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Friend of the Wood (Part Two of Two)

A lifetime of joy can be hiding where you least expect it.
Terra looked at her phone, saw that it was just after eight, and tossed her book away with a scowl. I can’t believe he’s doing this again.

His slow responses to her texts and the occasional missed call were something she’d grown to accept, but the last few days were too much. She popped out of bed and stomped down the hall.

“Honey, are you okay?” her mother asked as they met each other near the back door.

“I don’t want to talk about it,” Terra grumbled as she walked outside.

She purposely steered away from the clearing where the family usually gathered, and made her way deep enough into the trees to gain some privacy. Beneath the boughs of a huge pine, she pulled out her phone and called Keith.

She barely let him answer before asking, “When were you planning to call me back?”

“I forgot. Give me a break.”

His distracted tone and lack of an apology reminded her of every little inconsiderate thing he’d done recently, and something inside her snapped.

“It seems like all you do is forget lately. First it was coming out to the lake. Then I call you and you say you’re sick. When I call to check on you, I can’t get hold of you and I’m worried to death. Is it too much to ask to call me back when you told me you were going to?” The last hovered tantalizingly close to a shout.

“Sorry, okay. Why don’t I come pick you up?”

“And what? Go back to your place and fuck? That’s all you seem to care about any more. It’s all I can do to get a text out of you unless it’s about having sex.”

“I don’t want to fucking fight about this right now.”

This time, she did shout. “Fine then.”

A stab of her thumb ended the call and she closed her eyes, not sure whether to scream or cry. After a couple of minutes, she sat down hard on the carpet of pine needles and leaned back against the tree – trying to calm down.

A brief chattering caused her to look up at a tree a few feet away. Two squirrels were clinging to the bark, looking at her with their tails twitching. One of them let out a series of chirping, inquisitive cries when she made eye contact.

“I don’t have anything to feed you, and I’m not really in the mood,” she said when both squirrels moved down the trunk a couple of feet.

She sighed when they let their tails droop before scurrying back up into the obscuring boughs.

Thinking that she wouldn’t get any peace from the critters, she was about to get up and lock herself in her room when she heard rustling off to one side. Upon turning that way to discourage whatever animal was thinking of approaching her, she instead let out an aww upon seeing the tiny bunny peeking at her from the undergrowth.

It had to be barely weaned from its mother, considering the size of it. It eyed her warily for a moment, and then bounded across the distance toward her. The rabbit froze just out of reach, looking at her, and then behind it, trembling all the while.

“It’s okay,” she whispered while slowly extending a hand, palm up. “I won’t hurt you. You’re safe here.”

The rabbit stretched its nose toward her and sniffed, then jerked away. A few moments later, it did so again, but moved closer. Slowly but surely, it moved toward her until its nose was nearly touching her fingertips.

“You can come here. I won’t let anything get you,” she said as she pulled her hand back.

The bunny’s ears twitched, and it suddenly leapt into the triangle formed by her crossed legs. Terra giggled and reached down to pet it. The rabbit stiffened at her first touch, but then relaxed and settled into its comfortable nest.

“See, you’re okay,” she whispered as she stroked its soft fur.

The bunny didn’t react when excited chatter arose from the tree where the squirrels had vanished. The pair once again scurried down the trunk, but ignored Terra. Instead, they leapt to the ground and ran toward the edge of the woods.

“Hey, bushtails,” she heard Nathan say.

Tracking the sound of his voice, she could just see him through the foliage. Much to her surprise, the pair of squirrels leapt onto his shoulders.

“Okay, now. Calm down.” He blew out a puff of air and shook his head when one of the squirrel’s tails tickled his nose. “Here you go.”

She was taken aback by the way the squirrels were reacting to him. It was a common occurrence with anyone in the family – often to the point of being downright annoying – but she’d never seen them accept anyone else so completely.

Upon thinking about it, she did remember him feeding the squirrels with her brother at times, but this was something altogether different. As he fed peanuts to the perching squirrels, he made his way into the trees.

“Just the two of you? Where’s everybody else at?” he asked. “You hiding back here? You weren’t shy a few minutes ago when you were jumping everywhere trying to get my attention.”

She scrunched up her nose, wondering how that could be. The animals had only seemed to notice him as he was approaching. She shrugged it off, assuming it must have been some other squirrels closer to the edge of the trees.

He made eye contact with her after a couple of seconds, and the squirrels sitting on his shoulders made a noise that sounded very much like laughter.

“Friends of yours?” she asked, a smile spreading across her face.

He chuckled and shrugged, lifting both of his shoulders’ passengers.

“Friend of yours?” he asked in turn, nodding toward the bunny tucked in between her legs.

“I guess so. Something scared her, and she ran over to me.”

“She’s a little one,” he remarked as he walked closer. The squirrels barked in agitation and Nathan got the hint to shell another peanut for them.

“So, what are you doing out here?”


Even in the fading light, she could tell he was blushing. “What?”

“It’s about the game. You probably wouldn’t get it.”

