This story is by Saroni Kellogg and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
They sat in Katie’s peppermint striped bedroom, Liz on the frilly canopy bed, busily braiding her thick chestnut hair, she at her pink and white vanity.
“I don’t know, Liz. You know how I feel about blind dates,” Katie sighed, pulling a brush through her long blonde hair. She resumed inventorying her new scars, admiring them.
“It’s not a date, Katie, for Pete’s sake,” she said, annoyed. It’s just meeting Chris and some guy he’s been climbing with from the New. He’s just a fourth.” She looked up, speaking to Katie’s reflection, “Don’t you ever want to get over Kevin?”
“Why would you say that? I am over him! Katie’s cornflower blue eyes sparkled. A tear sprang from one corner and she swiped at it savagely
“I know. Hey, I’m sorry. It’s just that…”
Taking a deep breath, she shook her head. “It’s okay.
She rose, stepped to the right, and took a gold framed picture from the wall. The tears began in earnest now. Liz sighed, this again. She joined her friend, stroking Katie’s hair.
“It’s just, I don’t really want to be with anyone,” she sobbed. “I don’t want to meet new people. Not yet.”
The day dawned sunny with a snap in the air and the smell of hickory wood. Though the Red was always beautiful, this time of year was Katie’s favorite. The hills were an artist’s palette, dotted with deep reds, lemony yellows, and oranges so vivid you could taste them, all against the dark fabric of evergreen.
They drove a few minutes and came around the last curve. There was the bright yellow building unlike any other: Miguel’s. They parked in the dirt lot, retrieving their tents and sleeping bags from the trunk, and in minutes the tents were up, sleeping bags stowed. They headed inside.
“Hey, ladies,” a couple of guys, one tall and lanky, one a bronzed god, called out, walking toward them.
“Hi, Slice… Tom.” Liz turned to her, trying hard not to laugh. It was seven in the morning and the boys were stoned already.
“We’re working on Ticks and Beer. Interested?” asked Tom.
“Thanks, no,” said Liz.
“It’s my first time since the fall doing anything more than bouldering. I’m going to try something a little less challenging,” Katie added.
“Right! Forgot.” Slice stood smiling at them.
“We’ll see ya later guys.”
They made their way to the counter, greeting people they knew. Behind the counter Miguel’s son, tall and olive-skinned like his father, was totally engrossed in something.
“Hey, Dario!” called Katie.
He looked up, “Hey, girls!” He flashed a winning smile, “We just ran out.”
“Not funny,” Liz said, giggling.
Shunning the indoors, they took their precious breakfast burritos and headed for the picnic tables.
“There’s Chris,” Liz pointed.
“Yeah, I see him.”
“You don’t have to say it that way.”
Chris stood and grabbed Liz’s food. “Thanks, babe!”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Liz reached for it but he held it up high. She kissed him instead.
“Okay, I guess that’s a fair trade.” Smiling, he turned to the other guy at the table. In the dimly lit shelter he appeared to have dark hair, but upon closer inspection it was actually heavily tattooed. “Deke.”
Deke stood. He was more thickly muscled than Chris, who was whipcord thin. “Here,” he reached to take Katie’s breakfast so she could sit down.
“I got it, thanks,” she said, setting her things down. “Forgot something,” she said. “I’ll be back.” She turned and hurried away.
“I’ll see if she needs help,” Deke said starting after her.
Chris sat staring at Liz, his face inscrutable.
“What?” she asked.
“This here is a bad idea. You said she was up for this.”
“No, I said she needs to meet people.
“She may as well be wearing a sign saying not interested.” He sighed, pausing. “It’s not his fault.”
“Kevin.” He rubbed his eyes then looked at her. “Lizzie, what is it between you two?”
“You know what he’s like, Christopher,” she said through clenched teeth. “He – “
Katie and Deke returned. “Forgot I took this off my harness,” she said, holding up her chalk bag. She sat, munching her little bit of heaven.
