Short Story: Forever and a Day
Summary: Charlotte returns to the woods where she was lost twenty years ago in search of someone that might have been nothing more than a dream.
Genre: Fantasy, Urban fantasy
Warnings: Soppy romance
Note: Well, I wanted to write something short and romantic for Valentine's Day, so here's what I've got. Hope all of you have a wonderful day!
As she walked in the woods, she hummed to herself. The noise only added to the ambience of being out of doors, stepping carefully beneath the shade of massive pines. She’d been in this forest only one other time, twenty years ago.
Though she had thought about that day, the encounter she had beneath that canopy of pine, nearly every day since.
Sometimes, she thought the incident was merely a fever dream, a way for her mind to cope when she was lost in these woods. Surely, it had not happened, not the way she remembered it. She couldn’t have spent what felt like months within these woods, traveling with him, laughing as they chased one another through the clearings.
Mama told her it was just a dream, that creatures in the forest were figments of her imagination. Charlotte tried to believe this, tried to fit her experience into the small box that they kept shoving her into.
No matter how they tried, however, it never worked. She so often thought of him, could recall the perfect features of his beautiful face with such overwhelming clarity.
So, when the opportunity came for her to visit the forest again, she took it.
Other forests she’d explored did not have the feel of this one. She might have been nervous, being so far from the road already with the sun dipping below the tree line. Perhaps she ought to have not brought the tent now tucked into her pack, so she would not be persuaded to stay.
Charlotte shrugged off what her mind told her to feel, instead going with instinct.
Her gut told her to keep stepping further into the forest, to set up camp in that little clearing she recalled beside the babbling brook.
Animals skittered around her as she moved, her steps measured and respectful. This was their place, no matter how at home she felt here, and Charlotte did not want to frighten anyone away.
It was with some pleasure she noted a fox standing on a fallen log in her makeshift path. The vixen regarded her with no hint of fear, merely watching as Charlotte realized she recognized that particular fallen log.
Her initials were carved into the dead wood, half-obscured by creeping Spanish moss.
The fox loped away slowly as Charlotte approached, her heart catching in her throat. Her heavy boots dug into the fresh loam at her feet as she crouched beside the massive, now-hollow pine. Though her fingers did not tremble as she gently pushed the moss away, her heart stumbled within her chest.
Unable to help the breath that sobbed in her throat, Charlotte touched the scarred wood, astonished to find any evidence that he existed.
The February chill did not phase her, not now. Here was something real, something to prove to herself that not everything she had endured those days lost in these woods was down to her imagination.
Had it been days or were there months here? Which was reality?
Charlotte searched her memory again, finding the information unfolding within her mind like a ribbon tumbling from the spool. If she moved to the right, there she would find the brook.
Just to the south of the brook, there would be the clearing where she and Sam had lived those days or months together in the cottage that blended into the pines.
Heart beating erratically now, Charlotte increased her pace. For so many years she’d imagined this moment, pined for it. Could she be so close?
Would he remember her?
Her family had called her mad so long, swore that the experiences she remembered from her time in the woods was all down to the fever that nearly took her life.
How had they found her? Charlotte wondered for the millionth time. How had they known where she was, how much danger she was in? She’d been an over-confident 17 year old when she’d vanished on that family outing. Could something have helped them find her when the fever threatened to take her life?
Babbling water rushing over smooth rocks soon found its way over the noise of the forest, of animals around her. Charlotte reached the shore by the time pink and purple began to stretch over the sky. Light was faded swiftly beneath the canopy of trees, soon she would have to make camp.
No. She wanted to find the cottage.
After drinking her fill of the impossibly cold, fresh water from the brook, Charlotte pointed herself to the south. Squirrels raced up and down the trees, owls began to hoot as they woke to find supper. Somewhere close by, a fox shrieked, a wolf howled.
No matter how the predators were making themselves known, not a single shiver of fear raced down Charlotte’s back. She merely continued walking, as though she knew she was in no danger, as though they would remember her.
The thick tree line began to thin as she reached the clearing, which was a semi-circle left clear by the trees. Massive foxgloves and bleeding hearts reached up and out, creating a hint of privacy she had to step through.
Once through the gateway of forest flower, Charlotte set eyes on the cottage.
It was built of old pine, situated between two of the eldest pines in the forest. A sloped roof caught rain and watered the Lily of the Valley that bloomed beneath the windows. Moss had crept over the roof, down the sides of the house, mingled here and there with creeping, blooming vines. Even in the heart of autumn, the flowers remained in full bloom.
The vegetable patch stills stood to the left of the wide front porch, visible from the windows, which bore no glass. Heavy shudders made of wood slats and secured with pitch-and-moss covered them when it became too cold.
Tears stung the backs of her eyes. It was here.
“Charlotte?” His voice, so achingly familiar came to her from within the house. She’d not noted the door open or the firewood stacked neatly at the chopping block. He came onto the porch, a thick bundle of wood still clenched in his arms.
Sam looked every inch of what she remembered. Tall, with a thick build cleaved from his work in the forest as its protector. His roughhewn face was beautiful in its ferocity, those eyes the color of forest leaves. His long, dark hair fell down his shoulders, twisted into a tight plait he preferred for working. The ears, Charlotte noted with no small amount of relief, sloped up into a point.
“You came back.”
Charlotte rushed into the clearing, not startling as the wood fell onto the front porch with a thud. He met her halfway to the house, gathered her into his arms as though he had felt every moment of the twenty years separating them. They collapsed in a jumble of limbs onto the forest floor, hands grasping at one another as though one of them might vanish.
“I couldn’t…” Charlotte whimpered as Sam’s arms encircled her, hauling her to the hardened planes of his chest. “They kept telling me it was a dream.”
“I couldn’t help your fever.” Sam admitted, kissing her hair. His hands stroked her back. “I had to get you back to the mortal world.”
“It’s ok.” Charlotte whispered. She pulled back, sitting on her heels to look at that beautiful face. He looked exactly as she remembered. “I knew you weren’t a fever dream.”
“I couldn’t find you.” Sam admitted, brushing their noses together. “I searched for years, but there was no trace of you outside of these woods.”
He had aged, she thought with a start, though that ought to have been impossible. She could see the lines time had etched into the flesh of his face, wisdom in those startlingly green eyes.
“You left the forest, your magic, to find me?”
“You’re my mate,” Sam answered simply. “We should be together. Here or in the mortal world.”
Charlotte’s heart clenched hard. “Sam.”
“I stayed here because, I hoped,” his throat bobbed. “I so hoped you would find your way back, if you could.”
Her arms wove around his neck, hauling him closer. Sam pressed his hands into her back as they rose onto their knees, clinging to one another as the years that had separated them faded to nothing.
“Will you stay with me?” Sam whispered into her hair.
“Forever.” Charlotte whispered, finishing the spell she’d failed in her teens. “Forever and a day.”
Sam’s beautiful mouth curved into a smile a beat before he pressed his lips to hers. The bond sealed with that action, forging them together as they were always meant to be.
Charlotte kissed him back, pouring everything she had felt for him in twenty years into the motion. He swung her into his arms, standing with the grace of a faerie prince to carry her back into the cottage.
Once inside, Sam closed the door with his foot. Shutting the outside world away for good.
Charlotte never left the forest again.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone!