Saturday, May 1, 2010

5-Devil Bug and the Volcano

© 2010 David’s Harp and Pen

Another unfair expectation placed on today’s Christian woman is superhuman athleticism. Besides the need to possess the intelligence of Madam Curie, the poise of Grace Kelly, the people skills of Eleanor Roosevelt, and the spirituality of Ruth Bell Graham, she must have the body and athletic skills of Jillian Michaels. No Christian would argue that physical fitness is a good and advantageous thing. However, the problem is that physical fitness for Christian women has to be in the form of daily trips the Y for at least three hours a day. (I wonder some times if the Y has a secret deal with churches in which they give the pastor kickbacks for every parishioner he sends their way.) For some of us, though, this is hard, not for a lack of motivation, but more a lack of coordination. Up until the time of Ryan’s arrival, it was hard for me to engage in any sort of physical activity, including brushing my teeth, without inflicting great bodily harm on myself and/or those around me. I’ll just be honest. I missed the time when gluttony was next to godliness.

I am not skinny-skinny, but I’m not fat, either. And because I was (and still am) a little klutzy, the idea of regular physical activity never appealed to me. After all, why would I want to schedule opportunities to do things that would only send me to the emergency room? Besides, I had always been able to maintain my ideal weight through the time-tested calorie-burning exercise of excessive worrying. One fateful trip with the boys to a nearby state park was going to change all that forever.

The boys invited me to go on a hike, which at the time, seemed like a perfectly harmless activity. It was Ryan, Shane, Bruno, Larry, and me. Larry was the third and final segment of my power trio of guy friends. Larry was the strong, silent type. He spoke a gazillion languages, including, but not limited to, Biblical Hebrew, Biblical Greek, Biblical Aramaic, Biblical Pig Latin, Vulcan, Klingon, and Wookie. He was also one of those people who could do it all and survive on next to no sleep. Besides learning new languages all the time, he was waiting tables, going to college part time, and starting his own recording studio. Oh, and he was also excessively godly. He was the one that always made sure I was being theologically correct. In fact, if he were any godlier, I wouldn’t be able to look at him unless he wore a veil and I wore sunglasses. Before anyone asks, no, there was never anything between Larry and me. He let it be known early on in any conversations with girls that God had called him to lifelong singleness. I thought it was a shame that God gave that calling to Larry and not Shane, because Shane could’ve really used it.

By that time, Ryan’s hand had healed completely. My foot had just come out of the cast, too, so I thought I would be fine. Also, Ryan was set to return to Ireland soon, so that would’ve been my last chance to spend any time with him. The self-conscious part of me told me to keep my distance from him, since I had not been able to be around him for any length of time without hurting him, hurting myself, saying something really stupid, or some combination thereof. As intimidated as I was by him, though, I couldn’t stay away. He was like that awful, fatal car crash on the interstate: I knew if I looked, I’d be emotionally scarred forever at the horrible carnage, yet I couldn’t take my eyes off it.

As I pulled into the parking lot by the hiking trail, I tried to psyche myself up to see Ryan.

“Okay, Margaret. Don’t speak unless spoken to. Giggle politely at everything he says. Don’t stare too long,” I told myself over and over again.

When I approached the four boys, they were huddled around Ryan’s mp3 player.

“This was the first worship song I recorded. My church in Ireland liked it so much, they put it in their regular Sunday morning rotation,” Ryan said.

From the first note of the song, I found myself transfixed. Oh dear! Not only did Ryan look like an angel, he wrote and sang like one, too. It wasn’t fair, considering how difficult it was for me already, to be composed and sound intelligent around men, to have a guy like Ryan around. However, as I listened to the song he wrote and sang in its entirety, I felt such a strange peace come over me, a sort of inner security and confidence I hadn’t experienced before. I thought I would perhaps float away; that was, until, Shane tapped me on the shoulder.

“Ah, Mags, are you alright?” Shane asked with a worried look on his face.

“Yes,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”

“Well, the way you were twirling around and staring into the sun and purring like a kitten just now. I’m surprised you didn’t fall over!”

