The Slide

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I looked over my rescuer with tentative curiosity. Sometimes, you could look at a person and just know they'd been kissed six ways from Sunday. Even with the watery trickle of dirt marking his forehead, this man had the stiff jawline, clear skin and twinkling eyes of a person who, if he asked for a kiss, would rarely be left wanting. Or, I reminded myself, that's how I saw him, which was in a particularly good light seeing the state I was in. Made me feel more comfortable asking, "Did you ever love someone but not quite be able to get over something they did or said?"

The guy leaned back against the wet stones. "I'm usually the disappointment," he said with cheery acceptance. "Not really built for the long term."

"I can see that," I said and grimaced. He turned his head, eyebrows raised. I wiped my muddy hand across my muddier face and sighed. "No, I mean, it's just ...You're very attractive. Acting on my limited life experience I don't usually see guys looking like you having those mellow, forever burning embers of love. Always big bright flare ups that end like they begin."

"So you've dated me then," he surmised. His surprise disappeared into a more troubled, if not thoughtful, frown.

"Well, I wouldn't say that," I was quick to reply. The last thing I needed to do was tell him all about a wretched boyfriend and have my rescuer thinking that's what I see in him.

"Look, the reason a lot of hunky assholes get pegged as being hunky assholes is because most of us are."

"You'd call yourself that?"

"I'm not a saint."

The rain poured over the rocks, clearer now that the settled dust and pollen had been forced off in the initial, torrential flooding.

"Really loved Jack," I began, finding my voice over the steady thrum of the waning storm. "Loved him to the point where marriage and kids and home didn't just sound good—it sounded natural, like it was always meant to be."

My companion made an understanding murmur of agreement.

"Thing is, he's this stellar athlete, commanding presence on the ice. Up for awards. Fewest goals allowed. He's a big shot in these parts. Was. Now, he's big in a different way. Jack was one of the guys like you. Handsome, with a wily smile and eyes that could strip you down with a glance."

"Wish my eyes could do that," the stranger murmured. "You know, not to be creepy. This is all hypothetical."

"Yeah, I get it," I said through a winnowing smile. "I'm not offended. Like I said, my ex had those kinda eyes. I always liked kissing guys like that."

"Are we any good?"

"It's more about the moment. When you were with Jack in the moment, there was no one else, nothing else, but you and him. That's a whole lot of something special. Problem was, for every passionate moment he had with me, he had dozens more with the members of his gang. He did things for them, with them, I never knew about . I thought he spent his time with hockey, hockey thought he was with me. Then one night it all collided. I was waiting for outside my car. He'd just gotten back on campus after a game up in Vermont. Another shutout.

"My car was off; the windows were down. I was leaned back in the seat with my phone in my lap, headphones in, eyes shut, listening to the end of an audiobook. When the bus pulled in, I didn't pause the recording. There was just another chapter left and Jack usually took his time getting off. Anyway, when I reached the end of the chapter, the bus was gone. Jack's bags were still there, under the streetlight, with another teammate's. They were talking with these three other guys I didn't recognize. Arguing, I realized, pulling off my headphones.

Jack pushed one of them back. By that point I had already called the cops, thinking I was about to watch my boyfriend get stabbed. The push turned to shoves and before I knew what was happening there were two bright flashes, bang bang, and two bodies. Jack put a gun in his bag. I watched him do it, and then he picked it up casually, and him and his teammate start walking over to me." I cleared my throat, pushing back the fear I'd felt in that moment, the terror, the confusion as the lone survivor from the other side scrambled to his car and sped past mine. I tried not to think about what Jack had told me to say then, the way his hand rested on that unzipped bag, about how he had me drive to the river to dump it in.

I rubbed my arms, feeling cold. "Anyway, this is my place. I don't have memories of Jack here. I don't want memories of him here, or anyone else for that matter." This was my safe space. This was my sanctuary.

My listener, who had until this moment sat still with an expression as stony as my insides felt, shifted uncomfortably against me. "You're making it hard to forget you," he said quietly.

"You don't have to forget. This just has to stay a memory," I said. "It doesn't become a person. It doesn't come with baggage and bullshit unless you invent it in your head. It's just a moment. If I don't know your name, if we never speak again...It's not you that won't matter to me. It's just...what you've done, how you helped. That's what counts. It'll always be beautiful."

"A moment can always stay beautiful, even if something terrible happens later."

I was quiet. There came in that moment a sense that of shifting, of weight coming off first my shoulders, and now his. He took a deep breath.

"My mom died when I was a freshman in high school. Car accident. Texting. After that, I was introduced like, "There's Andrew; his mom died; Good for Billy, making varsity basketball; Michael deserves it after everything, poor kid." I got so fed up of adults pitying me and my classmates babying me and girls trying to be my mother, I decided to change it all up. Now folks tell me I'm this way because I don't have a mother."

'Wow," I began, feeling as though my voice was echoing in our tiny hovel of rock. "I'm so sorry."

He shrugged a damp shoulder. "Listen, I hate all those moments, but the ones I shared with my mom, even though she died, are fantastic. They'll always be fantastic."

"That's different."

"It's not. And like it or not, Missy, you're sharing this memory with me. Shouldn't I get a say in how it ends?"

"And what do you want?"

"You're name. That won't change your memory of today."

I leaned outside, started to make my way into the rain. "It's not so bad," I said as the thunder receded into soft echoes.

A hand gripped mine lightly. "If you can hear thunder, you can get struck."

I kept moving. "This isn't that great of a place to stay, either. Mud slides and all. It's letting up. We might be able to make it down."

He was reluctant to come after me, but come he did in the end, crawling out with muddy knees. I helped him stand. "You know," he said, "if I give you my name, it can still just be one memory. It's not a bad one. I mean- it is, kinda." He looked over my own scraped knees. "But not all us strangers are the same. Some of us are nicer than people you know."

"Knew," I corrected, thinking of Jake.

"So what do you say?"

"I'll think about it."

"You have to the base, you know. I'm going to make sure you get taken care of, then I'm getting in my car and driving away."

"You the out of state plate?"

He nodded, taking a long look at the swirling mass of clouds overhead. "My friends and I are passing through. I came out for a hike today. Seems I should've checked the radar more closely."

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⏰ Last updated: Jul 12, 2017 ⏰

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