30.5 | Lord of the Dance
Tell me you did a lot of hiking this summer without telling me you did a lot of hiking this summer LOL.
This chapter is about 5300 words. Attempt at your own risk :“)
5am came early.
Blythe and Terrence were awake by four, in the shower no more than five minutes past. Spencer must have been awake for a while because while everyone was showering he had come upstairs packed, washed, and ready to go. I had showered last night and was waiting for Blythe to finish up in the bathroom so I could freshen up and change. Spencer put a bagel in the toaster oven. Everyone was moving quick. Blythe finished showering before Terrence.
When Blythe was done in the bathroom she headed to the spare room. She finished getting ready while I was still touching up and when I was done her bags were near Spencer’s by the front door. While he buttered his bagel she got a coffee-to-go ready, glancing over at me with a tired smile and an even more exhausted wave as I set my bags with theirs. She yawned as she grabbed cream from the fridge, Spencer stationing himself at the kitchen table.
Once done making her coffee Blythe joined Spencer at the table. I sat on the couch, still trying to wake up as she pulled Spencer into small talk. He was quiet, not much to say, but his body language from the back indicated interest. He’d perk up at some of the things Blythe would speak about. These were the details she always missed with him. He liked listening to her speak even if he didn’t have anything to return with. She always mistook his listening as indifference.
When Terrence came out he was chipper, dropping off his bags with the rest of the pile. He, too, made himself a coffee. Blythe discontinued talking to Spencer and instead leapt into conversation with Terrence. Spencer rolled his eyes as he set his empty plate in the sink.
Beth came out from the bedroom, hair newly dyed as of last night, something in her hands. The wedding was in a week. Spencer and I were on the same page—neither of us were elated about Beth marrying into the family. It was hard to say how Blythe felt. She was the maid of honor but their mom was handling almost all of her duties. She was elated about Beth but it was hard to gauge with the rest of us. We were more prepared to have Blythe become a part of our family than she was to have our two families blend.
“Blythe, I almost forgot to give this to you,” Beth said, standing in front of her at the table. She handed Blythe a black bag containing a camera that none of us had ever seen her use before. “Take lots of pictures of the scenery. I might even use some of them in my wedding.”
“Okay,” Blythe nodded, taking the bag from her with a yawn. “I gotchu’ covered.”
“And now I am going right back to bed. You four are brave souls for hitting the road this early just to climb a mountain,” she kissed Blythe’s forehead, messing her hair, before looking down at her. “Be safe. Don’t go off-trail. Don’t fall to your death.”
“Well there goes my plans,” Blythe joked. Spencer smirked. I chuckled.
Beth gave her a flat but amused look before spinning to Terrence. She kissed him below the ear as he waited for his coffee, whispering something to him that made him smile before he turned and kissed her goodbye. She waved farewell to the rest of us, reminding Blythe that she loved her, telling us to enjoy our time.
Soon after, we were off.
Terrence sat in the passenger seat while Spencer and Blythe sat in the back. Terrence was on his phone doing some more research for the hikes, making sure we were equipped for what lay ahead of us. The pair in the back were quiet, staring out their windows as we passed by miles and miles of prairies as far as the eye could see. Canola was in full bloom, seas of yellow flowers carrying on for infinity. The sun was rising, sporadic clouds big and bushy with hues of lilac and baby pink. The light was like dragons breath across the road. The highway was lonely. Blythe took a photo with Beth’s camera and then continued admiring with her eyes.
Music played on the radio for background noise, a bunch of old songs that evoked feelings of summer. Currently entertaining us was Fun, Fun, Fun by The Beach Boys. I caught Blythe bopping her head from time to time in the rearview mirror but she never noticed. Yellow was her favorite color and for now it was endless. We could turn around now and it would still be a trip well spent. With a sky so blue what could go wrong?
