About 6:00 PM that evening, Marcus suggested, “Let’s stop for the night and make camp. We’ll need the daylight to set up our tents and to eat our dinners.”
“Okay. I think we should go over here more and get some shelter from the trees.”
After getting their tents up, Marcus went around nearby grabbing rocks and sticks to build a campfire. The temperature only got up to about fifty-five degrees today so they will need the heat from the campfire to keep them warm tonight. He placed the rocks in a circle and put the sticks in the middle. Nicole pulled out zip lock bag with matches in it and handed it to Marcus.
While he started the fire, Nicole pulled out the dry dog food and put it in a dish for Sierra with some water. She pulled out a dehydrated chicken and rice for herself and a camp stove. “If you give me your meal and a pot, I’ll heat your dinner along with mine.”
“Okay.” Marcus pulled on a dehydrated shepherd’s pie and a pot to cook it in and handed it to her. After Marcus got the fire going, she put the camp stove on it. Then she mixed the dehydrated food and put them on the stove to heat them up. She pulled out a box of plastic silverware and got out two knives, forks, and spoons. While waiting for the food to head and become hydrated, she opened her self-inflated sleeping pad and spread her sleeping bag liner on it and then her sleeping bag. She pulled out her anti-bacterial body wipes along with her toothbrush and toothpaste, to clean herself up after they ate. She started to hum a tune she remembered her mother used to sing to her when she was young, called “Walking After Midnight” by Patsy Cline. Marcus turned on his haunches and watched her as she twittered away at setting up camp. She turned and looked at him. Puzzled, she said, “What?”
“What’s that tune your singing?”
“Walking After Midnight. My mom used to sing it to me when I was little.”
He smiled, and then went back to setting his stuff inside his tent. His tent was larger than hers because it could sleep two while hers only slept one.
He felt comfortable with Nicole. She kept herself busy with getting the camp set up, and being in close proximity to her, his senses became more astute to being around her. He watched as she unbraided her hair and let it hang loose. He admired her red-gold hair, blue eyes, and fair skin. He doubted that she knew how beautiful she really was. It appeared she’s had a sheltered life, and was not experienced with men. In a way, he was glad about that even though he really didn’t think he’d want to get entangled with a virgin. Or, did he? He had a feeling that bonding and mating with her would be an odyssey that would be out of this world. He could bring her to the brink of ecstasy beyond anything she had ever had, and it would culminate with his own passion and pleasure.
“I think dinner is ready.” Nicole put his food on a paper plate and handed it to him and then put hers on another paper plate.
“Okay. Thank you.” He took the plate from her. He noticed her fingernails. They were slender fingers, with beautiful, pinkest color and just a little bit of white at the tips. Everything about her was petite. For being such a small woman, she was quite strong. She’d have to be, only the strong can really survive in the backcountry, off the hiking trail and away from everyone.
They sat cross-legged and next to each other as they ate their dinner. She brought out her bottled water and uncapped it. “Do you want some water?” She handed the bottle over to him.
“No, I’m fine. I have my own water.”
“It looks like we’ve covered at least twenty-two miles today.”
“Yes, that’s pretty good for the first day and on the terrain we’ve been walking on.”
“The other side, where I usually hike, isn’t as soft as the soil is here.”
“Don’t you have to report into your brother?”
“Yes, I told him that I’d report into him about eight PM each night we’re out here. I also have a tracker on my phone, so he kind of knows where I am at all time.”
“That is extremely valuable when you are off hiking by yourself.”
After they had finished eating, they cleaned up the area and Marcus added more sticks to the fire. The sun was starting to go down, and the air was cooling. When they were finished, she handed Marcus an anti-bacterial body wipe to wash his hands and a quick-dry towel to dry himself, and she did the same. They sat down again next to each other, and Sierra laid down beside Nicole and went to sleep. She called her brother and advised him where she was and how things were progressing.
“Do you believe in shapeshifters?” Nicole asked as she looked around the darken forest. The light faded, and it created shadows that seemed to move in the dark.
“No. But the Navajo believes in it. They believe that men can be changed into creatures usually called skinwalkers. A person who wishes to be a skinwalker would go through a ceremony that would give them the power to transform into a creature. Many say that the skinwalkers are not very good people and considered devil worshippers. Why do you ask?”
“I see shadows move all around me here in the forest at night. Do you think these are shapeshifters?”
“I doubt it.”
“Sometimes when I think I’m seeing shadows, Sierra starts barking.”
“Are you afraid of the dark?”
