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The Unripened Heart
Stefanie K. Dunning

Green. It was buoyant and clinging around us. Night was iridescent. It stuck to us like silver glitter and became condensation on our brown skin. We sparkled as we made our way through the heavy, close bouquets that weighed down the branches of the dogwoods and brushed us nonchalantly as we strained to see the walk-worn trail beneath our feet. It was no use; night covered the ground. We cut a new path through the woods with a cacophony of sharp breaking and crackling to signal our progress.

Perhaps because it was 89 degrees at 9pm the night felt magical; but this was a typical Atlanta July night. Perhaps it was because we had just stolen a box full of goods -- we didnít know what -- off the loading dock at the over priced health food co-op and we now imagined ourselves being pursued by a well-manicured blonde man in a hemp shirt. As we continued to tromp through the thick, dark woods I wondered when we would stop and pry open the box to see what booty awaited us? As I thought greedily about what the box might contain, guilt spread through me. How did I become a thief so easily -- I, who had always worked so hard and so proudly for everything I had?

It had been Niaís idea; she had communicated to me soundlessly that we should take the box. We had been scavenging in the dumpster of recycled magazines behind the co-op when Nia saw the box. I had been flipping through a one-year-old Glamour magazine, looking for images I could use in a collage when she nudged me. She yanked her head towards the box and then looked from it, to me. We both looked around us at the same time, checking the parking lot for cars, for people. I had never stolen a thing in my life. And Nia was the kind of person who would drink water at dinner so she could be sure and leave a tip for the waiter. But she was known to switch course, unexpectedly, for no reason, just for the fun of it. Something in me was vibrating like a persistently strummed string. I sprinted for it first as an orange light exploded inside my eyelids.

As I felt my chest expand with the mouthfuls of air I was gulping in, I heard Niaís sandals slapping the asphalt just behind my left ear. She was laughing lowly under her breath; it took us 2 minutes to cross the huge parking lot; another 15 seconds for her to grab the box and another 2 minutes as we turned back and re-crossed the parking lot ("Donít look back!" "Iím not, donít you look back!" We panted between breaths at each other). Weran up the hill behind the dumpster, and headed for the woods which were 15 yards ahead. I felt giddy as we stopped for a minute to catch our breaths and look to see if we were being pursued. The sun had just fallen below the horizon; it was hard to tell if someone was chasing us in the silky darkness that seemed to have pooled up in the parking lot behind the co-op. We plunged into the woods.

I could hear Niaís thick-soled sandals falling evenly on twigs and branches as she made her way through the woods. Did she know where she was going? We were headed in the general direction of the MARTA subway station; but it was so dark in the woods that not even the moon, which was half full, penetrated the thick canopy of the trees full cover. I began thinking about what it would mean to turn around and go back through the co-opís parking lot so we could catch the bus on the street, near the comforting glow of the tattoo parlorís neon sign.

"Nia," I whispered. "I donít know if I feel right about stealing this box. Should we go back?"

"Are you crazy?"

"No..."

I could hear her sigh. "If you want to take it back, go ahead. Iíll wait here."

That was as good as her refusing. We walked on silently for a few more minutes.

"Nia," I whispered again.

"Yes?" she answered back, almost in a yell this time.

"When are we going to stop?"

"When we get out of the woods."

"When will that be?"

"I have no idea," she said. I thought I heard some panic in her voice. "Just keep walking. They have to end eventually. Weíll probably bump into some houses or the clearing at any time."

I looked around. I could see the hazy orange of sodium lights up ahead. I was about to mention this when Nia did.

"Okay," I said redundantly. "Letís head for those lights."

So we kept going; the more we walked, the farther the lights seemed to get, and the trees seemed thicker. We kept crackling along and we lapsed again into silence.

We had walked through these woods this morning and they had seemed beautiful -- and brief -- then. The sun had been high and bright at 10am and the air still had an edge of crispness in it because it wasnít so hot yet. It was a fresh, open morning whose cool caress on the skin suggested possibility. In the deepest part of the woods, some pink and ivory dogwood blossoms remained despite the July heat for it was cooler in the shaded, heavily thick part of the wood. It had been amazing to walk into what felt like an oasis of spring, with the cooler air, the buds decorating the trees with the faint scent of their perfume around. We had paused and silently fingered the low hanging flowers, smelled the gentle scent on our fingertips and marveled at how the same flower could produce a different scent on our hands.

