They were both young when they fell in love. Just out of high scool; she was seventeen, and he was eighteen. Many, at first, called it infatuation, but they knew it was love right from the start. Not a day went by where they weren't together, utterly enraptured in each other's presence. They loved adventure and the outdoors, and he never grew tired of the way her auburn hair fluttered in the wind on top of a mountain or cliff they had just climbed. Her hand fit perfectly into his, and his strong embrace brought peace to her heart. Dialogue was rarely necessary between them, for a gentle touch, tender gaze, or occasional soft word communicated all that needed to be known. Every passionate yearning, every youthful desire. Fond memories of good times past, and hopes of things yet to come.
An enchanting spring morning arrived, the gentle breeze swayed tree branches, and the warm sun burst gloriously forth, displaying it's radiance in every hue of red, yellow, and orange. Bright colored flowers littered the turf, ranging in every tone of the rainbow. The brilliance of the day reflected in the eyes of the young couple, who gazed at one another in the special way only lovers do. He looked down and kept his gaze on the earth. His pulse quickened, and he breathed heavily, nervous. The most important question a man can ask balanced on the tip of his tongue, waiting for the perfect moment to emerge. A small object rested in his pocket, warm from his anxious hand which had been rubbing it all day. She marveled at the beauty of the waterfall they were traversing, but he remained silent; too wrapped up in his nerves to admire nature. They walked behind the fall, then she turned toward him.
He stood staring, transfixed, slack-jawed in wonder at her. The golden sunlight made its way through the flowing water, and landed with graceful elegance on her rosy face. She was gorgeous, exponentially more breathtaking than every sight they had seen combined. He found himself deprived of breath in her perfection, unable to move, unable to blink, let alone speak. He was wholely entranced by her stunning glory.
He swallowed hard, now was his moment, he could not wait any longer. He forced himself to unfreeze from his state of shock, and took her hands in his. He beamed down at her, still in awe. Her innocent eyes stared up expectantly. Without a word, he shakily knelt and withdrew the item from his pocket.
The ring glittered in the light, as did the tear that slipped down her check when she realized what was happening. He took a deep breath, and spoke four words which seemed so small, yet packed an eternity of significance.
"Will you marry me?"
Her hands flew over her mouth, and her chest heaved in time with the tears pouring down her face. She looked up at him and simply nodded. Though uncomplicated, no gesture could have better answered his query, for all the words that could have been spoken were poured out through their embrace. They took one another in their arms and held fast, as though never to be separated. They sat there, holding one another for what seemed like hours, not wanting the splendid moment to end. And time did indeed seem to freeze, and for a heavenly moment, they were the only people in the world, accompanied just by the soothing music of nature. Every animal, every bird, every bug, every gust of wind and rush of water joined together in a glorious orchestra composed especially for them.
He set to work building a house for her, and several months hence, it was finished. Though small, nowhere could feel more like home. Picture frames dotted the walls, reminding them of pleasent times past; souvenirs of their adventures filled the shelves, bringing pieces of every nation into the small space. A cozy atmosphere hung in the air, and it smelled sweetly of fresh-cut cedar. A stone fireplace would hold warmth during the long winter months, and the wooden walls lined with windows allowed soft beams of light to flood the house. She flew about, adding little touches to the cottage. Arranging pillows here, hanging another photo there. Her little garden at the front of the house was sown with various seeds that would grow into delicious fruits and vegetables, and stunning blossoms of radiant colors.
They struggled through the months leading up to the wedding, for neither of them could seem to wait. But eventually the day arrived, and they were ready. The small ceremony took place in a meadow; for nature was their church, the outdoors their chapel. The clearing was decorated simply with the ornaments of the earth. Wildflowers grew in the golden grass, swaying in the breeze, more vivid blossoms adorned the arch of vines, and bouquets of lillies, her favorite flower, scented the air.
He stood beneath the arch, waiting, his brows knit with anxiety and anticipation. A curtain of hanging vines parted, and she emerged. His eyes fastened to her, and he gasped. She seemingly floated down the aisle, led by her beaming father. Her white, lacey dress made her look like an angel in the light of the morning sun. Her auburn hair cascaded down around her in rings of amber, and a crown of flowers adorned her head. Tears stung both their eyes when they saw each other, for the sheer beauty of the moment was overwhelming.
The wedding continued, vows were said, rings exchanged; but they were too caught up in each other to remember anyhing that happened. That is, until the final words rang out from the pastor:
"you may kiss the bride"
and they kissed, sealing the union of two souls, destined since before the beginning of time to find each other, and become one.
