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Blessing of the Wood (Pt. 3 of 3)

Good hearts prevail as the blessing of the wood spreads far and wide.

Ella awakened with her head resting on a hummock of moss.  Though beads of dew decorated her skin, she was warm, comfortable, and reluctant to rise.  Birdsong and the soft gurgle of the spring that fed her great-grandmother’s pool further conspired to lull her back to sleep.

In time, she roused to find Xantina watching over her.

“Good morning, Xanella.”

“Morning,” Ella responded.  She sat up and stretched out of habit, though her bed of moss and leaves had been every bit as comfortable as her mattress in the house.  She hadn’t eaten anything or answered the call of nature the night before, but neither troubled her.

With wakefulness, her reason for spending the night in the wood did trouble her, though.

“He sleeps still,” Xantina said, knowing what was in her heart.

Ella joined the dryad at the edge of the pool, and let her feet dangle in the water.  “I don’t remember falling asleep.  Is he doing okay?”

“He is warm, safe, and loved, but he is not ready to see you yet.”

Ella sighed.  She looked out over the pool, thinking of him and opening her heart to bring him comfort as she had the day before.  Movement in the corner of her eye caused her to glance that way, and she saw her clothing was hanging from branches in the sunlight.  From the way the cloth fluttered in the wind, it appeared to be dry.

“Thanks, Grandma.”

The dryad offered an impish grin and said, “You will need them soon.”

“John?” Ella asked, hoping.

“Soon,” Xantina said, “But first, there is another.”

“Another?”

“Mmm hmm,” Xantina said, and then giggled.  “Take my hand.”

Once again, they flew on the wings of the dryad’s magic, and arrived at a familiar place.  There was no holding back her grin of wonder when Ella saw the three fairies hovering near the place where Xantwilla’s tree had once stood.  One flew to her, and something that was more a suggestion than a thought caused her to lift her hand as she had before.

The fairy alighted on her palm.  It appeared to be the same one that had chosen her on their last visit, though she couldn’t be sure.  The fairy spoke, her voice emerging not only from her lips, but within Ella’s head as well.

“The words of humans are hard, and it has been long.  You understand me?”

“Yes, I understand you,” Ella answered.

“Good.  We have a gift for Penny.”

Xantina explained, “Penelope was called Penny when she was small.”

“Penny was my friend, and it makes me sad to know she is ill.  Look here.”

In a fluttering of wings, the fairy left Ella’s palm and landed within the hollow stump.  There she saw a leaf unlike anything she’d ever seen before.  It was larger than her hand, curled into the shape of a bowl, and tapered to a rounded point opposite the stem.  Within was what looked like water, except it twinkled with points of multicolored light.

“This will make her better,” the fairy declared.

“She’s very sick,” Ella said, knowing the seriousness of dementia.

The fairy laughed and nonchalantly said, “It is magic.”

Xantina assured her, “She is right, Xanella.  The water comes from the fairy world.  It is blessed by their magic, and by the magic of my sister, who loved Penelope as I do you.  It will take her pain and return her memories for the time she has left.”

“For the time she has left?” Ella asked.

“Her spirit is weary, and longs to fly free,” the fairy said.

Ella asked, “So, she’s going to die?”

Her great-grandmother nodded.  “It is her time to return to the earth.  The magic will let her say goodbye to those she loves, then pass in peace and joy.”

She had every reason to believe the dryad and felt her previously heavy heart lighten, but that wasn’t her only concern.  “How do I carry it without spilling it?  I don’t know how I could give it to her.  They’ll look at me like I’m crazy at the hospice if I tiptoe in with a leaf full of water.”

Her great-grandmother answered the first by kneeling down and picking up the leaf.  She turned it nearly on its side, and while the liquid shifted toward the pull of gravity, it did not roll off the leaf.  The dryad then stood and handed it to Ella.

Ella twisted her wrist, amused by the way the water jiggled.  “Okay, but that doesn’t solve the problem of giving it to her.”

The fairy flew in close and asked, “May I look into your thoughts?”

For anyone else, it would likely have been a frightening question.  Ella, however, had grown up with her twin, sharing a near psychic connection, and with a great-grandmother who knew everything.  She nodded without the slightest hint of hesitation.

The fairy closed her eyes, and her tiny brow knitted in concentration.  Only moments passed before her eyes shot open and she clapped.  “Tea!” the fairy declared.

“Well, she would drink it.  I still don’t know how I get it in her tea.  There are rules, and...”  Ella shrugged, unsure how to explain to the fairy.

