Secret of the WoodbyLesLumens©
This is an entry in the '10 Literotica Earth Day Contest. If found anywhere except Literotica.com with this note attached, this story has been posted without my permission. © Copyright LesLumens
Some characters from my previous three Earth Day stories, "Steward of the Wood", "Daughter of the Wood", and "Forever of the Wood" return in this story. If you enjoy this tale, you might want to go back and read those for a deeper look at the history of the returning characters.
Dan's eyes popped open when he heard the hiss of something running through the dry leaves and grass, the sound drawing closer by the second.
"Hey," he protested when the two young squirrels used him as a convenient ramp to reach the tree behind him. They ran straight up his leg, jumped to his shoulder, and then scampered upward into the branches.
Dan looked up while rubbing his nose to stave off a sneeze brought on by bushy tails tickling it, and saw the mother of the two rambunctious youngsters. She tilted her head to the side and chattered what he took for an apology before chasing the pair up into the tree.
He chuckled and then stretched, glad in a way that the pair had distracted him before he dozed off. Despite having a lot on his mind, he was still a little drowsy, and the setting was perfect for a spring nap. Sunlight sparkled on the nearly still surface of the pond in front of him. Birds chirped morning greetings in all directions. The smell of pine filled the air, along with that unique scent that could only be called earthy.
Dan sat up a little straighter, ran his fingers through his sandy-blond hair, and then leaned back against the young elm that stood apart from the sea of conifers that dominated the area. It had taken Herculean efforts to save the tree when an apartment building had replaced the island of green where it once stood in the city. Only his parents would have indulged such a whim in a ten-year-old boy, when Dan couldn't bear the thought of someone cutting the tree down. Once it was transplanted here, his grandmother had nurtured it, ensuring that it survived the sudden upheaval and flourished.
He always came here to think, and he had a lot of thinking to do. With high school now behind him, he had to decide what to do with his life — and he didn't have the foggiest clue what that might be.
The sound of his cell ringing caused him to close his eyes and sigh. He'd meant to turn it off, but it was too late now. Broken from his reverie, he pulled the phone from his pocket and scowled at the number on the screen.
The reporter had been trying to contact everyone in the family for a month now. Word was that he was snooping around everyone who knew them, and scouring any records he could find as well.
Some quick thumb work sent a text to his mother, following up on the course of action that his grandfather had suggested. A minute later, she returned his message. Here too. Catch a ride with your sister to your grandmother's?
Daniel whipped off a quick 'K' in reply and reluctantly stood up. He patted the trunk of the elm and said, "I'll be back soon," before heading through a gap in the pines toward his sister's house.
The leaves of the elm shuddered just a little more than the gentle spring breeze warranted.
Dan walked down the hill from his house toward the woods with his sister at his side. The fair hair, expressive eyes, and soft features of the pair marked them as two of a kind. Anyone who didn't know better would find it difficult to believe that Kia was nearly twenty years older, however.
The light dimmed as Dan stepped from the grass at the bottom of the steep hill into the woods, but it was anything but gloomy. The breeze outside still carried a slight bite of lingering chill, but pleasant warmth permeated the wood. The fragrance of flowers that wouldn't bloom for months elsewhere tickled his nostrils. All around the animal trail that he followed with his sister, nature thrived at the limits of its bounty.
Despite his earliest memories lying within the boundaries of his grandmother's wood, Dan never failed to feel wonder at his surroundings. The trees let in just the right amount of dappled sunlight to bring out the shine on ivy leaves curling upward amongst their trunks. The canopy above conspired to allow beams of light to fall upon different highlights. Here, a particularly beautiful cluster of flowers. There, the stump of a tree that had completed its cycle of life nurtured an almost perfect circle of orange toadstools.
The trail opened up into a clearing at the center of the wood. He wasn't shocked by the sight of his mother and father sitting nude on the edge of the spring-fed pool, though he was a bit surprised that his father was here instead of at his office in town. Nor was he embarrassed to remove his own clothing while his sister shed hers but an arm's length away. This too was something that he'd known all his life, and as natural to him as breathing.
