Daniel rose from his chair with a groan, wondering how many more times he might be able to accomplish it without help. As he picked up his cane from the table in his wrinkled left hand, he could almost hear old man Johanson's words echoing back to him from across the many long years.
My time is almost up, Daniel. I can feel it in my bones. Don't you bother telling me it ain't, 'cause I know better.
He understood now — standing in almost the exact same spot as the man who had been as a third grandfather to him. His time was slipping away, too.
Daniel's cane tapped on the hardwood floor as he walked to the window. The first sight of the trees buoyed his spirit, and made him feel stronger. He knew that his love awaited him there — rather impatiently. The whispers of her voice in his head and the ivy rubbing up against the window left little doubt of that.
He understood her impatience all too well. He didn't spend much time in Mr. Johanson's house, which he'd purchased to give his daughter and her new husband some privacy all those years ago. Most of the time, he remained with his love, near her pool in the woods, which stood between his new home and the house where he'd grown up.
Before he walked out the door, he checked his cellphone, to make sure that he'd turned it on. All too often, things like that slipped from his memory of late. He wouldn't wait any longer to return to her side, but he needed to be able to stay in touch with the world outside the wood, as well.
The plants in the house rustled in anticipation as he walked to the front door. As usual, his paper was lying in the grass right in front of the porch. Daniel had yet to figure out how she managed to transport it from the mailbox at the end of the drive to the front door without leaving her wood, but he was grateful for it.
One of the stories on the front page confirmed what had driven him to return to the house, and the world beyond the wood. The Governor and a group of speculative investors were pushing hard for the new highway. Though it wouldn't cross his property, Daniel was determined to stop them from destroying a vast swath of the nearby nature, replacing it with four lanes of asphalt, hotels, gas stations, and restaurants.
He found the Governor's push to have the vote on Earth Day particularly insulting.
Shaking his head in irritation, he rolled the paper up and tossed it near the door on the porch as he turned toward his true home. He felt stronger with every step toward the wood, his cane little more than an accessory by the time he stepped beneath the shadowed boughs. The curved handle warmed in his hand, seemingly as eager to return as he was. As soon as she'd seen the need coming, his love had coaxed a tree and some vines to grow into the beautiful cane.
The scent of wildflowers tickled his nose, and birds erupted into song as he crossed the barrier between untouched nature and manicured lawn. A squirrel scrambled down a young maple tree only inches away, chattered at him, and then used his shoulders as a stepping stone to leap to an oak on the other side of the trail.
He'd grown used to it over the years, though the habit the animals had of stealing anything he tried to eat right out of his hand was irritating sometimes.
Only a few steps down the leaf-covered trail into the wood, she seemingly materialized from the undergrowth, wrapped her arms around him, and planted kiss after kiss on his face.
"Come. You have been gone too long," Xantina said with a perfect pout when she finally stopped kissing him.
Daniel held his nymph mate's hand, as stricken by her unchanging beauty now as he was on the day that she revealed herself to him. He brought her golden-hued hand to his lips to kiss it, and then reached out to run his fingers through her hair — the color of new leaves.
Xantina giggled, her willowy, nude body shivering from his touch, and causing her ample breasts to jiggle. Daniel felt his manhood rising, her sensual beauty and her magic easily able to overcome the infirmities of his seventy-four years.
She took his hand again, tugging him toward her pool at the center of the wood. Her body swayed as she walked the trail backwards, her steps unerring. Branches and fronds that crossed the path moved aside to let her pass, where any but she or her mate would have found the trail vanishing with each step. Her radiant smile could have tugged him along, even if she didn't hold his hand.
Upon reaching her spring-fed pool, Xantina let out a musical laugh and helped Daniel remove his clothing, which she carelessly tossed into the ferns and flowers that surrounded the pool. She kissed him again once he was nude — a lingering, passionate kiss this time — and caressed his erection with her hand.
"Xantina, the kids are coming," he reminded her, though he wanted nothing more than to sink down into the moss and ferns with her.
