Blessing of the Wood (Pt. 3 of 3)

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Dara sat near the edge of the lake, looking out between two white birch trees at the flotilla of canoes moving away from the island. The visit with her mother had helped, numbing the pain with touches of anger that had gripped her the day before, but certainly not erasing it.Watching Chase lead his friends across the lake brought some of the sting right back.Thirty years old and I’m acting like a schoolgirl being ignored by her crush.“You okay?”Without turning around, she said, “I’m fine, Dad.”“He’s dealing with a lot right now.”“And that excuses..? Never mind.”“No, it doesn’t excuse it. He knows that.”A leaf fluttered down from above, drifting in a quick see-saw pattern in front of her before catching a breeze and blowing out over the water.“He’ll come to his senses,” her father finished.Dara sighed and thought, Maybe it would be better if he didn’t.“Best head up and get some chow before it goes cold. I’m going to go check on Ronald and see if being mad about Chase being here and me not telling him might be enough to get him to tell me what really started it all in the first place.”She turned around. “You said it was because he dropped out of college.”“That’s as far as he got before he clammed up on me. There’s more to it than that. Even Ron isn’t that pigheaded.”“Okay. Sorry I’m moping around.”“Everyone’s allowed. You spend so much time taking care of everyone else that you forget about yourself.” He patted her on the shoulder and walked over to the canoe.Dara headed into camp to eat, and shortly thereafter heard the sound of a canoe nearby. The sound of wood bumping aluminum let her know it wasn’t her father returning. Thinking it could be Chase, she struggled with whether to go look down the trail, or sneak off to her mother’s pool to pretend she wasn’t there.“Hello?”The voice was female, and instantly relieved the turmoil in Dara’s head. She walked down the trail, pleasantly answering, “Hello,” along the way.The woman looked to be in her late forties, wearing a wide brimmed straw hat and a loose, flowing blouse. A bright smile spread across her face as she tried to steady her drifting canoe and she said, “You must be Dara.”“Uhm… Yes. Are you a friend of my father’s?” she asked, not recognizing the woman.“Oh, no. I’m here with Chase, darling. Miranda Weston.”“Pleased to meet you. I thought you’d all gone over to Blueberry Hill.”The woman laid a hand on her chest. “I’m still jet-lagged, and climbing just didn’t appeal to me. Besides, if a gaggle of artists and writers can’t capture it for me, they aren’t doing a very good job, are they?”Dara chuckled, taking an instant liking to the woman. “Guess not.”“Do you mind if I come over?”“No. Please.”“I’m afraid I’m not very good at this,” Miranda said as she tried to maneuver the canoe up to shore.“Throw me the rope. I’ll steady you, and give you a hand.”The canoe bumped against the rocky shore, and once Miranda was safely on dry land, she said, “Thank you, darling.” She reached back into the canoe for a satchel near the seat.“So, it’s your first time here?”“Yes, and it’s just as beautiful as Chase’s stories. I’m so glad I came, even though I’m absolutely exhausted.”“Well, come up and sit down.”“You are a dear,” Miranda said as she accepted Dara’s helping hand in the climb up the trail.Miranda sighed in relief as she sat down on a camp chair, while Dara used one of the many log seats her father had crafted over the years. The older woman plucked at her pale yellow top, shaking her shoulders. “I knew I should have washed this more than once. It’s new, and it’s driving me batty.”“Chase let me know that you’re nudists. If you want to…” she made a little lifting gesture with her hand.“Oh, no. I wouldn’t want to make you uncomfortable, dear.”“No, really. It’s okay. I’m tempted to join you. I’d forgotten how hot and humid it is up here. I’m not used to it any more.”“If you insist,” Miranda said, her voice betraying relief. She stood, unbuttoning her top along the way.Having told the truth about the stifling humidity, and already taking a liking to the charming woman, Dara decided that they’d probably both be more comfortable on an equal footing, so she stripped off her clothing as well.“No tan lines,” Miranda remarked as she sat back down. “I take it you’re not exactly a stranger to this.”Putting her shirt and shorts on top of the log as cushioning, Dara chuckled before she sat back down. “I wouldn’t say I’m a nudist, but I can empathize.”