Jonathan Edward Bellamy III. A name destined to sit in the Supreme Court after a spotless career as a criminal lawyer, or perhaps the head of a multi-national banking conglomerate with a profit margin in the tens of millions. Well perhaps Jonathan might have gone that route but not John. John was sitting in a ten year old truck wondering if his rent cheque was going to bounce, and that truck was sitting on a mountain pass that overlooked a pristine national park which that Supreme Court judge would kill to see. John figured he was the wealthier of the two.
Being born into a wealthy and prominent family brought with it a great many obligations that John had always balked at. People who knew he came from money were either anxious to be his new best friend or hated him for his presumed privileges. It had been hard trying to fit into that world. John didn’t like the phoney debutants or their mothers trying to make ‘good’ matches for them. He just didn’t belong to that world. He belonged here, where the air was fresh, the people were real and where one worried about rent cheques. When John walked away from the privileged life he also walked away from his wealth. That was fine with him. Money should be earned not inherited.
Today John was thinking about that rent cheque but he was also thinking about the tourists. Today was the first day of summer vacation and it had always been a trial in the park. High School kids brought booze, which was banned, and College kids brought drugs, which were worse. Parents brought small children and expected the Rangers and Park Attendants to be babysitters. Couples brought their pets and were indignant when they were turned away. They didn’t seem to understand that this was a Wild Lands Park with wild animals, animals that might mistake ‘Spot’ for lunch. It had happened. Not often fortunately. It really was amazing just how dumb some people could be.
It was almost time. The Park opened at 10 am and it was almost that now. John turned his ignition on and started for the main gates. It wasn’t all bad; there were a lot of good, decent people who genuinely wanted to learn about the bears, the deer, and the other inhabitants of the forest. They were the ones that made everything worthwhile.
As John approached the main gates he could see the people waiting patiently for the gates to open. Not everyone was waiting patiently of course: he could see a couple of cars of what appeared to be college students. We had better flag that group. Maybe they will turn out to be biology students with a real love for the forest and it’s inhabitants, and maybe not. John heaved a quiet sigh; it could be a long summer.
He watched the cars entering the park. Movement near the lodge caught his eye. Red. Specifically: red hair, long silky, red hair. It belonged to a single woman who had booked a month at the lodge that was adjacent to the park. She was quite a looker Miss Anna Wilson. Now there was an interesting story. Young, attractive, women did not spend a month at an out of the way park alone. She didn’t seem to be meeting anyone and she wandered the forest trails quite often. Always alone. She used a cane and carried a laptop computer. Why? Jessica at the lodge said she was a very nice, quiet woman. She seemed sad some how. What was she running from? She had been here a week and John had spoken to her often, going out of his way to do so. She was intelligent, but not forthcoming about her past. Everyone was entitled to their privacy. Except John was curious.
* * * * * * * * *
It had been a very long week. There was the two year old who had burrowed underneath the showers rather successfully. That took a couple of hours and several staff members to bring to a satisfactory conclusion. Mom wanted to go home NOW. Then there was the diamond necklace that went missing. Why anyone would bring an expensive bauble to a park went beyond dumb. It was located in the husband’s jacket pocket. He was playing a trick on his wife. As for those college students, they really were here to study the local flora and fauna. Unfortunately they were also studying the effects of some of their own personal flora, which was definitely illegal. They agreed to leave quietly, without the illegal plants. Another one for the burn pile.
John stood at the top of the trail and looked down. It was steep, an awkward climb even for him. There was no way a woman with a cane could manoeuvre down to the cove. It was one of John’s favourite spots. Here, alone, he could think without any interruptions from tourists. He scanned the small beach and started to turn away. Out of the corner of his eye he caught a shape that did not belong. It was a woman. A woman with red hair and she wasn’t moving. Her hair was splayed out behind her as if she had fallen backwards. John started to run. It took him a full minute to reach her but she didn’t move. He looked for signs of an injury and softly called her name once, twice, three times. She stirred, eyes sleepy. She stretched like a cat. John sat back on his heels and pulled out his cell phone.
“Central, this is John. The package has been located and verified. All is well. Out.”
Anna sat up, confused. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you.” John snapped. He was angry. This blasted woman had the unmitigated gall to make him fall in love with her, to disappear for a full day and then not even have the decency to be injured or, or, whatever. He had been worried sick and she was fine.
The object of his silent tirade was completely unaware of the effect she was having on him or the situation away from her little cove. For that is how she thought of this idyllic spot, as hers.
“John, did you know about this spot? It’s wonderful! It is quiet and serene. I have been able to write here so easily, it is almost as if . . . .John? What’s wrong?”
Anna had finally noticed the look on John’s face. The anger was apparent, and something more, concern?
“Anna you have been gone for almost 7 hours. Jessica is worried sick. Rangers have been out looking for you ever since you failed to show up at the lodge for lunch. And how the hell did you get down here anyway?” As he spoke John’s voice grew in volume until he was almost shouting and his teeth were clenched.
Anna smiled. She tried to hide her grin but failed miserably. Of course this made John even angrier. She stopped listening to his lecture on the dangers of the Park and instead watched his face. It was a good face, clean-shaven with a slight nick under his jaw line. He was probably distracted this morning, thinking about the latest batch of tourists. He was always concerned that each individual reap the most from their stay at the campgrounds. He wanted everyone to love the park as he did, just as she had come to do. Anna had come to the park to escape her life. She didn’t want to end her life she just didn’t want to live it any more. Yes John had a good face, strong, his eyes were brown, a deep inviting brown. And his body, well…. Yes he was definitely nice to look at and his voice, well he could read a phone book out loud and still enthral a crowd. At least a crowd of one. Anna stopped smiling. Was she falling in love with this paragon of manhood? She could not allow that. That was a dangerous trail she would never venture down again.
John noticed the change in Anna’s face. Had he been too hard on her? Dammit he worried about her!
“I. . . I’m sorry I worried you, I lost track of time.” Her eyes were downcast, her voice cracked slightly.
John cupped her face in his hand, her beautiful face. She wore no make-up, she didn’t need any. There was no artifice to her. Everything she felt showed on her face. Right now it showed her dismay at alarming people and something else. John wondered what she was thinking, feeling. He took her elbow and helped her to stand.
Anna looked up the path. “It wasn’t so hard coming down, really, just slow. But it was definitely worth the effort.”
John looked at this woman that he had come to care for. They were both lonely people looking to escape their lives. Perhaps they were both here on this spot for a reason.
Coach Adamson wondered if he was doing the right thing bringing these boys to this park for the weekend. They didn’t know what had happened here, on this spot, thirty-eight years ago. Actually no one really knew what happened. Two people were gone. What they had found all those years ago was an abandoned truck and a sweater that had belonged to a park visitor. His father’s little sister. Had two lonely people run away together or had an accident claimed their lives? Coach looked out at the river, now shrouded in darkness. He had been warned that the currents near the centre of the river could be deadly. Had they been thirty-eight years ago?
“Hey Coach, does that Ranger want us to put out the fire?”
The Coach turned back to the bonfire and his charges, “What Ranger?”
“The Ranger you were just talking to with that hot chick. Wow I guess there are perks to working in an out of the way Park like this! The boys laughed and turned back to their fire and their questionable jokes.
The Coach turned back to look at the water’s edge. He saw clearly in the sand the imprint of a man’s feet and right beside them a smaller pair: a woman’s. He look out into darkness, they were here . . . again.