This is chapter 2 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way
As it turned out, the next time came almost two weeks later, and by then the encounter had all but slipped from her mind. The woods were immense, after all, and the chances of two people from different entrance points stumbling upon one another were small enough to be discredited. The fact that it had happened even once was a fluke, nothing more.
Fluke or not, the encounter had raised the question: just how big were the woods? Her curiosity raised, she decided to invest more time in exploring and put her singing on the back-burner.
Walking through a part of the forest she’d never been to before, she emerged into a clearing and immediately recognized the figure standing in the middle as the boy. Strangely enough she found she was not even surprised, indeed the blatant disregard for the odds seemed entirely in keeping with his nature. Typical.
He was standing over an old stone well, his back turned to her, and was muttering something under his breath. Deciding to take advantage of her as of yet unnoticed presence, she crept forward on light feet intent on surprising him.
“What are you saying?” she asked once she’d gotten close enough, and sure enough he jumped, nearly tumbling into the well. But true to his character he recovered in seconds, and by the time he’d turned to face her his cool demeanor showed no hint of having been shaken.
“Just making a wish,” he said, never one to be caught off guard. “And look- it’s already come true. How lovely to see you again, m’lady.” She wrinkled her face, as if tasting something sour.
“Ugh, I’m already regretting this. That wasn’t even smooth; it was just corny.”
“Well what do you expect, sneaking up on me like that? You hardly gave me any time to prepare.”
“Hmph. Now you know how I felt.” She rocked back and forth on her feet, looking over his shoulder at the well. The bricks were a dark greyish blue, spotted with moss and the unmistakable marks of age. Small plants sprouted from between the stones, and a soft bed of bright green lichen coated the rim. “That’s pretty cool. I’ve never seen it before.” He stepped back, facing it with her.
“I found it a while ago, back when I first started coming here. This is my favorite place in the entire forest.” She tilted her head.
“How long have you been coming here?”
“I love how perfectly out of place it is,” he continued, as if he hadn’t heard her. “A spring of life, right smack-dab in the middle of nowhere. How did it get here? Who made it, and why? Did they know that one day it would fall into ruin? Did they make it in the moment, with no regard for its future? Or was it always destined to end up abandoned?” There was a tremor in his voice, and she recognized the look on his face as the one that had flashed when she’d mentioned her family.
“Hey.” He turned to her in surprise, as if he’d forgotten she was there. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“How long have you been coming here?” He swallowed, looking back to the well.
“Oh, a while now,” he said dismissively, waving the question away with a flick of his hand. “Have you sang yet?” She frowned, disliking the obvious brush-off but choosing not to pursue it.
“If you would be so kind, I’d love to hear you again.” He turned, sitting on the rim of the well and looking to her expectantly. She studied his face for a moment, still frowning.
“You mean it, don’t you? You really did like hearing me sing.”
“Of course,” he said, taken aback. “You really think I would lie to you?”
“I don’t even know you!” He seemed to consider this, and then straightened, placing a hand over his heart.
“I swear, on my honor as a gentleman and a poet, that I will never lie to you.” He settled back down, smiling. “How’s that?” She rolled her eyes, but there was something in his words that carried sincerity.
“Fine. You know, hanging around you is hazardous to my health. One of these days my eyes are going to roll right up into my skull and they’ll never come down.”
“Hey, that’s on you. I can’t help it if my natural charm and wit is too much for you to handle.” Suppressing the urge to roll her eyes once more, she took a seat beside him on the rim. They sat in silence for a moment, the sound of the woods clearing their minds. “Will you sing now?” he asked eventually, turning to her.
“You know, I started coming out here specifically to avoid anyone hearing me sing. I love it, but I know I’m no good at it. And now,” she shook her head, chuckling in disbelief, “out here, in the one place no one was supposed to find me, I find someone who actually wants to hear me.”
“I knew that,” he said softly. “I mean, I sort of assumed that was why you came out here. I…” he trailed off, staring off into the trees.
“Nothing. Just… I get it. I know why you do it.” She considered this for a moment, and then she began to sing. At first her voice was low and soft, hesitant as a toe gently dipped in unfamiliar waters, but as her confidence grew so too did her volume, and soon her words echoed through the clearing, surrounding and engulfing them. He smiled, closing his eyes.
As the last of her words resonated through the woods, the song still lingering in the air, he opened his eyes and found himself alone. Smiling, he stood and started home, humming as he walked.