“What are you talking about?”

“What I just said. It was like you were in another world or something. I kept calling to you, but you didn’t answer, so I came over and tapped you on the shoulder.”

“I wasn’t…are you sure?”

“Is there another Mags here?”

I turned beat red and excused myself to the ladies room at the visitors’ station.

“Oh, no!” I thought to myself. “Now my body and brain are acting independently of me and embarrassing me without my knowledge or consent.”

My cell phone rang. It was Brian, my editor from Worship and Warfare magazine. I answered the phone.

“Hello,” I said.

“Margaret, you struck gold! Your article about King David and the lifestyle of worship garnered the biggest reader response in the history of the magazine. Do you know what this means?” Brian asked excitedly.

I started walking back towards the boys as I talked to Brian on the phone.

“Ah, that I get to keep my job?” I answered.

“We want to give you your own column! The rest of the editors and I decided we want you to write a monthly segment geared towards our female readers. This will mean a pay raise and greater visibility for you, too. Let’s plan on discussing it in person when you come in to the office on Monday.”

When I walked outside, another song of Ryan’s was playing on his mp3 player. It was also wonderful and otherworldly sounding. As I got lost in the song, I found my eyes glued on Ryan, who was quite otherworldly himself. I didn’t know what was wrong with me. It had been well over a decade since I’d been in a relationship and just as long since I had even noticed guys, let alone liked one. Since Ryan showed up, though, I had about as much success keeping my eyes off him as my dog Bernie had keeping his eyes off squirrels.

“Margaret Ann Sims? Are you there?” Brian yelled, snapping me back to reality.

“Yes?” I answered.

“Have you heard a single word I’ve said?”

“Ah, yeah. My own article about women. That’s great. Thanks!”

“No, what I said after that.”

“You said something after that?”

“Margaret, what’s going on?”

I was about to answer, when I glanced back towards the boys. Somehow, in the short amount of time I’d looked away, they’d gone from listening to music to arm wrestling on the hood of Bruno’s car. Bruno and Ryan were in a gridlock, and Ryan’s ripped biceps and triceps glistened in the sun.

“Margaret,” Brian screamed, “are you even listening to me?”

“Eh, Brian, I need to go and, uh, crucify my flesh and take my thoughts captive. I’ll call you back in twenty minutes,” I said.

“Have you completely lost your mind?”

“You’re right. On second thought, I’ll call you back in an hour.”

I hung up the phone and rejoined the boys. As I approached Bruno’s car, Ryan looked at me and asked, “So, what do you think of my music?”

I froze. I had no idea how to answer. I didn’t want him to think I didn’t like his music, but I knew I couldn’t pay him a compliment without saying it all wrong.

“It was…” I hemmed and hawed.

“You liked it that much, ay?” he asked.

“No. I mean, yes. I mean, it was…groovy!”

All the guys started to laugh.

“There’s a word I’ve not heard in a long time,” Ryan chuckled.

“Groovy?” I thought to myself. “Margaret, that was the best you could think of? Great! Now he’s going to think I’m a stoner or something!”

“Hey, let’s get going. I’ve got to get back in time for work tonight,” Bruno said.

So we started our hike. Everything was fine until we had to go uphill. I was having trouble keeping up, mostly because, as I discovered, my foot was not as fully healed as I thought. It also didn’t help that I was an inexperienced hiker and the incline on the hills were around 270 degrees. I didn’t want to say anything, though, because I didn’t want the guys to think I was a girl or something. I started to question the wisdom of having guy friends in such great shape with negative 22% body fat.

“Mags, you’re falling behind,” Bruno yelled.

“I know, Bruno. I know,” I replied.

“You can do it, Margaret. Remember, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you,” Larry yelled to me.

“Thanks, Larry, but I don’t think Paul had this hill in mind when he wrote that,” I answered.

“Well, Jesus said if you have the faith the size of a mustard seed, you can say to the mountain, ‘Be removed and cast into the sea, and it will be done for you.’” Larry shot back.

“Yeah, but the nearest ocean is over eight hours away, and I’d hate for the mountain to have to travel that far,” I answered.

Poor Larry always meant well, but sometimes, he came across as patronizing.

“What’s the problem, Mags? We’re all wearing backpacks except Ryan and you still can’t keep up!” Bruno yelled.

“Well, my foot is bothering me, if you must know,” I yelled back.

“I’ll stay behind with Margaret. We’ll meet you all later at the end of the trail,” Ryan said.

“You’re a braver man than me, O,” Bruno yelled back. (The guys had started calling Ryan “O” for his last name, O’Loughlin.) Before I had a chance to protest, the power trio shot off ahead, leaving Ryan and me alone. I stared at him speechless, afraid to say anything. He looked at me strangely, then started to walk again, but slowly, so I could keep up.

“This is lovely. I know the others are in a hurry, but I like to take my time on the trails. Besides, it’ll give me a chance to get to know you better,” he said after an awkward silence. We walked a little further ahead. I was about to say something, when Ryan got a wild look in his eye and darted up a tree. I didn’t understand. I had driven men up walls before, but never a tree.

“Omeegosh, Margaret!”, he yelled to me. “I wish you could see this. The view is…oh, I can’t take my eyes off it.”

As I stared at him, I knew exactly what he meant.

“Here. Give me your hand. I’ll pull you up,” he said.

“No, I better not. It’s kind of …” I tried to get it out, but before I could finish saying it, he went ahead and pulled me up. He pulled me right next to him on the tree limb and we looked out on the valley below us. Oh, it was beautiful!

“I haven’t taken the time to be out in nature as much as I like. I get so busy doing I forget about the being, you know?” he asked.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” I answered.

“I read your last few articles for that magazine of yours, and I just wanted to ask you. How do you get inspired?”

“Well, it depends on…” I started to say when I heard a cracking noise. It appeared the limb we were sitting on was about to give way.

“Oh no! Quick! Follow me!” Ryan shouted as he hopped to an adjacent limb that was higher up in the tree.

Sure, I thought. Follow him. Easier said than done. Why did I have to have a crush on Tarzan?

“No, I think I’ll just try to make my way down,” I replied.

“C’mon. I won’t let you fall,” he answered.

Obviously, he didn’t know me very well. Even God had trouble keeping me from falling.

“Check out the view from here, Margaret,” he yelled again as he leaped to yet another limb. He kept his hand outstretched to me, but I was too nervous to take it again. Maybe he wasn’t a man after all. Maybe Ryan was really a spider monkey.

By the time I had made my way down to the ground, Ryan had made his way up and down five more trees. These Irishmen were certainly spry. I looked around and searched the tops of all the trees in the area until, out of nowhere, Ryan appeared in front of me.

“Aggghhh!” I screamed. Ryan rubbed his ears.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I did it again,” I moaned.

“No worries. I’m getting used to it,” Ryan replied. I stared at him for a moment, but couldn’t tell if he was joking or if he was serious.

“So, back to my question. How do you get inspired to write?” he asked again.

“Oh, yeah. Well, when it comes to writing, I’m a little strange…”

“We’ve already established that,” he cut in. Again, I couldn’t tell if he was joking or serious, and I could feel that horrible self-consciousness start to creep in again.

“So, ah, yeah. I mean, most writers I know say they need to be alone somewhere to get ideas and all, but I need to be around people. I mean, most writing is about relationships, right? I mean, even when I’m writing about God, a lot of how I experience and view God has come from my relationship with other people, you know what I mean?”

“No, what do you mean?” I looked at him and tried to speak, when I got hit again with brain freeze and tongue lock. After a few awkward seconds, he winked at me and clicked his tongue.

“That’s interesting. When I write, I always mole-hole myself away because I think other people are going to distract me. Maybe I’ve been wrong all this time, you think?” he said.

“Oh, I don’t know. I’m just talking about getting my inspiration. I mean, once I get my ideas and my inspiration, then I get alone to actually write it down. Having people around are great for helping me get creative, but when it comes to getting actual work done, they can be counter-productive and really annoying,” I blurted out.

