“You can’t go running off and abandoning me today,” Beth said, plucking at the sleeve of his coat as they stepped off the bus.
“I’m not ‘abandoning’ you,” Jack said. He glanced up the gravel drive, towards his dad’s workshop and tool shed, where his almost-completed gift for Beth waited on the work bench. “I just… I have… something I have to do.”
“Well, I have something I need to do today. And I need you there.”
“And I need your sister, too.”
Jack looked towards the house, where Ellie had just slammed the front door.
“Not that one,” Beth said. “Hannah. I need her to take our picture.”
Something shivered down Jack’s spine, and he turned back towards Beth. “Our… picture? She’s got tons of those already.”
“Those won’t do. I finally unpacked my camera, and I want her to use it. Do you think she’ll help?”
“I’ve never known Hannah to turn down a chance to take a picture.”
The clouded uncertainty in her eyes cleared, and she smiled. Her hand went from the sleeve of Jack’s coat up and around, twining her arm with his.
“So,” she said. “What’s the big secret?”
“Look, if you can’t get it out of Ellie, you won’t get it out of me,” Jack said.
Beth hugged Jack’s arm closer.
“Careful, you’ll squish Fuggy,” he said. He hoped that was Fuggy.
Beth leaned slightly away, but kept her grip. “It’s another picture, isn’t it?”
“I’m not answering that,” Jack said, fixing his eyes on the front door. Beth matched his pace as he trudged towards the porch.
“Ah ha. I knew it.”
“You know nothing,” Jack said, climbing the steps. Beth let go of his arm, and stood, staring up at him from in front of the porch.
“Fine,” she said. “I’ll be over when Hannah gets home. I have some things to do myself.”
“Okay,” Jack said, giving her a wave. “See ya later then!”
He didn’t let out the breath until she’d disappeared through the hedgerow. He told himself that it hurt just a bit because she walked so slow, and not because of the slightly hurt look in her eyes.
* * * * *
“A Kodak 2A Pocket,” Hannah breathed. “Where did you get this?” she asked, looking up from the squeeze-box-looking contraption on the dining room table.
“Dad found it at a garage sale,” Beth said with a shrug. “So, can you use it?”
“Beth’s coat is about the only thing with pockets big enough for that monstrosity,” Charlotte said, turning her head sideways as she looked at the antique camera.
“I’d love to,” Hannah said, a tremor in her voice usually reserved for when she talked about this or that boy at the various parties she’d been to. She pulled her gaze away from the antique camera and looked over at Beth. “So, how do you want to set it up? You two standing there, or maybe sitting on the stairs..?”
Beth glanced along the wall beside the kitchen, where Hannah had taken her picture last November, and then at the stairs, and shook her head. “It sort of has to be done outside,” she said, slowly.
Hannah frowned, looking out the front window. “I don’t know, there won’t be much light for too much longer.”
“If we leave now, we should have just enough to get the picture,” Beth said.
“Leave..?” Hannah asked.
“The Dragon Tree,” Jack said, more certainty than guessing in his tone.
Beth nodded, but kept her eyes on her fingertips, which fidgeted along the tabletop.
“That creepy old tree in the middle of the forest?” Charlotte asked. “Why— No, wait. Let me guess!” She held up a hand as Beth sat up straighter.
“There’s… a fairy ring that grows there on certain nights, and you want to take pictures of the pixies. Oh, I don’t know if I want my big sister dragged into something like that. What if—”
“Charlotte!” Jack snapped, and his sister fell silent, but the smile didn’t go anywhere.
“It’s too short notice,” Beth said, standing up. “I’m sorry. I should give you time to think about it. We can do it again on the new moon, if that’s more—”
“Mom?” Hannah asked.
“Well, if you want to help, you better get moving,” Jack’s mother said. “I’ll hold dinner until seven.”
Beth stared from face to face, the smile growing slowly. “So… you will?”
“There’s no way we’d have you trooping through those woods during a new moon,” Hannah said. She shrugged into her coat. “Let me get my tripod and then we can be on our way.”
* * * * *
Beth had restrung the red yarn marking the path to the Dragon Tree’s clearing, and they made good time, despite the fading light.
Hannah stopped, catching her breath at the edge of the clearing. “Oh, wow, it’s even creepier than the drawings Jack did.”
As if to answer her, the tree gave a rustle and groan. Yet not a leaf stirred, nor did Beth or Hannah’s hair.
“Okay, that’s really creepy,” she said, the tripod slung from her shoulder rattling as she gave a shiver.
Beth took Jack’s hand and led him towards the twisted, blackened tree. “Do you feel it?” she asked him.
He closed his eyes, but all he felt was the slightly squishy leaves underfoot, Beth’s fingers, warm against his hand, and the usual tingle he felt whenever she was near. He shrugged. “Sorry. Nothing,” he said.
“Maybe you should clonk him on the head again,” Hannah said, from where she was adjusting the old camera atop her tripod.
Beth giggled, and the tingle crept along Jack’s scalp and down his back. She stopped, standing just ahead of the hollowed-out split in the tree’s trunk. She looked up, at the sprawling, leafless branches and then over at Jack. She gave his hand a tug, and he hopped a half step closer.
“That should do,” she said. “Two instant ones, please, Hannah, and then flip the lever over to ‘B.’ I’d like a 30-second exposure.”
Hannah fiddled with the shutter control at the front of the antique camera’s lens.
“Say cheese,” she said, and clicked off the first two pictures.
“Wait,” jack said. “I wasn’t even smiling.”
Hannah looked up from the viewfinder. “Your usual goofy grin whenever you’re around Beth will do fine.”
“I do not look—”
“Shh!” Hannah said. “Hold still, I’m going to do the long exposure shot now. In 3….2….”
Beth yanked hard on Jack’s hand, pulling him off balance towards her. He turned, to right himself, and Beth caught his shoulder with her other hand, steadying him. Holding him in place as her lips pressed to his.
The shutter clicked open.