The glint in his eyes and his mischievous grin should have been a warning for her not to agree to go with him. But how could she say no to such a polite request? Not to mention the handsome face and alluring green eyes.
“Fine, Dillon Chase, I will go with you on this wild goose chase but when we don’t find whatever it is you’re looking for, you have to do the ‘I told you so’ dance with me.”
He feigned shock, “You wouldn’t dare?”
“Oh, I would. Better get your dancing shoes laced up because I feel a jig coming on.”
“Just wait and see, Imogen, just you wait and see.” He grabbed her hand and rushed into the dense forest.
She followed his pace through the woods. She looked at the surroundings. Tall trees with leaves turning shades of orange and red. Fall had begun. Her gaze returned to Dillon’s back. He had his lucky backpack, like always.
He had always been an adventure seeker. Some people even called him an adrenaline junkie. He was always out hiking or rock climbing or doing something wild.
There was one time he convinced her that he had found a map and swore there was a treasure. He begged her to go with him. She was 10 and his eyes were alight with excitement so she went with him.
Two hours later they were hopelessly lost. They didn’t find a treasure and couldn’t find their way back. The sun started to set and she knew it would only be a matter of time before their parents started to worry.
When they hadn’t made it home by supper their parents called each other. They had been inseparable since preschool. Wherever Dillon was you’d find her and vice versa.
The rescue team had found them fairly quick. That was all Dillon could talk about for weeks. He decided that day that he would grow up to work search and rescue. He even joined the boy scouts and started taking classes at the nature center.
“Gen, I have a good feeling about this. I just know you’re gonna love it” he said bringing her back to the present.
“What is it? You didn’t even tell me what you thought you found. Just like me, huh? To blindly follow you into some dangerous adventure.” She playfully slugged him in the shoulder. “You’re not going to get us lost again are you?” She teased.
“Oh, come on Gen. That was what 8, 9 years ago? Am I ever going to live that down?” We haven’t gotten lost since.”
“Yeah,” she snorted, very unladylike, “because my parents wouldn’t let me go on another adventure with you for what? Two months? And even then, I could only go if I took one of their cell phones”
“Yeah, Yeah,” he chuckled, “we’re almost there.”
“You still haven’t even told me where there is”
“Hold you horses, Gen”
They walked another ten or so minutes. She continued taking in the beautiful forest and it’s change from life to death. Her palm itched for her sketchbook and pencils. She could sit here for hours and draw. She noticed that the trees were starting to thin out. Up ahead she glimpsed a hillside or maybe some cliffs.
Not only was the forest filled with the many different colors and sights but there were the sound of bird and insects. Not to mention the sounds of their feet crunching on the fallen sticks and leaves that littered their path. She was could barely discern a low hum. There must be a stream close by.
He stopped and turned around to face her. “Okay, we can’t go any further until you put this on.” He produced a blindfold from his pocket.
“Oh, no! Dillon Chase, I will not fall for that again!”
“Please, Gen,” his handsome face transformed to the puppy dog look he had given her for as long as she could remember when she didn’t want to join his adventures.
“Nuh uh. Nope. Fool me once shame on you. Fool me twice shame on me. Not gonna happen. I will not let you leave me alone in the forest. Again.”
“Gen, it’s not like that. I’m not going to leave you. I promise.” Using his index finger he made an x over his heart. “You can even hold onto my arm the rest of the way to make sure I don’t leave you.”
“Ok, but if you leave me here, I swear I’ll hunt you down and – “
“Put a sock in it.”
He put the blindfold over her head and positioned it over her eyes. She reached up and grabbed his hand.
“Geez, Gen, loosen your grip, you’re cutting of circulation,” He took her hand and placed it on his forearm.
“Not on your life.”
“Ok, let’s go.”
Dillon led the way. He would warn her to watch her step. They only walked for a couple minutes but the closer to their mysterious destination they got, the sound of water grew louder and louder.
Finally, Dillon stopped, “Ok, we’re here. I’m going to take the blindfold off.”
She let go of his arm and allowed him to remove her blindfold.
It took a few moments for her eyes to adjust and once they did she was speechless.
In front of her was not just a rushing stream but a beautiful waterfall thirty feet high. The waterfall was framed by moss covered rocks, small trees of different shades of yellow, orange, and red were scattered about.
The dense forest had opened up and a cloudless blue sky could be seen above them.
There was so much beauty here. Her palm itched to catch it in her sketchbook.
The unmistakable click of Dillon’s camera reminded her she wasn’t alone.
“You should see your face. You spaced out in complete awe.” He smiled that lopsided grin that melted her heart.
“It’s so beautiful. How did you even find it?”
“Have a seat and I’ll tell you over a bottle of water>” He found a spot not covered in fallen leaves and sat, pulling a bottle of water from his backpack and lifting it up to her.
She accepted the bottle and sat down next to him. While he told her an encounter with a hiker a few miles outside of town she looked around savoring all the details. She couldn’t wait to get home and put all of this on paper.
“I was going to bring Lillian out her but you know how she is with nature.”
Her heart sank at the mention of his girlfriend’s name. She had finally worked up the courage to tell him that she wanted to explore a relationship with him beyond friendship. That same day, he introduced her to his new girlfriend. That had been several months ago.
She watched their relationship flourish and sat back wishing she could have told him sooner.
“Oh” was all she could say.
Another click of the camera and she looked at him. He was taking photos of the scenery. There was no doubt in her mind that the pictures would be beautiful. Not just because the subject matter was beautiful but because of Dillon’s photography genius.
He had taken some photos of an old dilapidated barn. The angles and the lighting he used made it look like so much more than just a pile of old rotting wood. It was majestic. She didn’t know barns could look majestic until she saw those photos.
He set his camera down and stated rummaging through his bag. “Silly me, where are my manners” he said producing her sketchbook and box of pencils. It wouldn’t’ be fair to bring you here a not let you capture the beauty for yourself. I hope you don’t mind, I grabbed them when I picked you up and said I had to go to the bathroom.”
“Oh, Dillon, I could kiss you!” The excitement of the moment must have temporarily broken the filter that runs from her brain to her mouth.
She grabbed her stuff from him and tried to make a joke of her comment, “If you weren’t such an ogre.”
He pressed his index finger to her lips. “Would kissing me be so bad?” He asked cupping her cheek.
She was stunned by his reaction. By his touch. He slowly started to trace her lips with his thumb. He leaned closer and her breath hitched. As much as she wanted to kiss him, wanted him to kiss her, he was not free. Kissing him wouldn’t be fair to Lillian, or to him, much less to herself.
She pulled away. “Dillon, I can’t. I can’t come between you and Lillian.”
His piercing eyes held hers in a trance. “You won’t be. We broke up.”
She licked her lips. Was this real? Was she finally going to have the chance to tell him? “I thought you said she might be the one?”
He grabbed a tendril of her hair that had fallen from her ponytail and wrapped it around his finger.
“At one time, I thought she might be, but something was missing. Something was wrong.” He leaned closer.
“What was that?”
“She wasn’t you.” With that he closed the distance and gently pressed his lips to hers.
His kiss was everything she thought it would be and more. He slid his hand into her hair and gently deepened the kiss.
He pulled away and lay his forehead against hers, nose to nose and whispered, “Imogen Rose Johnson, I love you.”