This story is by Coleen Holley and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I wasn’t paying attention to what was in front of me. I walked with my head bent against the same strong wind that scattered last night’s fallen leaves across the path. A kaleidoscope of gold, orange, and brown littered the path, obscuring the trail. There was a chill hidden in the wind, like opening a freezer on a summer’s day.
I knew this trail like the back of my hand… at least I thought I did, until I tripped over a root covered in thick leaf mulch that hadn’t been there a few days ago. I fell to my knees, catching myself with my hands before I landed on my face. A sharp pain shot through my ankle.
As I brushed leaves off my palms, it startled me to see a hand held out to help me up. I looked up, and up. A tall, handsome man belonged to the proffered hand.“Are you all right, miss?” The stranger asked, in a deep voice with a slight drawl to his words.
The man had roguish good looks with eyes the most striking color of sea green I had ever seen. His jaw length auburn hair was sun kissed with blond streaks. The man was built like Adonis, and I found myself unable to form a coherent response. “Erm, I…I um, I think I may have sprained my ankle.”
His brows furrowed as he knelt down beside me, “Here, let me see, I’m an orthopedic surgeon.” He probed with gentle fingers turning my ankle this way and that. “On a scale of one to ten, how much does it hurt?” he asked.
I sucked in a deep breath as an intense pain radiated from the joint up my leg, “I’m not a wimp, but that hurts like hell.”
“I believe you may have a hairline fracture, not just a sprain. I will need to get you to my office in town to do an X-Ray. Can you lean on me on the way back down the trail to my jeep?” He helped me to my good foot. “My name’s Eric, and yours?”
“Kayla,” I said. I tried to retrieve my hand, but found it engulfed in his large hands. He had the long, slender fingers of a surgeon. I tried to put my foot down, and as soon as I put any weight on it, I all but fell on my face again.
The next thing I knew, he scooped me up and headed down the footpath. “Hey, um… Dr. Eric, I appreciate your help, but I’m sure I could walk with your assistance. You don’t need to carry me.”
He quirked a lopsided smile at me, “It’s no problem, Kayla, you weigh no more than a sack of potatoes, and I’d like to get back to my office before the storm hits.”
I frowned at him. Sack of potatoes? Really? Instead of responding to his remark, I said, “Storm? I didn’t see anything on the news about a storm in the forecast.
Since his hands were full with me in them, he nodded upwards with a jerk of his head, “You can’t feel the cold breeze on the wind? Storm’s brewing for sure. Up here in the Donner Summit area, storms can gather and break in a matter of minutes sometimes. How long have you lived in this area?”
I squinted at him, “I grew up in Tahoe, but lived in Las Vegas for the past ten years. I moved back to care for my mom when my dad died.”
“So you’re familiar with how fast a storm can build up here,” he said. He traversed the trail head much faster than I could, even with two good feet, and we soon arrived at his jeep. He fumbled in his pocket for his keys, not relinquishing his hold on me, unlocked the door, and before I could object, he had me buckled into the seat.
“While I appreciate all your help and concern, I really don’t think…” I began as he slipped behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine roared to life, and we were off. I realized the reason we’d made it to his Jeep so fast was because he had driven part way up the trail head – his Jeep was a formidable four-wheel drive with huge wheels and a roll bar inside the cab.
“You don’t think what?” He looked at me with those startling green eyes, then concentrated on maneuvering down the so-called road.
“You don’t need to take me to your office, I’m sure it’s only a sprain. If you can drop me off at my car at the bottom of the trail, I can make it home, put some ice on it and wrap it,” I wasn’t certain I felt safe with this unknown man – no matter how gorgeous he was, he might be a serial killer.
“Miss Kayla, I’ve seen sprains, and I’ve seen compound fractures. Sometimes it’s difficult to tell the difference between a sprain and a hairline fracture, so I’ll X-Ray it to be certain. If it’s broken, I’ll fit you with a fiberglass splint and teach you how to use crutches,” he said giving me a sideways glance.
My shoulders were tense, I wasn’t sure what to feel. This man was too good to be true. Tall, handsome, polite, a doctor, and… was he flirting with me? I played with my necklace and cast him a guarded look. “How will I get my car back?” I asked, pointing at my little gray Toyota Corolla as we drove by it.
“I’ll bring you back to get it after I set your ankle,” his eyes traveled from my eyes, down my torso, and continued down my legs.
Why did he look at me as though I was something to eat? I noticed the knees of my jeans were dirty. I wiped at them trying to regain my composure. “Excuse me Dr. Eric,” I began, my voice cracked, “… but why do you keep looking at me like that?”
He turned his face away. I would have never known of his embarrassment, except his ears turned red, “I don’t mean to stare, but you bear a remarkable resemblance to my deceased wife.”
I took a deep breath, “I’m very sorry for your loss. Was it recent?” I asked, releasing my breath with a quiet sigh.
“No, it was several years ago. She was in a bicycling accident,” he avoided my gaze.
“I’m truly sorry. Please don’t confuse me with her because of a slight resemblance.” I shot him a frosty look, “I am not your deceased wife.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just… you hold such a likeness to her. She was tiny and had the same color of honey-blonde hair. She even had storm blue eyes that flashed like yours are right now,” he gave me a conflicted look.
My eyes were flashing? I blinked, “What was her name?”
“Amelia,” the corners of his mouth turned up in what seemed to be a sad smile.
We rode in silence until Dr. Eric pulled into a short driveway in front of a quaint old Victorian style office building behind the main road in Truckee.
He exited the jeep and was at my door to help me down before I even got the door open. He started to pick me up again, but I slid out of his grasp and landed on my good foot. I grabbed his arm as I tried to put weight on my ankle. It felt like someone and dropped a brick on my foot.
I stumbled and would have fallen, but Dr. Eric caught me. He didn’t try to pick me up again, instead he wrapped an arm around my waist and escorted me to a side entrance of the office.
He guided me to a small examination room, X-Rayed my ankle and showed me the thin crack running from one side of my ankle to the other. Damn, it was broken. Quicker than I thought possible, he had my ankle engulfed in a brilliant purple walking cast.
Dr. Eric helped me off the table with a flourish. “I’ll take you back to get your car, but can I take you out to dinner first?”
I lost my train of thought as I gazed up at those eyes. They were the color of new blades of grass poking through the earth after the first spring rain. I nodded, “Sure, why not.”
“To us, and ten years of finding my love sprawled at my feet on the Pacific Crest Trail,” Eric raised his glass in a toast.
I saluted him with my own glass, “To ten years of falling in love, after falling at your feet.”