Twigs and dry leaves crunched underfoot as Glen wandered the trail, his thoughts turned inward. The warmth that permeated the sun-dappled wood prompted him to absently remove his jacket, and the action brought him out of his internal dialogue just long enough to notice something on the breeze.
Taking a deep breath, he filled his lungs with the scent of moist earth and honeysuckle. The flowers wouldn't bloom for months anywhere else, but here they opened their petals even before the last frost. Winter came to the wood, as it did everywhere else, but here, other forces were at play.
The distraction didn't last long, though. After running his fingers through his short blond hair, he resumed his walk. The spring semester had proven a little difficult - especially the foreign language requirement - forcing him to concentrate hard on the Spanish course. Now that he finally felt confident in the class, he had time to wonder where he was going with his life again.
Only the slightest rustling of leaves betrayed the presence of someone trailing along behind him, easily dismissed as the wind or the abundant wildlife. So, when he sat down on a fallen log and arms suddenly wrapped around his neck from behind, Glen naturally started.
A musical giggle preceded a kiss on his ear, and Glen let out the breath he'd sucked in as a relived sigh. Most would have descended into a new wave of panic upon turning around, but Glen's upbringing was hardly common.
Completely nude, the dryad stood with her nose scrunched up in a mischievous expression. Her skin had a golden tone, as though lit from within by sunlight. The hair rustling about her shoulders in the breeze was the color of new leaves.
"Geez, Grandma. You about scared the pants off me."
"I couldn't scare them off if you weren't wearing them," Xantina countered, sticking her tongue out at her great-grandson. The nymph had a strong prejudice against clothing, and the family usually indulged the ultimate mother of their line. Having grown up as much in the wood as at home, nudity was more natural to him than putting on clothes.
Taking stock of his surroundings, he realized where he was in the wood after his directionless wandering of the paths. Once confined to the section of the wood where she lived around a spring-fed pool, the dryad had taken to wandering farther as her magic grew stronger with each new generation's efforts to protect and nurture the local woodlands.
"So, what are you doing all the way out here, Grandma?"
Xantina pointed off to the side. "There is someone there."
Glen shifted on the log and turned in the direction she was pointing, but didn't see anyone. He knew that the road lay just beyond sight, and so asked, "Up by the road?"
Only a fading giggle answered his question, and when he turned back around, his capricious great-grandmother had vanished into the wood.
Not really getting anywhere with his musing about the future, and made curious by the dryad's game, Glen stood up and stretched. He pulled on his jacket as he wended his way through the trees, knowing at least one thing that awaited outside the sheltering boughs.
Flashes of green quite unlike the color of the evergreens around him caught his eye through the branches. As the true chill of March weather reasserted itself over the magical warmth of the wood, he realized that what he had seen was a car sitting off the side of the road. Quickening his pace, he negotiated the last of the trees in his path and went to see if the driver of the VW Beetle was still around and needed any help.
The windows were fogged up, but he could just make out the silhouette of someone in the driver's seat. Climbing up onto the road bank gave him a clearer picture of a woman with her forehead resting on the steering wheel.
She didn't seem to notice him when he walked up next to the door, so he tapped the glass with a fingernail.
The redhead sat up and turned toward him with a start, a muffled yelp of alarm reaching Glen from behind the closed door. After a moment to catch her breath, she reached over as if to roll down the window, but then made a face and opened the door instead.
Damn, Glen thought as he got a good look at her. Shoulder-length red hair framed a beautiful face, complete with green eyes. He guessed that she was in her mid-twenties, and she certainly filled out her blouse. Glen took care not to get caught staring - because he certainly wanted to.
"Sorry, didn't mean to scare you," he apologized. "Need some help?"
Her expression somewhere between caution and relief, the woman nodded. "It just died, and I can't get a signal on my phone."
"That happens out here. Too many obstructions, and too few towers." He pulled out his own cell to find a couple of bars. "Mine's working. Why don't you try to turn it over real quick before I call my dad?"
After a brief nod, the redhead turned the key, which resulted in little more than a click.
