This is chapter 1 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way
When she was twelve years old her older brother recorded her singing in the shower and played it back for her to hear.
“You sound awful,” he said simply, and to be entirely fair she really did. Still the encounter left her hurt, more so than he could ever have known or intended. You see she loved to sing; to her music was the blood in the veins of life, the soul of creation and the essence of existence. To sing was to live. It was to echo the words of your heroes and saviors, the people whose words touched you somewhere nothing else could reach. It was to acknowledge the bond that formed between two complete strangers who perfectly understood one another without ever having met.
For a long time she didn’t sing at all, only mouthing the words under her breath and making an effort to remain silent.
Her solution came one autumn afternoon, when she went for a walk in the woods behind their home, and upon finding herself wholly and completely alone, began to sing. She sang her heart out for the first time in over a month, with only the trees and the birds to hear, and if they thought she was off-key they didn’t let on.
Four years passed and her isolated recitals never faltered. Ten minutes into the wild and she was free to sing at the top of her lungs without fear of an audience.
Or so she thought.
It came to pass that one day, just as the last note of one of her favourite tunes rang out amongst the trees, she heard someone clapping behind her. Whipping about in shock like a child caught stealing from the cookie jar, she saw a boy propped up against an old oak, smiling devilishly and clapping his hands together.
“What are you doing out here?” she asked him, her face flushed in embarrassment at the thought of having been heard.
“I could ask you the same thing,” he replied smoothly, inspecting his fingernails with such casual nonchalance you’d think they’d met in a high school hallway and not the middle of nowhere. “You sing beautifully, by the way.” Completely taken aback, it took her a moment to register what he’d said.
“I sing terribly,” she retorted, almost automatically. He shook his head, pushing himself up off the tree.
“You misunderstand me. You are an awful singer, with not a shred of talent,” -here her face flushed red again, but this time rage was as much a factor as embarrassment-“but when you sing it is with such… passion, and feeling, that the song is nevertheless done justice. You are a terrible singer, but you sing beautifully.”
For a moment she was speechless, her mouth agape and her mind drawing blanks. Finally, squinting her eyes and fixing him with a skeptical, wary look, she said: “You’re not a romantic, are you? My mother warned me about romantics.”
The boy laughed, shaking his head. “That depends. Would you liken romantics to poets?”
“Well, do you write romantic poetry?”
The boy rolled his eyes, putting a hand over his heart dramatically. “I hate to limit myself to just one genre. To be pigeonholed into one frame of writing is to shut yourself off to endless possibilities. I don’t define the work; the work defines itself.”
The girl stepped back, frowning. “You are a romantic, you scoundrel!”
He laughed, and it was the laugh of someone with not a care in the world. It was a dangerous laugh, and the girl’s mother had been right to warn her. “Fair enough, you caught me. I’m a romantic through and through. I meant what I said about your singing though. You really do have a heart for it.”
“But not the vocal cords.”
“No. Decidedly not. But, one might argue the heart is the most important organ in the body.”
“I’m fairly certain the vocal cords aren’t even an organ, so your analogy doesn’t work.”
“Let’s not be petty. Do you live around here?”
The girl narrowed her eyes again. “Why?”
He grinned, sly as ever. “Because I should like to meet this mother of yours. She sounds like a very sensible person.”
“You really are a rogue.”
“And a scoundrel, no less.” Just then the girl’s watch began to beep, and she moved to turn it off.
“I have to go. If I’m ever gone too long they start to get worried.”
“Naturally.” She thought she saw a flicker of hesitation in his eyes, but it was gone just as quickly as it had appeared, and he worked quickly and efficiently to move past it. “Shall I walk you home?”
“Not a chance,” she said dryly.
“Fine. Can I at least see you again?”
She shrugged. “By chance, perhaps. I don’t plan where I go when I walk. I just sort of end up where I end up. If we cross paths again then I suppose you will.”
He grinned. “A game of fate, eh? Now who’s the romantic?”
The girl rolled her eyes, but there was a hint of a smile tugging at her lips. “Fine. A game of fate it is. The odds are hardly in your favour though; the forest is huge.”
“We shall see.” He winked, then bowed. “Until next time, m’lady, I bid you adieu.” Still bowing, he backed into the foliage, disappearing from sight. Rolling her eyes once more, she started home.