Cyrus walked with his head down. The familiar dusty trail had given way to mud, leaf litter, and ruts of the unexplored forest floor. The sun was disappearing. Cyrus kept trudging along the natural path. He was not concerned with getting back. He hoped he never saw home again. Mary had humiliated him in front of all of their friends. It was true that he lost his temper at work and given his boss a right cross to the jaw, but Frank had it coming. Who was that guy to think repeating a rumor about Mary and Lewis being together was a good idea? Frank was lucky he was still breathing.

Cyrus could not understand why Mary was so upset that he lost his job. Why would she want him working for that jerk? Well, he was confused until Lewis showed up an hour later at his doorstep. The epiphany of truth cut through his heart like a sword, a very dull and painful sword. Lewis’ smirked as he pushed Cyrus out of the way and made himself at home. To add insult to injury, a string of ten friends followed him inside. The cowards had wanted to make sure Cyrus avoided doing something stupid to Mary or Lewis.

There was not much Cyrus remembered after that, just walking. Mary’s voice hollered for him to come back, and Lewis laughed in a tone that ripped his heart apart with a feeling of despair and hatred he had never known. Cyrus finally stopped when the woods grew so thick the trail disappeared. Moonlight broke through the black sky, but Cyrus knew that it would do him no good to force his way through the branches and saplings in front of him. To his right, several limbs and twigs snapped, and there was a crunch in the leaf litter. Cyrus looked over and saw a figure dressed in white walking towards him.

As the phantom came into view, Cyrus realized it was no phantom at all. Olivia walked up and gave Cyrus a long, compassionate hug. Her dark skin formed a silhouette beneath the white sundress in the moonlight. Her short tightly curled black hair highlighted her strikingly beautiful face. Olivia’s large black eyes glistened as she stared into Cyrus. She seemed to reach in and soothe his very soul.

“How did you find me?” asked Cyrus.

“Where else would you go?” answered Olivia. “You need to be careful, the woods and the swamp aren’t like they were when we were kids. A few more yards and you’re in alligator country.”

Cyrus nodded, “I’m aware. I was trying to decide whether to push on or not.”

“Why would you want to do a fool thing like that?” asked Olivia.

Cyrus leaned against the tree that brushed against his shoulder. He crossed his arms and tried to pull the tension from his back as he remembered his day. “I thought you heard about what Mary and Lewis did to me. Not to mention, losing my job. I owe Frank a big apology.”

Olivia reached over and gently stroked Cyrus’ bicep. “Frank’ll forgive you.”

“Forgive me? He fired me,” said Cyrus.

Olivia nodded her head, “I know, but you both got heated. I have it on good authority he’s planning on taking you back tomorrow. He heard about the stunt Lewis and Mary pulled tonight. Frank’s good people, most people in town are. You’re going to be okay. I think it’s Mary and Lewis who need to worry about where they’ll be living.”

Olivia took a step forward and leaned toward Cyrus. Cyrus pushed himself off of the tree towards Olivia. Her cool dark lips felt soft against his pale warm cheeks. Lewis turned his head, their lips met, and the two embraced. Olivia’s breath smelled like jasmine. Cyrus closed his eyes and held her there for a while. He finally released her and exhaled. “I wish we could be together.”

Olivia’s voice had a sad undertone to its beautiful lilt. “I do too, but you know what trouble we caused as kids.”

Cyrus’ voice was tense, “What they did wasn’t right. You know, a lot of people blamed Lewis’ dad.”

Olivia tilted her head. “Speak of the devil. I believe Lewis is looking for you.”

Cyrus scowled, “How would he know to come here?”

A smile spread across Olivia’s face that ran a chill through Cyrus’ body. She pointed to their right from where she had approached him. “Go stand over there about five yards. There’re some trees you can hide behind.”

“What about you?” asked Cyrus.

Olivia’s voice spoke barely above a whisper, “It’s time to teach daddy’s boy some manners.”

Cyrus walked over where Oliva had pointed. The forest floor was wetter and a bit muddier. He could see Olivia’s sundress glowing in the moonlight. She glided past the saplings closer to the where the alligators nested. Cyrus was about to say something when Lewis’ voice broke the silence to his left.

“Where are you, boy? When I find you, I’m gonna do to you what my daddy did to your no account girlfriend. Mary is mine, and we’re gonna make this a quick and easy separation.”

To his right, a man’s voice responded, “You ain’t got the guts, come and get me.”

Cyrus heard the sound of footsteps moving quickly towards Olivia, and then saw Lewis’ silhouette in the moonlight. He was moving at a quick pace until he tripped on a rut while trying to make way through the saplings. “What’s the matter, don’t know the swamps?” The deep voice asked, and then a cackle sent a shutter through Cyrus. Lewis yelled, cursed, and climbed his way out of the wooded trap. “Where are you?” screamed Lewis, and he continued to move forward.

Cyrus could no longer hide. What if something happened to Oliva? He stepped from behind his hiding place and quickly made his way to the branches. Through the contour of the limbs and moonlight, he could see Lewis jerking his head left and right as he kept a deliberate pace forward, and then Lewis stopped and stood straight and still. The ghostly white moonlight caught Olivia’s dress, and she appeared to almost float in the darkness.

“What, do you think you can hide your old boyfriend!” screamed Lewis, and he dove at Olivia.

“No,” hollered Cyrus and he tried to reach through the limbs. To his horror, Lewis passed through Olivia and tripped over something in the dark. With a growl, and then a scream, Cyrus watched the giant mouth of an alligator open and then snap shut on Lewis’ skull. He covered his face and tried to block out the sound of bone collapsing against teeth. Cyrus focused on trying to breathe and not release the contents of his stomach. The smell of jasmine filled his nostrils again. Cyrus opened his eyes. His beautiful love stood before him.

“Did you have to do that?” asked Cyrus.

Olivia nodded, “There was a gun in his pocket. He would have killed you and then that would have been you, instead of Lewis over there.”

Cyrus sighed and dropped his head. He felt Olivia’s cold dark fingers lift his chin. Her lips sent a thrill of electricity through him. “I miss you so much.” bemoaned Cyrus.

“One day, my love. One day we will be together as God intended. He’s promised me. Now clean yourself up at the spot we used as kids, it’s still safe, and get yourself to town. Everything will be okay. Just do me one favor, stay away from women like Mary.”

Cyrus took Olivia’s hands into his own. “I can’t find a good woman. There isn’t any woman as good as you. I miss you so much. Maybe I should come and join you.”

Olivia’s eyes grew wide, and she shook her head, “Don’t you dare! Don’t you go pining away for me and do something stupid. You know exactly where to find me, and I’m always here for you. Find yourself a good woman, or live alone, but don’t go off and do something stupid.”

Cyrus nodded once and dropped his head. He could feel Oliva looking at him. He raised chin up and met her lips for a long kiss. His world filled with jasmine, a breeze shot through his body, and she was gone. With a sigh, and tears in his eyes, Cyrus made his way back to town.

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