The Last Song

The Last Song

This is chapter 7 & the epilogue of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way


She continued her ventures in the woods for a few weeks after he’d left, but they didn’t feel the same without him by her side.  The trees she’d once remarked seemed like an endless supply of potential supports should you ever fall suddenly felt overbearing, unwelcoming.  She’d stumble on roots and fallen branches on a regular basis, as if the forest itself was trying to drive her out.

Her daily visits tapered off into weekly outings, eventually losing any semblance of routine.  She still went on the occasional hike, but they only served to remind her why she’d stopped coming.  Soon it was impossible to remember the last time she’d sang, and life went on.

The year came and went in a dull haze, and at times she felt as though she were only floating through life, simply waiting for something to happen.  April came, and for the first time in forever she went out to their old spot, not even daring to hope he might be there.  She told herself it was simply a matter of nostalgia, of reminiscing on what once was.

He was not there.

Nor was he there the next day, or the next.  She came back to the well every day, all pretences of no expectations long gone.  She was looking for him, waiting for him.

And still he did not show.

The well crumbled, caving in on itself and crashing down into the dark abyss within.  She was not there to see it happen, but found the wreckage the next day.  What few blue stones remained about the edge were cracked and broken, teetering on the brink of oblivion.  When she emerged into the clearing and saw what had happened she collapsed, falling to her knees before the remains in tears.

It was there that she heard his voice.

Her crying immediately silenced, she stood slowly, afraid of what she might find -or rather not find- when she turned.  But turn she did, and there he was.

“You came,” he said softly, making no move to approach her.  He looked different; older, somehow, and sadder.  Even his voice betrayed the change, and she involuntarily took a step back, afraid of this new version of himself.

“Of course I came.  I’ve been waiting for you since April.  What… what happened?  Are you okay?”  He shook his head, his movements slow and lethargic.

“Something… Something happened to me.  Something bad.”  There was a tremble in his voice, and she put her hands over her mouth, holding back a sob.  “I think… I think a part of me died.”  And now the sob did come, and she was crying and running towards him, and she threw her arms around him, squeezing as tight as she could as though she were afraid she would lose him again, as though she could press his broken pieces together again and fix whatever was wrong.

But he didn’t return the hug, his arms limp at his sides.  She pulled away, tears running down her face.

“What’s wrong?” she pleaded, grabbing him by the shoulders and shaking him gently.  “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“I don’t know,” he said, staring straight ahead with deadened eyes.

Not knowing what else to do, she took him by the hand and lead him over to what remained of the well, sitting them both down against the side.  They sat there together for what felt like an eternity, holding hands against the silence.

When the song began it was soft and low, and at first she didn’t even realise she had opened her mouth.  But then she felt his hand squeeze hers and pressed on, encouraged by the response.  She sang for the first time in over a year, with only the birds, the trees and the boy to hear.

Her words filled the air about them, circling above and around.  They sank deep into his pores and in through his ears, flowing through his body and to his heart.

And inside his chest something stirred, something he’d thought to be long dead.  A tear welled up in his eye, lingering briefly in his vision and blurring the world before him.  But she was still there beside him, and as the song reached its crescendo he closed his eyes and released the tear.

The Boy Who Lived in the Woods

The Boy Who Lived in the Woods

This is chapter 6 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way


 When he was twelve years old his appointed foster care social worker told him that no one wanted him.

“You’re too much of a hassle,” she said simply, shuffling through some papers on her desk.  He sat across from her in a leather seat far too big for his small frame and tried to make sense of what she had said.  He’d been bounced from home to home since birth, when his parents gave him up for adoption and no one claimed him.  Orphanages, foster homes, even a few adoptions.  They all ended at one point or another, and he was unceremoniously transferred to the next.

The blame was partly his, to be entirely fair.  He had issues.  Issues most families didn’t want to have to deal with.  Still to hear it out loud stung, especially coming from one of the only people who’d been a constant in his ever-shifting life.

He cared too much.  He grew overly attached to the people in his life, fleeting though they were, and was unfailingly devastated when they inevitably turned him away again.  One therapist had called it “emotional acuity”, stemming from unresolved abandonment issues.  A foster sibling at the time happily informed him that this was a dressed-up way of calling him a pussy.

His latest placement, a foster home in the sleepy little town of Woodsbrook, had lasted longer than most.  This was partly due to the fact that he spent most of his time in the woods, effectively staying out of his foster family’s way.  Already preoccupied with two other foster children younger than him and a third biological child (older than him), the family found they could hardly care less where he spent his days, so long as the government’s checks kept coming.

The woods were his escape, his sanctuary.  After all, how could he be a burden when there was no one around to burden?  The woods had become his home, the only home he’d ever known.  And she had become the only family he’d ever known.

Which made it all the more difficult to say goodbye.

“I’m leaving.”

“Already?” she asked, sitting down on the well’s rim. “We just got here.”

“What?  No- I mean… I’m leaving Woodsbrook.”

“Oh.”  She studied his face, looking for a sign he was joking.  She found none.

“I’m sorry,” he said, avoiding her gaze.

“When?”

“Tomorrow.  I wasn’t sure how to tell you,” he added quickly, seeing her mouth fall open. “I couldn’t tell you.”  She took a deep breath, steadying herself.