She rolled her eyes and sighed theatrically. “Just tell me.”

“Okay. Well, I play a druid in the game. Coming out here with these guys is kind of inspiration.”

“So, you’re a protector of nature, huh?”

His voice dropped into a lower register and took on a noble tone when he responded, “None shall despoil this place of nature’s blessing while I and my faithful animal companions stand watch.”

She giggled, and Nate’s blush deepened.

“Yeah, I knew you would think it was stupid.”

“No, that’s neat. You even looked different when you were talking like that.”

“That’s sort of the idea. You become someone else in the game.”

They both heard Dale call out, “Nathan, pizza’s done and we’re ready to go again.”

“Guess I’d better get back,” he said while nodding toward the edge of the woods. He pulled a few more peanuts out of his pocket, exciting his ‘animal companions’.

“Okay, bushtails, you’re going to have to work for the rest of them.” He then tossed the nuts off to the side. The two squirrels didn’t even give them time to settle before jumping down to grab one each.

“Don’t suppose you have a carrot in your pocket?” Terra asked, nodding down at her own furry friend.

He cleared his throat. “No, uhm...”

She laughed. “I was kidding.” When she heard her brother call out Nathan’s name again, she said, “Better get going before he casts a spell on you.”

“Later,” he said before making his way back out of the trees.

Terra was more than a little surprised how the interruption had broken her bad mood. Thinking about it nearly turned her down that dark road again, though.

Shaking those thoughts out of her head, she considered the fluffy bunny still happily nesting between her legs. She hated the thought of leaving the frightened, nearly defenseless rabbit alone again. Even as she struggled with that quandary, she felt a familiar presence.

“I will watch over this one, Xanterra,” her great-grandmother said as the dryad peeked out from behind a tree. “She has wandered far, and her mother worries for her.”

The rabbit perked up its ears when Xantina said something to it in a language Terra didn’t understand, but somehow felt as if she should. A second later, the bunny hopped over to the dryad and allowed her to pick it up.

“So, you were here looking for her, Grandma?” Terra asked as she stood up and brushed pine needles off her bottom.

“I watch over the young ones and guide them to where they should be,” the dryad said with a mischievous lilt to her voice. “Your mother worries for you, too.”

“Guess I’d better go talk to her, huh?”

Xantina swept over with a giggle, not answering the question, and kissed her great-granddaughter on the cheek. Graceful as a dancer, she vanished into the foliage a few seconds later.

Terra found her mother standing on the porch, absently caressing the leaves of a large potted fern. Taking the initiative, she said, “Sorry, Mom,” as she walked up the steps.

When her mother opened her arms, Terra settled into the hug and found she had to fight back tears.

“Why don’t we go for a walk before it gets too dark?” her mother suggested.

Terra sniffled and took her mother’s hand.


Driving to Keith’s the next morning, Terra was trying to keep an open mind. The walk had turned into a conversation that ended on the porch swing late in the night. It wasn’t that she hadn’t heeded her mother’s advice before, but hearing the experiences behind that knowledge put those words of wisdom in a whole new light. Her mother had been through everything she was dealing with as the popular girl in school – and more.

She needed to have a serious conversation with Keith, and she had to swallow her pride. Having always been at the top of the social ladder, she’d become accustomed to guys doing anything she wanted. That long talk had made her realize that she might need to be a little more considerate if she wanted a relationship to work.

The phone rang about halfway to his apartment, so she turned down the music and tapped her Bluetooth earpiece to answer.

Her sister said, “Nate and Dale just came back from Parker’s Lake. Somebody’s been out there and trashed the place again.”

Terra let out a growl and squeezed the steering wheel tight. “How did the cops miss them?”

“I don’t know. I checked with Dad and he said that the sheriff was going to send someone out there at least once every night.”

“I’m on my way to Keith’s.”

“I know. Don’t worry about it. John’s coming over, and Nathan’s going to get his brother’s truck again. They don’t think it will take the four of us long to clean up. I thought you’d rather find out sooner than later.”

“You’re right. No matter how things go, the last thing I would want is bad news afterwards.”

“That’s what I figured. John’s here.”

“Talk to you later then.”

Thinking about the lake actually proved a welcome distraction. She’d begun to work herself toward an anxiety attack by mulling over what she wanted to say to Keith, and worrying about what he was going to say to her. By the time she pulled up in front of his apartment, she’d come to the conclusion that the police were going to need some help catching the culprits trashing the lakeshore.

Keith’s car was in the lot and his motorcycle was parked in the shelter, so she assumed he was home. As she walked toward the apartment building, she heard his voice. The direction told her that he was at the pool, which could only be accessed by residents. Changing course, she walked toward the fence so she could call to him to meet her at his apartment.

It so happened that he was sitting on the other side of the privacy fence right where she reached it. She paused for a moment before saying anything, because he was talking to someone.

“Yeah, I fucked up and Terra’s in one of her bitchy moods.”