Having seen none of the lights on the dashboard illuminate, Glen said, "Looks like your battery's toast. We might actually have one at the house. My sister had a Beetle. We live right up the road. Name's Glen Rush."
The redhead's eyes lit up. "Are you related to Steven Rush?"
"That's my dad. You know him?"
"I'm supposed to be meeting with him. Melinda Hart."
"Looks like the meeting place has changed," Glen said, and then laughed as he called the house.
"Hey, Dad. Your meeting is going to be a little delayed. I've got Melinda stranded a ways up the road toward town."
His father answered, "I was beginning to wonder. What's wrong with the car?"
"Battery's dead, I think. We still have a battery for Sis' Beetle?"
"I believe so. Why?"
"That's what she has. Might be able to get it to the house without a tow that way."
"I'll put it in the car, then. I'll be there in a couple of minutes."
"Got it. Bye."
Glen ended the call and told Melinda, "He's on his way. I've got a friend who works on cars. I'm going to text him and have him head out this way, just in case."
"Thank you," Melinda answered, shivering a bit in the wind.
"No problem. May as well shut the door and keep out the wind until Dad gets here."
While Melinda did exactly that, Glen tapped away on his phone. By the time the reply came back, his father was coming over the hill from the house.
"That's him," Glen said loudly enough for her to hear through the closed door, and then put his phone away.
"Battery's in the trunk," Steven said after pulling off the road behind Melinda's car.
"Got it," Glen acknowledged. At about the same time as he leaned into his father's car to pop the trunk, Melinda opened her door.
"Well, this isn't exactly going as planned," Steven said to her with a little laughter in his voice. "Steven Rush - and you must be Melinda."
Her greeting his father gave Glen the opportunity to get a good look at Melinda, and he liked what he saw. She was wearing jeans, showing off curves that perfectly complemented the swell of her breasts that he'd seen earlier. Some few women had a way of moving - or even standing still - that screamed sensuality, and Melinda had that in spades.
She and his father turned toward the car, and Glen spun around just in time. He walked to the trunk to retrieve the battery and heard his father say, "Go ahead and get in out of the cold. Just move those papers to the back seat."
Glen closed the trunk to see Melinda leaning into the car, giving him a fine view of her butt. He smiled at the sight, but wiped the grin off his face when he turned to see his father's expression, which let him know that his look at Melinda hadn't gone unnoticed.
"Let's get the battery in and see if that works," Steven said, nodding toward the other car.
Glen gestured up the road. "Go ahead. Frank's headed this way. If this doesn't work, he'll run me back to the house."
Nodding his approval, Steven opened the door. "Just call if you need anything."
"Sure," Glen responded, and then walked past to Melinda's car.
In the process of unhooking the first battery cable, Glen paused for one last look at Melinda as the car rolled past, toward home. He'd always had a thing for redheads, and she was about the hottest one he'd ever seen.
Wonder if she's into younger guys?
He hoped that her connection to his father might just give him the opportunity to find out.
The battery swap worked to get the car started right after Frank arrived, and the two friends drove back to Glen's house. Unfortunately, the verdict Frank delivered wasn't such good news.
Conversation stopped as soon as he walked in, and Glen distinctly heard the couch cushions creak when Melinda turned around.
"Oh no," Melinda groaned, covering her eyes for a moment.
"And the parts store is closed, so he won't be able to get it in until tomorrow," Glen continued.
"Do you know how much?" Melinda asked with trepidation in her voice.
"Just whatever the parts cost. Frank owes me one."
"Oh, I couldn't do that," Melinda protested.
Before Glen could argue, his mother, Kia, jumped in. "Yes you can. It's the neighborly thing to do, and we won't take no for an answer."
"Is everyone around here this nice?" Melinda asked after a moment of consideration.
Kia put on an exaggerated expression of concentration, and then answered, "No - just us."
The two women broke out into simultaneous laughter.
Seeing an opportunity, Glen suggested, "I could run you home, and then bring you back over when the car's done tomorrow."
.... There is more of this story ...