"So..." Johne said, looking about at all the abandoned buildings. "I suppose you've never been here before, have you?"
"No, not before today."
"So you have no idea where we are outside of the fact that we're in Omen?"
"And do you know of any labyrinths anywhere?"
"Where do we start then?" He leaned against a wall, rubbing his neck, the starless sky looming overhead in pale hues. "We don't know where we are and we don't know where to go to get to where we're going."
"Through forests and castles and things," Candice said, dipping her foot in a puddle. "That's what the Scrangly Man said. You do remember what Ray said, right?"
"Vaguely. I'm sorry, but could you remind me?"
"The Black Forest." She skipped over a puddle. "The town of Tutain." She twirled around. "And the king's castle." She curtsied. "It seems like he's told us where to go already."
"But what about the labyrinth?"
"You're not supposed to worry in an adventure." She took his hand, taking the lead from him. "An ending has to happen sooner or later, and I'm sure if we go where we know where to go, we'll soon find the place we don't know."
"But we don't know where those other places are either."
"But we know what they are, and that's what matters." Her eyes peered up, examining the old shop signs of the commercial district. "Adventures are seldom a slow thing...things have a way of coming to you in them. Like the theatre, for example."
"So do we just keep walking until something happens?"
"Is that a problem?"
He stared at the hand holding his, at its young owner leading him along. Breathing in the air, walking alone, it wasn't such a bad idea for a little while.
"No problem at all," he said, simply taking in the sights around him.
Time drifted away as they walked calmly through those empty streets. It was as if the whole city wasn't manmade, but instead some strange part of nature. There were no sounds of voices. No cluttering footsteps and choking smog. No beeping and yelling, lights flashing out to break the darkness. Only the whisper of the wind and the sound of their steps echoing passed hollow alleyways existed.
"It's beautiful in a way," Candice said, reaching out her hand and running it along the stone houses. "It reminds me of the desert. It feels endless and it's almost completely empty. Just filled with the voice of the wind." Candice stopped, her fingers spreading out on the stone. "But nowhere is ever completely empty. Listen."
Johne stilled himself, calming his being. It had been quiet for so long that it was not difficult to find the murderer of silence. The murder weapon was coming from beyond the end of the street they were walking on. One, one was a hollow flowing of air, the sound of a seashell against your ear. Another, a sort a wheeling squeak, not much different than a mouse sniffing for cheese. The final part of the beautiful cacophony was a whistling in a tune unknown to Johne but very pleasing to hear.
"What do you think it is?" he asked, trying to decide if it was best to stay or run.
"I think it's what we've been waiting for."
So they stood still, listening to the sounds grow nearer and nearer. For a moment it started fading away only to come sounding back closer than ever. Holding his breath, pins sliding into his heart, Johne heard as it was coming down their street. After eighty-seven seconds without air, it all came out in a gigantic puff as he saw the sources of the noise. And inside, he had no idea on how to react to the scene. It was much to the same effect as looking at a piece of modern art—no amount of turning his head about would help him understand it.
Three things entered the alleyway, three things, with two of them being people. The first thing that caught his eyes was a gigantic tan snail shell the size of a car. It was hollow inside, making the seashell noise as wind blew through it. Attached to its sides were a total of four black wheels, very much like training wheels from a bike, slightly bent over with the weight they bore. And it was not the shell alone they supported.
Sitting on top of the shell was a little girl of maybe seven, flowing white hair trailing from her head. She wore a red dress resembling Candice's, but it was shorter in proportion to their bodies. Wrapped under one of her arms was a stuffed white bunny with creeping blue eyes. She smiled softly, kicking her legs about, for the third thing was causing that.
A short man as it was who had the colors of a mime, but dressed like a clown. His face was painted white, black paint forming a smile, blotches of it under his eyes and cheeks as well. He danced around the snail, making funny faces and noises, taking off his pointed hat with its puffball tip and juggling it around.
"Pierrot," Candice said as they came closer.
"Candice?" the man suddenly replied, stopping in his dancing. "Why, it is you, Candice!"
The man stretched out his right arm, the little girl jumping off from the shell and gently floating down like a feather to sit on his shoulder. Twirling around as he came closer, he smiled and smiled, the little girl on his shoulder giggling away.
"Looky here," he said to the girl. "This is the young lady Candice I told you about. The one who lives with the bugs."
