Edie was climbing lead up the eighty foot red rock wall in the Rocky Mountain foothills of Colorado with Richie close behind. She was looking for spinners or loose anchors that might slip out when in use and cause a climber to fall. Ultimately, she was looking for anything that might explain her fiancé's recent plunge to his death. She inspected the next pre-embedded piton and clipped in.
"Edie, I came along today to, like, you know, give you support. But the sheriff already closed this case. He says it was an accident." Richie waited, making sure there was always one anchor between himself and Edie.
"I know, Richie, and I appreciate how much you care about me, but something isn't right about this whole ordeal. Steve was too good a climber to fall during a climb up a wall we've all trained on for years." Edie reached up for the next edge or bump or crack to grip with her strong fingers.
"Babe, we already know he was free climbing that day even though we all agreed we'd never do it alone, right? So his foot slipped or he tried to reach a grip that was too far. I hate it, sweetie, but shit happens."
"Stop calling me Babe and sweetie. You never talked like that to me when Steve was alive, so don't do it now."
"Hey, I'm cool with that. I'm sorry, okay?"
"The only evidence we have that Steve was free climbing is that he didn't have any equipment with him," said Edie.
"Sounds rock solid to me."
They finished the climb and attached their rope to a top-rope anchor for the rappell down. That way they could retrieve the rope and leave nothing but the anchor behind.
Edie went first. She backed over the edge of the red rock tower and descended down the side, bouncing off the face of the rock where they had been climbing moments before. She thought of Steve free climbing then rappelling down like she was doing now. She gasped at that thought. There had been no rappelling equipment when Steve was found. He had clearly fallen, so he had been climbing. How did he expect to get down without a harness and rope? Now she knew what had been bothering her. This is what she had come out today to discover.
"How's it goin' sweetie?" Rich stood at the edge of the tower looking down during her descent.
Why was Richie giving her the creeps all of a sudden? They and Steve had been friends for years. In fact, She and Richie had met Steve at a Basics in Rock Climbing class where he had been an instructor. Edie and Richie had never dated, but she knew he had always cared about her a lot. But now she felt uneasy around him.
"I said back off with the sweet talk, Richie."
Things were becoming more clear by the second. She just had to get down as quickly as possible. She increased her speed.
"Hey, what's your hurry, babe –– I mean, Edie?
She hit the wall and sprang back out and down, always with one eye on Richie. But then he disappeared for just a few seconds. What he held in his hands when he returned explained everything, and she stopped. Edie hung suspended with her feet against the red rock. Had it been like this for Steve as well? Had he known?
"You figured it out, right?" said Richie. "I can see it on your pretty face, in your lovely eyes."
"Because I love you. I've always loved you. I loved Steve too, Edie, but he took you away from me."
"That's where you're wrong. I was never yours."
The solemnity, the surrender, even a slight smile all disappeared from Richie's face at those last words. Anger sent them packing and rage burned in his eyes.
The rock Richie was holding became Edie's only concern. She could deal with sweetie and babe, but that rock was a different thing altogether. Thirty feet separated her from the ground and escape. She kicked off the wall. Twenty feet. She released the rope with her left hand just a second or two after Richie threw the rock. She fought to keep her feet pointed down, but the rock was speeding in her direction. She vaguely heard Richie's voice.
"Why didn't you love me, Edie, why'd you have to love him instead?"
Richie was crying. So was Edie.
She hit the ground feet first, rolled, then stopped. Twenty pounds of red rock landed six inches from her face. She squeezed her eyes shut, clenched her fists and sprang to her feet.
Edie looked up just in time to see her old friend and never lover, jump. They had always feared falling, but in the end, Richie embraced it.