Story31 Jan 2009 11:57 am

As if she didn’t hear him, Rowen looked off after the family of foxes as they disappeared quickly into the underbrush. An unexpected shudder in his diaphragm caused Charlie to draw in a deep, abrupt breath which he held, cool and damp, in his lungs as he watched Rowen stand in silence. The air around him pressed heavily, suffused with the expectation of some new otherness to burst forth, something to which the episode with the fox was only a tiny precurser.

Rowen tossed her head and looked back over her shoulder with a grin in the dappled sunlight that punched through the high cloudcover at intervals. “What was that? I wasn’t listening.”

Charlie blinked at her. “Nothing,” he said, chuckling and shaking his head to shake the strange episode off.

“Well, then what are we waiting for?” She turned and picked her feet up, traipsing along the slightly higher, slightly dryer patches of the dirt road. Charlie didn’t start off after her immediately, struck with an image suddenly more vivid, as if painted directly over the fabric of morning. Rowen’s svelte figure clad in the slouch of a bomber jacket currently sliding nearly off one shoulder, the easy surety of her steps, the flash of her unkempt hair in the sun like a blonder cousin to the earthier hue of the mother fox.

“Weird,” he whispered to himself intensely, kicking himself into motion after Rowen and jogging clumsily up the track. Running turned out quickly to be a less than entirely sagacious decision as he slipped and wheeled his arms, swearing as he all but toppled into the mud. Rowen stopped and looked back at him again just in time to see the graceless recovery and laughed before wheeling again and taking off at a sprint down the small rise she stood at the top of.

“You harlot!” Charlie shouted after her, taking a more keen eye to his feet and climbing the rest of the hill. He didn’t remember the track being this hilly or this long when they’d driven to the house the night before, but he’d been extremely focused on the churning road and lashing rainfall at the time. Cresting over the hill, Charlie slid more than ran down its other flank but remained upright, coming to a waving-armed stop where Rowen stood on the side of the road, examining the tracks in the slurry of muddy water collected at the bottom of the hill.

She giggled, “Charlie look, this is where we almost spun out and went off the side of the road.”

“I can see that,” Charlie replied flatly, immediately filled with a plethora of reasons why he didn’t find that funny. As he stood still, though, the sun warmed the back of his coat and it became difficult to see what had been so bad about it at the time. “Are we almost to the split so we can rest once and for all which side of it your brother lives on?”

“He lives on the left!” Rowen exclaimed firmly. “I’m so sure we turned left. Like the note said.”

“The note he didn’t write?” Charlie raised an eyebrow, balling his hands up in his pockets and glancing around. He didn’t feel the least bit nostalgic for California out here; the grey precipitation in London put him in that funk often.

“Oh shut up. He’s just being a wanker about it, that’s all,” Rowen waved her hands emphatically, turning to stroll down the track. This time, Charlie went with her and they walked side by side, habitually in step over the uneven ground. “Are you sure you don’t have it?” She turned to look up at him sidelong. “Are you sure you didn’t pick it up with your stuff?”

“Pretty sure,” Charlie frowned. “I’m not surprised you can’t find it, though, you’re not exactly the queen of organization,” he ribbed with a grin. “It’s probably in the pocket of your other jeans or something.”

“It’s not!” Rowen feigned exasperation well. “It’s not in the car, either, where I thought it was.”

“Well, it couldn’t have gone far overnight.”

Rowen pouted. They took a couple more steps. “Well,” Charlie began, clearing his throat and making his voice sound as pretentious and egotistical as he could. “If you’d just let me, the man, take care of the navigation, we wouldn’t be in this pickle, now would we?”

Snapping her head around to needle him with a glare, Rowen screwed her shoulders up, balled her fists, and exploded in a flurry of motion to shove him and fly off down the road. Charlie didn’t hurry to keep up with her, the fork in the road visible just around a gentle curve in the track. It was the mis-estimation of this curve that had caused the near disaster Rowen pointed out evidence of at the bottom of the hill.

Charlie strode up to Rowen’s tip-toed peering to the place where the lost note had been taped. Then she stepped back and looked this way and that before pointing at him.

“What?”

“You’re on the right.”

He blinked.

“The right fork,” Rowen stepped forward, gesturing for emphasis, and Charlie rolled his eyes.

“Really? Do we really need to do this?”

Rowen waved her arms exasperatedly. “Oh, like you’d rather sit at home and bemoan the distance between yourself and Santa Monica beach.”

Charlie sighed heavily. “Can you blame me for that? I’ve lived there since I was eleven.”

“You really miss it that much?” Rowen wrang her hands. She had a vulnerable streak a mile wide. A profound quiddity of her person was the hatred of being alone, and despite periodic disharmony about his lifestyle, they’d quickly clicked when he’d arrived in London, a bewildered college sophmore. She could forgive Charlie anything because he studied twice as hard as he played.

Charlie took a deep breath of the good air, quirking a smile. “No, Rowen.”

Her face softened, her mercurial expression shifting again as she

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