Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Crystal Lake

For twenty minutes it was just the three of us—the sun, Crystal Lake, and me—as I sat on a bench, watching the sun setting behind the pine trees far across the water. Then the handsome construction worker eased onto the bench with me.
Though he left a respectable space between us, butterflies swarmed in my stomach.
"Beautiful sight," he said. "Never gets old."
I'd met him at the nearby Crystal Lake Café, my summer job. He was a carpenter working at the new condos located close to Crystal Lake Cave. Every day I served him three bratwurst with everything and a tall, frosted mug of root beer. Then he tromped outside to eat at a picnic table in the shade of an oak tree. While working, he lived in a motor home at the Crystal Lake Campgrounds.
"I do this sometimes," I said. "Watch the sun set before I go home. Helps me relax."
"I was taking a hike around the campgrounds and lake, my way of relaxing. Glad I found you here."
We already knew a bit about each other. I'd taken a break once and sat with him at the picnic table while he ate—I don't know why I did that. Curiosity, I guess. His soft brown eyes and easy smile intrigued me. I told him I was Wendy Wright, a second-grade teacher, single, who lived in town, and had worked at the café during summertime as a waitress or as a guide in Crystal Lake Cave since I was sixteen, ten years.
He was Cole Hazard, an engineering student at nearby City College, ready to finish his degree this fall, a Marine veteran who worked as a carpenter during the summer to help finance his education.
I also knew he was afraid of caves. At least he said he had no desire to get even close to one. He'd asked me for a date, but I'd turned him down. We both had our fears.
"Amazing," he said now, his eyes swinging from me to the faraway pines. "The sun's a red ball sinking behind the trees. The sky's pink and lavender."
"If you like nature," I said, "you'd surely like Crystal Lake Cave."
He shook his head. "I read about it. Lead miners discovered the cave in the mid 1800s. Lots of—what do you all them? Those things hanging from the ceiling and growing up from the floor? Like icicles."
"Stalactites and stalagmites."
"Right." His face turned to stone. His hands clenched. "I was in way too many caves and other dark places in Afghanistan. I don't need any of that again."
And with that he stood and marched off into the dusk.
I bit my bottom lip. I felt terrible. He must have thought I was pressuring him to explore the cave, a typical guide. I had no idea his fear might be related to combat. I must have triggered a terrible flashback. I needed to apologize, but he didn't show up at the café for lunch the following two days.
He didn't work on weekends.
Saturday I drove to the campgrounds but couldn't find him.
He didn't show for lunch on Monday.
But he shambled by Monday evening just before dusk as I sat on the same bench, watching the sunset. He sat down next to me. Butterflies swarmed in my stomach again.
His smile came slowly. "Sorry about the other night."
"My fault. I understand, and I'm sorry. Really sorry."
"No need to be. It's my problem."
"Where have you been?"
"Took a couple of days off. Went home to think."
I sucked in a deep breath of air. "Look, Cole, to be fair, I've got to tell you something. About dating—I have my own fears."
His brown eyes turned soft. "I know."
"You know?"
"I asked about you. You lost your fiancée in a motorcycle accident two years ago. And haven't dated since."
A huge lump formed in my throat. "It's time I got over that."
Silence descended on us. Who would speak next? Each of us was waiting. "Look," he finally said. "I'll...I'll give that cave thing a try. If you'll be my guide."
Oh my! Would he really do that? How brave! "Uh-uh," I said.
He frowned.
I added quickly, "Not until you've gone on at least two or three dates with me."
A smile tugged the corners of his mouth. He slid closer to me. My heart pin wheeled. "I'd be a fool not to accept this opportunity," he said.
As the red sun began its descent behind the trees far across Crystal Lake, I found my own smile. "How about neither one of us being fools any longer?" I said.
The End

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