If you are a judge from The-Writers-Corner for the Winter Wonder War, please skip this chapter and head to chapter 1.
If you aren't a judge, the prologue awaits :)
Sunwapta Falls roared beneath them, so loud and powerful that it could pull them down together into a watery abyss. As they sat perched on the edge of a cliff, beside a tree-covered island with a whitewater moat, Adrian tucked strands of Maria's wind-teased, black hair behind her ear. Each touch sent goosebumps across her arms, coated with small water droplets. Even though his hands had grazed her skin countless times before, it always felt like the first time.
"Do you ever think about it?" he whispered, fixing his gaze on the mist emitted from the rapidly falling water, smashing into the rocky river below.
Maria bit her lip, hoping her intuition was wrong. "About whitewater rafting?" She went with their friend Marc's earlier suggestion for their weeklong holiday in the Rockies.
"Jumping," he said, confirming her earlier fears.
She laced her fingers in his and pulled his arms around her body. His pale skin always made hers seem so dark. "Not unless the water's deep enough, and I know I'm going to come back up."
He leaned forward and kissed her gently on the shoulder. "That was the only thing I could think of when I came here with my parents when I was seventeen."
Maria squeezed his hand and turned to look into his eyes which reflected the colour of the clear sky. His pain echoed in her heart. "What are you thinking about now?"
"How beautiful you'll look in that little bikini when we get to Annette Lake."
Her cheeks flushed, and she tried to disappear beneath her giant sunhat.
"Don't hide." He titled the grim of her hat up too meet her gaze. "I love your gorgeous smile." His other soft hand brushed against her cheek. "I love you."
"I love you too," she snuck in as his lips brushed against hers, slightly chapped and dry, but undeniably his.
A couple of shouts came from the nearby viewing platform where the friends they'd crept away from were standing with a number of other tourists, but neither Maria nor Adrian made a move to pull away.
"Marc's going to have you on the next Parks Canada brochure if you don't hurry up," Will hollered out with a scowl on his lightly bearded face. He always seemed a little pissed when she and Adrian spent too much time together. Will was the brother Adrian had never had.
"That would be epic!" Marc said. Maria could imagine the goofy smile on his face.
Adrian pulled away but rested his forehead against hers. Maria bit her lip to contain her smile. There was nothing better than this summer getaway, hiking to beautiful waterfalls just to make out in front of them and later falling asleep in each other's arms beneath mountain giants and the stars.
"I'm glad you talk to me about what you've been through and are going through," Maria said.
She found it both reassuring yet terrifying because as someone with two years of undergrad psychology courses she felt extremely under qualified to manage a real crisis, should help not come fast enough. Having been helped by a psychologist when she was a kid was one of her strongest motivations to become one, despite what her old-school parents thought about 'those kinds of doctors'. She knew many challenging hurdles were invisible to the untrained eye.
"I wish you'd talk to someone else about it too," Maria said.
He traced gentle circles on her palms with his thumbs. "You're the one I trust the most. I don't want to tell some overpaid stranger about my life."
"You know I'm going to school to be one of those strangers, and they're hardly overpaid for the work they do."
Adrian smiled. "And when you're all graduated, I'll pay you in kisses and backrubs, and-"
The moment his eyes darkened, she knew she had to stop him or else they'd offend onlooking tourists. She leaned in for another quick kiss. He always managed to derail these kinds of conversations, but she was a sucker for the methods he chose. She pulled away and stood up slowly.
"Don't go," he said.
"We could stick around and skip Annette Lake, I guess."
Adrian stood beside her in a heartbeat, his arm wrapped around her waist.
"We're coming!" he yelled out to their friends.
Her best friend Kelsey leaned back against the lookout rail without a smile, her thin legs seeming to go on forever, while Will tried to take her hand in his. They'd been on and off again for most of the year which made double dates a constant minefield, not to mention this trip. Marc pointed his camera lens in Maria's direction, and she gave him a charming smile.
"Perfection," Marc said. "You missed your calling as a model."
"I'm too short for that."
"Nonsense, you're fun-sized."
Adrian left her side as Maria posed for one more photo. Marc turned the camera screen toward her, and she made her way across the uneven rocky ledge to see. She had no doubts that someday his photos would be famous since he had an amazing eye for detail.
Marc extended the camera to her. "You look great in these ones."
Scrolling through his pictures, she stopped at one of her and Adrian, her brown eyes wide and looking ready to fill with tears while Adrian's dark hair obscured his expression. She flicked away until she found one where they were smiling, and the mountain behind them was illuminated with gentle sunlight.
"Adrian, you should see these."
Next to Will, Adrian leaned back against the barrier with his arms crossed and a scowl on his face. As much as she loved him, his insecurities manifesting as jealousy bothered her. She understood where the feelings came from, but she had never given him even a flicker of a reason to doubt her. Although, if that was the worst obstacle they faced in their relationship, she could hardly complain.
She handed the camera back to Marc, hopped the railing onto the platform, and walked over to Adrian, taking his hands in her small ones. Then she led him to a quiet section of the lookout. She kissed him on the cheek, then the lips which finally seemed to relax him.
"I love you", she whispered, "and I'm always going to love you."
Since their first dates together, she could imagine the two of them building a life together, wherever her schooling and his music took them.
His blue eyes held that downcast look she wished she didn't know so well. "I don't deserve you. Your family knows it, Marc knows it, and one day you'll know it."
"That's crap. You're an extremely talented musician, you'd do anything for me or your friends, and you're hella handsome. I'm lucky to have you."
Adrian ran his hands up and down her upper arm as his lips tried to fight a smile. "You are the best thing that's ever happened to me. God help me, I ever screw this up."
Closing the gap between them, she kissed him tenderly.
"I can't even imagine how you could."
Photo credit: Brain Uhreen
Sunwapta Falls, Jasper National Park, Alberta, Canada
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