Being alone with Hannah scared me more than the afternoon summer storm overhead.
Rain lashed against our two-person tent as we took shelter. The walls bowed inwards like they were trying to grab our sodden t-shirts and tired, muddy legs, which were weighed down by our waterlogged hiking boots.
Sitting on the hard, uneven floor, we listened to the wind as it screeched and howled through the trees around us, like Dementors hunting their prey.
‘Will it hold?’ I asked.
‘Yes.’ Hannah slid her fingers through mine. Under the canopy of red polyester, the torchlight ignited her milky white hands and transformed them into glowing orange embers. She rested her head on my shoulder and her tousled hair tickled my arm. She smelt of damp earth and sweat.
A branch cracked nearby. I flinched and clamped my eyes shut.
Hannah tightened her grip. ‘Don’t be afraid. It’ll pass soon enough.’ She shivered. ‘Let’s lie down.’
Using our backpacks as pillows, we lay on our sides and faced each other. A twisted root under the nylon flooring cut into my hip.
I held the torch between us and Hannah smiled. Her eyes crinkled in the corners and the freckles on her nose looked like they’d been put there with a pepper shaker.
‘I don’t regret coming here with you, Rachel,’ she said. ‘I like it when it’s just the two of us.’
My heart surged like the storm around us.
‘No regrets,’ my voice trembled, as I traced my finger over her cheek.
It took an hour for the bad weather to pass, and I wondered if we had somehow managed to slow time itself. In that enclosed space, the rest of the world had ceased to exist. In that place, we were both lost and found.
We emerged from our fragile cocoon, unsteady and unsure of what we’d find, but to our surprise, the dark, heavy clouds were gone, and a brilliant blue sky lay beyond the shredded branches of the towering trees.
Birdsong and the thrum of cicadas pulsed through the forest once more as we evaluated the damage. The forest floor was littered with strips of bark and fallen debris. All paths and hiking trails would be impossible to find.
We packed away our weakened tent and tied it to my backpack. I braced myself as I lifted it onto my back, but it was lighter than I remembered.
Hannah struggled to navigate us through the wreckage. She looked over her shoulder at me and her hazel eyes glistened. I pulled a leaf from her hair and sweat trickled down my torso.
We were lost in the tangled wilderness, but we were together—there was nothing left to fear.
© Michelle Upton