Sally and Justin walked hand in hand along the path that lined the river.
It was an overcast autumn afternoon in Maine, and Sally was bundled up accordingly. Justin, on the other hand, wore a light jacket and his ever present Yankee cap.
“Aren’t you cold?” Sally asked through chattering teeth as she moved even closer to him in hopes of using some of his body heat to hold off frostbite.
“I’m always warm when I’m holding your hand,” he replied and kissed the top of the wool hat that covered her head.
Sally blushed despite the cold. “You say the sweetest things for a guy dumb enough to drag his girlfriend out for a walk on an afternoon like this!”
She smiled when she said it, though, so Justin just squeezed her hand like he always did when he wanted her to know he loved her.
“As you know, I run along this path five days a week,” Justin stated the obvious, but it was clearly a set up for whatever he had planned.
“Yes, and I’m so proud of you,” Sally assured him as she rested her head against his shoulder. “You’ve lost so much weight, you’re healthier, and I have to admit, I don’t mind the view when I’m behind you…”
She made a play of checking out his butt, and giggled.
Justin rolled his eyes and smiled. “Did you know I picked this as my running route because we went for a walk here on our very first date?”
He stopped and turned to look at the river. It was bluer than usual this afternoon.
“I didn’t realize that,” Sally admitted as she followed his gaze towards the water. “What I mean is, I realize we walked along this path on our first date, but I didn’t realize you ran here because of that.”
He leaned down to kiss her. She wasn’t big on public displays of affection, but she didn’t mind this one. There was no one else crazy enough to be out on this frigid afternoon, and their closeness provided some much needed warmth.
Justin started walking again, and Sally had to scamper to catch up. She hadn’t noticed that his kiss had made her weak in the knees.
What in the world was going on? Before she could ask, Justin spoke up.
“Something weird has happened on my last few runs, and I brought you here today because I wanted to tell you about it, and get your opinion.”
Sally raised an eyebrow to the comment. “What do you mean by weird?”
Justin shrugged and offered a nervous laugh. “You know how I’m big on signs and fate?”
“Of course,” she answered with a grin. “You told me you asked me out because I was the only woman in the bar wearing a Yankees sweatshirt on a night that the Yanks were playing the Sox. You said it was a sign that you could not possibly ignore.”
“Well, that and the fact that you were the most beautiful woman I’d ever seen,” Justin confessed.
Sally blushed much deeper this time, and then stood on tiptoes to kiss him.
“You and your words, Mr. Writer…” she swooned. “Always making the butterflies dance in my stomach.”
He squeezed her hand again, and led her towards the small tunnel looming ahead.
“This path is slightly over half a mile long,” he stated the facts. “That means I run back and forth at least six times to get in the distance I need.”
“A math whiz, too,” she quipped with a smile.
Justin stopped just before entering the tunnel. He studied it like he was going to write his dissertation on the structure.
Sally noticed his odd interest in the opening and looked at him with concern.
“What’s going on, Justin?” she asked with just a smattering of fear in her voice.
“Lately, whenever I pass through this tunnel, I get a weird chill…”
“Maybe that’s because it’s November in Maine, and it’s very cold,” she cut him off and shivered because the chill was back.
Justin shook his head, let go of her hand, and then began to pace parallel to the tunnel’s entrance. He looked down at his feet, though, as if he were afraid to peer inside.
“It’s not the temperature, Sally,” he corrected her. “It’s a cold, creepy chill. I can feel the goose bumps crawling across my body. And then I get the same thought every time…”
More than slightly freaked out at this point, Sally strode over to her boyfriend, and took his hand. Then she put her hand to his chin, and tilted his head up so that he was forced to look at her.
“What thought?” she demanded.
“You’re going to think it’s silly…” he dismissed the question, and tried to lower his head again, but Sally kept her hand firmly in place to maintain eye contact.
“Every time I run though this tunnel, I get this feeling that it’s a time machine.”
He looked at her like he expected her to laugh. Instead, she raised an eyebrow and then stepped into the tunnel.
“I love a good sci-fi story as much as the next gal, but I don’t see anything inside this tunnel to indicate that it’s a machine,” she told him as she ran her hand along its smooth walls. “There would be buttons, consoles, wires, tubes, maybe a flux capacitor…”
Justin crossed his arms over his chest, and stared at her intently, like he was trying to figure out how to take her response. Was she mocking him? Did she believe him?
“I can’t explain it, but I get this sense that when I come out the other side, my life will have completely changed. That I’d somehow be different, or just nothing will ever be the same. It’s gotten so intense that my heart rate goes through the roof, and I worry that my FitBit is going to explode.”
He began to nervously pace again.
She responded by extending her arm and wiggling her fingers. “Come here,” she ordered.
He tentatively walked over, and took her hand.
“What you’re describing sounds more like a portal than a time machine,” she explained as she squeezed his hand tightly. “I think it’s just your amazing writer’s imagination taking control of your brain, but I’ll walk through this tunnel with you as often as it takes for you to feel comfortable. Okay?”
He nodded, but didn’t move. “I know it sounds crazy, but the idea just takes hold of my mind and body. I can’t shake the thought that one of these times, I’m going to emerge from this tunnel, and find that my life has completely changed.”
“I believe you, babe,” she assured him and tried to nudge him forward. “I’m here with you, so if anything is going to change, it’s going to happen to both of us. I promise.”
She nodded to assure him he was safe.
He squeezed her hand in return, and took a step towards the other end of the tunnel.
Sally smiled and let out a low sigh of relief. She wasn’t sure what was going on with Justin, but it tore her to pieces to know he was in any sort of distress.
They were halfway through the tunnel when Justin suddenly stopped. He whole body shook. He let go of Sally’s hand, and staggered sideways towards the wall.
“What’s happening?” she questioned, and her words echoed off the tunnel walls.
“I’m feeling it again,” he blurted nervously. “Something is happening!”
He dropped to his knees, and she rushed to him. By the time she arrived, Justin had managed to pull himself up to one knee.
“Are you okay? Say something! Please…”
Justin looked up at her. A sudden calm came over him.
Sally stared down at him in a panic, unsure of what to make of the situation.
Justin held out his hand to reveal a box. He then used his other hand to open it and reveal the engagement ring.
“Will you marry me?” he asked as a charming smile slowly brightened his face. “Will you walk out of this tunnel as my fiancee, and change my life forever?”
She nodded because she was too overwhelmed with emotions to form any words, or even make a sound.
So she kissed him, forgetting how cold and confused she was, but prepared to keep her promise to be right there with him when his life changed forever…