Soft rapids and cheerful chirping awoke me from the best sleep I had succumbed to in months. I yawned, unwilling to open my eyes just yet. I rolled onto my side and my eyelids slowly lifted. I smiled at Jill, who was laying a few feet away from me, still in slumber’s cradle. Her red hair shielded her fair face from the light. I quietly arose and searched the area for fruit-bearing trees as the horses grazed contentedly on the lush foliage around the ravine. Fatigue left me when red apples tempted my eyes. I blinked twice to be sure that I was not dreaming.
I ran to the tree and gathered four apples. When I reached her, she was already sitting up and trying to fix her hair. Her face came to life at the sight of the red fruit.
I sat next to her and we ate the sweet and sour meat.
“Let us ride until we reach the end of the world,” she said.
I shook my head, laughing. “You do realize that is impossible on a spherical earth.”
She wagged a finger at me in mock sternness. “Hush. Do not ruin my fantasy.”
We remounted and continued to ride with the sun and wind caressing our backs. Though our words had been few, the essence of her soul captivated me. Perhaps it was not so foolish to say that we had entered another realm, after all.
Our horses slowed once we came to another forest.
“What did you want to be when you grew up, before this war?” she asked.
I sighed. “I hoped to become a doctor. Possibly a university professor in the sciences. Yet my parents insisted that I join the greater good first, so here I am.”
“Oh, but how young you are still. You should go back to school.”
I smirked. “Are there schools in this alternate world?”
She shrugged. “I think you should pursue your desires. You have the choice to attend university, while I do not.”
“Jill, my parents wouldn’t have me if they learned of my desertion. In fact, I might very well be arrested and hanged before my family even knew I returned.”
She observed me with sad eyes. “You could settle here, change your name and accent for a time, and study at an American university.”
“I would never be able to come up with the money. Besides, what would become of you?”
She flashed me a demure smile, but her eyes looked sad. “Why, I would accompany you. I could dress up as a boy and major in English. I would be a master writer if given a chance.”
“Nothing is stopping you from writing right now. Your imagination is amazing.”
“One day, perhaps …”
Her tone troubled me. I longed to be the person who could peel away those melancholic layers and make her happy.