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For The Strength of Youth

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Submitted by Steven ODell on 9 July 2007 - 12:13am.

Chapter 26

The next morning was gorgeous beyond description to Denise. She woke completely rested and conspicuously happy. In fact, she couldn’t stop smiling. She stood at the mouth of the cave and let every moment and every ray of the sunrise fall upon her. She reveled in it, marveling that such beauty could have existed each day of her life and she had long since ceased to notice it. She had to admit to herself that she had been virtually dead to such delights for many years. Life had a way of getting complicated and she had forgotten to notice the simple pleasures that surrounded her. Every child in the world took great joy in these things, every day of their lives, but she had allowed herself to get sidetracked by the minor concerns and the unimportant distractions that abound in the lives of adults. She had forgotten how to have fun, how to be truly grateful for…for everything she was blessed with. Denise vowed that from this day on she would wake up in the morning and really open her eyes to the world around her. No more going through her days being led by the nose just to survive, without passion, without joy. Life was too short not to have joy and this was the only time she would have to find it.

A gentle hand on her shoulder turned her around to face the new love of her life. “Oh, Ron…thank you for bringing me here. This is positively incredible.” She said this as she turned again to the view before her and swept her hand to point it all out at once. Her other arm went without effort around his waist and she pulled closer to him. His arm in turn sought its place about her shoulder and he, too, drew her nearer. From behind them in the cave, a photographer would have said, this is an absolutely perfect and charming picture and it would have been entirely true with the sunrise silhouetting them and the cave opening framing them. It was a moment made to order, but it was their moment-a private moment that they alone would remember in the years to come.

“What do you want to do first today, dear?”

“You may laugh when I tell you-and it isn’t very romantic.”

He smiled with the anticipation of what she might say.

“I need to use the little ladies’ room.” Her eyebrows were raised questioningly, in need of an answer from him.

Now he felt foolish. “Ooh, yeah. Sorry. Um…you have two choices. One is the shovel and the hole in the back of the cave. Hunter and I left the shovel here because there was enough dirt washed in here that we could dig a latrine and cover it when we needed. The second choice is to climb about fifty more feet and go to the top of the canyon wall. It’s almost as hard as the climb last night, but the good news is that I still have a roll of paper for you either way you choose.” He grinned in that silly fashion that she couldn’t help but enjoy and he went off to get the paper for her. She chose the cave and he gave her the privacy she required.

Later, after they had eaten, Ron asked her again what she would like to do.
Denise felt playful and jumped easily into the medieval scenario again. “What more do you have up your sleeve with which you could dazzle a maid, Sir Knight? I’ve seen such wonderful and exotic things these past days, kind Sir. It would be quite the feat to outdo all that to which I have been exposed.”

“I agree, fair maiden.” This time he fell into the role and played it naturally and effortlessly. “T’would be a wondrous task indeed. However, I have one more marvel to display to milady, if she be willing.”

“Lead on, gracious Sir.”

Ron led her to the mouth of the cave again and took her to the farthest right-hand corner. Here he pointed out the hand- and footholds that were unmistakably carved with great efforts at some time in the past.

“You and Hunter did this?”

“No, it was here when we found the cave. We think it was the original inhabitants of this area. These holes could be thousands of years old. We don’t know, really. What I want to show you is on top, though, if you are up to it.”

Denise placed her hand in one of the holes far above her head and pulled herself up until she could place her foot in another. Hand over hand she climbed. Ron was right. The fifty feet was very difficult, but she knew it was less distance than the night before and she knew that anything he would show her had to be wonderful, for he had not let her down so far.

This was not as easy as climbing a ladder. A ladder leans forward, allowing the climber to do the same and making it far more comfortable, most of the weight being on the feet. In this kind of climb Denise found her center of gravity farther out from the wall and more of the strain was on her hands and fingers. In addition, it was necessary to keep her body as close to the wall as possible in order to reduce that strain. This meant climbing with her knees in an unnaturally wide stance. To add to the strain, her ribs, which had begun to settle to some sense of normal again, now began to protest strongly. Denise fought back the pain and pushed forward. She called down to Ron, “Was it this hard last night? Why didn’t I notice it?”

