she found here. She peeled off her sock, tucking it into the matching boot, and then lowered her foot down into the soft earth. She felt it give slightly beneath her, and smiled again.
A second call from her bird friend broke her from her daze, and she went to work on the second boot, continuing to talk to him as though expecting him to respond. “You know, this little pool here, Snap, it has been here since the glaciers moved south on their melt,” she said conversationally, yanking the second boot from her foot, and nearly falling over in the process. “The ice moved and as it did, it picked up rock and debris from its sides, the bottoms of valleys, and rocks that fell on top of it. Then it melted. So stuff moved, lakes formed, and over a long time, the movement sort of scraped the land into what you’re living in.”
She looked up at the bird, which looked down at her and warbled again. “You’re not interested, are you?” The second boot tossed next to the first, she peeled off the second sock and stuffed it into its home.
With that, she stood straight, stretching, looking out over the water in front of her. The little cirque glistened at her in temptation, tall pine trees lining the opposite banks of the bowl and a distant pile of brown debris that she could almost make out as a dam of some sort. At the shore, the soft black dirt gave way to rounded stones and smooth pebbles, gravely fragments left behind by the moving ice thousands and thousands of years ago. The sunshine sparkled. Snap trilled down to her. She couldn’t resist the call of the water any longer.
Raising her arms above her head, she pulled her soft, green cotton t-shirt up and over her hair, creating a puff of fly-aways, followed by the white long-sleeved silk liner. The motionless air of the clearing kissed her skin, cool and refreshing; she felt her nipples rise in response and laughed, her head coming back. She was thankful for the foresight to wear a black sports bra; nothing too telling, to startle poor Snap.
Her hands went to the button of her shorts, when she heard more rustling behind her. She stopped, turning, and saw a tall man approaching her, seemingly alone, carrying a one-man kayak and wearing a camel-pack on his back.
His dark hair was wet with sweat from the effort of climbing to the cirque; his eyes hidden by sunglasses, she could not see his expression, but tanned skin suggested that he was accustomed to the outdoors. On his chest, he wore a light-weight button up shirt over a thin tank top to protect his skin from sun and the rubbing of the kayak; on his legs, he wore water-resistant hiking shorts and dual-purpose river shoes. His shoulders were broad and as he nearly a foot taller than she, it made her nervous to see him approach so quickly.
“Hello?” she said, her hand going to her pocket where she kept her utility knife.
The man stopped, raising his sunglasses to rest on top of his head so that he could see her properly. He propped the end of the kayak against him, laying the opposite end on the ground to rest. “Hey there,” he replied, sucking on his camel pack. “What’s up?”
“I wasn’t expecting company up here,” she said slowly, her hand not moving from her knife.
The man nodded, his eyes off of her and onto the water, a slow smile spreading across his face. “Yeah,” he said, “Its one of those places that you don’t go to see crowds. I’m guessing you must have charmed Rick into telling you about it.”
“Yeah, he works down at Pelee Inn, as the hike-master. He doesn’t usually let people come up here though,” He reached into one pocket, and she froze, hand pulling the knife from her own hiding place.
“Whoa, settle down hon!” He drew out a pair of waterproof gloves, illegal bahis tossing them on the ground between them for her to see. “He’s my brother. We’re the only two who ever come up here. It’s a dangerous hike, and it’s too nice to see tourists ruin it. So, you must have really charmed the socks off of him.”
She blushed, lowering her hand so that the knife was no longer brandished at him. “We just chatted a bit. I was telling him about this hike I did when I was in Little Cayman through the jungle, when I nearly picked up a snake to make a walking stick, and I think he felt sorry for me after that.” She giggled at herself, still blushing.
He knelt, eyes still on her and the knife, picking up his gloves. “Well, whatever you did, it worked. And you’re here now. You planning on hiking the circle, because honestly hon, it’s gonna be some rough terrain. Lotsa gravel; you’re gonna slip and get wet or hurt. Not enough of a trail to make it worth it.”
