tagSci-Fi & FantasyHeart of the Wood

Heart of the Wood

byLesLumens©

This is my entry in the Literotica.Com 2011 Earth Day Contest © Copyright Les Lumens 2011

The final page is just my ending note, so don't let the number of pages scare you away.


♠~~~~~☩~~~~~♠

Twigs and dry leaves crunched underfoot as Glen wandered the trail, his thoughts turned inward. The warmth that permeated the sun-dappled wood prompted him to absently remove his jacket, and the action brought him out of his internal dialogue just long enough to notice something on the breeze.

Taking a deep breath, he filled his lungs with the scent of moist earth and honeysuckle. The flowers wouldn't bloom for months anywhere else, but here they opened their petals even before the last frost. Winter came to the wood, as it did everywhere else, but here, other forces were at play.

The distraction didn't last long, though. After running his fingers through his short blond hair, he resumed his walk. The spring semester had proven a little difficult — especially the foreign language requirement — forcing him to concentrate hard on the Spanish course. Now that he finally felt confident in the class, he had time to wonder where he was going with his life again.

Only the slightest rustling of leaves betrayed the presence of someone trailing along behind him, easily dismissed as the wind or the abundant wildlife. So, when he sat down on a fallen log and arms suddenly wrapped around his neck from behind, Glen naturally started.

A musical giggle preceded a kiss on his ear, and Glen let out the breath he'd sucked in as a relived sigh. Most would have descended into a new wave of panic upon turning around, but Glen's upbringing was hardly common.

Completely nude, the dryad stood with her nose scrunched up in a mischievous expression. Her skin had a golden tone, as though lit from within by sunlight. The hair rustling about her shoulders in the breeze was the color of new leaves.

"Geez, Grandma. You about scared the pants off me."

"I couldn't scare them off if you weren't wearing them," Xantina countered, sticking her tongue out at her great-grandson. The nymph had a strong prejudice against clothing, and the family usually indulged the ultimate mother of their line. Having grown up as much in the wood as at home, nudity was more natural to him than putting on clothes.

Taking stock of his surroundings, he realized where he was in the wood after his directionless wandering of the paths. Once confined to the section of the wood where she lived around a spring-fed pool, the dryad had taken to wandering farther as her magic grew stronger with each new generation's efforts to protect and nurture the local woodlands.

"So, what are you doing all the way out here, Grandma?"

Xantina pointed off to the side. "There is someone there."

Glen shifted on the log and turned in the direction she was pointing, but didn't see anyone. He knew that the road lay just beyond sight, and so asked, "Up by the road?"

Only a fading giggle answered his question, and when he turned back around, his capricious great-grandmother had vanished into the wood.

Not really getting anywhere with his musing about the future, and made curious by the dryad's game, Glen stood up and stretched. He pulled on his jacket as he wended his way through the trees, knowing at least one thing that awaited outside the sheltering boughs.

Flashes of green quite unlike the color of the evergreens around him caught his eye through the branches. As the true chill of March weather reasserted itself over the magical warmth of the wood, he realized that what he had seen was a car sitting off the side of the road. Quickening his pace, he negotiated the last of the trees in his path and went to see if the driver of the VW Beetle was still around and needed any help.

The windows were fogged up, but he could just make out the silhouette of someone in the driver's seat. Climbing up onto the road bank gave him a clearer picture of a woman with her forehead resting on the steering wheel.

She didn't seem to notice him when he walked up next to the door, so he tapped the glass with a fingernail.

The redhead sat up and turned toward him with a start, a muffled yelp of alarm reaching Glen from behind the closed door. After a moment to catch her breath, she reached over as if to roll down the window, but then made a face and opened the door instead.

Damn, Glen thought as he got a good look at her. Shoulder-length red hair framed a beautiful face, complete with green eyes. He guessed that she was in her mid-twenties, and she certainly filled out her blouse. Glen took care not to get caught staring — because he certainly wanted to.

"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," he apologized. "Need some help?"

Her expression somewhere between caution and relief, the woman nodded. "It just died, and I can't get a signal on my phone."

"That happens out here. Too many obstructions, and too few towers." He pulled out his own cell to find a couple of bars. "Mine's working. Why don't you try to turn it over real quick before I call my dad?"