That did nothing to reassure her. She swallowed hard, thinking that bitchy was probably the perfect description for the way she’d been acting. Before she could summon up the strength to call out to him, he answered something one of his friends had said.

“She’ll get over it. She can’t resist the D. At least it gets me out of that tree-hugging shit for a couple of days. Fuck, I get so sick of that shit. I take trash with me to throw out the window of the car sometimes to make up for having to throw every frikkin’ bottle or can in the right bin when she’s around. She’s lucky she’s an epic piece of ass or I’d have kicked her to the curb by now.”

Terra stood on the other side of the fence in open-mouthed, stunned disbelief. She thought about screaming at him, but she was too mad for words. Instead, she spun on her heel and stormed to the car, changing his name in her phone to Fucking Jackass along the way. She sped out of the parking lot, but only a short distance down the road, she pulled over into a gas station lot. The last thing she needed was a ticket on top of what she’d just discovered.

It had been a lie from day one. The first time he’d asked her out was to a tree-planting event for Arbor Day, and now she knew it had been nothing more than a calculated ruse to get into her pants. She banged her fist on the steering wheel and pinched her green eyes closed – refusing to cry.

After a few minutes of cradling her face in her hands, she sucked in a deep breath and let it out as a blast. Grabbing her phone from where she’d tossed it in the passenger seat, she called her sister.

“He wasn’t home?” Ella said by way of answering.

Terra could hear her brother and Nathan talking in the background as they picked up trash at the lake.

“Yes, he was home.”

As much as she knew her sister had never liked Keith, there was genuine sympathy in Ella’s voice when she said, “I’m sorry. What happened?”

“I don’t want to talk about it right now. I’m too mad, and I’ll look like some kind of crazy woman screaming into my phone. Feel like a camp out?”

After a brief pause, Ella said, “That went by a little fast.”

“I’m trying to avoid that jackass, and I need something positive to do. I want to camp out somewhere near the beach and try to catch whoever’s been making that mess there.”

“Hang on a second.” Terra could hear the wind blowing and the sound of her brother talking fade into the distance. “Tonight?” Ella asked when she stopped.

Every night until we can call the cops to come bust them.”

“I’ve got plans with John tonight.”

She knew it would be painful to watch her sister and John enjoying each other’s company, but still suggested, “Maybe he’ll want to come. He was in Scouts, right?”

“No, I mean I have plans.”

Terra’s eyes shot wide open when the significance of her sister’s emphasis on plans hit her. Things between the two were moving even faster than she’d realized. “Oh! Oh, okay.”

“Maybe Dale will come out with you?” Ella suggested with an apology in her voice.

“He has that Scout camp out.”

“Oh yeah. Nathan? I really don’t think you should be out here alone. I mean, I’ll come out tomorrow, but...”

“It’s okay. I guess I could ask Nathan. One way or another, I’m staying out there tonight.”

“You want me to say something to him? See if he has any plans?”

“I guess. I’m going back to the house. I feel like I need a shower right now.”

“Okay. Mom stayed home today.”

Terra suppressed a groan. As much as she appreciated her mother helping her sort through her feelings the night before, she didn’t really want to go through it again.

“Thanks for warning me.”

“If you need someone to talk to, I’m here.”

“I know. Good luck tonight.”

“Thanks. I’ll talk to Nathan.”

She hung up and decided she was at least calm enough to drive rationally. She started out planning things she would need that night, but after a minute or two, her brain went numb. She drove the rest of the way home on autopilot, her thoughts a slow moving, incoherent mess.

Her mother was watering a Ficus tree when Terra walked in. A sigh escaped the older woman because she knew her daughter’s early return didn’t bode well. But, rather than asking what happened, she pointed at the end table near the couch instead.

Terra looked and saw a movie she’d wanted to see that had just come out on Blu-ray. “Thanks, Mom,” she said as she picked it up.

“Actually, Nathan brought it over for you,” Brooke said as she moved to a huge, bushy red Geranium in the corner. The plant had started as a single bloom Terra had brought home from school for Mother’s Day years and years before.

Terra’s phone rang, and her vision went red when she saw Keith’s new name on the display. She hurled her phone at the couch.

“I swear all guys are thoughtless assholes who only care about one thing.”

Her mother’s eyebrows twitched upward and she asked, “All?” while nodding to the Blu-ray Terra was gesturing with as she fumed.

It took a second or two to sink in, but then Terra shook her head and said, “Nathan doesn’t count.”

“And why’s that? He’s a guy, isn’t he?”

“He’s... He’s Nathan. Come on, Mom. He’s a nerd.”

“Well, so was your father.”

“He still is.”

Brooke chuckled. “Yes, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. At least nerds aren’t completely full of themselves when it comes to relationships. They listen, learn, and... Well, let’s say they’re very attentive to your needs once they get over being backward.”

“Eww – Mom.” Seeing her parents nude on a regular basis was one thing, but that was something entirely different.