“And you’re simply stunning. You don’t look a day over twenty. I’m terribly jealous.”Truth to tell, the years had been kind to Miranda. She was trim and attractive. “Don’t sell yourself short.”“Oh, I don’t.” She let out a sultry laugh. “But, I won’t beat about the bush, darling. The real reason I stayed behind and came to see you is I wanted to talk to you about Chase.”“Hmm?”“I knew something was wrong and I managed to pluck it out of him. He’s quite good at putting up a front. If it weren’t for what happened with his father before we arrived, he might have fooled even me. He’s beside himself, darling. He has no idea how to apologize to you.”Dara shrugged. “I understand… Well, I guess I don’t, but…”“You know what happened between him and his father, then?”“Well, partially. Dad said that it was when he quit college.”“That’s the when but not the why. I doubt anyone else knows. I was one of the first people he met when he moved, and I rented him a room. It took a little work, but I convinced him to confide in me.”“So, what happened?”“It was a promise he’d made to his mother before she died. He’d always had notions of traveling the world to find himself, and she asked him to promise that he would at least go to college so she wouldn’t worry about him supporting himself.”Dara escort avcılar gasped, “And so when he quit…”“His father considered it a betrayal, and hasn’t spoken a single word to him since. He won’t answer the phone, or email, and even returns letters and cards unopened.”“That’s terrible.”“And it’s pain that he carries with him through every waking moment. That’s also why he’s afraid to apologize to you.”Dara’s eyebrows lifted. “I don’t understand.”“He’s afraid you won’t accept. He’s afraid that he couldn’t handle another burden.”“But, it isn’t that big of a thing. It hurt me that he wouldn’t let me help him, but…”“For him – with you – it is. Darling, he’s been in love with you since he was seven years old. He’s been pushing away women ever since I’ve known him. They all have one fatal flaw. They’re not you.”Dara blushed, even as chills shot through her. “But, we were just kids.”“He told me about the flowers he left you the last time you were here together. And he told me that the only reason he could summon up the courage is that he knew he wasn’t likely to see you for a long time. He’s afraid of having his dream shattered – and you’re that dream.”“But after all these years?” she said in disbelief, thinking Miranda had to be making more of it than there was. “We haven’t seen each other or even talked in all that time.”Miranda held up a finger, and then bent down to retrieve something from her bag. She pulled out a tablet and tapped a couple of icons. “This is his work. I’m almost always the first to see the new pieces, and I always take a picture. Just look.”Melinda looked at the first image, a painting of the redwoods. It was beautifully done, and she could certainly see why he was able to make a living as an artist. The next was a remarkably detailed picture of an eagle. The third was of a nude dryad, artfully concealed by leaves, but the woodland spirit’s face was fully visible.And it was hers.Again and again, she saw her face in his paintings and sketches, done with such love and care. Nearly half of the images included her. Finally, she reached one that was just of her face, so perfect that she felt as if she were looking at a photo of her at her absolute best. She could see every ounce of his heart and soul poured into the work, and could almost feel his love reaching through the screen to envelop her heart.A click sounded, and she looked up to see Miranda with a camera. “Oh, I hope you don’t mind, dear, but you have to see this.”Dara accepted the camera, and her face warmed so much that she suspected she was as bright red as a stop sign. In the picture, she was gazing down, her lips slightly parted, her eyes shining, and her hand caressing the tablet as if it were a lover’s cheek.“That piece is on a canvas three feet square, and hangs right in the center of his studio. He’s been offered thousands for it, but he wouldn’t part with it for all the money in the world.”“I never realized…” Dara said in a soft voice, looking back at the tablet and marveling at the image again. Tears welled up in her eyes, trailing down her cheeks. The prospect of him going back to California now was like a knife in her heart.Miranda got up and reached out to stroke Dara’s hair. “From the way you looked at that painting, I think there are some other things you didn’t realize.”“And he’s going to be gone in a few days,” Dara said before she could think about the words.