"Where are Grandma and Grandpa?" Kia asked as she pulled off her bra and let it fall into the pile of clothing at her side.
Brina shrugged. "They should be here soon."
Just like her daughter, the years barely touched Brina. Though over sixty, her honey-blonde hair had lost only a little of its luster, and only the faintest of laugh lines decorated her face. Her husband, sitting at her side with his arm around her waist, showed his age in his thinning gray hair.
"He called me too," Kia revealed after removing the last of her clothing and kneeling down to hug her parents in turn.
Dan shook his head. "The guy just won't give up."
"Nosy reporters aren't our only problem, either," his father said.
Brina sighed. "Gary, you could have at least waited until Mom and Dad got here before you said anything about that."
Gary winced from the rebuke. "Sorry."
"Someone speak of the devil?"
Everyone turned toward the voice as Daniel's grandmother and grandfather parted the thick curtain of ferns on the other side of the pool. As with the customary nudity of family gatherings within the wood, his grandparent's appearance was nothing unusual to Dan. Neither looked any older than him, and the family resemblance couldn't be denied, but his grandmother's skin shone as if she stood in golden sunlight, while his grandfather's skin was patterned and colored like tree bark.
Xantina's nose crinkled and she said, "I don't like that word."
Her mate, for whom Dan was named, apologized, "Sorry, love," and ran his fingers through her new-leaf green hair.
Xantina's smile returned almost immediately, and she laughed. She pulled him close, twining her fingers into his slightly darker green hair, and planted a kiss on his cheek.
Dan sat down on a sun warmed cushion of last year's leaves next to his mother and chuckled when his grandfather said, "Not in front of the kids."
The nymph rolled her eyes. "So silly."
The family patriarch cleared his throat and sat down with his legs dangling near where the water churned from its underground source. His mate sank down to the moss right next to him, and leaned her head against his shoulder. "So, something other than the reporter going on?"
"Got a call from councilman Carson yesterday," Gary answered. "The county is thinking about selling the preserve off 71 to balance the budget."
"Hmm. Must be pretty bad if they're thinking about that. The county has had that land as long as I can remember."
Gary nodded to his father-in-law. "Trosper just made the proposal yesterday, and it can't be good with his voting record. Carson said he was going to try to find out more. I was supposed to go talk to him this afternoon, but something came up and I'm going to have to be in court over in Jefferson County."
"I could go see what he found out," Dan offered, as the councilman had been his Scoutmaster before seeking public office, and he knew him quite well. Carson had actually taught him to tie knots and navigate with a compass in the very same woods that was apparently going up for sale.
Gary smiled. "Thank you. I was hoping that you might offer. This is personal, as far as I'm concerned. I have too many memories from that woods when I was in Scouts to let it go without a fight."
"Me too," Dan agreed.
His grandfather laughed. "Make that three. Like I said, the county has owned that land for a long time."
"Well, I guess Kia and I will find out what we can through the grapevine."
Kia groaned at that prospect, causing her mother to laugh and nod in agreement with the sentiment.
With his mate fidgeting at his side, the green-haired Daniel said, "We'd best move this along. Our little reporter friend obviously thinks that he's got something to sink his teeth into, and he's not going to back off. I think you're going to have to go a step beyond telling everyone to give him what he wants. Do it yourselves. Pile it on him."
Gary's brow furrowed as he considered the notion. "If nothing else, it might get him off our backs while he digs through the whole mess."
"I have a couple of other ideas too, but just put together all the financial records you can for now."
Xantina leaned in to ask her mate, "Done?"
He chuckled and kissed her on the forehead. "Yes, love. I believe we are."
"Good," she declared, and then snapped a kick at the water. The single movement of her slender foot somehow managed to splash all four of her family members across the pool, while the follow-through curled a stream of water right into her mate's face as well.
The game was on.
Daniel had felt buoyant when he left his grandmother's pool, but that had quickly changed as he spoke to his old Scoutmaster. Carson had managed to find out where the idea to sell the land had originated, and it wasn't good.
The man really orchestrating things behind the scenes was from a neighboring county. Daniel sat in the councilman's car off the side of a gravel road, looking at the future as he beheld the last parcel of land that Wilson had purchased.