The climate started changing as we drove closer and closer to our destination. We had yet to see the mountains but everyone knew they were somehow near. The boundless yellow eventually transitioned to dark fields occupied by large white grazers. The trees, initially leafy, turned into giants with inky needles. There was overcast, more fog. It was hard to see fifteen feet in front of the vehicle in certain stretches of highway. The roads were dark with moisture. If it wasn’t for all the active farmland this place would feel abandoned.
The rest of the drive was lackluster when remembering the bright canola that energized the first half. Flatlands transformed to rolling hills and as the elevation climbed our ears started popping and ringing. The radio crackled until it was static which no one was interested in listening to. We were all too sleep-deprived and focused to worry about such trivial matters as communication. We kept passing signs that were counting down the kilometers until we arrived at our destination.
I’m not saying I went over the speed limit but I went over the speed limit.
And then there they were.
“Ooh,” Blythe cooed from the back seat, perking up.
When we reached the top of the uphill the renowned giants came into view, tall and grey with white peaks. Once we were going downhill they disappeared, playing their own game of peek-a-boo. We still had over a hundred kilometers to go but knowing we were that close was enough to recharge our draining batteries. Blythe moved to the middle of the seat so she could see what Terrence and I were seeing. Once we were on top of another hill she snapped a quick photo, smiling as she looked at it. And then the mountains were gone again.
“You get people from all over the world travelling here,” Terrence told her. “The lake we’re going to after is a hotspot. It’s so blue, Blythe. I’m excited for you to see it.”
“You remember it well from when you were a kid,” Blythe said.
“It’s something you don’t forget after seeing it,” Terrence turned to face her. “This is the most free you will feel for a very long time. Savor it.”
Blythe watched as the mountains sprung back into view.
“I am,” she reassured.
The mountain we were about to hike, up close and personal, appeared colossal and unachievable. No ice-capped peak, luckily; just a lot of brown rock, sandy in color. Terrence had mentioned what the elevation climb was and I didn’t know much about what the numbers meant but they sounded pretty high. Blythe was the only one who didn’t appear intimidated.
“So that’s the peak there, then?” she asked, pointing to the top. Amidst tall coniferous trees that covered the mountain like hair you could make out a wide ridge that led to the crag. The sudden drop-off was eerie from where we stood in the middle of the parking lot across the road. Dozens of people were preparing for the hike around us, some awestruck but others rendered uncertain.
“Sure is,” Terrence nodded. “It gets chilly up there. Make sure you bring a jacket.”
Blythe nodded, packing an athletic bag with some water, snacks, sunscreen, bug spray and a jacket. We all packed what we thought we would need for the few hours we would be suffering, stopping at the outhouses before we began. Blythe pulled her hair back into a bun. It was going to be a hot day, no zephyrs to break the suns monotony out here.
The first thirty seconds of the maintained trail set the tone for the rest of the path: it was going to be grueling. No such thing as level on the side of a mountain, apparently. We were all already breathing heavy in unison. Blythe asked the first set of people she saw coming down how they enjoyed their hike. They said the agony was worth it for the final view. Blythe said thought so, thank you! Enjoy your day.
The sun burned hot through the canopies of the trees. The path was made of packed down mud with cool surprises like buried boulders and tree roots that were always trying to trip you. All of us kept stumbling but not tumbling. Tumbling was guaranteed death. When you looked to the right it was steady rockface with vibrant mosses and lichens, some almost neon in color, with forest resting above. When you looked to the left there was mountainside covered with merciless rock chunks, strands of dry bushes and half-naked trees that would not save you in the event you tripped and fell. I’m not an anxious person but I was anxious that day.
Terrence led the pack with Blythe and Spencer in the middle and me in the back. Breaks were frequent but Terrence advised us not to touch our water until we were closer to the top. We were all breathing and sweating heavily. It felt like we were the only ones going up because everyone we passed were already on their way down. Almost halfway, someone said transiently. I glanced at my wristwatch. It was almost noon.