She stuck her tongue out at him, a gesture that she'd picked up from her daughter, when Xanbrina was a little girl. She laughed again, and turned to dive into her pool. Naturally, she gave a perfectly timed kick of her feet just before they sank below the surface of the water, splashing her love.
He was expecting it, as the game was as much a part of their relationship as their kisses, but he made no effort to move out of the way. Taken back to the days when he was a child and she was but his imaginary friend, Daniel slipped through the ferns, sank into the pool, and splashed her back as soon as she surfaced.
Xantina blew a drop of water off the tip of her nose, and then cocked her ear to the wind.
Daniel felt it, too. As the years had passed, he'd grown more attuned to the natural world around him, able to sense things beyond the ability of most people to discern. Likewise, he had a bond with those of his family that none other could have possibly understood. It was the latter that had attracted his attention, and that of his mate.
"Oh dear," Daniel said with a raise of his bushy white eyebrows.
Gary stood in the bedroom doorway, just as spellbound by his wife's beauty as his father-in-law was with her mother's. Xanbrina brushed her honey-blonde hair — the tresses just as lustrous as they were on the day he met her, over twenty-five years ago. In a few more years, he would look more like her father than her husband.
Brina smiled at his reflection in the mirror. "I hope that you aren't about to tell me that you have to go in to work today."
He shook his head while crossing the room to hug her from behind, and kiss her neck. "I love you."
She moaned from his touch and his words. "I love you too." She put her brush down on the dresser and spun in his arms to kiss him properly. "What is it, then? I know that look in your eyes."
"Kia asked to borrow the car."
Brina's smile faded into irritation. "What?" She let out a sigh. "You reminded her?"
"Yes. She just rolled her eyes at me and walked off."
Brina's voice had an ominous timbre to it that he knew all too well when she asked, "Where is she?"
"In her room." Brina turned as if to walk out of the room, but Gary caught her hand and said, "Maybe we shouldn't push her too much, Honey."
Brina sighed again, and offered a half-smile. "This is too important, Gary. We've already held on to her too tight. She's eighteen, and she's probably just as lost as I was at that age. Mom can help her deal with things, and calm some of her fears about..."
He held up a hand and interrupted her with a laugh. "Please don't talk about her having sex. I don't think I'm ready to deal with that yet."
She laughed, and hugged him. "You're as bad as Daddy," she whispered in his ear.
"And you're just like your mother," he whispered back.
She pulled back, wearing a naughty smile, and twitched her eyebrows. "You seem to like that, sometimes."
He sighed as blood rushed to his nether regions in response to his wife's coquettish tease. "Go talk to her, but at least think about giving her space, if she needs it."
"I will. Wish me luck?"
"Good luck — you're going to need it. She's in a mood today."
Xanbrina made her way to her daughter's room, and saw the door was open. She peeked in to find Kia standing in front of the mirror, alternately holding two different blouses in front of her and nervously twisting a lock of her strawberry-blonde hair. For just a moment, she saw the smart, sweet girl that she remembered — that she knew was still lurking beneath the rebellious teenage front.
"The blushing pink, but don't let your father see it," Brina suggested as she stepped into the room. She knew that the way the blouse accentuated Kia's full breasts would cause her husband to sputter with worry.
Kia sighed and rolled her eyes, but she did toss aside the red top, far more modest by comparison, in favor of her mother's suggestion. "Mom, I have a life."
"Honey, we planned this visit with Mom a week ago. It's important — and not so disconnected with you having a life as you might think."
"I have a date with Steve. Can I have the car or not?"
Kia growled and tossed her blouse aside. "Don't call me that. I want to have a normal life. I don't want to be a freak."
Brina winced, the words stabbing directly into her heart. Without another word, she turned to leave the room.
"Mom — wait," Kia called out, and hurried to the door before her mother could leave. "I'm ... I'm sorry. I didn't mean that."
Brina sucked in a quavering breath, her eyes misting with unshed tears. "You can have the car," she said in a small voice, without turning around, and then walked away.
.... There is more of this story ...