The moon. Brilliant and bony white, lights the way through the thick pines and trees of this strange forest. Howls echo around me, waking the birds and making the leaves shudder in anticipation on the low hanging branches. The sky is a clear navy blue, displaying a random sprinkling of stars, like freckles of a goddess in a good mood.
My hands reach for everything. For the pink bleeding hearts seemingly dancing of their own accord, since there is no breeze, for the dark oak branches bouncing playfully, laden with shivering leaves. My feet crunch over sticks and dried mud and flowers and everything that lies forgotten on the ground.
Then the howling stops.
The moon's light dims.
Everything becomes still, including my curiosity.
"He's here," the forest seems to whisper, the collection of natural voices haunting in the darkness. "The prince, he's here."
My eyes travel, over darkened trees and massive boulders, over shrubs full of berries and flowers. I bite my lip, knowing that someone is there, yet he won't speak. He never does.
Then he steps out of the shadows, his tanned skin beautiful in the raw moonlight. His black hair is sticking up in all directions, messy, yet beautiful. His cherry red lips purse together, taking me in with as much anticipation in his grey eyes as I feel in my heart. He is shirtless, wearing only a torn pair of loose fitting shorts. There is a set of three diagonal scratches on his chest, right over his heart.
My eyes flutter open and the dream comes back to me almost immediately. I lay in that same position on my bed for a while longer, relishing the stranger's smile. I've never told anyone of my dreams and most likely, I never will. That strange, dark forest is my only haven away from this place that I loath to call home.
My breath comes out evenly as I recall the emptiness of the place when the howling stopped. I could have sworn that the cries were coming from wolves. I rub my eyes and turn over in bed, fearing the time on the clock on the bedside table.
8:10 am. Crap.
I rush out of bed and say a quick "good morning" to dad as I race to the bathroom. After changing out of my pajamas to a pair of jeans and a loose-fitting red t-shirt, brushing my teeth and fixing my long, dull straight hair into a ponytail, I quickly grab my purse, keys, and cellphone from my room. My dad walks into the kitchen when I pop in two slices of toast to eat on the way to my job at the coffee shop down-town.
"Running late?" Dad asks, never being very good on the uptake.
I nod and quickly butter the slices of toast before kissing him on the cheek goodbye. "I work till four," I remind him before slipping out of the door. "So, don't forget to eat lunch and get out of the office once in a while."
Dad hunches his shoulders as he starts to put jam on a raw piece of bread. I sigh and head towards my pale green car. Dad's loneliness is something I can't deal with today. I get into the much too warm car and start up the engine.
I am five minutes late to work, but I shrug it off. I'm barely ever late and the manager would be a fool to punish me for a measly five minutes. I hang my coat in the back and hide my purse behind it. It's not that I don't trust any of my co-workers, it's just a habit I have. I tighten my ponytail and grab one of the aprons from a loose hook that's burdened with more than five other aprons. White and dark splotches decorate my chest and tummy area of the apron. If it weren't for these aprons, my clothes would have been ruined long ago.
I got this barista job back in grade ten, right after I'd turned sixteen. My birthday is in February, so while everyone else was planning their spring breaks, I was learning how to serve coffee to rich people. The workers are nice and easy to get along with and on good days, the customers tip quite nicely.
Today, the morning sun is breaking through the glass windows and heating up all of our outdoor patio tables. Within an hour, that area will be filled with customers and employees on breaks. That's the unfair thing about having a job: no matter how nice it is outside, you're going to be stuck in here.
"Hey pretty," Liana, an older, grey-haired co-worker calls out from the cash register several feet to my left. The coffee shop has only been open for an hour and we've already got a line-up.
"Hey Li," I say in my fake nice voice. "How are you?"
Liana groans to emphasize her back pains. "Still going."
I laugh genuinely, a warm feeling reaching up my gut. "Always good to hear, Li."
The rest of the day passes in that manner, since it's just her and I taking orders, while every one else makes coffees or runs around like chickens with their heads cut off. Saturdays are always wild like that.
It's been three days since I saw those guys on New Street. Three days since I almost became a pancake on the side of the road. Up until last night, I hadn't dreamt of the stranger for two whole nights, leaving me feeling empty. I'd wake in the mornings expecting the familiar rush of seeing his face and his smile, only to be disappointed.
I'd seen Pat a few hours after my sighting of the two bizarre guys, but I hadn't mentioned anything. His blond, curly hair sat in frozen curls as he laughed at some strange joke he'd remembered the day before. Why I am still occasionally seeing him, I don't know. Maybe I miss the good times we managed to have in the two years that we dated. Maybe I miss his company when I am feeling lonely. Or maybe, I just miss any kind of touch since I am so disconnected from the rest of my life.
Before I know it, another day has gone by and the day that I leave for University draws nearer. I lay in bed, staring up at my white painted ceiling. A few smudges still remain from when I threw sticky things up there as a kid. I think about my life, my friends, Pat, the stranger, my dad, and my mom. But mostly, I think about what it was like having mom around and what my dad's smile used to look like.
I sigh and turn over in my bed. My hands clutch the pillows under my head for leverage as I start to drift off into the world of dreams, hoping to God that I don't see my mother's crying face.
The howling has stopped. The world is still. The stranger is in front of me, his cherry-lipped smile opening wider than ever before. The light of the moon glints off his unnaturally sharp teeth. For fear of being caught staring at his canine teeth, I look into his eyes. I can't gasp in this dream world as I watch, with terror and awe-filled curiosity, the stranger's beautiful grey eyes turn into golden-yellow irises.
The howling begins once more and the stranger is suddenly gone, leaving me alone in a dark forest full of golden-eyed watchers.