“I was actually thinking of swimming over to the dam across the way,” she replied, knife returning to her pocket as she expressed her plan to someone other than herself and Snap. “The scenery here is beautiful, and the water should be warm enough that I can make it before I get too cold… I’m guessing around 70 degrees, which is completely manageable for short periods of time. It’s clear, too, so I can see that there’s nothing like glass or metal to worry about cutting myself on. And …”
She stopped, noticing that he was staring at her, mouth hanging open. “What?”
“You were gonna swim in the cirque?”
“Sure. I love swimming. I’m good at it. And I can always pull myself out and warm up on a rock; the sun’s warm enough.” She shrugged. “Why?”
“No wonder he fell in love with you.”
She blushed again, this time raising an eyebrow and rubbing her hand over her frizzy pony-tail unthinkingly. “Yeah, my tolerance for cold water in the pursuit of new places is pretty amazing,” she quipped.
The man laughed, his dark brown eyes glittering as he watched her discomfort, then took a firmer grip on his kayak. “Well, don’t let me stop you. I’m not here for a swim, but I’ll be joining you in the water anyway, if you don’t mind too much.”
“Do you need a hand getting into the water?”
“Nah, it’s actually harder with someone else bracing. I always end up wetter when I’ve got another person involved,” as he said this, he smiled to himself, and let his sunglasses slide back down his face onto the bridge of his nose, disguising his eyes once more. She laughed, and then stood back from the open area where she had been intending to enter the water herself. “I’ll let you slide in first,” she said, kneeling down to her pack to dig out a snack while she waited. “That way I don’t risk getting in the way of your equipment.”
“Dangerous as my equipment might be, hon, I think I can handle keeping an eye on it and you, but, if you want to wait, that’s fine too.” He set the kayak level, so that its nose dipped about a third into the water, then reached deep into the hull from which he pulled a double-sided paddle. He set this next to the boat, one hand still holding it steady, and sucked again on his camel back.
Munching on her dried fruit and nuts mix, she moved closer again to the kayak. “It’s really nice. How much does it weigh?”
“A hell of a lot less than my canoe, I’ll tell you that,” he said as he reached back into the canoe, fishing around for something unseen. “The whole kit probably around 30 pounds, with the paddle and stuff riding around in it. Maybe a little more. This plastic-and-fiberglass stuff is the best; I was so incredibly stoked when I got it. Shit!”
“Oh, no big deal. Just lost my lunch.” He stopped grappling around inside of the kayak and straightened up, taking another drink from his pack. “It’ll be fine; I’m only doing a day, so, I should be okay.” At this, he patted his belly and laughed. “No danger here.”
“I think not, sailor,” she said, kneeling at her pack again, and grabbing another of the baggies of dried fruit and nuts she had packed, as well as a peanut butter sandwich. She stood, eyeing him up and down, pausing at his stomach, which was just as muscled as his shoulders, legs, and chest from being outdoors. “Here, take some of mine. I always pack extra in case I get lost. Part of exploring new terrain, I suppose; I never know where I’ll end up.”
He shook his head. “I just met you. I’m not taking your food.”
“So, you’ll just leave it here if I set it on your kayak and jump into the water then?” She set the baggie and the plastic-wrapped sandwich on the boat. “Besides, you have to trust me. Your brother loves me.” She winked at him, smiling.
He shook his head again, this time smiling at her. “I’ll trade you, how about that? I’ll take some of your food, but in return, you let me teach you how to kayak?”
She cocked her head, considering this. “Oh, sure, what the hell? If you turn out to be a serial killer, I’m screwed anyway, eh? May illegal bahis siteleri as well go out having learned something new and interesting, and with extra karma for sharing my peanut butter sandwiches.”
Laughing, the man extended his hand to her. “My name is Zee,” he said in introduction. “And you don’t need to worry about my being a serial killer… that’s why people come up here. We’re mostly harmless.”
“It’s the mostly that I’m worried about.” She smiled, and took his hand, shaking it. “My name is Sadie. You want to eat lunch before we jump into the water? I was just going to go, but, it occurs to me that I don’t know how waterproof my plastic wrap really is.”
