Time has just been going so fast. It has already been four weeks since I met Quinn and Alex for the first time and started to figure out their story. What I do know is even after WIM is over, I want to continue to explore them possibly in the context of my superhero project or as characters in my Happily Ever After Inc. series.
Last week, I was matched with Carly Hayward with Book Light Editorial. I can’t even begin to thank her enough for her amazing and helpful comments. I feel like she really helped me bring Alex, Quinn, and their cute meeting to life. Like my CPs from last week, she really helped me see the things that were getting lost in the print for me. I feel like she really understood my story and her edits were completely on point. I would love to work with her again!
The Right Wrong Path
It was supposed to be an hour-long hike—keyword supposed to. Quinn had managed to stray off the well-marked path and climb a completely non-beginner friendly hill. That was what her quads were screaming at her, at least. Lifting her phone, she checked for a signal. No luck. It had the same lack of bars as when she had tried two charlie horses ago. At least it wasn’t summer. She paused to rest her legs for a second and get a picture of the sun through the blanket of trees. It would make a good post on Instagram when she found her way back to the correct path, or at the very least, it would make one hell of a last one.
Quinn came out of the thick blanket of trees. It opened into a field of grass that someone kept neat. The sun beating down did little to cut the chill in the air. She made it to the summit—the wrong summit, but the top nonetheless. There was a small field of flowers tucked away from the world below, which surrounded a small house. There were no windows that Quinn could see, but there was a door. Curiosity getting the better of her, she crossed through the flowers to get a closer look. The walls were grey like concrete and had a carved wood door. As she put a hand on the door to knock, it caved in.
Surprised by both the door opening and the floor’s softness that broke her fall, Quinn lifted her head to brush away a mop of hair and saw worn black leather shoes. Shoes that were attached to legs.
“Do you always wander around strange houses on top of hills, or am I special?” The owner of those shoes sounded amused to find a grown woman on their floor.
“Only on days I’m supposed to be hiking, it seems,” Quinn said, taking an offered hand. Their palm was rough, reminding her of sandpaper.
“I’d ask if you had a name, but I’m not convinced you aren’t a fairy here to steal mine,” Blue eyes danced with mirth. Their mocking nature sent heat up Quinn’s spine.
“I’m not a fairy.” She scoffed. “I’m human, but barely before coffee. And it’s Quinn.”
“Well, Quinn, what are you doing on my mountain?”
“I was hiking to Rosewood Peak from Eastwick Point, but I think I took the wrong path.” They looked at her with amusement, which Quinn did not find funny.
“The wrong path is an understatement. If you had been any more wrong, you would have ended up in a different state. Come sit down while I get a sweater and take you back down the better way.” They motioned to a well made wooden table. The inside was much bigger than she would have guessed from what she had seen outside. The lack of windows gave a dark, almost fantasy-like atmosphere with a lit hearth and candles casting soft light as the door was shut. It was comfortably warm despite the crisp fall air on the other side of the door.
“Can I ask you a question?” Quinn said, sitting on the log bench watching the homeowner as they moved to a carved coat rack.
“Is it my name?” The smile was back, making her heart do a barrel roll in her chest. Quinn would not have been in such a good mood had someone fallen in her doorway.
“Yes, but also, what is with the Merlin set up? Why don’t you have windows?” Quinn motioned around the one-roomed dwelling. She didn’t see any electricity or plumbing at all.
“If I want to see outside, all I have to do is open the door. And it’s Alex.” It was a start, at least. “Place keeps plenty warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I find that the things you really need are always right in front of you.” Alex pulled on a dark-colored sweater looking right at her. From how rugged everything else was, Quinn would not have been shocked to find out they had knitted it themself.
Alex was the perfect guide to get Quinn back. They knew the woods surrounding their hilly home and could point out things Quinn hadn’t seen on the way up. She hadn’t even noticed that the trees leaned toward the peak or that rocks created natural stepping stone paths. The company of someone was nicer than trying to stop and take pictures for Instagram every five steps. That had been the whole reason she had strayed off the easy hike path completely unprepared. Only she could have gone so far off course that her legs would be reminding her of the error any time she tried to make the mistake of moving for at least a week.
“So hiking doesn’t seem to be your everyday sport,” Alex said, looking sideways to Quinn. “Do you usually get into this much trouble?” That made Quinn laugh.
“Kind of? I have a habit of getting into crazy situations.”
“You can’t just say something like that and not give me an example.”
“Okay, so this stays between us,” She shot a sideways glance at Alex, who held up a mock scout’s honor salute in agreement, “but freshman year, I had to take a bio lab. I get partnered with this guy who was really squeamish about the idea of dissecting a frog. I didn’t think it was a big deal, so I agreed to do the cutting. Apparently, I misjudged how hard I was pressing down on it and tipped the tray backward. My partner screamed like a little girl, and in goes the dead frog.” Quinn shuddered, not from the wind this time but from the mental image of that day. “I wasn’t allowed to touch a scalpel or a tray again for the rest of the semester.”
“Yuck! Poor guy” Alex wrinkled their nose. “Guess that traumatized him a little.”
“Never spoke to him again. He switched partners.” She wrapped her arms around herself a little tighter.
“You really do get yourself into some interesting situations, Quinn.” Alex said, peeling the sweater off and holding it out to her. She smiled, warmth spreading from her chest.
“Thank you.” The sweater felt soft and surprisingly light. It was like Alex was hugging her, and she didn’t want it to stop. “So I told you a crazy story of mine. What is your story? Why are you out here?”
“In the woods?” Alex paused, offering her a hand to step over a tree branch.
“Yes. Why do you live in the middle of nowhere.” The hand she had thought of as rough sandpaper now felt secure and strong.
“Never felt like I belonged, honestly. Out here, no one judges me for using my hands in whatever way I see fit. Animals are much better companions than a lot of people I’ve met. You are probably the first exception I’ve had in a long time, Quinn.” Alex said. Quinn looked down at the hands that were still linked together.
“You know, I have to admit, of all the crazy things I’ve ever done, this has to be the new number one. Even higher than attack frogs. I don’t know what I would have done if I hadn’t tripped into your floor,” Quinn said, trying to laugh at her embarrassing first impression.
“I don’t know. Probably kept going until you ended up in Tennessee or ran into a bear. One of the two” Alex flashed their grin at her. Oh, that smile made her so happy she met Alex even if it had taken a bit of an adventure to meet them.
“So do I send a smoke signal or try to get lost to see you again?”
“Might not have a phone, but I promise if you meet me back here on Saturday, I’ll be waiting. Possibly with food.” Alex said, brushing their hand back through their hair.
“That sounds like a plan.”
As Quinn walked away, she knew that she was looking forward to Saturday. She would be climbing that mountain very often to see Alex, the hidden cabin, and getting lost in eyes as blue as the sky.