"Hi," the girl said quietly.
"Hello," Candice said politely.
"So, what is this, Candice? What are you doing out here, and so far away from home at that?" The man's face took on an expression of exaggerated surprise. "Ho! This man? Is he? The one, you know? That guy?"
Candice nodded her head yes, and the man jumped into the air, squealing with joy. He ran up close to Johne, picking apart the details of his face, making an 'oohing' noise. He slithered around Johne, examining his shoes, dancing fingers along his coat and the buttons on it, making an 'aahing' noise. And the little girl grabbed a bit of Johne's hair, running her hand through it.
"Soft," she said.
"It is a pleasure to meet you," said the man, touching the stubble on Johne's face and making a short 'uuha' noise. "May I introduce myself—I am Pierrot, and this sweet little girl with me, is Nemmy."
"Hi," Johne said, backing up a little bit from Pierrot's black-tipped nose. "My name's Johne."
"Is that with or without an h in it?"
"It has an h and an e."
"Really?!" Pierrot gasped, Nemmy following his lead. "That is much better."
"I know," Candice agreed. "And he lives up to it too."
"So how is your hero? Is he strong?" Pierrot puffed out his chest. "Is he smart?" His face twisted about as if in thought, Nemmy's doing the same. "Cunning and agile?" And he leaped into the air. "So, is he, is he?"
"I don't know if Johne's any of those things, but I do know that he's brave. And he's kind. Those are the only things you need to be a hero."
"Like Pierrot," Nemmy said, taking his hat off and putting it on her head. "Johne like Pierrot. Johne hero."
"Well, it's what they tell me," Johne replied modestly, shifting his feet about. "But I don't know if I've lived up to it yet."
"What do you mean?" Candice said. "He stood up to a dark lord, even threatened him like he was nothing at all."
"Dear me!" Pierrot clasped his face with both of his hands. "Is this true?"
"Kind of," Johne barely whispered, sticking his hands in his pockets.
"Then it is good you have a hero like Johne. As for me, Pierrot, I don't think I could stand up to any dark lord."
"Pierrot scaredy," Nemmy said. "But Pierrot still hero."
"Do you know where the Black Forest is?" Johne put out, a loneliness growing in him with so many people around. "We have to go there on our adventure."
"Scary forest," Nemmy said, holding Pierrot's bald head. "It make Pierrot scaredy."
"Just cautiously nervous," Pierrot put in frankly.
"So you've been there?" Johne continued, Nemmy's staring at him growing a strange uneasiness in his being. "Would you be able to tell us how to get there?"
"We passed through it on our way here. If you leave the city and follow the main road, you'll get there. But Nemmy is right, it is scary forest."
"Excuse us for a moment," Candice said, taking Johne aside.
"What is it?" he asked, a certain calm falling over him to be alone with her again.
"What do you think of them?"
"I don't know what I think of them." But as he looked back at their company he so very clearly knew what he thought. "What're you trying to get at?"
"Well, we have to gather more people into our group, don't we? As we travel along, picking up more on the way, that's how it usually goes. Remember?"
"I see..." His hands twitched a little, clamping together tightly. "We have to bring others along too."
"You'd still be the hero," she said, taking his gaze straight into hers. "You're gonna be the one to save the day. It's your choice."
As Johne fell into those eyes, he saw himself reflected back at him. He didn't see the hero she saw, no, he only saw a weak and selfish little man. One who didn't want those eyes resting upon anyone but him, that voice to grace others ears, her hand to hold his alone. But wading deeper into the waters, he knew she saw something he couldn't see. Something beyond the tarred outer layer to within. Even surprising himself, he found it was enough to simply know that. To know it wasn't all dark in there.
"Okay," he said, putting up a smile. "I'll go ask them."
"So how do you two know each other?" Johne asked as they walked along the barren road. "I thought you said there was no one like me."
"But he isn't like you," Candice replied. "You're my hero: no one else could be that. No one. Just how Nemmy isn't like me, for you couldn't be her hero, because you can only be mine."
Johne gazed off ahead at the Snailmobile—as he so childishly named it—and the little girl on top of it. She did remind him of Candice, with her red dress and blue eyes, but something about Candice's words did sting him. He knew...he knew he wouldn't have helped that little girl if she had needed him. He would have turned away, walked off as he always did. Strange it was for him to never question why he stayed with Candice. Why he enjoyed being by her, enjoyed helping her. He almost never did or felt anything without questioning it first, but there he was, perfectly comfortable in going anywhere and doing anything, as long as it was with her and on their adventure.
