It was a quiet fall evening, in which no birds sang, no cars hummed. The frigid air bit Abigail’s cheeks, and she shivered, wrapping her scarf tighter around her.
The bright leaves looked like flames as they fell and piled up under the old oak she used to climb. Abigail let out another breath, warming the air around her. Finally, she stepped off the old creaky porch and headed down the well worn path to the woods.
It had been twenty-four years since she’d last seen it, but the place looked exactly the same. Looking around at the trees and giant moss covered boulders, a small smile spread across her face. Ghostly memories danced around the forest. She saw herself pretending to be a ship’s captain on top of the biggest rocks, swinging on the frayed rope swing that still stood there, droopy and worn, but still usable. She glazed her fingers along the frayed edges, and remembered. Remembered a time when she was happy, and there wasn’t a care in the world. She could be whoever she wanted to be back then.
Her auburn hair whipped in the wind like the tail of the kite. She spread her arms wide, feeling the wind all around her. The leaves flew up and spun around in a dance.
Then, the wind picked up and she hugged her arms, and the moment was gone. She sighed, and continued walking.
Abigail soon came upon a clearing, and a flood of memories came rushing back; picnics in the warm summer breeze and staring up at the stars on the enormous rocks that stood to the right of the clearing. She circled the area, remembering. Behind her, she could hear a trickle of water from the river. She turned around and reminisced of when she’d jump into the cool water and the sun would hit it just right. She thought about the days in the winter when it was below freezing and she’d dance across the ice with her plain and worn boots and pretend to be a world famous ice skater. She’d been saving up all her life for ice skates, but even she knew it would never happen. But somewhere in that tiny girl’s heart, there had been hope. Hope that things would change and she would one day be in the spotlight with a beautiful glittering dress, not sitting behind a desk watching the time go by and waiting for the chance to go home.
Tears ran down her cheeks, and her eyes became wet. She tried to slow her uneven breaths, and started to walk back out of the forest.
“I didn’t expect to see you here.”
Abigail turned around suddenly. She quickly wiped her eyes, and stuck her hands in her pockets. A boy stood in front of her, with brown hair swept to the side and a mischievous smile on his face. He wore a dark brown beanie and a black heavy jacket.
“Carter, what are you doing here?” Abigail said disapprovingly. He was the last person she wanted to see right now. “Same as you. I wanted to see the old place. Man, those were the days.” Abigail didn’t want to say, but she agreed with Carter. Instead, she frowned. “I don’t remember anything good about this place.”
“You can’t remember anything? But Abi, you—”
“Don’t call me Abi. We aren’t friends.” She said. Carter’s smile faded, and he looked down. “Are we gonna do this again?”
“Yes, if you keep talking about it. And this is your fault, you know.”
“I know,” he said, kicking at the leaves. “I just hoped you would—”
“Forgive you? Forget about it? It’s always forgive and forget with you, Carter.”
“I’m sorry!” He shouted. “I’m sorry! But that was ages ago! You really can hold a grudge, Abigail!” Birds flew off of the trees, squawking and flying away. The woods were silent. Carter picked up a rock and skipped it across the surface of the crystal clear water of the river. “I’m sorry, okay? But we were kids, and—” He paused, his words drifting away. He walked back toward the clearing and leaned against a boulder. Abigail climbed up to the top, and Carter followed.
“All I can remember are the times when I ran here to get away from them.” She said silently. “When they were yelling—my—my parents.” Neither of them tried to say anything. They just lay down, staring up at the sky that was slowly fading away. The oranges and pinks and golds of the sunset slowly became the dark black of the night. Stars shined above them. The sky hung over them like a wide expansion of fabric.
“Sometimes, I wish I could go back in time, when things weren’t so hard.”
“Things were still hard back then,” Abigail whispered.
“You’re right, but life—” Carter thought for a moment, searching for the right words. “Life is just as hard as it was back then as it is now. I thought it would be better when I got older. I would be away from my parents for a change. But things never got better.”
Now the moon was right above their heads. Besides the moonlight, it was pitch black. The stars looked like grains of salt.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have snapped at you,” Abigail said.
“It’s alright,” Carter said. Then he paused. “Remember when you would come out here and pretend to ice skate, when the river froze?”
“Yeah,” she said wistfully. “This place used to be our own sort of paradise.”
As they stared up at the sky, hearts aching, hands clasped together, Abigail said, “It was a safe haven, these woods. A place to go when we needed to get away from our families. I miss this so much.” She turned and looked toward the path back out of the woods reluctantly.
“I don’t want to leave. But our life is out there.” She turned and looked back at Carter, asking him the one question she didn’t want to answer.
“Are you ready to go?”
“I don’t think I ever will be.”
“But we have to.” She wore a melancholy smile when she said it. Her wet eyes shone in the moonlight.
“I guess this is goodbye.” Carter said, looking around at the place. The wonderful place that had kept him safe through terrible times. They embraced, and Abigail felt warm inside for the first time in so many years. Slowly, she started to walk away. Carter watched as his best friend walked back out of the woods, a bird floating on the wind. Inside, he knew that she had forgiven him.
The only reason they used to come here was to get away from the wretched world; from the people they had used to look up to, but now looked down on with pain. But these woods had given them friendship, security, faith, and so much more, and that was all that mattered.