Once finished, they made their way to the parking lot and piled into Chris’ SUV and headed for Muir Valley. Katie was still working on getting her strength back, so they kept it simple. After a couple of routes, Katie’s tendons were singing.
“I’m gonna rest my arm a while,” she told Deke. “I’m at my limit.”
“Are you hurting?” Deke asked, concerned. “I can help.”
“No, I mean it’s aching, but good. You know, worked.” She tried a smile. “I’m good.”
Liz unclipped. “Let’s call it a day.”
“No, that’s silly. Go on, climb hard.”
“Hey, we stopped at the beer trailer last night,” Chris smiled conspiratorially. “Let’s go back and work on that.”
“That settles it!” Deke said, taking his shoes off.
After stowing their gear, they found a good spot near the fire. To Katie, the camaraderie was one of the best things about climbing. So many great things happened right here at Miguel’s. She sat massaging her forearm and wrist. It was feeling a lot better. Her friends surrounded her but she felt so lonely. Quietly, she got up. Deke looked questioningly. She smiled, shaking her head.
Away from the firelight, Katie strolled through increasing darkness. Turning her headlamp on, she walked out past their tents into the old goat field. To her left, she had the impression of someone sitting in front of a tent on a car seat.
“Hey,” she waved.
“Katie?” answered an incredulous male voice. The figure was up and moving toward her in a flash.
She knew that voice. She started walking faster.
“I can’t Katie. I have to talk to you.” He caught up with her, taking her elbow.
“Leave me alone. You’re good at that,” she said acidly.
“Whoa, what?” He stopped, dumbfounded. “I left you alone? I think you got that backward.”
She whirled around, “What’s that mean?” Hands on her hips, she said, “You haven’t come around. That I know. I may have hit my head, but I remember everything.”
“Katie, I was at the hospital – ” he began. “Christ, I got you to the hospital! I rode in the squad with you. I never left your side!” He was so angry he was spluttering.
“And after I came home? What about then?” Uncertainty began replacing anger. She really looked at him for the first time. His appearance was shocking. He’d lost weight. Hell, he was gaunt. Her wrath faltered.
“Every day, Katie.” He pushed her headlamp to the side and put his hands on her shoulders, his green eyes locked to her blue ones. “The day you came home I was waiting on your porch. I know Liz told you that. She came by that morning and told me you didn’t want to see me anymore, that I’d better be gone by the time your parents brought you home.” Tears welled in his eyes.
“What? No! I never said that.” She felt blindsided, betrayed. “Why would I say that? I needed you.”
A wave of dizziness followed by nausea washed over her. Kevin held her as she half sat, half collapsed to the cool grass. She leaned against him and he sat with his arm around her, afraid she may pass out.
She nodded, crying.
“For two weeks after that, I came by every day. She always stopped me.” He hung his head, long auburn locks obscuring his face. “I felt so guilty. Your parents said it was my fault too. It was easier to stay away after that.”
“Kevin, none of what happened was your fault. If you hadn’t been there I would have died.” She was down to sniffles now. “I told my mom and dad exactly what happened. I can’t believe they would blame you.” She thought for a moment. “Did they say that to you?”
“Well, no, but Liz said…” He slapped himself, “Oh, shit!”
“It was Liz,” she said, realization dawning at last. “This was all Liz. But why?”
“We had a fight.”
“Who? You and Liz?” She stared at him.
“Yeah. The Mexico thing. She thinks I’m trying to separate you from her or something.” He took her cold, trembling hands in his, looking her in the eye. “I don’t know. Right now I don’t care. I want to get back to where we used to be.”
He stood, pulling Katie up with him. He embraced her.
She turned her face up to his. “Kevin.”
He kissed her. Everything that he felt was in that kiss. He was afraid she wouldn’t return his affection, but finally her arms came up and she did.
They stood in the old goat field in the dark, save for her askew headlamp illuminating the ground.
The kiss broke, “I love you Katie.”