“Come on,” he said smiling.
He waved her toward him. The moonlight glinted off his white-blond hair. With his white polo shirt and tan shorts, he could have been an ad for the good life. A life with him.
She paused. Uncertain. The river water rushed and gurgled as it poured over the low bridge. The bridge they were standing on. An old bridge, built back in the 30’s with Federal money. The sides of the path leading to the bridge were fashioned with heavy, granite rocks. Held fast together with mortar. Old rocks, old mortar. Rocks were set up on edge at the sides of the bridge. Like teeth, they stood sentinel over the river, a warning to not go in, not get too close. The water jumped and raced over the old rocks, the old bridge, playful and laughing. Taunting the old soldiers to let down their guard, come out and play.
Just like Sebastian, bent over in the moonlight, arm extended toward her. A smile on his gorgeous lips, inviting her, again…He was tall, head and shoulders taller than Xochi and well built. He was older now, of course, than when they had first met but…muscles still bulged at the seams of his shirt. The short sleeves exposed those massive, tanned arms. She let out a little sigh.
“It’s cold,” she told him inching forward.
“Naw, it feels good. You’ll get used to it in a minute.” He smiled again and beckoned her with a little wave. His strong, white teeth glowed in his tanned face.
Xochi felt apprehensive, she didn’t know why. She had been up here on this hiking trail forever times. Why tonight? Well it was night, that was one thing. Sebastian, her ex, had invited her on a ‘moon-light stroll’ to help mend fences. They were trying to reconcile their differences and become better parents to their two-year-old daughter. Or, so she thought. Rather, that was what he had been telling her. She wanted to give him a chance, a chance to be a decent father for once. Besides, there was still a little part of her, still in love with the bastard.
She inched forward again. The moon was very full tonight and hung heavy in the Arizona sky. The cool, white moonlight illuminated the old hiking road as it snaked its way up the canyon. Old cottonwood trees dotted the landscape along with masses of rocky hillside that towered over them. The zigzag pattern on the rocks reminded her of pulled taffy like they used to make on the res from brown sugar. That would cook the sugar in huge pots, then lay it down on trays to get cool. So soon as they could, the children would break off pieces and stuff their faces, grinning. There was an occasional croak from a bullfrog. The air smelled damp, moist almost musty. The canyon was old and felt old. An old man, quietly keeping secrets.
She stepped forward and the cold mountain water rushed over her hi-top hiking shoes. She gasped with the cold, hunching her shoulders up, and grabbed his hand. A strong hand, a big hand, warm and inviting. He laughed at her.
“It feels good doesn’t it? Especially when you’ve been hiking awhile and your feet are sore.”
“Yeah, it does,” she laughed a little too. While Xochi loved to hike, she hadn’t been doing much for a while what with taking care of a two-year-old and working.
The two stood there in the night, with the rushing water splashing over their boots, tickling the bottoms of legs. She turned and looked around the canyon. It looked different at night, peaceful, calm. Without the chattering hikers that flooded the place during the day. She liked it like this. She thought she saw a ground squirrel come out and take a peek at the couple and scurry back to its hole.
She let out another sigh and realized that she had been holding her breath. The bridge was the width of one of the wide trams that drove up the hill. She walked over to the other side, holding lightly onto Sebastian’s fingertips. The moon could be seen reflected in the water, a broken orb, rippling in the water. This was so peaceful. It felt like…well…the old days when she first met her daughter’s father. Days when he made her feel safe, secure, loved, before… He gently pulled her back to him until they were arm to arm, gazing at the water.
There was a harsh cry in the woods, like a startled crow. Xochi jerked her head to the side. Suddenly, she felt like she was losing her balance; at the edge of the bridge. Oh my God! I’m falling. She didn’t even have time to scream before she hit the rocks; her head hitting a large boulder with a loud snap! The light dimmed, she could feel the cold water rushing over her, covering her entire body. Her mouth was in the water, it lapped up close to her nose.
Continued Part II