Nick nodded, "Yeah."
"I told her," Brian whispered.
"She told me," Nick replied.
Brian bit his lip, "I felt like it was time."
"It was your secret to tell," Nick said.
"Ben left," Brian whispered, "Last night."
This, Amanda heard. She turned around, "He left?" Oh thank God, she thought.
"Yeah, he said he got poison ivy and needed to go," Brian explained, "Pat sent him off with the other river guide."
"Sweet," Nick beamed, glad he was gone.
"Okay listen up team," called Pat suddenly, her voice thundering through the morning air of the woods. "Today we're going to be taking a two mile hike into the gorge, up to the top of it, then we'll have some lunch and some fun, before hiking down the other side of it, which is a three mile hike. We'll be camping at the bottom of the gorge tonight, where we'll have views of the water fall. Let's pack up and go."
For the next hour, all the team members were packing up, rolling the tents and stuffing them into huge backpacks that had ridden in one of the rafts. Pat showed them how to deflate the rafts and roll them up tight so that they could be attached to the back of the backpacks. She stuck one of the huge pack on Nick, who was targeted once again for his height. Brian was interested to see how long Pat would put up with his whining while he was hiking before she'd take it off him. She herself shouldered the largest of the packs. Amanda carried the trio's personal backpack, and Brian got stuck with a cooler for the team.
They set off through the trees along a path that led up a steep hill. Amanda followed Nick, who wasted no time at all in complaining that the pack was really heavy, and laughed as Brian rolled his eyes and mouthed, 'I knew he was gonna do that' to her.
The woods were beautiful. Tall trees shaded the sun, which filtered through in shafts of light that hung in the air like gold. They passed fallen trees and Pat pointed out a glade where a deer had made a nest in a cluster of brushes. The deer wasn't home, but the nest was interesting to look at just the same.
But the best was the gorge itself.
When they reached the pinnacle of their hike, breathless and sweaty, Pat directed them where to drop the stuff they'd been carrying. Nick gleefully dropped the huge pack to the ground with a lot of noise and groaning and stretching that none of the other pack carriers were doing. Brian dropped the cooler and smirked at Nick, "Drama queen," he said.
"What? It was heavy! And that was like a vertical climb," he pointed back down the hill. "It was intense..."
Brian laughed, and walked past Nick, following Pat and the rest of the team members toward the gorge. Amanda patted Nick's arm. "It's okay," she said, "I'm sure it was heavy."
"It was," he said, nodding.
Amanda smiled, laughing silently on the inside, and said, "You're my big strong man." This made Nick smile, and he grabbed her hand and pulled her along after Brian and the team.
Brian, however, had stopped dead in his tracks. "Hell no."
"What is it, Frick?" Nick asked as he and Amanda came up behind him.
Brian turned to look at him. "Oh hell no."
Leaning around Brian, Amanda saw Pat had led the team onto a long, skinny footbridge that stretched across the gorge. The thundering waterfall was a couple hundred feet before them, and far, far below the bridge, was the bottom of the falls, roaring and crashing, sending a fine mist into the air.
"Hey," Amanda looked above them and saw the bridge they'd driven over the day before on the motorcycles. It seemed so long ago now... "This is the foot bridge I saw when we were on the way in to the rafting place," she said. "I saw people on it yesterday."
"Well, you all have fun," Brian directed, stepping aside from the mouth of the bridge.
"Why don't you wanna go on it?" Amanda asked, confused.
Nick laughed, "He's afraid of heights."
"Oh come on," Amanda chided him, "You rode a burro on a ledge through the Grand Canyon - if that thing had slipped you would've fallen all the way to the bottom. Then, then you rode a hot air balloon over like half of New Mexico..."
Brian nodded, "Yeah, well, I draw the line at teeny tiny, unstable-looking bridges that dangle me over thousand foot drops and huge rocks waiting at the bottom to crack my head open," he said. "But hey, if that's your thing," he waved them onward.
"Don't be a pansy, Brian," Nick directed. He took his friend's shoulders. "Come on. You said not to let you chicken out of anything, so you're not allowed to stay here. Let's go."
"I don't think I was told I would be expected to risk my life," Brian responded, digging his heels so Nick couldn't push him any further toward the bridge.
Nick laughed, "Brian, this whole trip is risking your life."
Brian looked over his shoulder at Nick, "Yeah, well. I'd rather not risk it on the bridge."
