by Aryanna Falkner
We collapsed when we reached the top of the hill. Daniel was breathing hard but I felt like I could keep running for miles. Daniel was lying on his side and I gently lowered myself next to him. I closed my eyes, enjoying the feel of the grass on my exposed arms. It had rained earlier and the ground—looking more of a dying brown color than the vibrant green it typically looked in the spring—was still slightly wet. I waited several moments as Daniel caught his breath.
When I finally couldn’t stand the silence between us any longer, I turned my head to face him. He was closer than I expected and I breathed him in. His natural scent intoxicated me as I leaned in a bit closer. He didn’t kiss me, though we were certainly close enough. He just stared. Slowly, he lifted his head to look at the clouds. I copied his movement and traced them with my eyes until his quiet laugh broke the peace.
“What?” I asked him.
His hand caught mine. “That cloud,” he said, pointing to a stray cloud that struggled to keep up with the others, “looks like a zombie bunny chasing a carrot.”
“A zombie bunny, huh? That is odd—even for you, Daniel,” I teased him, shoving his shoulder slightly. He wrapped his arm around my waist, sending a shiver of delight through me.
“Do you have a better suggestion to what it is?” he questioned. It took more effort than it should have, but I turned and looked at the small wisp of a cloud.
I nodded. “I was going to say that it looked like a wolf.”
He cocked an eyebrow at me but then smiled as if he couldn’t agree more. I studied the sky. It was the perfect time of day to watch the colors it cast. Most of the sky was cluttered with clouds and a blue background. The sun had almost set completely, causing an incredible pink color to swirl around the blue that was darkening.
“Like cotton candy,” I muttered. I looked at Daniel; his eyes showed me that he understood what I meant. It was one of the things I loved about him: I didn’t have to express what I meant or how I viewed the world. He instantly understood me.
“It’d look great if you painted it,” he stated matter-of-factly. “I could help you, if you wanted. We can take a break from training for a day or two. I wouldn’t mind resting,” Daniel added almost inaudibly—but I could hear everything.
I subconsciously brushed the moonstone necklace, which nestled into the base of my neck, with my finger.
Daniel saw my movement and didn’t let it go unnoticed. “Grace—” he began before I cut him off.
“I’m fine,” I said with a small smile on my lips. “I was just… reflecting on everything.”
His eyebrows pulled together and he opened his mouth to speak but I just squeezed his hand, knowing he understood the look in my eyes, asking him not to say anything. He shut his mouth with a small pop. I quickly turned my attention to the sky.
I stood up to face the scenery. I reached my arms down and pulled him up to stand with me.
“Look at the view. You can almost see our houses from here,” he joked. His tone suggested that he was slightly annoyed that I interrupted him, but a smile danced on his lips which said that I was forgiven.
“Maybe you can,” I mumbled. He stood much taller than me, especially on this hill with my feet finding uneven craters in the ground. “Some of us are of average height.”
He just laughed and spun me into him. For the first time in a while, I tripped on my own feet. He caught me and I fell into him. His heartbeat was steady but my heart was clattering around in my chest. It was a wonder that he couldn’t hear it. He tipped my chin up and my eyes fluttered shut automatically. His lips brushed mine—a whisper of a kiss. Then he pulled away, chuckling low in his throat.
“Gracie,” he spoke my nickname in a breathy voice. “Race you down the hill!” he exclaimed suddenly as he ran down the hill, and it looked as if he could reach out and touch the setting sun.