“Do you actually love me?”
He hesitated and she took that as an answer without waiting to hear what he had to say. It was raining, he was cold and he was following her up a mountain so that she could tick it off her list. If that wasn’t love he didn’t know what was.
He watched her walk on with aggressive steps until she was lost to his sight in the mist ahead. He shook his head wondering why he hadn’t just said yes. He did love her. He did. He only hesitated because he was trying to think of the right way to say it.
They’d been together one or two years. It was hard to know exactly. Should he start from the day they met, the day they first kissed, their first night together, the moment they admitted to friends that they were together, or maybe when they changed their status on social media to say that they were in a relationship – which Angie did three weeks before he did.
None of those and all of those could be seen as the start of their relationship but for Mark the moment that really mattered was when they met his mother.
It wasn’t planned. They were travelling to Bristol to visit friends and he decided to take a detour to show her Gloucester cathedral where he used to sing in the choir. Angie probably wouldn’t have been interested if the vaulted cloisters hadn’t been used in Harry Potter films.
They had seen the film locations and Mark was showing Angie his personal choir stall when he was startled to hear his mother’s voice.
“Mark. I didn’t know you were in Gloucester.”
“Mum. We’re just passing through. I wanted to show Angie where I used to sing.”
Mark’s mother turned to gaze at Angie.
“Have you heard him sing?”
“No. Not really.”
“You must. He was such a cute choir boy. And had such a wonderful voice.”
“I know. You would never guess would you? I’ll tell you what let’s get some drinks in the cafe and I’ll get them to play a recording.”
“Mum!” protested Mark.
Angie didn’t protest at all. She linked arms with his mother as if they’d know each other all their lives. He was left to walk alone in their wake, catching half sentences about embarrassing incidents from his childhood.
He was doing it again – following in Angie’s wake. He trudged up the path, which had become a small stream. He couldn’t hear her talking up ahead but that was hardly surprising as it was just the two of them. Everyone else had decided it was too wet to go mountain walking.
He got no reply. She was probably still miffed with him. Why did she ask him that, half way up a mountain in the rain, in the middle of a cold February day? That question should have been saved for when they were alone and snuggled together in bed.
The path was getting steeper with small waterfalls cascading over wet rocks. Mark’s foot slipped and he fell forward onto the ground with his head almost in the stream. Water took the opportunity to insinuate its way behind his neck and slide its icy fingers down his back.
He pushed himself upright. His hands were cold. He clenched his fists and water drops poured from his soaking gloves.
He called out louder this time. Still no response. He looked up. The mist had cleared slightly and he could see further up the gully. It narrowed and steepened. Not far in front of him was a larger waterfall that looked like it might be as tall as he was. Angie wasn’t in sight. She must have passed the waterfall already but Mark wasn’t sure how she would have done it.
He assumed there must be a path up the side that he couldn’t see from where he stood, but when he reached the waterfall there was no obvious path. The only way ascend was to climb up through the waterfall.
He wasn’t doing that. Maybe he didn’t love Angie as much as he thought. He wasn’t going to follow her through a freezing shower of melt water just so that she could reach the top today rather than coming back in the summer.
“Mark. What the heck are you doing up there?”
He looked down to see Angie.
“I thought you were ahead of me.”
“Don’t be daft. Why would I go up there?”
Mark was pleased that they were talking again but felt that the conversation was somehow not really within his grasp.
“Shall I come down to you?”
“Duh. Unless you want to kill yourself.”
It felt much steeper going down. Mark took it slowly, testing each foot before committing his weight to it.
“What were you doing?”
“I was just following you.”
“If you wanted to follow me you should have stuck to the path.”
Angie pointed. Mark with his head down hadn’t noticed that the path and the stream had diverged.
“You could have really hurt yourself up there.”
Mark nodded and stepped onto the path. His foot landed on a loose rock and slipped causing his full weight to come down on his ankle just as it twisted sideways. He toppled over.
He looked up at Angie whose face was full of concern.
“Well you can’t say I haven’t fallen for you,” he said.
She smiled and held out her hand to help him up.
Pain made him flinch.
“Are you okay?”
“I think I’ve sprained my ankle.”
“It’s not broken is it?”
“No. Just a bit sore. It’ll be alright. I’ll walk it off.”
Mark took a few hobbling steps.
“Maybe we should head back,” said Angie.
“No. I’ll be fine.”
“Here. Take the walking sticks.”
“Okay. Go on. I’ll follow. But no running.”
Each step was agony, even with the sticks. He tried to keep the pain out of his face, and tried to walk normally whenever Angie looked back. He saved his hobbles for when she turned away.
“How far is it?”
“Maybe an hour.”
Mark leant against a large boulder.
“I’m sorry Angie. I don’t think I can do it. My foot’s pretty bad. Why don’t I wait here?”
“You can’t do that. You’d freeze. And I don’t want to go on my own in these conditions. Come on let’s have a look. We’ll need to take your boot off.”
Mark managed to only let out a whimper of pain. His ankle was clearly swollen but he could still move it so they assumed it wasn’t broken. Angie helped him limp over to a rock next to an icy pool. The cold water numbed the pain. He hoped it would also reduce the swelling and make it easier to get his boot back on.
“I’m sure it will be fine if I go slowly. And once we can see the top I’ll turn round and start heading back down. You’ll soon catch me.”
“It’s a shame Dave’s not here.”
“Yeah. Then you could up with him, while I head down.”
“I meant as a physio. He’d know what to do with your ankle. I’ll give him a ring and see what he says.”
“I don’t think there’s much he can do up here.”
“No signal. I’ll call him on the way down once we get one.”
Mark waited until the pain of the cold water had overcome the pain from the injury. Angie dried his foot on her fleece and then helped to ease it back into his boot. Angie was insistent that they needed to head straight down.
It wasn’t easy and without sticks he wasn’t sure he would have been able to do it at all. Angie managed to get through to Dave who gave reassurance that the ankle was very unlikely to be broken and walking on it wasn’t going to do more harm even if it did hurt. He also said that the whole gang would come up to help them.
Mark and Angie continued to descend. They reached the tarn and sat at the edge of the water. Mark looked at Angie and suddenly knew what he wanted to say to her. They weren’t his own words but they expressed how he felt. He rehearsed them in his head and nervousness started to dry out his mouth. He took a sip of chocolate and three slow breaths. He had decided not just what to say but also how to say it.
Angie jumped up onto the rock and shouted.
“Look. It’s Dave and the others.”
“Where’s the invalid?” said Dave. “Come on mate, let’s see what’s up.”
Dave inspected Mark’s foot and then pulled some strapping from his back-pack. “This’ll provide some support. It’ll still hurt like hell but there’s nothing broken.”
The rain had stopped and small breaks appeared in the cloud. Diane unloaded a feast. Tanya contemplated taking a dip in the lake but even she wasn’t brave enough once she had felt the water temperature.
“Come on,” said Dave. “We ought to get moving before Mark seizes up.”
Mark reached over and took Angie’s hand. “Wait a moment. I want to tell you something.”
Angie waited but Mark didn’t speak.
“Go on then,” said Angie.
Mark looked around at the others who were packing things up ready to leave.
Angie pulled her hand out from his.
“If you’re not going to say it now we may as well get on.”
“Please,” said Mark.
Angie settled back down. Mark took a few calming breaths and then started to sing.
He began nervously and quietly, too aware of everyone nearby and not wanting them to hear. But when he saw the smile forming on Angie’s face he forgot everything and everybody except for her and the borrowed words that told so well how much he loved her.