NOW, AND FOR ALL-TIME
“Here we go again. Julie! Get over it. You’re overreacting.” He whispered, so the others wouldn’t hear.
Julie pulled back. “Overreacting? Is that what you call it?” She countered back, angry over his indifference.
“Yes! You keep insinuating that I have done something to encourage her. I haven’t.”
“Rob! Haven’t you noticed the way she comes around asking questions about your registration, and sessions you signed up for? When we checked in, she even came up and asked what room you’re assigned. She pretends to not even notice I’m there.”
“I don’t think she is deliberately trying to avoid you, Julie. She’s just busy seeing to details, I guess. It’s her job as the company conference coordinator. What else would you expect from someone in her position?”
“Oh, she does her job real well. Hospitality, and all. I know she’s your friend’s wife, but doesn’t her flirting around bother him? Well, maybe not. He’s not exactly lacking in social skills, either, I’ve noticed, so doesn’t seem too lonely. They don’t exactly qualify for the couple of the year award.”
“Neither do we, unfortunately.” He said. “She’s just a friend, a good listener. That’s all.”
“Yes. I bet she is”.
“Look, I know you don’t like these things, but can’t you just pretend to enjoy yourself this week? These people are my business associates. The conferences are important to my career advancement. If you have a problem accepting that, then we have a real issue in our marriage, with little else holding us together. Expecting me to avoid all the Serenas out there isn’t going to change it.”
“Maybe not, but… never mind. I’m going for a walk, to work out my tired muscles. The trip up here took forever.”
“Don’t go far. There is a weather alert posted for tonight. A storm front is moving in. All of the Rocky Mountain region is included.”
“I’ll be fine. You go on to the fireside charades thing, or whatever they’re calling it over there. I really don’t feel like socializing right now. If they ask where I’ve gone, just tell them I had a headache, and went up to our room. I’ll see you later.”
“Julie, wait.” he pleaded. “Let’s talk.”
“Not now.” she said, waving him off, and turning away. She was unable to shake the images of Rob and Serena together.
Exiting the conference center through a side door, she headed for a trail. She paid little attention to the signs at the trail head warning of, “Steep terrain. Watch for falling rock.” Another one, with pictures of deer, bears, and smaller game, described the “Wildlife Presence,” seen in the region.
She hiked a mile when a cold drizzle intensified, turning the ground messy as she navigated the narrow trail. Moisture seeped into her shoes and socks, and down the neck of her jacket, chilling her. The air turned colder. The wind grew stronger snapping limbs and pine-cones off trees.
When the moon emerged it slid behind billowing dark clouds. With no flashlight she could barely see a visible path anymore. Sleet formed ice crystals on much of the foliage where leaves and brush remained.
Rob is right. I have allowed things like jealousy and mistrust to come between us.
She could remember every detail of that day, seven years earlier when she and Rob stood pledging to love and cherish one another before God, friends and family. They vowed nothing, or no one would ever come between them. “Now and for all-time.” they each promised. Metaphorically, maybe they had separated long ago. It was like a gradual pulling away, losing trust and respect for the other when they could not address the issues concerning their marital differences.
I am insane to think I could hike up here alone, without my husband who I know loves me. I acted more like a spoiled child than a mature adult.
When she turned around to start back wind gusts slammed into her with such force it threw her off-balance. She screamed when a tree cracked, breaking on impact, sending large limbs crashing to the ground, missing her by inches.
Oh, God! How am I going to get out of this mess? I have really made things worse in my life, and Rob’s.
Snowflakes fell, swirling around in all directions as if caught in a whirlwind on their descent to earth. The blizzard made visibility difficult for her to see the trail markers she’d passed earlier. She was not certain she was still on a path anymore.
Why didn’t I have the sense to bring a pair of hiking boots, and parka instead of these Nikes, and fleece windbreaker? The cold and snow has chapped my skin. My bones and joints ache from the frigid temperatures.
Everything is so dense up here. I may be walking in circles instead of on the marked path where I started. If I could just find a shortcut down from here, but, I can’t see anything through this blizzard. Unless the storm lets up…Well, I just won’t think those things.
She stepped carefully around the broken tree limbs. Sharp rocks protruded through an already thick layer of snow, and ice. All of it made her attempt to descend the ridge safely nearly impossible. Braced against a tree studying the clearing from where she’d come, she considered her options trying to determine which way to go.
She pulled out her cell phone and speed dialed Rob. It was useless. There was no signal. She was too far from any towers, if there were any around. Seven forty-eight her cell phone read. She had been gone over three hours.
The wind died down. She no longer heard the howling sounds from before. The storm was letting up, moving on, south into the Rockies.
The ground cover with the precipitation in the atmosphere lit up the mountain ridge making everything turn misty and bright. She stood under a tree, shivering, looking out over the mountainside at the beautiful sight. It looked like a picture postcard. The peaceful scene enveloped her in spite of her situation. The brightly lit landscape before her would give her the needed light to find her way back.
She climbed carefully over the fallen tree, then began to work her self down, stepping over slippery spots to place her feet firmly down into the ground cover.
She stopped. A noise not made by her own steps became louder when it came closer. It was then she noticed a small beam of light moving sideways, back and forth, then up and down probing the ridge she’d climbed hours ago. After a few moments it stopped, focusing its light towards her direction.
“Julie! Julie!” a voice called out.
Her heart raced. “Rob! Over here. I’m over here.” She said aloud, barely getting the sound out over her squeaking, hoarse voice.
She would never find a word to describe the sweet relief that sent her soul soaring and heart pumping when she heard his voice. Rushing to get to him she tripped, twisting an ankle, and tumbled several feet, A large boulder stopped her roll. Whimpering like a bruised pup, she leaned over to inspect her injured ankle, then carefully stood up, waiting for Rob as he drew near.
His arms grabbed her up, squeezing her near frozen body till she let out a painful grunt from his vise like grip. There was only a brief silence between them for the first few moments.
“Thank God, I found you! When the storm moved in I went looking. But, I didn’t know which way you’d gone, so started checking the trails. I thought you would just take a walk around the perimeter, not really hike up one of these trails, alone. You had me so worried. I was sure you’d gotten lost or hurt.”
“I strayed off the trail at some point losing my direction. Then, there was that huge tree that fell. I stumbled, tripping, and sprained my ankle, but I’m OK. Rob, I’m sorry for acting like that, and for the things I said. I had no right to accuse you of… and Serena too. Well, you’re here. That’s what matters.”
“Julie, listen. Trust me. No one, nothing will ever come between us. Believe me. I’m sorry too if I gave you reason to doubt that. You never lost me, Julie. You have always had my heart. I love you. Now, and for all-time. Remember?”
“I do. The words we pledged to each other the night we were married. ‘Now, and for all time.’ And I, Julie, pledge my love to you, Rob, now and for all-time.”
“You know, that hearth fire in the lobby would sure feel good to me about now.” She added, shaking.
His mouth came down on hers stopping her quivering lips and chattering teeth. His arms and firm chest felt as comforting as a thick wool blanket on her, she wanted only to snuggle in.
“We’ll do that, later. But, first we’re going to get back to our room, get these wet clothes off you, warm you up, and get your circulation going. Then I have plans for us, that include a bottle of Chardonnay, and a fire of our own, you and me, alone.”
“Really? I love it.” she said.
“Let’s get started then.”
Story by: Joyce E. Johnson (2013)