Found in the Depths of the Woods
Chapter One: Found
I had seen her there in the woods before. I had never gotten close enough to really see her, but I knew someone was there. I would often watch her from far away, curious about her. She was extremely tough, I learned. She fought off anything that came her way. I had been watching her for years. She would hunt in the morning and in the afternoon I would find her reading out of a little book or writing in a small journal. She had reading books and learning books. They must have been from her adolescence. I was curious as to what she wrote and who she was. After a while, I understood a few parts of her life. She had a small self-made bed by a tree and a small duffle with a few items. I concluded that she lived there, alone. I eventually got up the nerve to go up to her. I knew that I needed to help her.
As I began to approach, I stepped on a branch and she overheard its crackle. She jerked her head towards me and stared. From where I was I could not see her face. It was covered with her dirty and twisted raven hair. I blinked and she was gone. I ran after her, desperate to find her and ask her if she is okay. She was fast, but I trailed closely behind. As she swung her arms to knock down branches, she tripped on a stick. Quickly rolling back onto her feet, she continued to run.
I hid and waited for her to stop. She looked back frantically. As she looked the opposite way, I snuck up behind her and grabbed her. She twisted and turned, looking terrified. I pinned her where she stood and she stared at me, breathing heavily.
“What the heck? What’s wrong with you?” I said, also out of breath.
I let go of her and backed away to let her walk. She attempted, but fell my way. I caught her and she looked at me. Her beautiful blue eyes pierced through her hair that was still in her face. I looked down and noticed the blood on her knee. It looked painful. I helped her sit down. “You’re hurt. Let me help you.”
She looked at me through her hair as I cleaned and dressed her wound with fabric from my shirt. “What’s your name?”
“You haven’t been around people much have you?”
She looked at me and shook her head no, vigorously.
“Well, I’m Toby,” I smiled at her, letting her know that I wouldn’t hurt her.
We sat there and she made no movement. As I looked at her and saw only her hair, I slowly guided my hand through the tangled mess and pushed it behind her ear. She looked at me and her face was finally revealed. She was beautiful. Dirty, but stunning. “I’m not going to hurt you. It’s okay.”
We sat side by side in silence. I figured that now I could try to ask some of my questions. I knew she wouldn’t answer, though. She didn’t trust people. “How long have you been living on your own like this?” As I asked this her eyes made no shift. They remained solely on the horizon. I could see how lost she was. “That long, huh? Well, where are your parents?” She looked at the ground, and through her tangled, dark hair I could see her sad, piercing blue eyes eyeing a fallen branch. “Oh. I’m sorry. ”
We sat there for a minute. I knew that I couldn’t let her stay out here any longer than she already has. “Come with me. We can get you cleaned up. Okay?”
She stared at my hand for a while, and then took it. I put her arm around my shoulder and my arm around her waist, guiding her through the forest. I helped her stay off her knee as I guided her to my house. I lived close by, only a mile or so from the edge of the woods. It wasn’t a long walk, but I saw her struggle from the pain of her leg.
When we got there we were greeted by my mom and my sister. They both had several questions.
“I found her in the woods. I think she’s lived there a while. Her parents are, um…” I mouthed “dead”, careful not to let her hear it.
I saw the sadness grow on my mother’s face. She must’ve been thinking about my dad; I, too, thought back to the funeral. I was only eight, but I missed him. My mom did too. I knew she did. We all did. Things weren’t the same without my dad. And the chemo was a struggle for all of us to handle, especially my mom since she was with him when he passed. “I’m not sure what she remembers. Mom, what should we do?”
“What’s her name?” Jo was the one to ask the million dollar question since she was that annoying older sibling that needed to know everything.
“I don’t know. She hasn’t said a word since I found her.”
“Well, it’s a good thing you found her. Jo, help her clean up and wash her clothes for her. She will stay here.” My mother turned to her and spoke to her with a big smile.
“You can sleep wherever is comfortable. We will do everything we can to help you.”
She lightly and quickly smiled towards the floor, as if to show gratitude.
“Jo, take her upstairs and get her cleaned up, please.”
Jo guided her to the stairs. She looked back at me with a somewhat frightened look as she left my view. “Mom, what do we do about her?” I didn’t want her to go back to the woods. I knew it was her home, but it wasn’t safe.
My mother responded with an unsure tone, “I don’t know, Toby. If she has no family-”
“-she has nowhere to go! She can stay here with us, right? We have that extra room and I can help her in school. Jo will help too, I’m sure. Mom, we can’t just abandon her.” I motioned up the stairs as I mentioned her.
I was talking with mom about what we would do when I heard them come back down the stairs. She looked amazing. She had the same outfit on but it was cleaned. Her hair was straighter and out of her face. I could now see her stunning eyes easily.
“Wow,” I said like an idiot. All I did was repeat “wow”.
“You said that already, genius.” Jo said, mocking me.
“You look great, dear,” my mother said to her. She wasn’t wrong, I thought. Facing the ground, she smiled back at mom and me to say thank you.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Now, it’s almost dinner time. Jo, you help me and give them some space. You two go sit down and relax.”
