Without a Doubt

My mind is dark and blank, drifting along with the blissful oblivion of dreams, when I am pulled back to the surface of sleep by a faint repetitive sound and an odd sensation of weight on my right shoulder. I shift slightly, trying to rid myself of the weight and make the noise go away, but it doesn't work. The weight becomes heavier and with it comes a shaking motion, the noise gaining strength as well.

I roll halfway onto my back and slowly begin to realize that the sound is a voice and the repetitive noise is my name. The weight is a hand on my shoulder, shaking me to get me to come out of a sound sleep. I finally manage to drag my eyelids open and find that it is still dark outside. Above me is a blurry shape and it takes me a few moments to realize that it is you that is leaning over me.

I blink owlishly at you, still trying to get your face to come into focus, but the darkness is not helping me in my endeavor and you remain without detail. I try to snuggle deeper into my blankets, pulling them up higher to ward off the chill in the air and then I suddenly pause. Blankets? I had gone to sleep earlier laying on top of them, the night too hot and humid to require anything more than the shorts and tank top that I had gone to bed with. Why is it so cold now?

I open my mouth to ask you this very question, but you stop me with a finger to your lips and a hushed "Shhhh." I remain silent and stare up at your still blurry silhouette as I wait for you to explain or at least do something other than stare back at me. Then I finally understand. The blankets draped over me, the rustling of the canvas tent that covers us, the odd sensation of glee that is just about pouring off of you, and the thing that you shushed me for, the distant rumble of thunder.

Even though you are probably just as blind as I am in the darkness of our little tent, I can tell that you begin to smile widely at the sound. You know that I hear it now and you give my shoulder another shake as you disappear from my limited field of vision.

The last vestiges of sleep flutter away as I toss the blankets aside and reach for my shoes, but I stop as my hand curls around them. I pull away, leaving them where they lay on the ground next to my bedroll. No shoes this time. This little adventure will be better enjoyed without any kind of hindrance like shoes to weigh me down. I know that you will smile at me and chuckle at the missing footwear, but I also know that you will understand. You know that I love to feel the contact with the ground, to be able to move my feet naturally and to feel the grip that comes with unrestrained toes.

I am soon climbing out of the tent, pushing aside the flap and stepping out into the strengthening breeze. I am somewhat shocked at the chill that has developed and I feel goosebumps prickle along my arms. I look over to your dark form and see the openness in your posture. You are readying yourself for the oncoming rain and you welcome the relief that the storm scented air promises to dust and sweat caked skin.

I turn my face into the wind and feel the dampness that is collecting within it. Not long now. I shudder once more against the chill and then I feel the first drops begin to fall. They brush against my face and arms, light and almost featherlike. They are warm, not as cold as I expected, and I grin in response. It is only moments before the sound of your sigh of happiness drifts over to me and I drop my head back, turning my face upwards to catch more of the heavenly droplets.

The sun eventually begins to brighten the horizon as the rain continues to fall. It never really develops into anything more than a steady drizzle, but we are not at all put off. We twirl and dance beneath the veil of rain, laughing at the feeling of being rinsed clean. Beneath our campsite, the little creek bed is beginning to splash and trickle with the sound of collected water and we skip and bounce down to the banks of the stream that is regaining life in this wonderful shower.

We dunk our feet in the running water, reveling in the coolness drifting over our feet and sighing in joy as the grimy coating on our skin disappears. I eventually sit down on a nearby rock and splash the water up over my arms and face as you root around in the streambed looking for interesting rocks and other odd bits.

I am just starting to rinse out my hair, my head tossed back to let the water run away from my face, when you decide that the time is right to discard the handful of mud that you have just deemed empty of treasures. I jerk my head back up as the handful of mud lands across my stomach and thighs with a resounding Splot!

I look down at the mud and then slowly look back up at you. You are standing there, ankle deep in running water, mud dripping from your right hand, and your lips are disappearing as you try to frantically quell the laugh that I know is threatening to explode. I can tell by the sparkle that is flickering in your eyes and the crinkle that is forming at their edges. You are a study in tightening control and I cannot help but admire the profound amount of restraint that you are displaying. I blink once and then your left hand shoots to your mouth and a sputter and a snort burst out as you turn with lightning quickness.

