She can not see the path, and the trees can only be seen when silhouetted against the sky. She walks with care, placing each foot in an effort not to trip. But the pace is fast to begin and her eyes are wide, trying to keep track of his dark figure just ahead of her.
Finally she has the nerve to split the silence. "Why are you walking so fast?"
"I'm not," he denies.
But she can sense something beneath these words. She stops and looks defiantly at where his face would be. "You climb as if you're afraid of something chasing you. You've already escaped. As soon as you left that party, you were free. Now enjoy it."
He gives a nervous laugh, and scratches his head. She smiles to see him vulnerable for once.
"Sorry. You're right. Did you want to..."
"Take our time? Have a conversation as we walk? Yes."
"Right," he says. "That's what I was going to ask. Sort of."
She walks up beside him, and they continue at a slower pace. "So what are you thinking about?" she asks.
He glares through the dark. "I don't know. Nothing really."
"That's a lie."
"Well maybe I'd rather not spew my thoughts!" He seems a little regretful at his decision to bring her along.
"Well then. No need to spew your defenses," she says.
"I was not spewing."
"Sure. You got something against spewing?"
"Look. Does it matter? I just didn't want to tell you what I was thinking. Now if you wanted to have a conversation, why don't you think of something clever to say?"
"Because I don't care about what's clever. I care about what's real. And your thoughts are real right now. Any silly subject I could think up right now would be--"
"--How do you know I wasn't just thinking about my grocery list?"
She snorts but does not respond. Instead, she takes comfort in the sound of their footsteps on the soft forest floor. She shakes her head with a smile. After a moment, this silence brings him to speak.
"Holly?" he asks. "What are you thinking about?"
She smiles at hearing him use her name. "I am thinking...deep thoughts." She nods.
He laughs. "Aren't you amazing. Would you mind spewing your philosophical genius?"
"Nope," she says. "Your ears aren't worth it."
"I didn't think they were."
"So," she says quickly. "I guess if neither of us can share our thoughts, we'll just walk in silence."
"I guess so," he says.
Their footsteps come into focus, close and real, as the wind sneaks through the treetops and the distant city sounds trickle up between the trunks. But the silence only lasts a few minutes before she laughs.
"What's so funny?" he asks.
"This moment," she says.
"Well I'm glad I could lighten your day."
"It's not just you. It's this whole thing! The fact that I'm climbing this bloody mountain instead of going to the party. The fact that you've invited me up here and then you can't say a damn word to me. The fact that I can't even say anything."
"Shut up," he says. His voice is gentle and casual, but the words are like a snap. She is too startled to say anything. She reels back a half dozen words, blinking in wonder and trying to deal with a whole flood of emotions.
"Listen," he says.
She listens, standing in the dark, feeling rejected, feeling as if her mouth has done a bad thing, feeling as if her words were stupid, silly, wrong even. What is she listening for?
And then she hears it.
Hoohoo. Hoot. Hoohoo. Hoot.
A smile slowly dawns on her face, and her anxious emotions ebb away. The silence has redeemed her.
The mystical hooting of the owl awakens an inner wild within their tamed selves. They listen for a long while until he whispers to her.
"Now do you feel peaceful? This is true silence."
He moves away from her, up the path, his shoulders against the night sky ahead. They have nearly reached the bluffs.
Her heart is wild and fluttering, and it takes her a moment to gather the strength and purpose to follow. Everything about this hike has been new to her. She does not know how to act. She does not know how to be. She wonders if this is because she does not know who she is.