I caught up to her as we climbed a hill and then another. After the third, we came to a creek with crystalline water surrounded by huge boulders. She chose one in the sun and took the bag from me. While she unpacked food, I couldn’t help but look around and see how beautiful it was.

“So, great picnic spot, right?”

“Yes,” I said, sitting down beside her.

I took her face in my hands and kissed her. She took my breath away, her openness, her generosity. She reached for me, wrapped her arms around my waist as I kissed her. I could have lived in that moment for the rest of my life, the fresh breeze, the view of the creek and the mountains far beyond, the woman in my arms. It made me want to build a home in that spot, some pioneer impulse to erect a homestead with my own two hands, to sit on a porch and watch the sunrise in this exact spot with my arm around her every damn morning. It was such a powerful impulse that I was speechless. This place, this woman, a chance to build something permanent instead of being a nomad traveling around destroying factories and entire towns. A way out, a new path. An idea I had never imagined before.

But I kept that all to myself. I sank down onto the quilt she’d spread and listened to her talk about playing out in that creek with her cousins and friends when she was a kid.

“Layla acts fearless now, but she was scared of the minnows getting her toes. I was afraid of snakes, but she’d hunt for those and chase them with a stick. Minnows though—it’s hilarious. We would come out here in the summer, if we could get a ride, and just splash in the creek till we were soaked and then dry off in the sun. Make daisy chains with the wild clover and blow dandelions. It was regular Hallmark stuff, so pretty and peaceful. Except for the time I ripped open my leg chasing my cousins across the rocks. They had to carry me to a farmhouse for help.”

“Were you seriously hurt? Did you need stitches?”

“No. It just scared the crap out of me. I was dramatic for a nine-year-old. So two of my cousins carried me. The lady at the farm patched me up with band-aids and let us play with the baby goats. Little known fact about me. I love baby goats. I watch those YouTube videos where they wear pajamas and play on little toddler slides and stuff. Cheers me right up.”

I laughed. “Baby goats in pajamas? Is this something people do?”

“Yeah, and they film it. It’s Internet gold. I mean, it’s super cuteness. I’ll pull some up on my phone later, see if you’re not hooked,” she said.

“I’m hooked on you,” I blurted.

“That was so cheesy,” she laughed, but she looked pleased.

“You know you love it when I’m cheesy,” I replied.

“Yeah, I kinda do,” she said and kissed my cheek.

“What if we could do better than videos?” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Well, we have a couple options. One, you could throw yourself off the rocks so I could carry my injured girlfriend to the nearby farms for medical aid and goats, or we could just walk up to the places and ask if we can look around.”

“You mean knock on their doors?” she said.

“Yeah. Exactly. Look, Maggie, I didn’t get where I am in the corporate world by being scared to knock on a door,” I said in mock seriousness.

“You mean the corporate world where you live in a hotel, drive a rental car and shut stuff down? Wow, sounds fabulous, I should knock on more doors,” she said sarcastically.

“Hey, don’t get salty,” I said, kissing her briefly. “All I’m saying is, if you love baby goats that much, we’re in the neighborhood of a several farms that seemed to have animals and it’s in my power to find you some goats to pet or hold or whatever it is you do with goats.”

“I would freaking LOVE to pet goats today. Like, next to you not shutting down the factory obviously.”

“Yeah, you gotta needle me with that, remind me I’m the bad guy,” I rolled my eyes.

“Just don’t want you to forget.”

I shook my head. “Trust me, there’s no danger of that.”

We drank the sparkling cider she’d packed and ate the cheese and crackers. I convinced her to stretch out on the quilt with me and look up at the sky.

“I haven’t done this since I was a kid,” she said, her head on my shoulder. “Looking for pictures in the clouds and stuff.”

“I never did this. You don’t exactly lie down on the sidewalk in the city to look at the sky. We didn’t have roof access in our building. You could only see snatches of sky. Tyler, my brother, he loves working outdoors. He had a rough time, only survivor of a roadside explosive device. Being outside in the open seems to help him. I can see why. I’m not, like, a trauma survivor or anything, but fresh air and space just feels good.”

Tags: Natasha L. Black Romance
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