Her mother giggled. “Well, it’s true. I’m just saying that maybe you should consider looking past bad clothes, a bad haircut, and lack of social skills. Those are things you can fix in a man. You can’t fix stupid, self-centered asshole.”

The surprise of hearing her mother so casually toss that curse out caught Terra off balance, and she couldn’t think of a thing to say.

“Just something to think about,” her mother said as she moved to the nearly identical Geranium on the other side of the doorway – nurtured from the plant Ella had brought home the same year. “If you need to talk, I’m right here. Any time.”

“Okay. I’m going to go take a shower.”

“You could always take a nice long bath in our bathroom if you want,” her mother called after her as she headed into the hall.

The thought of that was enough to make her take her mother’s advice once again.


Old man Parker looked dubious as Terra explained what she planned to do. He confirmed it when she finished by saying, “I don’t know. Don’t seem real safe to me.”

“We’re not going to confront them or anything. We’ll be able to see anybody coming way before they could see us. We’re just going to call the police and come straight back up here,” Terra tried to reassure him.

“Y’all are bound and determined, ain’t ya?”

She nodded and scowled. “I’m tired of some jerks ruining it for everyone else.”

“They’re trespassing if they go past the gate. That’s all we need to see. We don’t actually have to wait for them to get there,” Nathan added.

“Hmm...” The old man scratched his chin and pursed his lips. “Well, I suppose it’s all right. If it was anybody but you, I’d say no. Y’all have always had uncommon good sense.”

You might not think that if you knew the jerks I dated, Terra thought bitterly. “Thanks, Mr. Parker. We’ll catch them, and that should scare anybody else off for a while.”

She then turned to Nathan. “Let’s get the stuff out of the car.”

“Come here for a second, son,” Mr. Parker asked.

He nodded and told Terra, “Be right there.”

Terra gathered up her pack and tent, putting them on the roof of the car. She then pulled out Nathan’s gear as well, just in time for him to reach the car. She could see that he was blushing.

“What?” she asked.

“Nothing,” he said, and picked up his pack.

“What is it? You’re as red as a stop sign.”

He knew her well enough to understand that she was going to get an answer, whether he liked it or not. “Well... Uhm... Mr. Parker was just telling me that... Uhm...”

“Spit it out, Nate.”

He answered under his breath in a rush of words, “He said, no hanky-panky.”

She chuckled, and couldn’t believe how good it felt. “Well, he doesn’t have to worry about that.”

“That’s what I said,” Nathan agreed as he grabbed his tent.

“Let’s get set up before it gets dark.”

Both experienced campers, they had their tents up well before the sun sank below the horizon. They’d chosen a spot at the base of the trail that led back up to Mr. Parker’s home, which was well-obscured by shrubs and the abundant growth of cattails along the edge of the lake. Despite the full moon, there was little to no chance of anyone seeing them from across the water, but they could see the beach perfectly.

Terra sat down in front of her tent. “Now I guess we wait. Have any good campfire stories to tell?”

“We don’t have a campfire,” he said as he sat down as well. He winced and pulled a stick out from under him that he’d somehow missed while clearing the area of debris.

Terra leaned over and slapped him on the arm. They both chuckled and she said, “Seriously.”

“Well, I guess I could tell you about one of our epic adventures in the game.”

Terra shrugged. “Sure. Why not.”

Nathan cleared his throat and began, “It was an inauspicious beginning, to be sure. Mikhale knew there was something odd about the travelers he and his companions passed on the road just before dusk. The winds spoke of ill omens, and the very grass the men sat upon seemed to reject them.”

At first, it was all Terra could do to hold back giggles. The archaic language tickled her, and Nathan had taken on a tone that sounded little like him. As the story continued, that changed.

She realized that Nathan had sucked her in when she gasped at his description of a sudden attack. The cadence of his voice had an almost hypnotic effect, and he was doing different voices for all the characters. He was painting such a vivid picture with his words that she sat enthralled, hanging on his every word.

He finished the story and she shook her head as she slipped out of the trance. “So, wait. You pretty much ended up right back where you started. It was a wild goose chase.”

Nathan shook with quiet laughter. “Yep. But, hey, we got rid of some bad dudes. The roads are a little safer, and we had some gold in our pockets.”

“And all you fought were some bandits and monsters. Where do the dragons in Dungeons and Dragons come in?”

“My rule of thumb if you encounter a dragon is split up, run like hell, and hide in the deepest hole you can find. We treat dragons like truly epic creatures. With most characters, you’re either beneath their notice, or you’re probably a dragon Lunchable.”

“God,” she sighed, though there was amusement in the sound as well.

Nathan laughed and stretched. “I need to go water the bushes. Be right back.” He grabbed his flashlight and trekked away from the water.

The message tone from her phone sounded, and she picked it up to see the message was from Keith. She hadn’t even looked at the first message from earlier in the day yet, and struggled with the decision for a few seconds before tapping the icon to bring it up.

The message said, “Are you still mad?” The one that had just arrived said, “Come on. You’re not answering me now.”