"Yours smells kind of musky," Nia had said as she held my fingertips close to her nose.

"And yours smells kind of fruity," I said. We had then walked on in silence, turning the experience over and over again, as we repeatedly touched blossoms and extended our hands for the other to smell.

I had watched Niaís legs -- long and very brown from the summer sun -- slice through the woods easily in front of me. Now I wished I could see her form, but I could only see the outline of her almost-bald head in front of me; the moonlight -- which was feeble but gave off a slight glow -- made a small portion of her face visible; as she turned her head to look to her left, I could see that her eyebrows were knit together as she moved confidently through the tangle, which was totally inexplicable since she had no idea where she was going. I wondered if the trees were laughing at us, as we were lost and about to burst with adventure.

 


Walking there in the woods, I suddenly felt tucked away from life, beneath a pocket of trees with Niaís muscular legs cutting through the night and the thick green. For once I was not working or was not doing school work; I had finished, we had both graduated and now summer stretched around us before graduate school would shape and cleave our lives in the fall. So we had woken up around 8 oíclock and Nia had made pancakes with raisins in them. I still felt happy and whole as sun streamed into our tiny studio apartment and as a thick ribbon of smoke rose from the nag champa I had lit when I woke up. We were listening to Roy Ayers sing "my life, my life, my life in the sunshine," as it vibrated through our two rooms while Nia made pancakes.

I had been lying on our futon couch with my eyes closed, listening and smelling, when Nia put the plate of pancakes on my stomach.

"I want to do something new and off the beaten path today," she said as she picked up an un-lubricated pancake and began eating it with her fingers. "Like just go to little 5 points and hang out. Maybe we can find that poet guy, Morpheus, and listen to him."

"Whatís new about that? Weíve done that at least twice," I said.

"Well, I said new and off the beaten path. That is off the beaten path. We can find some other new thing to do."

I nodded and let the plate of food rise and fall as I breathed. I had no other plans and no money; so going to little 5 points to do free yoga on the grass and listen to the homeless poets scream sounded good to me. What new thing we would do, I didnít know. Maybe get a tattoo? Another piercing?

"Why arenít you eating?" Nia said when she finished her pancakes.

I continued to lie there, letting myself feel how free I was.

"Let me feed you," she said. She picked up the pancake and broke it into pieces. She put them in my mouth. I kept my eyes closed, and just spit out the raisins.

"You donít like raisins?"

"Nope," I said.

"Hmpf."

Then we both laughed. When I opened my eyes, she was bending over me. I could see how her eyes flashed golden from the sun, which shone through a window to her left. Three freckles formed an imperfect triangle beneath her right eye. I reached up and touched each point in the constellation. Her hair was beginning to grow out and her breath was milky, dewy against my cheek. I ran my hand over her rough head like I had done hundreds, maybe thousands, of times. We had been close but never had we crossed into each otherís country.

"Let me give you a bath," she said.

I blinked up at her and said nothing. She stared at me. Finally I said, "Do I stink?"

"You know what I mean."

I did. But I was surprised because Nia had had boyfriends and only boyfriends, though she didnít have one now. I was thinking, as she looked down at me, daring me to take this challenge, that everywhere I had just put my hands, I could also rest my lips. I wondered who this alien was, peering down at me from her world up there, suspended above me in a shaft of light that was beginning to widen and intensify.

"Is this your new thing for the day?" I asked, more sarcastically than I wanted to.

She waved me away with an outstretched hand and walked towards the bathroom.

 



I tripped over a thick root that was poking through the surface of the ground but did not fall. Nia stopped in front of me and found me quickly; her hands grasped my shoulders.

"Are you okay?"

I nodded and though she probably couldnít see it in the dark, she understood me.

"Letís rest."

"Okay," I said. We stood near each other panting, listening.

"I wonder," she said after a moment, "if this is how they felt. Those slaves who escaped."

"Or died trying," I added.

"I mean, here we are, in the middle of the night, running through woods feeling like someone is on our tail. It feels spooky. And itís so dark out here."

"Well, Iím sure they felt a lot more afraid than we do."

"Imagine it...running from a plantation -- maybe some slaves even ran over the very space we are in now, were going in the very direction we are going now...walked these very same steps."

"I doubt it," I said flatly.

"Why?"

"Because weíre headed south."

"Whatever. You know what I mean. Think about creeping through the night, but also having to move quickly and knowing that either freedom or death would be your reward or your punishment." She paused, thinking. "I would have done it. I wonder what the journey was like. What kind of conversations they had? What kinds of things they started to do in the woods that maybe they couldnít do on the plantation."

