The trees blew steadily to the west, their sun burnt leaves gliding poetically on the coarse wind. Above was a patchwork sky, bits of gray and cloud sewn together with clumsy needlework. She stood alone, while far away a silent melody echoed through the forest, where forget-me-nots wilted and died.
On an agreeable farm, underneath the apple tree, hidden protectively from the sun's harsh rays was a boy. He was eighteen, a little more than handsome and a little less than practical. His arms cradled his head as he lay below the tree, a careless grin on his face. He was anxiously waiting for someone, his closest friend who had urgently insisted on him meeting her at once. Jack (for this was the boys name) loved news; it was a simple pleasure when ones life was so constantly monotonous and repetitive.
Jack sat up impatiently as his friend approached, his eagerness for her news masking him from the terrified look on her face.
Her name was Margaret. She was seventeen years old and had known and been friends with Jack for fifteen of those years. She had wide, endearing azure eyes and an open friendly face. She wasn't quite beautiful; she wavered between pretty and plain but she had a favorable air about her.
"Mags, there you are! What's so urgent?" Jack asked, making room for her beside him under the tree.
Margaret could not permit herself to move beside him. As it was, she stood before him, trembling.
"Jack, I regret to inform you that I am going to be married..."
Jack's face fell at her words and the resulting tears. He rose up from his leisurely position and motioned to hold her but Margaret would not allow him to.
She shook her head, hiccupping through her sobs.
"I'm so sorry! Father arranged it, Jack."
Jack had forgotten how to move his mouth in order to form words. He did hope he'd remember soon.
"He doesn't want you to leave the farm, you see, and he believes it is time for me to get married. He thought this would be best for everyone…"
Jack glanced over his shoulder to gaze at the meadow that nestled beyond the hill. His breath caught in his throat and he turned back to Margaret.
"Jack, please, say something. You've always been my very best friend and I know this is a shock, but we can get through this."
He stared at her, studying her and noticing the untidy looseness of her hair and the redness of her face. Her hands twisted at the lace on her skirt as she spoke. He drew a long, deep breath, he felt dizzy.
"Margaret, I don't understand. So, your father is forcing us to marry…just so I won't leave the farm?"
"Yes. He said he overheard you speaking to…Aurelia. He said he heard you talking about leaving."
"And he can do that? He can make us get married? No matter what we do? No matter how much we object?"
Margaret looked down at her hands.
"I don't know, Jack.
He glared down at the ground, giving it permission to break apart and swallow him whole.
"But, would it be so terrible?"
Margaret's voice floated heavily in the tense air. Jack looked up and met her glance. She hurriedly looked away.
"Would what be so terrible?"
Aurelia giggled as the chickens scrambled and squawked, jumping on and over each other to get to the feed she had just thrown. She let herself out of the gate, humming a familiar tune as she made her way to the meadow, the slight breeze ruffling her chestnut brown hair. She sat down on the crispy, sun-drenched grass and lifted her head to the sky. The sun felt good on her face, a low sigh of contentment escaped her lips.
Her face broke into a pleasant smile as Jack's shadow hovered over her.
He plopped down beside her, facing away.
"Do you remember when we talked about one day going away together?"
She leaned her head on his shoulder, her eyelashes tickling his neck.
"Well, I was wondering if you'd be willing to.."
"Be willing to…?"
"Run away with me."
Jack usual carefree demeanor had become shaken and his customary smile had been pulled into a grimace. Aurelia lifted her head from his shoulder and carefully regarded him.
"I don't understand, Jack. What are we running from?"
"Well, Aurelia. I seem to be engaged…"
The shutters were all closed and the encompassing darkness was both comforting and terrifying. Margaret sat on her bed, positively soaked in numbness. It had been a curious day, and thus far it had also been overwhelmingly tragic. It was tragic in the most serious of ways because Margaret had forgotten to mention something else to Jack. She'd forgotten to mention that for eleven years, four months, thirty-three days and seven hours she had been hopelessly and catastrophically in love with him. It was a strange thing to be sure, to be in love with your very best friend. Margaret groped in the shadows for her wool blanket and upon finding it, wrapped it around her. She cried into the scratchy fabric, trying and failing to wash away the ache that comes from longing for something unattainable.
"Where will we go?" Aurelia asked, tenderly folding Jack's trousers as he perched on his bed, watching her with an affectionate gaze.