“No. I’m not afraid, I’m just saying what I think I see at night.”
“Fire can cast shadows on the trees in the forest and make it seem like you’re seeing a shadow of someone.”
“You believe that?”
“Yes. Unless you’ve come across a shapeshifter mimicking a human being and pissed him or her off, there would be no reason to believe that a shapeshifter is out here in the shadow lurking about you.”
Nicole stood up and looked over to where the moon was. It was at that time of the night where it was huge, and a full moon. She grabbed her camera and went off about ten feet from the camp, and took some pictures. “The moon sure is big and beautiful.”
Not as beautiful as you are. Marcus smiled. “Yes, it is.” He decided he needed to get to bed. He was afraid that if he stayed up any later, he’d end up making a move on Nicole, and he didn’t think she was ready for any kind of a relationship with him, or even just sex. “Nicole, I’m going to turn in now.”
She turned around, looking disappointed. “Okay. I probably should too. What time do you want to get up tomorrow?”
“I’ll be up at dusk.”
“You bring a clock with you?”
He laughed. “I have an alarm on my watch, but no, I just automatically wake up at five-thirty in the mornings.”
“Okay, well I’ll try to get up that early so we don’t waste any time getting started. Good night.”
Marcus got into his tent and took his clothes off. He laid on top of the sleeping blanket, letting the cold air cool off his body. He heard Nicole get into her tent and zipped it up. “No Sierra, you’re not sleeping on my pad. You sleep here.” She murmured. Marcus smiled in the dark as he heard movement in her tent.
He drifted off to sleep.
He lifted up his head from the kiss and looked deeply into her eyes. Her body looked like a silhouette in the moonlight. He looked over to his left and saw their shadow. A Native American man and his woman. Deeply in love, mated for life, always together. He kissed her again. His lips trailed from her mouth alongside her jaw to her neck. Such delicate features. He loved the feel of her soft skin, soft as a baby’s bottom and he never got tired of it. He pulled the hood off the top of her head, and he was shocked. He looked into her blue eyes and saw nothing but love. The kind of love that lasts a lifetime. Her beautiful long blonde hair was floating in the wind. Nicole. Nicole was his wife. His life partner. She was mated to him for life. She carried his children, she mothered Nathan. His heart swelled with love for the woman. He can never picture his life without her.
He heard a zipper unzipped. He was immediately awake, and he lifted the flap of the tent window and looked out. She had let Sierra out, obviously to let her go to the bathroom. He laid back down, trying to figure out why he had that dream. Man, I need to get through the next week with her, am I going to make it? He couldn’t figure out why all of a sudden since he’s met Nicole, that he’s started dreaming about her. He looked at his watch. Damn, it’s only four AM. I may as well get up and meditate. He put on his pants, socks, and boots, unzipped the tent and stepped outside. The cold air against his bare chest felt invigorating. He threw in some more sticks and rekindled the fire and felt the warm heat as it came back to life. Sierra came and laid down beside him.
* * * *
Nicole let Sierra out and then laid back down. She was restless and couldn’t sleep. The more she got to know Marcus, the more she wondered if it was too soon to fall in love. She loved being out here in the mountains with him. They liked the same things and the more they talked, the more relaxed she became and enjoyed being with him. He shared a lot of information with her and seemed patience and willing to explain stuff to her. He talks about his people and their way of life. Not being experienced in these things and not ever having been in love, it was all new to her. Finally, she drifted off to sleep.
She woke up and wondered what time it was. She slowly dressed, trying to be quiet and not wake Marcus up. Finally dressed, she unzipped her tent and stepped out. She looked around and was surprised to see Marcus sitting in front of his tent, half dressed. It was barely daylight out, and she could make out his bare chest. Something deep inside her began churning at the sight of him. He sat there with his eyes closed as if he was either asleep sitting up, or just resting his eyes.
“Good morning,” she said quietly to him, not wanting to startle him.
It took him a few minutes before he opened his eyes and looked over at her. He looked dazed. Finally, he said, “Good morning.”
“Did you sleep well?” she asked.
“Yes. Did you?”
“Once I got settled and let Sierra out. Usually, she loves to sleep in the tent with me, but for some reason, she was restless, and I finally just let her out. I hope she didn’t bother you. I see you have a nice fire going, would you like some coffee and breakfast?”
She looked over at him when he didn’t answer. He had unzipped his tent and pulled stuff out of his backpack.
“Let me fix the meal this time. Give me your breakfast and I’ll heat it up. I have coffee too.”