She knew she was going to have to deal with it eventually, and frankly, she didn’t feel he deserved the dignity of as much as a phone call.

Her thumbs flying across the keys, she typed out a reply that said, “Lose my number asshole. Consider yourself kicked to the curb,” tossing his own words back into his teeth.

Nathan returned and sat down just as she finished typing the message. “You okay?” he asked.

“Not really, but don’t worry about it,” she said as she put her phone down next to her.

“Okay,” he said, sounding a little hurt by her curt tone.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to take it out on you.” She sighed.

“I understand. Want me to leave you alone for a bit?”

“No. I really just want to forget about it.”

“Guess I could try to think of another good story.”

A half-hearted smile tugged at the corners of her mouth, but faded just as rapidly when her phone alerted her to another message. Again, she briefly considered ignoring it, but picked her phone up, hoping the message was from someone else. No such luck. It was from Keith.

He’d obviously caught her reference, because the message said, “Fucking spying on me? Who needs you anyway, psycho bitch.”

As soon as she finished reading the message, a loading icon below stopped spinning, and the image appeared. Terra didn’t recognize the cum-covered platinum blonde in the picture, but she certainly recognized Keith – or at least his dripping cock.

The phone fell from her nerveless fingers to the grass below. She tasted bile, and quickly slapped a hand over her mouth as her stomach churned.

“Terra? What’s wrong?” Nathan asked, scooting closer and holding out a hand – but not quite touching her.

On top of everything else, having that picture ready to send meant that Keith had been cheating on her. Even though she was furious with him, that revelation stabbed into her heart like a knife. Her eyes welled up, and she began to sob.

Nathan’s hand came to rest softly – tentatively – on her back. “Terra... I...”

She didn’t even remember leaning into his shoulder when she felt his arms wrap around her. Her tears soaked his shirt sleeve as he held her and whispered words she couldn’t hear. On and on it went until her chest hurt and her throat ached. She tried to stop, but the sobs continued to erupt every time she thought she was regaining control.

After what felt like hours, she caught her breath, though whimpers still shook her. He still had his arms wrapped around her, holding her close. His hand stroked her hair, and when she glanced up at him, it looked as if he was about to cry himself.

“I... I’m s-sorry,” she said as she leaned back – but not too far.

“It’s okay,” he said as he reached up and wiped away a tear meandering down her cheek.

Their eyes met in the light from the LED lantern, and she realized his were blue. She’d never paid enough attention to notice before that moment. Those deep blue pools drew her in, opening a portal straight to his heart. In the space of a gasped breath, a thousand glances, smiles, and small gestures of kindness over the years coalesced into a truth she’d been too caught up in herself to notice.

For the first time, she saw the love in his eyes.

“Let me take you home,” he offered. “I can come get all this stuff in the morning.”

It was too many emotional shocks for a lifetime – let alone one night – and she didn’t trust herself to answer with more than a nod.


When Terra awakened the next morning, her sister sat down on the bed before she’d even blinked the sleep out of her eyes, and caught her up in a hug. “What happened?”

Drawing in a deep breath, Terra let it out as a shuddering sigh and looked at the bedside table.

“Oh no, my phone,” she mumbled, dimly remembering dropping it the night before.

“Oh, it’s over here,” Ella said and stood up. “Nathan realized you’d left it and went back for it after he brought you home.”

She returned to hand over the phone. “He saw those jerks at the lake when he went back. He called the cops and they got busted.”

“Good,” she said as she tapped her phone to bring up the message from Keith – looking away before it opened. She handed the phone back to her sister.

“Oh my god. What an asshole. I’m sorry,” Ella said when she looked at the phone.

“Not as sorry as I am. Please delete that. I don’t ever want to see it again.”


“Did Nathan say anything?”

Ella shook her head. “No. He looked almost as upset as you, though.” She then handed the phone back.

Terra noticed that her hand was dirty and spotted – probably from her tears. She pulled a lock of disheveled hair to where she could see it and asked, “How awful do I look?”

Ella tilted her head to the side, lifted her eyebrows and gave a one-shoulder shrug.

“That bad, huh?”

“Yeah. Want me to grab you some clothes and run you a bath?”

Terra gave a slow nod. “Please.”

Feeling at least a little better after her bath, Terra walked out into the front room just in time to hear someone pulling up outside. When she looked out the window, she saw Nathan’s car and headed out onto the porch.

“So, you doing okay?” he asked with a nervous titter in his voice.

“As well as I can. Ella said you caught those jerks last night.”

“Yeah. Word’s getting around, too. Don’t think anybody will risk partying there for a while. Sheriff Branson’s nephew Gavin was sort of the ringleader, so it really hit home.”

“Oh, wow. Gavin was never like that.”

“Yeah. Guess he fell in with a bad crowd. Even if Mr. Parker doesn’t press charges, a lot of them are getting busted for probation violations anyway. Gavin’s probably wishing it was just the law after him. His uncle is pissed.”

“Good.” Terra stepped down off the porch and walked up to give him a brief hug. “Thanks for putting up with me last night.”

