“Rachel, are you going to hate me forever?” Sid asked as he draped his arm around her shoulder. His dark red coat matched his hat so perfectly that Rachel wondered how long he had searched for a coat the exact same shade as his favorite headpiece.
“I don’t hate you,” she said, shrugging him off.
“Sure you do. You both do. Carly told me you did.”
“She did what?”
“Yeah, in the van. She said both of you royally disliked me, and I wanted to hear it from you.”
The soft sound of the running water echoed through the trees. It sounded peaceful, tranquil. If only Sid would be quiet long enough for her to enjoy it.
Rachel held on to the flimsy, wooden handrail as she started across the swinging, single person bridge across Deep Creek, which ran perpendicular to the trail. Deep Creek wasn’t very big; maybe fourteen feet across, and appeared more of a trickle than a creek. She didn’t even see a waterfall. It kinda bummed her out.
“Deep Creek,” Sid read the sign at the beginning of the bridge and followed behind her. “Original. Misleading, but original.”
Rachel couldn’t argue with that. A few boulders were scattered across the creek basin. To Rachel, it looked like if something bad did happen and the water actually covered those rocks, then the creek would live up to its name.
“I don’t know what Carly told you, but I don’t hate you.
Carly is her own person and can think or feel what she wants,” Rachel said once she reached the other side of the bridge. ”But I don’t hate you. I don’t like what you did, but I don’t hate you.”
“Look, I know I messed up. I more than messed up. I screwed up and hurt someone I care about. I know that. If I could take it back, I would. Can you just please talk to Carly when we get to the picnic area? Make her see that I’m not a bad guy.”
Rachel didn’t know what to say to that. She had always heard once a cheater always a cheater, but she also knew it was her Christian duty to forgive.
“Come on. Help a guy out,” he added in a pitiful voice. “I told her I was sorry. What more does she want?”
“You’ll just have to figure that out yourself,” Rachel said, unsure of how to help him.
“Just talk to her. Pleeeeeeeeeeeease…”
“Okay!” she said just to shut him up.
“Thank you!” His face lit up like a Christmas tree, and he kissed her on the cheek before running up the trail toward Asher, who was leaning on a tree. “You’re the best!” he yelled back at her.
Rachel stopped walking. What had she agreed to, and what was Sid thinking kissing her like that? It wasn’t like he was letting his intentions be known, as her grandma liked to say. But still, being kissed — even in a chaste way — wasn’t something that happened to her every day.
She watched as Sid slapped Asher on the shoulder before running by him, and without thinking, her fingers went to the little spot on her cheek where his kiss had landed.
“If you get that riled up from a little peck on the cheek, I’d hate to see what would happen if you got a kiss on your lips,” Asher yelled, folding his arms with that same smirk he’d had at the snack machine. Rachel’s cheeks burned like fire, knowing what she must look like, staring all swoony--‐‑eyed at Sid. When did she start swooning?
“On second thought,” Asher said, narrowing his eyes, “maybe it would be a fun thing to see.”
“That would imply that I’d let you.” Rachel made her legs move again.
“Very true.” Asher laughed, falling in step beside her.
“What are you doing on this trip anyway?” Rachel asked, harsher than she meant. Her mouth was in defensive mode.
He shrugged, not seeming to take any offense. “Didn’t have any other place to be.”
Awkward silence filled the space between them as they walked. Rachel just wanted him to run ahead with Sid and leave her alone.
“You should cut him some slack, you know?”
“Who else? Yeah, Sid. He messed up, sure. He cheated. We all mess up. Even perfect little Christians like you.” He had a lot to learn about her. “I’m by no means perfect,” she said, her voice hard.
“And neither is Sid.”
“I’ve never cheated on a boyfriend.”
“Have you ever had a boyfriend?”
Ouch, that stung. “That’s none of your business.” Sure, she had never had a boyfriend, but she knew without a doubt she wouldn’t cheat on one.
“I’m sorry,” he said, almost like he meant it.
“And Sid’s sorry too,” he said without skipping a beat. “Making out with Easy Emily wasn’t the smartest move. One, because her lips should be retired for excessive use, and two because it hurt someone he cares about a lot.”
Rachel knew he was right. She’d even used the same argument with Carly. For some reason, she just wanted to stay mad at Sid, more so after he thought it wise to buy her help with a little peck on the cheek. The kiss had irked her. And her reaction to it irked her even more.
Asher spoke when she didn’t. “You Bible types are all about forgiveness,” he shook his head, “until it'ʹs you who has to do the forgiving.”
“What do you know of the Bible, Asher?” she spat. “Do you even own one?”
Without warning, Asher stepped in front of her. She could either stop or run over him; she chose to stop. Her eyes came up to his chest, and she tilted her head up to see his face. That close, she could see how blue his eyes were and the little moon--‐‑shaped scar on his chin. He didn’t look amused anymore, and the twinkle was gone from his eyes. “You think you know it all, don’t you? It’s all black and white with you. No gray areas. All or nothing. Well, guess what?”
He moved his hands to her shoulders and pushed her windblown curls back. “The world doesn’t work like that.” Asher lingered a moment, staring into her eyes. He stared so long, Rachel wondered if he was going to kiss her too, but that was stupid, because he obviously didn’t like her. Without a word, he turned and walked away.
Watching him go, her mind raced and felt completely empty at the same time.
She had no idea what in the world was happening on this trip.
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