"Yeah, you're right." He stroked his face softly, suddenly seeing the light change on the two ahead of him. "But, anyways, how did you two meet?"
"The desert took him the same as it probably takes all of us. He came across me one day as he was wandering the desert, then he stayed around for a little bit. But Pierrot isn't like you and me. I wanted to go out on an adventure—he wanted to go out anywhere. Pierrot finds his greatest joy in making other people happy, and with me, well, I wasn't the right person for that. And he wasn't the right person for me. He found his Nemmy, and I found you, Johne."
"Does everybody have somebody they need to find here?"
"No...but everyone who the desert takes wants someone to find. The one person who can help them get what they want. You see Nemmy?" Candice pointed her hand out to the cheerful little girl. "She was never happy before Pierrot. So he gets to give the happiness his life depends on, and she gets to receive the happiness she never knew of."
"But what about me? I'm not saying I don't want to be here, but I never even dreamed of being a hero and going on an adventure."
"Oh, it could be more than that. You're a hero to me, but by being this hero, you might get something else you've wanted. I'm sure you'll realize it in time."
"So...um...before you said you couldn't remember a time when you weren't out there in the desert. Does that mean you've spent your whole life there?" He looked down to her, so quiet, so calm. "But how could you have raised yourself?"
"I don't know if I've been here my whole life, but I do know I've been here long enough so that I can't remember ever having a different one. It's strange, after waiting so long...you really just forget it once the thing you've been waiting for comes. When Paul found you, I felt like I'd only been waiting since yesterday."
"And you're still sure I'm the right one? There couldn't be another guy out there in a crashed car waiting to be found?"
"There could be, but you're the only right one. I could feel it and so could the little ones. Though Ray may not have seemed very warm, he felt it too. Pierrot and Nemmy said it. Even the Scrangly Man regarded you especially, Johne. Why is it you want there to be doubt?"
"I don't know why...I guess I just don't want to let anyone down by not being what everyone thinks I am." He lowered his head, ancient memories stirring to life. "How would you feel if I wasn't the real hero?"
"But you are."
"But what if I wasn't?"
"Then you wouldn't be here at all. You wouldn't be carrying that bag on your back, wouldn't be talking on about not being a hero. You prove it yourself by being here." She took his arm, pulling them ahead to cover some of the distance between them and their carefree companions. "You've spent enough of your time worrying. Why don't you pretend to be Pierrot for a little bit? He doesn't worry about anything. Except Nemmy, that is."
Johne watched the man busily doing all he could to put a smile on a little girl's face. A life dedicated to others and their happiness. Johne knew he could never be Pierrot. He could never become someone who didn't care about himself first of all, someone who could be satisfied in the act of making others happy. He always had to have a point, some damned reason. What good would it do him to make others happy? What had he to gain? No one ever made him happy. No one ever went out of their way to help him. Even the person he gave all his happiness in the world to couldn't even say a simple goodbye to him. And with never saying that simple word, she still had part of his heart locked in a dark cage somewhere. She took his happiness, so he had none left to give. No more kindness for those things around him.
Looking over to Candice, he couldn't tell if he made her happy. Her words certainly made it sound that way, but she never fully conveyed it through her face. Maybe the lack of emotion was why Pierrot left her, because he couldn't see the happiness he made, could derive no joy from it. Maybe Pierrot was selfish, for his gain mattered more. That was something Johne could relate to.
"Hey," Johne called out to Pierrot. "Can that snail-thingy carry any more stuff?"
"Of course! It can lift any loads, just like the great Pierrot."
"Then take this."
Johne threw over his bag, Pierrot 'oofing' as he caught it.
"Voilà!" Pierrot gently tossed the bag up, it landing right beside Nemmy. "I never miss."
"Never miss," Nemmy repeated, examining the contents of the bag before her.
"Now that's done with," Johne said slowly, lowering down. "It's time to get on."
"What?" Candice said, turning her head.
"You said to be more like Pierrot, and I want to give you a piggyback ride for a little bit."
"But aren't I a little too big for you to be carrying around?"
"Too big? If Pierrot can lift like the Snailmobile, then I can lift you. It can be practice in case I ever have to carry you."
