Forest Secret

The realization struck Steven unexpectedly. The mid-20s salary man joined the checkout line of a bright, fluorescent grocery store. He stopped in to pick up a few things after work but was not the only one. The local supermarket, not a chain, only had a handful of lanes. They were all filled with patiently impatient patrons all wearing one kind of uniform or another. The nurses, waiters and fast-food workers all fidgeted on their phones waiting for their turn to spend money. Steven’s own uniform consisted of black slacks and a black coat with a crisp white shirt visible under it.

As Steven settled into his place at the end of the line holding a dozen roses he bought along with a basket full of picnic items. A whole rotisserie chicken, a loaf of french bread, a tub of potato salad and a variety of drinks. One hand held the basket, the other held the roses. Steven wasn’t able to play on his phone. He turned his attention to the roses; he pushed them closer to his nose and inhaled deeply.

She’s gonna love them,” he thought. “I hope she’s hungry,” he stared down at his basket. “I hope she likes one of these,” He picked out five different drinks because he did not know what she liked.

Despite spending the better part of a month getting to know each other, Steven did not know much about the mystery woman from the forest. He knew her first name, Sandra, but not her last. He did not know where she worked or how to even get in touch with her. Those kinds of details didn’t seem to matter when they were actually together. They accidentally ended up with a standing date.

Every night after work Steven would take a jog through the forest. One on jog about a month ago Sandra crossed his path for the first time and he fell in lust. She jogged by him lean and tan with almost non-existent shorts and a shirt that didn’t quite reach her midriff. They politely acknowledged the other’s existence and continued their respective runs. After a week of running past each other, she stopped and introduced herself as Sandra. They chatted for a bit while butterflies frenzied in Steven’s stomach, then she waved and ran away.

The next evening the chat lasted longer than their routine and they parted ways without finishing their trek. She asked him question after question; Steven was so thrilled someone was interested in him that he did not think about asking his own questions.

After that, their independent evening jogs became a leisurely stroll together through the forest. She seemed to know a lot about the woods despite claiming to have only moved there recently. It was about the only question he managed to ask early: “How come I’ve never seen you before?”

Sandra’s voice was music to his ears. Whenever he was in her company he felt like there was nothing wrong in the world. Even when they weren’t together he would think about her constantly. He stopped at the store to get some drinks for their walk.

Two drinks turned to five, then he felt silly for showing up with five drinks for the two of them. He reasoned that if there was food that needed to be washed down, five drinks for the two of them wasn’t too much. At that point, he realized he was basically taking her on a date and it made perfect sense to pick up the roses too.

He blinked at the roses when the realization struck, then he looked down at his basket and chuckled to himself. His mother’s voice echoed in the back of his mind.

“Geeze,” he mumbled to himself and shook his head and shrugged. “That’s how I know it’s real, I guess.” The best advice his mother ever gave him about love: “If it’s real, you don’t have to try.” Steven wanted to get Sandra a drink but his mind made easy excuses to get her more things. After his turn at the register, he walked out of the store while processing the new information.

“I love her. I love Sandra,” he repeated both in his mind and out loud. He wanted to get a feel for the words before he actually said them to her.

“How much can you love a person you know so little about you can’t even get a hold of?” He wondered aloud as he pulled out of the parking lot and headed home. He spoke to himself using a stern, deep voice. “The Voice of Reason” he called it. Sometimes it helped.

“As much as I love Sandra, I guess,” he answered with a higher, smart-mouthed tone. Sometimes the “Voice of Reason” didn’t help.

The short drive felt like an eternity. Not that Steven was bored; he was busy running possible scenarios through his head about when he should confess. He felt like he went through a million variations on the five-minute drive. By the time he got home, he decided to share his feelings with her that night. In the worst-case scenario, he’d be rejected, embarrassed, and have to start jogging somewhere else. In the best-case scenario, she would give him her phone number.

He changed out of his suit and got on some running pants and a t-shirt. He grabbed a clean blanket and the food then wandered into the nearby forest. She was already waiting for him by the impossibly tall pine tree that had become their meeting spot. She wore long, thick running pants instead of shorts and a zipped up green windbreaker. The nights were getting cooler.

She was sitting on a thick green blanket on the forest floor with a wicker basket in front of her. Steven showed her his bag and blanket.

“Great minds, eh?” he said as he sat down next to her. She smiled and leaned over to kiss him on the cheek.

“I thought we could try something different tonight and talk.” She looked both nervous and happy at the same time; the same way Steven felt. “I have something to tell you.” Sandra twisted her body to face Steven directly and sat up straighter. “It’s important.”

“Me too,” Steven said. He leaned forward to return the cheek-peck then lingered closer to her ear. “Mine’s important too,” he whispered in her ear.

“On three?” she asked while chewing on her bottom lip. Steven nodded.

“One,” Sandra said. She wiggled her body forward an inch.

“Two,” Steven said. He repeated the action and inched closer to her.

“Three,” they both said at the same time. Steven stared into Sandra’s forest-green eyes and blurted the words out. As he did he caught sight of something, two somethings, shimmering on her back.

“I love you!” Steven said.

“I’m a fairy!” Sandra said.

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