“Okay.” She peered at him. He seemed subdued. She hoped she didn’t do anything to make him pull away from her. While he made the coffee and breakfast, she got food out for Sierra, along with her water and food dish. “Is everything okay?” she asked.
He glanced up at her. “Yes, everything is fine.” He fixed her dehydrated eggs with sausage while he ate oatmeal. He handed her breakfast and some instant coffee in her plastic coffee cup. After they had eaten, she asked, “Have you talked to Nathan since we left?”
“Why don’t you give him a call? I’m sure he wants to hear from you, and I know you want to talk to him,” Nicole suggested.
“I’m trying to save the juice on my iPhone in case of emergency.”
“I’ve got my phone here, and it’s got a tracker on it. We’ll be fine, go ahead and call him.” Nicole said encouragingly.
Marcus stood up and grabbed his iPhone. “I’ll be over here for a few minutes.”
Nicole cleaned the area up a bit and washed his cup and heating pot as well as hers before she packed her stuff in her backpack. She started to dismantle her tent when she heard his voice, and he was on his iPhone.
She figured he missed his son and needed to talk to him. She couldn’t understand why a mother would give up a little guy like Nathan. He was an adorable six-year-old with a very active mind, and he looked very much like his father. She immediately bonded with the little tyke and wondered if she would ever see him again.
“Okay, Nathan. I’ll see you in a few days.”
She looked up at Marcus as he returned to the camp.
“I love you, son. Talk to you soon. Bye.” He disconnected the call and looked over at Nicole.
“You feel better now?” she asked.
“Yeah. It was good to hear his voice. I see you are almost all packed and ready to leave.”
“Yes. Here’s your cup and cooking pot. I cleaned them for you.”
“Okay. Thanks.” He went into his tent.
She could hear him moving about in the tent, and soon, he came back out with his backpack. He dismantled his tent and packed it. While waiting for him, she braided her hair again stuck it up under a cap.
Nicole went off a little ways where he couldn’t see her, and relieved herself. When she returned, he was ready.
It was that time between dusk, and the morning sun when they started back into their hike. Neither of them spoke for the first hour of the hiking. The mountains were becoming steeper as they climbed. The sun began to peak out from behind the eastern side of Elkhorn mountains.
They came upon a clearing when Marcus said. “Do you want to stop and take a quick break?”
“Okay.” There were no logs nearby for them to sit, so they sat down on the slopey hill and removed their backpacks. They watched as the sun cleared the mountaintop. They could hear nature teeming with life. The birds twittered, insects buzzed, they could hear elk calling echoing from a distance. A herd of mule deer ran across the opened area, and Sierra started to yip while watching them. Rabbits hopped across in front of them.
“I hear water,” Marcus said.
“Yes. It’s off that way.” He pointed to the east.
“Your hearing must be really good.”
“It’s normal, I’m just attuned to all this when I’m hiking.”
“We will come to a river about ten miles from here, but we are headed more south, then east.”
“Do you know the name of the river?”
“Yes, it’s the continuation of Butte Falls river. I probably should say it’s more of a creek than a river, and if memory serves me right, there is also a beautiful waterfall that we will get to see.”
Nicole remembered that Marcus mentioned the Rockies having a beautiful waterfall and the idea of her hiking with him the next time to see them. She wondered if he really meant that or if he was just making conversation. He doesn’t seem the person to just say something and not mean it. She’d love to hike the Rockies with him. That sensual feeling at the very core of her gave rise again. She had a vision of the two of them jumping in the water near the waterfall. She glanced over at him, and her cheeks grew warm.
She stood up and walked over to the edge where the clearing came to an almost abrupt vertical drop. Her foot slipped, and she went down hard. She let out a yelp, and the momentum caused her to roll down the hill. She rolled and slid down twenty feet before she could stop herself from going any further. She inhaled the smelly, wet-soaked earth. Marcus came running over to where she stood and then came down the hill sideways so he wouldn’t pitch over as well.
“Are you okay?” he asked when he got to her.
“I..I think so.” She laid there stunned.
“Let me check for broken bones or cuts before you get up. Stay here for a minute, I’m going to go and get the first aid kit.”
He climbed back up the hill to where they sat. A few moments later, he returned with the first aid kit.
“Can you sit up okay?” he asked.
She turned around from her stomach around and sat. “Yeah, but it hurts like heck.”
“I bet it does. This soil contains a lot of rocks. Let’s get your jacket off so I can look at your arms.”
She slipped out of her jacket. “Oh, crap,” she said.