“He didn’t tell you? He’s moving back here. He has the contacts he needs to work from anywhere, and the money to travel when he needs to. He’s always been homesick, and now he’s coming home.”Heart soaring and tears still flowing, Dara looked up and sobbed out, “Really?”“Yes, darling. And I think he might just have an even better reason to come home now. Now I’m doubly jealous of you.”Laughing through her tears, Dara accepted the tissue Miranda had pulled out of her bag and wondered where she was going to go from here.****Chase’s voice choked off into a gasp, and he froze as if turned to stone when he walked into the campsite and saw Dara sitting next to Miranda. Though Miranda was once again nude for her comfort, Dara had left her clothing on after dressing for the paddle over to Chase’s camp to wait for him to return.She could see the instant recognition in his friends’ eyes. Though they might not know her in person, they most certainly knew her face from his work. A few whispered to each other, wearing knowing smiles, as they walked past the still frozen Chase to undress at Miranda’s urging.Dara walked toward him, and he snapped out of his stupor to blush. “Can we talk?” she asked as she stepped in front of him.He nodded, and she gestured back toward the water, taking the lead. Upon reaching the end of the trail at the cove, she heard him take a deep breath.“Dara, I’m sorry I was such a jerk. I…”She turned and smiled. “Apology accepted. I understand.”“But…”“No buts.” She reached down into one of the two-seat canoes and picked up a paddle. “Come on.”“Where?”“Back to my camp. Dad’s out, and I want to be able to talk without anyone around.”“I… Okay.”Dara climbed in and picked up a paddle. She nodded to Chase when she was situated, and he carefully boarded behind her. Coordinated paddle strokes soon had them pulling away from the landing.A pair of geese splashed down in the channel ahead of them, only to take off moments later when the approaching canoe disturbed them. Dara looked back over her shoulder and could see Chase’s anxiety written plainly in his face.“Relax,” she said, hoping to calm him down a little. After a few more paddle strokes, she looked again to see that it hadn’t helped.A quick twist of her wrists executed a maneuver that anyone who’s ever paddled a canoe escort bahcesehir very long knows, sending a targeted splash of water directly at Chase. Once he wiped his eyes, she gave him a brief flirtatious smile and repeated, “Relax.”As she looked forward again, she saw his eyes brighten, and knew that her smile had sent the message she intended. He also unconsciously picked up the speed of his paddle strokes, which she matched to keep them on course, turning out of the channel and back across the lake.He still looked anxious as they pulled up to her camp, but with an important difference. Before, he had looked as if he were being led before a firing squad. Now, she saw curiosity and a touch of controlled anticipation mixed in with his nerves.Once at the top of the trail, she turned to face him and said, “Miranda came over to talk to me a little while after you left this morning – and don’t you dare be mad at her.”She gave that a moment to sink in, and then continued. “She showed me the pictures of your work.”His face immediately flushed and he opened his mouth, starting to say something. She reached out, pressing a finger to his lips and flashing him the same smile she’d offered earlier.“Shh. They’re beautiful.” A brief chuckle shook her. “That’s a little vain, isn’t it?”He cracked a smile, which caused her to respond in turn.“There are just so many of them.” Their eyes entwined, as they had twice before, and another moment passed between them.“I’m always thinking about you,” he said in a soft voice.She’d fully intended this conversation to turn to helping him confront his father to find some sort of peace – to take things slowly – but her heart had obviously decided its own course. His words and the look in his eyes broke down the final barrier. She leaned forward – lips parting and eyes closing – and kissed him.The kiss was soft and brief, but sent chills shooting all through her, and made her feel light-headed. She cupped his cheek in her hand, her lips scant centimeters from his, and let out a deeply contented sigh.They were both blushing when they leaned apart far enough to look at each other again. For a few seconds, they just smiled, gazing at each other, and Dara’s thoughts turned to something that she couldn’t resist.Letting her fingers brush his lips as she lowered her hand, she lifted one finger and stepped aside to duck into her tent. She emerged with a notepad and pencil, which she handed to him.