I know I'm pretty late, but here's Janna's side of the story! I hope you enjoy it!
Ralph and Janna
Janna wished they would stop leading tourists to the gorge. The heights there were terrifying. The rushing water roared death hundreds of feet below. But she had to come here to earn money for her family. She had to take her turn. She sighed with relief when the tourists asked her to take them back the way they had come. She led them back down the trail to a parking lot where they paid her, and she left them to head back up to the top of the gorge where she lived.
Usually, she looked forward to a warm meal and an evening of relaxation before she woke up in the morning to chores and tourists. Today, however, was different than usual. A family coming from further south was settling nearby to build a house. The new people would be paying for Janna’s family to house them and help construct the house. She was not looking forward to new people invading the routine of her life. She wanted to drag her feet and lose herself in the woods, but eventually, she would have to go home anyway.
She entered the front door that evening as the sun was going down. Two women, Janna’s mother and a woman who must have been the boy’s mother, talked over the sound of sizzling food and clinking dishes in the kitchen. They were probably making dinner. She got ready to plop herself in her favorite chair near the door. Her favorite book usually sat on the nightstand beside it, and it was a convenient spot to greet her father when he came home from town on the days he was out. Sitting in her favorite chair and reading her favorite book was a boy about her age. She stared at him, not knowing what to say.
“Hey,” she finally said.
“Hey back,” he answered. “I’m Ralph.”
Janna worked to keep from frowning. What kind of answer was, hey back?
“I’m Janna,” she answered after a moment.
“It’s nice–” Ralph began, but Janna was already slipping around him to drop the tourists’ money off in her parents’ room. Then, she went to her room, unwilling to try and make conversation with the boy.
After that evening began a lot of work. Janna didn’t mind helping the new family build their house. She even enjoyed some parts of the work. Everything would’ve been fine if it hadn’t been for Ralph. Chores, cooking, and guiding tours had been bearable before he came along. Now, they were detestable tasks that afforded Ralph chances to tease her in every way possible. She tried to keep it secret, but it wasn’t long before he discovered that she had a fear of heights. After that, any day she was going on a tour was torment.
“Mom, I’m taking this net tour,” she called to her mother before going outside one day. Her mother came out of the mud room, a brush in her hands.
“Here,” said her mother. “Give me a hug first.”
Janna obliged, and her mother gave her a quick kiss on her forehead.
“I’ll try,” Janna said with a smile.
Heading into the living room, Janna passed Ralph doing some school in her favorite chair. He looked up, eyes glinting mischievously. “Are you sure you’re capable of that?” he asked, his tone dripping with sarcasm. “You might get scared and run away.” She wanted to ask him what he meant just to make him explain, but she knew what he meant. For a moment, she wondered what to say. She was never good at coming up with words, spur of the moment. “I can handle myself, Ralphie,” she said, using his hated nickname. Maybe that would throw him off so she could get out the door with the last word. He was always good with comebacks. It was high time she won a word contest. She turned to open the door and felt something yank her hair. “That isn’t my name, remember?” he was grinning like an innocent kitten. Why did he think tormenting her was so funny? He looked so proud standing there like he’d won a battle with a ferocious lion. She stamped at his foot. Maybe he would back off if she just stood up for herself. He didn’t even blink. He moved his foot and laughed, “You missed!”
Incorrigible. That was a good word for Ralph. He didn’t listen to anything. He was considerate of no one. Gritting her teeth, she gave a look that she hoped would shoot darts and ran out the door. Why couldn’t she get a word in edgewise? Why did he have to ruin things?
The group of tourists she was to guide seemed to take extra long to look at and take pictures of the gorge. She didn’t mind as long as it meant avoiding Ralph. It seemed like he was so bored he had to amuse himself by causing her any embarrassment he could conceive. Unfortunately, she had to go home that evening when the tourists paid her and left.
Ralph was waiting with his snide remarks as usual. She came in and found him trembling as he tried to push himself up and down doing push-ups. “What are you doing?” she asked. Was Ralph trying to show off? It wasn’t working. “I’m keeping up this flawless physique!” he huffed, lowering himself about two inches, and shaking back into the up position. Janna shook her head. He was helpless. She tried to go to the kitchen, but Ralph jumped up as soon as she stopped watching. So he was trying to show off, she thought. With that, he started an argument about who was more fit, ending in a racing challenge. After agreeing to a place to race, Janna dropped off the money from the tourists in her parents’ bedroom, and they walked to the place they agreed on.
Ralph was a good runner, she had to give it to him, but she knew the path much better than he did. In fact, he may have won had she not known exactly where to jump and turn to avoid fallen logs, rocks, and hanging tree branches. On a turn in the path, she cut sharply left while Ralph went straight. For a moment, Janna thought he might get ahead, but she suddenly realized that it was a place where the gorge cut into the path a bit. She was about to cry out to him, but he beat her to it.
With the sun sinking behind her, Janna hurried to the edge as far as she could manage and stared down at Ralph, cradling an arm and plastering himself to the edge of the gorge. A dangerous thought snaked into her mind like a shadowy serpent. Good riddance, it said. She swallowed in horror. Is this what her anger and resentment had come to? Was she so angry at a simple nuisance that she would just let him die? She shuddered. Saving him was going to mean going over the gorge.
She thought hard, the house was too far away to get anyone, and the next bridge was at least ten miles away. She was going to have to jump the gorge. There was a thinner spot she knew she could jump, but just thinking about it made her shiver. If Janna kept standing there, she knew she would never jump. She turned and ran for the place she could cross. Not far away was a spot where the gorge was only three or four feet across.
Instead of stopping to calculate her jump, she ran on, flying over the gap without hesitation. She wouldn’t have been able to make herself do it otherwise.
Ralph was shivering and whimpering when she came back. He seemed surprised that she had returned as if he had actually known she was angry with him. After helping him up, she looked him over. He was breathing hard and still holding his arm, but he was not paying attention to his arm. He was looking at her. She thought about how she had treated him and knew she had let it get too far. He probably wasn’t too happy to leave his old home and live in someone else’s house. She should have thought of that when she resented him for intruding in her life.
“Sorry,” she said, throat feeling tight. Ralph stared at her with surprise, and she realized they had said sorry simultaneously. That was it. Her anger was gone. She didn’t want to start crying, so she asked him not to talk about it. The apologies were good enough.
At length, Ralph said, “I guess we should get home then.”
“I guess so,” she answered quietly. It would be hard to make the jump again, but she could do it. She had done it once before. “Across the gorge?”
“Across the gorge,” he agreed, and she helped her new friend all the way home.