We drove up the snowy, winding road towards the cozy A-frame cabin. It wasn’t the first time we’d been there. This was a quarterly ritual. But I knew something Aiden didn’t know; this might be the last time.
I’d been quiet the whole trip. I’m sure he’d noticed. I usually chatter, excitement taking over my normal, calm demeanor. But today was different. I felt a sad kind of chill in the winter air. Ridiculous, of course. It was December and the air, filled with blowing snow, was cold. It had nothing to do with my emotional state. But somehow, it seemed fitting.
I cleared my throat. “Do the Martins still own the A-frame?”
Aiden glanced at me but only for an instant. The road, tricky on the best of days, wasn’t going to offer even a sliver of a second chance to an inattentive driver. “Uh-huh,” he answered. After a pause, he added, “What’s up with you today, Mayhem?”
I had to smile at the nickname. Aiden was the first one to ever use it but now it was viral. Not on the web – I’m not anyone that anybody takes much notice of. But in my office, in my small circle of friends, Mayhem was me. And I loved it. No one but Aiden had ever thought of ‘May Hemphill’ as ‘Mayhem’. With my conservative personality, my never-leap-before-you-look perspectrive, mayhem was the last word that could possibly describe me.
I murmured the beloved nickname under my breath, which drew another quick glance from him. “Nothing,” I lied.
We rounded the corner of the driveway then, saving me from further questions. I gasped when I saw the cabin. The Martins had really put their hearts into decorating this year, I thought. A tree stood in the middle of the big front window and they had wooden deer stationd around the front of the property. Or so I thought, until one deer jerked its head up from its grazing and stared intently at our car. Then, as if on signal, the other deer darted into the nearby woods without so much as a fare-the-well.
Aiden smiled. “That was cool,” he said.
For Aiden, that’s high praise. He seldom says much. Unless he’s delivering a pitch to our boss, anyway. When it comes to business, he could talk all day. It’s the personal things that leave him speechless.
Which was actually the problem, actually the reason I expected this to be our last trip to this remote getaway.
At 29, I am ready for more. Quarterly getaways, monthly overnights out of town and dates three or four nights a week are fine, I suppose… But, like I said, at 29, I want more. My dreams of a family like the one I grew up in were fading.
I’d even practiced how I’d let him know. I’d say, “I don’t think we need to continue the relationship we have now, Aiden. I want more. I want it with you, but if you’re not in, then we need to find people who are more attuned to our goals.” Ridiculous, yes. But to be honest, I’d practiced in front of the mirror for days now. I want to be fair to this man. I want him to know what I want.
And I want the whole burrito. I want a husband, kids, the dog, the minivan, crazy schedule, financial strain, big holidays… And I want it with Aiden.
But I’m willing to have it without him if it comes to that.
I love Aiden. I do. So I hope I’m not conveying the attitude of a totally selfish, self-centered bitch. But I know myself. I won’t be happy without those things. I don’t think I’ll be able to make Aiden happy without them. And, eventually, my displeasure will lead to more and more problems until –
“Mayhem, what’s with you?” Aiden had stopped the car and was staring at me, this cute, confused look on his face. “Your elevens are showing.” He reached up and traced the two frown lines, one just to the inside of each eyebrow.
I forced a smile. “Just too deep in my head.”
“Lose that. This weekend is all about carefree. “
I nodded. I didn’t have a clue how to bring this up with Aiden. We talk about everything – world events, politicians and the disaster most of them leave in their wake, religion, history… God, I love talking to Aiden. But this conversation choked me out. It hung in my throat like a piece of dry Thanksgiving turkey.
We grabbed our weekend bags and braved the snow to dash inside the cabin. The Martins had it warm and cozy and a pot of coffee and a mug of tea were steaming in the tiny kitchen area.
“It’s hot,” I said in surprise. I tapped the side of the tea cup with my index finger and pulled it back. That forced another smile. Hot tea on a cold night, a fireplace and Aiden. Perfect.
But perfect for how long?
Crap! I trhought. Too much in my head! Why can’t I just adopt the attitude of ‘now is good enough’? So many of my friends are good with that. But me… Nope. I want the whole bag or no chips at all.
The warm glow of the fire filled me and overflowed until keeping my eyes open felt like lifting the corner of this little cabin. I fell asleep with my head in Aiden’s lap and him stroking my hair.
I think I remember him moving my head onto a couch cushinon and slipping away. I think. Or maybe I just want to remember that – to remember that moment when he touched my face and gently whispered, “Love you, May.”
I woke up with a start. The fire had died down and the little room was chilly. I realized the front door had opened and closed at some pint during my snooze but didn’t know how long it had been since that happened or who had come and gone.
“Aiden?” I called his name softly, almost as if I were afraid to disturb the timbers above me. Glancing out the front window, I saw the snow was falling again, but could see footprints in the snow leading toward the car, and then toward the lake a few dozen feet from the side of our little getaway. “Aiden?” I called louder.
I fetched my coat from the hook where I’d deposited it when we came in, grabbed gloves and a cap out of the pocket and pulled them on as I stepped out onto the porch. The night was completely silent. Snow muffled even the cry of an old owl floating somewhere nearby. “Aiden?” I called again.
I hesitated as I stepped off the porch. The cell service up here had proven to be terrible on the times we’d tried to use our devices on previous trips. What if I got out into the woods and needed to call for help? Did I have a plan? Would I need one?