As she stepped back, blue and green eyes once more locked together. In the light of day, his eyes were even more brilliant – and even more full of love. Terra drew in a quiet, shuddering gasp as her pulse began to race. No one had ever looked at her the way he did. She felt weak in the knees and light-headed.

“I... No problem,” he said after a few seconds, his eyes never leaving hers.

Terra knew she was venturing into unfamiliar territory. But at the same time, there was nobody outside her own family who was more familiar than Nathan. Before she could second-guess herself, she took his hand and said, “Let’s go for a walk.”

Nathan looked down at their clasped hands – his surprise written across his face in bold letters – then smiled and nodded. Terra smiled back and led him toward the trees behind the house.


The car rolled to a stop at Parker’s lake and Nathan asked, “Where is everybody?”

It had taken a while, but he finally held her hand easily in his as they sat looking out over the sparkling lake. For the first several days of her trying to coax him out of his shell, he’d looked ready to either bolt or apologize most of the time.

Not that she had helped him with that at first. Reeling from the horrible end of her relationship with Keith, she’d sent him mixed signals for weeks. Sometimes, the easy friendship she had with him was comforting and helped her cope. Then he would look into her eyes and she would panic when she saw the deeper emotion there.

But every time she withdrew, he would creep into her thoughts.

He won her over not by pursuing her, but by being there when she needed him, and never asking for more. The tension eventually reached a tipping point, and she asked him out on a real date, thinking it was the only way she could resolve her feelings, one way or the other.

It was at the end of that evening that her uncertainty had evaporated into nothingness – and his began.

Terra grinned at him as she thought about it and squeezed his hand. “This is everybody. Come on.”

A gentle breeze caressed them, chasing away the heat of the day as they walked hand-in-hand down to the shore. Terra kicked off her sandals a few feet from the water, and then let go of his hand to pull off the shirt and shorts covering her bikini.

Despite her barely-clad body, he only had eyes for her face, and that made her break out in goose bumps. She, on the other hand, couldn’t help but admire his body as he pulled off his shirt. He was nothing like the guys she’d always dated, who spent as much time in the gym as anything else, but he had the lean muscle tone of someone who stays active.

Feeling her cheeks grow warm, she said, “Come on,” and waded into the water, being careful not to slip on the slick bottom.

He knew it was coming, as she’d done it every time they’d come down to the lake to enjoy their reward for cleaning it up, but her splash still caught him almost full in the face as he dodged. She laughed and swam away as he returned fire.

The sound of splashing, laughter and squeals rang out for a couple of minutes until she once again caught him with a direct hit in the face. She dived beneath the water almost before she had time to form the thought, and popped up right in front of him while he was still sputtering from her splash.

She wrapped her arms around him, and shuddered when he did the same. They kissed, and electric chills shot all through her body.

When she looked up into his incredible eyes, she asked, “How do you feel about me?” He hesitated for a moment, so she said, “Don’t think. Just tell me.”

“I... I love you, Terra. I think I’ve always loved you.”

She leaned into his chest, a whimper escaping her as her heart soared.

“I love you too,” she said, and knew that truer words had never passed her lips.

She pressed those lips to his, and though still tender, their kisses took on new strength as they held each other in the lapping water. Slowly, but surely, she felt something else creeping in with the swelling love in her heart.

A sly smile spread on her face, and she pushed with her feet to float out into deeper water. Nathan readied himself, expecting another round of splashing, but she had something else entirely in mind. His eyes shot wide open as she reached behind her to untie her bikini top. He caught it when she threw it at him and stared down at it in stunned surprise while she slipped down her bikini bottom.

“Come on,” she said as she tossed the bottom to him as well.

“What if someone comes out here?”

“Ella’s out with John, and Dale’s at that fundraiser. Nobody else has permission to be out here. Throw them up on the shore and come with me. Yours too.”

She swam toward the middle of the lake, giving him tantalizing looks at her bare bottom, and then stopped to tread water. His face was beet red, but his shorts were lying next to her bikini on the shore as he swam slowly toward her.

She alternated between treading water backwards, then surging ahead with powerful strokes, keeping well ahead of him and his slow breast stroke. When she reached the opposite shore, a broad grin spread across her face. She’d thought to find a good spot when she got there, but she’d swum directly to the perfect place – almost as if it had called to her.

Terra climbed out onto the soft carpet of grass and turned to see Nathan barely treading water as he marveled at the sight of her nude body. As much as she liked making eye contact with him when they talked, his reaction was exactly what she’d hoped for at this particular moment.

She knelt down in the grass, and a few locks of dripping hair fell to obscure one eye as she smiled and fixed him with an unmistakable come hither stare.

One thing had worried her over the past weeks as she recognized common interests she’d never really paid attention to before and discovered new ones with him. Some cynical part of her had whispered in the back of her head that someone so perfect for her had to have a flaw somewhere. One place that flaw could possibly lie had always been hidden, even in his swim trunks.

