He lets out a sigh of relief. His mind is racing with hundreds of questions about where this girl came from and what her story is, but he settles on asking something simple.
“What is your name?”
“I’m Claudia,” she says as she intertwines her fingers behind her back.
Jasper can tell she is nervous.
The feeling is mutual.
“Where is your family?”
“I prayed hard so the angels would take them to heaven.”
Jasper understands, but is at a loss at what to do now. As his mind trails off, she breaks the silence.
“Mama and Papa told me a good person is someone who is good to nature and who doesn’t take more than they need. They told me that I would need to find someone who is good, and that I would know when I found that someone,” she says with her arms now by her side.
Her set stare shows her determination and made up opinion.
Who, me? Oh god.
“You are different from others. You are not greedy. You don’t hurt animals or people so you can laugh. You are strong,” with this last sentence she balls up her fists by her side.
“Mama and Papa taught me to be strong too,” she continues, “I am quiet and fast, which makes me a good hunter. I know how to use the plants here to make medicine. I saw the shelter you made for yourself last night, and there are a few things I could show you to make a better one.”
Jasper’s eyebrows raise up as to ask, “Oh really?” at this last part.
Claudia blushes and looks down for a moment before she continues. “You have nobody. I have nobody,” she says stretching her arms out with her palms up.
Can I let this little girl come along with me everywhere I go and be responsible for another human?
“I can help you get home. I noticed you’ve been having trouble staying warm, and I can help guide and hunt for food,” she adds, “Maybe then you’ll see how strong I am.”
Jasper looks at this fiery little girl, who couldn’t be much more than 13 years old, and laughs to himself.
How did my life take this kind of turn? I did not see this coming.
“Ok,” he agrees, “Let’s make the trek home.”
Her broad smile that exposes all her teeth makes Jasper grin.
“I’ll lead the way,” she says.
Jasper nods and walks over to grab his gun and sling it over his shoulder. When he turns around to start walking, she is behind him digging through her pack. Once she finds what she is searching for she pulls it out and offers it to him.
“Here,” she extends her hands out holding a drumstick of meat. “Here’s some rabbit I caught and cooked this morning. I think you could use some food.”
Jasper has a hard time accepting the drumstick at first, but once he smells the meat, his stomach forces his hand out to take the food.
“Thank you.” He makes himself say before devouring the meat his body has been craving. In only a matter of a couple of minutes, the drumstick is licked clean and there are only bones left to prove its existence. He sucks each finger clean before he feels satisfied to move along with the journey.
Claudia waits patiently and watches Jasper with a quizzical eye. She also has hundreds of questions zipping through her mind about this man named Jasper and how he came to live such an isolated life. For her, this life happened to her, but for him, she senses that this may be his life by choice. Since she’s been following him, she’s noticed he hasn’t been searching for anyone. His sunken eyes show a life full of heartbreak and loss that is hard to come back from.
“Ready?” she asks him over her shoulder. Her ponytail whips around and hits her cheek as she swings her head to ask the question. Her eyes meet that of a man’s with hard set lines around his deep, blue eyes that look to her to hold many tales and wisdom. Jasper is not an old man to her, he looks much younger than Papa, but he seems to have lived a long, hard life already. She can feel the good in Jasper. Mama always told her she did that well; sensing good people from bad people.