Mary-Anne stood in sunlight, dappled by the branches of an oak tree, the bright green leaves only just breaking through their russet brown buds. She breathed in a lungful of spring air, a gentle smile on her lips.
She was putting down some seed for a nest of field mice and examining the new growth of bracken, unfurling like a fresh green Catherine wheel, when Jax gave a welcoming ‘Yip’. She turned to see Him approaching, taking his usual meandering path through the forest, examining the underside of leaves, turning rocks and decaying logs, in much the same way as she did.
“Hi,” she said, feeling very shy and still lacking confidence in herself. It wasn’t easy breaking the habits she’d learned to protect herself. It was the first time she’d actually spoken to him since that day in the winter, though they’d nodded and smiled in greeting as they’d passed each other on their frequent treks.
“Hey,” he said, sounding as socially awkward as she felt. “Nice day.”
Mary-Anne nodded, “It certainly is. The forest is bursting with life.” She nodded towards the undergrowth, “I’m pretty sure there are baby mice in there.”
“Ah,” he said, “I thought you were just feeding the birds.”
“No, I bring food for several species, especially during the winter and early spring. Not so much in the summer though.” She smiled as a mouse flitted out from the dense undergrowth, grabbed a nut and disappeared in a flash. A red-breasted robin watched them with beady black eyes. “What were you doing?” she asked, “I saw you turning the rocks and stuff.”
“Looking for insects,” he said. “I’m an entomologist and am doing a study of climate change on our insect population. I’m Zack, by the way.”
“Mary-Anne,” she said, “My name, I mean.” She felt rather flustered. “I’d love to hear more about your study.”
“You would?” Zack was startled by this. Other people generally thought he was a little strange.
She nodded. “It’s so interesting. Perhaps you can help me identify some species I’m stuck on.”
“Fancy going for a cuppa?”