"Where to today?" Candy said, always anxious for adventure, even if otherwise she remained a mystery. I placed her age at around sixteen. Probably a junior.
"These back trails out in the woods have been my home practically since the day I was born," I told Candy. "I think it's time I shared them with you."
She grew suspicious. Female intuition and all that, I supposed.
"I don't know," Candy said. "Do you think this is the best time? It looks like a storm is coming..."
I took her hand. Her flesh was warm, her smile inviting. We hit the trail.
"If I'd have known we'd be walking through weeds I would have worn long pants," Candy complained. She had on cut-off blue jeans, just like I did. I even wore my coolest sports shirt -- a dusky blue color with a zipper at the throat. The zipper had a little ring through it, just big enough for a girl's finger to get hold.
The skies darkened. I kept us moving farther from the city. The air got windy and charged with electricity. Candy made me feel the same way. Suddenly I realized this was the first time we would truly be alone together. I didn't know if I trusted myself. I didn't know if I trusted her. Girls were an enigma.
"Kevin... I just want to thank you for the last few days. For the first time in a long time, my life has felt normal again. And I owe that to you."
She walked behind me as we moved single file along the thin, winding pathway. I considered stopping and turning around to face her. But that might lead to... other things. Right now I needed to keep her talking, as she'd begun to do, about her past.
"Candy... I guess you know by now that you're special to me. I haven't felt this way about anyone in quite some time. But if we're going to remain... friends, I need to know that I can trust you completely. And I can't do that, knowing almost nothing about you, about the real you..."
I heard only silence behind me on the trail. Far-off thunder boomed. But it was moving closer, the storm. And all that came with it.
"We should turn back," Candy said, at last.
"I think we should move forward, Candy. If you know what I mean..."
The wind became a gale. Candy's hair blew all around, wild.
"I know a place where we can take shelter," I said. "It's nearby. Close enough for us to make it before the real downpour begins."
"Let's get moving, then," Candy said.
And so my trap was sprung.
It's funny how a girl can come into your life and turn it upside down. Before Candy Parker came along, I had my work and that was enough. I swore I'd never fall in love. But all it took was one look into those big brown eyes... and I became a drowned man.
We were still fifty yards from our designated shelter area when the first big drops began to fall.
"We better run for it!" I said.
"What is this place?" Candy shouted as we ran toward the abandoned factory building in the woods clearing ahead.
"It used to be a power plant," I said, "way back before I was even born. Now it's just an old derelict."
The rain pelted us like bullets from heaven. It was the kind of downpour that would drench you in seconds. Fortunately, we reached our cover just in time. Out of breath, we paused, hands on our knees, as we stood just inside the massive empty doorway to the place. The slanting rain pushed us back another few feet. The woods and everything else behind us were gone. It was almost a solid wall of water, bringing a heavy mist along with it. Candy, after a time, surveyed the interior of our shelter. Besides rubble and shattered glass from hundreds of small individual window panes, the brick skeleton was all that was left of the place. A lot of the rain came right through the roof high above us, so we could only stand in certain places to stay dry.
"What a lovely picnic spot," Candy said.
"Come on, this way," I said, leading her farther inside the massive hollow guts of the place. We passed through several interior workrooms in succession, mostly without walls on any of their four sides. There was a concrete loading bay attached to the backside of the structure and we ended up there. The tunnel-like room was cramped and dark and spooky. But it was dry. And near the woods. We sat down.
"Do you think," Candy said, apropos of nothing, "that the world will ever end?"
"It ends for everybody, eventually," I said.
Candy got tears in her eyes. "Weather like this," she said, "makes me feel like it might end today."
"It won't," I said.
"Maybe I wish it would," Candy said.
"Because then I wouldn't have to go back," Candy said.
"To your parents?"
"I only have one parent," Candy said. "My father isn't my father. He's only a step-father."
"He treats you bad?"
"He treats me perfect," Candy said. "Too perfect."
I saw the ugly place we were going. The rain shut out any possible distractions. It was only Candy and me -- and the truth.
"What does your mother say about him?"
"That he loves me," Candy said. "That's what I'm afraid of."
"He sounds like a real creep."
"He's a very successful businessman with a lot of money," Candy said. "My mom will never leave him."
Some problems even a fourteen-year-old P.I. couldn't fix. But I had to try. For Candy's sake, I had to try.
"Don't go home," I said.
"Move in with me, with my family, for a while."
"That will never work," Candy said.
"What about the police?"
"He hasn't done anything," Candy said. "Yet."
"That's just the point," I said. "You can't wait around until he does. You can't go back."
The rain lightened up just a little. Candy fell sideways, her head against my shoulder. I felt helpless.
"This isn't the first time I've run away," Candy said. "They always bring me back."
"Not this time," I said. "I'll protect you."
Lightning struck a tree somewhere in the forest. Thunder followed. Candy shivered against me. I hadn't any answers to give her.
We talked some more, I guess. Nothing really mattered after that. After I failed. The rain slowed to a drizzle and eventually stopped like it always does. All we had to face now was the rest of our lives.
"Kevin, I... I'm falling in love with you."
"Me too," I said. "With you, I mean."
She almost smiled. I almost felt a reason to go on.
"They're probably waiting for me right now at your house," Candy said. "I just have a feeling."
I took her hand and didn't let go.
"So let them wait," I said. "Just a little while longer..."