Isa tilted her head back and watched a blue bird flit from branch to branch. The sun’s rays streaked through the branches above, illuminating the green leaves of the trees, making them appear fluorescent.
“I won’t go any further until you tell me what’s going on. Why is it so important to find this long lost love for your aunt?” Nate planted his feet firm on the ground and peered into Isa’s eyes.
Isa sighed. “It’s my fault that Aunt Hazel never got married. It’s probably my fault that this guy, whoever he is, left her.”
Nate placed a hand on her arm. “Why do you think that?”
Isa stared at the ground. She spotted a Jack-in-the-pulpit and didn’t care. Normally finding a rare flower like that would send a thrill through her, but not now. Not when Nate insisted on diving into her icky emotions.
Nate tipped her chin with his index finger. “Isabelle?”
“After my parents died, Aunt Hazel had to basically give up her life to take care of me. I’ve always suspected that she sacrificed a lot to take me in. But I never realized until I found that note just how much she did give up. I know she won’t tell me anything about it because she doesn’t want me to feel guilty. But I do. If I could just find this guy and get them back together, then maybe it would make up for being such a burden.”
Nate slipped an arm around her shoulder. “Your aunt loves you. You’re not a burden.”
Isa huffed and started back down the path. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Maybe not, but I do understand what it feels like to think that you ended a relationship. Sometimes I wonder if Mom and Dad would still be together if it weren’t for me.”
Isa stopped and turned back to Nate. “Your mom and dad’s divorce wasn’t your fault.”
Nate sighed. “I know that here”—he tapped his head—“not so much here.” He tapped his chest.
“I’m sorry.” She slipped her hand in his. “The clearing will make us both feel better. Just wait till you see it. It’s a fairytale.”
Nate smiled. “Lead the way Princess Isabelle.”
They walked hand-in-hand until they reached the end of the path. It felt natural holding Nate’s hand. It wasn’t an awkward hand-holding between boyfriend and girlfriend type thing. But more of a hand holding between two really close friends who’d just spilled their guts to each other. Nothing more.
At least that’s what Isa had told herself.
When they reached the clearing, Isa heard Nate take a quick in-take of breath.
“This place is a fairytale,” he whispered.
“I told you.” Isa looked at Nate and bit her lower lip. “But I should warn you this cottage is owned by a troll. A troll who hates trespassers. So we better be quick about this.”
“Of course, there’s always a troll.” Nate laughed.
They walked through the field and reached the stone cottage. “I’d love to explore that house one day.” Isa stopped and stared at the troll’s dwelling.
“Not today, Princess. Where is this tree that you’re talking about?” Nate steered her away from the house.
“It’s in the back near the brook. Can you hear it?” Isa smiled.
“Yeah.” Nate started toward the back of the house.
Isa skipped to catch up. Isa stopped when she saw a tall beech tree with a canopy of branches that arched in all directions. A stone bench sat under the tree. How could anyone so cranky have such a perfect house and setting?
“That’s it.” Isa pointed at the tree. She took a step toward the tree and her heart started racing.
Nate fell in step beside her. “How can this place be your Aunt’s secret meeting place if Old Man Rogers is so picky about trespassers?”
“I’m not really sure. Maybe it was because of my aunt and her secret lover that he started cracking down on trespassers.”
Nate laughed. “Well, then your aunt has ruined it for all of us.”
“But then again, I wonder if what Aunt Hazel said was true about old man Rogers. Maybe, she just didn’t want me going out here because it was special to her. Maybe she wanted it to be only her and her love’s secret place.”
Nate nodded. “I think you might be right. This place seems made for people in love.”
Isa’s heart skipped a beat, she cleared her throat, and picked up her pace.
When she reached the tree, she took a deep breath. She walked around the tree, studying the brownish gray bark.
Nothing. Not even a scratch from a squirrel.
She sat on the stone bench and tapped the seat beside her. Nate sat beside her. “I’m sorry.”
Isa smiled. “I knew that I really wouldn’t find anything. What were the chances that they’d actually carved their names?”
Nate reached in his back pocket and pulled out a pocket knife. “Oh I don’t know. Seems to me like a good possibility.”
Isa’s heart pattered as she watched him carve, “Isabelle & Nate” into the tree.