"Like what?"

"I donít know...but it must have felt...weird...and wonderful to suddenly realize there was nobody to watch you, to punish you, to discipline you, to keep you from doing what you want to do. To know that you could begin to be yourself as soon as you took that first step into the night time wilderness, to know that you could be free for the first time and no longer be a slave..." I heard her smiling in the darkness. "Wouldnít it be weird if we were stuck in some kind of time loop?"

"Huh?"

"I mean," Nia began and I heard her slide her back down the trunk of the tree to sit, "What if we did get caught back there, at the co-op, and maybe we got shot by the owner and weíre dead now, but we donít realize it."

"Listen, woman, this is not what I want to hear. I want to get out of the woods and get to the MARTA station."

She laughed, loudly. The sound of her laughing, vibrating richly like a brass gong against the trees, scared me.

"Think about it. Can you prove to me right now that we are alive?" She asked.

I didnít say anything. She was grabbing hold of an idea and following it somewhere I didnít want to go.

"What if this is purgatory? Just think -- weíd be ending our lives as thieves."

"Well what are we supposed to do about it now?" My guilt came back and itched up my spine.

"I donít know. Maybe go back, take the stuff back?"

"Now?" I almost screamed, feeling panicky. Then I remembered where we were and lowered my voice again to a whisper. "But we are not dead. Nor are we going to die in a minute."

"You donít know that." Then she laughed again, rich and moist into the night.

I sighed, unnerved again by her inexplicable ease.

"Letís just sit here and be quiet for a minute," she said. "Then we can go towards the lights."

I sat down next to Nia and rested my head against the tree. I listened to her thinking in the dark. She was sitting on our box of stolen goods and was a head above me as a result. I felt like a kid, sitting next to my big sister, foolish for not having played the game. Lacking in creativity for not having imagined that we had crossed into some supernatural moment.

 


I closed my eyes and thought back to the morning, to the shower. Nia and I had seen each other naked a million times. Before moving into our studio, we had been roommates on campus. Going to an all-girls school meant that people were less rigid about maintaining bodily boundaries. It was not an unusual sight to see two women, platonic friends, holding hands or walking with their arms around one another. It was not unusual for roommates, to save time in the morning, to shower together. Nia and I had done this more than once in the dorm -- as had many other girls, and we had even done it occasionally since weíd moved in together. But this time, when she asked me to take a shower with her, or rather, when she asked to wash me -- was different.

There is a way to look without looking and I realized I had never seen her body before. I have never really focused on her skin, which was dappled with fragments of rainbow from the uneven light of the large crystal prism sheíd put up over the window in the bathroom. She stood in front of me, waiting. I turned on the water, stepped into the shower and wondered what was going through her mind. As steam filled the bathroom, I felt like Iíd faint. The contradictions that zoomed around my head, the questions I needed answered, made me dizzy. I wanted to turn around and ask her exactly what she was doing -- but there she was, standing so close to me I could feel her nipples brush against my back. My mouth, which had been open to ask a question, closed now.

I froze.

"Hand me the soap," Nia said, calmly.

I started to reach for the soap and realized this would require me to bend over and she was standing so close. While I was thinking about how to get the soap and maintain girls-in-the-locker-room type decorum, Nia pushed me out of the way and grabbed the soap. I was waiting for her to laugh, to break the tension that had arisen between us like the tight skin on over-boiled milk.

"Want me to wash your back?" she asked innocently.

I nodded. She turned me around and began lathering my back.

"After I wash you," she said, "You better wash me."

Usually I was very aggressive when I desired someone. Wasnít it just last week that I had seduced a woman twice my age, who was also my former professor? Taking Dr. Smith to bed was easier than peeling an orange. Despite her hardness and attempt at remaining a friendly-yet-professional air with me, I had broken through her barrier as quickly as I did when I made a hole in the shell of my poached eggs. And she had been just as wet and salty as a half-cooked yolk.

But Nia was in the "friend" category. And there was too much unsaid to make the switch. I told myself I should turn around and kiss her, seduce her, take her to bed and stop shivering like a virgin. But something held me still under the rush of the water and the gentle scrubbing of her fingers on my back.

