Six days of unusually foul weather delayed Miranda and Jeremy’s climb up Hawk Mountain. So, they were determined to take advantage of the first clear sky and warm sun. After parking the car in the gravel lot beside the rain-swollen muddy river that ran through the state’s largest nature preserve, Miranda and Jeremy stood at the trailhead.
Peering through the overgrown brush in search of the footpath beside the roaring waterfall, Miranda spun to Jeremy. “Think we can make it all the way to the top?”
“I know I can,” he called back.
Always ready for a challenge, physical or otherwise, Miranda said, “First one to the overlook wins.”
“What does the winner get?” Jeremy asked.
“Whatever she wants. The loser cannot refuse any demand.”
“She?” Jeremy replied, “What about he?”
“You gotta beat me for that to happen. Deal?” Miranda teased.
“Deal,” Jeremy agreed.
Instantly, Miranda charged up the incline, her hiking boots kicking up loose stones on the trail. Swatting away the brush and saplings that arced across the path, she could hear Jeremy scrambling behind her. After surveying the next fifty feet, Miranda bounded closer to the stream that fed the churning waterfall. Though the rocks were damp and slick, Miranda was surefooted and didn’t miss a step.
At one point, she spied Jeremy out of the corner of her eye as he ran the center of the trail and passed her. Miranda leapt over the stream and climbed the boulders that a primordial glacier had deposited there when it cut the gap between Hawk Mountain and its twin across the river, Lookout Point.
Jeremy smiled while Miranda grasped the large rocks trying to gain a foothold. Soon, Jeremy was a good thirty feet ahead of Miranda. Unfazed, she concentrated on surmounting the cluster of massive round stones. At one point, Jeremy called out, “Remember, anything I want!”
“In your dreams,” Miranda yelled back.
The incline began to level out as they neared the midpoint to the summit. Jeremy reached a small plateau and followed the trail as it swerved to the right behind a thicket of tall oak trees. Miranda looked up but could no longer see Jeremy. Jumping from a colossal granite boulder, she ran alongside the stream as it snaked down from the top. The dense canopy of leaves began to thin and blue sky shown more and more through the openings. Miranda knew she was close.
Near a large elm that had fallen and now lay on the ground, its decaying trunk a carpet of verdant moss, Miranda stepped into the stream and plodded her way forward. The force of the water pushed against her boots and bare ankles, but she persevered.
In minutes, she stood calf deep in the cold mountain stream. A chill traversed her overheated body and it felt good. A quick glance revealed she had perhaps another forty feet until she reached Sunrise Pond at the top.
The snapping of brush and twigs that Miranda knew to be Jeremy racing up the trail suddenly stopped and she smiled. Still midstream, Miranda followed the water until it splashed over a congregation of rocks she recognized to be the natural dam at the western end of Sunrise Pond. With a final push, she mounted the boulders and stood atop the peak. The hot summer sun warmed her face and body as she sat on the dam awaiting Jeremy.
He soon appeared through a break in the undergrowth. Miranda laughed at the sight of Jeremy emerging from the trail, his legs plastered with mud from knee to boot sole.
“What took you so long?” Miranda called to her bewildered boyfriend.
Jeremy drew close. “You knew about the trail, huh? Smart ass.”
“Yep. Happens every time after heavy rains. The bog just below here floods and overtakes the trail. Great for cattails and frogs, but not hikers,” Miranda roared.
“I gotta get this mud off me,” Jeremy said while sitting on a rock to untie his slimy bootlaces.
“Oh, the mud isn’t all you’re going to take off,” Miranda smiled.
Jeremy spun, “What?”
“Our bet,” she told him.
“Damn!” Jeremy groaned.
“Don’t worry,” Miranda said. “It’ll be fine.”
Jeremy slipped off his boots and socks and edged into Sunrise Pond where he ran his hands over his legs. The mud silently mushroomed into clouds beneath the surface of the crystalline pool. With his legs clean, Jeremy turned to exit the knee-deep water.
“Not yet,” Miranda said. “Take off your clothes. All of them.”
“Are you crazy?”
“No. We agreed,” she reminded Jeremy.
“No way!” he responded.
“Okay,” Miranda said. “But if you don’t keep your word. Then no sex for us…for a week.”
“You couldn’t last that long,” Jeremy countered.
“I said no sex for us. I didn’t say none for me,” Miranda snapped with a laugh.
“Hey!” Jeremy grumbled.
“Then take them off.”
