The Road Taken: Running

When I think of Rick, we’re holding hands. Holding hands and running. And smiling, too.

It was a no-brainer to sit next to him in class. Whichever of us arrived first made a beeline for the other, who happily obliged by saving a seat. Sitting together, our heads as one, reading over each other’s stories, lingering over the words, the nuances, and discussing the symbolism. And, all the while, taking in his scent—the vibrancy of wildflowers on cold, clear Mt. Rainier mornings.

And beaming.

Oh, how we smiled! Grinned, actually. From, ear to ear. This is how it begins. This is what it feels like to fall head over heels.  Like tumbling haphazardly, without a care in the world. Down a hillside, into meadows filled with lavender, violets and jasmine. Arms full of sweet peas bursting with color! This was our time, so innocent, and yet, and yet…

We couldn’t get enough.  The class only lasted so long, after all, and though we stretched it out by spending every moment together, every break, delaying our departures, more and more, it wasn’t enough. Never enough. We were eager. Eager for more.

We skipped the fifth class. Rick caught me, just as I was walking up the steps. He didn’t even have to ask. He didn’t need to say a word. His eyes so intent, burning bright, like a fire that was unstoppable. A tug of my sleeve, a conspiratorial whisper. Like a breeze against my cheek on a moonlit night. His hair slightly tousled, in the dreamiest of ways. Grabbing my hand—which was a most willing captive—we took off, heading for parts unknown.  Running, always running. Bounding through the campus, across the street, then down University Avenue. The Ave, as the locals called it. I didn’t know where he was taking me, but it didn’t matter, did it?

Together, our energy was thrilling.

We stopped in front of a small jazz club. Perfect, I thought. I love jazz. Rick nodded, as if I’d spoken aloud, and held the door open. Warm inside, felt good. A trio was in the middle of a set. Saxophone, bass and piano.  The trifecta of all jazz music. We were led to a tiny, round table by the window, just a few feet away from the musicians.

Rick looked at me and asked, “Is this okay?”

Is what okay? The fact that we ditched class? That I’m here with you? That I’m complete smitten and that I’ve never felt quite this way before? Or, the fact that my husband is at home studying for an exam he has tomorrow? I didn’t want to think about that last one. No regrets, none whatsoever. Just a nagging feeling that I couldn’t quite place. Something niggling at me. That’s all. Ignore it and I was sure it would go away.

I smiled and nodded exuberantly, pushing all thoughts except one, out of my head. I was in the here and now.

“Yes! This is fabulous!”

We ordered a half carafe of chardonnay, bottled by a Northwest vineyard. Suddenly, I loved the Great Northwest. Gateway to the Pacific Rim—and now, to my soul. Yes, the Emerald City had finally stolen my heart, and it was bliss. How happy I was in that moment, in that hour, to be with this boy, who I’d discovered hailed from North Carolina. Holding hands and enjoying the music. Happy together!

As I rubbed his hand, I could feel a thin, snake-like scar that mischievously zigzagged across his right palm, ending near the bottom of his thumb. A childhood injury, he had said, as a result of a fall along the Appalachian Trail. Must have been some gash, that one, but now it was just an imperfection. A flaw on a man that had few.

The jazz trio went on break. The bartender signaled to Rick, holding up his outstretched hand and mouthing the word, “Five.”

Rick got up and walked over to the Steinway baby grand. Sitting down he began to improvise, running his fingers sharply along the keys for an impromptu riff. Five minutes, that’s all he had, and from the looks of it, this wasn’t his first time. His face turned serious, concentrating on the music, the chords. I used to play, but was never this good. Nope. The best I could ever master was playing Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata in high school, and there was a time I could play it by rote. But it had been a long time since those days.

We stayed an hour, maybe more, listening and chatting. Drinking, too. It was getting late, class would be ending soon and it was hard to justify hanging around too much longer than that. I felt like Cinderella, out with my prince, and in danger of turning into a pumpkin if I returned home too late. Rick paid the tab, and we headed back to campus. When we reached the Drumheller Fountain, he abruptly stopped, and pointed to the sky.

“Look at the stars! It’s so clear tonight!”  His eyes, wide with enchantment.

I looked up and, sure enough, above us was an explosion of stars. Rick lay down on the grass and beckoned me beside him. Too nervous to oblige, I kept a short distance between us, forming an upside down “V” with our bodies. He took my hand in his and gazing at the sea of stars, shining above us, we found an intimacy in our silence.

Rick’s voice interrupted the quiet. “If you could travel to any of those stars, which one would you choose?” He pointed at a pinpoint of light to the right. “How about that one?”

I shook my head. “Are you kidding me? That’s too far. I’ll take the Little Dipper any day.”

He laughed. “Why the Little Dipper?”

“Because, I like the name and it’s dipper will keep me from falling off.” The wine had definitely gone to my head.

“You’re crazy, you know. You can’t fall. You’ll just float around forever.”

“Forever?” I asked, wondering if this could last forever. Wondering if he would ever kiss me. Wanting him to, yet afraid he would.

He pushed himself up on one elbow and looked down at me, lying on the grass, shivering. No one ever accused me of having nerves of steel.  He scooted closer.

“You cold?”

I nodded, hesitantly. He was getting too close, and I wasn’t ready to admit the truth. The fear that I had reached the point of no return. Wanting to push forward through this new door that was open to me, yet worried about what would happen if I did.

As he bent down ever so gradually, tortuously slowly, his face hovering slightly above mine, I could hear in the distance classes letting out. Adult education students walking out of the buildings, heading to their vehicles. The engines starting, and cars pulling away. Away from this campus. Away from us. Soon we’d be alone, but in the dark no one could see us, anyway. No one would have thought to look in this secluded spot, by the fountain, under the stars, at two people entwined like lovers. Kissing. Oh yes, there was kissing. Kissing joyfully. This was bliss.

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