I turned the flashlight on my device on. If nothing else, it could light my way. Maybe that would be all I needed but my heart was beginning to pound its warning in my chest and the little puffs of breath that appeared before my nose and mouth were coming more quickly. I stepped into the snow, listening to the moist crunch as I walked, feeling the bite of icy air in my lungs. The pine was pungent and,the stars looked like invitations to the universe for wandering dreamers. Under different circumstances, I believe I would have loved the moment.
I was almost to the lake when I saw him, hunched into a ball down on the dock. I froze, numb not from the cold but from dread that filled me from my heart outward to my fingertips. “Aiden?” I whispered his name this time, but it carried in the still air.
Aiden lifted his head and half turned toward me. “May?” His voice sounded vulnerable. What had happened? Had a bear attacked him and he managed to miraculously escape onto the dock? Had he come down to the lake to look at the stars and fallen in?
I was running toward him before I realized I’d even taken a step, slipping and sliding on icy spots, tripping over sticks and rocks hidden under the white carpet created by a full day’s snow.
He moved toward me easily. Not a bear, I thougyhth as I watched. Not a near-drowning. What, then?
I fell into him as we neared each other and he grabbed my arms, keeping me on my feet. I looked up at him. Fear had forced tears to spring to my eyes and relief at finding him pushed them down my cheeks.
“Hey!” Aiden reached a gloved hand to wipe them away. “What’s with you, May? You’ve been weird all day?”
Anger rose in my heart. I’ve always heard that anger is a secondary emotion; that fear or pride create it in their overzealousness to rule the show. Secondary or not, a part of me watched, almost like an observer at a play, as it took center stage. “I thought you were hurt! Or dead!”
Aiden arched an eyebrow. “All day? You’ve thought that all day?” A gentle smile played at his lips, trying to placate me. “That doesn’t seem likely, does it?”
I shoved away from his embrace. “No! Not all day! I woke up and… Aiden, what are you doing out here? I thought you’d fallen into the lake or gotten eaten by a bear!”
“A bear?” Aiden cocked his head to one side and looked down at me, a grin and a frown warring for control of his features. “I don’t think there are bears around here. And deer don’t eat people, hon.”
I wanted to stay mad, but I just didn’t have the energy to do so. “You scared me,” I accused.
“And for that, I am truly sorry.”
We stood there for a minute, our eyes locked. This was the moment. This was the time for me to tell him my deep, dark secret – the whole thing. Marriage, babies, minivans, a dog…
But Aiden cleared his throat. “Mayhem… May… I don’t think we need to continue relationship we have now.”
I blinked. Wait.. What? That was my line. I’d practiced what I was going to say to him a hundred times… a thousand. And now he was stealing my lines to break up with me. I stood there in the cold, snow falling around me like little white fairies, my mouth opening and closing like those bass that were probably hiding from winter’s cold in the depths of the lake before me.
Aiden exhaled slowly. A cloud filled the space between us, crystalizing his features in my vision for half of a heartbeat. “I don’t want to go on like this with you, May.”
“Fine.” I nodded. I started to turn and walk away when Aiden grabbed my hand.
“I was down here praying, May. I know I don’t do that often. Not often enough. But I just wanted… to make sure…”
“That you want to break up with me?”
Aiden’s face went blank. Completely emotionless. And then his eyes narrowed and his lips parted a tiny bit.
Aiden has beautiful, full lips. For a minute, that’s all I could focus on. Then I found my faltering composure and pulled my hand from his. “No need. If you’re done –“
“I’m not!” Aiden took my hand again, more gently this time. “I’m not done with you, Mayhem.” He put his gloved hand into the pocket of his gray parka and pulled out something small. And shiny. And gold. “This was my grandmother’s ring. My grandfather gave it to her just before he left for Viet Nam. And when he came home, they married.”
I stared at the ring and it took me a minute to realize this was a proposal. A proposal!. The ring wasn’t’ fancy, but neither were Aiden and I.
Aiden fumbled with my glove, trying to pull it free with his. But the thick, warm fabric made him clumsy. In an effort to pull my glove from my hand, he lost hold of the ring. It fell into the snow between us.
We stared at the ground for a second, both in disbelief and surprise, and then at each other. Without a word, he and I went down, digging like archeologists trying to unearth the rarest of finds.
After a couple tries, he came up with the ring. “May Hemphill,” he said breathlessly. “Want to change your last name to mine? Come on, babe. I gotta do this quick, before I drop the darned thing again.”
I allowed him to slip his grandmother’s ring onto my finger. “Or you could change yours,” I suggested.
He started to laugh, hiccupped and, I thought, growled.
I felt my eyes widen as I stared at him, then past him to the banks of the lake. “Are you sure?”
“Never been more sure of anything, May . I want you to be—”
“No…” I pointed, the bright new bauble on my left ring finger shaking ever so slightly. “About the bears.”
Aiden braved one quick look over his shoulder, grabbed my hand and was running before I was fully on my feet. He pulled me along behind him, deftly navigating the path that had given me such a hard time only minutes before. We ran to the cabin, slammed the door shut behind us and stared out into the darkness of the woods. “There was a bear,” he choked out. “A real bear!” A giggle broke from him, high-pitched, nervous and relieved.
I joined him. With the laugh and with the promise of a lifetime spent together.
About the Creator
Start writing...I'm a kid's author and illustrator (50+ publications, including ghostwriting) but LOVE to write in a variety of genres. I hope you enjoy them all!
Blessings to you and yours,