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DARK CLOUDS GATHERED above the hills and blotted the sun for a minute. Like a trigger, Bonnie’s mind turned inward and dark clouds swelled within. Don’t go there, she thought. She tried to create a neutral mindset while she sat, kicking her feet idly over open space, and waiting.

Looking past her feet, she squinted to better inspect sixty-foot pines five hundred feet below. Beyond the stand of pines, verdant fields spread out, plunged and disappeared into the dark of a valley. Far away, a tiny ribbon of river glinted back at her.

Directly below but smaller still, in a cleared patch amongst the trees, ant-like people milled in a picnic area discernible only because they moved. Some pointed and some waved and she wondered how they could see her tiny figure atop the huge mountain. Could they see her, really?

The outcrop faced west. She’d wanted to go west all her life and now, literally faced with a pronouncement that would answer her yearning or result in death embarked upon from this very spot, she resolved she would, if...

The terrible if… The letter Brian would have in his hand held the key. She had to know. Hope destroyed or hope renewed. She’d sent him to Yosemite Village to pick it up and he should be back any minute. He’d looked at her oddly when she insisted he go right then, but said nothing. Of course, he would see the return address label and he would wonder, but he would never open her mail.

Three days ago they had flown into Lee Vining Airport, just inside the California border from Nevada, rented a car and driven through the mountains to Yosemite Village. They took a motel room for the week. While Brian went to the store to get mountain food for their packs, she called her doctor at the clinic in Boston. The results weren’t back, but he expected them momentarily. She explained that she needed them as soon as possible, but that she and her boyfriend¾she said “fiancée”¾were backpacking in the mountains for a few days and please, please, send her a letter with the results. He agreed. Bonnie gave him the address of the motel.

After three days, it had to be there. Today she’d sent Brian to the village to pick up the letter that would save or destroy her.

She’d played her part so well. She had given Brian no sign that the message might cause her to vault silently into space, her face twisted in despair, her life forfeit. She would close her eyes, push off with those idle feet and spread her arms like a wingless bird. She would hear wind whistle past ears that had but moments left to hear it, her eyes squeezed shut, and she would descend with blazing speed. Lips tightly compressed, she would make no sound. She would not scream. Her journey would be only long enough for her to appreciate her irrevocable decision.

No supplication by Brian, no sound, no shout, no entreaty could stop her plunge, nor could they call back or extend those final seconds of life. Bonnie didn’t want to die, but she didn’t want to live, not with that secret. How many times had others been faced with the same choice, she wondered? They must number in the thousands. How many had opted out? How many had gone on? How many had overcome? How many had continued only to fail, only to stretch out the inevitable? What did it take?

Today she would know. Would she suffer oblivion, or would she be transported to some other place and made to recount her sins, to seek absolution and be given peace? Would she fly into God’s arms, a munificent being that would instantly drive away the burden of misery in which she had lived for the past three months, months her fear of a horrible, grinding death that painted a false smile on her face no one could read? Or was her God a child’s tale taught by those with good intentions, but who had perpetrated a hoax on her mind, sullied it, filled it with meaningless fluff so that its direction would never go where its nature intended. Or was it simple madness?

She ached for it to be over, for the weight of her expectation to take control. Life and breath or death and darkness; her two choices. She’d make hers when Brian got back. She fingered the paper edge of the apology she’d slid between the buttons of her blouse, hoping it would not be her last act before the plunge.

Bonnie heard a crashing in the woods. Could be a bear, but Brian wasn’t a quiet woodsman and she thought a bear wouldn’t make so much noise. Must be him. The trail into this magnificent view took fifteen minutes to walk from the parking area and had many rough places. He could have tripped on a log or gotten caught by some of the hardy brush along the trail.

She didn’t turn. She wanted him to see her gazing outward, the slim line of her cheek, her mass of auburn hair, the highlights shining at him, her white blouse and jeans covering the body he knew so well. The body that…


“Bonnie,” Brian’s deep baritone bathed her. “I have it.”

She turned now, reached and grasped her future. Brian stood over her.

“Give me some space,” she said.

For this she needed privacy. He loved her, she knew. And she loved him, and that he knew, too. Not understanding, he did as she asked without comment and stepped back, but his eyes held grave concern.

Bonnie tore the envelope open with a finger, read the contents and crumpled the letter in her small hands, her feet no longer kicking freely.

For a long minute she sat, and then, pushing her feet against the rock face, she stood and turned to Brian with tears in her eyes.

“It’s not malignant,” she said, “and I’m pregnant. Will you marry me?”

Brian understood instantly. Relief flooded his face. He reached in his pocket, took out a small box and opened it. The brilliant sparkle of a diamond gave her all the answer she needed.

With a quirky smile, he said, “I thought I’d propose in an unusual place.”

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