She nodded, reaching for a tissue from her pocket and blowing her nose, trying to compose herself enough to talk before turning to the group, her arm still wrapped around the tree.
"My husband died a few years ago, and I came here today because we loved this place. I needed to tell him I've found someone I think can make me happy, ask him if that's okay. I think I just got my answer. I'm sorry for falling apart, but what are the odds a group of people would come along and have this conversation, right after I've sat and asked him if..."
She pulled herself to standing with the help of the tree, trying to focus through her tears, her bruised ass aching from sitting on the ground for so long, her back stiff; and she desperately wanted to get away from the college kids so she didn't feel like such an idiot crying in front of them. She let go of the tree and took a step, but the guy at her side touched her arm, holding it just above her elbow.
"You shouldn't walk around crying out here, the footing's too treacherous. Come sit with us. Where are you headed next?"
She told them, and it turned out they'd parked a car on this end and driven another to the trailhead, so they'd be hiking out the same way. She learned it was Jake who'd come to check on her, and now kept talking to her, moving her from one subject to another, and before long she was joking and cutting up. She stopped and looked at him, observed his facial expressions, watched his body language; and saw a handsome young man with caring eyes.
"You're good, Jake. I feel much better. I'm not sure how you did it, but thank you."
One of the other girls choked on her drink, coughed a few times, and said, “Yeah, he's a psych major. The only guy I know who walks towards crying women instead of away from them."
Jake looked embarrassed and Dana felt the need to defend him. “He's got a gift; he's smart to get the education to go with it.” She turned to him. “You'll be exceptional at your job when you graduate. Thanks for your help; I think I'm okay to walk out of here on my own now, though."
He smiled. “I'd insist on walking you out, but I believe this is a quest, which means you need to finish it alone. Be safe, and good luck with your new man."
When Dana arrived at the Foster Falls campground she focused on getting her campsite ready before dark. There weren't many people and she found an out-of-the-way spot without a soul in sight. Her small, one-person tent took less than five minutes to assemble, so within fifteen minutes her campsite was set up and a nice fire built. She'd eaten her fifth s'more when her cellphone rang, and wasn't surprised to see it was Kirsten.
"I just wanted to check in, see how you're doing."
"I'm gorging on fire roasted marshmallows between scrumptious chocolate and graham crackers. I figure I burned enough calories hiking today that I can eat them all night."
Kirsten laughed. “If you've got a fire you've gotta have s'mores. How'd it go?"
She told her therapist what had happened at the point and asked, “Am I reading too much into it? Assuming I received an answer, when it may have been coincidence?"
"Think about the word coincidence, break it down. When two events coincide, it means they happen at the same time. As you said, the odds of these things coinciding, of you asking and then having people come along to have that particular conversation, are slim. Try re-pronouncing coincidence as co-incide-ence. Does it feel any different?"
"Yeah. I need to accept that the two things happened together. I'm going to choose to believe someone from the other side wanted me to have the permission I requested. Whether it was Garnet or my guardian angel or even God—I asked a question and someone answered."
An owl hooted as she finished her sentence, sounding as if he were in a tree right over her, and her skin shivered to goose bumps.
Dana spent a good part of the next morning at the base of Foster Falls, moving close enough for the spray to lightly mist her, and experiencing all of the tens of thousands of negative ions bouncing around the canyon and through her body. When she finally climbed out of the gorge she was energized, and felt better than she had in a long while. She used the hour and a half drive home to consider the future, and what she was willing to commit to with Zach.
As soon as she closed her front door she began stripping out of her clothes, dumping them in the hamper as she walked by, and carefully pulling the chain over her head before purposefully placing both wedding rings in the bottom compartment of her jewelry box—the section with the seldom worn items.