We reached the halfway point. The trail forked off into a fenced area where you could overlook the town and a small cerulean glacial lake. It was busy at the halfway mark, hikers taking long breaks to rehydrate and refuel. Blythe took Beth’s camera from her bag and snapped a few photos of the wide open. Directly across from us was a tall, striated mountain that was at least twice the height of the mountain we were climbing. Clouds sheltered the peak from curious eyes and fascinated lenses. Once she had her photos she returned to join us.
“Nothing can compare to the Canadian Rockies,” Terrence said.
We sat and ate. Blythe downed one of three bottles of water she had in her bag then indulged in a granny-smith apple and small bag of almonds like it was the first time she had eaten in days. She was silent, humbled by the scenery, but became animated when a chipmunk wandered over to us. She set an almond in her palm and extended it on the ground. It approached her warily, snatching the almond before scurrying off into the bushes nearby. Blythe smiled to herself.
Once finished eating Blythe began to observe a young couple who were taking photos. At first they were taking photos of one another but then they were taking selfies, attempting as best as they could to get all the scenery they could acquire in the background.
“Hey,” Blythe called out when they were examining their photos. “Want me to take a few pictures of you guys?”
They smiled and exuberantly agreed. Blythe rose to her feet and went over to them. They handed her the phone, explaining to her what they wanted in the photo and where they wanted to be in the frame. Got it! she said, then went into action. One thing that stuck out to me was how relaxed they appeared when posing for the photos, as if Blythe was an old friend. She added goofy commentary and snapped photos of them laughing at the end. They were impressed with the photos and thanked her profusely.
Which caught the attention of other hiking groups.
I had once heard that hikers were a community and I could see what was meant by that while watching Blythe interact with them. She was so friendly, anything but shy, and was comfortable like she travelled every other weekend. She was the designated photographer at the halfway point, one group after another asking her for photos and she was happy to oblige. Terrence watched her with admiration. Just last week Beth told him she got in trouble from her boss for being rude to a customer over a dye job.
Eventually there was no one left to take photos for and Blythe returned to us. We were all recalibrated and ready to go. Blythe put on her athletic bag and apologized for taking so long. Terrence shook his head and waved a hand dismissively, giving her a meager smile. He was speechless. Contemplating. Something had ruffled his feathers.
We went onward.
By the time we reached the ridge the temperature had dropped drastically. The cold, altitudinal wind blew through right to our bones. We all put on our jackets and hugged our bodies as we sat. It was strange how the hike itself had been quiet but there were so many people scattered everywhere. Most people sat alongside the ridge but some were brave enough to climb all the way to the peak. There was something called a scramble which meant the ground leading up to the peak was covered in a layer of scree that made it difficult to get your bearings. Some people had hiking poles, some didn’t. But the ones with hiking poles were in much better shape.
Blythe took more photos of the scenery around us, mountains as far as the eyes could see. Her mouth was open and her face full of wonder. All she wanted to do was capture the frozen runnels running down the mountainsides, the ice-capped peaks, the valleys and canyons filled with wilderness untouched by man. The land beyond us was virgin, rugged and wild. This was the great wide open.
The other side of the ridge was unforgiving. Miles and miles of rocky mountain slope. Crows flew around the area as if waiting for someone to misstep and plummet. Once you stepped foot onto the ridge the trail was no longer maintained so it was, essentially, tackle at your own risk.
“I’m feeling gutsy,” Blythe said. “I want to make it to the peak.”
“Dozens of people have died over the years trying to do that,” Terrence said to her. Spencer stared at her as if she had grown a second head.
“I’m aware of that. People have died on every trail here. I did my research,” she smiled. “This might be my only opportunity and I don’t want to miss it—"
“I’ll go with you,” I said before I even had a second to contemplate. It just slipped out.
Blythe looked at me and grinned. She wasted no time in putting on her bag and scooting back down to where there was a makeshift trail made by all the foot-traffic. We didn’t have hiking poles so I assumed we’d be spending most of time climbing, crawling. I already knew it was making our way back down that would be the difficult part.
“How long do you think it will take?” Blythe asked as I joined her, turning her attention to Spencer and Terrence. “I don’t want them to be waiting too long either. We still got the lake and all that jazz.”