When he finally worked up the nerve to climb out of the water, that worry flittered away in an instant.

She took his hand as soon as he walked within reach and tugged so he would sit down beside her. His eyes kept darting toward the far shore, so she cupped his chin in her hand and distracted him with a kiss. She couldn’t help giggling when she wrapped her hand around his half-hard member and he gasped.

He swelled rapidly in her hand as she stroked his cock. Thinking he would hesitate, she took the initiative and lifted his left hand to her breast. When he gave it a gentle squeeze and brushed the erect nipple with his thumb, she let out a long moan.

His eyes were filled with wonder when he lifted them back to hers and whispered, “You’re so beautiful.”

Terra whimpered – his words and the emotion behind them making her soul sing – then braced a hand behind her and slowly reclined, once again beckoning him with her eyes. When he placed a hand on the ground and leaned toward her, she first guided him to her lips. Though she could feel the desire in his kiss, it was just as sweet as every other they’d shared.

Aching to be touched, she cupped her left breast and glanced down at it before using the hand tousling his hair to further indicate her desire. Her back arched up from the grass when he kissed the swell of her breast, and both of her hands came into play to center his lips over the turgid point.

A second kiss directly over her nipple drew a quiet whimper from her. It was quickly followed by a moan when he sucked it between his lips.

“Oh yes. Just like that,” she encouraged him.

The way he suckled her with the softest of pressure soon had her wriggling and moaning from his efforts. It took only a tug from her hand on the back of his head to cause him to move to her nipple’s twin, which he worshiped with the same loving touch. Stretching out her fingers, she found his hardness and caressed it, making the fires of her need surge higher.

“Make love to me,” she whispered as his lips moved back to her left breast again.

He released her nipple with apparent reluctance, planting a final kiss over it before looking up into her eyes. There was a touch of shame mingled with the desire in those blue orbs when he said, “Terra... I... Uhm...”

“Shh,” she said, pressing her finger to his lips while smiling at him. She knew as surely as if he’d managed to voice it why he was concerned. If he wasn’t a virgin, she knew he couldn’t have much experience. He spent enough time at the house for her to have known about any girlfriends.

He responded to the guidance of her hands, moving between her legs as she parted them. He drank in the sight of her and sucked in a deep breath when she ran her fingers over her baby-smooth nether lips – yet another gift of her dryad blood. She never had to worry about an unwanted hair sprouting anywhere on her body, because none grew anywhere below her long eyelashes.

Terra smiled as she propped up on one elbow, drawing his gaze back to hers, and curled her fingers around his erection. He shuddered as she pressed it against her nether lips. Then she gave a tug.

His groan was deep as he slid into her, while hers was higher pitched, but no less filled with surprised delight. When the curly hairs at the base of his shaft settled against her, she moaned deep in her throat and closed her eyes. He fit her as if made for her – like two pieces of a puzzle finally joined. He leaned over her, and she wrapped both her arms and legs around him, holding him deep inside her.

“Terra,” he breathed, “Oh my god.”

“Mmm – you feel so good. Make love to me.”

When she relaxed the grip of her legs, his hips rose up, sliding about half his length out of her satiny embrace. When he penetrated her again, her eyes shot wide open and she gasped. The position he was in caused his shaft to slide in just the right place to send the most delightful, minuscule vibrations to her clit. On the next rock of his hips, she felt it again and voiced the blissful sensation as an oh that carried hints of laughter.

He groaned each time his cock slid into her depths, following the rhythm she set with her legs resting on his lower back. Her hands roamed over his skin and through his hair, her own sounds of pleasure bubbling up ever more frequently with each stroke.

There was nothing hurried in their coupling. Their bodies undulated as one on the bed of grass. Though the summer sun shone down bright and strong upon them, the breeze cooled them, blowing across the glistening sheen of sweat rising on their skin. Rustling leaves and lapping water mingled with their soft sounds of passion as she felt a tingling come to life in her depths.

“Oh yes. Oh yes. Oh yes,” she whimpered – moaning every time he filled her so wonderfully, perfectly full. The pressure was building inside her – both warm and somehow shot through with chilly pinpoints as well.

“Oh, Terra,” he groaned, the sound tight with strain.

“Don’t stop. Just like that. Just like that,” she pleaded as she climbed toward a peak. She’d planned to wriggle a hand between their bodies to the center of her pleasure, but it was proving unnecessary. She was on the cusp of release, and the sound of his voice suggested that he was close as well.

Nathan’s breath was hot against her rapidly rising and falling breasts. Her heart pounded in her chest. Higher and higher she soared, until a quavering cry signaled her tumble into sweet oblivion. A chorus of birds somewhere overhead burst into song, seemingly sharing her joyful release.

He froze in place with his manhood buried deep inside her. Her walls, arms, and legs gripped him tight. She trembled, whimpered, and moaned as the orgasm went on and on, spurred by the throbbing of his cock inside her. She held him close as her climax settled down into aftershocks, and then finally released him so he could straighten his arms and look down on her as she panted for breath.