“I want you to draw me.”Without waiting for him to react, she summoned up her nerve and walked toward the trail at the back of the camp. Along the way, she pulled off her t-shirt, tossing it into a camp chair. A moment later, she pulled at the tie of her bikini top, and shrugged it aside as well.Looking back over her shoulder, she saw him staring in wide-eyed wonder at her bare back. “Aren’t you supposed to be a nudist?” she teased.His blush, which hadn’t went away by any means, deepened.Hooking her thumbs beneath both shorts and bikini bottom, she bent and pushed them both down at the same time. Stepping out of them, she tossed them atop the rest of her clothing.“You too,” she said, and then continued up the trail without looking back – and before she had much time to think about what she was doing.One image in particular had stuck in her memory, a simple sketch of her as a dryad, mostly hidden behind a tree, but it was one of the few that actually showed a full breast. Naturally, he had a few details wrong, as he’d never seen the real thing. There was a perfect tree along the trail that matched the scene, and she headed toward it.Slipping in behind the tree, she struck the pose of her hands wrapped around it in a sort of hug with her cheek almost resting against the bark. Just like in the drawing, only her right breast was visible from the front, with the tree concealing the other. Her left leg curled around the tree, hiding other things as well. She was beginning to think he wasn’t able to go through with it for a few seconds, and then he appeared through the undergrowth walking toward her.She pursed her lips momentarily to hold back a giggle when she saw him holding the notepad in a strategic location.As soon as he saw her, his demeanor completely changed. He took a couple more steps and sat down, his eyes drinking her in, and touched the pencil to paper.The reward she’d sought with her leap of faith was evident from the moment he started to sketch. There was nothing sexual in his gaze, only admiration – and love. Her heart pattered as she admired him, his muscular arms and talented hands guiding the pencil through practiced strokes. She had never felt more beautiful or desired in her life, and the minutes slipped by unnoticed.Chase made one last stroke with the pencil, and then let it rest against his leg. He looked over the notepad for a second or two, and then looked up.“Is it finished? Can I see?” Dara asked.He nodded. “It’s just a quick sketch, though.”She could tell he meant to say more, but words failed him as she stepped out from behind the tree and walked toward him. She knelt, and then sat down next to him, a small oh of excitement escaping her as she saw the image. It was perfect, capturing her in every detail, and almost beaming off the page.“Chase, it’s beautiful,” she said as she looked up at him.“You’re beautiful,” he responded, a slight smile decorating his face.Sitting down the notepad carefully at her side, she heard the pencil slip from his hand and fall in the leaves below as she leaned in to kiss him. The first touch of their lips was soft, but passion overcame them both and the kiss that followed was ardent, prompting them to scoot closer to each other and their hands to roam.Her nipples stiffened and beylikdüzü escort the chilly tingles between her legs caused her to tremble in his arms. They both moaned simultaneously, and then gasped as their lips parted. At that moment, a bird flew overhead, almost close enough to feel the wind from its wings, and let out a sharp tweet.Her senses returning in a rush, she said, “Wait,” when Chase leaned in to kiss her again.“Sorry,” he said, sitting back quickly and looking rebuked.She shook her head. “No. It’s just that we’re here, our clothes are back there, and my Dad could be back at any minute.”The first, “Oh,” simply sounded disappointed. The second confirmed that the gravity of her words had cut through.Laughter in her voice, she said, “Help me up,” and picked up the sketch.She bit her lower lip as he stood, and she finally noticed his manhood bobbing at full erection. It was just as gorgeous as the rest of him. She cast her eyes down at the ground a moment with her cheeks warming before taking his hand and letting him help her to stand.They walked hand in hand back down the trail, frequently turning to look at each other in perfect coordination. From the look of his grin, she assumed it was much like hers – so wide that her cheeks were aching.Once back in camp, she sat the notebook down in a safe spot and dressed – quite reluctantly – while Chase did the same. Once they were clothed once more, she wrapped her arms around him and kissed him soundly.