Every other step Jasper glances up to look at this small girl that in one gentle, swift move changed the way he interacts with the world.
Another human. Is this truly real?
His ever watchful eye observes how she barely seems to make contact with the earth before her feet are off the ground again, bounding through the snow with an abundant grace that does not compare. In juxtaposition with his own labored gait, he becomes aware of how time has taken a toll on his body and his youth. He continues on with his branches transformed to walking sticks with heavy steps and loud breaths indicating his body’s inability to keep up with her pace.
Claudia tries to keep the pace somewhat slower than what she is used to because of Jasper’s current condition, but when she looks back to check on how he’s doing she can barely catch sight of him.
She glides back to him and reminds herself to slow down. Once he is in an easy distance to her she says, “I know that because you are not feeling well you cannot keep up with a normal pace. I’m sorry, I seem to have forgotten.”
Jasper looks at her with amused, but tired eyes, and he sighs.
“I am not as young as I once was,” is his brief reply.
Claudia falls into step beside Jasper and lets her stride match his. They carry on for a long time without a word spoken between the two.
Jasper looks over out of the corner of his eye every now and then to observe the spritely girl, and to check that he hasn’t lost his mind and created another human being up in his head. As far as he can tell thus far, she seems to be of the real flesh.
Time passes. They stop in silence to drink water. When Claudia notices that Jasper is out of water, she reaches her hand out for the canteen. Jasper looks at her and places the canteen in her open palm. She prances like a deer down to the stream to refill their water containers. From an outside perspective it would appear to be the most natural relationship and coexistence that must be from years of cultivation.
When Claudia sees that Jasper’s breathing becomes more labored or his steps seem more difficult for him to take, she asks to take a water break.
“Of course,” he replies each time.
Oh good, Jasper thinks the first few times it happens; I could use a break too. He slowly realizes she is doing it for his sake, but he doesn’t mind. The breaks are welcome and the sentiment is thoughtful.
It feels good to have someone care.
A rabbit hops out ten feet in front of the pair and stares at them. Both Jasper and Claudia stop to see what the rabbit will do. It’s nose and whiskers twitch as it sniffs the air. This makes Claudia giggle, which makes the rabbit hop straight up into the air before darting away to their left. Claudia laughs harder when the rabbit does this, which makes Jasper laugh from a deep part of his belly. They look at each other and laugh even harder. Jasper’s eyes are moist from tears from laughing so hard.
“He was cute, wasn’t he?” she asks.
“He sure was,” he responds.
As he looks with a grin at this little girl, he thinks, when was the last time that I laughed? It feels incredible.
This thought turns his grin into an open smile. Claudia reciprocates his unabashed smile, and lets it spread all the way up through her eyes.