Cool tendrils of mist kiss my cheeks as I pull my pack out of the back of the car. Alec is supposed to wait for me at the top of the mountain, but I don’t know if he’ll follow through. Hope that he will flutters in my gut and I squash it. It will be easier all around if he doesn’t show.
I lock the car and drop the keys in a pocket of the pack. Everything I need for the weekend is in there. With a last pat of my pockets, I sigh and head out. Once I step off the gravel and asphalt parking lot onto the well-worn trail, The air seems easier to breathe. Cooler, peaceful. Inhaling deep, a renewed sense of purpose fills me.
My straddling the two worlds is not well-received at home. If I’m honest, I will never be comfortable in a world of steel and concrete. This world of green leaves and trees is the one that calls to me. I can move here, breathe deeper, feel more.
Alec insists he feels the same way. We’ll see. Every time someone even comes close to being what I hope for, they chicken out in the end. Uncle insists it’s because we’re all that’s left of our kind. I don’t believe him. I won’t.
It would mean that our small home in the mountains the last exhale of a dying breed. The thought of it, of being alone after Uncle and Mother pass on, is enough to bring tears to my eyes.
I hop over a fallen tree, taking a detour from the well-used hiking trail. This part of the woods looks untouched. I’ve worked hard to keep it that way. My steps are light. The leaves barely stir as I pass. They’ll be no trail for Alec to follow. Nothing for him to see the way except the map I’ve drawn.
The map is the first and easiest test.
Only four other people have made me believe they might be capable of this. That maybe they are just a little different, like me. Three girls, one boy. It’s been over a year since I tried to bring Ethan up my mountain. His rejection still smarts, though I’ve long since left any tender feelings for him behind.
Mother says it’s because there is no one like us. I will be alone, and I should get used to it.
I haven’t listened to her arguments for years. She means well, I think, but the words hurt.
I slide my hands around a thick oak branch and swing across a small creek. The mist curls through the tree trunks around me. I’m climbing higher now, and I’m glad I’ve got my leather jacket on.
A few hundred more feet, and the mist is an all-out fog, a white blanket of moisture that clings to my hair and lashes, pushing me back.
“I know,” I whisper. “It will turn out like the others. But I have to try.”
A breeze curls around me like the mountain sighs and agrees. After a few paces, I reach the small clearing at the top. Between misty clouds, I can see the valley below. The shopping center’s lights blink on in the growing darkness. From far away, it loses the age and neglect that mar it. From here, its almost pretty.
I drop the pack at the base of an outcropping of rock, pulling out a box of matches. A small pile of sticks is already waiting in the charred depression in the rock. I start a small fire, then sit back and wait.
The twigs in the fire snap, and I jump, in spite of myself.
“This is ridiculous.” I thread my hands through my hair, drawing my knees to my chin. “Mother and Uncle are right, and I have to accept it. I have to.”
But it hurts.
Tears gather, and the flames ripples and warp.
Another snap sounds, but I don’t flinch this time. There’s a soft whisper of fabric, and a pair of shoes appears in my vision. I raise my head, my heart thundering. Alex’s bright green eyes shimmer with understanding. He drops his pack and crouches down in front of me.
“I think I can help it hurt less.”
He extends a hand, and I slide my fingers into his.