Chapter 3 - Forest
The boys' words from yesterday haunted me. Everyone else brushed it off after a while but I couldn't seem to get it off my mind.
Keevah walked into my room, holding two cups of her signature coffee.
"Thanks Keev." Her kind gesture reminded me of how gentle this wild girl could be.
"I know you Ry, I can tell something's bothering you." I took a deep breath in.
"I can't stop thinking about what Dae and Jordan saw yesterday." I stared at my coffee.
"Well there's not much we can do but stay alert in case it happens again." She was right, worrying wouldn't change anything. "Once you're finished with your coffee, you have to get ready." Keevah said smiling.
"Okay, why?" I was curious, Keevah was spontaneous so this could lead anywhere.
"You'll have to wait and see." A devilish grin on her lips.
"Is this it Keev?" I inquired.
"Yeah, well almost," Keevah's voice held mischief, "We've got to go a little further on foot but I promise it's worth it."
I obediently followed her into the woods, in the afternoon sun everything seemed calm and the colours were tinted with a golden hue. I hadn't been back to the woods for a long time, my father hated me going but when I was younger, sneaking away to explore was my favorite pastime.
"What made you bring me here?" I was curious.
"I remembered how you told me about your best memories and how a lot of them included the woods so I figured we'd pay nature a visit." I stopped walking. Her words meant so much to me, I didn't expect her to pick that up just from a few stories. She really had me figured out. That scared me a little, thinking about it longer.
"Wow, that's really observant of you Keev. You're the best friend anyone could ask for, did you know that?"
"Of course I am, if I wasn't amazing would I even be me?" She said showing her characteristic grin. I had to giggle, nothing could bring this woman down.
We walked until we found a clearing, filled with sunshine. It brought back the best memories I could think of. The forest was where I broke my arm as a kid, trying to be a superhero, where I attended my first high school party and had my first kiss.
"So what are we going to do?" I asked.
"Ry, do you really think I'd make the effort to bring you all the way out here and not invite our friends?" Keevah had a lot up her sleeve today. "They should be here in five minutes if they don't get lost." She looked proud of herself for pulling it all off. I was impressed for sure.
As Keevah had predicted, everyone was there within ten minutes. Including Luna, clinging to Jace's arm. Fun.
"Ry! Keev!" Jace never failed to bring his party energy to all occasions. "Is everyone ready to party in the woods tonight?"
"Oh come on Jace what kind of question is that? We're always ready!" Jordan exclaimed.
Everyone set up foldout chairs and gathered wood for a bonfire later on. I was carrying an armful of wood when I heard a crack behind me, my powers buzzed. My heart started beating faster, I was instantly on high alert. I carried on walking when the sound came again, only closer. I started walking faster. The noise came again. And again. I bolted down towards the clearing, I was being chased now. Before I could turn around to see my pursuer, I was grabbed from behind. The solid grip around my waist sent the logs in my arms flying through the air.
I felt panic course through my body, my powers about to reach out behind me. I let out a shriek, but my ears met the warm sound of familiar laughter. My powers retracted like claws. Once I was free I turned to Jace, my face showed just how unimpressed I was with him. His laughter only grew and my anger dissolved. My heart warmed at the light in his eyes. A sudden jab of guilt hit me, knowing the secret I was keeping from him.
"I've never heard you scream so loud before," he laughed some more before he continued, "Aw, don't be mad at me Ry, I was only playing." His smile stretched wider. My blood raced to my face.
"How did you even sneak up on me? I know these woods like the back of my hand, there's no way you got around me Jace."
"You're not the only one who knows this forest." He took a step closer to me and whispered, "You know some people say this forest is haunted at night." He pulled away from my ear smirking.
"I know," I replied smugly, "I'm one of the things haunting it." His laugh was deep and full of life.
"I was going to offer you my protection but maybe I should be asking for mercy?" He faked a fearful look.
"I think you should." I laughed, bending down to pick up the fallen wood I had collected. "You know Jace, you should be the one to pick all this up, it's your fault I dropped it in the first place." I shot him a sly look up, hoping to convince him to help me.
Bending down without question, he helped me pick up the remaining twigs and logs.
"Anytime Rylan." He called, jogging down to the clearing.
I stood still, my mind moving. Wait, was he just flirting with me? He'd always been a playful person but this encounter was different.
I was snapped out of the thoughts and I walked back to the clearing, my heart beating only slightly calmer than before.
"Let's start the fire." Dae said, pulling out his lighter. I threw the wood in the pile beside the smoking logs for later.
"Ry, you're the only one without a drink," Jordan said faking offense, "I won't have that." He grabbed a drink from the cooler box and handed it to me. I thanked him before finding my seat between Keevah and Dae. I was determined to relax, to stop worrying about things I didn't understand for tonight.
After some time I felt more at ease. Keevah had instructed Luna to get marshmallows to roast, so I went to find sticks to use for the marshmallows. Dae offered to help so we walked slowly, searching the ground for the perfect twigs.
"How have you been Ry?" Dae was always concerned about us, he had a lot of love in his heart.
"Honestly? I haven't been able to stop thinking about what you and Jordan saw." I picked up a stick I thought looked good.
"Oh so this is about yesterday. Not about the party?" My heart fell.
"No, everything is fine, Dae. I just wasn't feeling well, that's all." I gave him a smile, I didn't want him to stress about me.
He returned the smile. "Have you heard from your parents yet, Dae?" He shook his head sadly.
When he told his parents that he didn't feel right as a girl, they hadn't taken him seriously. On his last day of high school he came out as transgender. He told them to call him Dae instead of Daniella, but they didn't take it too well. His brother, Dylan wasn't as judgmental, but he definitely treated Dae a little differently after that day. Dae didn't hold it against him though. Luckily his aunt was understanding. She helped him with his surgery and his hormone treatment, she was an angel. He almost fell apart when she died last year in a car accident, just after we had all become friends.
"It doesn't matter anyway." Dae was moving forward from his parent's abandonment, "Dylan texts me every now and then." He bent down to pick up a stick.
"I'm here if you want to talk, we all are." He gave me a genuine smile.
"Thank you Rylan, it means a lot to me." I returned his smile.
"I don't know what I'd do without any of you. After my family rejected me, all of you took me into yours, I wouldn't have been able to cope with losing my aunt if all of you weren't there to show me the love and support my family failed to give me." He was tearing up. I pulled him into a hug, my eyes threatened to do the same.
"We will always be here for you, Dae."
We looked for a few more sticks before heading back, both of us feeling lighter after our conversation.
Keevah squealed at our return, "We can finally eat our marshmallows!" I laughed, she was feeling her drinks.
It was well past midnight when we all decided to head home. Jordan helped Keevah to the car, I was going to be driving for sure. Jace and Luna had already climbed into Jace's car. Dae and I were packing up the last of our things and collecting all that we had left by the now dead fire. The flashlight on our phones guided us.
My body was suddenly flooded with tension. My darkness simmered. I shone my light into the forest around me. Nothing. Paranoia seemed to be the reason for my uneasiness, but my darkness was not convinced. I turned around hesitantly, my secret threatened to reveal itself in panic and I couldn't let it. Dae was already gone so I walked speedily towards the car. Relief flooded over me once I entered the car but my darkness wouldn't settle. I decided that only leaving could relax me completely.
Looking over at Keevah passed out on the backseat, I had a strange thought, the whole night I felt nothing until I was alone. I shivered at the thought. Was there someone following me?
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