He unbuttoned his denim shirt and tossed it to Miranda who caught it and draped it on the rock beside her. Next came the black tee shirt. The sun glistened on his perspiration-misted body. Jeremy unbuckled his belt and then stepped from his hiking shorts, lifting one leg at a time to keep them from getting any wetter. They too flew across to Miranda, who said, “And the briefs.”
Before the last step, Jeremy scanned the hilltop clearing in every direction. Seeing no other hikers, he slipped the final piece of clothing off. Standing stark naked, he held up his arms in a triumphant vee, waving those gray briefs like a semaphore.
“Wonderful,” Miranda smiled. “Now, splash yourself with water.”
The afternoon sun turned his tan body into a bronze statue. His dark curly hair shimmered. The cold water had its effect on him, but Miranda didn’t mind because she knew intimately what he was really like.
“Run your hands over your body – everywhere,” Miranda directed.
As Jeremy complied, Miranda stood and began removing her clothes, carefully piling them atop his. Soon, they stood naked facing one another; Jeremy thigh deep in the cold mountain pond, Miranda a goddess on a nearby stone pedestal. Backlit by the sun, her hair glowed like a golden crown. With the bright sun behind her head, Jeremy could only see Miranda’s silhouette. “Not fair,” he called out.
“Who won?” Miranda replied. Jeremy said nothing. So, she repeated, “Who won?”
“You did,” Jeremy conceded, feigning resentment. “Now can I get out and get dressed?”
“You can get out…” Miranda offered with a smile.
She took his hand at the pond’s edge and led him to a large patch of foxtail grass. “Lie down,” Miranda said. “Put your head over there.”
Miranda straddled the prone Jeremy, easing herself onto him until their bodies aligned perfectly. She rocked slowly; her breasts catching the dappled sunlight. Jeremy’s hands grasped her hips pulling her closer and then lifting her, all syncopated to the rhythm they had developed over their years together.
In minutes, they achieved the satisfaction both sought. Miranda fell forward onto Jeremy’s chest. They smiled. They embraced. They kissed. In that dreamlike state that follows such carnal pleasure, Jeremy heard a distant but growing hum. “What’s that?” he whispered in Miranda’s ear.
Both looked to the south where the noise originated. It was a ranger plane on one of its low-flying flights over the state park to monitor forest conditions and any flooding along the river. As it approached, Miranda attempted to break away and dash for her clothes. Jeremy held her tight. “Oh, no. We’re in this together,” he said.
“Jer, let go.” Miranda squirmed.
“Nope,” he chuckled, his arms coiled around Miranda’s nude torso.
The dull green single engine prop plane soared overhead, close enough to read the registry number on its wing. Then it droned past, heading north to the state line until its engine could no longer be heard.
“You’re bad,” Miranda joked.
“If they saw anything, it was your ass, not mine.”
Miranda playfully slapped Jeremy’s shoulder and then kissed him again.
All of a sudden a loud roar ripped the air. Miranda and Jeremy turned to see that same plane returning, this time flying so low it looked as though it might clip the treetops. It headed straight for them. As it approached, the pilot dipped the wings in a wave, then banked off to the west and disappeared into the bright sunlight.
“Well,” Miranda said, “there’s no doubt he saw us.”
“Just jealous,” Jeremy smiled.
Giddy as kids who filched apples from a neighbor’s tree, Miranda and Jeremy dressed. The leisurely hike back down to their car was not competitive. They walked hand in hand, knowing they had enjoyed another new adventure. Leaving the trail, Miranda and Jeremy crossed the road to the parking lot.
The sound of gravel crunching beneath tires broke the natural stillness as they neared their car.
“Hey folks,” came from a green pickup, its door emblazoned with the State Park Ranger insignia.
“Hello,” Miranda smiled back, hoping his presence was simply coincidental.
“Have a nice hike?” the sandy-haired man asked while leaning out the driver’s side window.
“Yes,” they responded in unison.
“Great. Enjoy the rest of your day,” the ranger grinned as he released the clutch.
“Thanks,” Miranda said, relieved their mountain top escapade had gone unreported.
“Oh,” the ranger called out as he departed, “our surveillance pilot says thanks for brightening her day.”
Michael Anthony is a writer and artist living in New Jersey. He has published fiction, poetry, and illustrations in literary journals and commercial magazines. Recently these include Scarlet Leaf Review, Bull & Cross, Storyland, and Burnt Pine Magazine. The American Labor Museum exhibited Michael’s photojournalism essay on the waning of the textile industry.