Hailey took Nan’s advice and dressed for the weather, wearing a sweater under her windbreaker and opting for hiking boots instead of the pale blue sneakers she really preferred to wear.
When Brad’s SUV pulled up, she was immediately out the door. She felt guilty about not introducing him to Birdie, but for some reason wasn’t quite up to going through the business of meeting and greeting just then.
Second thoughts, perhaps?
She hated examining her motives—it rarely accomplished anything more than vexing her and making her feel confused.
One glance at Brad’s cheerful face, however, made her regret her doubts. He looked like a little boy set for adventure with his green baseball cap turned backwards and his expression mirrored the same dumb, happy look of Star, sitting behind him.
“Well, you two look ready for fun,” she laughed as she got in.
“Yeah, I even brought my own wheels.” He looked pleased as a schoolboy showing off a new toy.
She glanced around the interior and noticed there was no two-way radio. “I don’t believe it—you have the exact same SUV as your police vehicle.”
“Actually, they have the same model as mine. I bought this before I joined the force. Great minds think alike, I guess.”
“Hmm, hmm.” She bit her tongue, but her dancing eyes said it all.
“Okay, so maybe I don’t have a great mind, but I do have good taste.”
She blushed, catching the nuance behind his seemingly innocent remark.
He noticed and smiled inwardly, thinking how much he liked this girl. Star made a strange whuffling noise from the back seat. Hailey laughed and reached back and scratched behind his ears. The whuffling sound transmuted into a soft groan.
“He likes you. I’ve never heard him make that sound before—he certainly doesn’t make it for me.”
“You’re a boy—besides, Star’s my protector—we’ve got a bond.”
“No arguing that,” he smiled as he pulled onto the highway heading west.
Cumulus clouds were scudding across the blue October sky and the weather couldn’t have been better—aside from the dark line of a storm front on the horizon. But Hailey ignored it and leaned back contentedly and enjoyed the ride.
A half hour passed, until they were climbing a steep road that led up to the top of the cliff face. Hailey’s ears popped.
“That’s quite a change in elevation,” she remarked as he pulled into the conservation area parking lot.
“Wait until you see the view from up here—you can see for miles.”
Star couldn’t wait to get out and as soon as Brad opened the door he was off and plunging into some nearby woods.
“Aren’t you afraid he’ll get lost?”
“Naw,” he laughed, “ he just likes to check the terrain—just wait, he’ll be back in a few minutes”. Sure enough, a short time later, they heard twigs snapping and Star came bounding out of the trees, screeching to a halt at their feet. His tongue was out and his eyes were bright. He looked so much like a goofy puppy that Hailey burst out laughing.
“You really like this, don’t you boy?” Star seemed to laugh and his expression made Hailey laugh all the harder.
Brad was watching her. “You get on well with animals,” he commented as he snapped a short lead on Star’s collar.
“I don’t know,” Hailey replied, rubbing Star’s head. “We never had pets when I was growing up.”
“You’re kidding. You’re a natural. Some people are dog persons and some aren’t. You definitely are.”
“Yeah. You’d be surprised how many times my romantic dates turned out to be one time events when Star was factored into the equation.”
They began walking down a path into the woods.
“So, you had a lot of dates, huh?”
It was his turn to blush. “I didn’t mean that—it’s not like I’m some player or something. Actually, it’s more the opposite. I guess dating a cop is one thing, but accepting a dog is another.”
“I can see that,” she said softly.
He grew pensive. “It’s not always the girl who does the rejecting, you know.”
Her eyes danced. “I wasn’t implying you were that needy.”
He chuckled and shook his head. “I mean, sometimes Star takes a dislike to somebody and if that somebody just happens to be a girl I want to date, well, I might as well accept the inevitable—it won’t work if Star isn’t on side.”
“Hmm. That sounds formidable.” She walked on in silence for a moment, and then stopped. “By the way, has Star ever accepted anybody you dated?”
He grimaced. “Not so far, but you know what they say—hope springs eternal.”
“Uh huh. Wasn’t that line from Casey At the Bat? You know, if I’m not mistaken, the poor fellow struck out at the end.”
“Yeah, well, I wasn’t referencing that part,” he grumbled.
She looped her arm through his and tilted her smiling face toward him. “I was just making an observation, you know.”
“I see,” he smiled back. “Well, you don’t have to worry about Star—it’s plain that he adores you.”
“Oh, I wasn’t worried about Star—I know he likes me.”
She turned her violet eyes directly toward him and he felt his stomach flip, forcing him to quickly look away. She noticed and squeezed his hand to reassure him.
For a few seconds he felt giddy and breathless. Her one brief glance had turned him to jelly.
What was happening to him? He never felt anything like this before.
He felt his heart racing and the blood roaring in his ears, but the moment passed, and thankfully, he was able to breathe again.
They turned a bend in the path and she stopped him and stared ahead in awe. “It’s so beautiful.”
The white pines stretched above them, the straight lines of their trunks leaning in and seeming to converge high above them, like the dome of a church.
“The Green Cathedral,” he whispered.
“How poetic—It’s true. It’s so majestic here—the trees reach up to heaven like spires.”
“That’s why I come here. It’s like a sanctuary, a retreat from the world.”
They stood together breathing in the scent of pines and absorbing the stillness. She leaned back against Brad, feeling the warmth of his body sheltering her from the autumn chill.
“There’s not a breath of wind here,” he said.
It was true. The tall pines formed a natural windbreak, reminiscent of the hush of a basilica.
“I could stay here forever.” She held her breath and listened to the silence. For one of the few times in her life, she felt sheltered, protected and totally at peace.
Unknown to her, someone with high-powered binoculars was watching Hailey and planning for her to rest there permanently.
© 2017, John J Geddes. All rights reserved.