Although the night was dark, the moon was bright. There were no streetlights, but he could see the house. Staring at the window, Mitch allowed his mind to wander back to that fateful day that changed his life forever.
Mitch reached the clearing and stopped. For the first time in three years, someone else was there. In his spot. And of all people, why did it have to be her? There was no mistaking that long, silky, black hair or that amazing figure. His body responded like it always did when he saw her. It drove him crazy because Emily Fairview was not the type of girl he wanted to be interested in, and he was definitely not the type of guy she would ever look at twice.
The thought sent a surge of anger through him, and he opened his mouth to issue a scathing comment when a sound stopped him. Emily’s shoulders shook and a soft sob echoed through the clearing. She was crying. Mitch took a step toward her and then stopped. He shook his head and turned around to leave when he heard it again. He briefly closed his eyes. He couldn’t leave her there alone. He took a deep breath, shuffled his feet, and walked into the clearing.
“I didn’t know anyone else knew about this place,” he said calmly. Emily whipped around to face him, eyes brimming, tear tracks on her face. She was the most beautiful girl he had ever seen. She had vivid blue eyes and an exquisite face with a dimple just to the left of her mouth. She stepped away from him as if she were afraid. It irritated him, but he understood. He looked mean, dressed in a t-shirt, jeans, and his new black leather jacket. His mother called it his renegade look.
Mitch knew he had something of a reputation. Although he had a pretty laid-back personality, he wouldn’t tolerate cruelty. The other kids didn’t mess with him or anyone under his protection. He had learned at an early age that if you stood a certain way, projected a certain attitude, and wore a certain look, people left you alone. Most people weren’t afraid of him because they knew him, but he used that persona when he needed to intimidate someone. He had never used it on Emily.
“I like coming to this clearing because it’s peaceful,” he continued in a soft voice. As he hoped, Emily relaxed. Mitch casually set the backpack he was carrying on a short stump near the edge of the clearing. He reached in and pulled out two bottles of water. “It’s nice all year around. When it’s hot, the trees provide shade, and when it’s cool, they protect you from the wind.”
He offered her a bottle. She was no longer crying, but he could still see the evidence of her tears. She didn’t move but simply watched him. He waited patiently. Finally, she took a step toward him and reached for the water. He gave her a quick smile and turned back to his backpack. “I was here earlier this winter when the creek froze. It was still nice.”
Mitch pulled out a throw blanket. He unfolded it and started to lay it on the ground when Emily made an undefinable noise. Quickly, he looked at her. She had a strange look on her face. She opened her mouth and then closed it again.
“What?” Mitch asked.
“Where did you get that?” she stammered, pointing at the blanket.
Mitch laughed and looked at the article in his hands. It was hot pink with white baby bunnies all over it. He looked at Emily, grinned, and said one word.
A smile finally crossed her face. “Of course, Tori.”
Tori was his little sister, Victoria. She was flamboyant, outgoing, crazy, and at least to Mitch, absolutely wonderful. There were few people in town, much less high school, who didn’t know his sister. And though Victoria was two years younger, Mitch had no doubt that Emily knew her too.
“I borrowed a throw she had on her bed last year. When I returned it, it was covered with leaves and dirt. I think I ripped it some. She told me I couldn’t borrow her things anymore but bought me this for my birthday. She said no one would care if I destroyed it.”
“It looks like it’s still in pretty good shape.”
“Yeah, that’s the problem with ugly things. You can’t damage them. I just throw it in the wash, and it comes out almost as good as new.” Mitch spread the blanket on the ground and sat down. “Would you like to sit?”
“Oh,” Emily looked around and then back at him. “I probably should go.”
“Up to you, but there’s plenty of room, and I’m willing to share. I have food,” Mitch replied, trying to sound non-threatening. He reached back into the backpack and pulled out a bag of chips, two sandwiches, and a couple of candy bars. He usually spent hours in the clearing so he always brought plenty of food.
Emily looked out at the creek, took a deep breath, and then walked over and sat beside him. Mitch tried not to gloat. He didn’t want to scare her off. He handed her a sandwich and then opened the chips. They ate in silence a few minutes.
“You come here a lot?” Emily asked.
“Whenever I can. After school and on weekends when I’m not working.” Mitch had a job at a local convenience store. He worked two nights a week and a shift on the weekend.
“What do you do when you are here?”
“Write, mostly. Think about what I want to write.”
“You write for the school paper, don’t you?”
Mitch nodded. “I’m working on an article about the school colors and how they were chosen all those years ago.”
“Will you tell me about?”
She seemed genuinely interested so Mitch told Emily about his story. They then talked for the next hour about writing, books, and school. Mitch was surprised at how intelligent Emily was. He hadn’t thought she was stupid. He knew she did well in school. He just hadn’t realized how well read and knowledgeable she was.
“I didn’t know you were interested in computers,” he said.
She nodded and turned toward him, eyes shining with excitement. “I love them. Everything about them. Programming, the technical side, software. I like all the software programs. It’s exciting. I plan on doing something with computers for my career. I’m not sure what yet, but something.”
“Well, it is a good field. I’m sure you will be a success.”
“You plan on being a writer?”
Mitch smiled. “An investigative reporter.”
“You write really well. I’ve read your articles in the school paper.”
They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes. The area was quiet, just the rustling of the trees and the babbling creek. Mitch didn’t want to spoil the moment, but he was worried about Emily. She had been crying. There had to be a reason.