“Put it in first,” Xantina suggested.  “Take the tea to her.”

“I don’t think that will go over any better.  I’m not family or anything.”

The nymph smiled and said, “Christine.  Have her taste it.  She will take it to Penelope, and it will help her too.”

“Her too?”

“You will see,” the ever mischievous dryad said.

She still wasn’t so sure, but said, “I guess it won’t hurt to try.”

“Thank you,” the fairy said.  “You can tell your family about us, now.”

“Thank you.  I will.”

The fairy waved, and then darted over to join the other tiny, winged women.  All three then flew away, and through the rustling branches of the willow tree.

Ella balanced the leaf in her right hand and held out her left.  “I guess I have tea to make,” she told her great-grandmother.

Xantina laughed and whisked them home.

**

“Back again?” Christine asked when she walked into the lobby of the hospice.

“Yes,” Ella answered.  She had an irrational, nervous feeling as if she was trying to smuggle a cake containing a hacksaw to an inmate.

“Penelope is doing fine,” the nurse said.  She looked as if she was about to say something else, but her brow knitted and she winced.

Ella asked, “Are you okay?”

Christine held a hand over her lower abdomen and whispered, “Cramps.”  She then nodded at the thermos Ella was carrying and asked, “What’s that?”

“I made some tea.  It’s all organic with lemon zest.  I thought Penelope might like it.”

The look on the nurse’s face confirmed to Ella that what she’d told her great-grandmother was correct.  It wasn’t going to be as easy as handing over the thermos and calling it a day.

“Penelope is pretty particular about her tea,” Christine diplomatically said.

Ella held out the thermos and suggested, “Try some and see what you think.”

She did her best to hide it, but Ella knew the nurse was merely humoring her, and likely trying to think of the most polite way to say she couldn’t take the tea to her elderly patient.  She took off the top, poured a little, and brought it to her lips for a sip.  Her eyes widened, and she immediately sipped again.  This time, she shivered and moaned.

“Is it good?” Ella asked.

“Oh my god,” the nurse said, and then stepped closer to whisper, “Good?  This is wonderful.”

Ella chuckled.  “Thanks.  So, do you think Penelope will like it?”

“I know she will.  I’m not really supposed to do this, but you went to all this trouble, and I think it will brighten her day.  If anyone asks, I’ll just pretend I used a different thermos today.  I don’t usually take her tea until later, but...”

“No,” Ella said while giving a shake of her head.  “Don’t change her routine.  I’ll pick up the thermos some other day.  I need to get home.”

“I don’t work Mondays and Tuesdays.  That’s my weekend.  You can come by any other day and pick it up.  And if you want to bring some more, feel free.”

“Thanks.  I’ll come by tomorrow.”

“Thank you.  And I’ll say the same for Penelope in advance.  I know she would want to.”

“You’re welcome.  Bye.”

Ella left the hospice smiling, but with the happy task out of the way, she was eager to return to the dryad’s pool.  The drive felt as if it took hours, and she didn’t even bother grabbing her purse from the passenger seat when she arrived at home.  She hurried down the trail and found her great-grandmother waiting for her.

“Is he awake yet?” Ella asked while pulling up her top.

Surprisingly, Xantina said, “Leave your coverings.  Yes, he is awake, and he is ready to see you.”

“So, he’s coming home?”

The dryad shook her head.  “I will take you to him.”

That was perfectly fine with Ella.  She stepped closer, held out her hands, and closed her eyes.  The dryad grasped one, but reached up to caress Ella’s cheek with the other.

“You must be strong, Xanella,” Xantina said.

Before the advice could sink in, Ella felt the magic take hold of her.  In the instant her feet touched solid ground once more, the dryad let go of her hand.  By the time Ella opened her eyes, her great-grandmother had vanished.  In front of her, John was pacing near his packed-up gear.  He reached the end of a circuit, turned, and started when he saw her.

“Grandma brought me,” Ella explained as she approached.  “I was worried about you.”

She saw him wince, and he said, “Ella, I don’t want to do this here.”

“Do what?  Talk to me, John.”

“I...”  He trailed off, sighed, and then sat down on the ground.

Ella knelt down in front of him and asked, “What’s wrong?  Just tell me.”

“You may be sorry you asked,” he muttered.

Irritation crept in with her concern and she asked, “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Sorry,” he said, catching the change in her inflection.  “I just meant it’s not good news, and I don’t know how to tell you.”

“Then just tell me.  It can’t be worse than the thousand crazy things I’ve thought of since you vanished on me.”

