This is a two-part short story series. Look out for Janna's point of view!
Ralph and Janna
Ralph stared down the craggy sides of the gorge to the rushing water hurtling along the bottom hundreds of feet below. The other side was about twenty feet away and sported mossy ledges and vegetated alcoves. After a moment he pulled back with a shudder. To fall would be certain death. He pulled his jacket around his shoulders tighter hoping Janna would think he was simply shivering from cold. She stood at least fifteen feet behind him as close to the edge as she dared. “Satisfied?” she asked, arms crossed. “I don’t see what’s so scary about it.” He answered. Who was he kidding? Of course, there was something to be scared of! She huffed and turned to go home. He hurried to catch up. “If you do all my chores, I’ll take all your tours.” He offered slyly. She glanced at him quickly to verify the truth in his words. For a moment, she seemed to consider the offer. Then she grunted. “I can take care of myself, thank you.” He knew she hated having to guide the tourists to the gorge because of the heights. The tourists liked to get very close to the edge and it always made her nervous. But he also knew, she thought she was better than him. To let him help, would be to admit that he was better. At least he wasn’t as scared of the gorge as she was. “I’ll race you back.” He said finally. She gave him a dark look. She was so grumpy! Why couldn’t she just have fun like a regular kid? There were plenty of kids back at home who would’ve taken him up on the race and run laughing all the way home. When he and his family moved to the mountain, he’d lost all those friends and gained Janna.
She was nothing like those friends. To her credit, she was the only child of a reclusive family. Making friends with tourists was no fun because they were there for an hour and would never come back. Nevertheless, she just couldn’t seem to have fun. He sighed and resigned himself to a boring walk. Suddenly, he jerked his head up with an epiphany. If she wouldn’t have fun voluntarily, he would make her have fun. The following day, while he was puzzling over some arithmetic problems, he heard Janna tell her mother that she was going out to help some tourists to the gorge. She didn’t sound excited about it. “Are you sure you’re capable of that?” He jumped on his chance. “You might get scared and run away.” “I can handle myself, Ralphie,” she said. He didn’t mind the name, but he made a big show of not liking it because he would rather be called Ralph. Janna was just trying to get him off her back. He couldn’t be put off so easily though. He reached out a hand and tugged lightly on a lock of her hair. When she looked at him, he said, “That isn’t my name, remember?” She tried to stomp on his foot but he yanked it away at the last moment. “You missed!” He called cheerfully. Janna turned red and ran out the door. He thought he caught a glimpse of tears glistening in her eyes. What did I do? He thought. Shaking his head, he turned back to his math.
Later that evening, she came in, having finished chores. Fortunately for Ralph, she walked in while he was trying to see how many push-ups he could do. It sparked the perfect conversation to make a friend lively. “What are you doing?” she asked condescendingly. “I’m keeping up this flawless physique,” he answered, then did another push-up. Janna hmphed and was going to head for the kitchen, but he popped up and asked, “How many push-ups can you do?” “I’m a girl Ralph, I’m better at other stuff than pushing myself up and down.” “Oh?” he asked eagerly. “What’s that?” “Like running, and swimming, and carrying things.” “I’ll bet I’m faster than you,” he challenged. Her back was turned to him, but at his challenge, she whirled. “Wanna prove it?” Ralph trembled with excitement. He was finally getting somewhere! “Where at?” “You know that fallen tree we never take the tourists to?” “Yeah.” “We’ll run there and back.” “Got it,” he said hurrying to the door. “Let’s go!”
Janna was fast. She matched him the whole way. At a turn in the path, he decided to cut across and try to get ahead of her. Bad idea. The gorge jagged suddenly in front of him. And he stumbled on the edge. With a cry, he realized he was falling, and as a last-ditch effort, shoved off the side of the gorge and slammed into the other side. He crushed his left arm against the craggy wall, but he landed on a ledge. Looking down, he could only see darkness. The sun was sinking quickly. Above, was too much wall to climb. Across the gorge, Janna stared at him, thinking hard. Then, she turned and ran away. Panic screamed through Ralph. “Don’t leave me, Janna. Don’t leave me!” he cried after her. But she did not look back.
What had he done wrong? Why did she leave? Everything he’d ever done was to try and make her happy. Sure, he made fun of her during chores, about her tour-guiding, and the gorge, but he was only trying to make her smile. What if she took it as more than that though? What if she didn’t appreciate the fact that his family had intruded on her nice peaceful life to build a house next door? What if everything he’d done was counterproductive and it was his fault he would be stuck on this ledge until he fell off from exhaustion? With that thought, he began to cry hopelessly. If only he could get back off the ledge, he would be more considerate. If only he could be helpful and kind to her in a quieter way, maybe she would be more welcoming. Then it struck him. All he wanted was someone to welcome him in this new place he would have to call home. He had tried to make her welcoming, but he had done it selfishly. He wished he could apologize. But all hope was lost.
A hand slapped the rock above his head. “Janna?” He asked in disbelief. “There’s a narrow place on the gorge. I had to go there to get across.” “You didn’t leave me?” “No, silly. Come on!” She dangled her hand next to his face so he could see it in the waning light. He reached up with his right hand and they struggled long and hard to get him onto the top of the cliff. Taking a moment to recover, he sat and opened his mouth to speak. “I’m sorry,” he and Janna said together. For a moment they just stared at each other. “I think we both know what we’re sorry for so let’s not try to explain it.” Janna began. “If we tried, I’d probably end up crying, and I need clear eyesight to get you back across the gorge.” Ralph nodded, noticing that she was being vulnerable by admitting that she felt like crying. He said nothing about it, not wanting to ruin his apology and the companionable moment. “I guess we should get home then.” He said after a bit of silence. “I guess so,” Janna said, helping him up. “Across the gorge?” “Across the gorge.” He answered, and they walked as the closest of friends all the way home.