Spring began with the wedding. Afterward, only several sunrises passed before Carly found her way back to me. She came alone. I expected to hear William call to her as he arrived; I watched the field and listened over the noise of the birds. He did not come. She sat alone against my trunk, her fingers splayed over the damp ground covering my roots. Perfectly still, eyes focused on the creek, she was silent at first. Then she cried. One sob escaped her throat and her hand, adorned now by a simple band on her finger, went to her mouth to muffle the next one. I watched her shoulders shake.
I have never felt more helpless. Oh how I ached to bend down to hold her. I could only stand beside her, willing her to draw strength from my solidity.
She quieted eventually, lying down below my swaying leaves and falling asleep for the rest of the afternoon. She was a splendid sight: her hair fanned over the grass, one hand tucked beneath her cheek, knees curled toward her stomach. She slept until the sun set and the breeze turned chilly enough to bring on a shiver.
Carly returned often, usually with papers in hand. Some were covered in writing that she read eagerly and clutched to her chest. Other pieces were blank when she arrived and her time was spent filling them to their edges.
It was nearing the close of summer by the time I noticed the swelling of Carly’s stomach. The meaning of it was apparent even to me, as I’d spent my years observing the mothers in the forest. After finishing her reading or writing, she would lie down on her back on the smoothest patch of grass under my cover and run her hand round and round the little hill of her belly. One foggy morning, I watched as the child within kicked Carly’s hand. Carly sat up, a grin spreading across her pretty face even as tears rapidly filled her eyes.
When she had grown too large to lie on her back, she rolled to her side and held her stomach protectively. That was around the time she began talking to the child.
“Are you going to look like your daddy, little one? I bet you’ll have his smile. Yes, I’m sure you will.”
“We’re in your daddy’s favorite spot in the whole world. Did you know that?”
“We got a letter from your daddy today, little one. He is tremendously excited to meet you.”
As everything changed to browns, reds, and oranges, and leaves floated off their branches, and the sun closed the days earlier and earlier, Carly walked more slowly through the field. She stayed for briefer bits of time. When the first snowflakes of the season fell from fat, gray clouds, Carly leaned against me and sighed.
“It’ll be a while before I come back, I think.”
It took a moment for me to emerge from my confusion and realize she was speaking to me. A first in all my years.
“I will come back though. I’ll bring my little one, I promise. And someday, I’ll bring William with me again.”
The winter didn’t seem so terribly cold with that promise held beneath my bark.