Leaves crunched underneath my horse’s hooves. The trees closed in on my path and reached out their arms to grab me. I could tell I was getting closer by the time this happened. The river was fast moving and I could hear its waters through the rustling of the trees. But before I could see it, there was one obstacle in particular that I had to force my horse through. A huge rhododendron bush stood right in the middle of the grassy path, and bramble grew on all sides of it. My horse hated this and so did I but we had to squeeze through. As we approached the pink-flowered bush I leaned against my horse’s neck, patting him and encouraging him. He grunted unhappily but I urged him forward. I bent with his head as he made his way around the bush and under the stinging thorns. He had no trouble getting through but apparently my hair did this time. As he lifted his head on the other side and made to move, my head jerked back with the thorns. “Whoa!” I cried, bringing him to a stand-still. Keeping one hand on the reins, I carefully lifted the other to the back of my head. The thorns were tangled right in with my brown hair. I knew I’d gone too long without a haircut and made plans right there to get one as soon as I got myself out of this little dilemma. I let out an annoyed groan as I started to unfasten the stubborn thorns from my scalp. My fingers throbbed as the prickles bit them and I had to take quite a few breaks while doing this. My horse whinnied, growing impatient with my abysmal fine-motor skills. Frustrated howls began to accompany this chore until the birds grew still around me. My fingers were working ferociously and this silence didn’t bother me until it was suddenly broken by a crash to my left. I froze, my ears pricked. My eyes moved to my horse; he was alert as well. The forest was motionless for a minute, then I heard it again. Something was stomping through the trees, and it wasn’t very far off. I couldn’t move my head to look, but I pushed my eyes as far left as they could go. All green to that way – wait. There were two pairs of eyes staring at me - attended by frizzy orange hair. Darby was standing there, watching me.
My heart swelled. I’d finally caught her! I smirked at her, letting her know of my achievement and her loss. She grinned back and suddenly the reality of my situation hit me. Here I was with my hair stuck in a thorn bush, sitting atop a horse that was about ready to bolt from beneath me, and the object of my affections was staring right at me. My frozen fingers thawed and my other hand moved unconsciously to aid it. My horse felt the clutch on his bridle release and did what I had feared – bolted out from beneath me. My feet slid from the stirrups as my legs soared backwards, leaving me swinging from the tree. I heard a snicker to my left and knew Darby was laughing at me. Before I knew it, the branch had broken from my weight and I was on the ground, half a branch sticking out of my head. An advancing rustle told me that Darby was actually moving towards me. A second later she emerged from the trees, her dress torn and mangled from the thorns. I looked pitifully up into her laughing face. It made me completely forget my predicament for the moment. Amusement was etched all over it - in her eyes, her mouth, her cheeks… it lit up her entire body. Her movements were usually dull and slow, but I now watched with amazement as her arms moved jovially to remove the thorns from my hair. They were gone in an instant and she gracefully disposed them onto the ground and stood up. I rose at her speed and gaped down into her face. Her eyes thinned and her face reddened, her freckles flaming. I caught myself and glanced to my right. My horse was standing shamefully on the other side of the bush. I strode over to him, grabbed his reins, and moved back to Darby’s side where I was snapped back into my senses.
“Thank you,” I murmured, looking into her face. She smiled back at me, the amusement still dancing in her green eyes. I wanted so bad to put my arm around her but I knew that would frighten her. So I just gently took hold of her elbow and turned her around. We walked back to town together.