He leaned to the side and unzipped his backpack, from which he retrieved a sheaf of folded papers.  When he held them out to her, Ella took them and read.  She saw the name of the clinic and knew that they were the results of his test.  Most of the information was too technical to tell her anything, but some listed percentages were very low.  There was also a recommendation to retake the test after a longer period of abstention.

When she looked up from the paperwork, John said, “I told the doctor to give it to me straight.  He said that based on that test, there’s not much chance I’ll ever be able to have kids.”

The revelation hit Ella hard.  She’d never had any vision of her future that didn’t include children.  Now, here was the man she wanted to spend the rest of her life with telling her it might never be.  It would be difficult enough for a normal couple, but the members of her family could only conceive on Earth Day, making it all the more unlikely.  She reeled from the confusing riot of thoughts swirling through her head.

“Sorry,” John said.

Latching onto one thing that offered hope, she said, “They want you to take the test again.  That means they’re not sure.”

“I’ll take it again, but you shouldn’t get your hopes up.”

“Just mine?” she asked.

“I...  I wasn’t even sure I wanted kids, but now that they’re telling me I can’t...”  He paused and sighed.  “I knew about my uncles.  I think maybe I was trying to convince myself I didn’t want kids so I wouldn’t be disappointed.”

“So you do?”

He nodded and said, “Yeah.  I do.  That’s why I couldn’t figure out any good way to tell you.  I can’t handle it.  How are you supposed to?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted.

“It makes me think it’s a sign or something.  I mean this, and my aunt...  Maybe you’d be better off with someone else.”

Ella shook her head.  “Don’t say that.”

“You don’t deserve any of this.”

“Neither do you.”

“Maybe you should think about it.”

“No,” she said before he even finished.  “One thing I do know is that it doesn’t change how I feel about you.  None of it.  I don’t need to think about it.  I love you.  That’s all that matters.”

She could see the relief in his eyes.  Even if he believed what he was saying, it wasn’t what he wanted.

“I love you, too,” he said.

Before he could add a but to that, she said, “That’s all we need, then.  If we can’t have kids, so be it.”

“Are you sure?”

As soon as he finished the question, she knew the answer.  No matter the shock and turmoil she felt, her answer was certain.  “Yes.  I don’t care if we haven’t exchanged vows yet.  Sickness and in health.  Richer or poorer.  It’s how I feel.”

A slight, shy smile turned up the corners of his lips when he said, “Me too.”

The strangest thought hit her out of the blue, and it broke through the tension she felt, so she shared it.  “If we can’t have kids, Terra will use it as an excuse to fill up all the extra bedrooms herself, anyway.”

He chuckled and agreed, “You’re probably right.”

“I know I’m right.  I’d probably do the same thing if the situation were reversed.  But that’s just a what if.”  Ella scooted closer.  “You still have to take the test again, and there are other options.”

“You’re not supposed to be getting your hopes up,” he reminded her.

“And you shouldn’t be giving up.  If we want it badly enough, we can make it happen.”

He reached up and touched her cheek.  “You make me want to believe that.”

“Good.  Now just get rid of that want to part and believe it.”

Ella leaned in, and they kissed.  When their lips parted, she said, “Let’s go home.”

**

“Morning,” Ella said when John awakened the next morning.  She smiled and giggled at his reaction to her fingertips gliding over his morning erection.

“Morning,” he said.  Then he did something completely unexpected and pushed her hand away.  Upon seeing the look in her eyes, he reminded her, “The test.”

“I wasn’t really doing anything,” she protested.

“We weren’t last night, either.”

She had to admit he was right.  They had climbed into bed, shared an innocent goodnight kiss, and snuggled up together.  An accidental brush of his hand over her nipple began a chain of escalating arousal that reached an inevitable conclusion.

“Okay, I’ll behave,” she said as she pushed the covers aside.  “I’m going to brush my teeth.  I can at least have a kiss, can’t I?”

He nodded as he kicked his side of the bedclothes down.

After brushing their teeth, Ella got her kiss.  She couldn’t resist tickling him with her tongue, and felt his hands slide down to her butt.  Her heart beat fast from the touch, and she moaned into the kiss.

Then he pulled away.

His voice was pained when he said, “Ella...”

She held back a surge of frustration.  “Sorry.”

“If I’m going to go three days, I don’t think I can do it here,” he said.

Ella opened her mouth to protest, but before a word could escape, her conscience told her the truth.  She couldn’t resist the temptation.  All it had taken was a kiss to make her ache for him.

He continued, “I think I should go stay at Mom’s.  If I’m going to make it, staying there is the best bet.”