I spring to my feet as you paw and scratch at the far bank in a desperate search for purchase. You manage to find a grip among the largest of the exposed tree roots and you lurch up the bank, stumbling into a dead run when you reach level ground again, small stones and pebbles skittering down in your wake.

I dodge the rain of debris and follow you, my path determined by your previous successful climb and I reach the top much sooner, but you are already in full stride. I sprint after you, suddenly reminded how graceful and light on your feet you are when you run. You are a runner by nature, constantly looking for those moments when you can breeze along through the world without a thought about slowing. You have endurance, effortless miles falling away behind you. I have no hope of outlasting you, but I do have one thing on my side. I may not be able to outlast you, a marathon runner I am not, but I may still be able to catch up to you. I am a sprinter, very good at the short distance.

I pour myself into the effort and I surge forward. I am glad for the fact that I had foregone my shoes. My toes dig deep into the softening soil and I close the gap between us. The rain pelts against my face and I narrow my eyes to protect them.

Finally you are within reach and I launch myself at your back. I wrap my arms around you as I slam into you in a flying tackle and we both tumble to the ground in a tangle of limbs and soaked curls.

You hit the ground with a breathless "Ooof!" and I follow a split second later with a muffled grunt.

We remain where we have fallen, sprawled in tall dripping grass, and we sputter and giggle at the stupidity of it all. I watch as the mud slowly rinses off of me, the rain chasing away the heavy stickiness and replacing it with gentle pattering drops. You shake with laughter and make odd raspberry noises as you blow the trickling water away from your lips.

"I forgot that you can catch me over short distances," you say between splutters.

I laugh and sit up, shaking the errant blades of grass out of my hair. "I was highly motivated," I reply.

You either don't hear my comment or you don't care because you just mumble something about how good it feels to be clean again and give a contented sigh. I just smile at the irony of your statement because the mud on my shirt is still trickling away to the ground below me.

We lay in comfortable silence for a long moment. The only sound is the soft pattering of the rain on the grass and the occasional gentle rumble of thunder.

"I love the rain," I eventually say. "Thanks for waking me up for it."

"You're most welcome," you say. "Want to head back to the tent?"

I wiggle my toes against the grass and grin wider. "Nah," I say. "I'm still rinsing off the remnants of your bombardment."

"It wasn't intentional," you say with a chuckle.

"Yeah," I say "Sure."

You sit up and face me. You are all alight and a-smile and I am somewhat surprised when I look directly in your eyes. I had never noticed it before, but they somehow seem different. They seem brighter, deeper, and yet lighter all at once. And then it dawns on me. The reason why is because there is something missing. Something that had always been so normal and ever-present. The weight of the world is gone. You are open, innocent, and without the stain of stress. Your eyes are so clear and expressive that I find my breath catching and no longer is the water on my face due to just the rain.

I have never seen such flawless and vibrant joy before and it stuns me into silence.

You hold my gaze as I continue to look at you with open mouthed wonder.

"You finally noticed it," you say. "I was wondering when you would."

I shake myself out of my shock and tilt my head in a silent question.

"I saw it just a few days ago," you continue. "I saw the real you peeking out. You were hidden so deep down, just like me, because of the darkness of the old world. But I waited and then I saw the exact moment when you finally realized that this paradise is here to stay and you decided to just let yourself be you. That moment will always be with me; even through the rest of eternity."

"I never imagined it would be so…"

"Perfect?"

I laugh at the statement but I nod in agreement. "Yeah."

"Me neither."

"When was it?"

You look confused so I elaborate.

"When did you see the real me?"

"When we stood in that pine forest; listening to the wind."

I close my eyes and smile. I remember it perfectly. It had been so quiet; just the sound of the wind and the birds. I had longed for that pure silence for so long that it had turned into an almost physical ache, and then we had found that valley and I finally felt that inner tension release.

"I almost can't believe this is true," I say without opening my eyes.

"I know," you say. "But the best part is… it is true. All of it. And it won't ever end."

"You okay with spending eternity with me?"

You snort a laugh. "Without a doubt."


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