People say that the freshness of marriage wears off with time, but their love seemed to do nothing but keep on growing. It grew and grew, until it seemed no more love could be held. But love is one of those things that keep surprising you, even if there's seemingly no more room for it. For a seed had been planted inside her, and soon her stomach swelled with the fruit of life within her womb. They often stood by a window together, eagerly dreaming of times to come. Their child would be raised in nature, and learn to love adventure as they did; their family would be complete.
Many months later, the groans of labor pain filled the small house. She laid in their bed, her contractions hitting her suddenly and fiercely with excruciating agony. Tears wet her face as she groaned in strain. He stood by her side, holding her sweaty hand, and wiping her forehead with a damp cloth. She pushed, screaming as the pain seared through her entire body. Hours went by, but the baby did not come. She grew exhausted from exertion, and got weaker with every passing minute. Something was evidently wrong. The struggle continued until far beyond midnight, when she gave a final push with all the strength she had remaining, and the baby finally was out. Silence. no first cry pierced the night, and no joyful congratulations broke the deathly quiet. The child was cold and still, its little body limp. lifeless. The mother clutched her baby to her breast and closed her eyes, an echo of a lullaby issuing from her pale lips. She hummed as she kissed the child's fuzzy hair, smooth chest, and perfectly curled fingers. Then she laid it back on her bosom and looked up at her husband, who was silently grieving, but still right beside his wife.
She took a lily out of her bedside vase and inhaled its sweet scent.
"They were always my favorite" she said frailly. Handing him the white blossom, which she had put all her love into growing. She sighed. "Remember," she told him, "Even when I'm not in this life anymore, I will always love you with all that I have. Even death cannot separate us. Don't give up without me, my love."
She gently wiped away the tear that had run down his cheek, even as a salty drop ran down her own. She looked at him with tender love in her eyes before laying her head to rest on the pillow. He held her hand as she breathed her final breath.
With no escape from his agonizing grief, he left everything behind and fled deep into the forest where no human soul would ever find him. The only possessions he took were the clothes on his back, and the lily he clutched so tighly. Nothing in life remained to be lived for, so he determining to die old and alone. Decades passed, and everyone soon forgot about him, just as he wanted. He lived in a miniscule shack, only big enough for a bed, and small fire. He had pressed the precious lily, and the dried flower laid at the foot of his bed, never touched for fear it might fall to pieces. He became an old man, white, thinning hair littered his head, and a scraggly white beard hung down his chest. Age spots dotted his skin, and his voice grew gruff and menacing. He stayed in his small cabin day after day, month after month, year after year, and simply wished to die.
The old man awoke, and sighed to find that he was still alive. He made himself a breakfast of berries and deer jerky, and laid back in bed for another long, uneventful day. The sun was beginning to set when he heard the loud snap of a twig, and a sniff. Strange noises were common in the forest, so he put the sound out of his thoughts. Not one minute later, another twig snapped, followed by several quick sniffs in a row. He strained his ears; there the same sound was again. He snatched his rifle off its hook on the wall and opened the door, ready to finish off whatever predator had come too close. He held his gun at the ready and looked around, ears listening for any noise. He heard a crunch of leaves to his left and whipped around.
There stood a little girl. She had the same bright auburn hair as the old man's wife, and identical soft blue eyes that pierced the dark. She could not have been more than six or seven years of age. The man stared at her in shock and disbelief. She was the first human he had seen in at least thirty years, and she was a small child, wandering through the deep woods, seemingly alone. He blinked hard In case it was a dream, but she was still there when he opened his eyes.
"Hey, you!" He called gruffly.
The little girl looked up at him, her startled eyes puffy from crying.
"What're you doing here?" He asked.
"I-Im lost" she replied, her beautiful, delecate voice punctuated with sniffs.
"Well go away and don't come back here" he commanded. Then he humphed and turned to leave.
"Wait!" The girl cried, "I wanna go home."
"None of my business"
"Please sir? I just want my mommy..."
Her voice broke and she began to cry. Her small body shook with sobs, and she shivered in the cold, clothed only in a short sunday dress. He sighed, and walked toward her. He removed his jacket and draped it over the girl's skinny shoulders, then led her into his tiny cottage.
She sat by the fire, warming her icy fingers above the flame. He sat awkwardly on his bed, observing the small creature which reminded him so much of his love.