Ella nodded in resignation.  She didn’t like it, but she knew he was right.  “I’ll go get you some clothes so you can get dressed in here.”

“I love you.  And I do want you.  You know that, don’t you?”

“I want you too.  You’re right.  There’s no way we can behave for one day, let alone three.”  She blew him a kiss on the way out of the bathroom.

**

Ella sighed as John closed the front door at his mother’s house.  She knew it was going to be a long three days.  Already missing him, she backed out of the drive and hit the road.  The one and only positive was that she had an opportunity to stop by the hospice and check on Penelope.

Christine was all smiles when she walked into the lobby.

“You look like you’re feeling better,” Ella remarked.

The nurse crossed her fingers.  “I’m hoping it lasts.  I usually have the most awful cramps for three or four days, but I’ve been fine since yesterday.”

Ella’s grin widened, as that explained the dryad saying the magical tea would help Christine as well.  She made a show of crossing her fingers, but knew there was no need.

“Penelope asked about you,” Christine said.  “Not by name, but she remembered you coming to visit.  She wants you to come see her.”

“I’d like that.”

“Remember, she has her good days and bad days.  There’s no guarantee she’ll remember you, or that it won’t trigger some sad memory like last time.”

Ella nodded and said, “I understand,” even though she was certain there was nothing to worry about.

“This way,” Christine said.  A short distance down the hall, she stopped at a doorway.  “Penelope, Ella is here to see you.”

The elderly woman smiled and said, “Come in.  Come in.”

Christine said, “I’m going to get back to work.  Catch me on your way out and I’ll get your thermos.”

“Thanks,” Ella said as she stepped into the room.

“You remind me of an old friend,” Penelope said once Ella reached her bedside.  “Ella, isn’t it?”

Ella glanced toward the door to make sure nobody was passing by, and then answered, “Xanella, actually.”

The old woman’s eyes widened and she gasped.  “So, it’s true?”

Ella nodded, and then held up a finger before going to close the door.  When she returned to the bedside, she explained, “My great-grandmother is a dryad named Xantina.  I asked her about Xantwilla when you said her name.”

“Do I have her to thank for bringing me back?”

Ella thought that mentioning the fairies might be a little too much, too fast, and answered, “Partially.  She said that it was Xantwilla’s magic, too.”

“I’ve missed her so,” Penelope said, and then sighed.  “So much is...  I only remember bits of what’s happened while I’ve been here.  I remember you coming, though.  I thought you were her, come back to me somehow.”

“It broke my heart when you realized I wasn’t her,” Ella admitted.

“You know, I can almost hear her singing...”  The old woman’s eyes grew distant for a few seconds, but a shake of her head brought her back.  “But, enough wool-gathering.  I know I don’t have much time left.”

“So...”  Ella hesitated, not knowing what to say, and ended up settling for, “You know?”

Penelope nodded.  “Yes, I know I’m not long for this world.  I’m over ninety, and I’ve known that for years.  It’s just more certain now.  I’m ready to go.  What I don’t know is how you came to find me in the first place.  I know I’d remember if we met before.”

“It’s kind of a long story,” Ella dodged.  She was more than a little embarrassed by the selfish motivation that had eventually led her here.  “I learned who you were because the campground is in danger of being foreclosed on for unpaid taxes.”

Even deeper furrows creased Penelope’s wrinkled brow.  “How can that be?  I put my affairs in order years ago.”

“My dad is a state senator.  He looked into it and said that the property taxes somehow got missed.  The church has been trying to raise the money, but they’re almost out of time.  My family tried to make a donation, but they wouldn’t take it.”

“Oh dear,” Penelope said, and pursed her lips.  Then her eyes lit up.  “Miller.  Your father’s name is Daniel Miller, isn’t it?”

“Yes, that’s my dad.”

“I thought so.  I voted for him, you know.  I reckoned he was a good man, and after meeting you, I know I was right.”

Ella grinned and said, “Thanks.  I’ll let him know.”

“You do that.  Tell me, do you happen to know if a woman named Carolyn is in charge of raising the money?”

“Yes.”

The old woman nodded and sighed.  “I thought so.  I hope your kin can forgive her for sending your money back.  She’s been through so much, and when she turned to the church for strength, I’m afraid she fell in with the fire and brimstone types.”

How well Ella knew that.  She shrugged and said, “We’re used to that sort of thing.  But, my dad checked with some people, and he’s pretty sure that he can get the land attached to the state forest if the foreclosure goes through.  So at least it will be protected.”

