PAGE TWO

“He couldn’t speak at first, but he had to quickly find his voice, for the woman looked at him with such fear in the depths of those beautiful eyes.”

I stop here and lift a hand to my face, under my right eye, where the skin is smooth.

The colorful fish seems to look up at me expectantly, as if waiting for me to continue.

The barest shadow of a smile wavers on the corners of my lips before fading into nonexistence.

“Yes. I’ll go on.

“So, after a few floundering attempts, the man finally found his voice and said to the woman, ‘I’m sorry to frighten you, but I couldn’t help but notice that you appear to be in some kind of distress.’ He looked her over, at the rather strange, medieval dress covering her body, but there didn’t appear to be anything physically wrong with her.

“The woman, trembling, drew her arms and legs closer to her body. ‘I’m lost,’ she managed, her voice soft and musical and as beautiful as her eyes. ‘I was here for the Renaissance Faire when some drunken boys dressed as elves chased after me. I don’t know what they wanted. I think they were just trying to torment me. I think they found it humorous. I managed to get away by crawling through the fence. They couldn’t fit so they took to throwing things at me. I ran farther into the woods to escape them. Now I can’t find my way back.’ She paused and gazed around at the tall sequoias around her, confusion rippling across her face. ‘Where am I?’

“The man found himself at a loss for words again, for the Renaissance Faire had packed away and left the previous night. This woman must have been out here for many hours. She could have been out here for days. No wonder she was crying! He lowered himself closer to the ground, to make himself as small and as unimposing as possible.

“Speaking as softly and as gently as he could, he said, ‘Miss, I’m afraid the faire has left. Is there someone I can call for you?’

“The woman shook her head. And now he could see that there was dirt and scratches all over her face and arms. ‘Where are you from?’ he asked, slowly reaching out a hand, palm facing up.

“The woman shook her head once more. ‘I was hoping to find work with a vendor here, but I don’t know where to find him now.’ Fresh tears spilled over her eyes, streaking down rounded cheeks the color of olive oil.

“The man, his chest filling rapidly with concern for this lost young woman, dared to approach with soft steps, closing the gap between them and extending his hand again. ‘I have a flat down near the foot of this mountain,’ he told her. ‘It’s modest, but I promise you’ll be safe there.’

“With clear reluctance, the woman placed her hand in his much larger one. He supposed she thought going with him and risking being murdered was better than staying in the woods and getting torn apart by a bear.

“So the woman held on tight to his hand, and he led her down the winding dirt path to his place at the foot of the massive mountain.