Rachel sipped at a cup of tea, humming to herself. She was in her late twenties, beautiful, and full of life. John leaned over to kiss her on the cheek and she smiled. It was almost sunset. Orange light washed over the little cottage they had built and flooded in onto their table. For a second John knew that all was right in the world. He hoped it would last forever.
John was leaning against a tree near the cottage. It was his favorite place. He always sat there to think and to dream.
He held an acorn in his hand. “It’s the small things,” he said to no one in particular. The morning light glinted off its surface. He twirled it about in his fingers, watching the highlights from the sun bounce up and over every contour. The wind whistled through the leaves above him. He let his head fall limp against the tree. This is where he thought of her. The woman he loved. They never could have known that by trying to create a life together it would take hers. He thought of her every day.
As he opened his eyes he saw a flick of white from behind a tree across the field. Something was in the woods. Perhaps an animal… perhaps his imagination. There it was again. A girl?
John stood up and shaded the sun from his eyes. A little girl in a white dress was running from tree to tree, peeking at him. “You, girl!” he said as he walked toward her. She giggled and hid behind an old oak. John popped his head around the corner of the tree with a grin.
“There, girl, I found you!”
“Perhaps you have. Perhaps you haven’t.”
Her dress was smeared with mud and torn from branches. She smiled up at him, all dimples. Her little nose was black with dirt.
“Perhaps I… p-“ he stuttered, “Who are you?”
“My name is Rachel, m’lord. Rachel Hughes.” His heart stopped.
“How is my name impossible sir?” she giggled.
“No, I mean – That’s the same name as my wife. Well, before we married. I… I guess I just mean it’s quite a coincidence don’t you think?”
“You’re funny. I like how you stutter.”
“I don’t… well, it’s just you caught me off guard out here. Are you lost?”
“No, sir. I never get lost!” She stood up straight, prouder than the queen. “I might ask you the same question.” She poked him in the stomach with a stick.
“I’m not lost, I live here!”
“You live here?” she blinked. “Do you sleep under the stars, funny man?”
“Do I –“ he rolled his eyes. “No, of course not, I live right on top of the hill. My wife and I built that house together.” John turned around to see the hill empty. His tree stood alone, much smaller than he remembered. “It disappeared!” He said. “It’s gone!” She poked him in the stomach again. “Ouch!”
“You. Are. Funny! I like you. What’s your name?”
“John, I’m your new friend”
“Yes! What’s the matter? Don’t you have friends?”
“Tell me about yourself,” he said suddenly.
“Well, I am Princess of the Forest, of course. I can speak to all the animals, but squirrels are my favorite.” She was just like her. Same smile.
“I’m serious. Where do you come from, Rachel?”
“I am serious. This forest is mine. I love it so much. You better watch out or I may build a house on this hill before you. It’s always been my dream to live here.”
“You…” he laughed and then his heart sank. “Wait, it’s your dream to live here?”
“Yes, but I’m not sure my parents will let me. In fact, I’ve run away.”
“It’s my parents. They want to move to London. To the city!”
“And you don’t want to go?” John knew this story. He knew it well. Rachel had run away after her parents said they were to move to London. She fought it for weeks until they finally decided to stay in the country. They gave her the life she wanted. Ten years later Rachel would meet a young man named John and fall in love, only to die giving birth three years later. If she had moved to London, John would have never known her. They would have never fallen in love. She would have never died.
“I don’t like the city.” Rachel said.
“I think you should go.”
“The city is a magical place, Rachel.” His smile quivered.
“I would give anything to be able to move to the city. There’s art, culture, theatre, people, and you can have all that! You can always visit your forest. Princesses live in cities. Did you know that, Rachel?”
“But I am Princess of the Forest.”
“This forest is small, Rachel. I think you are meant for bigger things than this silly town.” His eyes started to tear up.
“Will you walk with me?”
Rachel and John walked around their field. They spoke of all the wonderful things in London, of her parents, squirrels, and other things. For hours they walked. It was as if they picked up where they left off, but years apart. John was laughing and crying all at once on the inside.
“If I’m to move to London,” Rachel said, “Will we still be friends?”
“We can always be friends, if you’d like.”
“I would like that.”
“You can be my London friend.”
“And you can be my silly friend in the country.”
“It’s getting late, Mother will be worried.”
“It was great meeting you, Rachel.”
“And you.” She grabbed his hand in her little fist and shook violently. “It was my pleasure. Good bye.” She curtsied and ran into the forest. Her white dress flicked through the trees and slowly disappeared. John walked up the hill and leaned against his tree. The sun was setting and the wind whistled through the leaves above him.
Years later John sat on a bench in London. His old bones ached from a walk in the park. Across the street a young lady sipped at a cup of tea, humming to herself. She was in her late twenties, beautiful, and full of life. A young man walked out of the cafe and sat next to her. He leaned over to kiss her on the cheek and she smiled. It was almost sunset. Orange light leaked through the buildings and glinted off their table. For a second John knew that all was right in the world. He hoped it would last forever.