The breeze sent a chill down Merideth’s spine as she waited beneath the tree for the sun to set. It still had a ways to go. The nights came later now that daylight savings had passed. She didn’t know how to feel about that. The only emotion she really felt was weariness, but then, that was every day.
“You know, there aren’t many trees in England these days,” she noted, glancing back to the tree for a moment before returning her gaze to the sunset. “Perhaps that’s why I like this spot. You’re an odd one. An old sentinel from an older time.”
The tree made no reply, as right it oughtn’t. There was a structure to the world, and talking trees simply did not fit.
“I reckon you feel that bloody breeze as well as I, no? It’s a bit drafty up on this hill, how do you stand it?”
“I find a coat does wonders for the breeze.”
Merideth spun around, expecting to see the tree miraculously sporting a trench coat and scarf. Instead, she saw a man with a trench coat and a scarf, tipping his hat as he walked up the far side of the hill towards her.
“You heard all that?”
“Just the bit about the cold, I’m afraid,” the stranger replied. He sounded American.
“You must think me daft,” she smiled, scoffing a bit at her own embarrassment.
“No, but you do seem to be struggling with the draft.” He emphasized the last word to rhyme it with her pronunciation of ‘daft’.
“I’m not entirely sure it’s wise to mock the accent of a person native to the country you’re visiting.”
“Yes, well, ‘Hello I’m Raymond Stenton’ becomes a boring introduction after a time. I try to lead with the insults first and then be nice later.”
She eyed him, not sure what to think about his peculiarity.
“Hello, I’m Raymond Stenton, by the way,” he added with a wink as he extended a hand out.
“Merideth,” she replied, taking it.
“Lovely name,” he smiled.
She grimaced. “Okay, ease it up a bit, I’m not fishing for compliments.”
“Would you like me to make another quip about your accent?”
“Does this work on every girl?”
He shrugged. “Only the ones who are lonely enough to talk to trees.”
“You’re interrupting a perfectly good evening.”
“I should say the same to you, what if I wanted to chat up this tree?”
“I saw him first.”
“Yes, but I think your tree flirting could use some work. The weather is never a good place to start with these things.”
Merideth folder her arms. She wasn’t in the mood to talk to strangers. Especially not one like him. And yet there was something about his presence that seemed… genuine.
“Why are you here?” she asked.
He tapped a satchel he kept at his side. “I start every travel vacation by climbing to the highest spot I can find and drawing places that look interesting. Then I go there.”
“Not much of anything interesting here.”
“I wouldn’t say that. I’ve found no shortage of conversation, and if you run off I can take my chances with the tree.”
She chuckled at that, and Raymond’s eyes lit up. “I’m not sure you’ll get very far,” she said.
“Oh, I don’t expect to. Trees aren’t known for their love of long walks.”
“You talk almost as if you have quip for everything I say.”
“I do. I keep a small journal at home of every possible sentence a stranger might say to me, and I’ve written and memorized a response for each. It’s a lot of work, I admit.”
“I can’t imagine that leaves much time for anything else,” she reasoned.
He waved it off. “It was just a long weekend for me. Now, if you don’t mind me asking, what were you doing up here?”
Merideth looked back out to the horizon to watch as the last shred of light dipped beneath the skyline. She thought about telling him the truth, but he wouldn’t believe it. Nobody could, without seeing it. Still, she couldn’t outright lie.
“I was… planning on a chat. With someone I haven’t seen for a long time.”
His face grew more serious. “You weren’t talking to the tree.”
She looked back at the tree that served as the invisible grave marker, wiping away a tear. “No, I wasn’t.”
Another breeze went by and the cold flooded through her body. Before she knew it Raymond’s coat was wrapped around her and the frigid air was staved off.
“I’m sorry for interrupting you,” he said. “I had no idea.”
“It’s alright. You really are charming.”
“That’s nice of you to say, but in my ignorance I’ve been terribly rude. You can keep the coat as my apology. It was a pleasure to meet you.” He was already moving towards the direction he’d come, and Merideth was hit with several emotions she couldn’t immediately place.
“How about coffee?” she called after him.
“I’m sorry?” he turned.
“Let’s do this properly tomorrow, yeah? I’ll buy you a coffee and return your coat.”
He smiled and nodded. “I’d like that very much, Merideth. Have a good night.”
(Not as faithful to the prompt as I usually am, but hey, the story wanted to go it’s own way. I think it turned out all the better for it.)