“Did you..?” he asked after a few moments.

She let out a giggle that transformed into a sharp moan when another ripple of beautiful agony shot through her.

“Mmm hmm.” As she finished moaning her answer, she realized his cock was still rock-hard inside her. “Y-you didn’t come?” she asked in surprise.

He shook his head. “Almost. Way too close.”

“I want you to.”

After a couple of puzzled blinks, he said, “But, I don’t have a condom on.”

Terra grinned at him and shivered – her toes curling. “You don’t have to worry about that. I’m not going to get pregnant.”

She let him assume that she was on birth control, though the truth of the matter was that one of the quirks of her family was that they were only fertile on Earth Day. She beckoned him with a crooked finger and puckered lips, and he responded accordingly.

Her lips were still brushing his when she whispered, “I want you to come for me.”

Though she kept her arms wrapped around him, she left his hips unrestrained this time. Still not completely recovered from her orgasm, she let out a squeal when his buried cock slid from her depths, triggering a powerful aftershock. Then she gasped as he sank into her again.

For a few strokes, he maintained the slow pace she’d set for him previously, though he pulled back farther. She could feel his breaths quickening as she caressed his back, and the pace of his hips followed. She gasped again as the first of those quicker, stronger thrusts drove his cock into her depths.

Her breasts began to quiver, and the lingering effects of her orgasm intensified, spiking every time their bodies clapped together. Growls crept in with his grunts of exertion, and she could tell he was losing control.

“Come for me,” she told him in a high-pitched whisper.

After a couple of fast strokes, a broken groan rumbled in his throat as he fulfilled her wish.

“Yes. Oh yes,” she moaned as she felt him pulsing in her depths and trembling in her arms.

He grunted with each ejaculation – flooding her with his cream. When the final surge joined the pool in her depths, his strength went with it. Terra ran her fingers through his hair as his forehead came to rest on her chest, just below her breasts. She giggled when an involuntary contraction of her walls caused him to emit a shocked, falsetto cry.

He gasped for breath, but still managed to mutter, “Oh god, Terra. In... Incredible.”

“Do you need to move?” she asked.

“I...” He groaned.

“It’s okay,” she said, and then gave him a pat on the back.

He stiffened and let out several explosive breaths as his cock slipped from her warm embrace to rest against her thigh. Then he rolled over heavily onto his back.

She wasted no time snuggling up next to him. Their eyes met, and they both laughed, though his was slow and weak. Looking at his awestruck expression, she had to know.

“Was that your first time?”

His already flushed cheeks darkened and he nodded. “Was it okay?”

“It was wonderful. You’re wonderful,” she answered. It was the first time she’d ever had an orgasm without direct attention to her bud. She took it as one more sign that she’d wasted far too much time searching for her other half, when it had always been right there in Nathan, patiently waiting for her to realize it.

She moaned as she thought that it could only get better with practice.

He wrapped an arm around her, and she scooted up for a kiss. As soon as their lips parted, he said, “I love you. It’s like a dream being with you.”

A joyful whimper on her lips, she kissed him again. “I love you too.”

She could barely remember the last time she hadn’t been the one to initiate that exchange with someone.

“Think I lied to Mr. Parker, though.”

Terra laughed, remembering the old man’s admonition that there be no hanky-panky. “What he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.”

Lying next to him in contented afterglow, one thing did creep in to try to steal the sweetness of the moment. It was a fear that had assailed her with each and every relationship she’d ever been in – her family’s secret. Eventually, if they were going to truly build a life together, she would have to reveal that, and the thought frightened her beyond imagining.

“Are you okay?” he asked, snapping her from the darker turn of her thoughts. He always seemed to know the moment she was the slightest bit discontent.

“Mmm hmm.” She found it easy to smile at him when he reached over to caress her cheek. As he touched her and fixed her with a loving gaze, she remembered him with the squirrels. That memory made her consider that perhaps he would be more accepting of her family than she was giving him credit for. Her worries soon vanished as she basked in that comforting thought and his embrace.


Peeking out from the trees not far away, Xantina smiled. Her magic grew stronger as another of her daughters found the one to complete her, allowing the dryad to journey farther from her tree and crystal-clear pool to this place.

Xantina needed none of her newfound strength to see into Nathan’s heart. She knew her great-granddaughter had nothing to fear. When Terra found the courage to reveal her secret, she was in for a joyful surprise. Often caught up in his fantasy world, Nathan had long dreamed of reality having the magic that stirred his imagination. Finding out that it was real was only going to draw him even closer to her.

The baby rabbit in her hands and the two squirrels sitting on her shoulders knew it as well. They were rather proud of themselves for playing a small part in making Terra realize it.

The birds gathered in the boughs above once again burst out into song, joining Xantina and the rest of nature in welcoming to the family yet another Friend of the Wood.

This story is protected by International Copyright Law, by the author, all rights reserved. If found posted anywhere other than with this note attached, it has been posted without my permission.

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