"How long will you be staying with us, Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan?" The front desk clerk's well trained hospitality helped ease an uncomfortable moment.
"We have reservations for four nights, but we aren't sure yet how long we'll be staying," Mike answered, looking first at the clerk and then at his wife, Mandolin.
"Might be more, might be less."
Mandolin nodded her agreement and smiled, but the cheer never reached her eyes. The strain and tears of the last several months hung heavily under her brow and exhaustion prevented any efforts to make a good show of it.
After explaining the hotel amenities and the restaurant hours, the clerk handed Mike their key cards and circled their room on a hotel map.
"We hope you have a wonderful stay with us here at the Old Faithful Snow Inn. Just let us know if there is anything you need."
"Thank you," answered Mandolin as she and Mike pulled their rolling suitcases away from the desk and down the hall.
Their room on the first floor of the hotel was quaint and understated. Mandolin's penchant for rustic mountain decor found satisfaction in the room's peaceful ambiance and it began her knotted nerves to a slow unwinding.
Her gaze found the mountain of snow piled in front of their window. As she stared, she became lost in last year's hurts that were heaped as high as the snow. A deep inhale and a slow exhale punctuated her worry that they were in real trouble and her fear that they were too far spent.
Mike unpacked his suitcase, waiting for her to speak first. When she remained standing at the window he finally interrupted her,
"Pastor Steven said we needed to get away and spend the time together that we've neglected all these years. What do you say we take a walk?"
He extended his hand to her and for a moment she hesitated, afraid of taking this step. Conviction that she should not surrender to hopelessness pushed her arm forward and placed her hand in his.
Stepping out into the cold afternoon air they began the walk to Old Faithful Geyser. Early May in Yellowstone meant few crowds and the majestic silence of the snow covered mountains stirred the sensation that they were tiny compared to the vastness of creation.
Taking the path around the time-tested and accurate geyser brought them within arm's length of vivid blue boiling pots and sulfur laden springs. Walking on, they came within several yards of buffalo herds brought back from near extinction and saw wolf prints in the volcanic mud. "Beware of Bears" signs kept them watchful, but peace settled itself between them and a conduit of love began to grow again though their fingertips.
They came to a full circle on the path and joined the small crowd seated awaiting the next eruption from the mineral crusted fissure in the earth's surface. It began as a small exhale of steam and low bubbling, then rose to a towering crescendo high in the sky. A misty blanket of fog emanating from the fountain formed ice crystals on their hair and eye lashes as the frigid air froze the droplets solid.
Laughing, Mike gently wiped away the tiny jewels twinkling on Mandolin's lashes. Looking up at Mike, she smiled, and for the first time in many months her mouth shared its joy with her eyes.
A sense of hope encircled them in the form of creation's splendor. The awe of it seemed to shrink the painful memories and Mike and Mandolin felt consumed by its wonder.
Those initial sweet moments turned into days of getting reacquainted. Hope's seed took root and flourished. The moments both unfolded slowly and passed too quickly. Four days turned into ten, and even then, there was no wish to leave. But, the obligations of life called for their return and the time to go was upon them.
They took their last stroll around Old Faithful, arms around each other, tears in their eyes for the beauty they'd discovered around them and found once again in each other. They vowed to never again forget that they were part of a story long ago written nor disregard the love they shared.
Upon leaving, the clerk took care of their bill with a smile and a wink; their new joy was contagious. They bid farewell, a loving couple once more, not the strangers who had arrived.
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