Ryan just stared at me for a moment.

“That’s not what I mean. I mean…oh, I don’t know what I mean, do you know what I mean?” I rambled.

“Yeah, but I don’t think you really mean it,” he answered. Again, I didn’t know if he was joking or serious. My thoughts began to drift rapidly towards self-depreciation as the sun drifted towards the western horizon. I began to wish that there were some way I could know what he was going to say ahead of time, like a day in advance, so I could have intelligent responses prepared. Before I could think about it too long, though, he was up another tree and began to watch the sun as it started to set, and in a split second, he had again grabbed me and pulled me up to sit next to him on the tree limb.

“Look at that, Margaret. Oh, I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of watching that. You know, I’ve been in church my whole life, been on the platform leading worship as long as I can remember, but for every killer worship service, every revival, whatever you want to call them, I never feel closer to God in those four walls than I do out here, because when I’m outside, just Him and me, and I’m surrounded by His handiwork, I just get this feeling deep down in my gut that this is how He’s always meant it to be, you know? That’s when all the walls come down and all I’ve got is my relationship with Him; if He can make all this, imagine what He could make out of a hooligan like me,” he said.

I didn’t know what to say, but when I listened to him, I realized for the first time that he was as gorgeous inside as he was outside, and from that point forward, I would be completely helpless against his powers.

“Wow, God!” I prayed silently. “He’s the real thing.” At that moment, my cell phone rang. It was Bruno. Leave it to him to ruin a good moment like this.

“Hello?” I answered.

“Where are you guys?” Bruno asked.

“Umm, where are we?” I asked Ryan.

“Eh…I don’t know. I don’t remember seeing any markers recently,” he replied.

“He doesn’t know where we are,” I told Bruno.

“Put your phone on speaker so I can talk to both of you.” I put my phone on speaker as Ryan got down from the tree and then helped me down.

“Have you crossed the creek yet?” Bruno asked.

“No,” Ryan answered, “but I can see it straight ahead of us.”

“Oh, come on!” Bruno jeered. “You haven’t crossed the creek yet? Tell me, do you expect to get here any time before Jesus comes back?”

“Jesus said that no man knows the day or the hour,” Larry said in the background. Even though I couldn’t see Bruno, I swore I heard him roll his eyes at Larry.

“Sorry, Man,” Ryan said. “We’ve just been taking our own sweet time and enjoying the view.”

“You mean Mags has been poking around and talking your ear off? Has she driven you crazy yet?” Bruno shot back.

“No, but she has driven me up a few trees,” Ryan replied. Bruno and Ryan laughed. Ryan took the phone off speaker and the two continued to talk to discuss shortcuts we could take to meet them faster. My mind, however, started to race.

Oh no! I thought to myself. He kept climbing those trees to get away from me. He does think I’m annoying.

Ryan got off the phone with Bruno and handed it back to me.

“Bruno told me about a few shortcuts we could take, but they’re steep, and I don’t know if you can handle them with your foot. I told him we’d stay on the main trail. He said they’d wait for us. He thinks he can get his buddy to cover for him on his patrol until he gets back.

My mind continued racing, playing back those insecurities with which I am all too familiar. I was still thinking that he wanted to get away from me when he climbed those trees. At that point, I began to think that he had stayed behind with me just out of pity for me. It was all so maddening that I had to say something or I just knew I would burst.

“Look, you don’t have to do this!” I blurted out nervously.

“Do what?” he asked.

“You didn’t have to stay behind with me. I know you did it just to be nice, but it’s really not necessary.”

“Why would you say that?” he asked.

“Well, it’s obvious I’ve been slowing you down all this time. I can always catch up with you later,” I answered.

“I can hike trails in Ireland anytime I want. I’ll only be here with you for a short time.” I didn’t know what he meant by that, exactly. It didn’t dawn on me, at the time, that maybe he meant exactly what he said.