“I’d say 45 minutes if we hustle,” she nodded. “You ready to hustle?”
She sought permission from Terrence and he gave it to her, telling her to give it her all. Him and Spencer would wait right there for when we came back and they’d keep an eye on us to watch our progress. Terrence said he did not envy our ambition.
And so Blythe and I were off. I led, checking back every minute or two to make sure Blythe was doing okay. Her eyes were full of determination. Take a city girl outside of the city and suddenly she wants to conquer a mountain. I couldn’t let her do it alone, of course.
Walking alongside the ridge had been the easy part. The incline before the peak, staring at it head-on as opposed from the side, seemed unfeasible. The hike was probably about fifty meters. But it would be taxing. Blythe gave me a look to make sure I wasn’t going to chicken out on her. I was tempted, I won’t lie, but I couldn’t do that to her. I dipped my chin at her and on we went.
People were climbing down the peak but we were the only ones going up for the time being. Initially Blythe and I were in pace with one another but eventually she surpassed me, using her hands as support. There was nothing to grab onto so if one of us slipped there was nothing the other person could do but watch. I was nervous for Blythe. She was confident but confidence doesn’t always translate over to skill. She had never done this before, and neither had I, so our inexperience already had us at a disadvantage. I didn’t want anything bad happening to her.
She kept checking over her shoulder to see where I was. I wasn’t too far behind but I wasn’t as close as I’d like to have been either. I didn’t want to tell her to slow down or wait up. I had to trust that she knew what she was doing. Blythe was a cautious person but today she had thrown all her caution to the wolves. She wanted to live. She wanted to be free. She wanted to fly.
She reached the very peak and, again, took out Beth’s camera and snapped a few shots. You could see the town although it looked like it was made out of blocks of Lego and Jenga. The lake we had seen earlier was a mere puddle from here. We were now, however, eye to eye with peaks of surrounding mountains. The wind rustled us. Blythe stood firm. I stood beside her. I couldn’t look down over the crag. I was not ready for that. I stared straight ahead.
Blythe put the camera back in her bag but didn’t put her bag back on. She soaked in everything, taking a deep breath, smiling as she exhaled. She knew no fear, no confinement, no constraints. She was as free as she had ever been and probably ever would be. All around her was freedom. She was her own island. She waved over at Spencer and Terrence, laughing when they waved back.
“Would you mind holding my bag for a second?”
“Yeah for sure,” I said, taking it from her. “Why?”
She didn’t say anything, letting her actions speak for her instead. She did what I never thought I’d see her of all people do. She moved so she was standing directly on the edge of the crag and brought herself into the Lord of the Dance yoga pose, holding one foot just above her head. The upper half of her body was hanging over nothing and my heart started racing. I knew Spencer and Terrence could see what was happening and I couldn’t imagine what they must have been thinking. I was too shocked to move.
“I’m not envious of Beth’s weekend,” Blythe commented casually. “Is it bad to say that?”
“I’m, uh—" I gulped. “Happy you’re having a good time.”
“I just had a feeling,” she began. “And I’m glad of all your brothers it’s you I can share this feeling with. I think I am going to live a long and fulfilling life. I have so much clarity right now. I am going to be adventurous and I am going to meet so many people. I want to go to a university in a different province, did you know that? Well, I do. I want to be on my own, independent, and I want to be free. I want so much freedom. I want to do this again with the friends I make. I cannot live my life without doing this again. I just want to experience a life outside of Beth and my mom. I want to live for myself,
“This day has changed me forever. I feel like I have a new zest for life. They say once you’re graduated from college or university you should take some time off for travel and such since you get that six month grace period before you have to start paying off your loans. I had plans to jump right into work. I want to secure myself a job, however, but I think I want to explore the globe. I have never been outside of this country. There is so much I want to see, so much I want to learn, so much I have yet to know. With exploring there is freedom and now that I have a taste for it I know I’m going to crave it. I’m grateful for the opportunity to come out here today,
“The thought of my sister marrying your brother makes me nervous. I can’t help it. I love him like a brother because I know how much Beth loves him. There’s something about Terrence that sets off alarm bells from time to time but now it seems so foolish. It is because of him that I am here. No one in my family has showed me so much freedom. He wants the best for my family and I cannot discredit that. I feel indebted in a way. I feel like I owe him. Not an apology or even an explanation but maybe my esteem. He is not a bad man. He has given me this. I have so much autonomy right now that I should be overwhelmed but I just want more. I will never forget this freedom. I will have to thank him before tomorrow. Thank you for holding my bag. We should head back to them.”