Nia finished my back and went on to my legs; as she got down on her knees to wash me she said, "You have a perfect body." She began washing me like she was watering her shrine, slow and quietly. I didnít think I could wash her as calmly; I didnít know what Iíd do when my turn came. And I was wondering -- would she wash everything when she started washing everything.

 


"Letís go," Nia said and stood up. "You carry the box for a while."

Nia handed me the box. I put it on my head, which was wrapped with African cloth. "Okay," I said quietly.

I sighed; I was impatient to get out of the woods. I saw myself on the train -- which would be well lit and efficient and far away from the mosquitoes, which were beginning to feast on us. I wondered what was in the box and wished we had a flashlight so we could figure out if lugging it 2 miles through the woods was worth the effort. It could be anything from boxes of tofu to natural tampons; it could be brown rice or whole-wheat flour. It wasnít heavy enough to be oil or juice. As I considered what could be in the box, I realized how stupid it was for us to steal it. We werenít that poor. But we had been feeling adventurous.

"Nee," I said, slipping into my nickname for her.

"Yeah?"

"What do you think is in this box, matey?" I said, imitating a sea-faring accent.

"A Pirateís gold?"

We laughed.

"Diamonds, maybe?"

"Only if theyíre made from soy," I said.

"Girl, I wouldnít be surprised. Itís amazing the things they can make with soy."

"Or maybe..."

"Stop," Nia said as I bumped into her.

"What?"

"I heard something?"

"What did you hear?"

"Like someone else is here."

I said nothing. She lowered her voice to a whisper.

"Letís just get real low and listen."

I whispered back agreement. We crouched down and listened.

After a moment, I heard it too. Someone else was crackling through the woods just as loudly as we had been. A range of dangerous looking men and animals clicked through my brain like a slide show. After a few more minutes of listening it was clear that it was a human being, not an animal, walking through the woods. The footfalls were even and the rhythm suggested two legs, not four. We heard a male voice cursing under its breath. We heard a ringing, alarm-like noise and then the walking stopped. I was frantic as I imagined he had some kind of device to find unarmed women in the woods. We heard a familiar click and then saw a small light that indicated he was much closer to us than we had thought he was. It was a cell phone and he had taken it from its holder and opened it, illuminating its screen.

"Shit," he said into the phone. "About time, boy. Iíve been walking around 5 points for 3 hours looking for you! " He paused. "Iím coming!" He hung up then. The light went out.

He put the cell phone back and started walking faster. Then 10 minutes later, we distantly heard him break into a run as he cleared the woods. That meant we too were almost out of the woods. When he was clearly gone and the only sound was a thick wind nudging the lethargic tree branches, we relaxed. I realized then that we had been holding hands.

"Weíre almost out," I said in a low voice.

"Yeah."

We waited, hesitated. We didnít move and we kept our hands together, though now all of my attention was there, in the space between my flesh and hers.

I had noticed this morning that Niaís fingers were long and thin, her bitten down nails neat though she only trimmed them with her teeth. She had washed me gently, erotically, but she had not tried to make love to me. When she was done, she had handed me the soap and the sponge. I felt anger well up inside of me. I took these instruments and waited, stared at her. I wanted to ask her what she wanted from me, what she wanted me to do -- but that did not feel right. My own body was like a drum on the outside, my skin felt tight, but inside everything was liquid and moving.

I looked at her body for the answer; but I was completely unable to interpret the data. Finally she said slowly and out of time, as if she were reading the wrong lines in a play, "Go ahead; we havenít got all day."

I reached out and put my hand on her shoulder; she looked at me, I looked at her. It was as if we were both suspended in that moment, in a watery cocoon. But I was worried about what would emerge from this placenta, who would we be to each other when we broke the flimsy, plastic barrier of the shower curtain. I took the soap in my hand and lathered the sponge. I washed her chest; her breasts hung like yellow pears from a brown tree; I wanted to taste them and let the water and even the soap (which smelled like raspberries) trickle into my mouth like sticky sap. If she gave even one sign, one clear indication that she wanted something more, I would stop my trembling and act. But she stood still and she was unbelievably calm.

As we sat holding hands under the tree, blanketed by such darkness, I wondered if she was thinking about it too. It seemed clear to me now what she had wanted from me this morning but I had been unbelieving. I had been afraid because I had walked this road before with straight girls and discovered it was a dead end. So I had finished washing her, as she had washed me, and built an amazing dyke within myself to stop the flow.

When I was done she said, "See? Was that so hard?"

