By Annie Boytim
The ground crunched under my feet. The dead leaves turning brown as winter began to brew and the air grew icy. A few birds and squirrels lingered in the forest trees, calling out to others every so often. More than a few leaves were still left on their branches and fluttered in the cool breeze.
My hair lifted gently with the breeze, causing me to shiver involuntarily. I padded along the forest floor leaving soft prints in my wake. Pacing and circling tree after tree I finally settled down
The sun in the late afternoon was a brilliant orange glow across the plain, giving the land a distinguishable sparkle. I sat down and leaned my back against a tree looking out into the sun. A memory creeping back into my mind….
Grace, Jude, and I were in the backyard throwing a baseball back and forth. Grace was out to the side and Jude was standing directly across from me, making us a triangle.
“Hey, Grace!” Jude shouted. “Bet you can’t catch this!”
Jude hurled the ball into the forest and Grace sulked. “Jude! I’ll never be able to find the ball now!” Grace had whined.
“Come on, Gracie, I’ll help you find it. Jude, tell your parents that we’ll be back soon. And me and Grace will do dishes tonight after dinner,” I grinned.
“What? No!” Grace protested.
We waited for Jude to go in the house and then walked into the woods. It was early summer, school had just ended but it didn’t feel warm out. It was unnaturally cool this year and I could notice Grace shivering.
“Grace,” I spoke. ‘Gracie.”
She tensed at her name. “What?”
She rubbed her hands up and down her arms, trying to keep them warm in the crisp wind. “Do you want my jacket? You look cold.”
She shook her head no but her teeth slightly chattered. “No. I’m fine. But thanks, though,” she said and smiled sweetly.
I shrugged and kept walking next to her trying to stay as close as possible. I could smell a sweet scent coming from her hair and inhaled deeply, shutting my eyes and focusing.
“What are you doing? Are you smelling my hair?” Grace asked incredulously.
A smirk spread across my face and I stepped away from her. “Of course not. But if I was I would say that your shampoo is divine… but then again, so are you, Miss Divine.”
She hugged herself and gave me a small smile that light up her violet eyes. “You are just too kind.”
I rolled my eyes at her. “Bet you knew I was going to say that.”
Now she rolled her eyes. “Of course I did. You are just too predictable, Daniel Kalbi.”
I stopped under a big branch full of lush, green leaves. “You think I’m predictable? You liar. You know how spontaneous, and outright I can be. For example, what of these leaves?”
“What of those leaves?” She laughed.
“If I am so predictable, then what am I going to do with those leaves?” I raised an eyebrow at her, beckoning her to tell me.
Her eyes grew wide in disbelief. Was I really asking her this? She couldn’t fathom my question, leaving it answerless.
I jumped in a flash and leaves rained down around us, engulfing us. Grace twirled around, helplessly lost in the sea of the green. She flailed her arms hopelessly scattering the leaves and accidentally hitting a low lying branch, sending even more leaves raining down upon us. I pushed through the leaves and wrapped my arms around her waist from behind and scared her even more. Grace twisted around in my arms until she was facing me. Her palms resting gently on my chest, her face tilted upwards.
“Are you still cold?” I asked softly.
A slow flush crept up her neck and onto her face, giving it a soft pink glow. “I’m never cold when I’m with you. You’re like my own personal bonfire,” Grace whispered.
My stomach twisted and my face got hot. Grace took a hand from my chest and cupped my face. I took one of my hands and slowly caressed the side of her face.
“Daniel!” Her voice rang out through the forest.
My head perked up at the sound of her voice and I began running back to the Divine house, remembering along the way, why Grace could never love me because of what I was… a wolf.