During a walk in the woods, Harper contemplates life, it's beauties and it's down-falls.
|The rustle of the slowly dying leaves overhead, alongside the rattle of branches that were becoming more bare with every hour that passed, the chattering of birds as they sought out the ever ripening berries, and the odd chitter of a squirrel bustling around to find stores for the winter months – these were the sounds that Harper had come to know and love as the autumn months drew in. Today was little different to usual as she wandered without aim through the woodland near her home, smiling at the crunch underfoot of the leaves that had already fallen to their demise. Apart from the fact that she wasn't alone.
She turned back to watch her companion following her, his slower gait due to choice rather than necessity. His gaze was directed at the ground, his expression one of deep thought, as he ambled towards her. He happened to glance up and saw Harper watching him, and a smile passed over his visage, his eyes gleaming brightly as they caught her own. The sweet curve of his lips caused her to do likewise, as she continued to gaze at him, waiting for him to catch up.
“You do take your time, you know?” she noted as she turned to walk away once again. “But then, you always do, don't you?”
She could almost feel him smiling behind her, and she chuckled as a memory unbidden popped into her head.
“Do you remember when we came here a few summers back?” she said, looking upwards at the sky, which was a mass of grey-white clouds intersparsed with the odd patch of pale blue. “It was a beautiful day – so warm. We had a picnic under the willow down by the lake, and afterwards you suggested we go skinny-dipping...” She laughed again. “I didn't want to, in case someone we knew walked by, but you persuaded me to anyway. And we stayed in there all afternoon...”
She swallowed gently as the memories of their kissing and love-making entered her head, causing a soft, yet distinct sensation of lust to build in her abdomen.
“...and when we came out, our fingers and toes were wrinkled like prunes,” she finished, with a smile.
She thought she heard him chuckle quietly, though she couldn't be sure. She kept walking, her pace slowed, but still he remained behind her. She could feel him close, but never quite in view.
They reached the lake and began to make their way around it towards the willow that Harper had mentioned earlier. Looking out across it, Harper could see the trees bordering the expanse of clear water, their heads an array of burnt orange, copper and gold clashing spectacularly with the cool grey and blue of the sky above. She sighed softly, breathing in the crisp, earthy scent around her. She paused suddenly and looked down at the crunchy carpet beneath her feet, before bending down and grasping a great handful of leaves, holding them under her nose and taking a deep breath. They smelled of the earth and of life, and of autumns passed.
She turned to him, looking his manly, though far from perfect physique up and down as she did so, unable to refrain from doing so. He was clad in the dark-grey jacket and sapphire-blue scarf that she'd bought him the previous christmas, along with a pair of stone-wash jeans and his battered, leather work-boots. Beneath the jacket, she could see the smallest flash of his cream wool sweater, her favourite.
She held the leaves out towards him, and smiled as he consented to lean down and inhale the scent. He looked up at her with a nod, his lips curving upwards to match her own. The sight of his smile filled her with a sudden joy, and, in a sudden eruption of feeling, she threw the leaves into the air, surrounding them in a thick falling cloud of gold, red and orange. She laughed, and began to spin, feeling them landing in her long, dark hair and catching on her jacket as she continued her twirling dance amongst them.
She had no idea how long she'd been spinning, but when she eventually stopped she felt dizzy, and knelt down on the ground to get her bearings. Amidst the light-headed sensation in her head, she looked around for her companion, and found him to be nowhere in sight. She sat up straight, looking in all directions to see if she could spot him. A hint of movement, a flash of blue from the scarf around his neck – anything. But he was gone.
She got to her feet, still a little unsteady, and trudged on towards the willow, thinking that if anywhere, he would be there. As she walked, a light spattering of rain began to fall, landing on her face and beading in her hair and eyelashes. She barely noticed it as she searched, wondering all the while why he'd left without saying anything.
Finally, she reached the tree, and there he was. He was seated in an alcove between two large roots, leaning his head back against the great trunk, his eyes closed. Biting down on her lower lip, her forehead crinkled slightly in concern, she approached, parting the hanging branches in her path, noting the marbling of pale green and gold on the leaves. Her eyes caught the familiar heart-shape carved into the tree, the initials 'B.R' and 'H.R' etched into the centre with another smaller heart in between. She stopped before him and knelt down.
“Is everything okay?” she asked, tilting her head a little to one side.
He opened his eyes and looked at her, their deep-brown depths gazing intensely into her dark-blue ones. He sighed, and gestured for her towards him. She consented, slipping herself between his legs, which were bent at the knee, and seating herself there, with her back leaning against his warm form. His arms came around her, enclosing her in their embrace, and she revelled in the comfort and love she felt. She snuggled her head against his chest and sighed contentedly.
Looking out at the colourful world beyond the hanging branches of the willow, suddenly Harper felt a hard knot appear in her gut, and the beginning of another in her throat, while her chest felt tight. Despite it's beauty, the world outside did nothing to state the sudden feeling overwhelming her.
“I hate it when you go away, you know?” she whispered, her hands moving up to entwine with his own, feeling their strength and size when compared to hers. “I miss you so much...”
He sighed again, his chest rising and falling beneath her.
“I know,” he murmured, so softly that, had they not been in such an isolated, quiet spot, Harper was sure she wouldn't have heard. “But I must. I don't want to, but it's not my choice...”
Tears began to prickle at the corners of her eyes, demanding to be shed, and Harper obliged, allowing them to trickle down her cold-reddened cheeks like tiny streams.
“It's not fair...” she replied, her voice full of emotion.
They remained as such in silence for a while, the tears falling to drip from Harper's pale chin and land upon her jacket, creating a small patch of moisture, while his arms held her firmly, yet lightly as a feather.
Suddenly he stirred.
“I have to go now, my love,” his whispery voice stated, and she felt his lips touching against her temple.
“Already? But it's been such a short time...”
“I know, I know...But it's not up to me.”
Harper took in a stuttered breath and began to sob quietly.
“I need you...” she said, sniffing quietly.
“You really don't, sweetheart...” Another kiss alighted upon the top of her dark head. “I love you, Harper.”
“I love you too, Ben...”
Harper didn't see Ben leave. One moment he was there, and the next he was gone, as was always the case. She shifted, and found her back to be leaning against the solid truck of the willow. She looked up into it's vast branches, as she reached back a hand to touch the cool, rough surface, reminding herself of the tree's reliable, ever-there presence.
“Why did you have to leave me...?” she whispered into the wind, though no answer reached her ears.
Sat there amongst the gold and green, grieving and alone, Harper wept.