Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2312621-Finding-West
by JD
Rated: 13+ · Novel · Fantasy · #2312621
Chapter 4: Crossing Boundaries

Hunter skillfully weaves his fingers over the guitar strings while the four of us enthusiastically sing the chorus of 'Wagon Wheel.' His ability to connect with others as he plays impresses me every time. In response, my face lights up with admiration, and it's evident that this sentiment is shared among us all.

With my body swaying in a radiant state of glee, I peer up at the pristine night sky. It’s in that moment, I make a promise to myself to soak up every heartfelt second. Every warm tingly feeling.

A powerful gust of wind sweeps through as we sing the final notes of the song. I breathe in a strong familiar scent, a natural earthy aroma. A gut feeling compels me to shift my gaze towards the breeze, ignoring the many floating embers of the campfire. I catch a small shadow disappear behind a bush. Unbothered, I shrug it off and assume it’s a nocturnal animal of some kind in search of food.

The scent however, stays in my mind. I can’t shake the fact that it reminds me of West. Not as damp smelling as before, but still raw and organic. It has me wanting to see him again. To properly thank him for saving my life. He deserves my gratitude. Gawking at his appealing appearance would simply be a bonus, I ponder.

The campfire starts to die down with the conclusion of ‘Lean On Me.’ I sense collective exhaustion as Alex and Morgan stand from their chairs simultaneously.

“Time for bed,” he says, stretching his arms above his head.

“I agree,” Morgan conveys with a yawn. “You coming, Laken?”

“In a minute,” I express sweetly, tilting my head.

Adjusting himself in his chair, Hunter asks, “You not tired yet?”

“Oh I am. But climbing into a tent right now sounds too tiring.”

Casually, he calls out my laziness, “And you think idling in front of a relaxing fire is going to motivate you?”

“Shut it,” I say, suppressing a smile. “I’m enjoying the hypnotic effect of the flames before I go.”

I catch him smile out of the corner of my eye, but he remains silent. The two of us sit peacefully for a while, enjoying the flickering lights of the fire and night sky.

The giggles and commotion that later exude from the dome tent cause Hunter and I to share an amusing glance.

“Someone’s having fun,” Hunter whispers.

“Yeah, not sure I want to interrupt,” I admit. “I say we give them a few more minutes to settle. Otherwise, one of us is bound to get an elbow in the face from all that tickling.”

Chuckling, Hunter says, “That’s probably a good call.”

“So Morgan thinks you were quite vocal today,” I point out, trying to gauge his disposition.

“Morgan would be right,” he replies directly, meeting my gaze. “In fact, I’m still confused why I was the only one upset with your decision to throw yourself over a cliff.”

I scoff at his exaggeration. “I didn’t throw myself, I rappelled.”

“Without proper gear.”

“Hey, it all turned out OK,” I reply, shooting him an appeasing grin.

“You fell fifteen feet. I beg to differ.”

“You’re being way too serious right now,” I say, gently shoving his shoulder. “What’s up with you?”

“I’m just wondering why you were determined to be reckless today. You’ve always been down for adventurous exercises and testing limits, but tempting fate is an entirely different thing. Help me understand, what was going through that persistent head of yours.”

Dropping my head to my chest, I let out a heavy sigh of regret. “I don’t know how to explain it properly, but ever since the robbery at my parent’s store, I’ve had this crippling desire to be in control of my body. Whether that be climbing up a boulder or rappelling down from one. It doesn’t matter if the control is all an illusion, it still brings me a sense of security and empowerment. Maybe it’s the adrenaline rush. I don’t know.”

“You were robbed at gun point. That would certainly foster adrenaline and leave you feeling powerless. Wanting to feel in control makes perfect sense.”

“Yeah, I guess. Hey, I’m sorry I lied to you earlier today.”

“How so? ”He asks, nervously running a hand through his short brown hair.

“I told you I was fine when you asked about the robbery. Truth is, I haven’t been able to set foot in my parent’s store since it happened.”

“You will. Give it time. If this past year has taught me anything, it’s that your stubborn determination will persevere.”

I playfully scowl, responding with another light shove to his arm.

“In all seriousness, I’m here for you. To talk, to sit…to talk you out of sitting.” He grins. “Whatever you need.”

“Thank you. That goes both ways. I’m here for you too, OK?”