"We'll go in to town for a few days, then keep going until we get to Europe."
Aurelia stopped folding, her eyes sparkling.
Jack felt giddy at her cheerful surprise. He picked up a pair of rolled up socks and playfully threw them at her.
She squealed in delight and tossed the socks back at him. She joined him on the bed, kissing him passionately.
"And how are we to get to Europe, genius?"
He played at looking thoughtful for a moment, then fondly kissed her forehead.
"We'll get Margaret to help us get to the meadow. Then we'll travel to the end of the meadow. There, an old friend of mine will meet us. He will take us through to town, where I will find us safe and easy passage to our new life in Europe."
Aurelia picked up the socks off the floor and threw them into Jack's open suitcase. She played with the quilt on his bed, pulling at loose threads.
"It's all become one big adventure now. And you're sure Margaret will help us?"
Jack laughed at the absurdity of her question.
"Why wouldn't she?"
"You're running away? When?"
Margaret tried to steady herself but instead she bit her lip too hard and it began to bleed.
"Tomorrow morning, sunset. Will you help us, Margaret?"
Aurelia's gaze was strong but her tone was barely more than pleading. Margaret closed her eyes, her head hurt. She felt swollen and light at the same time. Every muscle in her body ached with feeling.
"I don't know. I really just…I don't know."
Jack looked at Aurelia.
"Can I have a moment with just Mags?" He asked. She nodded and slinked away, nervous energy biting at her heels. Jack focused on Margaret.
"I know this is hard, and a lot to ask. I'm asking you to defy your family and go against traditions, but I need this Mags! Haven't you ever been in love?"
She was silent, his question stabbing through her impressively.
"Well, I am. Right now. And I can't throw it away. Help us."
She stared at the floor, her hands, the ceiling. Anywhere but at him.
"Oh, Mags, don't you want to marry for love?"
Her face betrayed her, but he was too oblivious to notice, or else he disregarded it.
"You've got to help me, Mags. I love Aurelia, and we want to have a life together."
'We could have a life together.' She thought dejectedly.
"I need you now more than ever. We've been friends forever, Mags, and as soon as we're settled you can come and visit us."
Margaret had torn a small shred of lace from her skirt, she twiddled it around her fingers. Jack grabbed her wrist and locked his eyes on her.
"Please, Mags. Please."
Here she was, face to face with the boy she loved, and he was asking her to help him run off with another girl. She gulped and managed a forced half smile, the feel of his skin on hers forfeiting her argument.
"You won't forget me when you leave, will you?"
It was pathetic, but it was all she could think of.
"Never. And Mags…"
"I don't think it would be terrible to married to you. If it weren't for Aurelia…"
Margaret shook her head, this was too much.
"Jack," she interjected, "go tell Aurelia the good news."
He was positively beaming as he kissed her lightly on the cheek.
"Thank you. Thank you."
The sunrise was breathtaking yet wretched. It signified the dawn of a considerable loss for Margaret, and it's beauty tore through her. She watched bitterly as Jack and Aurelia kissed each other, their arms laden with what minimal luggage they had thrown together. She thought of how easily she could run to her father and tell him of their plan. She could still marry Jack, she could marry for love. There was only one flaw with that plan, and that was that no matter what she wanted to believe and no matter how hard she wished, Jack didn't love her. Not in the way she so desperately hoped for. To marry him would ruin their friendship and he may come to loathe her which was something Margaret knew she could never bear. So, she stayed silent as the three of them strayed further into the meadow. Jack stopped once they were deep in the meadow and turned to his best friend.
"Mags, we've got to go on alone from here."
She nodded; the sunrise had melted away into a gaunt patchwork quilt of gray and cloud. The wind picked up, pricking her skin in a most disagreeable way.
It wavered and skimmed along in the air, a word so full it became empty when said aloud. Jack hugged Margaret close to him.
"Thank you. I'll never forget you, Mags."
He whispered into her ear. Somehow, she didn't believe him; she found herself wishing it were easier to suspend her disbelief.
He let go and Aurelia's arms found their way around her. Margaret shuffled awkwardly in her embrace and breathed more easily once the hug was over with. It was then they had to go, for there is little time to spare when running away. Margaret did not move, instead she dazedly watched them go until she could no longer see them for the distance was too great. A silent song began to play and she closed her eyes and hummed along.