She stood normally, turning to face me, and put her bag back on once I handed it to her. In silence we started making our way back down the scramble, at times holding onto each other for support. It was treacherous to navigate and at times it felt like we were surfing on the scree. Blythe never panicked, never presented any fear. She seemed peaceful, content. A long and fulfilling life.
At the time I believed her to be a seer. She was so convinced of herself that the idea of her being wrong never occurred to me. I wanted her to be right. I didn’t realize how ironic that encounter between her and I was. I was flattered she chose to share her thoughts with me. She was beyond her years—she might even have been beyond mine. It was in that moment I truly loved her like a younger sister. And that affection never went away.
“You got some serious balls,” Spencer said to Blythe when we met up with them. Blythe shrugged.
“The freedom outweighs the fear,” she said.
We walked along the cliffsides until we found a spot deemed acceptable for us. The water was pristine, blue as the clear skies above it. Surrounding us were tree-covered mountains and forest so dense and thick you couldn’t make out the individual pines. The air was sweeter out here, the sun was high. People occupied cliffs around us, screaming as they jumped into the icy water. Our cliff was forty feet above. I had gotten a brief spell of vertigo overlooking the crystal lake.
Blythe took more photos of the scenery. She had been quiet on the way back from the peak but on her face was an expression so serene it put the still water to shame. After retiring the camera she went to her bag and started changing with the rest of us. We all wore our swimwear under our clothes. It made more sense that way.
She wore a high-necked top and shorts that went down to mid-thigh, taking her hair out of its bun. She untangled what she could with her fingers. By the time she gave up she had given herself a rats-nest. She didn’t care all that much. She didn’t have anyone to impress.
I stood near the cliff and she came to join me, hissing and laughing as scree dug into the soles of her feet. She balanced on a patch of emerald-green moss, apologizing under her breath to its creator. Her eyes sparkled as she stared at the water; almost as blue, just as much depth. There was no visible bottom anywhere we observed.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” Terrence asked from behind us.
Blythe could only nod, speechless. She closed her eyes, inhaling, before opening them again. She looked up at me and offered a small smile that I returned. She was a different person now from who she was this morning. There was something precocious about her, something she had seen in this day that the rest of us had missed. Something that catapulted her above the rest of us. Almost like she had made peace with someone who wasn’t there.
“Okay, I have to jump in the next 10 seconds or else I’m never going to do it,” I said to her. “You coming with me or not?”
“We’re on the same page, man,” she said.
“Okay on the count of three,” I began, smirking to myself. “One—"
I shoved her over the edge of the cliff. The moment my hand touched her back she emitted a blood-curdling scream as if I had just pushed her to her death. I jumped right after and we landed in the water at about the same time. Right away the sensation of thousands of tiny ice-needles puncturing my skin began afflicting me. I had to remind myself that I needed to kick in order to surface. When I surfaced there was no Blythe but the water was disturbed where she had landed, white with fleeing air bubbles.
I blinked at the bubbles before staring up at my brothers. I could make out wide eyes and concerned faces. Terrence was ready to take the plunge. Spencer was in a state of disbelief. I started swimming to where she could have been, hoping she was still there and that I could, by some miracle, reach down and grab her. I might have unintentionally pushed my brothers soon-to-be-wife’s sister to her death. I was starting to panic. Fuck, Blythe, Terrence told me you knew how to swim.
A sleek golden head emerging from the water nearly nailed me in the nose.
