Nothing is as it seems, night and day.
I wake up this morning in his arms, bodies surrounded with the stifling warmth of our sleeping bags, the same as the day before. Sweet sap sits in the air from the ponderosa pines above the spice of the dusty earth while the crickets fill the hillside with their song. As I stare up at the tent fabric and listen to the roar of the river below, I feel like a stranger to my own life. I know of the world around me, but it’s different, tainted. His hold, once protection from the world, is a prison, and I must escape.
Anxiety rises up in me as I silently struggle against the oppressive heat, out of my cocoon. He stirs for a moment, but returns to his stillness as I close my eyes tight. I slide away from his grasp, hastily grabbing my belongings, promising myself that I'll repack when I'm safe. The fresh, cool air greets me as I unzip the door, freedom laying beyond me. Don't wake up. Don't wake up.
I whisper wishes as I hastily lace up my hiking boots. Luck on my side, I swiftly march away from the campsite, and away from civilization. I don't care where I go, my only destination is where he isn't. Paranoia seizes me, telling me to hide behind the trees, stay low. We are no longer friends, no longer lovers. He is the hunter, and I am the hunted. My name echoes through the trees, they know where I am. Louder again. I'm not lost, turn away. Go away.
His calls are that of a wounded animal, but I know better. I press on, careless of the twigs telling of my whereabouts. The fool's gold dust covers my boots and legs, blending me further. This is where I belong.
Sunlight saps my energy, muscles shake in protest as I climb, how much further until he gives up, I don't know. My mind searches for what the future holds, but it's all a blur, smudged by his dogged pursuit. He's stronger than me, I always knew that. My hopes are dashed as he gains ground, the forest must have told him. Stop, turn back, he demands. I wish the same, but my mouth is stuck, as are my feet, bound to go forward only.
Fear screams as his heavy footsteps grow closer. It boils in my throat until I can't keep it in.
"Stay back!" I beg, holding my hands up as a desperate measure of protection. He slows, frustration clear on his face as he catches his breath.
"What do you think you're doing?"
I hate that question. There are no thoughts, only instinct.
“I’ve got to go. Without you,” I reply, voice shaking with anger and fear.
He rubs his tired face and sighs before reaching a hand out to me.
“We’ve been through this before. Everything’s going to be okay.”
I shake my head. This is the first time, I swear.
“You don’t know.”
“I do,” he replies, calmly taking a few steps forward. “I can tell you what’s going to happen.”
Keeping my distance, I wipe a few tears away, making mud on my arms and face.
“One, we’re going to have a nice walk back to the camp.”
“No,” I reply, wavering with painful sadness.
“Two,” he takes another step forward, “We’ll get some breakfast going and you’ll take your medication.”
“I don’t need it.”
“Three, we’ll go to the doctor to make sure you’re okay.”
The tears begin to spill, blurring my vision. His silhouette is closer now.
“Four, we’ll go to the lake. You love the lake, I know you do.”
“I don’t need you!” The words ricochet, piercing the serenity of the forest. He’s silent for a moment before taking a few more steps to hug me.
“I know,” he says quietly, hurt clear in his voice. “But I need you.”