The hike he takes me on that morning is long and exhausting, but the view from the top of the mountain is absolutely breathtaking. It’s almost worth the walk it took to get there.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” he asks as we stand on top of the mountain. “I could live here forever.”
“It is,” I smile. “But you would definitely run out of food.”
“Not today,” he pulls a bag out of his backpack. “Today, we feast.”
He meant it, too. It wasn’t just the one bag. He had bread and cheese and meat and fruit and wine. When we finished that, he pulled dessert out of his pack, somehow unharmed despite our trek through the bumpy forest. It is one of the most delicious meals I have ever eaten.
“Did you make this?” I finally ask him, my face full of cake.
“Not that, no. But the rest of it, yes.”
“I’m going to miss your cooking,” I speak more clearly now that I have swallowed my food. “You are a really great cook. Hey! Have you ever thought about opening a restaurant or something?”
He smiles as he stares out over the mountainside, “Yeah, in another life maybe. I think it’s a pretty time intensive career and I. . .” He trails off without continuing, though I’m certain he was about to say he wanted to spend time with his family.
All the more reason to free him from this marriage sooner than later. It’s selfish of me to want to keep him around as a friend when I don’t want the same things from this relationship as he does. But oh how I want to be selfish.
We stay staring out at the landscape and talking longer than we probably should have.
“I think we have to leave now if we hope to be back at the cabin before we lose the light,” he offers me his hand as he stands up. “Do you need me to carry anything for you? I have a lot of room in my pack.”
I shake my head, “No. Unless you want to just carry my pack?” I offered it to him jokingly before adding, “Or just carry me.”
That one gets him to laugh a little and he takes a few things out of my pack and puts them into his.
“Ready?” he says when he zips the bags up. “Do you want to lead the way?”
I roll my eyes and gesture that he should go first. I have no idea where we are going.
At some point on the way down the mountain, I get a little caught up in the beautiful trees and person around me and I lose my footing. I slide down a little ways before my foot catches on a root and twists at an unnatural angle.
“Ow!” I shout as I fall. I don’t make it to the ground, though, before Chris has his arms wrapped around me.
“You okay?” he asks as he gently lowers me to the ground.
I do everything I can to keep from crying, but am unsuccessful. “No. I think I hurt my ankle. I don’t know what happened.”
Yes, you do. But you don’t want to tell him that his shoulders distracted you.
“Can I feel the bone to make sure you didn’t break it?”
I nod, unable to speak through the pain. It sure feels like I broke it.
I wince once when he presses on my ankle, but it doesn’t seem broken.
“I don’t think it’s broken, but I also don’t think you can walk.”
“I guess you’re going to carry me after all,” I say before realizing how it sounds. “I mean, maybe I can hop the rest of the way.”
“We aren’t far, actually,” it looks like he is calculating something as he looks around. “I think you’ll have to use me like a crutch until we get to the flat ground and then I can go get the car for you or . . . “
“I don’t really want you to leave me alone,” I wince when I try to move my foot.
“Yeah, I was thinking that, too. We’ll figure it out when we get there,” he starts digging around in his backpack. “For now, let’s just get your ankle wrapped up as best we can and get your shoe back on before it really starts to swell and you get stuck here without a shoe at all.”
I try not to think about it as he removes my shoe, wraps my foot tightly, and squishes my shoe back on. When he has tied it tight enough to support my weight, he declares that we are ready to go.
I hold onto his arms as he pulls me up to standing and then I gingerly put some weight on my ankle. I’m pleasantly surprised with how well it holds me up. I take a step on my own and find myself caught up in Chris’s arms again as my ankle gives out under me.
“Woah, there!” he says as he catches me. “Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. How about we take it slow, okay?”
I agree and put my arm around his shoulder as he holds my waist firmly. One step at a time, we slowly make our way down the dirt path towards the bottom of the mountain.
He is right. It isn’t long before we are on the main road. I am making pretty good time despite my injury, so I convince him to let me walk the rest of the way holding onto his shoulder like a crutch. I must be persuasive because he allows it and we are soon safely inside the cabin.
“Here, sit down,” he says as he lowers me onto the couch and unties my shoes.
“Thanks,” I try not to grimace as his fingers brush my ankle.
“Just elevate this, okay?” his mouth forms a thin line as he puts my leg up onto the coffee table and then slides a pillow underneath it. “Promise you won’t move while I go get some ice? I don’t want you getting anymore hurt than you already are.”
His severity worries me a little so I nod. “Promise.”
When he comes back with the ice, he also has some pain medication and a glass of water, “Here, take this. It’ll help with the pain.”
I swallow the pills in one go and hold the ice on my ankle. It is hard to do while keeping my leg elevated, but I do my best.
Noticing my struggle, Chris comes over and sits on the floor in front of me. Gently, he pushes my hand off the ice pack and replaces it with his own. As he holds the ice to my ankle, he gazes absentmindedly out the wall of windows in his cabin. My eyes follow his as I lean back into the couch, enjoying the view of the darkening sky.
I don’t know how long we sit staring out the window as he holds the ice on my ankle, but I’m brought out of my trance when he chuckles lightly.
“What’s funny?” I ask gently, neither of us looking at the other.
“It’s just. It’s nothing.”
“What?” I press. “I hurt my ankle so you basically have to tell me.”
“It’s just-” he takes a deep breath. “I always thought this would be how I would propose to my wife one day. Here, in this room, looking at that sky.” He gestures outside as the stars are slowly becoming more visible in the growing darkness.
I let the silence sit between us for a few minutes before I respond. “Well, you know what they say about a bad dress rehearsal,” I point to my ankle.
“No,” he shakes his head and looks up at me, “I don’t.”
I smile back at him, “A bad dress rehearsal means it will be a good show. I guess maybe it’s a theater thing.”
He still looks confused so I explain, “I mean when you bring your real girl up here one day and propose to her, it will go well.”
He smiles sadly and then looks back out the window. I can’t be sure, but I think he whispers something about me.