“Oh my God, oh my God, oh my God,” she shouted over and over again, spinning to face me. “Brutal! I forgot how to swim for five seconds there! I’m ruling that as attempted murder!”
She splashed me with water, laughing loudly as her teeth clattered together. I splashed her right back and she shrieked jovially. She had no idea of the fright she just gave the three of us. We thought I had killed her for the five seconds where she forgot how to swim.
“You’re awful, fired from being my brother-in-law,” she joked. We started swimming to find a place to climb out. It would have been wise to do that before jumping in. “Your brother sucks, Terrence!”
Terrence howled with laughter. People from other cliff-spots were laughing. Blythe was laughing. Spencer might have been chuckling to himself. We swam around until we found a spot where we could get out of the water and return to our perch. None of us had thought to bring water-sandals so needless to say the walk back to the cliff was more painful than the freezing lake. Beautiful the lake was, but she had thorns of her own.
“How do you think Beth would have reacted to that?” I asked Blythe nonchalantly as we joined my brothers again. Spencer was smirking at Blythe. She never noticed.
“Oh, your attempted murder would have been successful,” Blythe said with a trace of humor. “Beth can’t swim.”
“What?” Terrence interjected. “She can’t swim? Why not?”
“She never learned,” Blythe shrugged. “Mom put me through swimming lessons when I was younger. Beth was never interested.”
Terrence’s expression was immediately crestfallen. He stared down at the magnificent water and pursed his lips. He was not happy to hear Beth couldn’t swim. He had mentioned in passing that she had no interest in travel, either. I think he had garnered an affinity for travelling after that day and I think he expected that he could take Beth on journey’s like this. They didn’t have to climb a mountain by any means, but even swimming in a lake was off the table. There were few things they had in common, which wasn’t an issue, but after that day it would become one.
“I just have to say thank you for inviting me out here,” Blythe said while rubbing her arms, noticing the change in Terrence’s demeanor. She regretted mentioning anything about how Beth couldn’t swim. “This has been life-altering and I’m grateful to be experiencing this for the first time with everyone...except for Lawrence of course.”
Terrence mustered a smile.
“I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself,” he nodded. “Couldn’t imagine anyone else in your place.”
We were supposed to leave early afternoon the next day but we ended up not leaving until the evening. Terrence didn’t want to go home. What was supposed to be one quick trail turned into two...then four...then five. We did five small trails but by the end of our stay it added up. We were all exhausted. We were not going to make it home before dark which was what Terrence wanted.
He didn’t want to go home. He didn’t want to face Beth.
We dropped Blythe off at her moms. All the lights were off so Brenna was already asleep. We didn’t drive away until Blythe was inside, waiting until she waved us off from the threshold before shutting the door. I knew better than to ask Terrence about what was on his mind in front of Spencer. Him and Beth were already walking on eggshells with Spencer living below them. But Terrence would never allow Spencer to move in with me or get a place of his own. He didn’t trust him. Or so he said.
All I knew was that Terrence was, for the first time, having serious doubts about Beth. After the lake I noticed the way Terrence would look at Blythe, as if he was trying to convince himself that her and Beth were similar. He was trying to find Beth in her. When he saw Beth he would do the same thing. He would try to find Blythe in her. He liked that Blythe didn’t mind an adrenaline rush. He liked that she could climb a mountain. He liked that she could swim in deep, glacial lakes. She was the fun sister.
Beth was a bit more mundane. And I think that bothered him.
He feared he would never have as much fun with his soon-to-be-wife as he had with her younger sister the past two days. I thought his fear was healthy.
They had never been a good match for one another. I think he caught a glimpse of it but thought that if he turned a blind eye to the possibility of incompatibility then it would go away. He didn’t realize at the time how detrimental such a move would be. It would disrupt everyone’s lives in some way, shape or form. He loved Beth in his own way and as best as he could. He was desperate to be loved by a woman. But he would come to realize Beth could not give him what he wanted. She was simply not enough.
She was simply nothing like Blythe.