“Sure. Let’s head back inland a little bit — there’s a flat rock where we can sit and munch and not worry about getting muddy until we actually want to be.” Zee pulled the kayak further up the bank, but left it and kept walking, away from the water and into the woods. In his hands, he had the sandwich and trail mix, his water pack still riding on his back.
Grabbing her pack and leaving her shoes, she followed behind him watching the world around her silently. Once again, her mind wandered to the beauty of these woods, and how quiet and calm it was. The warm sunshine continued to tickle her shoulders, and although Snap had flown away with all the noise that she and Z had made in their conversation, she could still hear him and his family in the distance, calling to one another. She took a deep breath and smelled the freshness; she could smell ferns, with their almost citrus-pine scent, mushrooms musty fragrance, and the clean green moss that climbed the trees around her. About 50 yards ahead of her, she saw Zee settling down on a long, flat rock. She saw strata through it, and as she got closer, saw the surface was slightly rough. She plopped down next to him, letting her pack slide off her shoulders.
“Slowpoke,” he said, his mouth full of peanut butter.
“You’re used to how quiet and pretty it is out here,” she said, taking another sandwich from her pack, this one, by the smell, appearing to be hummous and dried tomatoes. She took a bite, chewing and staring around her. “Its different here. It’s like there’s this green veil and everything is quieter, and you want to hear what the woods have to say.”
Drawing water from his camel pack, Zee raised his sunglasses again, staring at her face. “Sometimes its hard to remember, when you are spoiled for it. But you’re right, it is beautiful here. What made you decide to take the hike, anyway? It’s not an easy one. There are plenty of nice places you could have gone that would have been much more accessible.”
Licking one finger, Sadie thought for a moment, then replied, “Well, honestly, there was something in your brother’s eyes when he was describing it that made me want to come. I do a lot of trail walking back home, and I told him that the reason I didn’t like it as well as I love scuba diving is because I don’t get that same sense of seclusion. When I’m diving, there’s this incredible calm, quiet peace that washes over me. I have sort of felt it when I go hiking, but not really. He told me this place would do it. And there was this spark in his eyes that told me he was on the level, you know?”
“He should have told you when my days are for coming up here,” Zee said apologetically. “I think he’s probably right that you could have had that here too, if it weren’t for the company.” He took a big bite of his sandwich, as though to fill the void for what he was going to say next.
Sadie laughed. “I don’t regret the company. I like it. I’m glad I ran into you. There’s something satisfying about sharing your first time experiencing something wonderful with another person. It somehow makes it better… I can’t explain it. Snap just wasn’t doing it for me.”
“The snowbird that I was talking to before you came by,” Sadie said, taking a drink from her own water bottle. “He was at the top of the trees where we were about to go into the water.”
Balling the plastic wrap of his sandwich and handing it to Sadie to put back in her pack, Zee shook his head. “Snow birds should be gone by now. They’re out of season — should be way north nesting. It’s too warm in June for them to be here.”
“That’s exactly what I told him, but he wasn’t concerned with my opinion, sadly. So tell me, what made you come up here today?”
“I come up here once a week or so… I love it here. It’s where I think. This time, I came up because I felt like I needed to be close to something. That feeling you described when you go diving… its sort of like that here for me. I feel connected and solid here. It’s just good.”
Sadie nodded, laying back to stare up into the branches and sunlight, her hands on her belly full of food and her eyes closed. “Your girlfriend must love it here. I can see why you’d think its good.”
“Nah, I don’t have a girlfriend right now, but, when I did, I didn’t bring her here. None of them have been really into the canlı bahis siteleri outdoors. More into girls’ stuff. You know… getting nails done and talking on the phone and going to the mall and that sort of thing.”
Sadie sat back up, laughing again. “I understand the concept, if not really comprehending why anyone would choose that over this place.” She stood up, pulling her pack back onto her back. “You ready to give me that lesson?”
“You bet,” Zee said, standing up and handing her the empty baggie from which he’d eaten all of the trail mix. “Thanks again for sharing with me. It was sweet of you.”