"Okay," she said, draping her arms around his neck. "If you start to grow tired, tell me. I don't want you wasting your strength on me."
"You're as light as a feather," he said, rising up, his body even stronger than it was before without the load on it. "Just rest for now. We got a long way to go."
"Hmmm..." she let out sleepily, laying her head beside his. "I'm so happy it was you who's my hero."
"I'm happy too."
Pierrot danced around and sang his silly songs in the twilight. Nemmy played with the grey rope, tying it around the sword handle. Candice rested quietly, not quite asleep, but not quite awake either. And Johne, well, Johne just smiled as he walked along.
"Scary forest," Nemmy said, clinking the sword handle on the side of the shell.
The group stopped and stared out at what lay ahead. At a forest that stretched across either edge of the horizon, an almost endlessness to it like some ocean of shadows. The trees within it were all the same, devoid of leaves or any kind of life, painted a sticky black tar color. The branches twisted around one another, forming piercing briar. The road led straight into a pitch dark pathway which light could barely pierce through.
"We here?" Candice said, blinking as she woke up.
"Yeah," Johne said, lowering down and letting her off his back. "We're here."
"What now?" Pierrot asked, stepping from one foot to the other. "Do we go through it?"
"That's the plan." Johne's slowly squinted as he watched twilight blanketing the sky. "But I don't think we should go today. There's not enough light."
"We go in scary forest again?" Nemmy asked, still clinking the sword handle.
"Not yet, Nemmy," Pierrot said, climbing up the Snailmobile. "It dark out. We are going to sleep, then we'll go when the sun is out again."
"Forest want us to come now."
"What do you mean?"
The little girl pointed out a finger to the forest. Nothing at all had changed, but everyone felt the same creeping sensation of being watched when no one is around.
"Something happened," Candice said, taking every twisted branch into vision. "But what?"
"I don't know. But maybe we shouldn't camp so close to it."
"Yes," Pierrot agreed, twiddling his hands. "Let's camp farther away."
"Forest no want us to camp away," Nemmy said, clutching her bunny tightly. "Forest want us to camp in it."
A tearing force—a rug being pulled out beneath your feet—roared beneath them. The Snailmobile rocked ahead, Johne lurching forward, barely catching Candice in time before she fell over. Pierrot fell backwards onto the ground, a low moaning noise escaping his mouth. Lightness and stinging invaded everyone's head.
"Johne," Candice said. "Look at the forest."
His head turned up, spine shivering as the forest was now closer to them, much closer. All the branches of the trees sighed and bent, a whirling wind shooting out of the forest entrance and beckoning like the sirens.
"Take my hand, Candice," Johne said, muscles tightening all over his body. "Take my hand, and whatever you do, don't let go."
She took his hand, Pierrot quickly taking Nemmy off of the Snailmobile, holding her closely. The air was still for a moment, silent, until a tree moaned loudly.
The world gave way beneath their feet as the road was being sucked into the forest. Johne pulled Candice close, holding her tightly as his body fell to the ground, skidding a bit, but keeping her safe. The Snailmobile zoomed off ahead from the force, and Pierrot kept whispering into Nemmy's ear as she whimpered. Johne held Candice's head close, her hands grasping tightly to him. As they came to the forest's entrance, he bit down on his teeth, hiding his face in the comfort of her hair.
As the world continued to pull them along, his mind drifted into a dizzied frenzy, breaths escaping heavily and uneven. He breathed in the dry scent of the desert in Candice's hair. He smelt the loneliness of its sand. In its stiff composure, he felt the immovability of it. But in running his hands along it, he felt the way how it was always expanding. In all of these things he found a certain kind of still peace, the image of the desert painting over all his other thoughts. And in that desert was Candice's house with the little ones and Ray. The cactuses in bloom. His red convertible in the sand, smashed to bits...
His mind scrambled in a million different directions, and without thinking, he pushed his body off from the road. He held her head close to his chest as they rolled away quickly, sharp pain shooting into his sides where rocks hit him. Their bodies came to a halt when his back hit into a tree, breaking his grip on Candice and causing her to roll a little bit away from where he lay paralyzed in pain.
"Candice," he moaned through gritted teeth, the pain still beating into him. "Candice, are you all right?"
"I'm fine," she said, rising up shakily to her feet. "What about you?"
