Stranger’s Gift – Part 1
“This is why I didn’t tell you—I knew you’d worry.”
“I’ll be fine! I’m just going for the weekend, and I’ll be catching up with Kima’s group. They go all the time.”
“Omigosh, I’ve got to go or I’ll never get packed. I’ll be fine. Love you, bye!”
Cass hung up, and the phone rang again before she put it in her pocket.
“Wootwoot! Are you ready to go?” Kima said. Cass put her on speaker, and they chatted excitedly while she finished packing.
“They say we’ll have cell service at the campsite, but it’s spotty on the trail. You sure you’ll be okay?”
“Don’t you start worrying, too! I’ll be fine. I’ll catch up with you guys by the time you set up the tents. Don’t wait for me—feel free to get dinner started, too!” Cass teased.
Kima had come to her rescue in the middle of the night last August, when Cass’s boyfriend had been arrested for dealing. She hadn’t seen Kima since high school, but her profile said she had a good job. Cass begged her to max out her credit cards for his bail. “He’s my life!” She’d sobbed, failing to see what that said about her life. Kima had refused to bail him out but invited Cass to game night. Game night led to dinner, taking Kima’s kids to the pumpkin patch, going to church and making friends who didn’t use her or tell her she was useless. These people complimented and encouraged each other, which was a shock, like cool raindrops on spikes of dry July grass. At first, she punctured every kind thing they said, but soon she was drinking in the love. 8 months later, her soul felt a foot taller.
Backpack full–overstuffed, really–she bounded down the stairs and drove away, singing at the top of her lungs to a new playlist.
At the visitor center, she grabbed a map, posted a selfie with #adventuregirl and headed up the trail.
Why did I pack so much? She asked for the umpteenth time. She dug an apple out of her pack and sat on a rock. She tossed a few walnuts to a pair of squirrels, and they streaked, terrified, up a tree and stood on a branch chiding her. “Just being nice, guys! Sheesh!” With a wry grin, she lay back on the rock. Above the trees, a flock of birds returned for spring. They circled slowly in an angled sweep, coming closer to the treetops and drifting away, closer then drifting, over and over. Mesmerizing. “Do I get wings in heaven, Lord?” she asked. Heaven seemed a bit like a fairytale told by grandparents, but ever since Kima’s sister died in January, she’d been wondering what it was really like.
After awhile, she sat up and looked at her phone. This trail-finder app was seriously draining her battery. Good thing she’d bought a portable charger. She raised her chin and shimmied her shoulders in a “Yep! I’m all that!” move. Plugging in her phone, she saw a hiker heading in the direction she’d come. “Hello!” she waved. He waved back and paused for a sip of water. She was pretty sure, but asked just in case: “Is this the way to the Baldknob campground?”
“Baldknob? Sure, that’s about 4 miles up the trail. Just follow the yellow markers. This your first time?”
Before she knew it, Cass was babbling her excitement to this stranger. “I’ve never been camping, but my friend got me hiking this winter, and this pack is really heavy but I wasn’t sure what I’d need, but I’m kinda proud of myself for remembering a charger for my phone. I brought an extra pair of sneakers in case my feet get wet, because cold feet in March doesn’t sound like fun, but omigoodness can you believe how beautiful it is out here? Who would ever want to go back to the city? Have you seen any bears? Snakes don’t bother me, but I’m scared of bears. Oh look there’s a deer—there’s another one—oh wow! It’s a whole family of deer!!!”
She was shout-whispering. She’d dropped her voice when the deer appeared, but her excitement pushed the words out like air from a compressor hose.
His eyes were smiling. He was probably in his 60’s, but he was wiry and stood tall for a guy who was around 5’8”. “I wouldn’t worry about bears during the day, but make sure your food is sealed up tight tonight. Here,” he reached out his hand, “Take this. I bring it with me every time I come here, and you’re going to need it.”
“Oh no, I don’t need anything,” She said, but took it anyway. “Thank you.” It was blue-grey and shaped like a tall bottle, but it didn’t have a cap or opening. It was textured for easy gripping, and it didn’t feel quite like glass, but didn’t entirely feel like metal. As she turned it in her hands, it warmed slightly. That was nice, because she’d grown chilly while sitting on that rock. “What is it?” She asked and looked up, but he had melted into the trees. She wasn’t used to taking gifts from strangers, but it was too pretty to leave and she didn’t want to litter. Besides, she’d learned some people actually enjoy being nice. There’s a concept her family didn’t grasp.
Come back next week for Part 2. Meanwhile, do you ever wonder about heaven? I’m currently listening to the audiobook Heaven, by Randy Alcorn. People say we can’t know much about it, but Randy points out dozens of descriptive verses about life after this one. When I’m stuck in traffic, it’s a lovely mood-lifter.
What songs are on your playlist? If you prefer bass to books, you might enjoy these:
Jordan Feliz – Down to the River
Morgan Harper – The Morning
Morgan Harper Nichols and Jamie Grace – Storyteller
Toby Mac – Feel It