The day was almost magical. The two children going for a walk in the forest with their father. It was one of their favorite things to so, a ‘nature walk’ with dad.
Today their step mother had even packed snacks for a little bit of a picnic. They got to have their daddy all to themselves for the ENTIRE day! They were so excited, you could see it bubbling out of them as they walked.
Grace was running ahead, randomly diving into the trees on the sides to grab a pretty flower or leaf. She’d run back to her father and brother, the leaf or flower clutched in her hand, excitedly going on about the name of the flower or it’s origins. Grace knew way too much about flowers and plants. It bored her poor brother to tears at times, but he loved her so much that he tried to be interested.
Every once in awhile, Henry would hide behind a tree to scare her when she came running. He’d yell like a crazy banshee and scream “RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” and Grace would scream like a girl and run away laughing. They were having the best day ever. He loved hearing his father laugh as they played.
Henry carried the satchel of food. He’d insisted, even though it was nearly as big as he was. He wasn’t struggling with it yet, he was too excited about their adventure. Getting to have their dad all to themselves was rare indeed. Their stepmother had always been very jealous of the relationship they had with them, but ever since the day she’d told them that she was expecting her own new baby, she’d eased up considerably. At times, it seemed like she even liked them! Henry talked with his father about the new baby, about the garden and the house. He so badly wanted to ask for stories of their mother, but he didn’t want to dim the happiness of the day talking about missing her, so he didn’t bring it up.
Take today, for instance. Their step mother had gotten up early and packed a picnic for them, even including their favorite biscuits. She’d made sure that they all woke up early and sent them on their way, their bellies full of a nice hot breakfast.
Here they were, already well into the woods that backed up to their property. The sun was shining down through the leaves, leaving them speckled with bits of sunlight that shifted as they walked. It was almost like the sun was raining down little bits of glitter on them as they walked.
Henry heard his sister singing up ahead and smiled to himself. She was never so happy as when she was free to walk in the woods. They had been working so hard lately, helping to keep the house clean, the garden cared for, the broken things fixed… it had piled up until they felt more like slaves than children. It was good to see that his sister was still so full of life and joy. That their hard lives hadn’t dimmed her spark.
They walked and walked, Grace forever singing or humming, skipping along with unending energy. Henry struggling to carry the pack that was far too big for a boy his size, but refusing to ask for help. Their father following quietly along behind them as they went deeper into the forest than they had ever been before.
Suddenly the thick woods opened up into a beautiful clearing. The sun shone straight down, unimpeded by branches, leaves or anything at all. There was almost a perfect little circle, inviting them to sit for a bit and rest.
“Oh Henry! It’s the perfect place for a picnic!” Grace nearly squealed with excitement, running over the lay the small blanket on a soft patch of wild grasses. “Come here and bring the food, I’m so hungry and this is the best picnic spot ever! I’m so happy we waited!”
Henry smiled and tried to hide his relief as he finally lowered the heavy pack to the forest floor. “Grace, this place is perfect. Absolute perfection!” He turned, “Hey Papa, look at the spot we found!”
Grace looked up, “Father?”
They both turned to the path they had just been following, “Papa? Where are you?”
Grace turned to Henry, laughing, “You goose. You lost dad!” She skipped over to the entrance to the path they’d taken, “Father!? Where are you? You’re being slow as a snail!” She walked over to look back from where they’d come. “Henry, is this not the path we just took? Where did he go?” She felt just a tiny bit of anxiety rolling through her body. A bit of a chill raced down her arms, but she shook it off. There was no need to be silly about it, she thought to herself.
Henry came to join her, looking down the path as well, “Are you sure this is the same path we just came from?” He asked, peering into the trees, looking for some sense of familiarity.
“I’m fairly certain…” Grace’s face twisted with confusion, “actually, I suppose I’m not sure. I was so excited to see the clearing that I just rushed around. Maybe it was this path instead!” They both rushed to the next path to peer down it. Still no sign of their father.
It wasn’t long before both of the children were exhausted, tired, hungry and feeling very emotional. They decided to dig into the bag that their step mother had packed for them. In spite of their worries, they were really happy to have food to eat.
Henry reached into the bag first. He brought out a loaf of bread, wrapped in an old cloth. Then he reached in for the next thing. He pulled out another cloth wrapped item and set it on the blanket in front of them.
A cry of dismay caught his attention as he dug in the bag for more. Grace sat there, holding the cloth in one hand, and a large rock in the other. He frantically dug down in the bag only to discover that the entire bag was full of rocks.
“No wonder it was so heavy!” he said, spilling the contents out onto the blanket. Henry looked at his sister to see tears welling up in her eyes. “Don’t worry, Grace. We’ll figure this out. It’s going to be okay…” He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer that he was right. That it would be okay, because right now, he wasn’t too sure about anything anymore.
(To Be Continued)