She walked over to him and took his hand with both of hers, helping to lift him upright. He quickly grabbed his neck, stiff and immovable with pain, rubbing it tiredly.
"You cut yourself." She reached her hand out to a gash across his right arm that tore straight through his coat and shirt. "You shouldn't have done something so risky. You could have killed yourself."
"I didn't know what would happen if we didn't. I made a promise to Ray, remember? I have to keep you safe."
"But I told you I didn't want you dying for me." She shook her head, taking his arm and putting it around her shoulder. "Don't go hurting yourself just to keep me safe."
"I don't see why I should get hurt other than for that very purpose."
"Then don't get hurt at all." She took a deep breath, then lifted herself up, Johne weighing down on her shoulder. "We'll have to find the others."
"Do you think they're all right?"
"Of course they are. Whenever a situation like this evolves, it's not the purpose to hurt the others, but rather to try and isolate the hero. To have each one alone is to have each one at their weakest. Anyways, that's how it should go, because no one's supposed to die."
"Yeah, that's about right." His face twisted about, neck aching as if a tightening noose was around it. "But it seems they failed. We're not alone, are we? And I bet Pierrot and Nemmy aren't either. All we have to do is follow alongside the road and we'll find our way out."
"Somehow I don't think it's going to be that easy." Candice turned her head up to the trees, barely any light passing through the branches, with soon to be none. "We aren't going to leave this forest like nothing happened."
"It wanted us here. Whatever dragged us into this forest wanted us in here for a reason. And even if you aren't alone, I don't think it'll stop."
"So...do you think the Scrangly Man's here?" Johne tried to straighten his back out, to get ready for anything, but flinched with pain. "We should hurry before the light goes out. And if anything happens before I get back to normal, I want you to run, okay?"
"No, I won't run. We talked about sharing, and whatever it is, if anything, we'll face it together."
"But I made a promise."
"And that promise won't be broken."
They began moving forward, she ever patient with his slow limping. He must have hit his foot as well, for it ached with pain whenever he touched it to the ground. He breathed heavily, trying to push his body ahead, but the damned thing moved half-pace at most. So venturing along the road, not knowing how long of a walk they had ahead, he saw how quickly daylight was burning away.
"Candice," he said, panting, trying to get his stupid foot to lift up. "We'll never make it out of here before nighttime."
"We won't be able to see then. We won't know where we're going...we...we won't be able to defend ourselves."
"You have to let me go and try to get out of here before it's too late."
"You can't even walk yet."
"I don't care if I can't walk. You can, you can and I'm weighing you down. You should go on ahead."
"I'm not leaving you, I told you that already."
"But it's better if you're alone, at least then you have a chance." He shook his head, stopping his body in place. "I won't move anymore. You have to go."
"It's not better if we're alone, Johne, that's the worst thing we could do. What can we do alone? Nothing. If anything were going to take us, it'd take us the minute we leave each other. You can't walk without me, and I won't walk without you beside me. If you choose to stand still then I'll be standing here too."
"But why? I'm a dead weight—I can't do anything to protect you either way you choose."
"It's more than that." She held the arm around her shoulders tightly, tight enough to keep it from trying to slip away. "Not everything you need protecting from in this world can be stopped with a shielding body or with a few blows. Some things go much deeper then what can be physically done."
"But what..." His eyes widened, lifelessly gazing off as far as he could see down the road. "Candice, I want you to let go of me now."
"No," she said, ignoring the bright orange light approaching them. "I will not."
"Let me go!" he yelled, pushing harshly at the girl. "You have to go."
"I don't have to go anywhere."
He pulled against her with his free arm, using all the strength in him, but she held on. She held onto him as if he was nothing at all and she was made of stone. He tried to run out of her grasp, but her feet lay planted like the immovable thing she had turned herself into. He shook and he shook, trying to pry her fingers off, but going limp again once the pain twisted into him.
"Please, I'm begging you...let me go."
The red light was approaching quickly, charging ever closer to where they stood. It twisted and flickered around itself, lapping about the air, scorching it with heat. It seemed to call out to Johne, to yell and scream at him.
"You can't protect her," the angered voice huffed. "You can't save anyone. All you can do is grab on with your scared little hands and pull them down with you. Stop being a selfish brat for once, let her go. Be a man."
"God damn it, Candice!" he furiously let out, body trembling all over. "You're going to die if you don't move. Do you want to die?!"