“That’s… alright.  Now you know how I felt.”  She shook her head.  “Sort of.”

“Sort of,” he agreed.  They fell silent, thinking about that day.

“Why?” she asked eventually.

“Ah, university, believe it or not.”  She raised an eyebrow.

“University?  That means you’re a year ahead of me in school then.”  She scoffed.  “Why didn’t I know that?  Why didn’t either of us know that?  After all we’ve talked about, after all the time we’ve spent together, we still don’t know much about one another, do we?”

“Of course we do!” he sputtered.  “I mean sure, we left some things out, but wasn’t that part of the agreement?  The outside world doesn’t matter in here, remember?”

“But it does, doesn’t it?” she said softly.  “I mean, look at us.  We’ve been playing a game, living this fantasy.  It’s just a stupid facade.”

“Don’t say that.”

“But it’s true!” she blurted.  “The outside world does matter.  It has always mattered, and it always will matter.  Escape is only temporary; at the end of the day when we walk out of this forest we will always end up where we were before.  Always.”

“Yeah, but at least we can get away from that here, if only for a moment-“

“What good are temporary solutions to permanent problems?”  He shook his head frantically.

“Don’t say that.  Please don’t say that.”

“Why not?”

“I need- I need you to tell me that there was a reason behind all of this.  I need you to tell me that it wasn’t for nothing.  That we had fun here.  I need… I need to know that you’ll miss me.”  She blinked.

“Of course I’ll miss you.  How could you even think that I wouldn’t?”  She waited for him to respond, and when it became clear he wouldn’t she grabbed his hand and pulled him over, sitting him down beside her.  “Listen to me.  You are, without a doubt, the best friend I have ever had.  And I will miss you.  More than you know.”  He smiled, tears running down his face, and embraced her.

“Thank you,” he whispered over her shoulder.  “Thank you.”

When they parted he sniffled, grinning sheepishly.

“You know, if this is going to be our last day together for a while, I don’t want to spend it harping over what’s to come.”

“The outside world stays outside,” she said, repeating the agreement they’d made all those months ago.

“Exactly.”

They talked, doing their best to move off of the subject of his imminent departure, but the topic loomed over them like an impending storm cloud.  Even as she sang he could feel the shadow of his life, his real life, casting an uneasy atmosphere over them both.  All the things he hadn’t told her, all the things he wished he could, filled the air between them and seemed to drown out her voice.

When the song was over she sat there for a moment beside him, ignoring the alarm on her watch.

“I have to go,” she said finally, standing to leave.  “I, ah… I’ll see you when you get back, right?”

“Right.”  He tried to force a smile, but it came off as more of a grimace.  Still she returned it as best she could, and they hugged for what would be the last time in a long time.  When they separated she started home, and he said goodbye to his.

The Cold Silence

The Cold Silence

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.

“Okay, so…”

“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.

The Steady March of Time

The Steady March of Time

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.

“What?”

“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.”

The Problem with Romantics

The Problem with Romantics

This is chapter 3 of a continuing story called The Woods and the Way


“The problem with romantics is that they’re all heart and no head.  That’s not to say they’re stupid, mind you: it just means they don’t think… rationally.  They don’t think reasonably.  The second something tugs at their heartstrings they’re off, and no reason or rhyme can deter them.  At least until something else strikes their fancy, and then they’re gone.  One moment they’re at your doorstep with flowers professing their love, the next they’re chasing after the new skirt in town like a lovesick puppy.”

The girl looked to their front door on her left and tried to picture her father standing there with a bouquet in hand, only a few years older than she was now.  The image made her smile, but it was a sad smile.  She and her mother were sitting out on their porch swing, watching the Sunday afternoon float lazily by.  An ice cream truck had passed through the neighbourhood a few minutes before, and chocolate fudge ripple dripped down the cones as they talked, staining their hands.

“It’s not their fault, of course,” her mother continued.  “I don’t blame your father for leaving me any more than, say… any more than I can blame oxygen for reacting with iron and rusting these chains.”  She ran her long, delicate fingers down the old chains of the swing, looking at them with undisguised nostalgia.  “It was in his nature, darling.  He was wired a certain way, and we can only do so much to fight our nature.  If anything I blame myself for not seeing it sooner, and for loving him back in the first place.”

“But you did?  Love him, I mean.  And he loved you back?”

“Well of course, sweetie.  We loved one another very much.  The trouble wasn’t that he didn’t love, it was that he loved too much.  That amount of love needs constant attention, or it will find something -or someone- else to satiate it.  But between my PhD and work at the lab I just couldn’t give your father the attention he needed.  To his credit he never once cheated on me.  Even after he’d fallen for her he came to me first, and explained everything.  He wasn’t a sleaze, he was a romantic.  Honour and chivalry were, in his mind, the most important things in life and love.  I think we both knew the time had come: he was just the one who pointed it out.”

“Do you miss him?”  Her mother was silent for a moment as she looked out onto the street, her misty eyes trailing an old Chrysler LeBaron as it squeaked and groaned past their house.

“Only when I think about him,” she said, smiling sadly.

The Forgotten Well

The Forgotten Well

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.”

“Huh?”

“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.

“No, why?”

“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.

“You what?”

“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.

The Girl Who Sang in the Woods

The Girl Who Sang in the Woods

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.