Some words are not meant to be taken literally. "Forever" is one of them.
| The sun was just setting as Natalie opened the creaking back door and stepped out onto the porch. Without pausing to admire the scarlet and lavender sky, she stole through the darkening yard and into the even dimmer woods. Her pace quickened as she entered the grove, but it still seemed like eternity before she reached the two trees growing out from a single trunk. It was funny to her now to think of when they first began meeting, almost a year ago, and she had trouble finding the place. By now she felt that she could locate it with her eyes closed – a good thing, since it was often pitch black when she made her way back home.
She looked around the shadows, searching. From behind, arms suddenly wrapped around her waist, and soft lips spoke quietly into her ear.
“You’re early.” Natalie shivered as the warm breath caressed her ear. Turning around so their bodies were flush against each other, Natalie answered, “Mom’s at work and Dad’s watching TV. They won’t even notice I’m gone.”
“Excellent. And Nick?”
“Out with friends,” Natalie replied. “I don’t need to be back for hours.” As their mouths finally met, kissing and nipping, Natalie thought back to the first time they met.
She had been wandering through the woods for over an hour. With her repeated failure to find her way back home, she had already been fighting the onset of fear. As the sun slid below the horizon and the sky darkened, she began to panic in earnest. Her cell phone had no reception here, and who knew how long it would take for her family to find her.
Without warning, a figure stepped out of the wilderness before her. For one unthinking moment, Natalie felt blind panic. Then the figure spoke, in a clear and obviously female voice. “Who are you?”
“Natalie,” she said, feeling calmer as she stepped closer, trying to better see this stranger. In the dim light, she could discern only the fundamentals of her appearance: average height, slender, with long, dark hair and green eyes that were surprisingly bright considering the poor illumination. “And who are you? What are you doing out here?”
“My name’s Kara. And I could ask you the same question, you know.” Kara paused, then added, “You looked lost.”
Natalie was startled to realize she had almost forgotten the fact that it was dark, and that she had no idea how to get home. Reminded, the anxiety came flooding back.
“Yeah, I am,” she stated with a nervous laugh. “God, I have no idea how to get back to my house.” She looked around frantically, as if hoping the building would suddenly pop into view.
“Hey, don’t freak out,” Kara said, stepping forward and grabbing her wrist. “It’ll be fine. Where do you live?”
When Natalie told her the address, Kara lit up. “I know where that is! Come on.” Her hand slid down to hold Natalie’s, and she pulled her along. Natalie quickened her pace to walk alongside this intriguing girl. Never letting go of her hand, Natalie hoped that it would be a long walk home.
Much to her delight, it was, and they talked as they made their way through the shadowy woods. Natalie learned that Kara was only a year older, eighteen, and lived alone a fair distance away, on a different edge of the woods. She didn’t much like to be around society, she said. In turn, Natalie told her about high school and the upcoming senior year, and about her family – her parents, who were always working or exhausted (or both), and her twenty-year-old brother who was at home from college for the summer. Natalie told her how, despite the three year age difference, Nick was the closest person in the world to her. He was everything a brother should be, and her voice was sad as she spoke of him returning to college in two weeks.
Finally, one of them brought up the subject of romance. It was Kara, Natalie remembered. She had asked whether Natalie had a boyfriend, and Natalie – all too conscious of their still-clasped hands – had answered, “No, I’m not seeing anyone - and anyway, it was be a girlfriend if I was.” Reflecting later, Natalie could scarcely believe she had been so bold. The only person who knew she liked girls was Nick, and he had figured it out on his own. Maybe she had sensed something in Kara, like how Kara later claimed she had known from the start about Natalie. At any rate, she certainly was glad for her brazen remark. Kara had stopped them on their path, and with a measuring look, had carefully brought her lips to the other girl’s.
“You should go back soon,” Kara said, snapping Natalie back from her reverie.
“What if I don’t want to? What if I just want to stay with you?” Natalie teased, tightening her arms around the other girl’s waist.
“And your brother?” Kara reminded her.
Natalie sighed, but pulled away and began re-buttoning her shirt. Abruptly, she turned back towards her and spoke in a surprisingly desperate voice. “Can’t I tell him?” Please? I hate keeping secrets from him. And he knows something’s going on anyway. What would it hurt?”
“Me. It would hurt me. You promised me, Natalie. I don’t want anyone to know.” It was an old argument between them, and they both knew that Kara would get her way in the end. Unfortunately for her, Natalie would never give up the fight.
“But why? He would like you, you know.”
