Her eyes pleaded with me to take her with me, to take her away from here. 

"Where do you want to go?" I replied eventually. " I'm not taking you home to my  sad excuse for a family. I will not subject you to that." Her eyes looked sad, and her fingers darted up to brush the cut. It had congealed, leaving me looking like a war hero. I didn't feel like a hero. " Your-your dad did this to you?"  she asked, uncertainly. 

How did I explain my whole life to her? The power plays, the violent endings, the tears in the dark?  I merely nodded, and took her hand. " We'll just walk, okay?  We can talk about where you want to go. "  She smiled gratefully at  me, and entwined her fingers in mine. Her hand was wet from her scrubbbing, but warm.  I'd never held a girl's hand.  I'd held their hair back from their face while they vomited, or guided them to bed after a night of drinking their sorrows away. My mother had taught me this. But I'd never been so close to someone, just.. being. No shouting, no slurring. Just me and her.

We walked through the woods, talking. I began to stop talking, and let her speak, watching her face light up as she spoke of all the things she wanted to see; the water on  a lake at sunset, the stars of Paris.  She began to dance her steps again; calm, confident Willow once more. If only I was as tranquil. My mind was troubled,  torn by so many years of violence and consequences.  Then, we reached the gate, leading to the pathway home I had taken.  Her eyes widened. "This is it, isn't it?" she said, her voice like a child's.  " Yes. This is the world, and its all yours."  I took her arm, and helped her over the stile to the left. 

Her face blanched.  She began to shiver, and moan in languages I'd never heard, pleading with an invisible voice to let her go.  Then, her body unable to take the strain, she collapsed to the floor.  Lying there, she looked so young, so frail.  A tear rolled out from under her eyelid and made a tiny river on her cheek, arching to the floor. 

This was all my fault. I scooped her up into my arms, cradling her head, where I could see bruises forming.  If only I hadn't made her go out into the world.  She was light, lighter than Helena.  Slowly, I made my way back to a deserted clearing, winching as the effort opened the cut on my forehead. I was tired, and starving. But I would not give up on Willow, when she needed me most.  I stumbled on, tripping on tree roots and cursing. Eventually, I reached a river bank, threaded with violets and primroses. Exhausted, I laid her amongst the blooms, and lay beside her, protecting her from anyone that may come. Together, we slept. 

The End

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