"Bri, if you don't go on the bridge... you're going to miss out on something really beautiful. And fun. Now go," Nick directed, pushing his shoulders. Brian stumbled the first couple feet onto the bridge, and his hands flew to the two hand rails on either side and closed around them in death-grips. His knuckles were white and he had braced his feet in a funny position.
Amanda had to admit that if it wasn't that Brian was legitimately this scared that it would've been comical to watch.
Nick continued pushing him along, inch by inch, toward the center of the bridge. Brian squeezed his eyes shut, clung to the railings, and shuffled his feet slowly ahead of Nick. "You're gonna thank me for this, Bri," Nick told him, as they neared the middle.
Amanda had to agree that it was worth the hassle of getting Brian onto the bridge. The view was unbelievable. She stared around, gaping at everything. The sky was brilliant blue, the waterfall white and cascading and huge. If this was this waterfall, she thought, she wondered how amazing a place like Niagara Falls must be like.
Nick tapped Brian's shoulder, "Okay. See? You're safely in the center. Now open your eyes and enjoy this."
Brian blinked his eyes open and, petrified, stood perfectly still, swiveling his eyes around. "Yup," he said, "Yup. That's great. Let's go back." He closed his eyes again.
Nick took Brian's shoulders and spun him to face the falls. Brian's hands clamped on the bar in front of him. A couple of the other team members were looking at them like they were nuts and Amanda just waved and smiled at them. So what if they didn't understand?
"Open your eyes, Brian," Nick demanded.
Brian opened them, and he saw the falls. The water plunging over the side of the gorge, falling so far down, and rushing away below. A couple random trees stuck out from the falls, green leaves covering their extended branches. One had a nest of some birds' on it. And despite the height and the fear he felt, Brian knew Nick had been right and this was worth having come out here. It was beautiful.
He sighed, relaxing ever so slightly, but more than he thought he'd have been able to relax on the footbridge, and looked at Nick. "Okay, you're right. Thank you."
"Anytime, Frick," Nick answered, smiling.
"This is gorgeous," Amanda said, feeling like it was now safe to talk, since Brian had calmed a little.
"It is," Brian agreed. "Definitely I will be journalling about this tonight," he said. He looked down. "Good Lord that's a huge drop," he mumbled, a little of the fear returning to his voice.
Amanda laughed, "And you wanted to get an old fashioned beer barrel last night."
Brian laughed, having forgotten the comment until she brought it back up again. "What can I say," he said, "I'm nuts like that."
"Okay, everyone, come over this way to get your helmets," called Pat loudly.
Amanda and Brian looked at Nick. "Helmets?" Brian asked.
"Well sure," Nick replied, "You hafta wear a helmet." He turned Brian's shoulders to face him toward Pat and started inching him along again.
"Why do we need helmets?" Amanda asked.
"The harnesses are over here, everyone can start fitting up..." Pat was yelling.
"Well if you're gonna bungee jump, you have to wear a helmet," Nick said as casually as he possible could manage.
Brian's heels dug once more and his knuckles turned white on the rail again. "No," he said, turning around to face Nick. "Absolutely not. You got me on this rickety bridge, there's no way in fucking hell you are getting me off of it in any direction except over there." He nodded at the bank they'd come from.
Amanda was trying to stifle a laugh, she felt delirious with the idea that Nick thought they were going to get Brian to jump off the bridge. Brian's panic only added to the comedy of the moment.
"Brian you gotta do this," Nick said.
"No I do not!" Brian crowed. Amanda planted her face into Nick's shoulder, shaking with laughter. "And you," Brian said, looking over Nick's shoulder as best he could at Amanda, "What're you laughing at? You don't think he means just me bungee jumping, do you?"
She looked up, sober. "Nick you're kidding, right?" she asked.
"Come on people, move it along," called Pat.
"Dawg, we can't disappoint Pat," Nick said, waving a palm in her direction.
"Yes the killer gym teacher with balls," Brian snorted, "The last thing I wanna do is disappoint her."
Nick laughed, "Oh c'mon, Brian. It's an experience you'll never get the chance to have again. You can see the falls from a totally different angle."
"I'd rather live to tell my wife about the falls, thanks," Brian replied. "Now please let me off the bridge."
Amanda laughed, "Aw Nick, if he really doesn't wanna, don't make him."
Nick shook his head, "Fine, Bri. But next time something like this comes up, you're not getting off so easy."