“Pfh,” grinned Sadie, taking down her hair and shaking it out into a blonde-brown cloud around her head before pulling it back up in a pony tail behind her again. “Its not sweet at all. I’m going to be getting free kayak lessons out of the deal and I got an excellent lunch date out of the deal. I think I’m coming out ahead on this bargain.”
That said, she turned on one dirty foot, and walked back toward the kayak, her eyes again on the flora around her. The sun was high in the sky now, and she felt warm despite the leaf-cover and the cool earth. She wished a breeze would come up; there were very few clothes she was going to be able to remove before becoming completely indecent and with another person in her midst, she didn’t want to cause problems.
At the kayak, she didn’t pause but instead continued to the lake bed, where she walked into the cold water. It bit at her ankles, turning her feet red, but she loved the feel of the smooth rock under her arches, and she giggled as she saw a tiny, minnow-like fish swim over and around her toes. Out in the water, she was completely exposed to the sun, which warmed her shoulders, back, and belly in wonderful contrast, and she spun with a huge smile on her face to look at her new friend. “It’s amazing!” she cried, hands on her hips.
“Well get back in here, and I’ll show you how to really see it then, eh?” he said, patting the nose of his kayak to motion her to where he held it steady.
She walked back to him and the shadows of the tree-banks, standing where the water met the earth to prevent her feet from getting grimy again. “Alright, captain,” she said, mock saluting as she did, “Now what?”
Zee offered her his hand. “Now you step into the kayak so we can get you situated. Step straight down, then crouch with your hands on either side of the entrance to keep the boat balanced, then let your feet slide in front of you as though you were tobogganing, eh?”
“Anything at all like sledding, sir?” she asked cheekily, taking his hand and placing one foot into the small opening of the kayak.
Leaning heavily against his shoulder for balance, she stepped the other foot into the kayak, and placed her left, unencumbered hand on the side. Grinning, she looked up at Zee, as if to say, “See? Easy! And you thought I needed instructions,” and then tried to release his hand to take the other side.
In doing so, Sadie completely set herself off-kilter. With a loud squeal, her hands let go of the sides of the kayak and wind milled for balance. She fell forward, out of the kayak, and into Zee’s arms bodily, grabbing around his neck for support and to stop herself falling completely into the water. Feet still stuck in the kayak, she hung between the boat and her new friend, laughing hysterically, her face red and unable to let him go.
“I’m sorry!” She giggled through laughing tears, still hanging onto Zee as if for dear life.
Wrapping his arms around her to provide her more support, he stepped closer to her, so as to let her stand up straighter and take on more of her own weight. Their chests pressed against one another, he laughed softly. “No, it’s okay. I could get used to this. Here, let’s try it this way.”
Not letting her go, he stepped one foot over the kayak, so that his legs straddled the boat, pinioning it in place and creating a steady direction for her. “Now, you should be able to just slide right in,” he said softly, arms still around her waist.
Slowly, giggles having subsided, Sadie let her arms relax a bit, sliding her hands down his shoulders and across his chest where they rested, palms down and fingers splayed. She looked up at him, green eyes staring through thick, dark lashes. “My hero,” she said softly back, continuing to press her chest torso, and hips against him tight. She bit her lip looking at him for a long moment, as though thinking.
“It’s okay, Sadie, you should be able to slide in without worrying about tipping,” Zee said again, his eyes locked on hers, his voice huskier than it had been minutes ago. “I’ll keep you safe.”
Sadie shook her head. “I think that I’ve already fallen,” she said a little uncertainly, “And I think its your fault.”
She leaned up to him; her head tilted slightly, a pink blush crossing her cheeks in contrast to her freckles. Her eyes were the sea itself, pale green circles inland, close to the pupil, and deep navy as you sailed out, into the endless ocean. The way they caught hold of Zee, it was as though he was caught in a whirlpool, unable to swim away. At the last second, those eyes closed and she kissed him softly, lips only slightly parted, soft and yielding to his.
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