“My jacket is torn.” She showed him where the tear was.
“Well, you have an excuse to go and buy yourself a new one.” He smiled slightly.
He checked her arms and flexed them to be sure nothing was out of alignment. He ran his hands down her sides and across the front of her, checking for rib fractures or other injury. While she sat there, Sierra strolled up beside her and started licking her face.
“Ugh, Sierra, not now.” She gently pushed the dog away. Sierra walked around them in circles, wagging her tail.
Nicole’s heart hammered hard in her chest. She didn’t know if it was from the fall, or from his hands being on her body. She still had that inkling feeling deep inside her, that she finally concluded that it could be sexual arousal.
“So far, no broken bones. You’ll need to take your pants off.”
“Uh, I don’t think so.”
“Nicole, I need to see if you have any injuries to your legs.”
“Let me see if I can stand up and walk.”
“No. If you are injured, we don’t want to add more injury. Come on, I’ll help you.”
Before she could respond, he had unzipped her pants and started to pull them down over her hips. Oh, this is so embarrassing.
“Lift up,” he commanded.
She lifted her bottom, and he slid the pants down her thighs to her ankles. She sat on the earth, feeling a prickly plant through her underpants. She reached under her bottom to pull out the irritating plant, it was a tiny branch from a pine tree that had just started to grow up through the ground. She tossed that aside and sat down at the same time. “Oww,” she said.
“What’s the matter?”
“I just sat on a little pine tree stump.” She used her hands and scooted off the protruding half inch stump.
He smiled slightly as he scrutinized her legs closely, then flexed them to be sure nothing was broke.
“No broken skin or bones here. Let me look at your feet.”
He untied her boots and slid off her boots and socks. He inspected her ankles and her feet. He’s got to be loving this. But, maybe not. He had not shown any interest in her other than a kiss he gave her in his vehicle the other day when he picked her up on her way home from the saloon. That little kiss sparked her doormat sexual feelings and left her with sensations she never knew existed before.
Satisfied that she didn’t have any broken bones, he stood up and held out his hand for her to stand up. “Okay, nothing appeared to be broken, so let’s have you stand up and see if anything hurts.”
In her underpants? Really. She grabbed his extended hand, and he pulled her up. She stood for a few minutes. Her bare feet feeling rocks and sinking into the earthly soil. “I think I’m okay. I’ll probably have some bruising soon, I’m sure.”
“Okay. Let’s get you dressed.” He bent over and grabbed her pants and gave them to her. She held on to his arm while she used her other hand to drop the pants so she could put her legs in them. She finally pulled the pants up and zipped them. She sat back down and put her socks and boots on. When she was finished, he grabbed her hand and helped her as they climbed back up the hill to their backpacks.
“Now that all the excitement is over with, are you sure you’re ready to start walking again?” The beginning of a smile tipped the corners of his mouth.
“Yes,” she muttered under her breath.
As they continued the walk, Nicole was getting a bit warm at the back of her neck. She took her baseball cap off, and her braid swung free down her back. She continued walking, and something caught her attention to the right. As she looked, she continued to walk until she ran practically into a pine tree. The limb in her path went through her hair, getting it tangled up and becoming a mess.
“You’re a mess now,” the voice behind her said. “Why did you take your cap off?” He came up behind her and set his backpack down, took off his gloves, and began to untangle her hair.
“I was getting a little warm, so I took it off for a few minutes. I thought I saw something move off to the right, and wasn’t paying attention to the pine tree.”
“So far, you’ve had an interesting morning.” He continued to untangle her hair from the pine needles.
“No kidding.” However, she was enjoying the part where his hands were running through her hair to pull out the limb.
“You’re going to have to unbraid your hair and rebraid it again, but the tree is out now.”
“No problem.” He grinned at her.
They continued on. “What did Nathan have to say when you called him?” She turned slightly and looked behind at him.
“He can’t wait for me to get home so I can buy him a Chappie robot. He seemed totally fixated on that right now.”
“I heard that the action figures are all the rave now among children.”
“Yes, it is, and he’s got just about every one of them. His real love, though, is the Transformers. I got him six new Transformers for Christmas last year. They were just released in limited quantities at Toys R Us, and I thought they would be a good buy and gift for him, and I was right. He sat there for hours, putting each one of those Transformers together. He did it all by himself, and he did them all right.”
“Does he like Superman, Batman, and all those kind of action heroes?”
“Yes. He’s got quite a selection of Batman. Not as much of Superman.”
“Really. Not spoiled much, huh?” Nicole laughed.