“Ahem.”They broke from the kiss and turned to see her father standing with his hands on his hips. Chase stiffened in her arms, and she had the distinct impression he was moments from running for his life away from the image of her powerful father staring them down.She rolled her eyes and chided, “Dad…”His stern visage cracked and he loosed a booming laugh. “Oh, come on now. What’s the point of looking like this if I can’t have a little fun with it now and then?”Chase’s sigh of relief was audible as she felt him relax. She gave him a peck on the cheek as her father approached.“Wondered when the two of you were going to stop walking on eggshells around each other,” Paul remarked as he sat down. “Guess you apologized, huh, son?”Chase made a small sound in his throat, and Dara looked at him to see him look down at the ground. Her father calling him son had hit in ways that were certainly unintended, and reminded her of what she’d originally planned upon bringing him back to camp.“You should go talk to your father.”He shook his head. “I… It’s no use.”“You need to do this, Chase. You have to at least know you tried. I’ll go with you,” she squeezed his hand.“Probably the best chance you’re going to get,” her father added. “Catch him in camp, and he’ll stand his ground.”“I don’t know,” Chase said, and sighed again.“I do. Come on,” Dara said, tugging him along as she took a step. “You were brave enough to chase your dream. You’re brave enough to do this, and I’m here for you.”Hesitantly, he took a step – and then another. Sending every ounce of strength she could through their clasped hands, Dara led him down to the canoe.****The walk from the landing at the campsite west of the waterfall was slow. Dara was sure that if she weren’t standing at his side, he never would have made it this far. Even she felt a chill grip her heart as they stepped into the camp and Chase’s father turned to see them, his features instantly hardening.Without a word, Ronald walked toward them, but at an angle surely meant to walk straight past them. Dara saw red, and before she could think about it, she jumped in front of him and said, “No!” She planted her hand firmly on his chest, staring him down. “If you want to run away this time, you’re going to have to go through me.”“Dad, we need to talk.”Stunned at first by Dara’s sudden intervention, Ron snapped his gaze to his son. He took several hard, huffing breaths through his nose, and then growled, “Talk about what? Talk about how you ignored your mother’s dying wish?”“Yes. Damn it, Dad,” Chase snapped back, stepping forward to confront the mountain of a man. “Do you really think that’s what I did? Do you really think I would do that to Mom?”“You did.”“No, I didn’t.” He took a deep breath, and his next words were calmer. “Yes, I told her I would go to college. Yes, I dropped out. But college isn’t what she was worried about. She was worried about me running off without a plan – without a future. I have a future, Dad. I’m doing what I like, and I’m making a good living. I’m happy. Secure. That’s what Mom wanted.”“For now. What if..?”“No, there are no what ifs. I’m not an idiot, Dad. I’ve been saving and investing. If you’d bothered to talk to me, you’d know that I took EMT training, too. I have a fall-back plan.”“That’s…” He trailed off, his expression softening – just a touch.“I’m not doing this again, Dad. I said what I needed to say. If you can’t accept me for who I am, then there’s nothing I can do to change that. If you ever want to, though, just call. I love you, no matter what you think of me.”Dara looked over at him to see Chase nod back toward the water and turn that way. Before she followed, she stared down his father one last time.“What do you think would have really hurt her? Him not going to college, or you pretending he doesn’t exist?”Ron’s shoulders slumped and he looked down at the ground. Without waiting for an answer, she turned and caught up with Chase, clasping his hand.“Thank you,” Chase said as she fell in step beside him. “I thought I was going to throw up at first. Then when you jumped in front of him…”“You’re welcome.”“Do you think he heard a word I said?”A quick glance over her shoulder to see his father sitting down hard on the ground and putting his head in his hands prompted her to say, “Yes. It’s up to him to make it right now.” She leaned in close, resting his head on her shoulder. “Let’s go back to camp. You’re supposed to be the host, and all your guests are sitting there unattended.”

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