“The lower portion is a bit more sloped. Not much, but enough to make a big difference. This part is more nearly vertical, so it’s harder to climb, even though it isn’t as far.” Ron, in all fairness, was doing whatever he could to make her climb as easy as possible. The thought occurred to her that it must be doubly difficult for him to steady her while he himself was climbing.

Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all, she thought to herself, but the top came soon enough and she again found it necessary to collapse and rest awhile. “This had better be good, Mister,” she said airily.

“Do I detect…a note of complaint…from m’lady?” he puffed.

She gave one tired guffaw and said, “Yes, thou dost indeed. Forgive me, Sire.”

“Sire? So…I am coming up in the world, am I not?”

“So is my breakfast,” she grinned. He knew it to be sarcasm, as she had yet to eat, but he even loved her quick wit and sharp tongue at times. It was somehow sexy—not much hope that he could ever explain that. He just loved a sense of humor in a woman.

A few minutes to rest and she stood on wobbly legs and followed him a few hundred feet down the canyon. Here a surprise awaited her. A wide rift of approximately thirty-five feet that ran perpendicular to the canyon effectively cut off their further progress. The drop into the crevasse was just as deep as was the canyon itself. “This is what you wanted to show me? Surely you don’t expect me to believe that you or the Indians dug this?” Nonetheless, she stared in fascination into the deep defile.

“No, that is what I want to show you. I am amazed it is still here.” What he pointed to now was a crude rope bridge that was only a dozen yards to her right, but somehow she had missed it in her fascination with the gorge before her. “Hunter and I made that,” he stated proudly. It was a simple ‘V’ formation with poles placed into the ground at the ends for a crude railing and support. Short lengths of rope joined the ‘floor’ and the ‘rails’. He stepped quickly to the end of the bridge and, grabbing the side-rails, placed a tentative foot upon the ropes. They bowed and swung under his weight.

Denise panicked for an instant and scolded him. “Ron, no! It doesn’t look safe. As old as it is, it may not hold your weight.” She was beside him much quicker than he had ever seen her move and with both hands was tugging his arm to back him away from the span. She was beside herself with fear. Her grip was tight and her feet were dug in. She was not taking ‘no’ for an answer.

“Okay, Denise. Sorry I scared you. I would have been careful and tried it first in some safe way. Actually it still looks a lot stronger than you might expect it to be.”

“No! Just promise me you won’t do it, okay?”

He hesitated and studied her expression. She was indisputably frightened by the thought of him trying to cross the rope structure. “Alright. I won’t do it. Shall we go back or do you need to use the facilities again?” He smiled broadly, but this time Denise found no humor in the thought of her fiancé falling to his death in some remote canyon in these heavily forested mountains. Least of all did she want to witness such an event.

“It’s not funny, Ron. I nearly did wet myself. Just be careful, okay?”

He nodded his surrender and then he sat down, motioning for her to do the same. They would rest for a time and allow her to regain her sense of security.

The winds were at times rather heavy here and he had crossed that bridge before when they were blowing fairly hard. It was a wild ride, to be sure, but he also recalled times that he and his cousin had rocked and swung the bridge intentionally for the fun of it. They were confident in their construction and in the quality of the rope. The biggest concern had been to keep their feet on the ‘floor’ of the bridge, a single length of heavier rope that they had left over from their rope swing over the river. He recalled that distant summer when they had bought a lot of rope with their combined allowances and what money they could earn for mowing lawns, raking the grass and weeding for whomever they could talk into ‘needing’ them. They had told their fathers about the plans for the swing, but not for the bridge. No sense worrying them unnecessarily, they had thought. Boys, Ron reflected and inwardly shook his head.

“How did you get the rope to span the distance?”

He started from his memories and turned again to look at her. “We shot a smaller cord across first, with the larger one tied to it. Used a bow and arrow to get it there. It was harder than it looked. One of us had to walk all the way around the thing, too, just to be on the other side and pull when required. Don’t recall who did that. I think we took turns on different days. It took a few days to get it done, but we worked as hard as any adult would have, I assure you.”

She shivered again at the thought of it and decided to change the subject. “Ron, do you know how long it has been since we first met?” She was expectantly looking into his eyes and waiting for an answer.

