"Please…" Misha begged me, batting the long, dark eyelashes that framed her sparkling green eyes and curling her full lips into a tiny pout. Half of the men in the cafe must have been staring, open mouthed, at her where she sat beside me behind the counter. It bothered me, but she didn't mind: the complete opposite, in fact. Usually, she lapped it all up with a wink and a smile, but today all of her attention was fixed on me. I shook my head with a laugh, tossing my thick blonde hair over my eyes before she could read the indecision in them.

"No," I told her firmly, placing the cappuccino I had just poured onto the counter. "Two ninety, please."

"Aw, come on, Cora," Misha, my friend and co-worker, groaned. Across the counter, our customer pulled himself out of his open-mouthed reverie- staring at Mish, as usual- and scrambled around in his pockets for a coin. "You rock on the guitar. You have to join my band!"

"No!" I told her again, taking the customer's money with a quick smile and shoving the coins into the till, not caring where they landed. "Thank you, enjoy your coffee." Without another word to Misha, I made for the gateway that lead to the rest of the café, grabbing a dishcloth on the way in the hope that I could escape her interrogation for a few minutes with the excuse of clearing tables. Misha, however, was not about to let me escape: she grabbed my arm.

"Why?" she wanted to know.

"Why what?" I muttered, even though we both knew that I had understood the question.

"Why won't you join my band?" She whined. I glanced over her shoulder at the queue that was already starting to form.

"You'd better get back to work," I warned her, indicating the impatient looking man at the front of the line. From the way he was glaring at Misha's back I got the idea that he agreed with me. Misha rolled her eyes, turning to flash the man a dazzling smile, wiping the angry look clean off his face and leaving an expression that was almost dumbfounded- Misha had that effect on a lot of people. She turned back to face me. There was no mistaking the unmovable spark of determination in her eyes.

"Tell," she ordered. I sighed.

"Just remind me who is in your band, Mish."

She winced. "That isn't a reason."

"Just tell me," I commanded her dryly.

"Chris Garner is in my band," she droned flatly. The spark started to waver.

"Good," I smiled brightly, pleased. "And that is a problem because…"

"Because you hate Chris Garner." She sighed dramatically.

"Yes." I smiled. "And that's not going to change any time soon. Now, get back to work."


A little way off main street, if you take the small, winding path to the left of the estate, you would find a long, bumpy lane called Applecroft lane. This lane, so named because of the many apple trees that bow down over it, creating a large, leafy tunnel, seems to lead to nowhere- and, to anyone else, it does. At the end of the lane is a field, overgrown and empty, save one thing: an old, twisted oak. This tree, at least four hundred years old, stands but a few meters away from the end of Applecroft lane, creating the effect of many apple-tree servants bowing down to their majestic oak King.

It was in this field- but mainly on the oak- where many of my childhood memories had been formed. Here I had spent many a happy hour with Mia, my best friend, playing in the long grass or the woods that sheltered the field from the outside world, or climbing the old oak. And when we had deemed ourselves to old to play our childish games, we chose to simply sit in the thick lower branches of the tree and gossip, looking down at the rolling hills and dales that filled the valley in which we lived. It was, and always had been, our special place. Our haven.

"But seriously, Cora," Mia was saying as we strolled down Applecroft that day after work and I had told her all about Misha, Chris and the band. Especially Chris. I told her everything. "I don't know what you have against that guy."
Well. Almost everything.

"He annoys me, that's all," I waved an airy hand, hoping that she would take a hint and leave it be. But then again, this was Mia. She never could take a hint.

"Why, though?" she wanted to know. I sighed inwardly. Here it comes. "What's he done to you?" She sighed, watching me carefully with eagle's eyes. "You two used to be as right as rain."
I smiled sadly, my eyes full of past memories, and dreams, and promises… I kept them fixed on the uneven floor so that she could not see them there. "We were righter than rain."

"Exactly!" Mia burst out in triumph. She cocked her head to one side, her light blue eyes seeming to penetrate my dark brown ones as I tore them unwillingly upwards to look at her. I didn't like that look. It was as if she could see all the way into my head, and I wasn't so sure I wanted her in there. "So why can't you face him? Why do you flinch whenever I say his name? Why, when you go to sleep at night, do you whisper his name with such… such terror?" I winced. I hadn't known she'd noticed all that.

"Just leave it, Mia," I warned her quietly. Yet again, she failed to take the hint.


"I said, leave it!" I snapped, tearing my gaze from her face and striding on until I reached the tree, swinging myself onto one of the lower branches of our tree. Fuming- but mostly angry at my stubborn, stupid self- I sat by myself for a few minutes until I felt Mia's arms wind around my waist.

"Sorry." She murmured. I turned my head away childishly. "I should have known not to mention it." She sighed, and when she spoke her voice broke with emotion that racked me with guilt. "I just want to understand what he could have done- to upset you- to scare you-"

I wrapped my arms around her waist, too, and sighed. She waited, but I stayed quiet. Awkwardly, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a familiar looking packet. I bit my lip to hide the smile that threatened to break out. Mia never went anywhere without her favourite sweets: lollipops. "Here. You can have the red one."

There was no disguising my smile this time as I delved into the packet and pulled out my favourite- both our favourites.


"No problem."

We unwound ourselves as we sat and ate in companionable silence until, eventually, Mia broke it.

"I will find out what happened between you two," she declared, waving her lollipop at me like a wand… or a sword. I couldn't choose which. "Whether you like it or not."

Laughing too loudly, I ducked my head to stare at the dirt floor sot that she could not see the fear that filled my eyes.