Dylan waits for me just on the other side of the screen door. With only a moment’s hesitation, I lift the latch and join him. A sense of déjà vu twists in my stomach. Dylan takes my hand and we walk toward the forest. It is not a direct line. Before I know it, I’ve pulled us off course and into a wide circle around the house. We’re talking, but all I really know is the warmth of his hand in mine, rough spots against smooth. Sometimes we walk so close our bodies brush against each other. Other times, we’re so far apart, the only contact is our hands clasped together. My heart flutters when I look at him. His hair brushes the collar of his shirt.
“Why are we here?”
We stop walking. He takes a deep breath and turns to me, the better to look directly into my eyes, searching for something. When he doesn’t find it, he answers, “For peace.”
“How long have we been here?”
This time he doesn’t answer. He looks past me into the distance, worry etched in his face.
“Is this place real?”
Dylan pulls me close. “Reality is subjective,” he says and leads me back to the house.
v v v v v v
From the porch, we watch as the sun sets behind the trees, our hands clasped on top of the wicker table, the notebook brushing the back of my hand. With the sun resting on the horizon behind the forest, its depths are lit up seeming to reveal all its secrets. The gorge is the only shadow – a streak of deep darkness cutting through a beautiful strip of nature. But when the sun has passed through all its colors and shades and only the tip of it survives, the forest is darkness, a rustling creepy stretch that I cannot escape from.
Without warning, I rise and leave the porch. Dylan follows a half-step behind. Soon I am comfortable on my cushion next to the fireplace. Dylan comes from the kitchen with my notebook and a pink mug with a large purple flower on it. The stupid thing makes me smile. He hands it to me. It is warm, but not filled with coffee. I take a sip and choke on the brandy.
Dylan smiles as if he expected that, motions for me to drink more and settles down on the cushion next to mine. He picks up the poker and prods the ashes in the fireplace. After a few moments, small flames lick the bottom of the logs. The brandy burns my throat. I can feel the warmth of it sink into my muscles one by one. I lean into Dylan, feel his arms slide around me and watch the fire as it grows around the wood. Sparks dance just above it like tiny fairies.
v v v v v v
“It’s all in your head, you know.”
Dylan stands behind my chair at the yellow table. Every light in the house is off. I do not move or speak. I’m watching flashlights dance in the forest. Someone is out there, exploring the gorge I’m so afraid of. They don’t know I’m watching them. I imagine they are whispering to each other. It has to be my imagination. Their words fill my head in loud whispers. It feels like she’s watching us.
Dylan moves to sit beside me. He gazes out the window, humoring me I think. I look at his unshaven chin, the profile of his lips, the slope of his nose and those long eyelashes going up and down in steady beats. “I’m here, Mika.”