It was calm that morning, the sun glowing soft on the fresh winter snow.
A canopy of gentle shades of saffron and orange streaked out into a cloudless sky, promising warmth to come.
In this snowy stillness, two children stood, ready to explore the nooks and crannies of this pleasant woodland.
“Let me show you my favorite tree,” Daniel, the elder one of the two, said with some amount of anxious excitement.
As they passed through the woods, Kathie came to notice the marks of previous adventurers.
Little letters and drawings were carved into the trunks of trees, still seeming fresh. The carvings had been traced over many times, as was apparent by their deep cuts and thickly shaped lines.
Eventually the two of them came face to face with a large log that had toppled in their way, covered in a dusting of snow and looming just at eye level with them.
“This branch is always a little hard to climb over,” Daniel commented, scrambling his way over a fallen log in their path. “Be careful."
She glanced over at Daniel, who had already made his way across, wondering if she should ask him for help.
Daniel met her eyes for a moment, then darted his attention back to the path he was planning ahead of them. Bashfully he avoided her gaze.
Kathie regarded the fallen branch. She knew she would struggle to cross this threshold on her own, but the prospect of asking for his hand was suddenly much too risky.
Quite frankly she imagined she would feel rather embarrassed if she were to ask. Instead she picked her way around the fallen tree, avoiding the obstacle altogether.
Ducking around it, she met up with Daniel on the other side.
“It’s more fun to climb over it you know,” he suggested to her. “I didn’t want to,” Kathie replied tersely.
Daniel and Kathie walked in silence for a long ways, until the midday sun rose high above their heads.
The warmth that it had promised earlier wasn’t much of a comfort in the shady forest, and Kathie found herself growing uncomfortably cold.
A few times she drew somewhat nearer to Daniel, imagining how nice it would be to walk close to his side and share a bit of warmth, but shied away when he began to notice.
She was fine she supposed. The cold wasn’t unbearable.
At some length they came to a little hollow, where they stopped to rest a moment. The sky had begun to cloud over, and a few hesitant snowflakes were drifting past their faces.
Daniel crouched down and dug around in the snow for a while, then pulled out a sharp stone. He turned it over a few times in his hands, studying it.
“Here,” he said, holding it out to her. “Carve your name in a tree.”
Kathie hesitated a moment, then took the stone out of his hand. She chose a relatively fresh young pine, then took up her tool and chiseled at it, peeling away bits of barky flakes.
She had scratched in the letter “K” when a heavier stroke cut into the more tender wood underneath, and the sap began to ooze out of the wounded trunk.
“I think that’s enough,” Kathie admitted, feeling a bit guilty about damaging the tree, and not liking that the pine sap was sticking to the cotton tufts of her mittens.
“No, go ahead!” Daniel encouraged. “You have to put your whole name.”
“I don’t want to,” Kathie said stubbornly, tossing the rock on the ground. “You can’t make me.”
“Well you’re stupid,” Daniel huffed, in the childish way that young people tend to, and picked the stone up off the ground.
While Kathie sat and frowned, he used the rock to carve out the rest of her name in the tree with sharp, quick strokes that cut deep in the wood. Proudly, he stepped back to admire his work.
They continued on their trailblazing but the weather was taking a nasty turn. The wind picked up and the snow began to fall a bit more steadily.
It took a while, but finally Kathie stopped in her tracks. The sharp breeze was biting her her bare skin, and the trek was no longer any fun.
“I’m going home,” Kathie announced. "I don't like this weather."
Daniel stared at her for a few long seconds, his expression morphing to disappointment.
“But you’ll come back tomorrow?” he ventured hopefully. “I still haven’t shown you my favorite tree.”
Kathie bit her tongue and broke eye contact, clenching her fists into tight knots. “No,” she shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
By the time she had reached home, the snow had cleared and the sun was setting behind a quiet hilltop, the salmon hues fighting to stay above the horizon just a few moments more before they disappeared.