"It's worse than I'd heard," Carson remarked as he surveyed the scene through the narrow gap in the trees.
Dan had to agree. The fences put up by the company and stands of trees left as camouflage hid what was really going on from nearly any vantage point. Here, after an hour of roaming back roads, he could see the truth.
Nothing but stumps and huge ruts left by the heavy machinery used to harvest the trees remained beyond the mask. Where trees a hundred or more years old once stood, there was only devastation.
Carson shook his head and sighed. "They have a lot of nerve calling themselves Greentree."
Dan picked up the camera that they'd brought along. "I'll go take some pictures." He was only able to find a few shots through the narrow vantage point, but even those were telling. To get any closer, he would have to trespass, which he knew that the councilman and his father would never approve of.
When Dan climbed back in the car, Carson was just hanging up from a call. His brow was furrowed, and Dan knew the look all too well.
"I was just telling Lawrence Riser about this, and he blew it off."
Dan's voice was full of disbelief as he responded, "Blew it off?"
Carson started the car and nodded for Daniel to fasten his seatbelt. "I need to get back to my office and make some calls. Lawrence was one of the last people that I'd expect to side with Trosper."
The councilman put the car in gear and pulled back out onto the gravel. "Tell your father that I think someone is lubricating the wheels to get this through. We may need his help to stall long enough to find out what's really going on."
"Sure. I know he'll do anything he can."
Carson sighed. "I hope it's enough."
After sitting in the councilman's office for nearly an hour, watching the frustration build with each phone call, Dan had taken Carson's advice to head home. His old Scoutmaster promised to call the next day to relay anything that he discovered.
The limited parking in front of the councilman's office had convinced Dan to leave his car in the lot for the park, which lay directly opposite the green space from where he stood. It wasn't so long of a walk, and hardly an unpleasant one.
The park had changed quite a bit over the years, mostly from his family's influence. Pictures of his grandfather here showed mostly manicured grass. Now, trees and other natural growth broke up the landscape, creating a far more intimate setting that Daniel enjoyed. He was almost back to his car when he nearly collided with someone emerging from behind the bushes just off his path.
Daniel dug in his heels and found himself almost face to face with Brooke Kline.
His breath caught, and it was all he could do to say, "Sorry," without his voice cracking. The gossip around town was that she'd dumped the captain of the football team at a graduation party when she caught him feeling up another girl, and that she was still on the market.
Not that it mattered. She was one of the most sought-after girls his age, and he was that odd guy who spent more time with his family than at parties. She wasn't just out of his league, she was a completely different sport altogether.
"No, it's my fault. Oh, hey, Dan."
She knows my name? He thought in self-mocking disbelief. "Hey, Brooke."
"I haven't seen you since graduation. I thought you'd be off to law school by now."
Once again, he was stunned. Just knowing his name was enough of a surprise. Her having any clue about his life was almost incomprehensible. "I'm still not sure what I want to do."
She pushed a few errant locks of chocolate-brown hair away from her face and said, "You know me — journalism. I signed up for classes in the fall. Almost everybody else started last year, though. I've been walking around the park bored for an hour trying to figure out something to do."
Years later, he would still wonder where he'd found the courage to ask his next question. "Wanna catch the afternoon matinee?"
"Sure. I hadn't even thought about that."
Daniel's heart nearly stopped. He'd just asked out Brooke, and she'd said yes. Of course, she probably wasn't thinking of it as a date, but he was willing to take what he could get.
He pointed a thumb toward where he'd parked. "My car's right there."
"Why don't we just walk? It isn't that far."
A wide smile broke out on his face. "Cool."
She tilted her head in a follow me gesture and started across the grass. Dan couldn't shake the image in his head of him as a cartoon character floating through the air following perfume.
Dan still felt like he was floating several hours later as he drove down the county road back toward town. Brooke sat in the passenger seat, her hand lying on her tummy, a languid smile on her face.
"Oh, that was so good," she said for the second time since getting in the car. "I can't believe I've never even heard of that place."
