This story is by Janette Malcolm and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Everything about this trip was totally out of her comfort zone. Leah Andrews wasn’t the outdoors type, she would rather be exercising indoors, running on the treadmill, cycling or dancing. This, hiking, was way beyond her exercise level. Trent was usually the outdoors adventurous one, but today, today was special, she was going to take a significant step into the unknown. She was going for it head first, full of confidence that everything would turn out right. She had never done anything like this before. She knew Trent was an athlete, and he loved the outdoors but did he like hiking. Her hands trembled as she pulled her hair up into a puff. She still shook as laced up her hiking boots. Leah took a deep breath to calm the butterflies before grabbing a light jacket then headed out the door. As she walked to her car, she doubled checked her gear: bug spray, first aid kit, sunscreen, camera and phone adapter. She had everything she needed. Grabbing her keys off the table, Leah pulled out her phone to check the time. She was a little early, she had told Trent she would be at his house by ten. She decided to send him a quick text just to let him know she was leaving the house. As she backed out the driveway, Leah looked in the mirror gave herself a quick pep talk. You can do this. You got this.
Leah pressed a button on her Escape; an automated voice filled the car. “Call Trent.” She hoped he was ready. They still had a long drive ahead of them. Raven Cliffs Falls was at least another two hours north. “Hello, Beautiful.” Leah smiled as the richness of his voice sounded through the speakers, and his face invaded her mind.
“Hey babe, I’m almost there.” She shook her head to regain focus on the road ahead. Trent was the yin to her yang, the one who made her heart beat just a little bit faster. He was the love she never knew she needed. “I’ll be there in fifteen minutes.”
“Ok, but,” she heard trepidation in his voice. “Are you sure you want to go hiking? You hate the outdoors.”
“But you love it. You’ve wanted to do this all summer. So yeah, I’m sure.”
“It’s just a buddy of mine told me there were bears in the mountains.” He paused, “I just don’t want you to get scared.”
Leah couldn’t contain her giggles, “Babe, you are a big strong man, a police officer. You face scary criminals on a daily basis. I have nothing to be afraid of, you would protect me.”
“But you do realize a bear is different from a human, right?”
“Yes, I know that, stop worrying. It’s a new adventure, it’s going to be fun.”
“Yeah,” he sighed, “an adventure.”
Leah laughed, “Just be ready when I get there we have at least another two hours to go.” Leah turned into his neighborhood. The car crept past several nearly identical houses until she spotted the one she was looking for. Trent’s unmarked police car sat in the driveway next to his spotless black Charger. “I’m here, but I have to park in the street. You got the driveway blocked.”
“Sorry about that, I was cleaning the garage. I’ll be ready as soon as I pull the cars in.”
She picked up her phone, sent a text to her cousin reminding her that she was going to be out of town just as Trent’s garage door opened. Her pulse quickened as he walked out of the garage looking like a sexy mountain man with his well-fitting jeans, plaid shirt, and Timberland boots. She looked him up and down as he moved both cars into the garage admiring the view. Trent closed the garage door as he pulled the last car in and emerged from the front door with a backpack slung over his shoulder. He slid in giving her a kiss in the process.
“Are you ready?” Leah asked as she pulled away from his house.
“I guess so. Where are we going?”
“We are going for a hike.” She glanced over at him and smiled.
“I know that. You only told me we were going to North Georgia, which park are we going to?”
“Raven Cliffs Falls, have you been there before? I heard it was beautiful with a lot of waterfalls.”
“No,” he said, “this will be my first time.”
They talked about everything from the weather to the state of Atlanta’s sports teams. Leah pulled into the parking area; got out to stretch. This would be a long day. She was used to walking long distances on the treadmill, but this hike would be a little different.
“How long is the trail?” Trent asked as he performed a series of stretches.
“It’s about two and a half miles to the falls. We can rest there and admire the view before heading back.” She watched him continue stretching long after she stopped, “Why are you doing so much? We are going on a walk, not a marathon.”
“Hiking is different from just walking you need to be stretching like me.”
Leah laughed, “Nah, I’m good.”
“Ok,” Trent looked at his watch, “If we go at a slow and steady pace it should take us about two hours to make a round-trip. Are you ready?” He turned to her and smiled.
“Yes.” She placed her gear on her back, took his hand as they started out on the trail. Twenty minutes into the hike she began wondering why she chose this excursion. It would have been so much easier to go out to dinner at a nice restaurant, go the Fox Theatre for a play or to the High Museum of Art, plus all of that is inside with air and no chance of her twisting her ankle. She checked her Fitbit they had already walked three-quarters of a mile; crossed a campsite, a swimming hole, and a wooden bridge near the creek. According to her GPS, the waterfalls should be near.
“This is fun Leah, I’m glad you suggested it,” Trent said. She tried to respond but her breath was labored, all she could do was nod her head in agreement. He stopped and looked at her, “we can turn around; we don’t have to go all the way to the falls.”
Leah appreciated the gesture, but she was on a mission. “No,” she gasped “I’m good. I can hear the water, we must be near. Let’s keep going.” She sighed in relief as the waterfall came into view. “We made it.” Leah ran her hand across her wet forehead, she looked a hot mess not at all how she had envisioned. “Isn’t it breathtaking?”
“Yes, it is.” He smiled as he pulled her into his arms.
“Trent,” Leah looked up at him, “when we met four months ago, I was a mess. I had a bad breakup, my grandmother had recently died, and I was angry beyond words, but you saw me. You saw the person I wanted to be. Past all the hurt, anger and pain, you saw me.” Trent smiled and kissed her forehead, she continued before she lost her nerve. “I know that we’ve only been dating for a short time, but during these months I have grown, both spiritually and emotionally. You once told me that happiness comes from within, from the peace that only God can bring. You were right, I found that peace. Now I am ready to move forward and face whatever challenges that lie ahead as long as I have you by my side and God leading our way. Trent Eli Watson, I love you, and I know this is a little unorthodox but marry me.”
Trent lifted her face, looked deeply into her eyes before taking her lips to his. When he broke the kiss, he whispered “yes.” He picked up his backpack, pulled a ring box out, “I love you, Leah. There is nothing in this world that would make me happier than to spend the rest of my life with you. I was waiting for the perfect time, and place to ask you but you beat me to it,” he laughed as he wiped a tear from her eyes. He opened the box removing a two-carat round solitaire diamond ring and placed it on her finger. “I can’t wait to see where our next adventure takes us.”