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When she wasn’t working, she often climbed down the steep incline in the backyard and sat by the river. She considered thinking to be her sole hobby. She thought about the day and the night, and about orchards and how long her hair was lately – falling like a curtain over her eyes.
She thought about how quickly the shallow waters tumbled over the rocks in the river and about how slow she always felt in the daylight. She thought about the little daises that never bloomed that year, and about the large, engraved stone next to her that she couldn’t seem to stop staring at.
She thought about spring and about how much she had loved him in that spring before he left. He had left for peace; his distractions were finally gone. Even if he deserved more than merely a place with her, the girl had so much more to tell him. She knew exactly what she would say if they met again.
Their conversation would start as their conversations always did. He would smile a soft, slow smile. Their talk would be meaningless and childish at first, but neither would mind – old habits die hard, after all.
“How’s your new place? You’re not bored with it, are you?” She might begin, of course wishing that he was bored with the other place.
“You know I don’t get bored with any place, really. As long as I can get some kind of adrenaline rush once in a while. I’ve gotten what I was reaching for.”
She would nod fervently. “Yes, same with me. I’ve found what I’ve been looking for.”
“But have you gotten what you’ve been reaching for?” He would ask softly. “It’s not the same.”
“I’ve changed, you know,” the girl would state, perhaps fingering the edge of her blue shirt for comfort, “You never thought I could. I don’t think you ever wanted me to.”
He would grant her another slow, crooked smile. “Your hair is longer.”
“It’s longer,” she agreed, “But it took so long to grow. My hair’s grown so slowly lately.” Perhaps he would then reach out and stroke a strand of her hair like he always did. Perhaps he would not. She didn’t know him anymore.
After leaving a life behind, Kai found work as a spy. Each night on the missions, Kai would risk everything there was to risk – which was really nothing at all. Each night, Kai would feel a rush like no other. While waiting for the others, the spy would slip into the forest and rest under a tree. This was the only time when Kai could truly think about the past and what was left behind; who was left behind. Kai’s life at night was a whirlwind of colors and mystery, of close fights and cunning and of the blue mask that always guarded the spy’s face.
A sudden rustle from the brush had the spy up and alert at practically inhuman speed. Kai’s shoulders relaxed slightly as a familiar face emerged from the trees, his collection of battle scars eerie in the moonlight.
“Paranoid as ever, I see,” the companion said, chuckling slightly.
“Something amuses you, Finn?” Kai murmured, any annoyance obscured by the blue mask.
Finn’s mouth curved in a twisted smile. “I would have thought that you possessed better focus now that you left behind your distractions.”
The spy tensed again.
“Still prickly about that, eh?” Finn sighed in slight exasperation. “Come on, we’ve found their hideout on the cliff side of the mountain. You’re needed.”
Kai gave a jerk of the head in acceptance, and the two silently vanished into the trees.
The girl’s older sister worried about her.
“I’ll come visit you this weekend,” Her sister insisted, “You’re too young to be living on your own.” The girl half-smiled into the telephone. There were always the same concerns. “What do you do all day until work?”
“Think.” Her sister repeated tiredly.
“By the river.”
“By the – not by that place down the hill! Not where he -”
The girl said nothing.
“Dear,” her sister said gently, “Dear, it’s been six months. He’s gone.”
“I know.” she said, “You should see my hair, Della, it’s finally grown longer.”
“I’ll pick you up tomorrow morning.”
The girl half-smiled again, replacing the telephone in its cradle. Della was surely wrong. He deserved much more than six months. As she walked to the door she paused, spying a hint of gold amongst the chaos of papers cascaded across her desk. She reached out slowly and pulled out the little gold book where she had written down all her promises to herself over the years.
Hesitatingly, she let her hand trail over the familiar red and blue designs on the cover. In a sudden decisiveness, the girl grabbed the book and fled out the door, hurrying down the hill towards the river.
Sinking down onto the earth, she hungrily flipped through the worn pages as though she had never seen them before. In fact, this gold book used to be everything to her. When had she stopped whipping it out every time inspiration struck?
She flipped past poems, stories, drawings, plans, and everything she had dreamed from her childhood. The furious scrawl ended abruptly in the middle of a page. The girl looked through the remaining pages – blank. It was odd; she never truly recalled abandoning her golden notebook. She searched her memory curiously.
“April.” She decided aloud, “It was in April I stopped writing.”
She closed the book, trying to recall if he had liked the poetry she used to read to him. Her thoughts drifted away to cool, cloudy days she spent with him down by this river, breathing in spring air and listening to his steady heartbeat.
Leaning back, she let herself be taken away by the October morning.
Kai breathed out a soft hiss of appreciation as the pair of spies took in the sheer size of the cliffs looming before them. The night swallowed the top of the mountain, infusing the cliffs with darkness. Kai touched the blue mask. Somehow, the smell of last spring lingered in the cloth.
“Are you sure you’re up for this, kid?” asked Finn. Kai’s lips curved up in a half-smile under the blue mask. There was always the same doubt.
“I know what I can do.”
“You said you wanted more of a peaceful life.”
“This is peace.” Without another word, Kai sprung for the cliffs, scaling them with silent speed.
Finn shrugged, hurdling after his companion.
Lately, on the weekends her older sister took her to the orchards for picnics.
“To keep you busy,” Della would insist. More often then not, the afternoon would lapse into silence. Yet, it was a comfortable silence, and her sister expected little else.
“Have you been writing at all?” asked her sister as they strolled to their usual picnicking spot.
“I found my old journal.”
“So have you been writing?”
The girl said nothing.
“Dear,” said Della, “I’m sure the newspaper staff would love to have you back, if you would write again. You loved your old job.”
“I’m not going back.”
Her sister sighed in defeat. The girl surveyed the familiar orchards as Della spread a blanket onto the dewy grass. She wandered amongst the dozens of apple trees scattered across the meadow, wondering who had thought to create such beauty.
“Why don’t you pick a few apples?” called her sister. The girl nodded absently, approaching a tree with her lips curved up into a half-smile. She stared up into the tangled branches. These trees were taller than she remembered. She would have to climb.
Kai drew a sharp breath as the spy grappled unsuccessfully for the next hold in the cliffs.
“We have to hurry,” whispered Finn, “Look to the east.” Kai obliged, turning with difficulty to the right. Kai’s fingers tightened as the spy watched the dusting of pink and gold creep into the sky. A new October morning was approaching.
The spy focused once more on the challenge ahead. “Reach,” Kai said softly. “Reach for the morning.”
She pulled herself onto a sturdy branch. The apple remained obscured in the shadows, but the girl knew it was there. She stretched her hand towards her prize, yet her fingers grasped only empty air. Her hair fell gently over her eyes, and the girl sighed softly.
He would have liked to see her longer hair, she decided, even if it grew so slowly. Maybe he would have liked that she found her little gold book. Maybe she hadn’t been one of his distractions. Maybe he would want her to start reaching again – reaching for an apple, for her writing, for this cool October morning.
“You climb quickly,” remarked her sister from below.
“I’ve had practice.”
Della paused. “Kai, I brought some fresh daises for his grave. You said that none bloomed this year by the river.”
“They will soon, I think.” The girl continued to reach. Finally, her fingers closed around the base of the apple.
Kai’s lips curved up into a full smile. Perhaps she didn’t need the blue mask tonight. He had spoken the truth – looking and reaching were not the same. She was reaching now, and that made all the difference.