"So...uh... How did you- get lost?" He inquired.
"Well," she said, "I was out having an adventure with daddy; we were camping and collecting mushrooms together. Then I saw a pretty butterfly. It was all blue with yellow dots on its wings. So I chased it because I wanted to catch it for daddy. I must have chased it for a long time because when it got away, I looked up and was here..." She paused, then looked at him, "but I found you! And you'll help me get back to the city! Daddy told me if I ever got lost to find my way back to the city, but I don't know where I am, so you can help me get home."
"Sorry kid," he said, "I don't leave my house. Haven't for 35 years, and don't plan to any time soon."
You know this isn't what she would have wanted for you.
He heard the words and looked at the girl intensely.
"What did you say?" He asked, startled. She looked at him, confused.
"I didn't say anything" she said. He stared at her for a moment, then relaxed. His mind was just playing tricks on him. Or his old age was getting to him...
He laid the child down in his bed, and slept outside next to a fire he built. As he laid there, he thought about the words he had heard. He thought about them all night.
He was awoken early in the morning by the girl, who pounced on him and declared what a beautiful day it was. He couldn't help smiling; his wife used to be just like that.
He busied himself by stuffing jerkey and rations into a sack.
"What are you doing?" Asked the girl.
He took a deep breath and answered, "we're going to the city."
She squealed in excitement, ecstatic for the adventure ahead. As he gathered final necessities from inside the house, his eye caught the dried lily. He picked it up and kissed it gently, he would help this child for her sake, because it was what she would have wanted.
And so they set off on their three day journey.
The trek was harder than he remembered, and he could feel his stiff bones painfully rubbing against one another as the two hiked the mountain peaks and traversed rivers. The little girl kept the mood loose, with her childish antics and light-hearted spirit; and the grouchy old man found his own mood lightening in spite of himself. The child had a natural admiration of nature, like his girl all those years ago. And he discovered that he was starting to see the beauty of the world again. When all had seemed grey and dull before, now splotches of color began to paint the earth with the vividness he once knew.
They stopped and made camp for the night. As the old man was laying down to sleep, the girl danced over and gently pecked his gristled old cheek. Warmth spread across his face and softened it. He had forgotten what power a kiss could hold, and he could not stop smiling as he bid her good night.
They awoke the next morning and continued on. But the old man's joints and bones began to throb inexcusably, and their rests became longer and more frequent. Not as much ground was covered, and he began to worry. They labored further on until they reached a natural maze of winding hedges. Vines intertwined and grew together, forming a beautiful display of greenery. The child sized the old man's hand and dragged him on, giggling, until they reached a wall of vines. She moved the tangles aside and went through the wall. He followed and stood in awe at what he saw.
The waterfall. The waterfall he had proposed to her at, the waterfall where she had nodded yes. He looked at the girl, tears in his eyes. And when she looked serenely back, he saw it. For a flicker of a second, there she was, his bride. Her face was bathed in the light, just as it had been the day she became his fiancee. A drop slid down his face as he looked into her eyes. Her beauty chiseled away his hardened heart, and he cried. Then he blinked, and there was the little girl again, gazing with wide eyes up at him. She reached for his hand, and when she held it, all the pain in his bones disappeared and he felt filled with new life.
The final day of their trip arrived, and he felt like a boy again, skipping along the beaten paths with the girl, singing at the tops of their lungs. The city came into view from afar, and they ran faster. They laughed and shouted and played like children. The old man felt invigorated, life had never felt so worthwhile, and he found that he no longer wanted it to simply end. As the city drew nearer though, he began to feel downcast. The little girl would soon leave, then what was there to live for? His feet suddenly felt heavy. He no longer frolicked like a child, but instead dragged his feet as they reached the town. The girl stopped and faced the old man. He knelt down, becoming level with her. She looked into his sunken eyes, and said,
"Remember what she said: 'even death cannot separate us.'" the child drew nearer,
"Don't give up," she whispered, "Theres still life to live."
The girl wiped away the tear on his cheek, and it drew him back to the time when his wife was fading away, still so beautiful even on her death bed. He remembered her words, and felt her delecate finger wiping away his tear. He turned to leave, but pivoted back around.
"I never got your name" he said.
"It's Lily." She replied, and ran into his arms. He clutched her tight, his heart swelling with love for her. A gentle breeze blew over them, carrying the sweet smell of the flower to their nostrils. The old man looked up, and Lily was gone.