“Really, you’re too kind. I’ll be fine.”

“Now, what kind of man would I be to leave you all alone in the woods?”

“It’s no big deal, really. Besides, I know the guys are getting antsy.”

“I’m not leaving you.”

“Please, I don’t mind. You don’t have to be polite on my account.” Ryan then looked straight at me, and I couldn’t quite discern the exact look he had in his eyes. It was some strange mixture of irritation, chivalry, and mischief.

“Are you questioning my honor?” he asked as he moved closer to me. His question caught me off guard, and I began to back away from him.

“Ah, no. I just don’t want to slow you down or make you feel like you’re stuck behind with me,” I replied nervously.

“Well, first of all, no one makes me do anything I don’t want to do. Secondly, I don’t say things I don’t mean just to be nice. That’s very un-Irish,” he said in an urgent yet subdued tone as he continued to walk towards me and I continued to back up. At this point, I had no idea what he was thinking.

“Of course it is…isn’t,” I stuttered. I was certain he was going to hit me in the head with a tree limb and leave me there in the forest to be carried away by fairies.

“But if you must know the truth, I did have another reason for staying behind with you. Your buddies have told me all sorts of interesting things about you, so part of me just had to find out for myself.”

“The guys? Said nice things? About me?” I asked, right before I backed onto a rock and tripped. Fortunately, I didn’t fall down. I just kept backing up. Ryan didn’t miss a beat.

“I didn’t say they were nice things. I said they were interesting. But, yeah, they said a lot of nice things, too,” he continued.

“I can’t believe it.”

“Why not?”

“Because Bruno always tells me I’m so dumb I could screw up cornflakes, and Shane says if I was any spacier I could work for NASA.”

“So are you calling me a liar now?” Ryan asked, his temper flaring a little, but still mixed with enough mischief that I couldn’t tell if he was really angry or just pulling my leg. Not knowing made me even more nervous.

“No, no, not at all. It’s just…ah…well…” I tried to finish talking, but my tongue was now tied to the point I would need to have it untied surgically.

“And since I’m all about telling the truth, I’ll tell you I’ve wanted a chance to talk to you alone ever since I met you. You’re rather a mystery to me.”

“I’m a mystery?” I asked. He stood still for a moment and looked into my eyes.

“I’ve never met a girl like you before. And I’m having trouble believing the girl who tried to cut off my hand with her car door and the one who writes those magazine articles and worship songs are the same person. Whenever I’m around you, you act like you’ve just seen a ghost. It seems like when you see me coming, you run in the opposite direction. You write these incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking essays in your magazine, but then, when I try to talk to you, you can’t put two words together!”

“Intelligent and thought-provoking? You really think that about my writing?” I asked, a little starry-eyed.

“There you go again! I wouldn’t have said it if I didn’t mean it! Do you question everything everyone says, or is it just me?” he asked, moving towards me again, causing me to move backwards again.

“Eh…just you,” I answered without thinking.

“And why is that?” he asked. The expression on his face gave told me he was either going to burst into a murderous rage or uproarious fits of laughter, and, once again, not knowing was killing me.

“Eh…your guess is as good as mine,” I replied, not knowing what else to say. He backed me into a tree, leaned into my face, and placed his hands on the tree on either side of my head.

“So now that we’re alone, I have to know: what’s going on in that pretty little head of yours?” He asked, his eyes glaring into mine. I was about to answer, when all of a sudden, I heard a buzzing noise. I looked above me, and hanging from the tree limb was a hive of some kind. Out of the hive emerged the biggest, ugliest bug I’d ever seen. Ryan looked up, saw the bug, and pulled me behind him.

“That’s the scariest looking insect I’ve ever seen,” he said.

“That’s not an insect,” I replied, shaking. “That’s Satan with wings and antennae!” The devil bug began to swirl around my head, like he was an evil witch doctor looking for a stupid virgin to sacrifice to the angry volcano god. I started to back away.

“Stay behind me!” Ryan yelled.

