by Destiny Vang
He always feels like a voyeur, hiding behind the sprawling trees and fallen branches, but he was mesmerized by the force in her jumps and the lines in her legs a long time ago, and not even the prospect of sleeping in can keep him home anymore. He stuffs his feet into his shoes, shimmies his way into a jacket two times his size, and rushes out the house, letting the screen door slam behind him. His parents are going to kill him when he gets back for making so much noise, but that’s a lecture for another time. Even as his legs pump harder and his breath staggers between the thwack-crack of his shoes against the ground, all he can think about is how much he’s going to hate himself if he misses her.
He takes this path so often that his feet follow a beaten trail of trampled leaves and broken twigs. But excitement has made his legs a little clumsier and his feet a little heavier and there is a root that he swears has never been there before and then the ground crashes into his face. He picks himself up and continues running, not even bothering to dust himself off because there’s no time for such trivialities when there are places to be and a girl to be seen and—
Oh. It is not a thought or a word but a breath that escapes his lips because she is fire and wind and dirt. She throws her head back, eyes closed, mouth open in silent reverie, and stretches her hands towards the canopy of branches above like a bird poised for flight. Her leg quivers as she lifts it, and he longs to slide his fingers along her skin, to right her pose and straighten her lines. He wants to rest his hands on the curves in her hips, to anchor her delicate frame.
She pulls her arms in, tucks her head down, and casts herself into a frenzy of turns and spins. Her hair splays open like a paintbrush. There is a leaf lodged in her mess of curls, but she
probably doesn’t notice. He resists the urge to sneak up behind her, to pluck it from her head and disappear behind the oak trees before she ever has the chance to realize he was there.
His fingers twitch, and he shoves them into the pockets of his too-big jacket, his eyes never once leaving the lithe figure in front of him. She rises and falls in a series of twists. Her legs tense up, and excitement pools in his gut because she is bending her legs and suddenly she grows wings, her lips wide with delight as she arcs through the air for a brief second that lasts eons. She lands with the softest thump, a quiet crinkle of the leaves beneath her feet, and stands in stillness. Her arms sink down to her sides. Her cheeks tremble with the giddiness of her smile. Her eyes open.
Her eyes open and they meet his own.
And then he is gone, shooting through the trees and the hawthorn, racing back on the beaten path until he’s sure that he is but a ghost of an image, a trick of the light. Just a flicker of the shadow—meaningless, flimsy, invisible.
Never again, he promises himself. He will forget the shape of her body, the blackness of her hair. He chucks his shoes on the splintered porch, shrugs the jacket off his shoulders. Sits down on the wet grass and stares hard at the sky, dotted with pathetic wisps of cloud that melt into dawn. She is wildfires and tornadoes and earthquakes—
And forgotten. She is forgotten.
He comes every morning, but he never makes a sound. Just watches her like she’s something holy. Like she’s the last drop of light and breathing will break her open. Even in the weak light of dawn, she can feel his eyes touching her body, burning patterns into her skin.
She stretches her head back, letting the length of her neck taste the warmth of sun, and spreads her arms out like wings. Watch me, she begs as she lets her leg quiver in the air. Crave me. Nature’s hum sends chills through her feet, and she lets the drumming thump-bump vibrate her blood. Dirt on my toes, grass on my legs, leaf in my hair. Wind in my body, breeze in my limbs—She falls into the rhythm of her feet against the ground, the crinkle of the leaves under her step, and even in the midst of her dance, she casts her attention to the eyes behind the trees. Are you watching like you always do? Fingers twitching like I want them to?
Are you needing me like I need you?
She feels the power in her legs, the tension of her thoughts bubbling like hot water in her calves, and when she jumps, she does not jump. She leaps, soars, flies like there are feathers on her back and wind in her feet. She forgets the earth underneath and the sky above. There is only him and her, only his scalding eyes painting pictures on her skin, only her body shimmering and tingling, trying to decide whether it is real or pretend.
She falls back to the earth with a quiet thump, her eyes closed in fear of cracking the silence open like an egg yolk. There is only the sound of her shaky breathing and his racing heart, only the feel of her weak legs and his fingers on her hips. They slide along her body, leaving a trail of melted sunshine on her legs, and she cannot stop the breathy exhale that escapes her lips.
Feel me. Her arms drop to her empty sides.
Touch me. Her lips curl up in a smile that is all smoke and wine, melted wax and smooth rope.
Need me. She opens her eyes and stares right at his hiding place, right at his darkened eyes and smudged face and way-too-big jacket. The earth rattles to a stop, the air burns with expectation—and then he is gone, jetting away like a frightened animal.
Satisfaction blooms in her chest like a pair of wings, and she pulls her things together. Her hands brush the rough bark of the trees as she slips between them, following the trail of sunlight east towards a home devoid of music and warmth and all things glorious. And when night falls and the moon rises and the sun threatens to peek through again, she finds her way back to their grove of secrets. She waits for the tell-tale whisper of his shoes against ground, the huff-puff pattern of his breath, and she begins again.
Destiny Vang is a die-hard fan of romance novels and Disney movies. In her free time, she enjoys making music, playing video games, and spending time with family. She has lived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for her entire life, but she dreams of traveling the world and learning about all of the different people and cultures.