"None of us are dying," she said, the fire's light reflecting in her eyes. "That's not our story. And besides..." She pulled Johne around, hugging him, and positioned his gaze away from the flame. "Who ever wants to die?"
His mouth drifted open, then shut itself again. He could see the darkness all around him light up by the fire. Most importantly, he could see Candice clearly beside him. He dragged his fingers slowly along her back, feeling the silken softness of her dress, the heat swirling around him. He was selfish, he wasn't a man. For, for all his words, he never wanted her to leave. And it made him sick, but he didn't care. It was what his heart wanted, no matter how stupid, idiotic, and selfish it was.
As the light blinded his vision, as the heat caressed his form, he felt himself suddenly swept back into his red convertible. There he sat with his foot stuck on the gas pedal, flying down the road in the middle of the night. But beside him, sitting in the front, was Candice. She stared off ahead to the sky, at all the stars resting in it, more of them then grains of sand. More than enough for each person to have as many as they wanted to have.
Watching the wind swirl through her hair, he felt a sudden lurch in his heart as his arms were ready to steer off the road. Looking over to her one last time, his other foot finally lifted itself from the floor and gently pressed down on the brakes until the car stood still.
Then shadows slowly devoured his world.
Johne slowly blinked, dark and light fluttering, the world around him but a blurry haze. He couldn't hear anything past the pounding drums of silence. Above, in the cloudless sky, the sun was shining right into his eyes. He lifted a weary hand to block it out, coughing weakly. Inside and out, he simply felt horrible.
"He wakey," rang out a voice from the nothingness. "He wakey now."
"What?" he mumbled, sound returning to him. "What's going on?"
"Splendid," Pierrot laughed, twirling around. "Now I won't need these flowers anymore." Pierrot leaned down to Nemmy, the little girl taking the great bunch of white flowers in both her arms. "For you, my dear."
"Pierrot? Nemmy? How'd you two get here?" Johne rose up, still a slight ache in his neck. "Where's Candice?"
"Right here," she said, walking into his vision. "How are you feeling today?"
"Today...? Today!" He jumped onto his feet, stumbling on his hurt one, but able to stand by himself. "W-what happened? Where are we? Where's the forest?"
"Forest no want you," Nemmy said, organizing the flowers by their height.
Johne turned around and saw the forest behind him. He stood in a grassy plain full of low cut hills and small ponds. He turned between the two quickly, wondering if he had died. If they had all died in there.
"But how'd we get out?" he asked. "It had us. We were right in the middle of the forest, and I remember the fire all around me."
"I don't know," Candice said, helping Nemmy with her flowers. "Pierrot and Nemmy said the road had taken them out of the forest, and that when they came back in the morning to look for us, we were already at the exit, asleep."
"And a heavy sleeper you are," Pierrot added, hopping like the frog in front of him, Nemmy giggling. "I am the best yeller in the world. My voice could awaken mountains, and yet there you lay for the past three hours now. I gathered the flowers when you stopped snoring."
"Johne snore louder than Pierrot yell. Froggies all scared."
"Did I really snore that loud?" Johne asked Candice.
"I don't know how loud it was, but all the frogs were hopping away from you."
"Hopping!" Pierrot exclaimed. "When he first sounded off, all the froggies jumped up in the air, and it was a minute before they went down again."
"Up," Nemmy said, raising her head, "then down."
"So I guess everything's all right now?" Johne more said to himself than anyone else, sitting down, looking back to the forest. "We got out safe and sound, and that's what matters, right? Yeah..."
He focused on the trees behind him. He had escaped, but he did not know how. He had survived, but he did not know why. The two questions took turns across his head, one pushing the nail through while the other hit it back again to be repeated over and over. Fire is not a kind thing. Fire does not have mercy, fire burns down everything without choice or care. Then why wasn't he burnt? Why did he not lay in the forest, as black as all the trees around him? The ashes of his body waiting to be blown away by the wind.
"Don't worry about it," Candice said, taking a spot beside him. "We made it out and that's the only thing that matters."
"For you," Nemmy said, presenting the bundle of flowers to him.
Johne smiled as he took the flowers, thanking the girl kindly. And he didn't worry about the whys and hows of everything that had happened, for he had found the answers when he took in a quiet breath of the flowers picked just for him.
Such simple answers they were.