She’s always waiting at the foot of that forgotten path. Overgrown with grass that brushes the edges of his knees, hiding the rocks and dips in the soil that always, inevitably, trip him up.
She never trips. As if she’s somehow managed to map out the winding ever-changing path. She walks this path – this path between the trees and spotted by bushes, this path walked by no one but them, she walks it like she was born to. Like this particular path was made for her.
She dances on her worn mud-speckled shoes, never slipping, spinning through the grass and laughing that ringing laugh that never fails to brighten his mood. Her pale hair tangling around her ears, falling like a curtain over her vibrant green eyes. He imagines, as he rushes to keep up, stumbling after her, that her jean jacket is a pair of wings flaring out behind her as she jumps. Fingers snapping at the dangling branches.
He wonders, after a spectacular fall that lands him on his back, the breath knocked from his lungs, if the reason he keeps tripping isn’t because of the treacherousness of the path, but because he focuses so much on her. He lays in the mud, skin tingling, head spinning, hyper aware of this one sharp rock poking his spine and stares up. Stares past the branches that seem like they will overtake his vision like creeping shadows if he blinks and looses his breath anew at the blueness of the sky.
Had the sky always been so blue? So bright and vibrant, not unlike her eyes? He blinks, wondering how he had missed such a view before. He lays on the ground and wonders. Wonders how he had never once looked up.
And then she’s there, grinning down at him. His own mini sun. She tilts her head like a curious bird, then turns her own gaze skyward. She laughs, turning that warm gaze back on him, and offers a hand.
His brows furrow in question, but he says nothing. They’d never needed words before, not when they walk this path. Their path, he comes to realise. And isn’t it a funny thing, to have something with her. To share something ever-changing, but also something that’s basically stayed the same even after so many years. To own the path less-travelled by.
She wiggles her fingers insistently, smiling widely down at him. He takes her hand and lets her pull him back to his feet. He never could resist that smile. His head swims for a moment, darkness and light battling before his eyes. He blinks, then blinks again, gaze dropping to the warm calloused hand clasped in his. He flexes his fingers; she doesn’t let go. She’s never held his hand before. He wonders how hard he hit his head. He hopes he never wakes if this is a dream.
He meets her eyes again, blinks back at her patience. Her smile widens, and she flashes perfect white teeth. For a split second, he imagines those teeth are sharp – that he stands before a predator, caught in her claws. His heartbeat quickens at the sudden strange creation in his minds eye. The realisation that he is so completely at her mercy, that these meetings are known only to the two of them, that she could lead him away or leave him behind, and no one would know.
But then he remembers who he’s with. His focus drawn back to the warm hand in his, and he suddenly realises that they have not moved, that she is waiting for him.
She always waits for him. Comes back and pulls him back to his feet when he falls. Always. Always does she return for him, even as he drags her down, even if it would be so easy to leave him behind. She does not need him.
He smiles, nearly as blinding as hers, and laughs. He squeezes her hand, and only then does she try to lead him onwards, her usual dance stilted by his clumsy movements. She laughs too, as they stumble along, unused to being linked to another on their runs.
She does not need him, but she does want him. She wants his company, even if it slows her own stride. He nearly weeps at the realization. She had never really been out of reach; he hadn’t needed to chase her. No matter how far she travelled their backroad path, she always would have returned. Poking her head from around the bend to guide him or dancing back to pull him along.
He smiles so hard it hurts, clutching that warm hand that clutches back with just as much strength. He follows, close at her heels for the first time, and delights in the knowledge that he has finally caught up to her.