Kara just shook her head, her expression frustrated. With some effort, she brought her voice back to its earlier playfulness. “Do I have to kiss you to shut you up?”
Despite herself, Natalie smiled. “Hmm, yes, I suppose you do.”
The tension dissipated as Kara pulled Natalie into her arms and made good on her words.
When Natalie finally arrived home, Nick was waiting for her. He helped her in through the window, his face a mask. He didn’t like her keeping secrets from him any more than she liked doing it. No, what was worse was that he couldn’t understand why. They had known everything about each other, until this.
They stood in silence for a long minute, Nick watching her patiently, waiting. Natalie fidgeted, knowing that she couldn’t give him what he wanted.
“I’m sorry, okay? Please say something,” Natalie finally pleaded.
Sighing, he finally released her from his gaze. When he spoke, it wasn’t what she expected.
“Why do you bother sneaking in through the window? Mom and Dad are asleep; you could take the door.”
“Where’s the fun in that? You can barely even call it sneaking out if you come waltzing back in through the front door,” Natalie scoffed.
He just shook his head, smiling, and Natalie felt the relief of knowing she had made it through another night.
They were in the woods, by their tree. They were kissing, but there was no tender sweetness, only desire, passionate and desperate and needing.
Kara backed her into the tree, and her mouth was everywhere – on her lips, the pulse-point of her neck, the hollow of her throat, and moving lower, edging the neckline of her thin blouse. Natalie scarcely recognized her own voice, keening as Kara tugged on the fabric’s border with her teeth. When it failed to move sufficiently, the older girl growled in frustration and tore the offending article off. This elicited a gasp from Natalie, either from surprise at the aggressiveness of her lover’s actions or from pure arousal.
Suddenly, Natalie saw a silhouette in the distance. As the figure began to walk away, Natalie was overcome by intense curiosity intermingled with inexplicable fear. She attempted to break away from Kara’s ministrations, desperate to run after the mysterious figure. She somehow knew that finding that person was the most, the only, important thing in the world right now.
But Kara stopped her, pressing her more forcefully against the tree. She held her wrists and stifled Natalie’s protests with her mouth. She drew away just enough to whisper five words against Natalie’s lips.
“You will never leave me.”
Natalie woke with a start, shuddering her way out of the dream to find that she was completely entangled in her sheets. Hurriedly freeing herself from the blankets, she stood to stretch and yawn. Sun was streaming into the room despite the filter of blinds, and Natalie smiled at the golden light as the last vestiges of her dream faded away. She made her way to the bathroom to freshen up and begin the day.
An hour later, Natalie was dragging Nick out of bed. It was funny how someone refusing to get up could fight like a wildcat to keep his sheets.
“You realize you’re expending way more energy to stay in bed than it would take you to actually get up?” Natalie groaned. She gave the sheets another strong yank. He seemed to have processed the truth of her words, as this time the blankets flew off, revealing a rather unhappy young man in an undershirt and boxers.
Nick grumbled something unintelligible, and continued to lie still on the now cover-less bed. Natalie fixed on him an unsympathetic glare.
“Oh, come on. How in the world do you make it to your classes on time during the school year?” She paused – more grumbling. “Besides, you promised you would go shopping with me today and help me buy stuff for college.”
Nick groaned, but grudgingly began to rise.
“So what do you think? Blue sheets or brown? I mean, you wouldn’t think the brown would work, but I hear that if you get the right shade, it actually looks really nice. And it’s a neutral, so it goes with everything!”
Nick looked at his sister incredulously. “Really? You think I can help with your color scheme?”
“Oh, come on, Nick. I know your dark secret. You’re totally better with interior decorating than I am.” A pause, and then-
“Fine. Go with the blue. It’s more interesting, and it’ll complement that quilt Grandma made you.”
Grinning, Natalie returned the brown bed set to the shelf and dropped the blue one into the cart. Most of the day had gone like this, with playful banter and helpful suggestions as Nick picked up his own school supplies and informed her of the various items she would need (“How do you not know what a shower caddy is?” “You need binders and notebooks, not looseleaf paper.”).
A sense of excitement and anticipation colored the trip. Natalie was leaving for a different university than her brother, but at least this year he wasn’t leaving her behind. They would both leave for their own adventures, this time around. Yet there would still be someone left behind, someone loved and confided in and needed. The looming goodbye caused a constant ache and anxiety in Natalie’s heart, not unlike how she thought Nick must have felt each fall when he left his family. And the time left to them was quickly running out.