“No! It’s bad enough you got your hand mangled and suffered short-term hearing loss and had to carry me up all those stairs. If you don’t make it back to Ireland in one piece, I’ll never forgive myself,” I shot back as I inched towards the trail.

“I’m trying to be chivalrous here, and you’re cramping my style,” he said as he got in front of me again. Devil bug then made a daring lunge towards my forehead. As he bit me, I smacked him and smeared devil bug parts all over my forehead. I thought I was out of the woods until I heard the roar of what sounded like a thousand jet engines coming from the direction of the hive. I looked up, and to my horror, saw a legion of angry devil bugs heading right towards me. I started to scream and ran away.

“Aggggghhhhhhh!” I yelled as I suddenly scaled the hill like it was just a speed bump. I found energy and agility I didn’t know I had, not only outrunning the insect kamikazes bent on my destruction, but even leaving Bruno, Larry, and Shane in the lurch.

“Was that Mags?” Shane asked as I sped past. “And what was that weird black cloud following her?” Even though I was in fear for my life, I began to feel proud of myself at my newfound strength and speed. I started to think maybe I wasn’t such a klutz after all. Unfortunately, my sense of athletic accomplishment distracted me from the low-lying tree limb directly in front of me. Boom!

Running head first into what I assume was a tree limb with murderous intentions had knocked me unconscious, so I of course am unaware of what happened after my fateful meeting with that tree limb. Knowing that I could trust him to tell me what happened, I asked Larry about the events that took place afterwards, so rest assured knowing that the accuracy of the following is on par with that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Not only was I knocked unconscious but my forehead had split open and blood was flowing everywhere. When the four guys caught up to me, Ryan took his shirt off and used it to bandage my head while Bruno called 911 on his cell phone. The emergency operator said to carry me to the next mile marker where the ambulance could get me. Larry said he was very worried. Not in a fearful, doubting way, he said, since he knew God would watch out for me, but in a manner fitting and proper for a brother in Christ to show for a sister in the LORD. (As hard as it is being me, I imagine being Larry for even a second would be absolutely draining.)

Since Ryan was the only one not wearing a backpack, he picked me up and carried me all the way to the next mile marker. Bruno looked at him and asked, “Are you sure you’re okay?”

Ryan answered, “Yeah, I’ve got her all right. Remember, I have practice.” Everyone laughed, except Larry who didn’t see anything funny about the situation. Larry rarely sees the humor in anything.

“I feel terrible. I think I was a wee bit too hard on her,” Ryan said.

Bruno answered, “No, don’t you back down! You have to be hard with Margaret. It’s the only way to get through that thick skull of hers!”

“Has she always been like this?” Ryan asked.

“Like what? You mean accident prone and lost in space? Yes. It’s an amazing phenomenon.”

“Her head looks awful,” Ryan said.

“Don’t worry. This isn’t her first concussion,” Bruno chuckled.

“It’s not even her seventh concussion,” said Shane.

Concerned, Ryan asked, “How often does she hurt herself?”

Bruno answered, “Let me put it to you this way: she’s been to the emergency room so many times, she gets her own group discount!” Bruno and Shane started to laugh uncontrollably.

Bruno continued, “I’m a cop, so I’m very friendly with the emergency room staff at Davidson County Memorial. Nine times out of ten, when Mags needs to go the ER, she calls me. Right before she got her foot caught in that bear trap, the head of the ER calls me, and he says, ‘Margaret’s not been to the ER in over a month! Is everything okay? Is she still alive?’”

Larry said, “I don’t think that’s very funny at all. You two have too much fun at Margaret’s expense.”

Bruno said, “Oh, knock it off, Larry. She knows we wouldn’t tease her if we didn’t like her.”

Ryan said, “That’s funny. When I told her you all spoke well of her, she didn’t believe me.”

Larry answered, “Well, the Word does say we shouldn’t think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Even I admit Margaret takes that verse too literally.”

Bruno said, “You have to understand, Ryan. You can’t pay Mags too many compliments. If I told her how much I thought of her, she’d let it go right to her head, and then she’d get the wrong idea. You know how women are.”

