Under the weeping Willow, where the moss meets the river and the stones dance in harmony, a boy sits.
I’ve seen him in that spot for the past two weeks.
The only reason I’m intrigued by him is because that's my spot.
Everybody in the neighborhood knows that. Even the village bullies wouldn't ever dare step a foot into my little pocket of solitude.
“The santre will curse you,” they say.
“She’ll grind your bones into potion seasoning and gulp your blood down like summer lemonade.”
I purse my lips tightly and dispel the soft, cloying warnings. They reach towards me every day in a menacing embrace, begging me to come and indulge in insecurity for a moment.
I never do.
After last time, after the town saw that Harley Senya wasn’t an innocent high school girl but a strange creature with something foreign in her veins, there was no room for doubt in their minds. I became Harley Senya, child-eating santre and crazy orphan girl who lived on the outskirts of town.
I focus on the boy.
His hair is limp strands of shiny, glittering black. They’re plastered to his face, sweating in the mid-July sun. He wears a soft, peaceful expression—something unusual for someone so far out into the forest.
I huff. I must be loud, because he cracks open an eye lazily and stares at me.
Even from thirty feet away, his silent gaze is potent enough to make me squirm.
I look away.
Today, I’ll talk to him. I’ll march up to him and demand an explanation.
The chair screeches behind me as I jump up, a little warning. But
I’m tired of hearing warnings. Tired of listening to them.
I shut the curtains and head to my closet—a little makeshift wooden bin where clothes are strewn in no particular order. Perks of a teenager’s income and limited inheritance.
A black tank top screams seductive authority from underneath layers of pajamas. I shuck off my pajamas and let the tight, shiny fabric envelop me in the type of loyalty no one could ever provide.
I throw on a pair of sweats and jog outside, flappy wooden sandals clickity-clacking on the firm earth.
“Ay. Forest boy, you’ve been on my property for too long. You’d better have a good explanation, or I’m kicking you out.”
I tap my foot impatiently, waiting for his apology.
Instead, his eyes flick up and down my body once. “I’m flattered you changed for me.”
My cheeks heat. “It’s ninety-degree weather. I’m not going to come out in wool pajamas.”
“Thank god for that. Fashion would be forever ruined.”
“Don’t mock me. You’re a hypocrite.” I gesture to the metal chain belt that loops thrice around his waist like some overgrown snake.
He clutches his chest in mock offense. “I’m wounded. This is classic Renaissance elegance at its finest.”
I run my eyes over his rumpled black shirt, leather jeans, and bare feet.
He pats the grass next to him. “Sit.”
I do so reluctantly.
He leans back against the tree. “I’m Ariel. You?”
I look at him dubiously. “Harley. Why are you named after a Disney princess?”
“Why are you named after a motorcycle company?”
A surprised laugh escapes me. “Fair point.”
We sit in silence for a few moments. I decide to break it.
“Why aren’t you afraid of me?”
He looks at me, slightly annoyed. “What’s there to be afraid of?”
Ariel doesn’t know it, but those words unravel something broken and twisted inside of me. It’s been so long. So long since someone looked at me and didn’t see my powers, but a girl. An orphan girl who’s hidden her heart in scattered pieces in the deep, dark parts of the forest beyond.
And it’s apt to ruin it now, now before it happens later. “There’s my reputation. And then, there’s what I could do to you.” I leer at him.
“Santre will feed you to her pigs. She’ll polish off your bones for weapons after breakfast.”
Ariel places each hand on either side of me and leans in so that if I stuck out my tongue, I’d touch him. So very close.
The shadows throw his face into stark relief, and for a second, something utterly inhuman surrounds him. “What would a demon have to be afraid of?”
My breath catches. When my mother was alive, she told me of the others like and unlike us. Witches and seers were creatures that hid in plain daylight, but demons were those that prowled when the world slept.
“They say we’ll go to hell,” I say quietly.
I don’t need to tell him who “they” is.
Ariel looks to me, an undecipherable emotion flashing in his eyes.
“And you believe them?”
I don’t know. I’ve never thought to question it.
At my wordless response, Ariel sniffs disdainfully. “You’ve spent too much time in the dark. Come out and live again.”
I smile at him. “You’re my first friend for a long time.”
At that, he grins. “I won’t be your last.”
The river burbles quietly, lapping in repressed excitement at our feet.
“No one’s ever called my forest boy before.” Ariel muses. “No one has ever come up with a nickname for me, in fact.”
“I suppose you’ll have to deal with it now, Renaissance geek.”
Ten years later
I love the way his hair loops under his ears and over his forehead. Careless. Messy. Beautiful.
The sunset is painting the sky in shades of warmth I never thought possible.
Ariel fingers a strand of my dull, brown hair. The sun sets it on fire, making it look prettier than I could ever imagine. Or perhaps that’s my love-addled mind talking.
He looks at me with a mischievous, unfathomable gaze. “Best friends first.”
“Partners second.” I finish for him.
His eyebrows quirk up in lopsided parentheses. “Are you ready?”
I nod and tighten my grip on his back. His muscles tense, and we’re off the cliff.
Sound whooshes like a demon beneath us.
Ariel yells into the wind like a madman, and I’m laughing hysterically. Thank god no one below can hear us. There’s no one around for miles.
Below us, the glittering cerulean expanse of sea is dotted with reflections of the sun.
Everything is shining. Everything is perfect.
I hug myself tighter to Ariel’s neck. His skin is hot and cold, his windblown hair eagerly attacking my face.
He chuckles. “That tickles. Stop.”
“I’ll never stop.”
Ariel gasps, his chest shuddering with pent-up laughter. “Oh, you little witch.”
“Oh, you little demon.”
And to anyone else, we wouldn’t make sense. A demon and a witch, eager to start a life together. Two hell-bound creatures further dooming themselves.
But we could care less.
And we fly off into the deep blue, sun sparkling on our shoulders, sky kissing our cheeks, and unfettered joy leaping across our hearts.