“I think Xantwilla would approve of that, and I know I do,” Penelope said.  “It may not come to that, though.  I need to talk to Carolyn and say goodbye, anyway.  I’ll convince her to accept your family’s donation, if they’re still willing to give.”

“Do you think you can?”

Penelope reached out and patted her hand.  “Deep down, she has a good heart.  She just needs to hear things interpreted through scripture, and I’m good at that, dear.  I don’t know that I ever believed, but the church is a lot like Carolyn.  At the heart of things, it’s about love and compassion.”

Heartened by Penelope’s confidence, Ella said, “If she’ll take the money, I’m sure my family will make the donation.”

“And she will, dear.”  The old woman chuckled, looked at the phone, and said, “I imagine she’s in for a bit of a shock when I call her.”

Sensing that she wanted to catch up with those she loved, and knowing that she didn’t have much time to do so, Ella said, “I should go and let you do that, then.”

“Thank you, dear.  You don’t know what a gift you’ve given me.  And thank your great-grandmother as well.”

“I will, and I’ll come by to visit when I can,” Ella said as she stood.

Penelope waved her hand in a dismissive gesture.  “Oh, dear, you’re young.  You should be enjoying life, not wasting it on an old woman.”

“There are only so many people in the world we can share our secret with.  It would be nice to talk to someone I’m not related to about it once in a while.”

“Well then, you’re always welcome.  It will be nice to remember her with someone who understands.”

“Goodbye.  I’ll see you soon.”

“Goodbye, dear.”

Ella left the door open when she returned to the hall, and saw Penelope pick up the phone.  It might not be a done deal, but she felt that if anyone could convince Carolyn to let her family help, it was Penelope.

It was perhaps two hours later when her phone rang, announcing a call from her aunt.

When Ella answered, Kia said, “I just had a phone call from a Ms. Carolyn Williams.  Might you have anything to do with that?”

“What did she say?” Ella asked, ignoring her aunt’s question.

“She was calling to apologize for returning our donation to the camp the way she did.  She sounded sincere, so I asked her if she would accept the donation now.”

Ella couldn’t help but smile.  Penelope had been true to her word – and in record time.  She prompted Kia to continue by asking, “And?”

“And I’m getting ready to head to the church to drop it off now.  With what she’s raised, it’ll be enough to pay the bill, and she shouldn’t have any trouble keeping up with it going forward.”

“Glad to hear that.”

“You didn’t answer my question, though.  Did you have anything to do with this?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe,” Kia repeated, and Ella could almost see her aunt rolling her eyes.  “I don’t think I’m going to be the only one who wants to hear the story of how this happened, little Ms. Sneaky, but I’ll let you off the hook for now.  Good job.”

“Thanks.  I had help, though.”

“You can tell me the whole story later.  I’m going to go drop off this money before she changes her mind.  Goodbye.”

Ella hung up the phone, still wearing a smile.  With everything that had happened since, she hadn’t thought to tell anyone about the fairies yet.

They were in for a huge surprise.

**

Ella sat on the couch with John at his mother’s house, wondering how she was going to survive another day.  His appointment at the clinic was the next afternoon, but that felt like an eternity.

It wasn’t all about sex, either.  After having him share her bed every night for only a few weeks, she found it difficult to fall asleep without him there, and felt desperately lonely when she awakened.  She glanced at the clock and knew that it was time to go home to that empty, lonely bed.

She looked at John, and she didn’t have to say a word for him to know what she was thinking.  He said, “You have to study and take a shower before bed.  So do I.”

Ella pouted and said, “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.”  She sighed before saying, “I guess I’ll go.”

“Last night.  I love you.”

Last night was enough to cheer her ever so slightly.  “I love you, too.”

They shared a lingering kiss and then he said, “I’m going to go take a shower.”  The fraction of a second pause before shower was his way of eliminating the words long and cold he would have added if his mother wasn’t in the room.

She knew that feeling all too well.  Even though she had no reason not to assuage her needs with her fingers or the vibrator she hadn’t used in weeks, she didn’t feel right doing it when he couldn’t.  She leaned in for one last peck on the lips, and then finally headed for the door.

John’s mother walked with her, took her hand after opening the door, and squeezed it in sympathy.  The two women embraced, and then Ella stepped out into the cool night air, already missing him.

As she reached her car and hit the button on the key fob to unlock the door, someone saying, “Excuse me,” startled her enough to make her drop her keys.  She looked down the sidewalk toward where the voice had arisen and was even more shocked to see John’s aunt.

