This is chapter 4 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way
Over the following month their relationship bloomed and blossomed in stark contrast to the decay of autumn around them. They agreed to meet at the well each day before venturing on together, coordinating times as best they could. In an unspoken mutual understanding they kept their friendship confined to the woods, a pact whose significance needn’t, and indeed couldn’t, be explained in words. There was something to be said for the anonymity they found amongst the trees, freeing them from the constraints of the outside world’s expectations and preconceived notions. Out there they were already shackled to the image of themselves they’d presented to the world, but in the woods they were free.
They explored together, crossing fallen logs over streams with arms held high in balance, weaving through dense thickets of birch trees, climbing high in the branches of oaks. Sometimes they would visit the same spot more than once, places like the well which struck a chord inside them, but most of their time was spent charting out new territory. Their visits became longer, their treks venturing deeper and deeper into unexplored areas.
Occasionally they would be cut short by the always unexpected beeping of her watch’s alarm, and they would be forced to turn back to get her home in time. Once they stepped foot into the forest the outside world was forgotten, and that incessant beeping was an unwelcome reminder of that which they had left behind. Even so he never complained, although often fell silent at the mention of home. Strangely enough their expeditions were only ever cut short at her bequest; if he ever had somewhere to be he didn’t mention it, and she didn’t ask.
During their hikes they would talk, not of people or places but of thoughts and ideas. He would occasionally share a piece of poetry he’d been working on in exchange for feedback, and she, of course, would sing. It was an arrangement which suited them both quite nicely. Sometimes the silence would be enough, and they would listen to the sounds of running water from a nearby brook, or the rustle of wind through paper leaves.
“I wish it could stay like this forever,” he said one afternoon, staring up into the canopy as they sat beneath the branches of an old oak. “I wish we could stay like this forever.” She looked at him, studying his expression and gauging his mood.
“Change isn’t all bad,” she said eventually. “It’s quite poetic, for one thing. I’d think you of all people would appreciate that.”
“Change is overrated. What’s wrong with permanence, with secure and certain happiness? I wish we could just… take this moment in our fingertips, just pluck it right out of the air, and freeze-frame it in eternity.” He made the motions as he spoke, squeezing his index finger and thumb in the space before them, and bringing it before his eyes as though watching themselves from afar.
“But what about all the good that hasn’t happened yet? I mean sure, this is nice, but think of everything that is to come.” He shook his head.
“How can you be happy for the good to come when you’re too busy reminiscing on the good left behind?”
“I think you just answered your own question.” He frowned, and then started to chuckle.
“Fair enough,” he said, wagging his finger. “You’ve got me there.” Encouraged she pressed on.
“I mean, think about it. If you’d gotten your wish and frozen time in a good moment a few weeks before, we never would have met.” His smile faltered, and then disappeared.
“I wouldn’t have,” he said softly.
“Before we met, there were no moments worth freezing.” She blinked, unsure of how to respond. Neither said anything for a moment, him picking at the grass between his legs and her staring off into the trees. When the silence was finally broken it was by her watch, beeping that unapologetic, unwavering tone. Without a word she stood, looking to him before she left. His eyes remained downcast.
When she had gone, the sound of leaves crunching beneath her feet fading into the evening, he opened his mouth and spoke:
“But, ah! Dear fancy, hold-
how lavish in thine art,
When memory doth unfold
The treasures of the heart.
While the steady march of time,
Wreaking havoc on childhoods,
Hath left but little sign
Of those days beyond the woods.”