Zack had noticed her before, but not really seen her. She’d always kept her face covered by curtains of hair. He’d presumed she was shy and trying to avoid looking at people, hiding from the world. But that day, at the end of autumn as the air smelled and tasted of that early winter frost, she raised her head and smiled at his approach. His heart stuttered and beat a rapid tattoo in his chest before he had the thought that perhaps he should smile back. He gave her a nod of acknowledgement as they passed. She wasn’t beautiful in the conventional way, but had an inner radiance, so light and pure that it shone from within and she had the most glorious green eyes. His need to know this woman was utterly overwhelming.
Her border collie, Jax, approached and leaned against his leg, as if demanding to be stroked. He happily obliged, scratching the dog behind his silky black ears, one brown and one blue eye observing him.
The young woman turned slightly and noticed. “I’m so sorry,” she said. Her voice had a hint of desperation to it, as though being an inconvenience to people would cause her real distress.
“Not a problem,” he said. “I love dogs and really wish I could own one. Maybe one day.”
She didn’t answer, but gave him a smile that melted his heart. She called to Jax, who gave his fingers a lick before disappearing down the tree-lined path with his mistress.
All the deciduous trees were naked, the golden leaves lay trampled on the pathway where reams of children had jumped and played. The leaf veins were rimmed with early evening frost, the white crystals sparkling in a late sunshine that filtered weakly through the skeletal silver birch trees. But on that day, Zack’s world was suddenly, magically, filled with colour, so clear and bright that he could have been gazing out upon a summer’s day full of golden light.
He gave himself a shake, uncertain of this new emotion, and trudged back down the brown compacted path towards home.