The river, smooth as a land-locked pool glows silver below us, and the snow crunches under our feet as we stroll towards the mid-point of the bridge.
So many times, my searches for nature’s gifts have led me here. But never in winter. And never with a woman. Bashful Barry, that’s me. twenty-five years old, my nickname has tracked me since university.
Bluebells delicately border this riverbank in springtime. Today, snow, smooth as icing on a cake fringes the shore.
Alongside me, so attractive, wrapped up in her snug red anorak and thick blue scarf, her fair hair catching the fading light, is Helen. Two years of hidden adoration across the office floor of the publishing firm where I work. She, two years my junior, sits behind her computer in finance department, unaware that I exist. This is not just a first date with Helen. It is my first date with anyone. Bashful Barry indeed.
So how has this magical situation come about? Chance, possibly? Luck, most definitely. In the canteen lunch-line, I had bided my time until I could ease in behind her, just to relish being close to her. Then came the lucky part.
Helen dropped her fork.
Like a weasel after a mouse, I was onto it. We ended up face to face, as I handed it over. Wide hazel eyes regarded me, as she murmured her gratitude before immediately asking about the quality of the book I was dealing with at the time.
I must confess that, because of my withdrawn nature, conversing with ladies has always been difficult for me. But in Helen’s case, my reply was easy and was even followed by my own question, and by the time we were seated at a table, we were in deep conversation about favorite books and films. Me, stunned by my own eloquence. It all came so naturally, that I had to follow through. Courageously, I dared suggest a date that following Saturday. Her ready acceptance had my limbs trembling.
You’ve probably guessed --but I am a real nerd. What would most guys arrange on a first date? A film? A meal, maybe? Even a quiet coffee.
Not me. Throughout our plodding, over the snowy trail, I’ve been chiding my idiot self. Why bring her to this wild place, even though I hold it special? And on such a chill winter’s day. My initial idea was something to do with sharing beauty with beauty. What a blind concept!
We reach the center of the bridge, where I always stop. Helen makes breathing difficult. It’s not the freezing air, as I adore the curve of her smooth cheek, the wideness of her eyes as she views along the still river. Is it time to apologise?
“Lovely,” she declares ahead of my intentions, “look, the pines are turned upside down.”
She sounds enthusiastic. “You like that?” I ask tentatively.
Her fair hair ripples as she nods. “See the way the river narrows into the mist, like a silver spear pointing the way.”
So anxious to capture her observation, I tell her, “This bridge is across the widest point of the river. In the distance is another bridge where it is still narrow.”
Her hazel eyes look at me in surprise. “You mean it gets narrower as it flows away.”
I laugh, “No, it flows this way. Narrow to wide.”
She leans over the parapet, staring hard. “Oh, vaguely, I see mountains in the mist.”
Again, I laugh. Her eager involvement settles my concerns. “Your eyesight must be better than mine.” But she’s right. On clear spring days, the mountains stand out.
“That’s where the river rises. You should see it in spring when the snow melts.”
“It comes roaring towards this bridge like a grey multi-spiked dragon released from its cage in the narrows back there.”
Helen’s face is delightfully excited as she asks, “Oh, can we come to see that?”
Her whole body turns towards me. My heart thumps with unwarranted anticipation. Dare I assume a promise of further meetings? Come on Barry, find the right words. “Late January now. Mid-March when it really floods. Does nature please you so much?”
“So much,” she said fervently and looks away over the static waters. “This is so peaceful. Thank you for bringing me here. Are there other places like this?”
“Many,” I tell her. Be bold Barry, shed that nickname forever. “We could fill in until March and beyond.”
“I like the sound of that.”
God, so do I.
“Barry.” Helen is turning to face me again, but now her eyes have a serious look. “I have a confession to make.”
What’s coming? Is it all too good to be true? “A confession?”
“Did you think I dropped that fork accidentally?”
I nod my head weakly as a wry smile lightens her face. “I knew you were behind me. I hoped it would lead to at least, a conversation.”
I can hardly believe the inference of her confession. Down on the silent river, a lone moorhen is testing the water. Helen has moved in nearer, her lips so close. My own lips sought the courage to, like the moorhen, do some testing.
I had kissed before. Tentative birthday party lip-pressing. But this fast approaching kiss, this coming together, has to convey to her words that my voice might shy away from. First, Helen’s lips stroke along mine, the gentlest of touches. Respond, Barry. Yes, my pouted lips similarly stroke Helen’s, speaking truths wordlessly.
Lip to lip the urgency mounts. For me, this is rapturous. Her eagerness astounds and delights me. Our lips mesh and our arms enfold each other. Would this lazy river, as with the pines, be inverting our joined bodies?
Despite two thick anoraks and countless woolen layers, the message our mingled bodies and the kiss convey is positive. No passion yet, that will happen. For now, on that bridge, it is rich, pure, honest affection with once unbelievable promises for a golden future.