“Stop asking,” Diego called back. “If you stop asking, we’ll get there.”
“I just need some kind of idea,” Diana rested her hands on her knees.
“I already told you,” Diego said as he turned around. He paused to eye his over-dramatic sister. “We’re close.”
Diana let out a sigh and carried on trudging toward him painfully slowly. At this point, Honey was circling excitedly around Diego’s legs, desperately wanting to keep going. She loved going on hikes with Diego – she probably didn’t like them as much whenever Diana tagged along because she didn’t get to race through the trees at her own pace as much.
“You said that ages ago – surely we must be closer than ‘close’ by now.”
“Fine,” Diego rolled his eyes at her use of air quotes and then set off again. “We’re ‘closer’.”
Diana rolled her eyes, and trudged along, eventually matching her brother’s pace and catching up to him. They walked in silence from then on. Diana would glance at Diego every now and then, and the look on his face immediately dismantled the sarcastic quip she’d been preparing in her head. It wasn’t like her brother to look so disengaged while doing something outdoors – it was usually the way he got back to himself and to the present moment. He didn’t look angry or sad, just wholly vacant as if he were sleep-walking or operating on autopilot.
“It’s starting to look more familiar to me now,” Diana said cheerfully, trying to coax Diego back into the physical world. It seemed to work somewhat as the corners of his mouth suddenly twitched into a smile. They returned to silence except that now one could hear Honey’s soft panting becoming more rapid. Diana sped up and walked ahead for a while, trying to distract herself from the pain in her thighs from the stretch of uphill terrain they’d been traversing for the past 15 minutes. As they reached the lookout point, Diego finally spoke.
“Do you think they’ve repaired the arm?” he called to Diana. In the distance was a wooden bench, tucked away under some trees where the rest of the mountain path continued with enough of a view the forest, then later city landscape, sprawling beneath them.
“Nah,” Diana said as she squinted to get a better look. “I’m pretty sure they’ve forgotten there’s even a bench hidden away there.”
They stood for a moment at the lookout point – Diana took some pictures and Diego let Honey run around and expend some energy in the open space where he could keep an eye on her.
“New camera?” Diego said bemusedly as he watched Diana prance around, occasionally stopping to stare thoughtfully at the sky or crouch down artistically to better capture the beauty of the dust between their feet. Diego was somewhat disapproving of his sister’s pursuit of the arts – almost out of jealousy as he had always been more actively guided (or required) to pursue more ‘reliable’ career paths.
“I figured I earned it,” she replied with her face scrunched up against the viewfinder. There was a sharp click, “I covered three weddings this month.” She furrowed her brow as she went through her recent shots. Diego smiled to himself – Diana had the same emergent set of wrinkle lines as their mother had had.
“So, what’s on your mind?” Diana inquired after remembering her brother’s sustained strange behavior and conjuring up the confidence to pry. “You never ask me about my job, what gives?.”
Diego had never been incredibly open, and she learned when they were kids that timing was crucial to asking him questions (never when he had just finished eating, up to an hour after he had watched a movie, before he got dressed for school but after he had brushed his teeth etc.).
“You need to buy actual hiking shoes,” he replied cheekily, nudging her shoulder. Classic Diego – King of deflection.
“You told me we were going for a walk,” Diana yelled into the air as she set off towards the bench she had been squinting at earlier. Diego watched his little sister walk off towards the shade – Honey racing past him and after her. Diana had always been louder, more expressive and extroverted. Perhaps because she was the baby of the family, she had been allowed a little more freedom. Their parents hadn’t been controlling or over-protective, but they often communicated to their son that he had responsibilities (his sister’s safety and well-being apparently becoming one of them). They had come out here countless times as a family. His father, in particular, loved walking, particularly walking with no end in sight or decided destination. He knew his mom just loved the view and being in nature enough that she would put up with a little bit of uphill to be able to experience it.
Diana was sitting on the bench now, camera in hand as she continued to go through her pictures. Honey had wriggled under the bench and was happily sprawled out catching her breath. Diego walked over and could see the golden glint of the dedication plaque glinting in the dappled sunlight.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF ANTONY & MARIA DE SILVA
They had died in a car accident three years ago – the day after Diana’s university graduation.
“Thanks for doing this with me,” Diego whispered, wiping his sweaty palms on his shorts. Diana gently rested her camera in her lap and looked over at her brother.
“It needed to be done,” she said just as softly. “I haven’t visited them since the funeral and well… so much has happened since then.”
Diego sighed heavily and nodded, then reached into his backpack to pull out Honey’s portable drinking bowl.
“Can you tell me why we’re here though?” Diana persisted. “There’s no way this was a spontaneous urge of yours.”
“Well,” he paused and looked down at Honey who was happily lapping away at her water, then back out at the view before them. “I wanted us all to be together when I told you.” He reached back to touch the plaque that bore their parents’ names.
Diana’s eyes widened – a mixture of excitement and worry washing over her.
“You’re going to have another wedding to shoot,” Diego said in the most serious voice he could muster, but as soon as he made eye contact with Diana, the biggest, most foolish grin spread across his face.
Diana gasped and grabbed Diego’s shoulders, shaking him and exclaiming, “NO, YOU DIDN’T! WHEN? WAIT, WHICH ONE OF YOU? I MEAN, IT MUST’VE BEEN YOU, RIGHT??” Diego threw his head back as he laughed at his sister’s excitement and as tears of joy filled his eyes.
“I proposed two nights ago,” Diana squealed as Diego spoke. “And, Kalvin said yes.”
“Obviously!” Diana flung her arms around her brother and hugged him tightly.
Diego laughed and pretended to sputter at her impact. Suddenly, she relaxed her grip and hung back to look at him. She glanced down at the plaque and then back at her big brother who had always denied himself of joy, especially after their parents died. Finally, he had chosen himself and his own happiness instead of something he assumed people wanted from him.
The siblings sat on opposite ends of the bench, still half-hugging and crying happily as Honey jumped between them to assess all of the recent commotion.
“They would be so proud of you.”