I smiled awkwardly at Jessica as the wind blew through my hair, making me want to shiver. I kept it from showing by doing some exaggerated stretches. My grin wasn’t as confident as the one I’d given her when I’d first picked her up. She seemed about to break up with me, and I figured I should let her know I knew something was wrong, but also still show her some affection in case I was reading the situation incorrectly.
“How much further?” she asked, not returning the smile while avoiding eye contact by looking further up the trail.
“A couple miles, maybe more. We should start climbing soon.” The hike had been mostly flat, but I knew from online that the last several miles were steep. I had been looking forward to seeing the honeycomb caves and the view from the top, but if she really were going to end things with me, I’d prefer she did it now and got things over with. I could always come back some other time when the situation wasn’t so emotionally charged.
“Let’s get going.” Her voice was resigned, and I wondered what she was waiting for. Why didn’t she just go ahead and rip the band-aid off already?
“As you wish.” Something caught my attention in the grass. I bent down and picked up a worn leather wallet. “Suppose I’ll have to find the owner when we get back,” I muttered, sliding it into my pocket without looking for who it might belong to, something I probably would have done if I hadn’t already been feeling uncomfortable.
Jessica nodded as she glanced at me. I smiled, this time forcing myself into a full grin, but she still didn’t return it, making my insides colder than ice.
I knew that look so well. I’d seen it a few times before and even remembered giving it to others.
And just when I was starting to think she and I really had a future.
I reviewed the morning, trying to think of what I might have said or done to cause such a shift in her thinking, but I couldn’t come up with anything.
Things had started out well enough. When I’d picked her up, she had greeted me with a hug and kiss, as warm and affectionate as any she had given me during the two months we’d been together.
At least she hadn’t asked to go to a public place. It was unlikely anybody out here in the wilderness would be audience to what I was expecting. We hadn’t seen anyone on the trail all morning, and I would have assumed we were alone on the path had it not been for the other car parked at the trailhead.
“Are you ready?”
I could tell by the way she asked she was no longer enjoying the hike and she was just trying to get through it. Perhaps she’d been unsure before we’d started but as we’d gone on, she’d firmed up her decision.
I tried to think of something I might have said but couldn’t come up with anything. Our conversation had been pleasant and friendly.
“Yep,” I said, wiping away the smile and giving her a serious look, racking my brain for anything that would give me a clue about what she was thinking. “I really think we’re going to like the view.”
She muttered something I couldn’t make out as she pushed on ahead, hiking up the trail with a renewed sense of purpose.
We shortly came to a bend and began to climb the mountain. It was steeper than I planned on, I wasn’t as active as I had been two years ago. I needed to lose ten pounds before I would be comfortable again.
I followed after, giving her a safe distance so if she were to fall down the steep incline, I’d have a warning before she hit me.
The climb was strenuous. I soon found myself distracted by the strain. And if she was determined to finish this hike, I was glad to have something else to focus on instead of stewing about what was coming.
Ten minutes later she stopped and pulled a water bottle out from a pocket on the outside of her backpack. She unscrewed the lid and took a long pull.
I put the mouthpiece of my water reservoir to my lips and took a sip.
Even though we’d been hiking for more than an hour, you wouldn’t know it by looking at her. If I looked closely, I might have spotted a drop of sweat on her forehead or some moisture on her neck. I, on the other hand, had sweat forming around my armpits and on my chest. My back was slick, especially where my pack made contact with my shoulders and waist.
“This is pointless.” Jessica put her water bottle away and finally met my eyes. “I’m breaking up with you.”
Even though I’d been expecting it, her timing took me off guard. Perhaps she had meant to finish the hike but had become impatient. I studied her and then slowly nodded, giving it some thought before answering.
“Sure, no problem.”
“That’s it? That’s all you have to say?”
“I could tell you were going to do it. No biggie.”
My response surprised her, but I’d been down this road before and had learned it was best to let somebody go if that was what they wanted to do. I wouldn’t gain anything by trying to convince her to stay. I’d only look weak. While I preferred that we didn’t break up, nothing I could say would change her mind.
“I’m not playing around.” Jessica’s eyes narrowed. “I’m quite serious.”
“I understand.” When I saw her skeptical look, I went on. “I’m not saying I’m happy about it, but if you’ve made up your mind, I’m not going to change it. I know better.”
“Aren’t you curious why?”
I didn’t answer for several long moments. The question felt like a trap, and I wasn’t so sure I wanted to spring it.
“If you feel the need to tell me I’ll hear you out—”
“Hear you out?” She frowned. “You have got to be kidding me. Look you’re a nice enough guy—”
A gunshot cut through the late morning air. It came from just up ahead.