“Oh he’s spoiled, I know. But I’ve purposely spoiled him. I’ve determined that he was not going to have the kind of upbringing that I had, and that includes his having the toys that he desires.”
“Did you have a bad childhood?”
“Not bad in the sense of abuse in any way. Just poor. My parents had a hard time supporting us seven kids.”
“Seven? Wow. Are you the oldest, youngest, middle?”
“I’m the third oldest. There is one brother older than me, and an older sister. Then there are two more brothers and sisters after me.”
“Are your parents still alive?”
“Yes. They are still alive, and after years of sacrifice and giving, they are finally living comfortably. My oldest brother and I give them money and whatever else they need.”
“How about you? I know you have at least one brother,” Marcus asked.
“Yes. It’s just my brother and me. My parents are in Arizona.”
“Nicole, stop,” Marcus said abruptly.
“What?” She spun around.
“These footprints are from a bear. There’s also bear shit here, and it looks fresh. Pay attention to your surroundings.”
As they continued on, Sierra suddenly took off running ahead of Nicole and barking. “I think she’s probably found the bear.”
“I hope it’s not a mother with cubs. She’ll charge Sierra.”
They followed in the direction that Sierra went. They came to a small clearing, and Sierra was running back and forth, barking. Nicole looked up and on a large boulder, a black bear was sitting, looking down at Sierra.
“You better call Sierra. It looks like the bear is by himself, but we don’t want to agitate it or draw it’s attention on us.”
Nicole whistled. “Come on, girl. Let’s leave the bear alone.” Sierra stopped and hesitated. Nicole whistled again and called out. “Come on. We’re going this way. Let’s go.” Sierra took off on a dead run toward them and when she got to Nicole. Nicole patted her head and gave her a bone. “Good girl. Let’s not bother the bear.”
“Guess we’ve had enough excitement for the morning. Are you ready to sit down and eat lunch?” Marcus asked.
“Yes. I’m starving.”
After they had finished their lunch, they continued eastward, turning slowly to the south. Suddenly, both Nicole and Marcus stopped. They heard the rattlers, and Sierra started growling.
“Hush, girl.” Nicole patted Sierra on the head to quiet her.
Marcus looked around until he found what looked like a small cave and there was what looked like a potful of rattlesnakes.
“Let’s head east a bit, away from the rattlers and then we’ll go south again,” Marcus suggested, his voice was soft.
“Okay. They looked like baby rattlers,” she whispered.
“There was a family of them.”
“You know, sometimes I go hiking, and I’m lucky if I see a rabbit or a deer. Other times it seems as if the mountain is teeming with life and I see it all over.”
“Do you just not see the wildlife or are you not attuned to it?” Marcus asked.
“Well, I guess I’m not as attuned to it as you are. That’s why I take Sierra with me. Did you learn to become that aware of things around you or did it come naturally?”
“I learned it. Just because I’m Native American doesn’t mean these processes just happens to be there. I’ve spent years climbing and hiking the Rockies and learning to listen to nature. Nicole, stop.”
She spun around and looked at him. Suddenly, Sierra took off running back the direction where they came from. Soon she was barking. Marcus and Nicole went back to see what it was. Sierra was chasing the black bear away from them.
“Is that the same bear we saw this morning?” Nicole asked.
“It looks like it. He must be hungry and following the food source.”
“Well, Sierra will run him off a long way. It was pretty close.”
“Yes, it was. That’s why I think it was following us. We’ll have to be extra careful tonight when we settle down. I have visions of black bears lying on top of me while I sleep.”
“Think of sugar plums instead.” Nicole smiled.
They continued walking, and eventually, Sierra came back and caught up with them. Nicole turned slightly and saw that Marcus had walked up closely behind her, and she saw his shoulders. More than anything in the world, she wanted to hug him, and be hugged by him. She wanted to lay her head on his shoulders and listen to his heartbeat. She wanted to feel his strong arms around her, holding her close. She wanted to hold his hand as they walked through the mountainside. She let out a small sigh. Life just didn’t seem fair to her. He hasn’t made any kind of romantic move toward her. When he touched her legs, it was strictly checking for injuries, although his hands on her thighs and across her ribs elicit a variety of different sensations.
Either she really was not very attractive, or he had great control over his feelings and emotions. Maybe the kiss they shared in his vehicle turned him off, totally. She ran like a coward, instead of staying and confronting him. Her lost since she didn’t bother to find out if he was married or not. Sometimes she felt like her life was totally screwed. Miss opportunities and lonely nights.