He stood before me, unabashed, hands in his pockets. A crooked smile lifted one side of his lips ever so slightly. If it hadn't been for the gleam in his eyes, I would have called it a smirk.
"Um," I started to speak, but wasn't sure exactly what to say. He startled me, and he was invading my private spot. At least I thought it was hidden away enough so no one would ever stumble upon it, as he apparently had.
"Don't be upset." His look cut through my chest and laid the flesh back, exposing my heart like that of a field dressed deer.
Upset? All I'd said was "um". Was I that transparent? My legs trembled. I placed my hands firmly on each knee, pushing down on them with a determined shove. My heart continued beating. Strange, hearts of slain deer don't usually beat, I thought. Mine was doing double time.
I looked at his plaid shirt and well-worn jeans. He seemed normal enough, in a non-menacing way. No bow and arrows, or gun in hand. Still, my trembling reached the point of shivers, and I'm sure my eyes looked much like a deer's would have before facing death.
"You don't have to be afraid, either," he said, making himself comfortable on a boulder at the river's edge.
This was my favorite spot. The river ran along the back of my woods and out into the countryside, providing lots of other spots for him to stumble upon.
"This..." I cleared my throat. "This is where I come to pray. Alone." My voice shook, ruining my attempt to sound firm and in control.
"I know." His voice was soft and gentle, like the flowing stream close to my feet. "I've seen you here before."
His eyes held mine, breaking down my defensive spirit. "I like to canoe everyday, but I usually portage around this spot, so I don't disturb you."
I sat on the sandy shore, surrounded by massive boulders. The secluded alcove was just large enough to spread out a blanket. Evergreens and birch trees flanked the rocks, and stood like protective sentinels up and down the riverbank. All this time I thought I'd been alone, except for the deer.
"Then why are you here? I don't..." I looked down, breaking free from his gaze.
"Because," he interrupted, "I found out what happened to you, and I thought it was time to let you know you don't have to go through this on your own. My name is Jordan Blake." He pointed down stream. "I live the next mile over."
After a personal tragedy devastated my life, the river became my friend, and I spent most of my time at the water's edge hiding from society. Just me and the river. I wanted it that way--at least I thought I did.
I squinted at the figure sitting across from me on my boulder. I had a neighbor? Who knew about me? Who cared? As hard as I tried, I couldn't stop the warm rivulets making their way to my exposed heart. But I felt them cleansing, mending, as only tears can.
I patted the blanket. Jordan accepted my gesture, and sat beside me. His deep, calming voice pulled my heartache out into the open, and I faced what had sent me into seclusion.
Later, he took my hands and prayed with me. That's when I realized I no longer wanted to be alone. There was a stillness when we finished, and I thought I heard a faint "Amen". I looked at the river and smiled. It had known all along.
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