The little country restaurant where he'd taken her didn't advertise except by word of mouth, and didn't have any sort of regular hours. It didn't even have a proper name. Everyone who knew about it just called it Geraldine's, after the woman who had first opened it.
Dan glanced over and smiled. "It's a well kept secret. If all you city-folk knew about it, it would be too hard to get in."
She chuckled and then groaned. "I'm going to have to eat nothing but celery sticks for a week to make up for it, though." After a quick look up the tree-lined road ahead, she asked, "How long until we make it back to town?"
"Fifteen minutes. Maybe a little less."
Brooke's expression changed to one of slight concern. "I think I should have gone to the little girl's room before we left."
"Oh, well my sister's house is just a little bit up the road. We could stop there."
She nodded, looking relieved.
Dan grabbed his cell and called the house, letting Kia know he was coming. A minute or two later, he turned off onto her drive. He usually drove at a crawl, to avoid kicking up gravel dust, but a billowing cloud followed him this time. Brooke was beginning to fidget in her seat, and popped open her seat belt the moment the car stopped.
He hurried to exit the car, thinking to open the door for her, but she beat him to it. Her urgency prompted a quick pace, and they were soon at the door. Before he could even knock, Kia called out from inside. "Come in."
As soon as he opened the door, Dan pointed down the hall and said, "It's the door on the right."
"Thanks," she said, and hurried toward the bathroom, her shoes beating a rapid tattoo on the hardwood floor.
"Well now. Who's that?" Kia asked, her expression filled with a mixture of curiosity and mischief as she navigated around the couch and a potted Ficus tree toward him.
"Shh," he admonished. "Brooke Kline."
Kia laughed, but kept it quiet. "Sorry. I shouldn't tease. Mom wondered why you were so cryptic when you called to say that you wouldn't be home for supper. What did Carson have to say?"
"It doesn't look good. He thinks that someone's paying off people on the council."
Kia sighed. "Well, don't lose hope. Things always seem to come down to the wire, and we always manage."
He nodded, despite not really feeling his sister's optimism. He turned back toward the hall when he heard the bathroom door open.
"Thanks," Brooke said, her cheeks a little red.
"My sister, Kia," Dan said to introduce his sibling.
"Brooke," she offered in return.
"Well, we should get going," Dan interjected, knowing that escaping now was only going to lead to more questions later, but he was willing to live with it.
"Have fun," Kia couldn't resist saying as she walked back toward the kitchen.
Once back in the car, Brooke looked over at Daniel and said, "I did, by the way — have fun that is."
"Me too," he agreed as he circled around the loop at the end of the drive. "Wanna do it again some time?"
"I don't have any plans tomorrow."
Taken off-guard by the enthusiastic response, Daniel's mind whirled as he tried to think of something on the spot. One thing snapped into focus, and he gave it a shot. "Ever been horseback riding?"
Brooke's eyes lit up and she answered, "No, I've always wanted to do that."
"How about ten o'clock tomorrow morning?"
"Sure. Meet me at the park again?"
"It's a date then."
Dan barely remembered the rest of the drive into town after hearing the word date pass her lips.
Two horse's hooves crunched the leaves, twigs, and pine needles covering the trail through the trees. The hardwoods grew fewer and fewer as the couple rode along, until conifers dominated the scenery along the trail. Birdsong filled the air in the woods, along with the chattering of squirrels leaping from tree to tree, keeping pace with the horses.
Though he made a show of checking his watch, Dan already knew it was close to noon by the rumbling of his stomach. He'd only checked the time as a cover for tearing his eyes away from the sight of Brooke's breasts jiggling hypnotically in time with her horse's stride. The tight sweater she was wearing caused the large globes to draw his eyes like a beacon.
He was just about to ask if she'd like to stop for lunch when her horse hesitated and sidestepped a little on the trail, coming dangerously close to the pines lining both sides. Dan clucked his tongue and said, "Easy, Altivo."
The horse immediately calmed, and Dan explained, "He gets a little nervous with a new rider. Want to stop for a bite to eat?"
She smiled at him and said, "Sure, I'm getting a little hungry."