After a brief nod, the redhead turned the key, which resulted in little more than a click.

Having seen none of the lights on the dashboard illuminate, Glen said, "Looks like your battery's toast. We might actually have one at the house. My sister had a Beetle. We live right up the road. Name's Glen Rush."

The redhead's eyes lit up. "Are you related to Steven Rush?"

"That's my dad. You know him?"

"I'm supposed to be meeting with him. Melinda Hart."

"Looks like the meeting place has changed," Glen said, and then laughed as he called the house.

"Hey, Dad. Your meeting is going to be a little delayed. I've got Melinda stranded a ways up the road toward town."

His father answered, "I was beginning to wonder. What's wrong with the car?"

"Battery's dead, I think. We still have a battery for Sis' Beetle?"

"I believe so. Why?"

"That's what she has. Might be able to get it to the house without a tow that way."

"I'll put it in the car, then. I'll be there in a couple of minutes."

"Got it. Bye."

Glen ended the call and told Melinda, "He's on his way. I've got a friend who works on cars. I'm going to text him and have him head out this way, just in case."

"Thank you," Melinda answered, shivering a bit in the wind.

"No problem. May as well shut the door and keep out the wind until Dad gets here."

While Melinda did exactly that, Glen tapped away on his phone. By the time the reply came back, his father was coming over the hill from the house.

"That's him," Glen said loudly enough for her to hear through the closed door, and then put his phone away.

"Battery's in the trunk," Steven said after pulling off the road behind Melinda's car.

"Got it," Glen acknowledged. At about the same time as he leaned into his father's car to pop the trunk, Melinda opened her door.

"Well, this isn't exactly going as planned," Steven said to her with a little laughter in his voice. "Steven Rush — and you must be Melinda."

Her greeting his father gave Glen the opportunity to get a good look at Melinda, and he liked what he saw. She was wearing jeans, showing off curves that perfectly complemented the swell of her breasts that he'd seen earlier. Some few women had a way of moving — or even standing still — that screamed sensuality, and Melinda had that in spades.

She and his father turned toward the car, and Glen spun around just in time. He walked to the trunk to retrieve the battery and heard his father say, "Go ahead and get in out of the cold. Just move those papers to the back seat."

Glen closed the trunk to see Melinda leaning into the car, giving him a fine view of her butt. He smiled at the sight, but wiped the grin off his face when he turned to see his father's expression, which let him know that his look at Melinda hadn't gone unnoticed.

"Let's get the battery in and see if that works," Steven said, nodding toward the other car.

Glen gestured up the road. "Go ahead. Frank's headed this way. If this doesn't work, he'll run me back to the house."

Nodding his approval, Steven opened the door. "Just call if you need anything."

"Sure," Glen responded, and then walked past to Melinda's car.

In the process of unhooking the first battery cable, Glen paused for one last look at Melinda as the car rolled past, toward home. He'd always had a thing for redheads, and she was about the hottest one he'd ever seen.

Wonder if she's into younger guys?

He hoped that her connection to his father might just give him the opportunity to find out.

The battery swap worked to get the car started right after Frank arrived, and the two friends drove back to Glen's house. Unfortunately, the verdict Frank delivered wasn't such good news.

Conversation stopped as soon as he walked in, and Glen distinctly heard the couch cushions creak when Melinda turned around.

"Alternator's dead."

"Oh no," Melinda groaned, covering her eyes for a moment.

"And the parts store is closed, so he won't be able to get it in until tomorrow," Glen continued.

"Do you know how much?" Melinda asked with trepidation in her voice.

"Just whatever the parts cost. Frank owes me one."

"Oh, I couldn't do that," Melinda protested.

Before Glen could argue, his mother, Kia, jumped in. "Yes you can. It's the neighborly thing to do, and we won't take no for an answer."

"Is everyone around here this nice?" Melinda asked after a moment of consideration.

Kia put on an exaggerated expression of concentration, and then answered, "No — just us."

The two women broke out into simultaneous laughter.

Seeing an opportunity, Glen suggested, "I could run you home, and then bring you back over when the car's done tomorrow."