Carolyn crossed in front of her car to the sidewalk and approached.  She stopped at the base of the driveway and said, “I need to apologize.”

Still in shock from the fright and the unexpected confrontation, Ella couldn’t think of any way to respond.  She stooped down to pick up her keys as her mind reeled, and when she stood, the sound of the door opening caused them to both turn that way.

“Is everything okay?” John’s mother asked as her purposeful stride carried her toward them.  Her face was flat, as if she feared to let any emotion take hold within her.

“Marie, is John–” Carolyn began.

“He’s in the shower,” John’s mother said, cutting her sister off.  She then stopped at Ella’s side to stand with her and asked, “Are you okay?”

Ella found her voice to say, “I’m...  Yes.”

Marie turned her attention back to her sister and said, “Carolyn, I’m not going to stand by and let you treat Ella this way.”

“I came to apologize, Marie.”

Marie hesitated when the unexpected admission derailed her train of thought, but then said, “If that’s true, then it’s long overdue.”

“I know,” Carolyn agreed, and then sighed.  “I’m sorry for putting you in the middle, Marie, but we can talk about that later.”  She then faced Ella, took a deep breath and said, “Ella, I judged you without making any effort to know you, and I’m sorry.  I don’t know what to say for myself except that I was afraid.”

Caught off guard once more, and perplexed, Ella asked, “Of me?”

John’s aunt shook her head and said in a small voice, “That you were going to take him away from me.  I wanted to believe that I was protecting him, but that’s the truth.  I realize that now.”

Ella felt every ounce of the heartbreak in those words.  She could see it in Carolyn’s face as well.  Empathy overwhelmed her, and she said, “I would never do that.  You’re a part of him – who he is.  I don’t want to change that.  I don’t want to change him.”

Her eyes cast downward, Carolyn said, “I’m sorry.”

Marie’s stiff, defensive posture relaxed, and Ella could see the familiar concern of a sister in the woman’s eyes.  It was but one more reason for her to say what was in her heart.

“I forgive you,” Ella said.

Carolyn looked up.  “Really?”

“Yes.  And I’m sorry, too.  I haven’t exactly thought nice things about you.”

“You had good reason.”

Ella shook her head and said, “No, I didn’t.  I didn’t make any more effort to know you.”

A few moments of uncomfortable silence followed, until John’s mother laid a hand on Ella’s shoulder and asked, “Do you think you might be able to start over?”

“I’d like to,” Ella answered without hesitation.

“Yes,” Carolyn agreed.

“Baby steps,” John’s mother suggested.  “I think you may both be a little overwhelmed tonight.”

Ella and Carolyn both nodded in agreement.  Then Carolyn asked, “Do you think John will...  Will he let me apologize?”

“I’ll put myself in the middle one more time for that, Sis.”

A thought occurred to Ella and she asked, “Did he take his phone into the bathroom?”

“No, it’s on the coffee table.”

“I’ll send him a text so he knows I want him to listen,” Ella said as she pulled her phone out of her purse.  “That might help, so make sure he looks.”

“I will,” John’s mother said.

The look of surprise on Carolyn’s face was impossible to miss.  She stammered, “I...  I...  Thank you.” 

Ella offered a half-smile and finished her message.  “Tell him he can call me if he needs to.  It doesn’t matter how late,” she said as she opened her car door.

“I will,” Marie said, and then waved for her sister to follow her to the house.

Ella climbed in, started the car, and then watched the two older women walk inside.  As hurt as he felt, she knew John would forgive his aunt for what she’d done.  For him, holding a grudge took work.  Forgiveness came naturally.

It was one of the many things she loved about him.

**

Ella glanced at her phone, smiled, and then turned off the television.  Though the results of John’s second test were the same as the first, the campground’s taxes were paid, and he had reconnected with his aunt.  To Ella, it was reason enough to celebrate.

John looked at his phone as well and stretched.  “Almost midnight.  We’d better get to sleep.  Busy day tomorrow.”

He was right.  Earth Day was always a full day in her family.  Sleep was going to have to wait, though.  She climbed out of the bed and said, “I want to show you something.”

“What?  Right now?”

She crinkled her nose and smiled.  “Yes.  Come on.”

“Okay,” he chuckled as he swung his legs out of bed.

Ella held a finger to her lips, made a shushing sound, and then took his hand to lead him through the house.  Though the lights were off, the moonlight streaming through numerous large windows lit their path.

“Where are we going?” he whispered when they reached the front door.

“You’ll see,” she answered, and then giggled.

