i know a place, thyme says, where no one will find us.
show me, rosemary replies.
so she takes her by the hand and leads her away from the crystarium, into and through the woods, toward her little secret. she hopes it will become theirs, after tonight.
it’s very late when they go—they will mark their journey back toward home by the glow of its crystal tower against the stars. crickets and cicadas hum along to the crunch of their footfalls on fallen leaves. they walk slowly; this forest was dangerous once, but it is no longer. the air feels heady and thick with oncoming summer.
they emerge from the shadows of the wood into a tranquil lagoon fed by a burbling spring. it is curtained on all sides by towering, swaying trees of lilac that hide it from all who pass, and in the day, thyme says, it is filled with birdsong and forest creatures, the hum of insects and the whistle of the wind.
at night the lagoon is dark and blue and still, heavy with sleep. bullfrogs and cicadas sing their midnight vigils. the occasional firefly drunkenly lilts its way through the trees. dappled moonlight drips its way down through the thick foliage above and to the water, where it shifts and sways with its gentle current, sparkling bright. on the water’s surface lilac leaves float aimlessly, like little boats adrift on a glassy sea.
they sit together on a large, flat rock at the water's edge, its surface smoothed beneath the weight of ocean waters long since receded. it is mossy and cool to the touch—daylight does not reach here. they slip off their shoes and dip their feet in the water; the night is warm and humid, and the cool is welcome. the moonlight rising from its surface gleams as it paints their skin, casting shifting, mesmerizing patterns. in its glow their eyes sparkle brighter than usual, and each is entranced by the other’s hue—amber by violet, violet by amber.
they spend hours hidden away there, nestled deep against the heart of the forest as woodland creatures huddle beneath the roots of a tree for shelter. their bodies draw closer, knees touching. they smuggled a bottle of wine with them and laugh as they pass it back and forth, smudging drops from their lips with their fingers. it is fruity and sharp on their tongues, and it makes their kisses sweet. one errant bead misses thyme’s lips and begins to roll down to her chin—but rosemary catches it, and kisses it away.
they swap stories of adventure, of adolescence, of young love and heartbreak and happiness, of their long days and lonely nights. they talk of friends and of dreams and of love, and idly plan what they hope their future could be. their conversation is hushed, stifled by the cover of the trees. they find themselves drawing closer by the moment—to pull back, to drift too far away, would be unimaginable. their hands linger on each other’s bodies, arms and legs entangled. the air feels drowsy and thick, only occasionally stirred by the breeze.
soon the drink makes their heads fuzzy and warm and they lie back on the rock, tangled together like vines, watching the stars; they do not know the constellations so they make their own, finding their shapes and inventing the legends that form them as one would find images in clouds. their bodies fit together as though they have always been searching for each other, yearning to make themselves whole. they revel in feeling each other’s laughter as it ripples through them, thrumming against their skin and in their chests. the wine bottle is drained, discarded, forgotten.
i’ve never felt like this before, thyme whispers.
me neither, rosemary replies.
it is under the lilac boughs of the forest lagoon that they first come to know each other entirely, cushioned by moss draped across cool stone and emboldened by drink; though wine, of course, can only intoxicate so much—it pales in comparison to the high of each other’s presence, of its novelty.
they make new memories. the water quietly laps against the lagoon’s shore. the cicadas sing to keep time. in the wind the forest sways, and so do they.
rosemary learns the feel of the folds of thyme’s clothes as she knits them in her calloused fingers and the curves of her body beneath her palms, and when a lock of thyme’s hair brushes against her cheek it feels like hearing birdsong. thyme learns to kiss her slowly, tasting her like one would indulge in a new favorite dessert, feeling the way her muscles shift beneath her fingertips, committing her voice to memory. when thyme touches her for the first time the soft sighs she pulls from her lips float up and away into the trees like seeds scattered in the breeze, lost among the rustle of the wind.
later they lay back against the mossy stone and feel each other’s warmth for the first time, letting their breath mingle against each other’s skin. rosemary maps thyme’s freckles and scars and the crinkles next to her eyes beneath her lips, as she did the sky before. thyme’s cheek finds its home in the hollow of rosemary’s chest and it becomes her favorite place, her heartbeat her favorite sound.
the rock is hard, but it doesn’t matter. the bullfrogs’ croaking thrums in their ears. fireflies flit above them. the trees sway.
they linger as long as they can. the world is loud and dangerous and unpredictable and it feels as though it will snatch them away from one another like weeds plucked from the earth if they let it. but here they are safe, tucked away in this hazy bubble they have built; so they stay quiet, gentle and still, the better to cling to their newfound peace. they listen to the song of each other’s breathing as they soak up the sounds of the woods, and they feel themselves changing—they have created something together, become something new and strong. together they have begun to carve themselves new hearts from sturdy stone and grow hands that reach and hold and cling to happiness like vines. the night is calm and quiet and full of new love, of resolution and hope. their eyes meet, and they both know.
dawn sleepily pokes its head above the horizon when they slip away from their lagoon, through the forest and back to town, with reluctance—both have obligations they must return to, and the day will wait for no one. but as they say goodnight and share one last wine-sweet kiss, their hearts pound in a way neither has felt for years.
the lagoon has worked its magic. they realize they are inevitable.