I accept his pitiful half smile and stand from my chair. “Well, I’m taking my butt to bed. You comin’?”

Glancing at the fading embers, he says, “I’ll be there in a minute. I’m gonna cover the fire.”

With heavy feet, I amble to our six man tent and crawl in as gracefully as possible. I find Alex on the far end snoring away, while Morgan lays back to back with him. After slipping my shoes off, I slide to the middle and lay on my side, leaving plenty of space for Hunter.

To my surprise, I doze off before he even enters the tent. Then, around four in the morning I wake to a dream about West. I’m falling from the middle of the boulder again, but this time I’m not intercepted by anyone. As soon as my feet hit the ground, I see myself reshape into a wolf. A golden blond furry wolf. West is standing in front of me, confusion resting between his brow. He appears incredibly muscular and sexy as ever, but the look he presents me—like I’m some sort of mutant—is very unsettling.

I spend an hour just staring up at our blue lined tent, reflecting on my real encounter with West. I think about how he managed to catch me so easily. How he was there at the perfect time. How he was naked, and how good he looked naked.

Wrapping an arm over my eyes, I try hard to think of something else. Anything else. I can’t stop thinking about the man who saved me, or his appealing earthy scent.

I convince myself to leave my warm spot in the tent and use the restroom. Once I return, I quietly grab my backpack and zip up the tent. I hear someone shift around as I walk away, giving me a shiver of nervousness.

The soft glow of the sky is just enough light for me to see the road. After tightening my laces, I set off on my mission to find West, contemplating my sanity and mental clarity. There are many campsites to pass by, however, my plan isn’t to look inside each tent and RV. I plan to use my heightened sense of smell along the way. For once, it comes in handy.

As strange as it sounds, I manage to pick up his scent rather quickly. It takes me on a mostly straight path at first, then angling around the start of the hiking trails, into the rugged dry terrain. A half hour passes with my trek through different types of grasses, shrubs, and patches of trees. I start to worry I might get lost and pause my steps momentarily. Hints of pink and orange begin to appear in the sky, encouraging me to continue. It also helps that his scent grows stronger as I go.

Gradually, I enter a more wooded area, a variety of trees on all sides of me. White and purple wildflowers pop up in patches beside them. The soil is softer and the terrain is greener. The only things missing from the serene landscape is a babbling brook and a friendly forest animal.

A loud rustling of branches startles me and causes me to trip over my own feet. I tumble to the ground, near a fallen tree trunk. Grunting in aggravation, I brush dirt from my legs and adjust my backpack. More stirring occurs from behind, prompting me to stand and search for answers. Peering over the sizable log, I make eye contact with a creature—a wolf with deep chocolate eyes and a striking platinum-blond fur coat. It boldly hops onto the tree trunk with confident movements.

I gasp in disbelief with a backwards springing step, shock and awe hitting me first. Fear and panic come next as the wolf begins to pace the log, slowly and deliberately. It’s sudden high body posture and raised hair along the neck and spine lead me to believe it feels threatened. I lower my body, crouching forward as I back away slowly. The deep, guttural sound it makes freezes my movements and sends a chill up my back.

Barring its teeth, the wolf growls louder, leaping in front of me to show dominance. I take a couple tentative steps to my right, wincing with each dreaded movement. Every time I move, the wolf shifts with me, like a game of copycat, forcing us to travel in a circle. I end up back at the tree trunk, frightened and bewildered, uncertain what to do next.

In foolish surrender, I drift to the ground slowly, sliding my back side against the log. As I settle in place, the sound of my heart beat echoes in my ears. I curl my legs and burrow my face into my knees, my arms wrapping around my head tightly in desperation.

Soon enough, I feel the warmth of the wolf’s body, the heat of its breath, sniffing the air around me. I recoil further, crying out softly in helplessness. It grunts near my ear in a soft low pitch, lacking the aggression I expect to hear. As my eyes flutter open, I witness a series of impatient grunts emanating from it, suggesting subtle annoyance. To my relief, it eventually scurries off in visible frustration.

It takes me a moment to decompress, to breathe normally. Slowly, I stand to my feet and contemplate my next decision. I have two options: return to my friends and share my nail-biting encounter, or continue to follow the scent of my strong naked savior. There's a possibility my path leads to a dead end, but more concerning, a potentially tragic conclusion to my life if Blondy reappears. Despite the dire possibilities, it’s an easy choice for me.

