Wow, this has been a fun week! I loved reading your responses, and I really appreciate your enthusiasm! I had a great time writing this story, so I'm glad to hear you had a good time reading it. ;)
I'll extend the suspense a little longer by starting with my acknowledgments. I want to thank my wonderful daddy for helping me edit my story so that it was a little cleaner and a little less sinister (go ahead--ask me about that one!). Thank you, Daddy!
I also want to thank my grandpa for all the work he has done to help maintain the actual nature trail in our home county. It's a beautiful trail, and I'm sure I'm not the only who has been inspired by it! Thank you, Grandpa!
And thank you to the generous friend who donated the books for this giveaway. You know who you are. ;) Thank you for being the kind, sweet person you are!
Now, for the winner! There were a couple of great responses, but the person who was the closest to the correct response (who officially entered the contest) was . . . ARIEL! Congratulations, Ariel! I hope it's alright if I share her response with you later on, so you can see just how close she actually was. Great detective work!
Thank you to all of you who shared your thoughts. You are all so clever! And both of the people who guessed about the T.V. show I based my characters' names off of were correct. That would have been an extra entry for both of them if I had needed to do a drawing.
My characters' names were from The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries show (the one from the 1970s)! Here's a look behind the names:
Callie: She's a friend of Frank and Joe Hardy. From what I recall, she mostly shows up at the beginning of the first season.
Ned: This was probably the name that clued most people in to what show I was referring to. ;) Ned is the name of Nancy's love interest in the Nancy Drew episodes (again, primarily in the first season from what I've seen so far).
Pamela: This one's a little bit trickier. The actress who played Nancy Drew was Pamela Sue Martin.
Parker: The actor who played Frank Hardy was Parker Stevenson. Oh, those blue eyes! (Note the reference to "bright blue eyes" in the fourth installment of the story!)
Carson: Read the conclusion to the story below to find out who Carson is in The Nature Trail. Carson was the name of Nancy's father in the show.
And the moment you have all been waiting for has arrived! Here's the final installment of The Nature Trail:
The Nature Trail (Conclusion)
By Amber Stokes
“Ned!” The man in shadows emerged to reveal her boyfriend, looking quite dashing in a black suit. Callie’s gaze shifted from Ned to her brother, hoping that someone would explain what was going on. But Parker led her straight to Ned and handed her off to him, giving them both a wink before heading back the way they had come.
“Simplicity really is best, Callie. I should have listened to you when you told me that on our first date. Do you remember?”
“Yes, I remember.” But that didn’t answer any of her questions. Or did it?
“I wanted to take you out to the fanciest restaurant, go to the best show at the theater, and bring you jewelry and flowers, because I thought that would show you how much I love you. But all you wanted was simplicity—simple love, right?”
“Yes,” Callie whispered.
Reaching out, Ned stroked her long, curly ponytail. “Why didn’t I listen to you?”
“I don’t know.” Her words were so quiet that she wasn’t sure he heard her.
“I thought doing something elaborate would impress you. I tried to have a friend set up a scavenger hunt for you, like looking for buried treasure.” He smiled, a smile that matched the soft yellow light over the bay. “But you caught him before he could finish.”
“It was meant for you. I bought it for you, Callie.”
Callie wasn’t sure whether she wanted to giggle or sob.
“So then I got the bright idea that it would be rather romantic to set up a candlelit path to the nature trail, starting in your driveway. Of course, you caught poor Carson again and he almost burned up your yard.” Ned grimaced. “I’m so sorry, Callie. I was waiting at the entrance to the trail, so I saw the whole thing. I should have known it was a stupid idea.”
Tears did start to fall then, but a strange laugh flowed out of her mouth, too.
“So now here we are, standing in your favorite spot on the trail. Nothing fancy, but it’s fitting, don’t you think?"
His fingers caressed her cheek, and then her lips. But just as he leaned in to kiss her, she asked, “Who’s Pamela?”
Ned jerked back. “What?”
“I got a rather intriguing letter from a girl named Pamela. I tried my best to ignore it.”
Laughter rumbled from Ned’s throat. He tilted his head back and laughed hard.
“What is so funny?” But Callie found herself smiling despite her words.
“Pamela is one of my co-workers. She had already sent the letter as planned before I could let her know that the first phase of my scavenger hunt had failed. I waited at the marsh for you anyway, just in case you showed up there for the second phase. But I like the way this turned out much better.”
“You’re ridiculous,” Callie said with a small smirk as she wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her sweater. Looking into Ned’s dark eyes, she asked, “But what is all of this for, anyway?” In the last bit of light from the sun for the evening, Callie repeated, “What have you been planning?”
“This.” Pulling a ring out of his front pocket, he knelt before her. In the white gold setting the lone diamond and the lone emerald, sitting snugly together, shined expectantly. “Our birthstones,” he explained as he held the ring out to her.
“Will you marry me, Callie?”
The serene silence of nature was broken when Callie flung herself into Ned’s arms and said, “Oh, yes!”
Yes, the nature trail in the woods near her home was Callie’s favorite place in the world.
So now I want to know your final thoughts! Did you enjoy the story? Were you surprised by the ending, or did you see it coming the whole time?
Here is what Ariel (the winner) e-mailed me about her thoughts on what would be the conclusion of the story:
"For the ending, I think that Ned is going to propose to Callie, and give her the necklace, but something happened and the brother and mysterious man were supposed to help make it romantic and messed it up. The necklace was supposed to be buried and she would find it as a surprise, and the candle was also part of the romance. Just my thought :)"
She was pretty close, don't you think? ;) Again, great job, Ariel, and the rest of you who shared your guesses with me!
Hope you've enjoyed "Mystery Week!" I recently posted my review of a cozy mystery, so be sure and check that out, too!