I got out of the shower, ripping the shower curtain down as I went. My body was wet and raw as I glared at her. The thin aperture was ruptured. Nia stood shocked and naked in the bathtub. I walked away loudly; I was half afraid I would slip and fall in my haste on the slick, hardwood floor. When I was dressed, she came after me with a towel wrapped around her.

"Iím sorry," I said before she could. "I overreacted."

"No," she said. "I was...wrong to put you in that position."

I nodded. "Forget about it."

"Iíll never forget it," she said meaningfully and then sat very close to me like she was going to do something. I got up quickly.

"Letís get ready to go," I said and went to the kitchen to wash the dishes.

I saw her go to the chest of drawers and begin pulling clothes out. I turned my back and washed the two plates, the bowl she had used to mix the batter, one big wooden spoon, a spatula and the skillet she had used to cook the pancakes. I put the box of raisins back in the cabinet along with the flour, the sugar, the baking soda and salt. I threw away the now-empty carton of eggs and put the skim milk in the refrigerator. By the time I finished in the kitchen, she was standing in the living room in cut off jean shorts, a white t-shirt and thick-soled sandals. She wore a cloth anklet and a silver ankh necklace. She had a knapsack slung diagonally over her shoulder.

She stood waiting for me.

"Can I get a hug?" she said, eager to mend the tear between us.

I wanted to remain angry, but I let it go. I hugged her and it felt like it used to.

I was about to ask what the hell had gotten in to her when she shouted that the bus was coming down the hill and if we ran weíd make it. So we pulled the door behind us and checked to make sure the lock caught, and then we raced for the bus.

 


Now it was so quiet in the woods I couldnít even hear her breathing. I couldnít even hear my own breath; it had become so slow and soft. But I could feel her hand against mine, our palms sweating against each other. It was still hot out and I could feel a trickle of sweat run down my back.

Before I had time to think about it, I asked her: "What was up with that shower thing today?"

She didnít move or answer. I waited in the silence, her hand hot and wet and unmoving in mine. We had not loosened our grip though the man was long gone. How long had we been sitting under the tree now? How long had we been in the woods that couldnít have been more than 2 miles wide or long in any direction? Had we been walking in a circle all night? Would we miss the last train?

Would she ever speak into that darkness and answer my question? I wondered how much time had passed before she spoke.

"You freaked out," she finally said. "And over something weíve done dozens of times too."

Red ink bloomed on the screen of my eyelids and I had to open my eyes to see if someone had shone a flashlight in my face, but no, all was still perfect, velvet darkness.

"I mean, I donít know why that was so hard for you."

Now I shook her hand off. Again, without thinking, I spoke. "Listen. You know why it was hard. Why are you fucking with me?"

I felt her move beside me but I could not see where she had gone. I could feel coolness where her body left an empty space next to mine. The silence was filled now with the boom of my knocking heart.

"Nia?" I called into the night and my voice died as it hit the bark of the trees. The woods now seemed thicker than ever as they closed me in and absorbed the sound of my voice.

"Iím right here," she said and she was standing suddenly in front of me.

I stood up, knowing she was near now because I could feel her breath on my lips. We were almost the same height, give or take a quarter of an inch. She was standing very close to me.

She put her hand on my shoulder and then I felt the fleshy crush of her lips on mine. With her other hand she pulled me closer and our bodies touched completely; except at our knees there was a separation. I put both my hands on her head and felt the tiny, silky hairs standing up on her neck as I caressed her ears. I put my lips below her right eye where I knew a pyramid of stars shone. I knew her body now as if it had been etched in my mind with a fiery pen. I let my hands travel now and felt my usual deftness return. My tongue had just tasted the silver of the ball in her belly button and I pulled her shorts off. I was shocked to see that she had no panties on.

"You little hussie," I said. "You planned this all along."

I could feel her smiling in her fingertips, playing with my hair. Her legs shook a little as I rubbed her between them with my flat palm. My hand came away wet and it smelled sweet. She seemed to stop breathing as I kissed her and tasted her. She stopped me and taking my head wrap off, she made a blanket for us to lie down. When I touched her again, she was breathing and moving under me, like waves, like a rush of hot air. At first timidly and then unafraid, she touched me like she knew me and I felt myself falling, the world spinning like when I was just waking from a dream, disorientated. My usual poise and control began to slip from me. I let myself crash into her. Now the silence, which had retreated or gone unnoticed as we had panted and moaned, crowded around us and I rested my head on her breasts, which were full and dancing to the beat of her heart beneath my ear.

