John walked alongside Kelly but he would raise his nose and let his olfactory abilities guide them on an apparently random route through the forest. Kelly enjoyed being close to him, although he retreated into a taciturn silence in order to focus on the path ahead.
John had closed his eyes and tilted his head to one side.
‘We’re close to running water.’ he said.
Kelly’s ear met with the thick silence of the forest and the air was fresh and bracing, where they walked beneath the shadows of the trees. She shivered at his certainty as he nodded and grinned. He did not look behind him, but Kelly stole glances as though she were daring the pursuit to begin.
The first part of their hike yielded up treasures. He picked handfuls of golden currants, gathered handfuls of white pine needles, which when they stopped, he made a small fire and brewed into a tangy, refreshing tea which made Kelly grimace at the taste but it gave her a solid burst of energy which had her walking until dusk. With each mile, she felt herself shedding layers of fears and recriminations. Hunger became a motivation over a detriment, and she enjoyed the warm glow of effort which suffused her muscles. It was not until they stopped, her body remembered to ache and stiffen. John went off, came back with an armful of large logs. He dug out a small pit and laid the logs in the middle of it.
He laid the largest in a tight layer, then went off and came back with a set of smaller logs which he laid atop them and covered with fire starter squares and lit with a single match. It burned with little smoke, but a lot of heat and he slipped away into the darkness before she could say anything. A tremor of fear ran through her but the fire was hot and she stayed close to it. The lack of substantial food and amount of exercise started to ease her down from an exhausted serenity to a narcotic somnolence.
She awoke to two things:
The caress of his rough, warm fingers against her cheek, little more than a touch to wake her from sleep.
The smell of cooking meat, fats sizzling onto the flat stones he arranged without waking her.
She caught the difference in his musk. It was a darker, thicker musk like the way sex would hang in the air when it was good and honest. His eyes were wide in the dark, almost black as he watched her wake up. She stretched and raked the leaves from her hair, embarrassed at how quickly she had fallen asleep.
‘Her mouth watered at the smell of the meat and she sat up as he passed her a canteen of water.
‘Don’t you ever stop?’ she said.
He beamed as he sat down.
‘Blaise Pascal said all of man’s problems stem from an inability to sit alone by himself. I have that problem, but its a touch more amplified. It runs in the family.’ he said.
Kelly scrunched her nose and forehead as she looked at him before he mirrored the gesture back to her.
‘Not my issue, but the drive. It’s why my father made so much money. Why I was out camping pretending I was Thoreau in the first place.’ he said.
Kelly pursed her lips, disseminating the information he gave with care. She stared into his eyes, remembering the feel of his hand against her cheek and the mark it left inside her. Such an unguarded, adolescent thought felt dangerous for a moment, but in his presence, she felt safe.
‘Is that how you funded the theatre and the cabin?’ she said.
John reached over and turned one of the flanks of meat on the stones. The fat hissed like hail on a tin roof but he squatted back in front of her on his haunches.
‘They passed some down to me but I paid my own way with college. I missed out on time with them because I was qualifying and then it was too late. I had their money, but honestly, Kelly -‘
He averted his gaze downwards and frowned.
‘I’d give it all back for an hour with them again.’ he said.
Kelly reached out and touched his left forearm. It was taut and thick beneath his shirt.
‘My mom drank. It killed her by degrees, and I had to drop out of a scholarship to take care of her. I had the skills but no connections, and it’s like they said, the street finds its own use for things.’ she said.
He rested his hand over hers, dwarfing it and she enjoyed the quiet comfort of his touch.
‘We’re both orphans.’ he said.
Kelly tilted her head to one side, exposing her neck as she narrowed her eyes and looked at him.
‘Look at what we’ve done with it.’ she said.
He stared at her for a long time. Neither of them looked away, but the smell of the cooking meat came over to them, and the moment passed between them. John busied himself putting the meat and loose greens he foraged onto flat stones. He was comfortable out here and Kelly relaxed as a natural response.
‘Will we know when they come for us?’ she said.
He rolled out his sleeping bag and frowned as he thought about it.
‘This is a big place. They won’t know it the way I will..’ he said.
‘Kelly rolled out her sleeping bag next to his.
‘Can we do this again? If it’s uncomfortable for you, you can say.’ she said.
He inhaled through his nose and gave a short nod.
‘At least if you’re close, they can’t sneak up on us.’ he said.
She laid across his chest as he kept his arm across her. She rested her head on his chest and drifted off to the slow thump of his heartbeat. His breathing deepened and she nestled against him. His hand came up and rested on her shoulder, and she awoke for a moment before she smiled in the dark and fell back asleep.