Today’s not one of my better days. I received a text from Mary saying that the divorce was final. Ours is a no-fault divorce. It was alarmingly easy to accomplish. Mary and I visited a lawyer together. He explained the process. The split was amicable and there were no children, so there were no disagreements about the division of assets. At the end of the visit, the lawyer said, “Mr. Taylor, you can sign the papers today. We will have Mary file. She will have to go to court, but you don’t have to be there.”
I looked at Mary, but she did not meet my gaze. “Okay,” I said, “where do I sign?”
A year of living as non-speaking roommates, six months of physical separation, and now, six weeks to make it legal. I was past the hurt, but still numb at this point. The text said, “The divorce is final. I have taken back my maiden name.” All in a text so she didn’t have to look me in the eye.
And of all days for this happen, today is the annual “team building” exercise for middle managers. So, here I sit on the bus next to my “partner” for the day. She is a short, mousey brunette that I’ve seen around the office, but don’t know. The ride has been quiet so far, but she looks like she’s building up the courage to start a conversation. I look away, trying not to encourage her. I’m not in the mood.
“So,” she says. “How’s your day been?”
“Not so good, what about you,” I reply.
“Well,” she says. “It’s good to get out of the office for the afternoon, anyway.”
“I guess,” I say and look away.
“I’m Gayle,” she says.
“Tom,” I reply.
The rest of the ride is quiet until we reach “Go Team Ranch” where we will be for the rest of the day.
A Go Team staff member boards the bus and gives us a rundown of the day’s activities. Orientation, Trust exercises in the Trust Tent, zip lining, rappelling, the corn maze and then hot chocolate by a campfire to share stories and recap what we’ve learned.
“Anybody bring marshmallows?” the Go Team guy asks.
“You bet!” yell a couple of guys I recognize from Operations as they hold up their bags of marshmallows. They have obviously done this before.
“Great!” says Go Team guy. “Let’s get started!”
Trust exercises go as expected. When it’s our turn to do the trust fall, Gayle falls backward and I catch her and help her stand up again. The group murmurs when I line up to fall. Gayle is considerably smaller than me. Fortunately, we are on a soft mat. I fall. Gayle is surprisingly strong for her size. She manages the catch, we struggle a little getting me to my feet, but… not too bad.
The zip line is a piece of cake. As part of the team building format, we are hooked up in tandem so Gayle and I are side by side with our inside arms around each other’s back. It’s been a while since I’ve been this close to a woman. Gayle screams as we go through the trees and tucks her head onto my shoulder. Her legs are shorter than mine, so I basically do the landing by myself.
“Thanks,” she says as we unharness.
We walk to the escarpment to rappel.
Gayle whispers, “I don’t think I can do this.”
I look at her in surprise. She hasn’t backed down from anything yet, but I can see fear in her eyes.
She looks away. “I’m afraid of heights,” she says.
“You didn’t have any problems with the zip line,” I say.
“Yes, but we were hooked together. I knew you wouldn’t let anything bad happen,” Gayle says.
I’m shocked. It’s been a while since anyone has depended on me.
“Okay,” I say. “Look, I’ll stay right next to you. We’re a team, right? Take it slow. We’ve nowhere else to be.”
She takes a deep breath. “Okay, but stay close. Please?”
“I will. No worries,” I say. “Take my hand and I’ll help you over the edge. That’s the hardest part. Once we’re over, make sure you sit on your harness, otherwise, your feet won’t stay on the rock.”
“Okay,” she says.
I take her hand. Her grip is like a vice, crushing my hand. It’s the first time I’ve held hands…
“Relax,” I tell her as we step over the edge. “Lean back, step down. Take it slow.”
The first steps are ragged, but Gayle improves with each step and by the time we get to the bottom, things are much smoother.
As she undoes her harness, Gayle wipes a tear from her face. She looks away to keep me from seeing her watery eyes. I start to comfort her, but decide that it’s not my place. I walk to the next station, the corn maze.
Gayle comes up beside me. Surprisingly, there is a determined look on her face. “I’m good at mazes,” she says. “I have excellent spatial acuity.”
“Huh?” I say.
“Come on,” she says.
I’m basically dragged through the maze by this cute little mouse who seems to know this maze by heart. We arrive at the exit far ahead of the other teams. The first time I’ve depended on someone in a while.
As we sit by the fire, waiting for the other teams to finish the maze, the Go Team guy comes by. “You two did a great job today. You make a strong team!” and hands us our hot chocolate.
We take a sip and then Gayle jumps up. “Wait just a sec,” she says and runs off. She’s back in a flash with two marshmallows. She puts one marshmallow in her hot chocolate and one in mine.
“Thanks,” I say.
I look at Gayle. Our eyes meet and we smile. It’s the first time I’ve felt…
TG Smith lives and writes in Tennessee, prettiest state in the land of the free. After 45 years of working in the IT field and 70 years of life experiences, TG sat down to write a short story.