Kim was yet to have a dinner at the same table as Levi. Tonight one of the oldest workers on the farm was having his sixtieth birthday. Stella had arranged a special dinner party for him. It brought back the good memories Kim had from her past. How had she forgotten there were good ones too?
But she noticed Levi was missing.
After dinner she went outside to check on the horses. She was going to miss these four legged creatures. She still remembered riding carefree through the field, riding in town and stopping at the old restaurant with her father when it was her birthday. She still remembered making snow angels and cutting the Christmas tree, being grateful for her warm clothes. Those were all gone now.
When she left the barn she looked towards the cottage again. The light was on.
She didn’t know why but she was kind of worried about him.
She fought it for a while then caved and headed over. She knocked and regretted it immediately.
But the door opened before she could go away.
“Hi,” she said, eyes wide. “I was just wondering why you weren’t at dinner.”
“You wondered where I was?”
“I...I mean...I just,” she shook her head. “Forget it.”
She was about to walk away when he said,
“I wasn’t feeling great.”
She turned back to him. His eyes were puffy and red.
Well, I should probably leave you then,” she said. “I’m sorry for bothering you.”
“Wait,” he said.
She turned around.
“Don’t go yet. Come in.”
She walked inside, it was nice and warm, a fire lit.
“Do you want something to drink?” He asked.
“No, I’m fine. She added quickly. “Thank you.”
He nodded and sat down. She stood awkwardly at first then followed suit.
Eventually he spoke,
“My sister died today, a few years back.”
“I guess I don’t really want to be alone right now.”
She hesitated then said,
“How did she die?”
“She was killed.”
“How old was she?”
“She was in high school. Her last year.”
He pulled his hand through his hair.
“I always miss her terribly on this day. I just wish I had something to hold onto.”
He sighed heavily.
She didn’t know what to do? How could she comfort him. What did people usually do in this moment. She remembered when people tried to comfort her. They’d say they understand, that she’d see her again. But she knew those words had felt empty back then. No. Those words never helped. But what had helped her?
“When I was little,” she said. “I had this secret place I’d go to whenever I missed someone.”
He looked up at her.
“It’s in the woods.”
“Take me,” he said.
“What? Right now?”
He stood up and got his jacket and stopped at the door.
“Well, come on.”
“You can’t tell me about the place and then not take me.”
He smiled at her but she could sense he was begging.
They were walking through the woods behind the farm when they reach a tree house.
“What is this?” He asked.
“My dad and my mom built it for me when I was little,” she smiled. “Come on, let’s climb up.”
“How do I know you won’t shake the latter and let me fall?” he said with narrowed eyes and a playful smile.
“Even thought that sounds tempting,” she said, one eyebrow raised. “I’ll pass.”
They climbed up and once inside she said,
“Wow, still looks the same.”
She walked towards a board in the floor.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
She smiled and lifted up the board.
He walked towards her, looking in.
Inside was a blanket, a flashlight, matches, first aid kit and sweets.
“Still from Halloween when I was a kid,” she said. “I’d advise not to eat it.”
“Warning taken,” he said and laughed.
He looked up at her as she closed the board up again.
“This is beautiful.”
He frowned but did.
The roof had an opening that was covered with glass. Through it the night sky and the moonlight was visible.
My dad wanted me to see the stars when I come here.
She sat down and he followed.
He turned to her after a while and said,
“You said you came here when you missed someone. Who did you miss?”
“My mom,” she said. “When I was little I dreamed of a life like my parents. They were always happy, carefree. She was beautiful and my dad adored her.”
“She died when I was seven years old. She was pregnant. I was so excited. A little brother. But they both died.”
He reached for her hand and she felt that same jolt through her hand.
She cleared her throat and pulled away.
“It’s alright,” she said. “There’s good memories here as well.”
“Then why did you leave?”
“I needed to. There were things I didn’t want to deal with anymore.”
“So you ran away?”
“Sometimes it’s better to run than to stay.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Let’s just say i wasn’t really wanted.”
“I can’t believe that. Your dad loves you a lot.”
“I’m not talking about him.”
Levi gave her a questioning look.
“I’d rather not go into it.”
“You’re right,” he said. “It’s the past. It doesn’t matter anymore.”
“Yeah, i guess so.”
“You know you’re not the only one that wanted to run away. I thought about it too once upon a time.”
“My sister who died today...”
“After that I just wanted to leave this town so badly.”
“Everything reminded you of her?”
“I know what you mean.”
“Your mom,” he said.
Kim nodded. But she knew she wasn’t talking about her.
“Her death is still kind of a mystery to me,” Levi said. “But I guess I forced myself to move on, you know. No use trying to figure it out,”
“The ones responsible for her death are all already dead so I can’t even ask them why they did it.”
“If I could just...I have so much I want to say to them. So much I want them to know. I want them to know who she was, what they did to me.”
“Do you think you’d ever forgive them?”
“I don’t know. Right now I don’t know if I can.”
He noticed she looked upset.
“I’m sorry I’m being a downer.”
They were silent for a while, then she said,
“Why did you decide to stay? You said you wanted to run away. Why didn’t you?”
“I was going to. I had it all figured out. Then a few days before I was to leave my mother got sick. Really sick. So I stayed.”
“Do you regret it?”
“Back then I did, a lot. Especially on the streets.”
“You lived on the streets.”
“I never made peace with what happened so i started getting involved with the wrong crowd. Started drinking, then taking drugs. I got addicted. Eventually i started selling.”
“So your parents kicked you out?”
“No, actually. I went to jail. I was caught. Three years. When I got out my family wanted nothing to do with me.”
“But they do now, right?”
He shook his head.
“I guess it’s too much to forgive. Even the town folks didn’t like me after that.”
“But you can leave now. Why don’t you?”
“This is my home.”
“But everyone treated you terribly.”
“But this isn’t my home because of them.”
“You just got to make it your own.”
“You know, I’m glad my dad hired you. I can see you really care about the farm and its people.”
“I’m glad you’re back.”
“Even if i’m your biggest enemy.”
“You’re not my enemy. You’re misguided but that’s something we can fix.”
“You think you can fix me?”
“Nah, you’ll do that on your own. You seem like a capable beautiful young lady.”
“Well, you are, so i’m just stating facts.”
“But the hair style needs to change.”
“What’s wrong with my hair?”
“You should wear it lose. You look beautiful with your hair down. I’ve seen the photos that prove it.”
“That was high school me. I’m an adult.”
“High school you. Why did i never meet you before this?”
“I don’t know. Did you go to school outside town?”
“No, the one in town.”
“That so strange. I’d have thought i would remember you.”
“Why? Am i memorable?”
“Yeah, you are.”
“Well, if it makes you feel better about yourself, i’d probably have been the creepy kid that couldn’t stop staring at you.”
“What?” he said laughing too.
“That was so lame.”
“It’s the truth.”
“Well i might have given you a chance back then if you weren’t years younger than me.”
“That’s all a man can ask for.”
She got up and moved towards the opening of the tree house.
“We should probably go back.”
“It’s too late now.”
She turned around to face him.
“So what you suggest?”
“We could stay here.”
She narrowed her eyes.
“I don’t know if i trust you enough. What if in the middle of the night you just decide to pull a move?”