After a while she said, "Letís open the box."

"But we canít see," I said.

"So?"

We laughed together, two low keys sounding monotonously in the night. In the darkness, we groped for the box, which I had been sitting on. We worked to rip it open -- it wasnít easy in the dark

"Ready?" she asked, her voice taut with excitement.

"Yes," I said breathlessly.

We put our hands inside the box and began to feel the objects inside. Nia giggled as she pulled something from the box and ripped a package open. I felt her groping for my face and then she put something in my mouth.

A tart fruitiness burst on my tongue. We laughed. I sucked and could hear her doing the same. As we sucked, I could hear her rummaging around in the box.

"Thereís other stuff too," she said. "But I donít know what it is."

I felt around in the box and found packages of things I could not identify.

"We could stay here all night and just discover whatís in the box," she suggested.

"Um hmm," I said, my mouth full of fruity wetness.

We moved the box from between us and lay down on the cloth, our calves on a bed of scratchy pine needles. We lie looking up and found a good size opening in the trees above us. Because of the moonís ascent, it seemed like the sky was moving. We watched as the moon climbed and when it was almost directly overhead, I turned and looked at her. She was just visible as a skimpy finger of moon wiggled itself through the forest. I traced the thin line of her silhouette with my finger and then my palm.

"I donít want to get out of the woods now," I told her. "Now Iím worried the night wonít last long enough."

I saw her face open into a smile. She turned towards me and her face disappeared except for the thin line of her ear, her shoulder, her hip and her foot.

"Yes," she said as we played thumb war, "I was kind of scared at first, but now it seems so peaceful and sweet here."

"We should spend the night in here," I said, listening to the crickets around us.

"Okay," she said. "But do you think weíll sleep?"

"I seriously doubt it," I said and winked at her.

"What do you think those runaways did to pass the time when they slept?"

"I have no idea. Looked for constellations in the sky? Talked about what they would do when they were free? Or..."

"Or what?" she said, waiting.

"Or maybe they didnít talk. Maybe they just disappeared into the darkness. Became one of the trees for the night," I said.

"Hmmm," Nia sang. "Interesting."

Her hand was cool in mine, the smell of the dogwood blossom seeming to grow stronger as the night cooled and slid into morning.

 


We waited for dawn with open eyes.

"Are you excited to see what is in the box?" I asked her as black night began to fade to deep purple and then to lapis blue.

She touched my face. "No. I already know whatís in the box."

I smiled.

"Should we take it back?"

We watched as purple turned to blue. Itís amazing, I thought, how fast the sun rises.

"Do you really want to take it back?" She looked at me and now I could see quite clearly. "I mean, you better decide before we get out of the woods."

I looked around; I could see now that we were only about a quarter of a mile away from the end of the wood. Had it really taken that long to walk 1.75 miles? We also had been very close to the path all along. We had only deviated slightly.

I was about to answer when a big fox swaggered by a few feet in front of us. It was a large gray speckled fox and it had an orange butterfly sitting on its back. I blinked hard as it made its way by and looked at Nia, to see if she had seen it too.

"I saw it," she said. "Do you think the butterfly fell, you know, is dead or dying?"

I shrugged, slightly unsettled by the sight.

"That is so weird," she said and stood up. She wiped her shorts and legs off. I looked again at the fox, which was now disappearing through the trees.

"Thatís weird, huh?" She looked at me, smiling, waiting for my confirmation.

"Yes," I said. "It is weird."

We both strained our eyes in the direction the fox and butterfly had gone.

"Letís not take the box back," I said, looking down at it. Nia had closed it back up at some point.

"Good. We can go home and make some new discoveries then," she said and bent to pick up my head cloth. She shook it out and folded it. My dreadlocks fell now around my shoulders.

"I donít know why you donít wear your hair down more," she said and brushed a dread back behind my ear. "You look so pretty with your hair out."

The sun was up and beams of light slanted through the trees, illuminating the woods. She leaned towards me then and kissed me.

"Your face is golden where I kissed you," she said. "From the sun."

She then turned and ran the rest of the way out of the woods. I could hear her laughing as she raced through the clearing. She was a golden blur against the moist green around us.

When she got outside, she yelled, "Free at last!" And let out an undulating call.

The sun was now half up and bathed the world in golden pink and lavender hues. I heard the train rattle in the distance. Bending my legs to stretch them, I prepared myself to run after her.

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