She parked her car in the gravel parking lot and looked around. It was a beautiful mild December day. Sunlight flickered through the branches of the bare trees and warmed the air. There were three other cars already there, indicating that others had also decided to walk on this glorious day. Megan decided to leave her phone in the car because she needed to think about a few things without being interrupted. She did grab her whistle and water bottle before getting out. Leaning against her car, Megan tied her shoelaces, pulled on her gloves, and did a few stretches. After a few moments, she strolled toward the path to begin her walk.
Megan looked around and admired the beauty of the winter forest. Most of the trees were bare, with only a handful of stubborn leaves yet to fall. The evergreens wore their winter greenery with pride against the nakedness of the other trees. The path, littered with discarded pine needles and brown leaves, crunched under her feet. Here and there, squirrels chattered and scurried about among the dry brown grass, gathering supplies for the colder season. Birds darted among the branches, calling out to her as she passed. Megan loved walking in the forest because it always soothed her soul.
Today, however, just a few minutes into the walk her mind drifted away from the beauty in front of her. Megan must make a hard decision and her mind soon engaged in a battle. She thought back to this morning, when she sat on the edge of the bathtub and stared, unbelievingly, at the stick she held in her trembling hand. The pregnancy stick that had a distinct “+” on the end. The pregnancy stick that told her a child had formed inside of her.
She hadn’t told anyone. She put on her game face and went about her day as normal. Some instinct told her not to even tell Derek even though she usually told him everything. She and Derek dated all through high school and then college. She graduated and started her career, but Derek was still in grad school. They moved in together last year, and their plans were to get married a year after he graduated. She loved him with all of her heart and he was so good to her. They got along very well and agreed on all the big things in life. Well, almost all. One thing they did disagree on was having children. Derek’s mother and sister had bipolar disorder, and he grew up watching the terrible struggles they both dealt with on a daily basis. His father walked out when Derek was only 7, and Derek spent his young years trying to keep the family together and make everyone happy. At that time, neither his sister nor his mother had a diagnosis, so neither took medication. That didn’t happen until years later.
Derek did not want to have children. Ever. He spent his youth ‘raising’ his sister and mother, and the chance that his own child would have the disorder was high. In fact, he scheduled a vasectomy 3 months ago, but became sick with the flu and had to postpone the surgery. He got so busy trying to catch up his school work that he hadn’t had time to reschedule it yet.
Megan strolled deeper into the forest, so lost in thought she didn’t even see her surroundings. She wanted this miracle that grew inside her. Even if she or he suffered with a mental disorder, or a physical handicap, or any other problem, Megan wanted this child more than anything she had ever wanted in her life. After all, every person on Earth struggled with something; she would help her child conquer any problem and be successful. But the thought of leaving Derek broke her heart.
About 4 months ago, Megan had broached the topic of having children. Derek held her hands in his and looked deeply into her eyes. He told her that, as much as he loved her, he would not bring a child into this world and if she felt strongly about having a child, he would have to let her go. His eyes filled with tears and he told her to really think about it, because he wanted her to be happy. Megan couldn’t bear to see him so upset, so she told him she could give up the idea of having a child because having him meant more. And she meant it. Until now.
Thoughts continued to roll and tumble through her head as Megan walked along the forest path. Suddenly, she shivered, which brought her back to an awareness of her surroundings. It was suddenly much, much colder. Megan looked around. It seemed so dark and eerie here. I don’t remember this part of the path, she thought to herself. The trees which had appeared so beautiful, now crowded in and loomed over her with threatening darkness. Spanish moss dripped from low branches that were like long fingertips reaching for her. An eerie silence enveloped her. There were no chattering squirrels or calling birds in this part of the forest. Megan shivered again and quickened her steps. She knew her imagination was getting the best of her. Perhaps it was from the hormonal changes already occurring in her body. She heard that those changes could make a woman feel crazy sometimes. Nevertheless, her fingers clutched the whistle she kept for emergencies.
She realized she was her heart was pounding and she was panting and tried to calm down. This cannot be good for the baby, she thought. Megan walked around a small bend in the path and suddenly saw a brightness ahead. Finally! she thought. I will be out of this creepy section and back into the sunlight. She quickened her steps even more. After a few more minutes the chill left her and sunlight filtered through and warmed her. The chattering of forest animals once again filled the air. Megan slowed down and chuckled at herself for being so silly.
After a few more minutes, Megan thought something wasn’t right. When she realized what it was, she stopped dead in her tracks. Turning slowly in a circle, she gazed all around her. Whereas before the forest was weird because it was so dead and threatening, now it was weird because it was so…ALIVE! All around her, the forest glowed with the beautiful greenery of summer. Rich ,green leaves that rustled softly in a gentle breeze covered the branches of every tree. The ground underneath the trees glowed with tall grass that waved with the breeze. The air was so warm she began to sweat in her jacket and winter gloves.