In his peripheral vision, he could see his mother eyeing him with suspicion. He expected her to say that she would do the driving, but she surprised him. "That solves that problem, if it's okay with you, Melinda."

"That's fine." She then turned to Glen and said, "I never did say thank you."

Glen waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "No problem."

"You're quite welcome, and you're welcome to stop by any time," Kia added.

"I suppose I should get home, then," Melinda said, gathering up her purse.

Glen's father returned from making a phone call in the other room. "The ball is rolling on my end, and Dan's already optimistic about the vote in the council. I don't see any reason why you can't be ready to open up in a month — two at the outside."

"It's overwhelming," Melinda said as she stood. "I never expected things to happen so fast."

"Well, you're not in it alone any more," Steve assured her. "If you need anything at all, don't hesitate to ask. We think a green cemetery is a wonderful idea, and we'll do whatever it takes to make it a reality."

That explained his parents' interest in the redhead. Quite the opposite of a regular cemetery that ate up land and pushed away the natural flora and fauna, those buried in a green cemetery actually nourished the earth that covered them. It was exactly the sort of cause that his dryad-born family would throw themselves into, heart and soul.

"Thank you all so much," Melinda said, and then turned toward Glen.

"Ready when you are."

After farewells from his parents, he led her out the door.

♠~~~~~☩~~~~~♠

Melinda closed the door behind her, still amazed by the whirlwind of events that had transpired in a single day. She peeked out the window, watching Glen drive away, and found her thoughts straying toward the handsome young man.

Realizing what she was doing, she let the curtain fall and turned away from the window. Her last several relationships had all gone badly, and she hadn't even made an attempt in two years. It always ended the same. As soon as a man found out that she practiced Wicca, she never heard from him again.

Having grown up in the craft, she knew that she shouldn't attach such restrictions to her desires, which were perfectly natural. The world outside her mother's coven had intruded into her heart in this one place, at least.

She needed peace and clarity — and to contemplate the blessings that had fallen upon her today. Reaching into the inside pocket of her jacket, she withdrew the package she'd picked up in town before going to her meeting. The incense had arrived just in time, because she'd burned the last stick that morning.

Dropping her purse and jacket onto the couch, she made her way through the house to the sunroom at the back, opening the package along the way. The setting sun bathed the room in a beautiful glow through stained glass windows, while panes of clear glass gave her a view of the trees beyond.

Melinda removed her clothes and knelt — now Skyclad, as the traditions of her mother's coven had taught her — before the altar.

♠~~~~~☩~~~~~♠

Glen joked with Frank and helped where he could as his friend worked on Melinda's car. They almost had the old alternator out when the phone rang. With his mother off on a veterinary call and his father in town, he was the only one home. A couple of quick steps brought him to the phone sitting on a shelf in the garage. Seeing Melinda's number brought a smile to his lips.

"Hey."

"Hello. I was wondering when the car is going to be ready?"

He turned the phone away from his mouth and asked, "How much longer?"

"About an hour."

Glen repeated the answer for Melinda and she let out a quiet — but still audible — groan.

"What's up?" he asked.

"I need to go in to work for a few minutes."

"No problem. I'll take you."

After a moment of hesitation, she responded, "If you wouldn't mind. Someone's making a last minute change, and I need to enter everything in the computer."

"Like I said — no problem. Headed out the door now."

As soon as Glen hung up, Frank chuckled. "This chick must be a real code eighty-eight."

The semi-secret code word from his days working at the grocery store, which meant that an attractive woman was in the building, brought a wide smile to Glen's face.

"Oh yeah," he agreed as he headed for his car.

Melinda opened her front door almost as soon as Glen rolled to a stop in her drive. She was wearing a skirt that showed off gorgeous legs, culminating in a pair of short, black heels. Gripping her skirt in one hand against the gusting wind, she hurried to the car. Glen was almost positive that she was blushing when she sat down in the passenger seat, which he considered a good sign.

"Guess I better ask where we're going," he said as he put the car in gear.

"The funeral home," she answered.

Thinking that he should have guessed that, considering what she was talking to his father about the evening before, he said, "Ah, okay. No need to drive through town then."

