Annabelle sat upright with nervous energy flying through her. Sweat dampened her hair and it stuck in slick chunks to her forehead. Her breathing was heavy and raspy, fear shaking her to the core. She glanced around her worriedly, and patted the space beside her. When she felt nothing but the smooth fabric of the blanket she and Zade had fallen asleep on, she grew curious. With a weary sigh, she wiped the sweat from her face and stood up suddenly. Annabelle ducked through the doorway of the shanty they had discovered on their third day of travel and peered into the distance before her. Her eyes narrowed into serpentine slits, willing them to adjust to the somewhat harsh light of the full moon above.
Annabelle knew Zade liked to wander off. Even as a kid, he was always disappearing as if into thin air. She thought maybe he had gone out a strayed from their small campsite to clear his mind or gather firewood and kindling for the fire that had sizzled out not far from the door. Whatever the case, Annabelle didn’t concern herself. So she returned to the blanket on the half-rotted floor of the half-rotted building and quietly laid back down, attempting very hard to avoid thoughts of her previous nightmare. But she had a foreboding feeling that it would become a recurring nightly thing. As she fell back onto the blanket, she was still a bit uneasy. But tired as she was from their travelling that day, she drifted off into slumber, the sounds of crickets and branches clacking in the breeze her lullaby instead of Zade’s steady heartbeat by her ear.
Zade sauntered through the trees, ducking underneath low hanging branches. He had a stockpile of wood already in his arms for the fire and he was just trying to find the shack. The full moon had provided a nice light so he could manage through the uneven forest floor, although he was sure that even if the moon was new, he would find his way. He would always find a way back to Annabelle, even if it was the last thing he ever did.
Annabelle was undoubtedly and irrevocably in love with Zade—but he was unsure of whether he returned the feelings in the same magnitude. He didn’t think he was capable of love—his father had abandoned him as a young child and his mother passed away shortly thereafter, leaving him to seek shelter behind cottages and fend for himself in the village. That was when he befriended Annabelle. She had caught him trying to sneak into her father’s barn one night and invited him inside.
She changed his entire life. She was a constant reminder of the happiness he could have when he was with her. Annabelle made him feel as if he could have it all. He was genuinely content with her, and intended to marry her and start their future together when the time was right. Zade was normally indecisive about everything, but he was certain that Annabelle would always be his and his alone for the rest of eternity. He wanted to claim her so no man could steal her from him, no matter how wealthy, no matter how attractive, no matter how charming.
Zade should have wanted Annabelle forever. And in a way, he did, whether or not he was in love with her now, he would learn to love her. They were so close; Zade couldn’t stand for them to be apart. But if being with her ever made her unhappy or caused her harm in any way, he would leave her and never come back. He would be driven to the brink of insanity if he was to ever leave Annabelle, but Zade would always think of her needs first.
Annabelle always came first.
Whether or not Zade realized it consciously, he did love Annabelle. One day he would see that they would never part—maybe physically they would have distance between them someday, but their hearts were strung together so tightly that it would be utterly impossible for Zade to forget about Annabelle or vice versa.
After all, they were inseparable. They had been that way since they met fourteen years ago on that fateful night. She had been forbidden to see Zade but that never stopped Annabelle, and soon enough her mother took things another step further to drive them apart, attempting feebly to force her into a marriage without love.
But Annabelle was already in love with Zade, and there was no changing that. Not ever.
Zade reached the small shanty and saw Annabelle lying peacefully in a heap on the cold floor, having successfully rolled off of the blanket. Quietly, he snuck over to the fire pit and laid a few pieces down, crisscrossed. He placed the other few pieces down and then quickly started the fire. The crackling noise of the blaze woke Annabelle, startling her out of her slumber. She rolled on her side and stretched her arms out before standing up and walking out to find Zade. He was over by the horses, reaching into the pack on Annabelle’s horse Obsidian. The large horse was apprehensive when he approached her, but stilled as soon as Zade made physical contact with it. When Zade returned to the fire, he had a few pieces of meat in his palms.
Zade tossed the pieces of meat onto the hot stones adjacent to the fire, setting them there to cook. No words were spoken while the meat cooked; about ten minutes later, they were settled around the fire on the ground, eating and drinking water left from their leather-skinned canteens.
The sun was just about to raise, the sky peppered with faint pinks, oranges, and light blue fragments. Light scattered through the leaves of the trees and flecked golden yellow color onto the ground like broken shards of stained glass.
Annabelle stood up and walked over to the blanket in the shanty, picking it up and folding it in half. Zade watched her as she moved towards the horses and placed the blanket on Obsidian’s hindquarters.
Zade looked over to Annabelle and smiled. He rose to his feet swiftly and met Annabelle’s eyes, the jeweled orbs digging deep into his heart as they did every time she looked at him. Her cheeks dimpled as her smile stretched wide across her lips. Zade strode to her in two long steps, taking her hand in his. She sighed at his touch and he pulled her close, wrapping his arm around her waist. She leaned into his chest as they walked aimlessly, fingers trailing along a tear in his shirt.
“Did you lose a fight with a tree?” she asked, smirking slightly. He laughed and shook his head vigorously.
“It was a pretty vicious tree,” he admitted, lips upturned. Annabelle could tell that something was wrong by the way he responded, and she questioned him about it. He turned his head towards the woods and sighed.
Her head shot up. “Hmm?”
“Don’t go into the woods alone,” he said to her sternly, assuring she understood and would listen.
“I go where you go,” she replied smoothly. “So I’ll never be alone.”
He placed a tender kiss on her hairline and regretfully released her hand. The two gathered up their things (which in reality was close to nothing) and walked back to the horses. Zade ran a hand through his hair and helped Annabelle mount Obsidian, carefully moving her flowing blue knee length skirt aside a little. Zade himself mounted Annabelle's other horse, Shayde, earning a disapproving whinny.
They gently spurred the horses forward into the woods, the orange glow of the dying fire fading behind them forever.