Darcy was in the forest, and it was huge and golden with autumn. The gently falling leaves were ruby and amber and citrine in the rays of the fresh morning sun, well-rested and still bright in the aftermath of summer. The trees towered over her, and the bushes too, laden with ripening blackberries, which they stopped to pick every now and then. Darcy’s fingers were blue with the juice, even after she’d wiped them on her dress.
Her brother had her by the hand, leading her back to Mother. She trusted him completely – he knew the forest better than anyone – and she let him guide her while her eyes wandered over the spectacle of the forest, in gaudy costume in time for the equinox. An orchestra of birds serenaded the ballet of thin branches waving in the breeze, the leaves they dropped spinning like dancers on tiptoe.
Her brother’s hand tightened painfully around hers, pulling her out of her reverie. He stopped, and she stopped behind him, waiting.
“I can’t come any further,” he said. “You’ll have to go on your own from here.”
Darcy squeezed his hand tight in return, panic rising in her chest. “Why?”
“It’s not safe for me.”
Darcy began to cry. She buried her face in his shoulderblades, pushing his back, trying to get him to move forward. When he wouldn’t budge, she pummelled his shoulders, arms and back with her small fists, pulled his thin dark hair, it came out like chick down in her fingers. She even kicked the back of his leg. He simply stood there, taking it, refusing to move forward or even turn and face her.
“I’m sorry, Darcy” he said, and the wobble in his voice was a bitter victory. “It’s not that I don’t want to come with you.”
“Why?” she sobbed again.
“I have to go back.”
“I want to go back with you, then!”
“You don’t want to see your mother?”
Darcy hesitated, wailed again, wanting both.
“Keep going down this path, and you’ll find her” he said, and started to walk away. She grabbed the back of his shirt and clung to it, pulling him to a stop.
“Don’t go! Please-”
He turned suddenly and pulled her into a tight hug. He was very thin under the shirt, even she could wrap her small arms all the way around him. She buried her face in his chest and sobbed, and thought she felt him sobbing too, in silence.
After what could have been a minute or an hour, he pushed her away gently, holding her by the shoulders. He cupped her cheek in one hand and wiped her eyes with his thumb. Then he kissed her forehead, and she looked up at him. His eyes were the colour of moss in the sun.
“It’ll be alright” he said, “I promise.”
And then she believed him.
She let him turn her around, and when he gave her a little push along the path, she kept walking. She could feel him watching her, making sure she got back alright, but when she reached a bend in the path and turned to look back at him, he was already gone.