by Rhonda L. Nolan

dedicated to Scott

She sat by the side of the ravine. Her legs were stretched before her although her arms were folded to protect herself from the crisp chill of the December wind. It was a beautiful day, with clear skies and just cold enough to invigorate one's soul. She loved the way the wind made goose bumps appear on her arms and legs. She felt alive. This day was almost enough to make her feel complete. But gazing upon the ravine was a blatant reminder of the emptiness she felt. The worn edges and muddy waters echoed through her mind memories of days past. And with those memories came the longing.

She wasn't ever able to fully understand why she felt the longing. She could never fully understand why she didn't feel complete. She seemingly had it all -- a good job, lots of friends, a quaint cottage on the top of the hill. Those who knew her envied what she seemed to possess a strength and a confidence that was almost intimidating. Many couldn't stare too long into her deep, dark eyes. The darkness brought upon them a chill much like the cold December air. It was as though her eyes went beyond her soul and into a large abyss filled with strange, bittersweet thoughts and a sadness that bordered on beauty. There was a secret within her that even she didn't know existed.

On this airy afternoon, she had returned to the place where she first felt the longing many years ago. It came upon her as a young girl, only thirteen, still young enough to be a child and yet old enough to feel the stirrings of the years to come. She always knew she was different from the others. She always knew her path would be broken and jaded and it wouldn't follow the road. Somewhere along that path would be another ravine, much like the one she sat before on this day.

The memories came upon her in a rush that almost made her dizzy. She could hear the laughter and voices of the other children around her. She could feel the old fear coming back to haunt her. It made her acutely aware of her self consciousness and the distance between her and the others. It was an old, faded pain that had been covered up by many years of distractions and passing time.

The ravine was filled with water then and the children referred to it as "the creek." The creek had seemed larger, longer and deeper as a child. As with many childhood landmarks, the place seemed so much smaller and less frightening now. The creek often flooded after a storm and this was the time when most would come out of their homes to enjoy the wet freshness after a hard summer rain. She loved to watch the waters swiftly rush past her and the idea of possibly falling in and being dragged along the current was uplifting. Despite their mother's warnings and pleas, the children often came to the creek to play.

The game was simply called "leap." No one knew who was the first to coin the phrase and no one knew exactly how the game came about to exist. It was a simple game in which the children would stand a few feet back from the creek, break into a starting run and then leap over the threatening waters to the other side.

Despite the coaxing of the others, she never played. Despite the other's success, she never leaped. She sat and she watched. But she never leaped.

Her legs weren't as strong as the others, her legs weren't as long. She was afraid if she leaped she wouldn't make it to the other side and would end up engulfed in a cesspool of questionable waters and hard, ugly cement. She longed to be like the others but she couldn't do it. She couldn't leap.

It was her thirteenth year when she first remembered seeing his face. It came to her from across the ravine and it came to her in her sleep. He was a young boy, with light hair and big inviting eyes. His smile was meant for her and her alone. He was there in her past and he was there in her future. He simply wasn't in her present.

She would often daydream and make up stories about his life. He was a mysterious little boy who lived across the creek. He was different from the others but she wasn't sure why. He had a big family unlike her own and she wanted to be part of it. He would hold her hand and she walked along the edge of the ravine. He would wave to her from across the darkness. He beckoned to her but she was afraid. She knew to get to him she would have to leap.

As the years went by his face would often fade but his spirit was always there. When times were low she would shut her eyes and love a man she had yet to meet. She would comfort herself with knowing that he was out there somewhere. She loved him deeply. She knew he would be there to catch her if she leaped.

And now, as she sat along the banks in the frosty wind, his face appeared to her again. She was much older now and much wiser. She knew her legs were strong enough and long enough to make the leap. She wanted to reach her hands out and touch him. She wanted to be with him. Still, she was afraid.

For the first time in her entire life, he spoke. His voice was warm and gentle, easy and smooth. His voice floated like musical wind chimes tinkling across the waters. His laugh was contagious. He sounded different from the others who had moved away and no longer came to play at the ravine. He was from the other side of the creek. His legs were strong and long enough to make the leap. But he didn't have to leap because he was already there.

His words came to her that cold December day like a whisper in the wind.

"I am here for you. I have been waiting. I have always been with you, although at times you have chosen not to know it. The time has come for you to make a decision. You must leave behind the grassy comfort of your bank. You must stand tall and proud. You must come to me for here I am. I will become your reality. You have waited many years. Now the time has come. The time has come for us to be together. But first, you must do something for yourself. Do not be afraid. I will catch you. You must leap."

She listened to his words and she stared into his big, soft eyes. Never before had his vision been clearer. Never before had she seen so clearly his face. He was what she always pictured and yet he looked completely different. He was her opposite and he was her soul mate. He was all she wasn't and yet he was all she was. He held out his hand to her from across the ravine. He beckoned for her to come to him.

The waters were still and the air was filled with silence. Those who leaped before her were gone. There was nothing behind her except all the years of longing.

Suddenly, his face was gone. He vanished again as he did throughout the years as reality rushed in and stole him away from her. He was nothing but a dream, a fabrication, a fantasy in her mind. She didn't deserve the love he had to offer although she loved him so intensely it chipped away at her spirit. But she had the longing and no one could take that away from her. Her longing for him was her gift to him.

She rose and stood by the bank of the ravine and stared across it for a long, long time. She thought about his light hair, his eyes, his smile and his face. The ravine widened from a creek to a river to an ocean that seemed several thousand miles wide. He was farther and farther away. He was disappearing fast. She must leap now or he will be gone forever. The time had come to act upon the longing.

She shut her eyes and took a deep breath. She thought about her job, her friends and her house. She thought about the familiarity and comfort of these things that surrounded her. She thought about the world he lived in and how it was so different from hers. She thought about whether or not she could become a part of his world. She thought about living on the other side of the bank.

She took a few steps back and she stretched her arms before her. She could feel his touch and his warmth. His fingertips were almost touching hers. They were only a leap away and she would be in his arms. Forever.

In her mind, she never looked back at the other children. After many years of pain and frustration, she opened up her heart and soul. She gave him her trust.

She leaped.

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Leap, 18 February 1998