She stood and stared out at the world, debilitated and hopeful, all the same. One by one, lights snapped into existence above and below her as the horizon began to slowly fade into the darkening violet curtain. “Oh, ‘scuse me,” an old man chuckled as he nearly tripped into her, “It’s getting pretty dark, miss, might want to head down soon.”
“You’re so sweet,” she said with a big, genuine smile, cocking her head slightly, her long, brown hair bouncing with the same liveliness as her smile, “I will be soon, thank you. It’s all just so beautiful. Makes it hard to walk away from.”
“Yeah,” he blushed, as anyone who sees Christina’s smile usually does. Caught off guard by more than just a grunt or dismissive remark, he continued, “It never gets old… I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up this mountain on the same path to see the same view at the same time of day. They say every sunset is the same as the last, but I haven’t seen two alike in the thirty years I’ve lived here.”
“I can only imagine… Have you always hiked alone?”
“No, I used to bring my dog before he passed. Sharp as a tack, that dog was, but clumsy as a drunken sailor. Poor thing’s eyes went long before he did. Got him right after my wife died when I started doing these hikes. I wanted to be just a smidge closer to her, if I could, but ironically, I didn’t want to come up alone… Too afraid of falling and being left to the rattlesnakes, I guess.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that,” she said with more genuine remorse than most could muster in a lifetime, “What was she like – your wife?”
“She was wonderful, my dear. Beautiful, long hair a lot like yours, eyes that gave me butterflies until the day she left, and strong as can be. Everybody was always on her good side, though I can’t say I ever found a bad side in her, despite what a pest I could be at times,” he chuckled, “What about you? Where’s your boyfriend?”
She laughed harder than she anticipated and was a bit embarrassed as she heard her faint echo repeating back to her a few seconds later, “He’s currently missing, and by that, I mean I don’t have one.”
“Eh, don’t worry. There’s plenty of time for all that. Lots of more romantic sunsets where this one came from. Besides you’re too radiant to just go for any man. You’ll know he’s the one when he only ever makes you brighter, and shows you off even on your worst days.”
“Ha, aww thank you. You’re very kind. Do you want me to join you to the bottom so you don’t have to be alone and left to the rattlesnakes?” They both laughed.
“No, thank you, my dear. I wouldn’t want to make Lauren jealous. Besides you’ve probably got a bit more to think about, and I figure it’s nearly my time anyways. This old body isn’t worth much anymore, and might do better to feed the coyotes in this barren desert.”
“Aww, don’t say that,” she giggled, “Well, have a good night and safe hike down.”
“Likewise, sweetheart. Don’t do too much thinking. There’s a lot of living left to do and it’s not as much fun if you know every step you’re going to take. Sometimes tripping is the good part. Goodnight.”
With that, he shuffled away down the side of the mountain and out of sight. Christina returned her eyes to the city streets, now seemingly more alive than when she had started her hike. She realized that she had a smirk that she couldn’t wipe off, and… Oh! She forgot to ask his name! Thinking that he might actually want to be alone, she didn’t bother to try and catch up to him. She had so many more questions to ask him… Maybe she would see him again and get to ask more about his wife and his dog.
She took in the view for a few more seconds and turned to head down the mountain. A sudden gust caught her by surprise, blowing debris up from the ground. Her eyes snapped shut, but not before some dust got caught on her contact. She continued walking while trying to use her eyelid to get the dust out of her eye. They were already dry from the arid desert air, and the added dust burned and caused them to tear up. She decided that she’d only wear her glasses on hikes after that.
About half way down the mountain, she had mostly recovered but could still feel some sand scratching her eye, and with the ever-darkening sky, it was getting harder to see the rocks and other ankle-twisting hazards. Another gust blew more dust into her eye, and as she took a step forward, her foot got caught on the underside of a sizeable rock, causing her to let out a helpless yelp.
“Easy there,” she was caught up by some warm arms attached to the voice, “You okay?”
“Yeah, it’s just some dust in my contacts. Should have worn my glasses,” she said, fist still stuffed in her eye. She blinked the last of the dust out and looked up, blushing slightly at the handsome, concerned gentleman. “Thanks for saving my life,” she said as they both laughed sheepishly.