Exceeding Expectations

“It is so hot out here!” I complained as I trudged up towards the car awaiting me in the parking lot.
“Stop complaining, we already know it’s hot.” George replied back to me from a few cars away.
“Okay, sorry, but you should all know by now how much of a complainer I am.”
“Believe me, Erica, we know,” said yet another guy, this time it was Josh. After adding his comment, Josh jumped onto the lowered tailgate of his truck and began unlacing his golf shoes.
“But you all still love me, right?”
The few of them within earshot rolled their eyes and looked away, with the exception of George and Alan.
“You know we do,” they replied.
“Yay! I’m loved!” I nearly shouted.
“Always,” said Alan, who was loading my golf clubs into the trunk of his car. “Could I, maybe, get some help here?” he asked.
“Oh! Yeah! Totally! I’m sorry!” Immediately, I rushed over and started taking clubs out of my golf bag and packing them into the trunk with expertise that I had acquired from lots of practice. Since that day on the ski slopes last winter, Alan had become my best guy friend and great golf buddy, but with all due respect, he wasn’t very smart when it came to picking out a car. In some respects, it was the best choice. What teenage boy didn’t want to drive a fast and furious black Porsche? It was almost brand new, didn’t have a scratch, and did a top speed of 178 miles per hour. It was perfect for an adrenaline loving speed demon like Alan or me, but not so perfect when it came to fitting two sets of golf clubs in the almost nonexistent trunk.
My history with Alan and the rest of the golf guys was rocky and hard to explain to anyone who didn’t already know us. During my freshman year in high school, I started playing for the school’s golf team, regardless of the fact that I stunk. None of the guys talked to me so I didn’t make an effort to talk to any of them. I thought that they all hated me, and to an extent, that was true. The next year when I actually showed back up, I had gotten pretty decent at the sport. Suddenly, all of them started to accept me. I was the only girl on the team, but I fit in well with the boys. Everyone on the team was my friend, but nothing more. We went to lunch together and dinner together and golf matches together, and during the summer we were like one large, dysfunctional family. Through the year most of the friendships faded back into the woodwork. My friendship with Alan and George was the same, at least until last winter. By chance encounter, I met Alan on the slopes at a ski resort and spent the rest of my day racing and talking and laughing with him. By the end of the day, we were inseparable. Alan forced George into adopting me into their friendship circle (which used to be a line but had now become a triangle) and soon, the three of us were spending all our time together. Everyone joked about us as if we were the three musketeers.
For the most part, the three of us were inseparable. We spent all of our time together, swimming at Georges’s pool or playing pool in the game room at Alan’s house, or the occasional video game marathon at mine. Dinner rotated between the three houses, our favorite Mexican restaurant, and the clubhouse after golf practice.
Today, however, George had to stay behind after golf practice to work for a few hours, so Alan and I were on our own. After finally jamming the golf clubs into his trunk, we jumped into the car and headed home. Halfway there, Alan decided to go on one of our infamous adventures. Whenever we got bored, Alan and I would take off in the Porsche and just drive. We would take random roads and see where we ended up. Today, it seemed, Alan knew where he was going.
One thing was certain, and that was that I had no idea where we were. Every twist and turn of the road confused me further and obliterated any sense of direction I had left. Soon, a large park came into view. I noticed that the park must not be open anymore, because all of the paths had been overrun by out of control weeds and the most of the fencing on the baseball fields and tennis courts was rusted and covered in vines. The sign at the entrance had crumbled slightly and fallen off its posts, landing on its face so that I couldn’t see the name. I started wondering what could have ever happened to this place to make it so desolate and barren.
My thoughts were interrupted by Alan, who had parked the car and was standing above me outside of my door.
“We’re here,” he said simply. “Come on.”

Slowly I exited the car and looked around. Still barren and empty.

“What are we doing here? I see nothing here even remotely interesting except a bunch of overgrown weeds. Where are we?”

“It’s a surprise. Follow me.” Alan grabbed my hand and led me toward the wood line. When I looked down, a steep hill dropped about 50 feet to the forest below. To my surprise, there was a worn path among the trees, as if people had been hiking regularly through them. Alan led me down the slope, still grasping my hand as if to make sure I was not going to fall.