Once off the porch, Ella had to tug him away from the familiar trail into the woods.  Instead, she led him toward a different spot, where they stepped onto a path that had only existed for a brief time.  Though the thick canopy should have made it impossible, the trail was lit as brightly as the yard in the open moonlight.

The trees opened into a bow-shaped clearing, where Ella guided him to the right loop of the bow.  She pointed at two saplings growing close together and said, “Those are ours.  Nathan and Terra’s are on the other side.”

“Huh?”

Ella rolled her eyes and laughed.  “You’ve seen Mom and Dad’s tree, and Grandma and Grandpa’s.  Those are ours.  After the Handfasting, we’ll come here and bind them so they grow together into a single tree.”

“Oh, I get it.  Why did you want to show me right now, though?”

“Well,” she said as she wrapped her arms around him, “That could have waited, but something else can’t.  We only have one day a year to try, and I’m not going to waste one minute of it.”

His eyes widened.  “You mean..?”

Ella bit her lower lip and gave a slow nod as she answered, “Mmm hmm.”

“Here?  Outside?” he nervously asked, and she could tell by the darkening of his cheeks that he was blushing.

“Right here,” Ella whispered into his ear, and then sucked the lobe.  “Right now.”

To prove how serious she was, she grabbed the tail of his shirt and jerked it free of his pants.  That must have been the moment where arousal drowned his hesitation, because he took over to whip his shirt over his head.

They stepped apart to tear off their clothing in a frenzy of need.  Once every garment lay scattered around them, they came together in a hungry kiss.  His hardness throbbed against her mound.  Their hands roamed over each other’s bodies, driving their passion higher.  Soon enough, Ella could wait no longer.

“I need you inside me,” she said before releasing him to sink down to the earth.

John joined her on his knees just as she sat down and reclined.  She didn’t feel a single twig or acorn poking her when she settled onto the grass and leaves. Moonlight and the shadows it cast seemed to highlight every muscle in John’s gorgeous body as he rose above her with his cock bouncing in anticipation.  He took it in hand, and a moment later, the tip pressed against her folds.

Ella groaned as his cock slipped inside her and sought her depths in a slow push.  He felt absolutely huge.  She whimpered, “Oh!  Oh!  Oh!” as he stretched her canal, and then cried out, “Oh god!” when her nether lips kissed the root of his cock.  Her eyes rolled up in her head and she squeezed her breasts as she experienced fullness like nothing she’d ever felt before.

“God, Ella.  You feel so good,” he said as he thrust again.

She yelped when his balls slapped against her, sucked in a breath as he withdrew, and screamed, “Oh yes!” as his cock dived back inside her.

Thrust after thrust sent shockwaves of pleasure coursing through her body.  Ella’s head lashed back and forth, picking up leaves in her blonde tresses – not that she had the slightest awareness of it.  Her whole world was John and his wonderful cock inside her.

She half sat up from the intense bliss of one deep penetration and saw her wetness glimmering along the entire length of his shaft.  When it vanished inside her again, her head thumped to the earth and she screamed loud and long to the stars above.  The sound warbled with his thrusts, and ended in a noisy gasp that might have embarrassed her if she had a moment to think about it.

She didn’t have that moment.

John growled and his next thrust came faster.  A loud skin-on-skin slap echoed amidst the trees, and her breasts bounced from the impact.  Before they could even settle back, his cock slammed into her again, and again, making the mounds dance erratically.  She slapped an arm beneath them in an attempt to limit the bouncing, while clawing at the soil with her other hand.  It had little effect, and she didn’t have enough presence of mind to curl her fingers around one, either.

Ella climbed her mountain of pleasure with astonishing speed.  Some tiny part of her not overwhelmed with ecstasy realized that neither of them had touched her clit, yet she was still nearing her peak.  Within a heartbeat of it sparking to life, the flash of thought vanished into a tumultuous sea of delight.

She cried out in full voice as she rushed headlong toward oblivion.  She drew closer and closer, teetering on the cusp, but still her body denied her release.  The sounds bursting from her throat took on a weepy cast, and then suddenly went silent in a squeak.  Time seemed to stop.  Her senses went numb.  Then everything returned in a rush.

Ella loosed a wail and dug her fingers into the forest loam as sweet agony wracked her body.

“Are you coming, baby?” John asked without even a hitch in his stroke.

Her shrieked answer only faintly resembled the word yes.

Toes curled tight and her body thrashing, Ella just kept coming.  John held on tight, continuing to thrust into her clenched sheath.  He’d always had more than enough stamina to satisfy her, but this was different.  Long after he would have usually erupted, he was still going strong.