This was the kind of question he had always hated. He suspected that if he got it wrong, she would be disappointed and hurt. Men were always content to just be together and enjoy the moment, but for some unexplainable reason God had placed into the heart of women the need to keep an accurate calendar of their love lives. He thought quickly, then faced her and announced triumphantly, “Exactly twenty-six days!”

Denise looked shocked and stopped to think. Then she asked with evident surprise, “You remember to the very day? What a man!” She was unquestionably impressed. “Looks like I’m in trouble here…I was going to say ‘about three weeks’. I was just astounded at how quickly things have moved—already talking of marriage and honeymoons and such.”

Ron now bore the surprised look, but quickly broke into laughter as he relaxed. Maybe she was not going to be so hard on him after all.

“Ron, we’re getting a bit low on food and I think that before we run out altogether I should call Barbara to bring us some things that will replenish our stores for at least a few more days. Do you think she could find us if I call? …She can’t hike out here!” The possibility now seemed absurd to her.

“I’ll tell her what milepost on the highway to be at and I’ll meet her there. No problem.”

Does your phone still have a charge on it after this many days?” She hadn’t thought about that for a few days and now she had some concerns that the battery could be depleted.
“It has a full charge on it. I plugged it in at the cabin when we got back the other night. I’ve had it turned off the last several days.” He saw that she made a sour face and looked downward. “What’s wrong?”

“I was just thinking of all that Ted has put us through. Geez, what a complete jerk! Do you think he’s finally gone?”

“I can’t take that chance just yet. We have to behave as though he is still a threat.”

She reflected silently for a time and then volunteered, “It was so bizarre with him at times, y’know? I sat in on some of the sales presentations he made and I was shocked that anyone would ever buy from him. He was so pushy that he turned them off—anyone could see it. He always told me that later they called and bought from him. He always made the sale. I never understood how they could just change their minds virtually overnight like that. He would have put me off for good if he had tried to sell to me like that. It was really strange. But, he had the money, the fancy suits and dinners—and the expensive car to prove he was successful, so how could I doubt it?”

Ron considered this information quietly, but kept his opinion to himself. It was indeed a strange situation. Pushy as he was, Ted made all his sales? “Well, I had better call Barbara. She’ll need time to shop after work and get the things up to us.”

Denise gave him the number where Barb worked and he called to place his order. Barb was angry for the first few minutes, as she had been calling daily to check on them, only to find his phone turned off. She calmed down shortly, relieved to know they were both still safe. She agreed to come up that night after she had time to shop for what was on his list.

“I’ll pay you for the goods and the gas when you arrive. …Okay, I’ll meet you then. Thanks a lot, Barb. Yeah, here she is….” He handed the phone over to Denise.

She spoke in one word sentences for most of the short conversation. Yes, uh-huh and so on. She caused him to perk up his ears when she added wonderful and heavenly a time or two. She smiled as she said this and shot him an amused glance before turning her back to him as if to keep a secret. Women, he thought. What mysteries they are. What wonderful mysteries. She soon ended the call and handed the phone back to him. He turned it off and placed it in his pocket again. “Are you going to tell me what that was all about?”

Her smile had not ended with the call. She kept looking up and down from his eyes to his mouth, assessing his mood. “No. A woman has to have some secrets now, doesn’t she?” A cliché he had heard many a time, but she was amused and waiting for his reaction. She was teasing him intentionally and he knew it all too well. It was a breath of fresh air to him, though. His wife had never been much of a tease and he now realized that he had missed that in his life. Lenore had been so reserved and private most of the time that she seldom even played around with him to pass the mundane days. He loved her because of the influence she had on him-she had saved his life, he conjectured, and he was grateful, but she was in many ways anything but a flashy, gregarious person. Not like Denise-so full of life and outgoing. In such a short time Ron had seen Denise blossom even more. Today especially, she was so radiant that he found it hard to remove his eyes from her.

Ron ignored the question and kissed her with the same passion that he’d had the first time he ever touched his lips to hers. And again the world melted into the distance and they were entirely alone, floating on an island of emotion, far from everywhere.

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