Sunlight sifted through the filigreed ceiling of leaves and danced across my closed eyelids. I opened them reluctantly, and stretched my arms wide as I yawned. I stood, taking care to brush the clinging leaves and dirt from the back of my legs as I looked around, reorienting myself with my surroundings.
I appeared to be deep in the woods, but I knew home was only a few turns of the trail away from here. Buckley and I lived in an old farm house, bracketed on one side by the fields we struggled to tend on our own, and by majestic forest on the other. The fields were Buckley’s domain; he spent most of his time there, working and praying and pleading with the land to give forth the expected bounty. I helped too, of course, and had the sunburned skin and rough hands to testify to my commitment, but I didn’t have Buckley’s passion for farm work. I much preferred the deep cool of the woods, and whenever I found a moment free of the demands of farm or home I slipped away to wander among flora and fauna, and to draw and think and rest.
I’d long ago found my favorite haunts here – hidden glens and singing brooks among them – places that seemed to hold a special sort of enchantment, and the giant oak that protected me as I’d slept was one of them. Its gnarled trunk reached high into the sky, well above the other trees around it. The ground beneath it was springy and soft to sit upon, and the branches above reached out as if to offer solace and shelter. It was here I’d run to after our argument. I’d not consciously choose it as a destination, but found my feet had brought me here of their own volition.
My midday nap restored a sense of calm to my troubled mind. My thoughts returned to the argument. Blushing heat rushed to my face as I recalled Buckley’s barbed words, but I no longer felt the need to retaliate in kind. The sprint down narrow paths, the warm summer breeze, and the mighty oak had worked their woodland magic. I felt calm and clearheaded – still angry, but with a mind no longer ruled by that anger. There was peace in my heart, despite my unhappiness. I walked toward home, thinking of all we had said to hurt one another, and what words (if any) I should offer in explanation of my disappearance.
I heard the creaking of the porch swing as I stepped from the cover of the trees. As I rounded the back corner of our home I thought it strange that Buckley should be resting now, he who never would pause in his labors to enjoy a sunset with me, and then I understood that he had been waiting for me – waiting, and most likely worrying. I opened my mouth to call out reassurance to him, but those weren’t the words that escaped my lips.
“I’m not selfish,” I heard myself say in a voice that sounded like my own, only stronger. The creak of the swing halted, and the air hung heavy all around us, dead and thick with humidity. Even the cicadas stopped their singing long enough to eavesdrop on our woes.
“I’m not heartless,” Buckley said.
The silence held.
I climbed the front porch stairs and sat down next to him. A hummingbird flew past, and settled in for a drink from the feeder I’d hung over the railing. Buckley released the breath he’d been holding.
“I’m sorry,” we both said in the same moment.
I laid my head on his shoulder, and he slid his arm around me, giving me a squeeze of reassurance. The swing began to sway gently and together we watched the honeybees dance around the sunflowers while the fading summer sun threw long shadows across the yard.