I guided her to the living room and sat down on the couch. She slowly sat down next to me. We were almost touching. I had my arm behind her, resting on the back of the couch. She yawned, facing the other way, trying to make sure I didn’t notice.
“You’ve had a long day. You can take a nap if you want,” I said as I moved to get up for her. She grabbed my arm and pulled me back down. I smiled at her and nodded. I looked at her. She was looking forward, her hair in her face. Her eyes slowly started to close as I helped her down, gently. Her head lay on my shoulder. I pushed the hair out of her face and placed it behind her ear. She was asleep.
Mom walked in and was about to speak when I motioned to her to be careful not to wake her. She whispered, “I will put your dinners in the fridge. Goodnight.”
As time went by, I continued to stare at her. I thought about how beautiful she was. I felt sorry for her, with everything she had probably been through. I thought so hard that I didn’t even notice when I fell asleep.
I woke up and looked at the clock: 6:47 A.M. I had to get ready for school. I then remembered about last night. As I thought, she began to move as she woke up. She looked at me, confused. “It’s morning. You can just take it easy today, okay? It’s the first day of school, but I will be home later. My mom is going to be home for a little while and she will take care of you. I will have Jo give you her phone. If you need anything, just text me.” I smiled at her and then got up to get ready.
When I was finished, I sat down with her on the couch. “If you’re tired or hungry, you can get some food or take a nap. I will be home by two.” I looked at her one last time, wishing she would look back at me, but she only watched the floor. Her eyes made no shift and she remained still. I sighed deeply, unsure whether I should leave her or not, and left.
At school, I could not focus on calculus or science. As the day went on, I continuously checked my phone. I wanted to hear from her. I couldn’t wait to go home and see her. Having prep last period made it so I could go home early, which I especially loved today. But the day could not have gone slower. As the last few seconds of school ticked by, I got ready to sprint to my car and drive home. As the bell rang, I ran through the halls, high fiving my friends and my teammates. I had never been happier to not have football practice.
It was 1:58 when I got home. I fumbled with my keys and opened the door. She wasn’t there. I searched through the entire house. There was no sign of her. I plopped down on the couch and ran my fingers through my hair. Why did she leave me? That was my only thought.
Jo got home at 2:15. She walked in and immediately noticed. “Where is she?” She asked, but inside she knew.
“She’s gone,” I said.
“I’m sorry, Toby. Maybe she just isn’t comfortable here. She has lived out there her whole life. She isn’t used to all of this.” Jo said in a knowing tone.
I became angry. “She can’t just run away!” I exclaimed in a huff. “I will find her,” was all I said as I stormed out onto the street.
I went to the spot where I found her and sat down. Aggressively, I threw a rock into the water to release my pain. I sat in silence until I heard a sniffle. I followed the sound. From behind a tree, I looked down and saw her sitting there, curled up and hugging her knees to her chest. I heard faint crying. Carefully, I walked to her and put my hand on her shoulder. She turned around slowly. I saw her eyes filled with tears. I looked into her eyes and then pulled her close to comfort her. She curled up into my arms and sobbed. In her hands, I saw something. I reached out for her hand. I stopped and rubbed her hands, gently. They were cold as ice. She fully opened her hand and I saw a piece of paper. I took it from her and she tucked her head under my chin. I opened the note. It read:
We know you have questions. Well, my baby girl, here are some answers. We didn’t want to leave you, sweetie. We made some bad choices and we were in trouble. We had to protect you and make sure you weren’t hurt. We had to leave you in the woods to prevent it. We are so sorry, Ruby.
We love you, Mom and Dad.
I finally knew her name: Ruby. I turned the note around to find that the other side was a copy of her birth certificate. On it was her full name and her birthday. The parental slots were smudged and unreadable. I closed the note and looked at her.
“I know that you grew up this way, and I feel terrible that you had to. You can trust me and my family. We can take care of you. And you don’t have to talk. I just want to know you’re safe.” She smiled and nodded at me. We got up after a few minutes and headed home.
My mom’s car was in the driveway as we walked up. The door flung open and Jo and my mother spilled out as we approached the curb. My mom pulled us both into her arms, her eyes calming down with relief. “Thank goodness you’re alright’” she said to Ruby as she let me go and held tighter to her. Ruby smiled at her gently and returned the squeeze from Mom.
When dinner was over we again relaxed on the couch. She laid her head down on me and I spoke to her. I didn’t mind that she didn’t talk. I could see what she wanted to say through her eyes. I explained to her that she was a grade younger than me and would start school a week late as a junior. I tried to test her in school subjects to see if she knew anything. She understood most of it pretty well.
My mind flashed back to my childhood, to all those days I spent watching Ruby without ever knowing her. I remembered watching her read and write, and as the weeks and years went by, the books changed. Children’s books became more mature. Addition became multiplication. As the years went by, I now realized she had somehow obtained the learning tools she needed over the years.
As I snapped back to reality, I watched Ruby as she did problem after problem, question after question. I was curious as to how she got those books, but I knew she wouldn’t tell me. Ruby still hadn’t spoken. I looked at her, astonished by how independent she was. She was truly amazing.