Melinda nodded and settled into the seat as the car rolled out of the drive.

Though he made a couple of attempts at conversation, it didn't take long to determine that she was preoccupied with something. Wisely not pushing the issue, he drove to the funeral home and pulled into the nearly empty parking lot.

"Do you want to call me to pick you up, or should I just wait?"

"I should only be a few minutes, if you don't mind waiting?"

"That's cool. Frank will probably have your car ready by the time we get back."

Melinda offered a smile. "Thank you. I'll try not to be too long."

Though the weather was still on the cool side, the sun was shining bright, and quickly warmed the interior of the car. Glen kicked back in his seat and half-dozed, replaying the image of Melinda walking toward the building in his head — her hair and skirt fluttering in the breeze.

The sound of the door opening snapped him out of his pleasant reverie not long after, and he stretched, straightening in the seat. Melinda sat down, letting out a groan, and massaged her temples.

"You okay?" he asked before starting the car.

She shrugged and gave a little nod. "I just didn't sleep very well, and I only had decaf in the house."

Jumping on the opportunity, he said, "Well, you're in luck. Best coffee in town is just down the street. My treat."

The redhead stiffened, and Glen was sure that she was going to make an excuse to refuse the offer. Even as he was thinking of a way to smooth things over, she surprised him.

"Okay. Thanks."

"All right then," he said as he started the car, somehow resisting the urge to do a victorious fist pump.

♠~~~~~☩~~~~~♠

Melinda took another sip of coffee and thought, What are you doing? She had no idea what had overruled her defensive instincts when she accepted Glen's offer. Yet, here she was.

Though determined to keep things simple, Glen had asked how his father was helping her. An offhand remark expanded the conversation into a wider arena of environmentalism.

Though he attributed the activity to his family, he spoke of conservation and promotion of green solutions with such passion that she knew he was hardly divorced from such concerns himself. Like her, he felt the umbrella of global climate change was doing more harm than good by creating divisiveness where a lot of consensus could be found on contributing issues. The chat came full circle in time, returning to green cemeteries.

After Glen returned with two fresh cups of coffee, he remarked, "Never would have guessed that you work at the funeral home."

She nodded, letting out a half-hearted chuckle. "Creepy, huh?"

"Nah. Don't know if I could do it, but there's nothing creepy about it."

That was a surprise.

"Guess that's how you got the idea for the green cemetery, huh?"

"The other way around, really. The cemetery was always my mother's dream, and that's how I ended up in college for funeral services."

"Bet she's tickled that you're so close now."

She sighed. "She passed away not long after I graduated."

He winced and said, "I'm sorry."

Giving a slight shake of her head, Melinda said, "It's okay. You didn't know. Learning to deal with losing her has sort of helped me help others."

"I guess it would." He pointed and asked, "That's a Celtic cross, isn't it?"

She realized that she was absently toying with her necklace and let go of it to grab her coffee again. "Yes. My mother gave it to me."

"It looks good on you. My sister got big into that. Celtic lore, Druidism, Wicca — stuff like that. She talked about it so much that I ended up doing a paper on it in high school."

Melinda's heart leapt in her chest, but she was wise enough not to let it overwhelm her. "So, you weren't worried she was turning into a witch?"

He laughed, and there was nothing of mockery in the sound. "Nah. You know, it's about nature, not broomsticks and black magic." He wiggled his fingers in an exaggerated pantomime of spell casting. "Not that she can't be a witch sometimes.

"I actually went and talked to some members of a coven in the city while I was working on that paper. They were a little leery of me at first, but I guess they decided I wasn't out to get them, and I learned some pretty cool stuff. Got an A on that one."

It was only when Glen's eyebrows twitched upwards for a moment that Melinda realized she was staring at him, grinning so wide that her cheeks hurt. Those same cheeks grew warm as she lifted her cup to cover her embarrassment. "Thanks for the coffee."

"Any time."

She'd stood on this precipice many a time before, and she knew all too well how hard and painful the rocks were at the bottom. There was a glimmer of hope. He'd recognized her necklace. He knew what it could represent, and he didn't seem afraid of it. Quite the opposite, actually.

Maybe this time could be different.

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