Chapter 1: The Summit

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Alan had never been more terrified.

Emily, hands over her mouth, stood in front of him, staring down at the ring he was holding out. The silence was unbearable. It couldn't have been more than a few seconds since he'd proposed, but with each of those seconds, he could feel his confidence dying.

You just caught her off guard, he told himself. Give her a minute.

His mental pep talk wasn't working. Had he rushed things? Was she upset? Had he put her on the spot? Did she feel manipulated?

His throat tightened. Would she–the one he could tell anything to, the one who'd stayed by his side when things were at their worst–even want to speak to him after today?

Emily lowered her hands. Alan's questions were all about to be answered.

Her gaze left the ring and rested on Alan's face. She smiled and, seeming to think that wasn't clear enough, gave him a vigorous nod.

The tension left his body so fast that Alan almost collapsed. He caught himself and, with trembling hands, put the ring–a white gold band paved with intricately cut sapphires and diamonds and topped with a larger diamond–on Emily's finger. Engaged. The most perfect woman in the world had agreed to become his wife.

It was only then, after his anxieties had been put to rest, that he became aware of just how much the rough ground was hurting his knee. Not taking his eyes off his new fiancé, he stood up. He hadn't been back on his feet for two seconds when she jumped up and threw her arms around him. Alan greeted her lips with his own.

When the kiss ended, he realized that the other four climbers, who'd been just as surprised by the proposal as Emily, were now all gathered around the couple. Lupe, Emily's best friend, and Daisy, Emily's kid sister, both squealed with delight and begged to get a closer look at the ring. Daisy's friend Nicole, smiling widely, kept shaking her head and saying "I don't believe it" over and over. Kenneth–Alan's oldest friend, his brother in all but name–grabbed his hand and shook it, grinning with approval.

"I was not expecting this," Kenneth said. He looked over at Emily. "Were you?"

"Oh, shut up!" said Emily, still beaming.

Kenneth chuckled and turned back to Alan. "You dragged us to Sky Hill, a place none of us knew existed until last month, where the easiest way to get past the base is a 12-foot, near-vertical rock face. Then, you had us hike four miles," he made a sweeping gesture, "all the way up to the summit. All that, just to do something you could've done at your apartment...or hers."

Alan just smiled and shrugged. He was guilty as charged.

Kenneth looked over at Emily and the others. "What are we even doing up here?" he said. "We need to celebrate! Come on. I'll buy us all drinks at Rob's."

Alan began laughing.

"That, Kenneth, that's just cruel. You know how much I love that place, but I actually had something else–"

"C'mon!" his friend cut him off. "It's the perfect way to end a day like this! Besides, I'll pay for everything."

Alan frowned. The actual perfect way to end the day would be doing what meant the most to Emily, and he knew that would be breaking the news to her parents in person, with him right there beside her. He needed to nip Kenneth's idea in the bud.

"Maybe," he began, "but we'd be on the road for hours...and then there wouldn't be any time left for–"

Kenneth raised a hand.

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