The pink, purple and orange hues that accompany the setting sun bleed into each other as if the breathtaking vista before us is an artist's painting on a canvas.
The posh mountainside town pulses with life as cars glide by the dark ribbon of road, pedestrians carrying bags full of memorabilia hurry down the street and shopkeepers begin pulling down their shutters in the fading light.
Our legs dangle down the ledge of the cliff we are perched upon. I am breathing in the sight when the boy I have come here with places his hands on my eyes and whispers into my ear, "Close your eyes...what's the first thing that comes to your mind?"
"Well, I am literally freezing, if that's what you want to know," I retort, my teeth chattering from the biting cold. He amusedly shakes his head and says, "No, silly. I meant how do you feel?"
I take a moment to let his words sink into my mind, and reply, "I feel 𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘯𝘦𝘤𝘵𝘦𝘥 to everything around me; connected to the chilly winter air whistling through the trees and the snow that's sliding off their slender branches."
I pause, then say, "But most of all, I feel alive. Nothing like crisp air rushing up your lungs to get those senses heightened, huh?"
I turn over and Lee is looking at me so intently that I am taken aback. I clear my throat and say, "Thank you for bringing me here. A change of perspective is exactly what I needed."
He smiles, and something inside me melts. Lee's hand brushes past a rock as we sit on the ledge, bringing me out of my reverie to notice that there's a hidden crack that runs deep in the rock.
It seems to have caught his attention too and as he runs his fingers along the crack, the snow covering it starts to sink into it slowly. My eyes follow the fissure as it widens at one end and I notice that it is just large enough for someone to slip inside.
I tilt my head back to look at Lee and say with a curved, mischievous smile, "How about we explore what's at the end of that crack?" I see the curiosity reflected in his too-bright eyes as he replies excitedly, "In all my years of coming to this spot, I haven't once noticed this crack! It's about time someone investigated."
In the blink of an eye, I see his body disappear into the crack. I scramble to the opening from where Lee vanished and call out in a panicked tone, "Lee, that was so reckless of you! Are you okay? Are you hurt? Lee! Say something!"
In a frenzied state, I crouch down at the opening and prepare myself to descend into it when I feel strong hands grip my waist and pull me down. Everything happens too fast for me to scream aloud but I manage to snap my eyes shut in trepidation.
Once I feel solid ground beneath my feet, I slowly open my eyes to see that we are standing in a giant cavern. Light from the hole above shines down on the cave's icy walls and reflects the stunning blue of the frigid pool below.
I am left speechless at the astounding discovery around me when I crudely remember the fright Lee gave me. My expression turns wild as I exclaim, "Are you absolutely mad?! I was petrified when you went into that hole without telling me what our plan is! You could've gotten hurt, badly!"
He chuckles softly, only fueling my ire. He then says, "You're right. That was pretty stupid, but we're here now, in this magnificent underground cave, so please don't scream anymore, okay?" I launch my fist at him but he swiftly dodges it and takes my hand. "I'm really sorry, okay? Can we go back to being friends now?"
My temple throbs but I nod slowly. To avoid thinking about our heated encounter, I go over and run my fingers along the cave's frosted walls.
To my surprise, the light shining from above glints off of some initials engraved into the wall. I rub off more of the ice and see more dates, drawings and initials. I take a step back and call out to Lee, realizing that the entire wall bears intricate etchings set in stone.
Lee rushes to my side and before I can speak, says, "This is amazing! Looks like we're not the only ones to have discovered this place after all." He moves to one side and starts analyzing the dates on the walls, "Wow...one of these dates back to over a hundred years!"
I finally realize, with a jolt, what the wall signifies. All across the cave, countless couples once stood where we are and carved their love into the rock for all to see.
Judging by his wide eyes, Lee seems to realize it too. I say with a smirk, "I wonder how many love stories these walls could tell." He comes to stand right next to me and I see that he is smiling, tender and genuine.
"Judging by these carvings...hundreds," he replies. "Seems like the first ones to do this began a tradition." "I say we should continue the legacy," he adds. His eyes flash to mine before he reaches into his back pocket and pulls out a swiss army knife, releasing the blade with a flick of his thumb.
Wordlessly, I watch as he carves our names into the wall and encircles them with a heart, right next to all the others that have stood the test of time. "And now, in fifty years, we will be someone's inspiration too," he says.
I trace the initials with my finger and glimpse at Lee, wondering what is happening right now. "Does this mean anything to him?" I think to myself, confused and perplexed.
He has never shown any interest in pursuing something with me that is more than friendship. I look at him dumbfoundedly and mutter, "I don't understand why you just did that. It's not like we're a couple!"
"But maybe we can be..." He murmurs softly, taking a step too close. "Umm, are you feeling okay, Lee?" I ask, growing alarmed. "I've never been more okay, Ruth." He cups my cheek with his hand, but I back away.
He looks at me, startled, and I say, "This is serious. What are you doing?" "Guess I'm going to have to spell it out for you," he sighs. "I really like you, Ruth. And I don't understand how you haven't realized it by now."
I scrunch up my eyebrows and confront him, "What?! No, you don't. Otherwise, you wouldn't have waited so long!"
"I needed to be sure that the feeling was mutual, but I never got a sign from you," he murmurs. "So, I decided to finally do something about it." "I brought you here with me today to tell you how I feel, but then we stumbled upon this cave," he continues.
"That's crazy! Because I'm in love with you, Lee. I don't just like you. And I thought you didn't feel the same and that you never would!" I spurt out, all in one breath.
Without a moment's hesitation, Lee walks up to me and tucks a hand behind my neck, claiming my mouth for his own.
I am shocked at this sudden advance, but I give in by closing my eyes and returning the kiss. Everything around me stills and all I feel is his lips on mine.
He deepens the kiss and I stifle a gasp. My arms instantaneously fling around his neck and I catch a whiff of his scent; he smells like warm sunshine on a harsh, winter day.
We part, and I start laughing like an idiot. The laughter echoes around the cave, reverberating off the walls.
Above us, thunder rumbles across the sky and the acoustics of the cave play with the sound, amplifying it, swatting it around the space until we are covered in it.
"That doesn't sound too good," he says. "We should start heading back." Still heady from his kiss, I reply, "And what if I don't want to leave just yet?"
"Don't tempt me," he whispers dangerously. He takes my hand, helping me out of the cave and into the light of the roaring skies above.
My heart is hammering inside my chest and I feel light-headed, still bewildered by what just happened inside that cave.
However, what I do know is that it's the start of something beautiful.