It had been over a year since they’d taken a long weekend to the mountains. Kathy had insisted on this one. She hoped getting away alone would set the stag for talking about the stresses in their marriage. She hoped Paul would open up to her and let her in on why he had distanced himself from her.
Paul was taking the turns a little faster than she felt was safe. She clinched the edge of her seat and braced herself through every turn.
“Paul, you’re scaring me,” she finally said.
Paul didn’t answer, but slowed down. The vista below was beautiful. Kathy relaxed and enjoyed the view.
“I packed a picnic. Your favorites: fried chicken, three-bean salad and some deviled eggs. Oh, and I made brownies,” Kathy said.
“I was thinking we could stop at one of the overlooks and have lunch,” she could feel the tension radiate from Paul. Why? What was on his mind that they couldn’t talk? They had always talked until the past few months. Now it was like living with a granite statue. She could not figure it out, and Paul was not telling her. But she knew something big was at the root of it. She had the nagging suspicion Paul was having an affair. But other than him not talking she could not find any sure signs. There was no lipstick on the collar, no mysterious phone calls and no unexplained time away from home. Kathy was stumped. Paul went to work in the morning, came home and retreated behind the newspaper until dinner. After dinner they silently watched TV and went to bed.
That was the part that hurt the most. Going to bed and having Paul turn his back to her.
“How about here?” Kathy pointed to a roadside picnic table that overlooked Maggie Valley. They were on top of Beech Mountain. The fall color splashed red, orange and yellow like a huge abstract painting in the slopes below.
Paul pulled the car over onto the gravel parking area and stopped. He sighed, got out and stretched his back. Then he opened the trunk and got out the cooler. Kathy took out he picnic basket and set it on the table. She spread a red and white-checkered tablecloth and began taking out containers of food from the cooler. All the while she attended to setting up the perfect picnic Paul paced back and forth at the edge of the overlook.
Kathy glance at him as she put the finishing touches on her creative spread, complete with a small vase of silk flowers in the center of the table. Martha Stewart would be proud of her. She watched Paul gaze out across the scramble of rocks, trees and the river that wound its way through it all at the bottom. It was a long way down, Kathy thought.
“Okay, honey. Lunch is being served.”
Paul didn’t answer.
“Paul? Ready to eat?”
“I’m not hungry,” he said.
Kathy walked over to her husband of twenty-six years. She put her arms around him and rested her head on his shoulder.
“Baby, talk to me,” she said.
She felt his arms tighten around her, and he kissed her hard. Paul turned suddenly, bringing her easily around, then he thrust her away from him. Kathy stumped back and tripped over a stone that marked the edge of the overlook. She was falling and reached out to Paul.
Paul stepped back away from her. The last thing she saw as she tumbled over the edge was the look of relief on Paul’s face, like he’d finished a distasteful task.
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