As a week had gone by, I had gotten used to waking up on the couch with her asleep on me. It felt so good to know that she trusted me. I was so pumped that she could finally come to school with me. I could now see her more often. My only worry was that people would judge her for not talking. At least she had me.
I got ready quickly and waited for her downstairs. She looked beautiful as she descended the stairs. She looked so different from other girls, but it was a good thing.
The car ride was quiet. I watched Ruby out of the corner of my eye as I drove us to school. She watched out the window, staring into oblivion like she always did. After a while I just focused on driving, my efforts to get her talking seeming hopeless by this point.
“Hey-” I gently spun her face to mine as we sat in the school lot. “-It will be okay. I promise. And after school you can come watch me at practice. Do you want to?” She looked at me more confidently now. She nodded her head and smiled. I loved her smile.
I walked her to homeroom and helped her find her seat. I smiled at her and left to go to my class. When I walked with her to help her to class, people stared as we approached. I could tell that she was confused and uncomfortable, but I walked her confidently to classes anyway. She crossed her arms around her and hugged herself, not liking the attention and whispers. Her head stayed down and looking at the ground. I knew she wanted to disappear.
Lunch rolled around and I showed her to a special spot outside the school. It was a nice bench with a tree blocking the sun. I sat close to her and just talked. She was a great listener and I could tell that she actually listened to me. I knew that I should say something about the stares.
“I know it’s uncomfortable being stared at like that. Don’t pay any attention to them, okay?” She nodded and then smiled. I smiled back and then got up. I held my hand out for her and was surprised when she took it without hesitation.
When it came to my practice, Ruby sat on the bleachers. Unlike what I thought, she didn’t watch the cheerleaders. She watched my practice. I watched her follow every move and focus on every play. By the end I could tell that she really enjoyed it.
“So, did you like it?” I asked on the drive home. Ruby nodded with a big smile on her face. I grabbed her hand. “I’m glad you liked it. Tonight we can watch the game in my room if you want.” Again, she nodded.
After we ate, I helped her with her homework and did mine while she showered. She joined me in my room afterwards and curled up with me, her hand on my bare chest. We watched the game in silence. I often looked down at her. We interlocked our fingers so naturally that I didn’t even notice. Half way through the game, she fell asleep. I turned the TV off and fell asleep with a smile on my face.
As a month went by, Ruby got more comfortable living her new life. She attended all of my practices and games. We would watch the game together at night and do everything together. I didn’t mind that Ruby still hadn’t talked.
I walked Ruby to class as usual. She walked into history and took her seat, still holding my hand. Suddenly, as I was talking to her, I noticed that everyone was whispering and pointing to her. Ruby noticed, too. I overheard some of it: “…freak…speechless…Toby’s charity case…” She slumped down in her seat. I looked down at her. I saw tears fall onto her cheeks. She ran out of class and I chased after her. As I got towards the door, everyone stopped and surrounded me.
“Looking for something?” asked Caleb.
“Have you seen Ruby?” I replied, frantically.
“Drop the act, Toby. We all know that you don’t really care about that freak,” said Dean.
“Yeah. You couldn’t actually like a mute little freak show like that,” said some students.
“Well, you’re wrong. Ruby isn’t a freak. She went through a lot that none of you can understand. And for all that she’s been through, she’s strong and smart and beautiful. She’s an amazing listener, too. I’ve never met someone who loved football as much as me until I met her. And I don’t like her. I love her. She’s my best friend. And I don’t care that she doesn’t talk. I can read her through her eyes. I don’t need her to speak to have a conversation with her. And every night, she makes me melt. We watch TV together. She lays her head on my chest and her soft little fingers interlock mine. She falls asleep on me every night and I fall asleep smiling because I know that she is so much happier than she was when I found her two months ago. So if anyone has a problem with her, then I have a problem with you. Because you will never meet anyone like Ruby, and I am glad that I have her.”
I pushed through the crowd with those last words and made my way out of the school. I drove through town, on the lookout for Ruby, stopping when I saw the open gate of the woods where I found her. I knew that she had opened them. I remembered the last time she had run away. She always went to the woods. It was her safe place. I walked swiftly through, looking for the place I found her before. She wasn’t there.
“Think, Toby! Think!” I screamed that in my head and out loud. I then remembered the bed layout I had seen the day we met. It wasn’t too far from where I was. I walked there and hid behind the trees, careful not to let her see me and run. I saw Ruby there, curled up in a ball. I could hear her sobs. I walked over and sat beside her. She curled into my arms.
“None of what they said, none of what you heard, was true,” I began. I put my hand under her chin and tilted her head until her eyes stared into mine.
“I have never lied to you. So trust me when I say that you are amazing and I don’t know what I did to deserve to find you. You are the strongest person I have ever met. And you don’t have to talk.” I paused for a moment, nervous of what I was about to say.
“I love you, Ruby.” She looked up at me and stared. She looked back down at the ground again.
“What?” I said with a little chuckle. I was about to speak again when I felt her soft lips pressed gently against mine. Our lips parted and I once again saw those gorgeous blue eyes locked on mine.
“I love you too,” she replied softly.