Romantic short story:
Daylight splashed like an invisible steam bath across the desert forest as they hiked out of the clearing, the final stretch to the road on the other side, or so they hoped. Desert quail chirped on a nearby tree and somewhere overhead the squawk of a hawk echoed around the valley that was cordoned off by a sharply rising rocky mountain ridge to the north. The dry heat of the day was enough to melt wax to a puddle in zero-to-sixty.
Having already trudged through the endless valley for well over an hour, they were both exhausted and irritable. Dirk glanced up at the cloudless blue sky and spied two hawks circling overhead. “They’ve been following us for at least half an hour,” he grumbled. “We stay out here any longer, we’ll probably be their next meal.”
Cicely had other things on her mind – dreams of love and romance and being whisked away to a tropical island and made love to for hours on a sandy beach. It came from the paperback she’d been reading in the car on their long drive. She leaned on the dry branches of a nearby tree, basking in the shade for just a while longer. It felt good to rest her feet. Their car had broken down on the side of a long stretch of highway in the middle of nowhere several miles back. Reluctantly, she had followed Dirk into the desert to search for another route to the other side where there was a rest stop and they could find help. But their ten-minute hike to the so-called other side was turning into a nightmare – ever longer, ever hotter.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” Dirk barked at her. Her boyfriend going on three years always barked at her. It wasn’t just today, or yesterday in the car, or last week before they left. It was always. “There’ll be time to rest when we get to the rest stop. That’s why they call it that. Now, I told you to get moving. I meant it.”
“Can’t I just dream here a little while longer?” asked Cicely in a high singsong voice, her mind starting feel the effects of the heat. She wondered how long she’d be able to go on.
Dirk snickered sarcastically. “Oh, sure, dream on, Cicely. You’re always so good at that. Stuck in your own little dream world. Why don’t you ever think of anything practical? Like surviving in desert heat? Now, let’s go or I’m gonna leave your ass here.” There were other words he used. Jarring words. Words that cut her down and made her feel very small.
He always spoke to her that way. At first, she didn’t mind so much. At least he stayed with her. Thrown in and out of foster homes since the age of fourteen, Cicely was used to harsh talk and angry, hurtful words from men. Some men hit her. That’s usually when she would leave, and keep running. But with Dirk, at least he never hit her. It was just what he said to her that always got under her skin. She never thought of herself as all that bad. But when you hear it so many times, you’re tempted to believe it.
But today was the last straw. Deep down, she knew there was a better life than verbal abuse. In fact, she had never even realized that’s what it was. Until today. Until right now.
Cicely spun around and faced him, burning fire in her tear-stained eyes. “Go, Dirk! Just… go! Leave me here!”
Dirk was taken aback by her full-frontal counter-attack, speechless at her fearless bravura that she had never shown until now. When he regained his composure, that angry vein pulsed in his neck. “Why, you little…”
“What are you gonna do, Dirk?” she snapped, standing up to him, walking directly at him, her shoulders back, her head held high. Now she had him backing up. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. The desert heat could kill us before we reach whatever ghost of a destination you have in mind. Why… don’t… you just… leave?” she seethed. “Now!” She heard her voice echo across the valley.
Her heart was racing a mile a minute. She had touched a nerve and she knew it. He was staring at her with swirling emotions, hardboiled anger mixed with confusion. Finally he seemed to have made a decision, calming down and stepping away. “Fine,” he said, turning his back on her. Then as he walked away, he spoke over his shoulder. “You always come running back to me, anyway. If you ever make it out of this hell-hole, you’ll be back!”
“Don’t count on it,” she shot back.
When he was gone, she turned and scampered in the opposite direction, back to the street where they had come from. But after a half an hour of desert heat, she was starting to feel queasy. Using all of the inner resolve she had, she pushed on. She had to make it. Someone would have to drive past – eventually. After an hour, or however long it took, doubt and uncertainty began to pound her mind with Dirk’s voice. She kept hearing him in her mind berating her, tearing her down, telling her she was worthless. It was getting harder and harder to walk. Finally, she stumbled and fell to the desert sand.
But just as she was about to lose consciousness, she heard a sound in the distance. Of course, she couldn’t be sure if it was real or imagined, but it grew clearer and clearer as it approached. The sound of a vehicle. A motor! She glanced up through squinted eyes and thought she saw a dune buggy riding in her direction. Someone was coming for her! And then she passed out, knowing nothing after that.
Little did Cicely know in that moment that the man on that dune buggy would find her, take her to shelter, stay with her for days to help her recover, and in the process, fall in love with her. He would speak kindly to her, words she had never heard in her whole life. That she was worth more than priceless jewelry, that she had a future beyond her ragged past, that she was special. More than special to him. He would love her and find a home for them both where love was the ruling factor. And she would become a radiant bride, finally coming home, finally knowing what true love really meant.