A one-legged man in the forest with Willa-nearly loses his way. (700 words)
Gripping the sweat-slick walker, I hopped, one-legged, into the wooded night. Willa led me out where fewer street lamps lit the way. I steeled myself to hold the questioning, no matter what. I needed to drink in the moment, to content myself to admire the way the leaves rolling ahead of us reflected the fire in her hair and the earth tones of her overskirt.
A young, virile man ran between us as if to sweep her off her feet, followed by several more, all robust and wealthy and captains of industry. By the breadth of a hem, she eluded them but her hair swished to the right as her heart followed them.
Naturally. I kept my footing by an even shorter margin. Of course, by passing through, they would catch her eye. Just as, naturally, a man like me–broken long before I lost my leg–would see the worst. I told myself it meant only that she saw, not wanted, the men; yet I could not ignore the vision of her, running off with them. "You can go with them, if you like."
Her open laugh almost disarmed me. "Didn't bring track shoes."
She hadn't prepared for them. Was that the only reason she remained so close? I struggled to mask the pain that pinched my face.
She wandered close enough to caress my shoulder with fingernails of Jack-o-lantern orange, and leaned in to confide, "Those old things don't even fit, anymore."
So, Willa did not belong with that group. Good enough, on the surface. Like a firefly in the breeze, she could vanish into the shadows. The bug-out bag on her back seat, "wisp" on her license plate, and the camera full of exotic locales, told our tale: here today, gone tomorrow. I didn't even need to think of the airline ticket, if that's what it was. Though she owned my joy, she could not foreclose on my dignity; I would stand tall even on my own. "This is serious."
Her hair swished as she looked back to wink at me. "Why, thank you." She waited a moment, then bolted forward on a chilling gust of wind.
Abandoned? As I watched her flit ahead with the leaves, the wind froze me and stole my breath, silencing the wailing sob that shook my frame.
Then she stopped and turned, hands on her hips, to smile at me before flopping herself over the park bench.
Hot-faced with exhaustion and embarrassment, I hobbled up to pause in front of her and look down into her eyes.
"One way to soothe a Gibran fan."
If you love something, let it go… She meant to demonstrate that she was mine. Never meant to test her, not like that. And, she hadn't quite come back to me, or had she? Uncertainty held me in stasis. I shivered on the outskirts of the light.
She reached up behind me to tug at my gait belt and gently guide me into her space. "'Fraid you'll never be seen again?"
That had not occurred to me. I looked back at the long, lonely path home. What did it have to offer? I accepted her lead, down into her arms.
As she draped her overskirt around me, her gentle arms assured me; they had everything well in hand.
From her warm arms the message soaked into the chill of my being. Capable arms, arms that knew where I belonged. Arms that knew how to hold on. In sweet surrender, I smiled and sagged against her body, finally understanding who had been hunting and who had been caught.
Even then, part of me dared not trust the warmth that radiated from her. If she was a fool for thinking me worth keeping, could I protect her? Maybe not, but I never promised her anything. All I had, the night, already belonged to her. After that, who knew?
She whispered in my ear, "Want in on the secret?"
Green eyes held me captive.
She laid the airline envelope against my heart. "I ride for free."
A red eye for that very night, with my name on it.
So, maybe they never would see me again. I smiled at the thought.