Sweat beaded on her body despite the cool night air.  Every muscle seemed to have a mind of its own, causing her to undulate and thrash under his assault.  Somehow, amidst the mind-numbing pleasure, she saw John’s expression was growing tight, and heard his grunts of exertion growing louder.  He was getting close to the point of no return.  In a moment of clarity, she thought that it was surely after midnight.  It was Earth Day, she was fertile, and he was about to fill her full.  Despite the long odds, she wished with all her heart, and an electric chill tingled in her every pore.

Then it hit her.

The sound of her heart pounding in her ears dulled her croaking scream.  Her vision swam, and darkness crept in from the edges.  It was no mere aftershock, or spike in the pleasure, but another orgasm taking her before the first even ended.  Everything was a jumbled blur of ecstasy until John slammed into her one last time and roared.

She went from one extreme to the other.  Incoherent rapture gave way to an intense focus on his cock buried inside her.  She could feel every pulse and throb of the hard organ.  Hot jets of cum blasted against the entrance of her womb to pool in her depths.  She could even feel the twitch of his tight balls against her nether lips.  Her intimate muscles contracted and relaxed of their own accord, milking him until he fell forward atop her.

A sweet moan of perfect satisfaction escaped her as she embraced him with trembling arms.  Long minutes passed before the aftershocks faded and she could catch her breath enough to say, “I love you.”

“I..  I...  L-love y-you,” he responded in a high-pitched voice.  A moment later, a squeeze of her walls caused him to jerk his softening cock from her and whimper.

Ella offered a weak chuckle as he slid off to the side and rolled onto his back.  She asked, “Where did that come from, baby?”

He shook his head and mumbled something that sounded like, “I don’t know.”

“I don’t either, but wow.”

“Uh huh.”

They lay in silence for a time, letting their racing hearts settle and listening to the crickets chirp.  Ella reached for his hand, and he clasped it while they stared up at the stars.

Ella let out an, “Oh,” of surprise when she felt his cream seeping from inside her.  She clamped her legs together, pulled her knees toward her chest, and held them there.

“What are you doing?” John asked, amused by the spectacle.

Ella moaned and said, “I don’t want any to escape.”

“Remember what we said, honey?”

She ignored the substance of what he said to say, “I like that.  Honey.  It’s wifey.”

“Wifey?”  He shook his head for a moment, and then chuckled.  “Don’t change the subject.  We’re not supposed to be getting our hopes up.”

“I’m not.”  After a brief pause she admitted, “Too much,” and let her legs drop back to the ground.  “I don’t hear you complaining about trying.”

“Nope.”

Ella scooted closer and rested her head on his shoulder.  “Good.  Because we’re going to be trying a lot today.  Are you up for that?”

“As often as I can get it up,” he said, and kissed the top of her head.

“Good answer,” she said as she snuggled against him.

**

Xantina cuddled with her mate, still quivering from the aftershocks of her own orgasm.  She let her senses drift, bolstered by the strength of magic her ever-expanding family granted her.

A young nurse lying in bed and trying to fall asleep rubbed her breasts, which felt heavy and tender.  She vividly remembered the conversation she had with her sister about her sibling’s first pregnancy.  Tender breasts and an insatiable libido had told her she was with child long before a pregnancy test.

Christine knew the chances were slim.  She’d come to accept that.  Yet she couldn’t help but hope and wish.

The dryad smiled, knowing the young nurse’s wish had been granted – and that it was only the first.  A single sip of tea made with the water of the fairy world had forever mended the ills that had kept her from conceiving.

Xantina reached out elsewhere, to a window in a building just outside the city limits.  Within, Penelope breathed her last with the faint hints of a smile tugging at her sleeping lips.  Her spirit soared skyward, and Xantina followed.

Within the woods she had loved, nurtured, and protected, Penelope’s spirit alighted next to a hollow, blackened stump, where another spirit coalesced from the nature around her.  Three fairies trailing sparkling motes of light circled the embracing spirits of Penelope and Xantwilla as they faded, going together to that which waited beyond.

In the earth below, an acorn that had waited patiently through the years for this moment sprouted.

And finally, Xantina turned her senses to a place within her own wood.  There, Xanella and her mate held each other in the afterglow of their lovemaking.  Though they had faced many trials, their love now had the blessing of his entire family – including his aunt.

And within Ella, an egg released only minutes before joined with John’s seed, sparking a new life, and fulfilling the unspoken promise that was the Blessing of the Wood.

 

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