“You do realize that holding my hand isn’t going to stop me from falling, right? And if I do fall, you’re coming with me,” I said to him sarcastically.

“Yeah, I know, but I feel better this way.”

“Oh. Well, okay. Continue then.” I said, nearly dumbfounded at his sincerity.

We finally reached the bottom of the hill, and I was already dreading the climb back to the car. The path leveled out and we began dodging trees and spider webs. Through the trees I could see the sun setting and the sky turning a deep orange. Walking onward, I noticed how many worn down paths there were in the woods. A lot of people must come here to hike or walk. It was strange, with the park above so overgrown and unused.

As we walked through the trees, I noticed that most of them had been carved. A pair of initials here, a heart there. There were names and initials and hearts and years everywhere, carved into nearly every tree. It astonished me, seeing initials next to the year 1976. Several of the large trees were nearly entirely covered with carvings. A few other smaller trees had one or two carvings on them, but the massive trees seemed to be the most popular by far. These trees really did tell stories of years past. I thought it was sweet. They represented love and memories, good times and events from the long-forgotten past. The trees kept these memories forever, engrained into their trunks and branches, where they will never be forgotten. It guaranteed that no matter how many of the people that carved these initials and dates have forgotten the day they did so, at least the trees would never forget.
As we passed the grove of tall and proud trees, the woods parted, and we came to an opening.

“Well? Do you like it?” Alan asked me. I think he was looking at me, but I couldn’t be certain. My eyes were locked on the sight in front of me. A tree had fallen recently and obstructed half of my view, but I noted that the tree would have been a great bench and viewing platform. I walked forward, my eyes still locked on the sight. I tilted my head slightly in utter confusion, and I faintly registered Alan’s chuckle somewhere close behind me.
I couldn’t believe that something this beautiful could exist in a place that is so ordinary. I was gazing at a waterfall; it must have been at least fifty feet tall. The mist that it created threw a never-ending rainbow into the air. The lake beneath the fall was clear and blue. I was surprised at what a large lake it was, spreading out into two branches like the wings of an eagle, separating the two forests. The cliff was imposing, but magnificent. Vines fell delicately from the top of the sheer rock, and brilliantly purple flowers were blooming all around.
Finally snapping out of my state of shock, I turned to Alan.

“How did you know about this place? It’s so beautiful! Is it real? I’m not dreaming, am I?”
“No, you aren’t dreaming. A friend of a friend told me about it, and I figured I’d check it out. I’ve been coming here ever since then, whenever I need somewhere to get away. It is beautiful alright, but the real beauty was the look on your face. I’ve never seen you look so confused.” He ended his statement with a slight air of triumph and amusement in his voice.

It was my turn to laugh now. “Yeah, I am still in awe. Come on, let’s sit down. Then we can talk about it.”

“Okay.” He replied.

I jumped onto the fallen tree, nearly missing and tumbling head first into the lake. Sitting with my legs hanging below me and facing directly into the waterfall, the mist began to float slowly toward me and settle gently onto my skin. It was then that I realized I wasn’t dreaming, and that this was real.
“Why show this to me, of all people?” I asked Alan.

He was sitting next to me now. “Because you’re special.”
That simple sentence meant the world to me. The fact that he thought I was special—special enough to share this beautiful place with—melted my heart. Something in my brain clicked into place, and I had a revelation. I rotated to look him in the eye, and without hesitation, I asked,
“You love me, don’t you?”
“Are you just now catching on?” he asked in return.
“Unfortunately, yes.” I smiled at him and said, “I love you, too.” And in that instant, he kissed me. It was so delicate and caring, I wanted to frame it and keep it forever. Nothing could have been more perfect than this moment. The undeniable beauty of this scene, the waterfall and the crystal blue of the water, the flowers dangling from the cliffs, the trees, sitting quietly behind us, adding one more story of love to their branches, and this one kiss, one simple, sweet kiss. I knew that the trees would remember this day, but unlike so many other days, this would be one that I remembered forever. Everything in my world and everything around me was beautiful. Unexpected in every way, but beautiful all the same.





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