This is chapter 5 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way
Several weeks passed before they saw one another again, a period which was punctuated in his memory by days spent waiting at the well in vain. Each time he would wait until sunset before accepting that she was not coming, unable to prevent a sigh of disappointment from escaping his lips as he stood to leave.
Autumn’s warm glow of reds and yellows faded into the brown of decay, and the crunch of leaves beneath his feet grew damp and cold.
Still he came back to the well every day, always waiting, always hopeful.
The woods grew colder, the days shorter. Soon the bed of rotting leaves was blanketed in a thick layer of snow, the brown giving way to white. The last of the foliage was brought down under the heavy weight of powder, weakened by the crisping cold. And still he waited.
She came almost a month later, stepping into the clearing suddenly and unexpectedly, the sound of her approach masked by the snow. At first he didn’t believe his eyes, convinced the silent vision before him was nothing more than a hallucination, a shadow of his memory. Then she spoke.
“I was afraid I’d find you here,” she said, and the moment he heard her voice he felt a tug on his heart and knew she was all too real. “I mean… I was looking for you, I was hoping I’d find you, but at the same time I was afraid.”
“Why?” he asked, his voice hoarse as he spoke for the first time in a long time. “Were you avoiding me?” He frowned, shaking his head. “No, sorry. That’s a stupid question. What I meant was, why were you avoiding me?”
“I wasn’t sure how to tell you something.”
“A month!” he shouted, his outburst echoing briefly about the trees before being absorbed by the snow. “It took you a month to figure out how to tell me something?” She flinched at his tone, involuntarily stepping back. Noticing, he took a deep breath and tried to regain his composure. “I came here… every, single, day. I waited for you for a whole month. Why?” he asked again, his voice cracking. “Why did you leave me?” His words seemed to hang in the air with the condensation from his breath, hovering still for a moment before dissipating into nothingness.
“I can’t be… who you want me to be,” she said finally, stretching out each syllable and picking her words with care.
“What are you talking about?”
“I know how you feel. About me, I mean.” He blinked stupidly, then nodded.
“Are you really going to make me spell it out?”
“What are you talking about-“
“I don’t feel the same way!” she cried, frustrated. They stood in silence for a minute, watching one another from across the clearing. They were no more than three paces apart, yet somehow in the empty white they felt miles apart.
“Oh,” he said, scarcely audible. “Is it… was it something I did?” She shook her head, smiling sadly.
“I’m asexual,” she said, glancing down at her feet.
“Oh. Well, I suppose that’s a relief,” he said, nodding. “At least now I know it wasn’t me.” She looked up, their eyes locking across the distance, and they both began to laugh. “That explains how you managed to resist my charms for so long,” he said between chuckles, prompting an incredulous snort.
“Right, I’m sure.” They laughed a bit longer, but when it died off an uncomfortable silence took its place. “My heart is broken,” she said eventually, shaking her head in disgust. “It’s broken and cold and useless.”
“Well, if it’s any consolation, my heart is broken too.” They shared a sad smile, but nothing more. The laughs were over, and they both knew it. “Will you still sing for me, at least?”
“Of course,” she said, taken aback by the solemn request. He smiled, clearly relieved, and closed his eyes as she began her song. The voice he’d been denied for so long washed over him, enveloping him in a warm bliss and carrying all his burdens away.
By the time it was over he’d forgotten the cold entirely.