Megan stood and stared. Maybe I am losing my mind, she thought. Do you hallucinate when pregnant? Her first instinct was to use her phone to google it, but she remembered leaving her phone in the car. She no longer felt threatened, just confused.
“Where am I?”, she muttered out loud. A tiny giggle echoed in the trees. Megan gasped, realizing she was not alone.
“Who is there?”, she croaked. Another giggle answered her. It sounded like a small child. Megan stepped from the path and walked slowly into the dense grass growing beneath the trees. To her left, she saw a small rustle of leaves beneath a beautiful flowering bush. She turned in that direction and knelt on her knees.
“Hello! I won’t hurt you! Come on out. Are you lost?” she said softly. A small face appeared between the branches. Her breath caught in her throat as she stared at the most beautiful face she had ever seen. Golden brown hair, highlighted by the sun, framed a pixie face. A mischievous smile played on the perfect bow lips, and the hint of dimples danced along high cheekbones. What really caught her attention were the eyes; large blue eyes, surrounded by long thick lashes, that twinkled and sparkled as if the sun itself glowed within. She felt that she knew this face; like she had seen it before.
The child beckoned for her to come forward. Without hesitation, Megan crawled on her hands and knees until she was under the branches of the bush. The sight before her was amazing.
The limbs of the bush arched high into the air and formed a cave of sorts. It was big enough that Megan could stand if she wanted, but instead she fell back in amazement. The sunlight that filtered through the dense greenery caused the white flowers on the branches to glow like a million tiny lights. The ground was soft; covered in the most amazingly thick and dark green moss she ever felt. The child sat in a wee little chair created from tree branches and covered in a growing vine. The leaves of the vine formed a soft cushion in the chair and looked delightful. The child, a girl, wore a tiny green dress made from leaves, vines, and tree bark.
“You found me!” she said, clapping her small hands together with delight. She appeared no older than two years old, but spoke with the voice and words of an older child. “I knew you would!” Her giggle echoed around the room.
“Wh-what? Who-who are you?” Megan stuttered.
Another giggle surrounded her. It was like listening to a musical wind chime.
“Don’t you recognize me? Look closely!” she said. The dimples winked and disappeared.
Megan’s breath caught in her throat. She knew those dimples. Those beautiful dimples that could appear and disappear with the twitch of a small smile. She saw them once, long ago, on an old home video Derek showed her. This child, this wee little elfin child, was the female image of Derek when he was little. Age and time had robbed him of his dimples, but Megan remembered them from the home movie. She suddenly felt very confused and sick to her stomach.
“You look like…I mean… it can’t be…are you Derek’s child? Did he already have a child with someone else?” Tears welled up in her eyes at the thought.
“No, silly. You are my mommy and Derek is my daddy!” The child smiled. Megan blinked, then gasped. She saw the resemblance to Derek, and now, suddenly, she saw herself. The little girl had the same face shape and high cheekbones that she had herself. Her golden brown hair was the same hair that Megan had when she was younger. Her thoughts tumbled in her head.
“But-but-but…it can’t…how can…I don’t understand!”
Gently, the little girl reached out with the tips of her tiny fingers and softly touched Megan’s stomach. “That is me.”
Megan somehow knew this to be true; impossible, but as true as anything she had ever known. This knowing filled her body with a bright lightness and pure joy. This time, it was Megan who giggled.
“It is you, isn’t it?” she smiled at her beautiful child. Just as suddenly as the joy filled her heart, though, a shadow dimmed her happiness and tears threatened to spill from her eyes. “I don’t know what to do. Derek doesn’t want children and he will leave me. I don’t think I…”
“Shhh….hush that doubt.” The child’s tiny finger brushed Megan’s lips. “Go to him. All will be well. I promise.” A golden smile filled her face and radiated with beauty.
Megan’s doubts lifted and pure joy returned. Her cheeks felt wet and she realized she was crying with happiness. She knew it was time to talk to Derek, so she gently hugged the small girl and backed away from the lovely room. Happiness quickened her steps along the path. Incredibly, around two more bends in the path, she found herself back in the forests of bare branches and crunchy leaves. She soon saw the parking lot in the near distance.
As Megan sat in her car, she knew everything would be fine. Derek would join her in welcoming this new baby, this miracle, into their lives. She found her hand rubbing the spot on her belly where the child had touched her. “I can’t wait to see you again,” she whispered. She drove off to talk to Derek about the most important event in their lives.