Ryan answered, “You’ve not had a lot of experience with women, have you, Bruno?”

Shane laughed and said, “Thanks, Ryan, for confirming what I’ve thought about Bruno all along.”

Bruno shot back, “Come on, Shane. You’re no better.”

Shane said, “Oh, please! I tell Mags all the time how wonderful she is. At least I think I do. I mean, I know I’ve paid her at least one compliment in all the years I’ve known her, I think.”

Larry said, “I tell her every chance I get how much I think of her, because the Word says we’re to build up our brothers and sisters in Christ, just so long as I stay within the confines of Biblical propriety.” Bruno, Ryan, and Shane all stared at him at him in disbelief.

Bruno turned to Ryan and said, “Something you’ll learn about Mags real fast, O, is, yeah, her foot’s in her mouth more than it’s on the ground, but her heart’s in the right place, even though she’s dislocated her head. I mean, what she’s missing in common sense and coordination, she more than makes up in loyalty. Last year, when I got shot on the job, she drove me around to all my doctor appointments, did all my grocery shopping, cooked all my meals, everything.”

Shane said, “Yeah, and when my grandfather died and I couldn’t afford to fly home, she cashed in all the frequent flyer miles she’d been saving to go to Italy and gave me a plane ticket so I could go to his funeral.”

Larry said, “Not only that, but she goes to the nursing home every other Sunday and leads a service at the homeless shelter once a month. She doesn’t talk about the good things she does, especially for other people, because that’s the kind of person she is. Whenever someone is in need, she’s right there.”

Bruno said, “So we overlook the fact that she’s a train wreck on two legs, because, well, when it comes to Mags, they don’t come any sweeter.”

“But you never tell her that,” Ryan said.

“Absolutely not, because then she’d get a swelled head, and there’d be no living with her,” Bruno answered.

“Ah, speaking of swelling, she looks like she’s going to pop!” Shane said, rightfully concerned. By this time, we had reached the mile marker. Ryan set me down and noticed I was having trouble breathing.

“Oh, crap! I bet she’s having an allergic reaction to the bug bite,” Bruno noted.

Ryan said, “I know CPR. Call Emergency Services again and ask them what else we should do.” He was about to call 911 when a police officer and two medics came down the trail with a stretcher to meet us.

At this point I woke up and found that I was staring up at the sun. Ryan was shirtless and kissing me—or so I thought—it felt like I had a turban on my head, and I felt, well, puffy.

“The epi-pen works very fast,” I heard a strange man who turned out to be an EMT say.

“Don’t throw me in the volcano,” I mumbled. “I will not be his bride!”

“What’s she saying?” Bruno asked.

“Stop talking,” Ryan said as the medics hoisted me on to gurney. “Let the shot do its work.”

Still groggy, I asked Ryan, “What happened? Did I die and go to heaven?”

“No. You got bitten by a bug, chased by all his little friends, ran into a tree, split your forehead open, got knocked unconscious, then stopped breathing.”


“Yes, but I can understand why you’d confuse one for the other.”

I was too weak to laugh. I looked at him and said, “You must think I’m…oh, I don’t know what you must think.”

Ryan grinned and said, “Well, you have another three months to improve my opinion of you.”

“Three months? I thought you were leaving next week!”

“No. I got accepted into the worship arts internship. I’m not going anywhere anytime soon.” And, for a fleeting moment, I felt pure, unadulterated bliss despite the fact I had just fought with a tree and the entire insect population of Middle Tennessee. And lost. The moment was fleeting, however, when I was approached by the park ranger.

“Miss Sims?” He asked.

“Yes?” I asked.

“That insect you killed is an endangered species. I’m afraid I have to issue you a citation for $500,” he replied, and handed me a ticket. I don’t remember anything after that, but Larry said as the EMTs put me in the ambulance, I muttered something about my husband the volcano torching the park right before I passed out.

So, I had another three months to improve Ryan’s opinion of me. I didn’t think an entire lifetime would be enough for such a herculean task.

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