I check the area with caution, and once again, detect the smell of West in the air, his earthy, natural fragrance wafting to my nose. Logically, it defies reason, yet I persist in following it. Maybe because I find myself irresistibly attracted to it.

I’m lead out of the woods into a vast open grassland. Glancing around, I notice a gentle rolling landscape with several kinds of animals grazing the fields, sheep, goats, alpacas, just to name a view. In the distance, beyond the prairie, a primitive yet charming village resides. Each dwelling appears handcrafted from natural materials, such as wood, clay, and dried vegetation. The lush foliage surrounding the rural area contributes to the idyllic setting.

As I meander towards a wooden fence, a guy with blond, disheveled hair and adorable freckles on his nose approaches me.

“Hey there,” he greets, looking a bit confused. “Aren’t you a little early?”

Early?” I ask, stopping behind the three foot fence.

Leaning over the gate, he wipes sweat from his brow and smiles. “You’re part of the Enoch pack, right?” He asks.

“No,” I answer quickly.

Losing his cheerful disposition, he says, “Then what pack are you from?”

“Oh, I’m not from any pack,” I explain.

“What do you mean? Where did you come from?” He presses, worry lines appearing on his face.

I brush more dirt off my shorts with my answer. “I came from a camp ground.”

“I’m sorry what?” He frowns deeper.

“A camping site,” I utter. “Look, I’m just a midwestern girl, born and raised in the city. I only wanted to—“

“Wait— you’re human? Like entirety human?” He interrupts, raising his volume significantly.

I chuckle awkwardly, expecting him to break his serious brow. Instead, he tilts his head to the side, dumbfounded.

“Last I checked,” I answer dryly, suddenly very anxious about my whereabouts. I start to think I stumbled upon a weird cult of some kind.

“How did you cross the border?” He asks, wiping his dirty hands on his khaki colored shorts.

I frown in confusion. “The border?”

“The border into our territory,” he explains without any context.

“I didn’t realize there was one.”

“Lindell, do we have a guest?” an Elderly lady comes forth, surprising us both.

“Hi, I’m Laken,” I introduce myself, admiring her long white hair, tumbling over her hunched shoulders.

“It’s great to meet you Laken,” she offers kindly. “I’m Rida.”

Lindell leans in to Rida, whispering something in her ear. I’m left standing awkwardly as a wave of regret and anxiety wash over me.

“Why exactly are you here?" He asks, soft in his delivery for once.

Tucking my hair behind my ears, I say, “I’m looking for someone. His name is West.”

Lindell’s mouth falls open in astonishment. “You know West?”

“Well, I know that he saved my life yesterday,” I admit with pride.

More whispers exude, this time from both of them. Soon after, Rida opens the gate and beckons me to come through. I immediately comply. She then speaks with a soft yet firm tone. “Lindell why don’t you go find your counterpart. Laken and I will wait over by the outdoor refreshment area.”

“Yeah, OK,” he replies, taking off in a jog.

“Please tell me dear… How did our brave future leader save your life?” She inquires, guiding me with a light touch at the back.

“Yesterday afternoon, while rappelling down a massive boulder, I slipped and fell over fifteen feet. Fortunately, West was there to catch me. With ease, I might add.”

“I see. Well, it’s a good thing he was there,” she says, adjusting her earth-toned tunic.

“Yes. I’m very grateful. I love the intricate bead work on your clothing,” I point out. “Did you do that yourself?

“Yes.” She nods gracefully. “Many, many years ago.”

“It’s beautiful,” I murmur.

“Thank you, that’s very kind,” she says with genuine warmth.

While strolling through the field of grass, she motions towards tables in the distance to our left. A baby goat and its mama approach us, both generating an adorable bleating sound. I reach to pet them, squealing with delight.

“They are so stinking cute,” I say, crouching to the ground.

“That kid goat's got more attitude than my old rocking chair. At least the chair doesn't chew on everything in sight.”

I chuckle softly, appreciating her frank attitude. “I can only imagine the mischief they create.”

“Oh my, yes. I’m not sure which is worse around here, the animals or the teenagers. Both find trouble wherever they go.”

“I bet. Do you know how old West is?” I ask, continuing our leisurely pace.

Clearing her parched throat, she says, “West turned twenty just yesterday.”