"Yeah if you planned anymore bungee jumping excursions, I'll kill you," Brian said, squinting his eyes maliciously at Nick. Nick and Amanda carefully leaned out of the way and Brian squeezed by them, clinging to the railing and mumbling under his breath about heights and not being a bird, so therefore why should his feet be anywhere except on solid ground. Nick watched as he shuffled slowly away down the bridge toward the bank behind them.
"I'm actually impressed he came out this far," Nick confessed.
"I got worried you were actually going to make him do it even though he didn't want to," Amanda said, watching as Brian made it to the end of the bridge and dropped onto the ground. It looked like he was hugging it. She laughed. "You scared the shit out of him, I think."
Nick laughed, too, "It was good for him." They watched as he got back up and went to sit with the bags and stuff to watch everyone else do the jump. He looked at Amanda, "C'mon, harnesses and helmets."
Amanda raised her eyebrow, "I'm not certain I wanna do this either, you know," she said.
"We'll go together," Nick said, "You can go in pairs. Please?" He gave her sad puppy eyes, his forehead wrinkled and his lips puckered, lower lip out further than the upper.
Amanda sighed. "We can go together? Definitely?"
"Yeah, they strap you to each other and you jump together," he said. "I saw a video on YouTube."
She took a deep breath, steeling herself. "Fine."
Nick's face broke into a grin and he led the way towards Pat. She quickly handed each of them a helmet. Amanda's was lime green and Nick's was blue. It made his eyes stand out when he tugged it onto his head, and Amanda noticed they were sparkling with excitement. Daredevil, she thought accusingly.
The funny thing was, on the inside, Nick was just as scared as Brian had been. But hell if he was going to show it.
Pat handed them harnesses that they had to step into the center of and tighten around them, like a heavy, flexible wire cage. Then they were buckled with restraining jackets. Long cords, with huge clamps were attached to their backs, and Pat strung a cord through a belt loop on both their harnesses, fastening them together, facing each other.
Nick grinned at Amanda, and she smiled back, less enthusiastic than he was.
"Okay," Pat announced. She positioned them on the edge of the bridge and Amanda realized there was a break in the rail beside them. Her heart pounded. The air was just... there. Nothing keeping them up on the bridge. A good gust of wind and they were going over. Of course, that was evidently the point.
Brian was standing at the end of the bridge again, holding onto the railings, watching as Pat geared Nick and Amanda up and positioned them. His stomach was doing flips for them, and he felt like he might throw up without even being the one actually doing the jump. He couldn't believe how gutsy Nick was being. There was a time, he thought, that there would've been no way in hell Nick would've done this, either. It made him feel good to know that Nick was opening up to trying new things, to taking chances.
That's what life is all about, he thought, smiling.
"On three," Pat said.
"You scared?" Nick asked Amanda.
"Yes," she said.
"One..." called Pat.
"I've got you," he told Amanda.
"Two..." called Pat.
"That's the only reason I'm here," Amanda said.
Nick and Amanda tipped to the side, and tumbled off the bridge.
They were falling. Amanda's scream echoed off the waterfall, and Nick's shout mingled with it. The water at the bottom of the falls rushed up at them and Amanda was certain her stomach had bailed on her somewhere around the foot bridge. The wind rushed over them. There was nothing solid to catch them. Amanda felt herself panicking as the cord didn't seem to be ending, they were falling further, and further... free falling... The water coming closer, the rocks now so close she could see barnacles and erosion and moss growing on them, and then the cord tightened and they were sprung back upwards, upside down, then back down. They bobbled like a cork or a fishing line bobbin. Amanda's stomach slowly settling, realizing that they were okay, just hanging upside down.
She let out a stream of nervous laughter that shook her body and tears crept out of her eyes, streaming across her forehead and into her hair under the lime green helmet. Nick, too, laughed, and his voice came out shaky. "Holy shit," he laughed.
"That was nuts," she croaked, her throat aching from the screaming.
They rocked back and forth at the end of the cord, swaying in the air coming off the falls. The mist was soaking them, beading up on their faces. The cord spun slowly, and the world around them turned into a blur. Amanda looked right into Nick's eyes.
"Holy shit," he repeated.
Amanda laughed. "Well, I didn't think I'd ever do that," she said.
They both cracked up again, overcome with the release of nerves, as they started to be pulled back up toward the bridge.
Brian sat down at the bank, relief washing over him because they were okay. He took a deep breath and let it out shakily, then laid back on the grass and waited for his heart rate to return to normal.