“Good morning, Princess.” James greeted me with a chipper voice, “Sleep well?”
My first waking thought was that I was vaguely aware I had been drooling in my sleep. I quickly swiped at the corners of my mouth to brush it away before he noticed.
“It’s okay,” He laughed quietly, “I thought it was cute.”
I opened my eyes fully, mortified. At some point during the night, I’d moved from the grass and into his lap.
“What the…” I sputtered, desperately pushing myself away from him.
“You said you were cold.” He let out a teasingly satisfied sigh, “I didn’t know if you were asleep or awake.”
I cleared my throat as I watched him stretch out his legs. He must have been cramped with me sleeping on him all night.
“I’m sorry.” I whispered as a deep shade of scarlet graced my cheeks.
“I’m not.” He winked.
I blinked, speechless at both his good mood and my embarrassment. Out of habit and nervousness, I reached to tuck a rogue strand of hair behind my ear to find that I had some bed head going on.
“I’m going to find some food!” I yelled as I sprinted away before I found something else to be embarrassed about.
“Mmmkay Princess!” James said, amusement filling his voice.
After nearly running into half a dozen trees along the way, I finally stopped at a small stream that ran through the woods. I dipped my hands into the water and held it to my face, desperate for something to shock me into reality and sense. The reflection below me served as a mirror for me to straighten out my crazy hair.
A mulberry fell into the water, breaking the image of my own eyes staring back at me. I looked up to find a whole tree full of ripe mulberries standing before me, the branches sagging under their weight.
My stomach growled, making me acutely aware that it had been awhile since the last time I had eaten. I reached for a handful, gently rinsing them in the water before trying a few. They tasted amazing.
The branch above me swayed as I pulled it down and began harvesting them. I quickly realized I was getting in over my head in mulberries, so I fashioned my shirt into a basket and filled it up before I had to return to James.
I walked back, proudly surveying my harvest as I made it to the clearing.
“Whatcha got there?” James pointed to my shirt.
“Food.” I grinned shyly.
He bolted up as I held out the ends of my shirt to show him. His eyes lit up and I realized he was probably as hungry as I was.
We sat down and I crossed my legs and giggled as he inhaled mulberries like they were manna from heaven.
I noticed he seemed more content than I had seen him in a while. Something was different about him now, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I’d catch a glimpse in the way he walked, the way he spoke to me, his protectiveness, his laugh, his eyes…Whatever it was, it was captivating.
I knew I needed to get a grip, but there was a strength and confidence he possessed that hadn’t been there before. It scared me because I didn’t have a defense against it. At least, not yet.
“Stains.” He smiled and pointed, breaking me from my thoughts.
“What?” I looked down and saw he was pointing to where the mulberries had stained my shirt, “Oh, it’s okay.”
We dusted ourselves off and prepared for the next part of our journey.
“How far do you think this place will be?” I asked him as we walked.
“We should be there by nightfall.” He answered, glancing in my direction.
His eyes lingered on me a split second longer than necessary.
“Cool.” I replied shyly, unsure how to interpret the look he’d given me.
“Will there be more food there?” I joked with him.
“I sure hope so.” He winked, “Otherwise we’ll have to go fishing!”
I raised an eyebrow at him, “Since we don’t have bait, I guess we’ll have to use your toes.”
The light in his eyes danced to the sound of our laughter as it echoed into the woods.
As we followed the trail back to the road, we were careful to stay inside the tree line now that it was daylight out. We caught glimpses of the road now and then, but very few cars passed by and I wondered if it was always this uneventful.
I hadn’t really been outside the compounds I grew up in much, so I didn’t know what to expect. Our superiors regularly warned us about going outside. They said that with the civil unrest and talk of a potential war, there were concerns about safety for travelers. The countryside we walked held nothing of the sort.
The afternoon heat made us both a bit lethargic and we decided to take a break, confident we would make it to wherever James was taking us by the evening.
“Let’s see if we can find the stream again and get some water.” James spoke, wiping away sweat from his forehead as he ducked further into the woods.
I trailed close behind him as we came up on the stream. He grinned back at me as he bent down and cupped some water in his hands.
“Come on!” He said, motioning me to join him.
I smiled and walked to the edge next to him.
“I think,” He gave me an ornery smile, “We should get in.”
He effortlessly threw the backpack off his shoulders and onto the ground. I opened my mouth to protest as he began pulling his shirt off. All I could get out was surprised squeaks as he walked into the water and turned to face me.
I stepped back, trying not to get swept away. The water cast a reflection in his eyes, filling them with the colors of the scenery around us. My eyes wandered, against my better judgment and screaming brain, stopping at the tattoo on his chest. He made an opportunity out of my distraction and splashed me with water.
“Get in!” He dared me.
Tiny sparks flew from my hands, but I ignored them. I knew I shouldn’t play with fire, but this time, I didn’t care.
I took a step, slowly descending into the water with him.
Part 1: The Words Unspoken, Part 2: Secrets, Part 3: Embers, Part 4: Titanium, Part 5: Scar, Part 6: Capture, Part 7: In Your Eyes, Part 9: Running, Part 10: The Cabin, Part 11: Macaroni and Cheese, Part 12: An Open Door and A Squeaky Floor, Part 13: Interruptions, Part 14: Origin
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