“Wow, he saved me on his birthday,” I remark, feeling a smidge of guilt.

“Don’t worry, dear. I’m sure it made his day.”

“I forgot to tell him thank you,” I explain with a pout. “Everything happened so fast and then he ran off so quickly.”

“You’ll get your chance,” she says, a subtle curve to her lips.

As we approach the meticulously crafted bench tables, I peer up at the creative awning, fashioned from long, roughly shaped branches. Simple yet functional, I muse. I sense that’s the theme of the entire village and relish at the thought.

Rida insists I take a seat as she retrieves a terracotta jug from the center of one of the tables. While waiting, I’m startled by Lindell.

“I found him,” he expresses loudly.

I pivot slowly in my seat, stopping once I spot West. I end up straddling the bench as I speak softly. “Hey.”

“You’re here,” he says, in disbelief.

I nod my head and smile, then glance over his fully clothed body, admiring his tight white tee that clearly showcases his muscles.

“I didn’t expect to see you again,” he continues, taking a seat across from me.

I shift towards him on the bench. “Yeah, I wasn’t sure myself. I almost didn’t recognize you with clothes on,” I add, a hint of playfulness to my tone.

Lindell lets out a snort as he seats himself beside West.

“Like I said before. The pond and I had an unwanted encounter.”

Settling into a seat beside me, Rida pours water into cups, while West gives me a quick glance over.

“I don’t understand,” he conveys with bewilderment. “How are you here right now? How did you find me?”

“This is probably going to sound bizarre, but I followed your scent. I have this weird thing with smells and—“

“You tracked me here?” He cuts in.

“Yes,” I explain, brushing my hair back. “I remembered your scent from when you caught me. I know it was brief, but I was able to follow it here. The funny thing is, I also smelled it again by our campsite. Were you there last night?”

“Hold up—that’s where you went last night?” Lindell exclaims loudly.

Shaking his head in annoyance, West shrugs off his remark. I ignore his outburst as well.

“Listen, I wanted to thank you for saving my life. I kind of forgot to tell you that.“

“You were grateful. That’s good enough for me.” Looking to Rida with urgency, he asks, “Has this ever happened before?”

Shifting her petite figure, Rida’s replies, “Only once that I know of. But we can discuss that later—at a more appropriate time,” she emphasizes with conviction.

Even though I have no clue what the problem seems to be, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling in my gut.

West meats my gaze, appraising me with a sweet smile. It reassures my doubts of tracking him down. I return the sentiment, appreciating his well-defined bone structure, which is now more apparent with his hair pulled back into a ponytail.

“I’d love to know why you have a heightened sense of smell. Or how you managed to find your way here by using it,” he admits, resting a hand on his sculpted bicep.

I shrug, gesturing in uncertainty, wishing I had an answer for him, one that made sense to him.

“I don’t know how to explain it,” I start off thoughtful, “but I felt this irresistible force compelling me to find you. You were the magnetic field, and I was the metal being drawn in.”

“You saved her life,” Rida inserts herself, gazing at West. “You’re bonded now.”

“Bonded?” I ask, perplexed.

“But she’s not one of us,” Lindell breaks in. “The folk tale shouldn’t apply to her.”

“Apparently it does," West states with clarity as his eyes bore into mine. "Ever since the moment I saved you, there's been this profound connection, an overwhelming desire to have you close. Whether it’s an enchanting force at play, it’s a feeling I don’t want to ever go away.”

“I feel the same way,” I admit softly, catching a sense of eager anticipation lingering in the air.

After a moment of awkward silence, Lindel makes himself known.“Well, I guess I’m officially the third wheel now,” he says, drawing out a laugh from Rida.

To divert attention from my flushed state, I ask, "Which folk tale were you talking about?”

Rida engages my question with focused eye contact. “If our kind saves the life of another, they are bonded for life, whether that be in friendship or love. The connection transcends ordinary boundaries, inciting affection and devotion without any reservations.”

Feeling confused and overwhelmed, I say nothing in response.

“So basically you owe him forever,” Lindell says, breaking the tension for us all.

I chuckle with my glance of approval, then catch a brief upturned lip from West, evidently amused by his loud, extroverted friend.

"It appears we have another visitor," Rida says, pointing to the fields, her expression growing serious.

Shifting my gaze, I do a double take, shocked with my realization. “Hunter?” I whisper to myself.

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